"The TARDIS Plague"
The tiny ship hurtled through space, tumbling over itself as it whipped around giant chunks of rock, huge clots of dust and ancient, nameless debris. It flew into fiendish electrical storms, crossed paths with meteors and comets and, once, slapped against the side of a rusted, forgotten satellite.
Inside, however, the Doctor felt not the slightest tremor as he nestled into the chair before the fireplace, sipping tea and reading—or trying to read. Too often, he found his attention slipping and his eyes wandering from the page to admire the sheer enormity of the TARDIS library. Shelves, impossibly tall, surrounded him on all sides, stretching unimaginable distances from the little clearing where he now sat, thoroughly enjoying the rare silence that had settled onto his ship.
"It's a shame I don't do this more often," he told his books. "As much as I enjoy the company, it is rather a pleasant change of pace to travel alone for a time."
The books were silent. The only sound was the gentle crackling of the fire.
"That's the wonderful thing about books," The Doctor remarked. "They don't ever disagree with you, although one often disagrees with them, and they are forever disagreeing with each other. All around disagreeable old things, books."
"I'm bored," the Doctor said. He stood up and dropped his book onto the chair. "Bugger you, all of you. Dusty heaps of paper bound with glue, that's all you are, except for you lot from Melogious-Rondixvoli." He could hear those particular volumes growling and rattling the bars of their cages. He tossed his scarf over his shoulder, and once again so as not to trip, and then he carried his tea out of the library, down the corridor, up two flights, down another corridor, through the aquariums and into the kitchens.
"At least, this should be the kitchens," The Doctor mumbled. He adjusted a Picasso (hideous thing, but he vaguely remembered admiring it during his Second incarnation) and wandered around the gallery, absentmindedly tracing his fingers along this rare painting and that priceless sculpture.
"Well, I shall have to try that again," the Doctor decided, and set out to find the kitchens. He discovered them tucked away behind the video arcade and the gift shop.
"You naughty thing," the Doctor said, kicking the wall. "I appreciate the diversion, but I'm afraid I'm not in the mood at the moment." He stopped. "Although, I had quite forgotten about the shop. I love a little shop. I shall have to nip in later for a look around."
After he had chucked his dishes into the sink, the Doctor made his way back to the console room.
"Change it back!" he demanded, and instantly the plush, heart-shaped couches, the pink fuzzy carpet, and the giant stuffed bears faded back into the familiar stark white.
"Stop changing your own desktop theme, would you?" The Doctor began pushing buttons and twirling dials on the console. "What was that one, prepubescent girl?" He pulled a lever, and the TARDIS gave a great lurch. The Doctor swayed on his feet. "I don't know why you feel the sudden need for an alteration. The white is classic. It matches my iPod." The Doctor's eyes widened. "Where did I put that blasted thing? Oh, never mind. We're here."
The Doctor checked his pockets. Yo-yo, Jelly Babies, sonic screwdriver. Check, check, check.
"How did you get in there?" he asked, tossing an enormous Callexian diamond over his shoulder. He strode forward, toward the TARDIS doors, and promptly tripped on his scarf.
"Blast!" he swore, wrapping it around his neck. He threw open the doors and stepped out into the frigid night air.
"Ah, Christmas Eve." The Doctor took an appreciate look around. He was standing in a field of brittle, frost-covered grass laced with hard-packed mud and rocks that jutted from the earth like dark, broken bones. In the distance, he could make out a miniscule speck of light, miles away. It was the only thing that broke the unending, unchanging landscape.
"Cheerful sort of place," the Doctor said. "Still, it beats that stuffy old library. Will you be all right here by yourself?" He patted the side of the blue police box, which at the moment looked alien indeed, wildly out of place in the barren field.
"Quite right," the Doctor said. He pulled his hat form his pocket and placed it firmly upon his head, then started forward, heading toward the light.
