A word of warning before you continue reading:
I wrote this story with the 10th Doctor still alive and well. He didn't need to sacrifice himself to save Wilf, because he wasn't there in the final scene to lock himself in the radiation-booth. Some poor, innocent, but highly dispensable white-coat got roasted by the 100 megatons of radiation, not the Doctor. The rest of the story follows the storyline that was set out in the end of time. The Master disappeared with the Timelords, seemingly lost with the others as Gallifrey fell in the final days of the Time war. Wilf is back home with his family, safe and sound, while the Doctor still wanders alone in the universe, trying to find the purpose of his existence.
Hope you enjoy the story, and please, do respond and review, and I promise to write as often as I can, and special thanks to Edzel2 for beta-ing!
The water was tranquil today. He could see it through the large windows that flooded the Doctor's room with daylight. The colour of the water reflected that of the sky, which was grey and white. Mist hung low over the surface. Together with the faint rays of the sun, it created a serene but ghostly scene, basking the tiny stretch of mainland coast at the horizon in a cold orange glow. Somewhere outside these fortified walls, a seagull called.
"You know, sometimes it is good not to remember anything."
The Doctor leaned over his desk. With his hands folded, he studied his patient's face that was gaunt and pale, devoid of any emotions. He kept staring out of the window at the light that hit the water and splintered in a thousand glittering shards on the waves. This place was so quiet, so very strange. He often tried to listen. He would keep himself very quiet, even stopping his breathing for moments at a time. But he couldn't hear anything. Not really. There was no noise in this place. Only tiny little sounds, insignificant hums that was inevitable to be suffered by the living, soothing his mind to sleep. Footsteps in the hall, the rattle of food trolleys at dinner time, the meaningless chatter of the orderlies and nurses, the call of the seabirds outside his barred window, and at night, the steady breathing of his room-mate lying in the bed next to him, dreaming his medication-induced, sterile white-washed dreams, and the scratching of tiny paws over the worn-out floor as rodents found their way out of the locked room and into the kitchen.
"Did you hear me?"
He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the dusty stale air in the chamber. His chest strained the leather straps secured at his back. The Doctor was always talking. He talked and talked and talked, but never listened. How he wished he could get out of the straight-jacket. Rip right through the coarse fabric and free his hands, closing them around the Doctor's thin neck to shut his dull prattling, just for a moment. Maybe then he could hear it.
The Doctor came over from his seat and crouched down in front of him. Now there was nowhere-else left to look.
"Harry, did you hear me?"
He blinked his eyes, for a short moment there was contact. The Doctor smiled.
"We don't need to rush things. We'll take one step at the time. I'll be there. I'll help."
Something stirred his memory. It came through the fog of pointless thoughts that seemed to pollute his mind every waking hour, pestering him with minute details of things that didn't really mattered, like the way the Doctor's eyebrows raised at the end of every sentence that he spoke in a most irritating way, or how his black-rimmed glasses reflected the light from the wax-polished surface of his dark mahogany desk. He saw his own face in the same reflection, and suddenly he remembered what was once said between them, many years ago.
"You promised." He turned his head, meeting eye to eye. "You said you were going to take me to see the stars." A grin slowly spread over his lips.
"I promised that I would help you." The Doctor spoke in a soft voice.
"Oh yes, the Doctor is always trying to make people better." The grin widened into a sarcastic smirk. "Helping poor deranged fools like me." His hooded eyes were suddenly awake and burning fiercely.
"Oh you would like that, wouldn't you? To get your screwdriver and stir inside my mind to fix what is broken. The good Doctor and his pitiful patient, the fixer and the fixer-upper!"
He threw his head back and laughed in the Doctor's face as the madness returned and shattered the calm surface. It was as easy as breaking through a thin layer of ice with an iron mace.
"I know you don't want my help. But it doesn't matter. We've got all the time in the world."
"Oh but that's not entirely true, is it?" He rolled his head over his shoulder, making it crack. The strain in his neck muscle had felt like a killing.
Although he didn't want to show his anxiety, he couldn't restrain from glancing at the clockwork that sat on the Doctor's desk. The short silver hand wandering over the clock-face came close to five. Almost five o'clock in the late afternoon. Soon the sun would be setting, and darkness would follow swiftly. He turned, his eyes back on the window. Outside, the lagoons that surrounded the small island was still batching in the afternoon glow, giving a false sense of security that the night was nowhere near. But he wasn't fooled. The orange disk was almost at the dark stretch of land in the west. Although he had seen it a million times, the scene still evoked a strong sense of dread.
The jacket was uncomfortable. Sweltering. Hot. He struggled with the restrains when his eyes caught the glimpse of something floating over the waves. It was a tiny boat cutting through the water, leaving a triangle shaped wound in its wake.
No boats came to the island. No one of sound mind dared to set foot on it.
