PARADIGM - CHAPTER FIVE: PARADIGM LOST

"She won't do it, you know." The Doctor said, having given up struggling. "No matter what you do. Not of her own free will."

"You sound very sure. Do you know her that well?" said the voice of the crystal wall. " Still, we are about to find out."

Kim and the Childseer walked into the cavern hand in hand.

The Doctor scanned her face anxiously. She looked calm. Collected. Even confident.

"Have you decided?" asked the voice.

Kim nodded. "I accept."

"No!" the Doctor struggled against his captors once more, but they were rock steady.

"Of your own free will?" Did the voice have the merest hint of excitement?

"Of my own free will."

"Then it is settled. Take your place."

She let go of the boy's hand and began to move towards the spinning sixth cube of the display.

"Kim, you can't! The universe is full of good. It's diverse, vibrant. Kim! For God's sake -"

She paused and faced the Doctor. Was that a smirk on her face? "For my sake, you mean."

Kim took her place under the spinning cube. For a moment there was no change, then the tumbling rotation above her head began to slow. She started to glow faintly.

As the horrified Doctor looked on the pressure on his arms suddenly ceased. All the Acolytes in the room collapsed silently into dust, their empty robes littering the room.

"Their work is done," boomed the crystalline voice. "As is mine. Nothing can stop it now. I am as irrelevant as you are. "

The Doctor screamed. A mixture of anger, fear and helpless frustration.

The Childseer fell to his knees in supplication at the centre of the cavern facing Kim, who was bathed in an ever- increasing radiance.

Slower...slower...the sixth cube began to align.

The Doctor backed away, gasping and wide-eyed. Then, incredibly, he heard a voice behind him.

"Doctor?"

He spun like a top and found himself looking at Kim Gideon!

She stood unsteadily at the passage entrance.

"Something knocked me out," she said. "With this I think."

She help up a battered and scorched book. The title was still legible. 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens. Kim's eyes widened as she looked over the Doctor's shoulder. She pointed. "What am I doing over there?"

The Doctor looked at the figure under the slowing sixth cube and then back at the woman in front of him.

"IT'S THE SKAPE!" He violently shoved Kim out into the passageway. "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

They covered the short distance at full pelt, the Doctor leading the way and Kim doing her best to keep up. Behind them a low hum began. Like telephone wires in the countryside at night. Pulsing, menacing. It seemed to chase them.

They emerged onto the terrace under the crowded sky. Without breaking stride the Doctor ran for the police box. Just as Kim thought he was going to smash into the doors he snapped his fingers and they flew inwards. As she breathlessly crossed the threshold she could see the Doctor well ahead of her, in the centre of the control room, throwing himself onto the control torus.

"Hold On!" he shouted. "Crash Start!"

The engines roared their disapproval and the room tilted at a crazy angle.

.

Back in the cavern the sixth cube had virtually stopped spinning. The figure beneath it, radiant with power, screamed for joy. The prophecy fulfilled.

Then, cocked at an angle to the other five, the sixth cube stuck!

Mommy.

Yes, sweetheart?

I've been a very silly boy.

Have you, precious?

She isn't the Six, is she?

I don't think so, no.

I'm sorry, Mommy.

Never mind, dearest. You tried your best.

Mommy.

Mm?

I can see now what I will become.

Tell me what you see, my baby. What will you become?

Nothing.

The light of an exploding sun consumed The Skape in an instant. It was still wearing an ecstatic look on its borrowed face as it vapourised.

The Childseer's eyes melted and flowed down his cheeks in a grim parody of young tears. Fortunately he felt no pain at all. There simply wasn't time.

In the next instant he was atomized as a terrible inrush of primeval power flooded the chamber. In fact atomized is not the right word. Not even his atoms survived. He became nothing, as he had foreseen.

And in the instant after that, the planet Skasis exploded.

.

From the blessed peace of the Tardis control room the Doctor and Kim watched the scanner in silence as a new cloud of interstellar gas and dust formed.

"The Skasis Nebula," murmured the Doctor. "It's got a nice ring to it."

"What happened?"

"It was like putting the wrong key in a lock. The Paradigm activated a fail-safe. It took the whole planet and all those moons up with it."

"But that thing looked just like me. Back there in the cave."