"I don't suppose it would make much sense to land just a touch closer," the Doctor said. "No, it's perfectly fine, I rather enjoy contracting pneumonia, influenza, and yes, I believe I detect a nasty bout of the plague coming on. I suppose I really must get around to fixing that chameleon circuit one of these days. Stepping out of a strange woodshed is one thing, but it is another matter entirely to arrive by police box two millennia before they are invented. Oh, bother, I've gone and forgotten I don't have anyone to talk at."
Half an hour later, the light began to take shape. It was a building, or rather a little huddle of buildings, standing defiantly against the darkness. The Doctor took a brief moment to admire, once again, human ingenuity, before something brushed his elbow.
"Pardon me," someone said distractedly. The Doctor turned and saw a young man, tall and rather thin, with a great mane of dark, spiky hair. He hurried past the Doctor, his head down, nervously chewing a fingernail, obviously deep in thought.
"Not at all," the Doctor said. He took note of the man's peculiar dress—he was wearing a long brown coat over a pinstripe suit and black plastic glasses that perched on the end of his nose.
"I have a feeling we're going in the same direction," the Doctor said, hurrying to keep up with the young man. "Shall we accompany one another? I thought I might perhaps inquire as to your wonderfully inappropriate choice of attire. Never try to blend in, that's what I always say, although it is hard to pass up the odd toga or occasional Seraqualed space gown. I'm the Doctor, by the way. Would you care for a Jelly Baby?"
"No," the man said. "Thank you."
They walked for several moments in silence before the young man suddenly stopped. He looked up for the first time and, noticing the Doctor, his eyes widened.
"I knew I recognized that voice!" he exclaimed. "Blimey, I just ran into one of you. Me. He was looking a bit worse for wear, but you—you are fantastic! Just like I remember!" The young man seized the Doctor's hand and pumped it up and down. A wide, stupid grin appeared on his face, and it made him look even younger, like a kid. "I can't believe I almost forgot you'd be here!"
"Yes, hello," the Doctor said. "Have we met?"
"Not yet," the young man said, finally releasing the Doctor's hand. "Well, this has already sort of happened to me, but never mind that. Oh, there it is!" He grabbed a length of the Doctor's scarf. "What was I on? Honestly, what? Oh, don't look like that; you always did pull it off somehow. Shall we go inside?"
They had reached the encampment without the Doctor quite noticing.
"Come on," the young man said. "There's only one room left."
"Yes," the Doctor said, "but how did you know that?"
The man ignored him. He pulled open the door to the largest of the buildings, an inn. The Doctor followed him into a long, narrow common room crowded with people. People eating, drinking, huddled by the fire. Dancing, laughing, scowling into their mugs—and suddenly the Doctor was reminded of why he'd come here in the first place.
"Merry Christmas!" he announced, and the young man frowned and shook his head.
"Spoilers," he said.
The Doctor stood by the door as the young man waded through the common room, toward a small desk shoved into the corner beside the bar.
The Doctor stood aside to allow a tall, bearded man in stained, muddy travel robes to enter the inn.
"Hello," the Doctor said. "You look like you've had quite a trip. Would you care for a Jelly Baby?"
The man nodded distractedly, obviously not listening. He too made his way to the desk, where the Doctor's new friend was counting coins into the hand of a tired old man with a long white beard.
"His loss," the Doctor said, and popped two Jelly Babies into his mouth.
"Right then," the young man said a moment later. He handed the Doctor a small brass key. "Shall we go up? Or do you want something to drink? The wine is practically vinegar and the stew is dreadful, but you can't beat the show."
The Doctor nodded toward the traveler. "Is that...?"
The young man grinned. "Oh, yes. And we just got the last room. Don't give me that look. What's so special about being born in a room at the inn? Come on, let's head up. I want to get a nap in before tonight."
"Have you been here before?" The Doctor asked as he followed his new companion up the stairs and down a corridor lit with small torches mounted on the walls.
The young man came to a stop before a plain wooden door. "Here we are. Number fourteen."
