Chapter One: Shroedinger's Kiss

"Burn bright, die young, end it all spectacularly--that's the price of greatness."

Rose was standing in the console room, gazing up at the TARDIS ceiling. The Doctor had switched on the holographic projector, making it appear to be open to space. All around were stars; and directly overhead flickered the undulating colours of a vast nebula.

"It's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it."

They had been following a linear timeline. Rather than dematerialise into the Time Vortex at one set of space-time coordinates and rematerialise at another, they remained at a relative point in normal space, sliding along time's arrow at great speed. The reason? To prove that the future exists. The end of Time was their hoped-for destination, a crossing-over point between parallel universes, where Rose might once again be able to meet a man also called the Doctor, another Doctor, her Doctor, the man she had once promised to stay with forever. But to do this, she would have to give up everything: home, family, friends. Once she had made this decision quickly and without regret. But now, there was a complicating factor.

That complicating factor was, at the moment, standing behind her. He was an elegantly incongruous figure, in a green velvet frock coat, grey silk cravat and brocaded waistcoat. Framed by long, brown ringlets, his face appeared young, although he measured his age in centuries. He was pointing up at a bright spot in the middle of the ceiling. "Eta Carinae, the largest star in the universe--and most unstable. That's why it's surrounded by so much luminous gas and dust--it keeps violently throwing off bits of itself." He glanced at his pocket watch. "Should be quite the show. We've got a few minutes left 'till supernova, by my reckoning."

Rose stole a glance at the Doctor's face, the star reflecting in his eyes. The dim, ethereal light reminded her of Shada, where the Doctor died--or so she believed at the time. She hadn't really started to care about him until she thought she had lost him. The prospect of losing him again loomed large--and, this time, it would be by her own choice.

A part of her hoped she wouldn't have to choose. Perhaps her Doctor wouldn't appear. Perhaps he had found someone else--that thought clutched and tore at her heart. No, she wouldn't think about that possibility. Perhaps--perhaps the future in this universe hadn't been restored. Then she wouldn't be able to meet her Doctor; and she wouldn't have to leave this one. Yes, that would be the best possible outcome--and, she realised guiltily, also the worst. It would be devastating for her Doctor--no, wait, devastating for this Doctor. She'd mixed the Doctors up.

"You're very quiet," said the Doctor. "Don't you like it? I suppose it is a bit of a let-down after that strange star--"

"No, no, it's lovely," Rose said quickly. They had been observing various stellar phenomena as a sideline to their timeslide. He'd shown her a strange matter star, explaining it as something between a neutron star and a black hole. Evidently the gravitational pressure was so great that the neutrons deep within the star had broken apart into quarks. Quarks come in various "flavours" including one called "strange." Hence--strange matter. It had been rotating quickly, sending powerful streams of radiation at them. Somehow this set all the teacups rattling in the TARDIS, so they didn't stay long.

"Unfortunately, we're travelling forwards so fast that the only things we can really appreciate are astronomical events. But I assure you--the view will get much more exciting soon."

"It's fine, really..." Rose had a sudden idea. "Say--can you do it to the floor, too? What you did to the ceiling? Make it seem transparent, open to space?"

"Oh! Yes, not a problem." The floor faded. Stars surrounded them. Rose felt as if she were floating in space--which gave her another idea.

"Doctor, could you do something else for me? Can you adjust the gravity? I mean, it's artificial, right? We're in space, there shouldn't be any gravity, we should be floating."

"Don't be silly. Zero-G is a terrible bother. Anyway, the supernova--"

"I've never felt it. I want to! Please, just this once."

"Five minutes," said the Doctor, glancing again at his pocket watch. "Five minutes only." He set several dials, flipped a switch, and rapped the console with his fist. "There you have it. Zero-G. The most important thing to remember is Newton's First Law--a body in motion tends to remain in motion. The second most important thing to remember is that the sick bags are located underneath the console. Weightlessness often has unfortunate effects on the human inner ear. "

Rose felt her weight evaporate. Eagerly, she jumped into the air. "Look at this, I'm floating, I'm floating, this is fantastic, this is--OOF!"

"As I believe I mentioned not a few seconds ago," said the Doctor, wincing as Rose hit the ceiling and bounced off, "a body in motion remains in motion--until it comes in contact with something of greater mass. You must move slowly, carefully. That's why it's such a bother."

