Chin on hand, Romana watched with amusement as the Doctor peered at the console, the TARDIS's control manual opened up beside him.
"No, no this can't be right," he muttered, scowling at the console before calling over his shoulder. "K-9, have you been recalibrating the randomiser again?"
"Negative, Master," K-9 said, his motor purring softly as he powered his way into his room.
"Are you sure?"
"Positive, Master," K-9 said, and Romana's lips twitched. Technically, K-9 didn't have the circuitry to support an emotive response matrix, but he managed to sound affronted nonetheless.
"Face it, Doctor," she drawled. "You've obviously read the manual incorrectly."
"What? Oh, don't be silly," the Doctor said, frowning distractedly. "No, it must be the…oh, that doesn't look good."
Sighing, Romana got to her feet and joined him at the console. "What is it now?" she asked, exasperated. "Surely it can't be…oh, that isn't good."
"I've just said that, didn't I?"
"Well," Romana sniffed, "That doesn't really count, does it?"
He gave her the Look, the one he used when he couldn't think of something suitably quelling to say. She ignored it, like she usually did, and watched over his shoulder as he brought up the data on the anomaly. "It's an inter-dimensional rift hub," she concluded.
"That's not all it is," he said grimly. "We have to get out of here."
"Doctor, don't be ridiculous, we can't just leave a wild rift hub wander willy-nilly around the universe, it needs to be contained!"
"Romana, look at it! See the spikes in the gamma spectrum? The quantum fluctuations in its radiation field?"
"Let me see," Romana said, as she leaned in to have a closer look. "But that's not right. That would mean there are multiple timelines snarled in its matrix."
"Exactly!" the Doctor declared.
"But Doctor, don't you see? This means that we can't leave. Gallifrey needs to be informed, they'll need data, we need to find a way to dissipate the quantum fluctuations – if we don't, there'll be multiple timeline incursions. We could have stone aged civilisations being bombarded with new technologies, Daleks storming through the millennia, the consequences could be disastrous!"
The Doctor stared at the monitor, curiously silent.
"Doctor?" Romana ventured, after a few moments.
"You're right, of course," he said quietly. "But I can't help but feel we should leave now. I've got this feeling…"
Romana's hand tightened on the console. She had known the Doctor long enough to realise that the Doctor's 'feelings' usually had some basis in fact. He was a strange old coot, quite unlike any other Gallifreyan she'd met, but he did seem to have an instinct for danger.
But the Doctor never ran from danger. He fled from many things, rules and responsibilities, Gallifrey and commonsense, but never danger. A cold shiver ran up her back.
"We'll leave," she said, as she reached for the co-ordinate controls. "Right now."
"No!" the Doctor barked, snatching at her hand. "No," he repeated, in a gentler voice. "You're right, we can't leave."
"No, Romana, we need to follow this through," the Doctor said, as he crouched down beside K-9 and rested his hand upon its head. "K-9? I need you to do something for me."
"I need you to fix the current timeline co-ordinates in your databank, lock it into your core memory and feed it into the TARDIS's unreroutable library banks. Can you do that for me?"
"Doctor, that's against regulations," Romana said slowly. "Only the High Council is supposed to add data to a TARDIS's library mainframe. It's to stop information from conflicting timelines crossing over and…oh."
"Exactly," the Doctor said. "We're going in, and I think it's best if we leave a trail of breadcrumbs, don't you?"
Romana sighed; he had a point. "There'll be repercussions."
"Yes, well, there are always repercussions," he said. "Hold on, this might get a little bit bumpy – K-9, has the information transfer been actualised?"
"Affirmative, Master, all relevant data has been written into the library mainframe."
"Right, then," Romana said, taking a deep breath as she took her place beside him at the controls.
"Right," he said, his face suddenly lighting up with a wide, open grin. "Let's see what we'll find, eh?"
The Doctor took the randomiser offline – a reasonable precaution considering the circumstances – and took control of the TARDIS's co-ordinate panel. Romana watched the data stream down the console and, on impulse, raised the shield on the TARDIS's view screen. "Oh my," she breathed, as she caught her first glimpse of the rift, threading its way through the vacuum of space.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" the Doctor observed. "But then, so many deadly things are."
"Do you think the TARDIS's shielding is up to this?" Romana asked.
"Should be," the Doctor said. "Although, who knows what could happen if we get caught in the wrong dimensional shift…"
"You're not inspiring confidence, Doctor," Romana said dryly.
"My apologies," the Doctor said, his tone equally dry, as the rift grew larger on the screen. "It's as if…oh dear."
"Doctor?" Romana asked, as the Doctor suddenly clutched at his chest.
"It's nothing," the Doctor said, waving her away. "Just a little…indigestion?"
"Timelords don't get indigestion," Romana pointed out worriedly.