The Doctor turned the key in the lock, and a moment later they were inside the small, sparsely-furnished room.
"Hardly what we're used to," the Doctor said. He unraveled his scarf and draped it over the back of the room's only chair. "Tell me, do we still keep that Christmas tree in the bedroom? Right across from the bed?"
"First thing I see every morning," the young man grinned. "Jack was horrified. So you've figured out who I am, then?"
The Doctor fished out a packet of Jelly Babies from his pocket. "Yes. Jelly Baby?"
The young man took one and sat on the edge of the bed, turning it over thoughtfully in his hand. "There's something...off, though. Something not quite right. Because you see, I remember this bit. In a second you're going to ask about Sarah Jane."
"Sarah Jane!" the Doctor said. "How is Sarah Jane?"
"Fantastic," the young man said, and for a moment his grin reappeared. "She's a journalist now. She's got a son. Forget I told you that." He stood up. "I remember that. There's going to be a crash downstairs in a moment—" he held up a finger, and a moment later they heard a muffled crash from the common room—"but after that...nothing. Not until the Queen Mary."
"I wonder," the Doctor said. He joined the young man at the small, grimy window and looked out onto the roof of the inn's little stable. "Perhaps a breach in the linear continuum trigged an anomalous instability in the synaptic response system."
"You just made that up."
"Yes," said the Doctor. "Yes, I did. Load of old rubbish. Did I say that last time?"
"I don't know." The young man cocked his head. "Listen. Do you hear that?" He walked to the wall opposite the bed and placed his ear to it. "Is that the Beatles?"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sure of it. That's 'Penny Lane.'" He pulled something from his coat pocket and held it up to the wall.
The Doctor crept forward. "Is that a sonic screwdriver? I've never seen one quite like it."
"I'm getting a strange reading from the other side of this wall." The young man turned to the Doctor. "How can you not hear that?"
"I suppose we'd better investigate."
They went out into the hall, both holding their sonic screwdrivers out before them.
"How exciting!" The Doctor whispered. "Nothing is more wonderful than a Christmas mystery. Do you remember that one year on the Menuvian Probe?"
"Dead bloke in the airlock, giant ants in the cargo hold, Judoon platoons presiding over kangaroo courts on the bridge?"
"A wonderful year," the Doctor said.
They stood before the door next to their own, number thirteen.
"Ready?" the young man asked. Without waiting for a response, he pointed his screwdriver at the doorknob and they heard a faint click. The Doctor followed him into the room, where two teenagers in silver spacesuits were sprawled on the bed, grinning up at the ceiling and passing a glowing, smoking ball back and forth between them.
"Hello!" said the Doctor, waving to them with the end of his scarf. He lowered himself into the chair and propped his feet up on the edge of the bed. "I'm called the Doctor and this is my associate, John Smith. Still going by John Smith, I imagine?"
"What the hell?" one of the kids, skinny with shaggy brown hair and a face spotted with freckles, sat up. "Who let you in?"
"Who are you?" Smith demanded, sweeping the room with his sonic screwdriver. "How did you get here?"
"Judging by your clothes," the other teen, short and plump and wearing a mirrored bar across his eyes, "the same way you did."
"Which would be how, exactly?" the Doctor asked.
He shrugged. "A TARDIS, of course."
New Los Angeles, like its Old Earth counterpart, was a flat, sprawling city baking in the California sun. The Doctor stepped out of his TARDIS and blinked, his eyes watering. He had landed on the beach. All around him, brilliant white sand reflected the light of the noonday sun.
"I must have a pair of sunglasses here somewhere," he muttered, fishing into his pockets. He tossed a half-eaten candy bar, a glass ashtray, and a strand of Mardi Gras beads onto the sand.
"This isn't very Christmasy at all," the Doctor said, looking around at the palm trees and the few sunbathers in plastic chairs and splayed out on beach towels. He found what he was looking for and pulled the sunglasses over his nose.