"No, it's brilliant." Rose had managed to stop her motion by grabbing onto one of the console scaffoldings. Now she was floating near the ceiling, bathed in the glow of the nebula. "Come up, it's fun."

"Oh...all right," said the Doctor. "I've been wanting a few books off the top shelf, anyway." He pushed off with his toes, and drifted up near her.

Rose was trying to get her hair out of the way so she could see; but it kept floating in front of her eyes. "That's the other hazard of Zero-G," chuckled the Doctor. "Bad hair."

"That's rich, coming from you," said Rose. His long ringlets were floating spherically about his head, making him look like a deranged clown. She turned and pointed at him; but the motion set her body spinning. She flailed out and grabbed at his hand to steady herself. Both of them spun now, slowly orbiting one another.

"Conservation of angular momentum," said the Doctor. "Velocity is inversely proportional to the rotational radius." He bent his arm, bringing her closer in. They spun a little faster. "You see?"

Impulsively, Rose leaned forward and kissed him.

He stiffened in surprise; but she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. They revolved more quickly. She flicked her tongue across his lips--they parted. She kissed him deeply, entwining her body around his. Soon she felt his arms around her as well.

He tasted like honey, golden honey. And--something else. It took her a moment to recognise it, but...she could feel the vortex energy, through his connection with the TARDIS. Her own experience with the heart of the TARDIS was no more than a shadowy memory, and yet feeling it again was intoxicating. She kissed him harder, hungry for it, trying to draw it out of him. Soon she felt the energy crackling through her veins. It began to overpower her; to tear her apart. She felt it might destroy her, but still she wanted more. The excruciating agony of it spiraled up ever higher and higher until--

Everything went gold. She felt herself fade away.

"Rose? Are you all right? Rose?"

Rose was gone, mere dust in the void; simultaneously, she opened her eyes. Something was pressing against the soles of her feet, pulling her down. Her knees buckled. An arm was around her, supporting her, holding her close. Disorientated, she gasped, "Doctor? What...what happened?"

"We were talking. You asked if I could make the floor transparent, and then you went all...glassy-eyed."

Rose pressed her lips together, trying to taste him, trying to feel the Vortex energy. "I...I...don't know." She was trembling.

He studied her, his expression more curious than alarmed. "Tell me what you experienced just now. Do you remember anything at all?"

She looked up into his eyes; the urge to kiss him was just as great as before. But...was it him or the Vortex energy she craved now? She didn't know. She swallowed hard; and recalled that, just before she felt herself fade, his arms had gone limp and slipped away from her. Too much Vortex energy was lethal to Time Lords, she knew. Had she killed him too?

Rose felt afraid. She turned away, out of his embrace, avoiding his gaze. "I remember…I asked you to turn the gravity off. We were floating..."

"Zero-G? That would be daft, seeing as how there's going to be a rather large bang here in a minute or two. No, I suspect you had a microsleep attack with a REM intrusion. It's a symptom of circadian clock disruption, quite common in time travellers, nothing to be—oh dear!" He leapt for the console, curls flying. A few bleeps and blips later, he sighed and mopped his brow. "I almost forgot! Right, we're out of the timeslide, in normal time now. Gives us a bit more breathing room before the supernova."

"So it was just a dream," Rose murmured. The Doctor's explanation made sense—well, as much sense as his explanations ever made—but she was unconvinced. It had seemed so real.

"Most probably. I suppose there's a very tiny chance that it could have represented a—no! That can't be right, it simply can't be!" The Doctor was shaking his head vigorously and pointing to one of the monitors.

"What is it?" asked Rose. She peered over his shoulder at the monitor.

"The Dark Energy readings are off the scale! They should have gone down, and--" He leaned closer to the monitor, pointing to a long series of digits. "Is that...chronoton contamination? But that would mean the Void--"

Just then the ceiling flashed a brilliant orange.

"The supernova!" cried Rose.

"No. Not the supernova..." The Doctor pointed towards the source of light. Bursting from it was a multitude of tiny objects. There were hundreds of them, thousands, maybe millions. They streamed out in all directions. Slowly, as they got closer, their outlines became more distinguishable.

Rose stared at them in horror. "Doctor..." Her mouth went dry; she couldn't speak.

"I think," said the Doctor, "you are about to tell me that those aren't Kaleds."