"It wasn't you though. It was just a petty shape-changer on the look out for the main chance. It must have thought it had hit the jackpot. 'The Universe of the Skape.' Not an agreeable prospect. " The Doctor held up the book and tutted. "I obviously didn't do such a good job sealing this as I thought."

"Thank goodness ," said Kim with feeling. She fidgeted and started biting her nails.

"You OK?"

She looked up. "Am I real?"

"Pardon?"

"That thing talked about me as if I was just some part in a jigsaw. Am I really normal? Or am I...well...artificial?" She chewed at her fingernails again.

"One hundred percent human stock. A child of Earth. The fact that the final element of the code matched yours was just pure chance."

Kim pondered. "Are you telling me that it was all a coincidence? You finding me, bringing me here at random? What are the odds?"

The Doctor pursed his lips. "Astronomical," he admitted. "But I deal in the astronomical. In the absence of any other evidence its the only explanation I can offer." A smile played at the corners of his mouth."But there again, 'There's more to Heaven and Earth, Horatio...'"

Kim smiled weakly. "Don't call me Horatio."

The Doctor looked back at the scanner. "I wonder if we really owe a debt to the Children of Skasis?"

Kim raised her eyebrows.

"That boy led the real Kim Gideon out of the room and came back with the Skape. With his enhanced powers he should have known."

"Perhaps he did."

The Doctor shrugged.

"What happens next?" Kim was desperately tired.

The Doctor looked serious. "That depends on a question I want to ask. Take your time and think carefully about your answer."

Kim's senses were suddenly on full alert, her fatigue dropping away.

"Kim. If the Skape hadn't taken your place, what would your answer have been?"

There was a long silence. Kim felt that her future pivoted on this. What did he want her to say? He was testing her, she was sure of it. Then, remarkably, she heard the voice of her long-dead mother, offering her advice on the morning Kim went for her job interview at the library. "Don't try to second-guess them. You can't. Just tell the truth."

"I was tempted." said Kim, in a very small voice.

Would that be enough for the Doctor to throw her off the ship? Take her home? She scanned his face, fearing the worst.

He puffed out his cheeks and seemed relieved. "When the Krillitanes offered me something similar, I was tempted as well. Thank you for being truthful with me, Kim. We're going to need trust if we're to travel together."

Travel together !

The Doctor threw his duffle-coat carelessly onto the console. "Now then. We'd better get you a room sorted out. And I'll try and find us somewhere less frantic for our next trip. No God-making machines, megalomaniac chunks of crystal and, above all, no chanting monks!"

"Doctor."

"Mm?"

"Before we do that I was wondering..."

"Go on."

"There's something I'd like to do first, if I can."

He looked up from the controls. "Tell me."

So she did.

PARADIGM – EPILOGUE

The streets of Hammersmith had an October sheen as the drizzle intensified under the darkening sky.

The man sat with his back against a wall, shivering under a matted tartan blanket. He was dirty, unshaven and smelled bad. Water dripped off his nose. At his side was an empty beer-bottle. At his feet an old woollen hat containing eighteen pence and a sealed condom, the latter having been deposited by a passing group of sneering youths.

He couldn't do this anymore. Not another night, like the God-knows how many that had gone before. His mind turned to the bridge just ten minutes away and the cold, deep Thames...

Two pairs of legs entered his eyeline. They didn't scurry on.

"Are you Jimmy Knapp?" A woman's voice.

He looked up. A bloke in a duffle-coat with the hood up and a middle aged woman with an umbrella. Social workers? Not more bloody social workers!

"I'm Jim Knapp. Nobody's called me Jimmy since I was a kid."

Something dropped into his hat. He frowned. A bunch of keys. What the...?

"Listen to me. Those are the keys to my house," said the woman. "Its nothing special but it'll be a roof over your head. I'm going away for a -"she looked uncertainly at duffle-coat man, "- while?"

"A while," confirmed her companion.

She pressed a note into Jim's hand. "That's the address. It's only ten minutes from here. You can borrow it. Until you get back on your feet."

They turned to go.

Jim was astonished. "Why are you doing this?"

The woman paused, looking down at him. "Let's just say that ever since I was a little girl there's been a big weight on my shoulders. It feels a lot lighter now."

The couple walked away into the night.

THE END