"The last time we were here," said someone from behind him, "we were with Leela and K-9. Do you remember? You found her a shark's tooth."
"That's right," the Doctor said, turning to find John Smith leaning against a palm tree. "I told her it was from a flying velociraptor monkey."
"Come on," Smith said, "we've got to find this place."
They set off across the beach, Smith leading the way, his hands in his coat pocket. As they walked, the Doctor began to sweat. He unraveled his scarf and fanned himself off with one end.
"Here," Smith said finally. They'd reached a long wooden ramp that led to a low lot where several vehicles hovered on a bed of air. "Just past the car park."
The lot had been constructed on a hill, and the Doctors walked beside it until they reached the other side. When they'd reached the peak, the Doctor took off his sunglasses and shook his head.
"Impossible," he said. He turned to Smith. "It's impossible."
Smith said nothing.
Below them, stretching as far as they could see, were columns and squat brick towers, boulders and phone booths and sleek silver spaceships.
"TARDISes," Smith said. "It's a TARDIS dealership."
"On Earth," the Doctor said. "Well, New Earth. But who would sell a TARDIS to a human? It's against every law on Gallifrey, a violation of every treaty and proclamation in the universe."
"And dangerous," Smith added. "Humans can't possibly comprehend the delicate and infinitely complex nature of time travel. Yet here we are, at a TARDIS dealership. Look at that sign."
"'Low, low financing,'" the Doctor read. "My God, they're selling TARDISes to people with bad credit!" His eyes widened. "And those teenagers!"
"They sold a time machine to two pothead teenagers from the future," Smith said gravely.
"We're doomed," the Doctor said.
Addy Frye massaged her aching temples and tried to relax. She willed herself to remember the techniques Novice Liarta had taught her. Cool, clear water, flaming sunsets...
"This is ridiculous," she said. She surveyed her desk with dismay. Invoices, titles, requisitions and court orders for TARDIS repossessions formed great mounds of paperwork that had long ago spilled from her inbox to consume the entire desktop.
"Stella!" she screamed, pounding the button on the call box. "Stella, bring me another Mellow patch." She thought for a moment. "And a double martini."
In the reception area, the Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Its not even noon," he muttered.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen." Stella stood up, the sunlight making her sleek black coat shimmer. She used a claw to slice open a packet containing a small green patch. "One of our salesbots will be with you shortly." She left the Doctors standing in front of her desk.
"She thinks we mean to buy a TARDIS," John Smith said.
"I did have my eye on that grandfather clock by the entrance," the Doctor said. He tucked a brochure into his pocket. "What was in that packet?"
"Emotions. Canned, artificial emotions." Smith circled the desk and sat down in front of the computer.
"Allow me," the Doctor said, whipping out a fly swatter. "Oh, dear. Where did I put my sonic screwdriver?"
Before he could try his other pocket, Smith had his screwdriver in hand and was pointing it at the monitor.
"Right," the Doctor said, somewhat put out. "Shall I have a look around, then? See what I can find out?"
Smith nodded absently, and the Doctor set off, glad to finally have something to do.
"I'm not used to being the straight man," he said to himself. "It must be very boring for my companions."
He poked his nose into a small closet and, finding nothing, continued down the same corridor the receptionist had taken. Behind each door he opened was an empty office or deserted conference room.
"Hello?" he called. The next door he tried opened on a small cafeteria. A lavish spread of muffins and scones, doughnuts and bagels and fresh fruit had been arranged on a long, stainless steel table. Several tall canisters of tea and coffee were on display, and the Doctor spent the next several minutes happily cramming food into his mouth. He wrapped a few extra pastries in a napkin and tucked them into his pocket, then turned to leave. He found the door blocked by a small, thin woman in a cranberry business suit. Her short-cropped hair was the brightest red the Doctor had ever seen. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and her brows were furrowed.
"Hello!" the Doctor. "Are you a salesbot?"
