CAAN (resolute)

Prattling aside, it would seem to me that even here, at the Dragon's Eye, the DoctorDonna cannot be found. I was sure this of all places, would allow me contact.

DOCTOR (thinking of something)

Well reality is certainly thin here, almost non-existent. But, are you sure you're going about it the right way, Caan old buddy?

CAAN

What do you mean?

DOCTOR (vague sounding)

Well, seems to me that reality is thin here, but it's still here. Maybe, rather than using this place as a door (because we know that went over so well in the beginning,) we should try using it as a window.

CAAN

As in, reality: not thin enough to break, but still thin enough to see through.

DOCTOR

Exactly. Brilliant aren't I.

CAAN

Oh, you're something all right. Brilliance wouldn't be the word for it though.

DOCTOR

Hey now, let's not get all sidetracked with what I may or may not allegedly be.

CAAN

Not focus on you? That would be a change.

A sad and struck face stretches across the pseudo-Doctor's visage.

DOCTOR (wearing a hurt look)

That cuts deep, it really does.

Of course, the Doctor who is not the Doctor, being who he is, cannot hold this feigned look for long and it snaps right back into a grin.

DOCTOR (grinning)

Mind you, considering how dull you are my Dalek friend, I'd be surprised if you could wound anyone.

CAAN (gesturing with an idle tentacle)

Maybe so, but even a dull blade has a point. Where as where your supposed rapier wit is concerned... well, let's just say I never have fear of you splitting my sides with laughter.

The next moment stretches out with the Doctor wearing a restrained look on his face.

DOCTOR (restraint failing)

Touché.

There is a distinct sound of a tentacle slapping against whatever the Dalek equivalent of a forehead might be, at this resounding cliché.

DOCTOR (musing)

Is that a point to you or a point to me? I'd say you'd won, but with this last-

CAAN (somber)

It doesn't matter, whosoever point it was, it had best have been a short one. We have company.

One flare of dark red light after another went off, but not just in random intervals, no. These flashes were orderly, one after the other in clear and concise lines. These weren't just a few redshifts, these were many, and they were arrayed in the rank and file symmetry of an army, an invading army.

--

A sound of pounding, and the figure in white stops dead, spinning round towards the way from which they had come, feeling the guiding hand on his wrist dig deep. That the redhead was strong was no doubt, but that sensation didn't matter, not with the feeling of pitted emptiness taking hold of his lower gut.

CHUCK (expecting the skittering and scurrying of temporal scavengers)

...

Instead of a swarm, there was... nothing. The hallway behind them was empty, not a single thorax or carapace to be seen; and yet... And yet there had been that sound, the thumping like that of many hearts, the ominous cardiac tremolo of many creatures.

CHUCK (sighing with relief)

Few, well that was a close thing.

DONNA

...chirrup...

CHUCK (confused)

What?

DONNA

...chirrup...

CHUCK (surmising)

Oh; the fright gave you the hiccoughs did it, miss Noble?

DONNA (silent)

...

CHUCK (worried)

Miss Noble?

'Chuck' realises that the grip on his wrist hasn't lessoned any, if anything it was stronger now; far stronger. The figure in white stops gazing over at the rear of the hallway, stops scanning over the anagram-labelled doors, and slowly, ever so tentatively looks back towards the fore and the friend.

CHUCK

Donna?

'Donna' he says half-heartedly, but the thing now standing there holding him is not Donna Noble; oh no. It's taller, darker, and has two too-many limbs for that. If what they had encountered before was a mere scavenger, a scout before the swarm, this... this thing was a predator, the true hunter for that swarm.

CHUCK

Oh, dear.

Standing close to two-metres in height, or near-on six-foot-six at the horned-top of its burnished black beetle shell; it stood erect on reverse-bending legs, extra segments in each. The head, which was low and bent, was fixed with heavy horned-mandibles and swishing attennae, attennae flung about like flails in the hands of some careless Roman centurion in ages past. It was almost comically like some insectoid parody of a Judoon, the way it wore itself in a heavy armoured carapace and a gargantuan head reminiscent of some terrestrial rhinoceros beetle; only now no one was laughing at this lethal parody.

BEETLE (not actually Donna)

...chirrup...

CHUCK (nervous ranting)

Augh, I don't know exactly what you are, although I can guess, but maybe, oh I don't know, if it's not too much trouble, could you sorta, maybe, possibly release my arm? It's starting to hurt.

Not only was the thing not funny, it was down right unnerving. However, it was not that it was so beetle-like that made it unnerving, it was the fact that it was so inhuman. 'Chuck' was hard pressed to put a finger on what unnerved him the most, but he knew what was giving him the queasy feeling in his gut, where was Donna?

--

JACK

What?

JOHN

I said rise and shine sleeping beauty.

Jack's head was pounding worse than a seven-day binger in the Korprulu system with a Tarmagarion Sevdon chaser, and that was saying something. There were definitive reasons that you didn't use two overlapping vortex-manipulators for space-time travel; something about breaking causality and existing in two when-places at once, and yet not at all, left the traveller's mind all an achy.