"Someone is coming." His eyes widened. The Doctor followed his gaze and saw the small moving vessel, alone in the vast plain of water. It was heading towards the island. He watched but didn't respond.
"Doctor. Someone is coming!" He turned to look at him. He never listened. With him you had to repeat everything twice, slam it into his thick skull, shove his nose right into it.
The Doctor gazed back at him. Apprehension and unease were evident on his face. "There is nothing to be afraid of. You're safe here." He lied.
Stupid, thick, moronic Doctor. Filthy, deceitful, cheating liar. Then again, the Doctor didn't have to face the monsters that lurked in the shadows. Frightening things that crept into his cell after the lights in the hall went out, disgusting things, with cold and bony fingers with breaths that carried the stench of decay, of a hundred rotting corpses decomposing in the hot sun. It climbed in his bed as he lay sweating between the sheets. Helpless he was, as it scuttled over his body, moving up with an agonizing slowness, before it ripped his skull wide-open to crawl inside his head. Such frightful visions, such dreadful nightmares it brought that he would scream and scream to never ever stop again, if he only they would allow him to. If only the drugs they gave him didn't rob him from a voice. Instead, he was like a corpse during those long dark hours, paralyzed by the toxins that coursed through his veins, strapped to his bed, his eyes open but vacant, his breathing laboured but constant. Sterile. Stable. No noise ever came from him. How could there be?
Perhaps the Doctor wasn't really a liar, only an ignorant bastard.
"You should return to your room."
"No!" He wriggled and squirmed, trying to get out, but only setting the restrains tighter till the leather cut right through the fabric into his skin. His hearts rattled inside his chest like a frightened bird in a cage. His eyes went back to the clock. "It's not time. Not yet!"
"You need to rest." The Doctor said worriedly, he moved back behind his desk and pushed the red button hidden underneath the tabletop. A buzzer went off. "We'll start again. Tomorrow."
"No! No! I'll be good. Promise. I'm calm now. Look at me! I'm totally zen." He stared at the Doctor with a big fat grin on his reddened face, but it was hardly convincing, even he realized that.
Two orderlies came into the room rolling a wheelchair. Lose straps of leather lay over the arms and dangled from the seat, waiting for him. He wet his lips and turned back to the Doctor.
"Let me stay in here with you. They don't come when I'm with you." He knew he was pleading now. He hated himself for it, but he would have crawled on his hands and knees to beg him not to let these men take him away again. But the dim, stupid, pig-headed Doctor didn't listen. He never did.
"Take him back." The Doctor said. Just like that. Three words, making up a sentence that meant very little to the Doctor himself, but meant everything for him. It marked the end of safety and comfort, of light and some degree of sanity, and the beginning of yet another nightmare, of darkness and perpetual madness.
As they dragged him into the wheelchair, strapped him down and pushed him out of the good Doctor's sight, before they came with the needle filled with poison, he screamed. He screamed his lungs out as long as he could, because he knew it had to last him the entire night.
When he was left alone in his office, the Doctor sat down in his chair, and cracked his neck. His shoulders were sore. His eyes gazed out of the window, and followed the tiny speck in the distance, and watched how it slowly grew larger as it approached. Harry was right. There were people coming. Humans. They were close enough for him to sense them, and in his mind he counted. There were three of them. Two men, and one woman, and they were still so very young. He sighed, his face strained by a sense of helplessness. The human race, he pondered, always so inquisitive, searching the unknown, looking for an answer for the how and the why of their own existence. You had to admire them for that. But seriously, why do these people never read the warning signs? He didn't put them up just for the bloody fun of it! You would think that a seven hundred miles thick asteroid belt, two red giants and a gigantic black hole would hold them back, but no! They come strolling right in as if trespassing was their kind's favourite pass-time! And now would he be forced to start rushing things. Set things in motion that he wouldn't dare to do otherwise, because he knew Harry wasn't ready for it. Not yet. He dreaded it. It went fully against his cautious instinct.
He had to though. He had no other choice if he wanted to prevent it from happening again. These people would bring out the worst of this place, out of him, just like they did last time.
Raking through his hair, he took the phone that sat on the desk and dialled a number. The line went over and a computer voice answered the call.
"Drive locked." It reported.
"Unlock C drive." The Doctor said. "Password - the Medusa Cascade."
"C drive unlocked."
"Assign data disk to C drive, mount program 110012 in path C slash section 5 slash 001."
"Program 110012 mounted."
The Doctor hesitated for a moment. He gazed at the sun, disappearing fast behind the horizon. Somewhere down in the long corridor, his patient finally stopped screaming.
"Run program 110012." He ordered, hoping fiercely that this time, it would finally work.
"And I'm telling you again. We are lost." Aurelia said with a certain snide in her voice. Why do the others never listen to her? Even if she was the youngest of the crew they shouldn't ignore her. It was downright rude. "We've passed that red giant for the third time already. The planet-nav is bust."