"I'm Addy Frye," the woman snapped. "This is my dealership and that's my food you've been helping yourself to."
"Is it? I hadn't noticed." The Doctor plucked another scone from the table and took a bite.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Just a traveler. My associate and I have come a long way to help you. You see, those machines you're selling are terribly dangerous."
"Listen pal, I don't have time for this nonsense. Get out of here before I call the police."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," the Doctor said. "I was hoping for your cooperation. Of course this means we'll have to stop you. How did you come across this technology, by the way? It's obviously stolen, but by whom? And how?"
"I'm just a dealer," Addy said. "You got a problem with the machines, take it up with the manufacturer. Now get the hell out of here." She grabbed the Doctor's collars and shoved him into the corridor.
"Smith!" the Doctor said, hauling the young man to his feet. He led him out of the reception area and back out to the lot. "We've been wasting our time. Who knows how many of these dealerships have cropped up across New Earth? Across all of time and space, for that matter? We must find out who's behind this. We've got to find the manufacturer."
"And where would that be?"
"New Detroit," the Doctor said.
"The TARDIS manufacturing capitol of the world!" The Doctor grinned. "You should have read the brochure."
They reached the TARDIS. The Doctor ran inside and practically leapt at the console.
"But TARDISes are grown, not made," Smith said.
"These are synthetic facsimiles," the Doctor explained. "Knock-offs, if you will. Whoever our mysterious thieves are, they obviously didn't steal all of Gallifrey's secrets."
A moment later, the Doctors stepped out of the TARDIS and craned their necks to take in the massive fortress that stood before them.
"It's enormous," Smith said. He gripped the Doctor's arm. "Do you see that?" He pointed. "Look!"
Near the top of the massive structure, in huge neon green, was the company's name.
"Cybus," the Doctor said, tasting the word. "Cybus. Cybus. Why does that sound familiar?"
"It doesn't," Smith said. "Not yet, anyway. Come on, we've got to get inside."
They crossed another air lot, ducking under and between rows of parked vehicles to avoid what appeared to be a flying mechanical stingray that circled the lot, sweeping it with a bright red beam.
"Security robot," the Doctor said, and Smith nodded. They crouched behind a car and waited for the bot to fly past them. When it did, the Doctors crept forward. The lot was massive, and several more times they were forced to hide and wait out the robot. At last they came to a long, low wall and a guardhouse, where two gigantic robots stood, their arms crossed, before the gate.
"Great," Smith muttered. "Psychic paper doesn't work on robots."
"Psychic paper?" The Doctor said. "Have we resorted to cheap trickery? I never needed psychic paper. Leave this to me." And before Smith could say a word the Doctor strode out from their hiding place and walked confidently toward the guards.
"Halt!" one of them commanded, and the Doctor held up his hands and grinned.
"Hello," he said. "I'm the Doctor. Unarmed. Check my pockets if you like."
"We do not recognize your facial construction," the guard said. "You are not a Cybus employee. State your purpose."
The Doctor thought for a moment. "I don't suppose I have a purpose. That's always been my problem, no purpose, just sort of drifting here and there. I just came to have a look backstage, see where the magic happens."
The robots looked at each other.
"He is with the tour group," one said.
"The tour group! Yes, I seem to have gotten lost."
"You are in a restricted area. I will escort you back to the Pavilion." The guard reached out and grasped the Doctor's shoulder.
"Wait for me!" Smith called, leaping into view. "We're together."
The robot grabbed Smith roughly around the neck.
"Ow," he wheezed, and the three of them vanished.
They materialized in a cavernous lobby where throngs of visitors—humans and humanoids, cat-people, androids and other unspecified creatures—wandered about, flitting between shops and restaurants.
"I will contact your group leader and have him meet you here," said the guard. "Which group were you in?"
"Oh, don't worry about it," the Doctor said. "I think that's them over there, by the fountain."
"Ah, yes," said John Smith. "There's Mrs. Delgado. Come on, let's catch up to them."