"Oh, really?" the Doctor said, his feet suddenly giving away. "Fancy that."
The TARDIS lurched, and Romana stumbled on her feet as she reached for the Doctor. They both fell, the Doctor cushioning their fall.
"Romana," the Doctor said, his voice shallow, as if he was breathless. "I don't feel so well."
Romana stared at the sudden pallor of his face and reached for his wrist. His pulses were dull and thready, not a good sign. "Doctor, I think you may be dying," she said.
"No," he said. "Not dying….just not feeling myself….it's as if…" he shuddered, and Romana pulled his head onto her lap, gingerly patting it as the shivers subsided.
"There, there," she said.
"There, where?" he mumbled.
Romana smiled. "It's an Earth phrase, remember?" she said. "You told me I should make an effort to pick up the lingo…so I did."
"How nice," he said. "But that's not what I meant. Where are—" He shuddered again, this time more violently, and Romana grabbed his shoulders, trying to anchor him as the TARDIS abruptly reeled around them.
"That can't be good," she said, under her breath.
"No, not good at all," the Doctor agreed weakly. "Romana, I fear I may have made a slight miscalculation…"
"Don't talk, Doctor," Romana said. "Save your strength. We need to get you to the infirmary, do a full body scan. Just give me a moment to pull the TARDIS away from its course."
"Too late," the Doctor said. "It's already begun, we've no option but to ride it out."
"Ride what out?" Romana asked, exasperated. "Listen, you're obviously in no condition to—"
"No, Romana, you must listen to me," the Doctor said, clutching at her hand. "It's the timeline, you see, I've crossed my own path. It's the only explanation for what's…oh, damn!"
Romana held on as the Doctor rode out another seizure, and bit her lip worriedly. "Doctor" she said, as it subsided. "I don't understand. A Timelord crossing his own timeline is inadvisable, but hardly this disruptive – not unless something has gone seriously wrong with the timeline continuum and the High Council wouldn't allow that. There are safeguards put in place, guidelines to observe, it can't happen."
"Not now, maybe," he gasped. "But in the future? We've crossed the rift horizon, who knows what will happen."
"Don't be silly, Doctor," Romana said sternly. "The future, the past, it makes no difference. Gallifrey is always. "
"Then explain this! "
Romana watched in amazement as his face suddenly blurred, and then became strangely angular. His hair, under her hand, suddenly felt less coarse, and curiously straighter – although still rather unruly, a wry voice in the back of her mind noted.
"Not much…time," the Doctor groaned. "My personality is being subsumed by the dominant Doctor in this timeline. Not…permanent, I think. But best not to linger too long."
The light in the TARDIS dimmed to an amber glow, and Romana frowned as the ceiling suddenly began to warp and rise, curving like a cathedral dome. The Doctor's body arched, as if in pain, and she held on as he transformed in front of her eyes, his frame becoming narrower, the bones underneath shifting, becoming sharper. If it weren't for the fact that his clothes also seemed to be going through the same process, she'd have sworn it was some sort of esoteric regeneration.
Of course, this was the Doctor, so she still couldn't quite rule that out yet.
"Doctor…Doctor?" she said.
"Ho…hmmm," the Doctor muttered under his breath, his eyes still closed.
"Who…what!" The Doctor sat bolt upright, hair all askew. Some things didn't change.
"Actually, I think the correct question is 'when'," Romana said mildly.
"Romana? What are you doing here?"
"I sometimes ask myself the same question," Romana sighed. "What is the last thing you remember?"
"Um, mushrooms?" Doctor said,
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not really, no," he said, as he rolled to his feet. "Where's Donna?"
"My companion – red head, Londoner, kind of abrasive…"
"Sorry, doesn't ring a bell."
"That's… not good," the Doctor said quietly. "Romana?"
"It's really you, isn't it?"
Romana raised an eyebrow. "You were expecting me to be someone else?" she asked coolly.
"Yes, no, I don't know," His expression looked lost as he held out a tentative hand. Romana took it, and let him pull her up.
"You look like you've just seen a ghost," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Am I…" He laughed abruptly. "Yes, fine, brilliant, fantastic, even." But his voice sounded curiously dull.
Romana tried to pull her hand away, but he held onto it firmly, his thumb brushing against her wrist. "Doctor, I know this can be a bit disorientating, but you're acting a bit strange…."
"Oh, sorry!" he dropped her hand, as if it had suddenly become poisonous. "Two hearts," he mumbled.
Romana grinned. "One for casual, one for best," she quipped. It was an old Gallifreyan expression, taken from a children's nursery rhyme.
"Yes, you were always the best," he said, his eyes darting away guiltily.
Romana felt a brief spurt of irritation. She had known that this Doctor would not be her Doctor, but there was such a thing as good manners. "So," she said flatly. "Are you going to help me fix this, or are you just going to keep acting like a…a… primate!"
