Thank-yous to Avendya for beta-ing this.
doesn't remember much; or maybe she remembers everything all the
time, and that is the problem.
And there's a rush of time through her thoughts, something at once wildly strange and painfully familiar, and it doesn't bother with subtlety but sweeps through her mind in more or less the same way as it sweeps through the Universe; and there's the feeling of everything she has ever known or been or said or done coming unravelled like so much string (but that's the way time is; it comes undone, and then it fixes itself, or we tie it up – but then, sometimes the knots slip) and it's a feeling at once like death and flying (and they're not as different as they seem, not really, because they're both a triumphant sort of way to fall).
She's not sure where she came from (or when she came from, now or yesterday or a million years ago all tangled up in her thoughts) and she's not sure where she's going, or why; but she remembers inconsequential things – the feel of cracking cobbles under her feet. The sound of running water. Someone laughing. Some history. Some temporal physics. They're probably the things which make her who she is, although that person isn't someone she knows; and there's a stream of numbers running across her mind which she follows, one-one-two-three-five-eight-thirteen – and even though it doesn't take her more than a fraction of a fraction of a second to see what it is, by the time she thinks about it properly it has already wandered away.
She thinks about probabilities and the laws of time and space and basic physics and notices purely as an aside that the probability of her existence is almost zero; but it's only an observation on the way to an unknown end; and she's thinking purely for the sake of thought now, for the way it burns unconsumed. (And that's a thought either brilliant or insane or completely irrelevant. She can't decide which. In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter.)
And the world's just a vague tangle of trees and rain like feathered bird's-wings and earth and grass and sky (which world? She remembers more than one; more than ten, more than a hundred), but it's also a story which began before she was even aware of it, and it's teetering backwards and forwards in time, empires rising and falling and rising and falling in some sort of staccato rhythm; ending and beginning and lingering somewhere in between. She remembers tomorrow when yesterday hasn't happened yet, and, although she doesn't sleep much, she dreams when she does - and in dreams it's all sweepingly disjoint, everything coming together (or coming apart, perhaps) in a huge birdlike swish-throbbing (it's a meaningless phrase, but she likes it, the play of word against word and the way it suggests a sort of breathless fragility, something of a great death not quite written in), and she dreams of burning.
She wakes with the word 'Gallifrey' on her lips.
A memory –
She's walking across a courtyard which is both shaking uncontrollably and not really here, and it's crashing about her until it's either a study in angle and perspective or an impersonation of the collapse of history, or possibly both, or neither.
– she's standing in the middle of a street and watching the crowd being tossed past her like so many leaves on a sharp breeze; they're hurrying past (not looking at each other or the city or her, caught in their disparate, private universes) and merging together until they're just an ill-defined blur in her mind, a melange of hats and overcoats and faces and voices. It's morning, white and cold, and the city is grey and blurred slightly at the edges. She can feel cobblestones under her feet, raised and slightly cold through the thin soles of her shoes; there's a streetlantern right beside her, lit (somewhat strangely for the time of day), and there are grey-black stormclouds looming overhead like great smudges across the sky. There's a tree crookedly bending over her, flower-heavy branches filling her vision with blurs of white and pink.
Someone's grinning at her from a few feet away. She can't remember his face or anything about him except the outline of a long scarf and the tilt of his head and the way he smiles. He's almost completely gone, except for a barely-defined impression against the sky.
There's more to the memory, but it's missing. What she does remember: life is very long.
When she crash-lands her TARDIS it's Earth, England, 1986; the names mean something to her, but she isn't sure what. The ship is quite dead, wheezing rotors and groaning parts arrested and unmoving; she's outside, on the grass and underneath the stars, waiting for something she cannot now name.
(Later, she realises that the face she's wearing isn't the one she remembers.)
- this is the way the world ends; the very idea is impossible and unthinkable, but there it is, painfully real, boiling away in a splay of gold-orange-white across the sky; and the universe is falling all to jagged pieces and reassembling itself imperfectly with a hole in it where a world and a race and a million intertwined timelines ought to be (she can feel every single one, almost; she can feel them rip apart and break and burn and dissolve into something less substantial than a vacuum, and it's almost breaking her). And the fact that she isn't burning with it is one of the greatest ironies she's ever been offered; but perhaps someone has to be left behind to watch the fall of empire.
She's half-unconscious in an old Type 40 (she might have appreciated the irony once, long ago, but right now she's uncertain and confused and possibly more than a little lost); it's veering terribly out of control and she's cut and bruised from falling and stumbling and shattered glass; but she doesn't notice, because this is the end of the world.