They waved goodbye to the robot and dashed off.
"That was close," Smith said.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "But where are we, exactly? Why would a manufacturing plant need such an extravagant lobby?"
"Well, it's obviously a tourist destination," Smith said. They slowed to a brisk walk. Neither dared look around to see if the guard was still watching them. "Everyone wants to see how the TARDISes are made. I'm a bit curious myself."
Past the fountain and between a newsstand and a photo kiosk they came upon a small door that read EMPLOYEES ONLY. There was a keypad set above the handle.
"Shall we?" the Doctor asked, and pointed his sonic screwdriver at the keypad. A green light flashed twice and the door clicked open. The Doctors entered a long concrete corridor and closed the door behind them.
"Do we ever tire of corridors?" the Doctor asked. They walked until they reached a fork where another passage intersected theirs.
"Let's split up," Smith suggested.
"Right," said the Doctor. "You continue ahead, I'll go this way." He pointed to the left.
"Good luck," Smith said, and they were off. The Doctor's corridor was soon thrumming with the muffled roar of machinery.
"I must be getting near the assembly line," he mused. Further down the hall he came to another door. This one, however, was not set with a keypad. The Doctor placed his ear against it and listened. He could hear nothing but the machines.
The Doctor shrugged and threw open the door.
Two Cybermen were standing in the room beyond, arms extended toward him.
"DELETE!" They screamed in unison, and fired.
The Doctor threw himself onto the floor. He scrambled over to the Cybermen, unraveling his scarf. The bulky mechanical men took a moment to register the Doctor's position, and by then he had managed to wrap his scarf around their legs. He leapt to his feet and rapped his knuckles against one of the Cybermen's skulls.
"Tag, you're it!" he said, and ran. Behind him, he heard a tremendous crash. A moment later, he hurtled around a corner and found Smith standing in a doorway, sonic screwdriver in hand, gaping at him.
"Cybermen," the Doctor panted. "Two of them."
"Great big ones with a giant letter C on their chest?"
"The latest upgrade, I imagine."
Smith nodded. "I was afraid of that. They look a bit nastier, but they're still just tin soldiers."
They piled into another corridor. Smith sealed the door behind them with his screwdriver.
The Doctor looked around. "This is a change of pace."
This corridor was shorter than the others. The floor was covered in a plush carpet, and big, lavish portraits hung on the walls. Directly opposite where they now stood was a large door. It too was branded with the Cybus logo. The Doctors approached it, and Smith put his ear to the steel and listened, eyes wide.
"It's quiet," he whispered.
The Doctor held up his own sonic device. "Shall we?"
A moment later, the door slid back into the wall, and the Doctors entered an enormous office. The same lush carpet ran beneath the room's heavy marble and glass furniture. In the center of the room was a magnificent desk, and behind the desk, leaning back in his chair—
"Lumic," Smith said. "John Lumic. You're alive."
Lumic smiled a humorless smile.
"We're the Doctor," the Doctor said. He ran his finger along the edge of an antique coffee table. "I do appreciate a well-appointed office."
"You've got Cybermen roaming the corridors of a major tourist destination," Smith said, his voice low.
Lumic sat up. "Did you perhaps wonder why they didn't pursue you?"
"They bloody tried," the Doctor said.
"They're encased in a Time Lock. They can't get out, ever."
Smith looked puzzled. He sat down one of the two black leather chairs before Lumic's desk. "Why?"
"I can't have them running around the facility, can I? They've killed dozens of migrant workers since they arrived. Do you know how much I've paid to keep this out of the press?"
"Arrived?" Smith asked. "What do you mean 'arrived'?"
"I was wondering what's taken you so long. They've been here almost a month."
"What do you mean 'arrived'?" Smith repeated.
"They just...showed up," Lumic said. "They materialized in the factory, demanding the software and prototypes."
"For the TARDISes," Smith said.