JOHN

What, are you still not talking to me? Would it help if I said I was sorry?

JACK

No, it wouldn't.

JOHN

Why?

JACK (earnest)

Because you couldn't mean it. I know you John, you never mean it.

JOHN (not able to give a reply after that)

...

Both men are chained by their wrists, and hanging by the shackles from a low ceiling in a dank and drafty subterranean cell. A smell of wet and musk from long disuse permeates the cell's stale air. The room is done up in walls and decour of bare and rough hewn permacrete, (the fifty-first century equivalent of concrete, but more indurate than crude adamantium.) What little light there is filters in from a barred window set in the single squat door leading into/out of the grim permacrete cell.

JACK (still bitter)

Yeah, thought you might say that.

Several hours pass both chained men by in silence, only an idle drip-drip-drip of some far off water leak leaves the interred gentlemen with any sound. Any sound that is, until the partially disabled wrist-manipulators of the detainees start to wink and blink on and off, heralding electronic distortion and then the broadcast of reverberating laughter.

LAUGHING VOICE (broadcasting out of the wrist-manipulators)

Oh how sweet it is, the old triage back together again.

JACK

What do you want Gaheris?

GAHERIS

Oh my Jack, so eager to get to the climax, that's not like you at all.

JACK

Funny. However, I think you'll find a lot about me's changed.

GAHERIS

Oh, be that as it may, somethings never seem to change.

JACK

Such as?

GAHERIS

Well, I do seem to be on top again, where as you two... well as I said, somethings never change.

JACK

Isn't that the same thing as admitting you've gotten boring and predictable, Gaheris?

GAHERIS

Come now Jack, I may be many things, and have been called things many more, but 'boring and predictable' has never been one of them.

JACK

Not from where I'm standing... er, hanging. Seems like you've got to put men in chains now if you want to keep their attentions.

GAHERIS

Odd, as I seem to recall, last time my attentions for you involved chains Jack, you seemed quite happy to volunteer. Dalon Hex was such a good memory too.

JACK (provoking)

I've had better.

GAHERIS (ignoring)

Oh really now Jack, you don't expect someone as well versed as me to rise to such obvious bate like our friend John over there now do you? He always was the weakest of our triage.

JOHN (brooding silence)

...

GAHERIS

You know John, you were a lot more fun before you went to murder rehab(s.)

JACK

Cut the crap Gaheris, what do you want?

GAHERIS (dictating)

Fine. Well as you can see, now that I've taken the liberty of (well actually I've taken several liberties with you both already, seeing as you both went unconscious and all, anyway) confining you to the detainment levels of HQ, I figured you'd both be more comfortable with listening to me from these positions (since I haven't left you much other choice.)

JACK (dismissive)

And?

GAHERIS (taking an educator's tone, like one would with a well-meaning but rather slow child)

And! Neos, Jack. Neos is back!

The electronic distortion cuts out as the broadcast words fade out, the wrist manipulators returning to their technological dormancy. John is left with a sickened look on his face, while Jack stares off blankly, his eyes glazed over as if in some terrible memory.

--

Raindrops cascaded down from out of unbroken skies in a remembered time long past and still may yet to come, the streaks of jetblack clouds trailed out behind battling aerocraft beneath the tumult of grey thunderheads overcast. Flares of orange and deepest crimson exchanged between warring factions as the cityscape below was raised to ashes. Even permacrete burned in molten fragments, becoming like megaliths of melted wax under hammering barrages of neutronic concussions and bolts of anti-neutrinos. Subatomic fires burned across the cosmos, and behemoths bulks of charnel metal crashed into cruising fleets of opposing interceptors.

LIEUTENANT (running up to the cadré leader's command bunker)

The Fades are advancing, ser.

JACK (watching the enemy lines from the bunker's holoscreen.)

Hold the line!

LIEUTENANT (reporting)

We cant! They've sent in a flanking party, we've just lost the Sigma palisades.

JACK (resigned)

It doesn't matter, we have to hold them here, no matter what the cost.

LIEUTENANT (alarmed)

Even if it means the fall of the entire western alpha cadré?

JACK (grim)

Especially then. It will fall to our ghosts to save us.

LIEUTENANT (raising an arm to the cadré leader's shoulder)

That's just not acceptable, ser.

JACK (pulling the hand from his shoulder)

That's right, it is ser, and so long as it's my command, then it must be acceptable. There is no other choice.

LIEUTENANT (taken aback)

Why?

JACK

Because it's the only chance we've got. We've got to buy more time.

LIEUTENANT

We've got? We'll all be dead!

JACK

Aye, but so will the enemy.

LIEUTENANT

How so?

JACK (whispering)

Delta waves.

Suddenly the lieutenant's face goes wan and pale, almost ashen, he looks like he's about to sick up.

LIEUTENANT (startled and disbelieving)

Delta waves?! No! They're going to try that? Never!