"Fix this?" he asked, puzzled.
"Well, I can hardly stay here, can I?" she said, exasperated. "We need to get back to our old timeline."
"You mean you're not…you're from the past?"
"But of course I am," Romana said impatiently. "It's obvious! Well, maybe not, but that's beside the point… listen, the Doctor – my Doctor – said that it had something to do with crossing your own timeline. Foolish, I know, because the factors involved for such a possibility to be realised are so incredibly unlikely. One would have to wipe out every High Council safeguard; every measure Gallifrey has taken, over the millennia, to prevent this sort of instability –why, you'd practically have to wipe out Gallifre—"
The Doctor took a sharp, indrawn breath, and Romana stilled. "That's it, isn't it?" she said, as the silence drew on. "Something has happened to Gallifrey."
"I can't talk about it," he said automatically.
Romana raised an eyebrow. "It's never stopped you before," she reminded him.
"That was different. I was different," he said, his eyes becoming cold. "Things are not what they were."
"Yes, I think I'm beginning to realise that," Romana said stiffly. She was really, really beginning to dislike this Doctor; he was so rude. Not that her Doctor couldn't be rude on occasion but he, at least, was a little more genial about it. "Perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on the problem at hand. Namely, my presence here."
Guilt flashed across his face once more, but he nodded. "Yes, I think that's best," he said briskly. "You said that we crossed… wait a minute, we?"
Romana sighed. "You were subsumed," she explained. "By, well, you. One minute you were all scarves and teeth; and the next, you were… well, you're still all teeth, but at least your dress sense has improved."
The Doctor preened. "You like?" he asked, as he did a little half turn to show off his new body. "Quite svelte, don't you think? I'm not so sure about the hair, but the bone structure—" He slapped his cheeks. "Is quite good – and look, I've got freckles!"
"Very fetching, I'm sure," Romana said dryly. Rassilon help her, the Doctor had added narcissism to his long list of personality traits.
His expression drooped. "You don't like it."
"Oh, for goodness sake," she said, with an impatient flick of her hair. "Yes, it's very nice, positively chic, nice freckles, good cheekbones—"
"You don't think I'm a bit on the skinny side?"
Romana bit back the retort on the tip of her tongue, and looked at him. Really looked at him. The hair, the suit, the dark, sad look in his eyes… What had happened to him? "You're beautiful, doctor," she said eventually. "Positively wonderful."
"Ah, well, I wouldn't say that," he said, but he grinned cheekily, giving her a good look at his bright, big teeth. The more things change, the more they stayed the same. Romana grinned back, despite herself. Perhaps he wasn't so bad, after all.
"I've missed that," he said, his grin faltering.
"You," he muttered. "Your smile."
"Really?" Romana asked, feeling strangely flattered.
"Your room is gone," he said, abruptly changing the subject. "I had to eject it a few centuries back."
"Centuries," Romana echoed. "If I may ask, which regeneration…?"
"My tenth," he said.
"It's been a while, then."
"Yes, been a while," he said, sticking his hands into pockets, as if he wasn't sure what he would do with them if he didn't.
"Well," she said.
"Well, " he said.
"What? Oh, yes, the rift!" he declared, as he bounded around the console. "Let me see…oh, that's not good!"
"You've already said that."
"Yes, you have… and you really can't remember any of this occurring, can you?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Well, it's been a while, and there was always something happening back then, wasn't there? Guardians, Daleks, E-Space…"
"Oh, that hasn't happened yet? Ah well, never mind, it all works out well in the end – when were you, exactly, in your timeline?"
"We'd just left Paris," Romana said, joining him at the console.
"Ah, yes, good times," the Doctor said, with a nostalgic sigh. "Remember Duggan? With his gun, and his coat, that rather fortuitous tendency of his to punch anything that got in his way…"
"Seeing as it has been only hours since I've been there, I think I may be able to summon up the memories," Romana teased. The Doctor pouted, actually pouted. This new regeneration was really quite strange.
"The rift!" he exclaimed. "I remember! Well, at least I remember that I don't remember. I didn't retain my memories when I changed back, and you wouldn't tell me what happened. "
"Probably because I couldn't talk about it," she said ironically.
"Ah yes, rules," he murmured. "Although, I seem to remember…the library!"
"The information should still be in the mainframe," Romana agreed. "But maybe we should hold off accessing it until we've ascertained what's causing the temporal instability in the rift."
"Oh, I already know that," he said dismissively.
"You do?" Romana said, surprised. Temporal mechanics had never been the Doctor's strong suit. "Very well, amaze me with your theory."
"Not so much a theory as a fact, actually, " he said, a tad smugly.
Romana sighed. "Oh, go on, then, tell me what's causing the rift."
"Why, me, of course; who else?"
"Of course," Romana said flatly. "How silly of me, I should have realised."