"Of course," Lumic said.
"Who are you," the Doctor demanded. "How did you come by the capability to replicate a TARDIS?"
"His name is John Lumic," Smith said in the Doctor's ear. "I met up with him in a parallel dimension. Well, a version of him, anyway. I suppose it was inevitable that he had a counterpart in our universe."
"Now, now," Lumic said. "It's not nice to keep secrets."
"Indeed," said the Doctor. "So tell us how you did it."
Lumic sighed. He thought for a moment.
"The legends of the Time Lords," he began, "are many and ancient. It is said that they could travel through time and space, materializing anywhere within history and even beyond. Pure fantasy, of course, or so I thought at the time. But fantasies often contain the tiniest spark of truth. And so I assembled a team of researchers to investigate transdimensional physics."
"The Time Lords spent a millennia developing this kind of technology," the Doctor snapped. "One man in one lifetime couldn't possibly create the kind of machines your factory is churning out. How did you really do it, Lumic?"
"My researchers drew upon the acquired knowledge of all of human history," Lumic said. "A history you're very much a part of, Doctors. You like to imagine that you're faceless, unnoticed, silent. But your travels are well-documented. Ancient files in the Torchwood Archive speak of Gallifreyan technologies at length. It took only one man with my kind of scientific genius to unlock the ultimate and final secret of the Time Lords, a secret that could change the very laws of the universe."
"Do you have any idea the kind of damage you've done?" the Doctor asked. "Even as we speak, whole solar systems are collapsing. And just what do the Cyberman have to do with all this?"
"Attracted to the technology," Smith said. "They escaped Canary Wharf and ended up here. They knew that if they alone controlled time and space travel they could accomplish what they set out to do all those centuries ago."
"And now you've come, just like the legends said you would," Lumic said. "The Doctor, the eternal hero, here to save the day."
"Is that what you think?" Smith asked. "That we'll clean up your little robot invasion and then ride off into the sunset, leaving you to profit off the destruction of entire universes?"
Lumic sighed. "Do you think I had any idea? Doctor, its already begun. People are going missing...entire cities vanished...my daughter..." he buried his head in his hands. "What could I do?"
"You could've stopped production," Smith snapped.
"Never mind," the Doctor said. "We've got to bring those TARDISes back."
"That should be relatively easy," Smith said. "We'll simply reverse the Huon particles, drawing the machines to us. The only problem is anyone not inside the TARDIS at the time of the transfer will be left behind. Stranded throughout time."
"If we can remotely control the TARDISes," the Doctor mused, "we should theoretically be able to trigger the Huon particles only when the TARDIS enters the time vortex."
"Brilliant!" Smith said. He frowned. "How do we do that?"
"The machines are connected to the Cybus communications network," Lumis said, tapping his earpiece. "We could upload the program through that."
"That still leaves the Cybermen," Smith said. "How many are there?"
"Only a dozen or so. They're trapped in the East Wing."
"And that seal won't hold forever," Smith said. He turned to the Doctor. "I can get started reversing the Huon particles. That leaves you to deal with them."
The Doctor nodded grimly.
Smith turned to Lumic. "And when we're done, we're shutting you down."
"Permanently," the Doctor said.
"Don't mind me," the Doctor said. He flashed John Smith's psychic paper at a group of factory workers. "Quality control."
The TARDISes were lined against a long concrete wall, simple boxes before the activation of their chameleon circuits. He selected one and stepped inside.
While it was indeed bigger on the inside, its modest size—one huge room with a console, living quarters, and mechanical systems all crowded into one unbroken space—betrayed its organic origin.
"Still," the Doctor said, approaching the console, "it is rather remarkable. I should keep one as a backup."
It took him a moment to adjust to the streamlined, "user-friendly" controls, but a moment later the view on the monitor changed, the confused workers replaced by the blank stares of a half a dozen Cybermen. They reacted immediately to the presence of the TARDIS in the corridor, surrounding the machine with their arm cannons raised.