The lieutenant slowly reaches into the folds of his agency-issue combat-jacket.

LIEUTENANT (sad tone)

I'm sorry, ser.

JACK (sadder tone, reaching into a frayed and weathered grey duster in response)

So am I.

Bang. There is the sound of a single thermal round being delivered into a lower abdomen as a blaster is drawn from a duster and fired.

JACK (reholstering his blaster)

So am I.

From high above, as interceptors and behemoths careen and spiral, as rain slicks down from smoke and fire laden skies, there is a shadow, a midnight-deepest shadow advancing across the ruined cityscape. It rolls over the front lines, shirking away from the rapid-fire incendiary rounds and gushing plasma-throwers of the entrenched ground forces. However, a secondary flanking shadow also advances, already having left the Sigma palisades in darkness behind. A lone cadré leader watches this scene on the holoscreen, as he reaches into the bunker armoury for a host of sonic grenadoes and an atomic BFG. The leader hopes and prays to the nameless cosmos that it will be enough to hold the enemy here; hopes and prays that Neos will get the delta wave generators ready in time.

--

Erstwhile, between the Vortex and the Dragon's Eye, the crimson flashes recede to leave something in their wake. A Timelord shadow and the Dalek look on, and see that, that something is nothing. No, wait, not nothing. The redshifts (arrayed in military style) leave something (somethings,) but it's hard to make out against the infinite gloom of the nowhere place that they currently inhabit.

DOCTOR (thoughtful)

Is that company what I think it is?

CAAN (in black humour)

Depends, do you actually ever think?

DOCTOR (matching the black humour)

Oh my; do you think we're going to get to die laughing?

CAAN

Oh, I'd say that's a most likely possibility. The dying part anyway.

The something and the nothing company is in fact more of a unit, than a company. A collection of bulky individuals in dark uniforms that look almost like leather, yet double as both space-suits and fully-plated body armour. They march forward in perfect rank and file, becoming more distinct as they advance on the two mad conversationalists.

DOCTOR

I tell you Caan, a half handful of millennia don't do much to improve their fashion statements does it?

CAAN

Agreed.

Spartan and iconic military dress clad the stark soldiers marching, marching, and then halting at a raised hand from a soldier in the front line, who appears slightly larger and brawnier than the rest.

DOCTOR

I tell you what...

CAAN

What?

DOCTOR

No, I'm supposed to tell you: what.

Caan's eye starts to twitch in irritation.

CAAN

Enough! Explain.

DOCTOR

Alright, alright. All I was going to say is at least they're not Sontaran.

CAAN

Explain.

DOCTOR

I don't know, just not a fan of armed vegetables.

CAAN (thinking)

...Their potato motif?

DOCTOR

Just so.

Following a succession of hand signals from the central soldier, the 'unit' of gloomy shaded individuals realign themselves in a new formation. The unit turns out to be more of a collection of units once they spread out to be more ably counted. The tightly packed marching column did much to understate their numbers, now about three hundred abreast and eleven deep by rough estimation, they make a semicircle converging on the two.

DOCTOR (wistful)

You know, I'm really starting to miss fighting the Daleks and the Cybermen.

CAAN (correcting)

You never fought the Daleks and the Cybermen, averted future, remember?

DOCTOR (counter-correcting)

Oh no, I still fought them.

CAAN (adjusting)

Fine, you just never lost to them then.

DOCTOR

Heh, well come to think of it, altered timelines or no, I never really lost to either, even then. They were just Cybermen and Daleks after all, not that big a deal.

CAAN

You know, I'm starting to wonder if that blind arrogance is unflappable confidence or just willful ignorance.

DOCTOR (smiling)

Hmm, well either way I'm still smashing.

Caan makes no comment as the semi-circle tightens, and the lead soldier in a familiar dark uniform steps forward. Both Dalek and Doctor, who is not the Doctor, realize that the uniforms are not entirely unchanged in millennia after all. They're still pretty much the same, save for being done up in crimson piping and scrollwork for trim. Moreover, every soldier seems to have the common sigul of a bleeding eye upon their lapels and breast plates, and with a midnight sunburst emblazoned upon their helms.

DOCTOR (smile fades)

Now that I think about it, I may not have lost to the Daleks, but I did lose everyone else; including myself.

Caan's lone eye turns away from the advancing lead soldier (with the symbol of the golden hand gilded on one pauldron and the nine-pointed white-star enamelled on the other;) and looks at the Doctor uncertain.

DOCTOR

I'm serious, I lost myself and you found me, you stopped me from becoming... well from becoming me; and I thank you.

Caan looks about to reply, but both Dalek and Doctor are interrupted by the long hiss of vapour-equalisation. The taller and brawnier lead soldier (with golden hand and white star) has hit the decompression locks upon his armoured-collar, which is attached to his full helm, and now he slowly removes that bulky helmet.

LEAD SOLDIER

Toh. Roh. Goh. Soh. Shoh. Moh. Roh. Droh. Foh!

((Identify species and origin. You will be catalogued.))

--