The Doctor tied a string around a lever and then crossed the room to the living area. He crawled under the bed and yanked. The TARDIS doors slid open. From his vantage point he could not see the monitor, but he heard the metal men outside bracing themselves.
"Oh, hurry up," he muttered.
"Show yourself," one of the Cybermen demanded.
The Doctor plucked an orange Jelly Baby from its packet and tossed it out from his hiding place. Before it could land it was blasted apart. A moment later three of the Cybermen marched aboard.
"Search the vessel," one commanded. The rest of the Cybermen entered the TARDIS. The Doctor watched them stomp around the ship, turning over chairs and tables. One approached the bed, and the Doctor yanked the string, hoping he'd trapped them all. The doors shut, and all of the Cybermen, including the one about to expose him, whirled around.
"Show yourself!" the leader commanded again.
"All right," the Doctor said, scuttling out into the open. He tipped his hat at them.
The Cybermen turned to face him.
"Now!" he shouted into his earpiece. An instant later the Cybermen fired, their lasers crossing in the empty space where the Doctor had been standing.
Out in the corridor, the Doctor swayed on his feet. He took an instant to recover from the remote teleport. He heard a deep hiss as the Time Lock was released. A squad of security robots lined up and, one the count of their commander, fired a series of missiles at the TARDIS.
The Doctor shook his head at the flaming wreckage.
"A waste," he said, and left the robots to put out the fire.
By the time the Doctor tracked Smith down, in a laboratory down the hall from Lumic's office, his future incarnation had connected a Cybus Industries TARDIS to what appeared to be a gigantic circuit board. He was busy attaching this circuit board to the console of a familiar blue police box. The Doctor entered the ship and threw his coat onto the hat stand.
"I'm almost finished," Smith said, not looking up.
"Where's Lumic?" The Doctor asked.
"Working on a virus to upload to the network." Smith held his sonic screwdriver to the circuit board, then turned and grinned at the Doctor. "I think we're ready."
A head appeared in the TARDIS doorway.
"The program is finished," Lumic said. "My engineers are uploading it as we speak."
Smith followed the Doctor back into the laboratory. Smith placed the circuit board on a counter, took a deep breath, and held up his sonic screwdriver once again.
"Do it," the Doctor urged. "What are you waiting for?"
Smith sighed. "The damage has been done. Who knows how many millions have lost their lives?" He shook his head. "All in the name of human curiosity."
"All in the name of human greed," the Doctor said, pointing his own sonic device at the circuit board. Sparks flew, and Lumic ripped the headset from his ear as it emitted a piercing shriek.
"It's done," the Doctor said. He walked over to a small glass case on the wall. Breaking the glass with a blast from his screwdriver, he reached in and pulled the lever. An alarm began to sound.
"Evacuate the facility," he told Lumic. "We're coming back in one hour with the Judoon."
"They'll confiscate the technology," Smith explained, "but we can keep them off of you. We appreciate your cooperation."
He and the Doctor entered the TARDIS. Lumic watched them dematerialize.
He sighed and, a moment later, left the room to oversee the evacuation.
The night sky twinkled with stars, and as the Doctors stepped out of the TARDIS they felt the chill, so much colder after the warmth of New Los Angeles.
"Do we ever have a quiet Christmas?" the Doctor asked.
"What do you think?" Smith replied. He looked toward the little collection of lights a few miles away.
"I suppose that's for the best," the Doctor said, remembering the stillness of the TARDIS library. He thought for a moment. "How long have we been travelling alone?"
"Not very long," Smith said. He gripped the Doctor's hand. "It's not good for us, though. Find somebody, Doctor. A friend once told me we need somebody to stop us every now and again, and I think she was right."
"Stop us!" the Doctor exclaimed.
Smith grinned and stepped into his TARDIS. A moment later, he was gone. The Doctor was alone once again.
"Merry Christmas," he said, and then he, too, was gone.