"It's not bust. It can't be bust." Irritated, Neil glanced over his shoulder at her, but kept his hands on the steering wheel. When you were cruising through space at light speed, you better be. The ship wasn't his, off course. He could hardly afford a second-hand rusty mud-glider, let alone an expensive intergalactic cruiser. Silver winged and sleek, gliding past the planets with ballet-like grace and handling like a mechanical engineer's wet dream, he must admit that he guy he nicked it from had immaculate good taste. He pointed at a red dot in the blue holographic screen projected on the front window. "It says here that we're still on course."
"It also says that we have 15 hours and 33 seconds left before we arrive at our destination."
" It already said that three hours ago!"
"Can you two stop yelling at each other?" William climbed over the back and jumped back into the front seat. He carried a 42nd century version of a cradle reader. "I could hear you all the way in the lavatory. Brighten up boys and girls, this was supposed to be a laugh."
"Bloody fun we're having with miss nag here." Neil complained. "I swear Will, next time it's you and me alone mate. Two guys, no chicks."
"The correct term to use is women." Aurelia responded, irritated. "Or perhaps a tad more difficult for you, ladies. I don't exactly like to be referred to as poultry."
"Hey, I didn't snooze through my classes of 21st century English slang for nothing. Indulge me."
"You pretentious twat."
"Oh cut the guy some slack." Will shot a smile at her as a peace offering between the two. "If it wasn't his obsession for the weird and obscure we wouldn't be here in the first place." He activated the reader and a digitalized version of a book-page appeared. The title page read: Poveglia the planet of horrors.
"Bit old-fashioned a holovid. Couldn't you get the brain-download?" Aurelia remarked.
"It's what you get by scanning the odd corners of the library. You should see the rows of paper prints that they keep on continent 5. Homer and Dickens in primitive ink on paper, absolutely marvellous." To Aurelia's annoyance, there was an actual dreamy look in Neil's eyes when he said that. "Works of art they are, you could even smell the breath of the people who have once read pages!"
Aurelia pulled a face. Meanwhile, Will was going through the pages. Words flashed by like someone was flicking the pages of a real book.
"Stop that. You're making me dizzy."
"I was looking for a specific chapter. There was this bit in the history section that was really interesting."
"Use the search function." Aurelia rolled her eyes. "Anyway, we know where we are heading." She took in a deep breath and continued in a bored voice. "Poveglia, the doomed isolation colony of the Adratic constellation. In the 40th century, all the human settlements in the nearby solar systems sent their people dying of the Medusian plaque there. Later it was converted to a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane, which was operational for about a century or so before it was hit by an asteroid in the 42nd century and was completely destroyed. We know the background of that place. Neil, the "professor" over there told us already. It's how he got us involved in this seemingly endless crazy trip."
"Man, everything sounds dull coming from you." Neil laughed. "You left out all the best bits."
"Right, the "hell on earth" and "you can still hear the screams of the dying" bits. I leave that to you. You were always better at the fictional stuff, hence the heavy reliance on wishful thinking in everyone of your disastrous schemes."
"Found it." Will said. Luckily he had learned to block out Aurelia's ranting over the years, you would just turn mad otherwise. He slowed down the flow and scrolled to the part he was searching for. "It says here, that legend says that Pevolga was not hit by an asteroid, but was purposely destroyed. The locals spoke of God-like beings, appearing in a magnificent white light, reaching out from their world into ours." He looked up at the others enthusiastically. "As a punishment for those who they had condemned to that place, they smite the planet with bolts of thunder, setting fire to the entire surface till the ground turned to black ash and the sky itself burnt red. Man this is really good stuff."
"Local folklore, you gotta love it." Neil said.
"Suits them for living in the backwater of the universe." Aurelia commented. "Why are you reading this?"
"I have always liked fiction." Will grinned. "Especially when it's fantasy. It's my cup of tea. Besides -" He looked at the counter on the planet-nav. "It helps to kill the time. We still got like 15 hours and 33 minutes to go."
Neil shot a glance at the timer, and groaned.
"There goes the red giant." Aurelia said as she stared out of the window at her right. "Again."
"Maybe we are a bit lost." Neil finally admitted, but not without pain in his heart.
"Yeah, maybe." Aurelia could not help herself from smirking. "Maybe we are quickly running out on energy as well."
Neil looked down on his dashboard. The streak of green lights that indicated the power supply had sunk well below the red line, and was pointing at critical.
"Turn the next moon right, we should pass a fuel station, I'm sure about it. We must have passed by like what? At least four times now." She was still smirking.
Neil took a deep breath and sighed before turning the wheel and steering the silver winged cruiser out of intergalactic highway 47 towards the nearby solar system.
The Doctor always thought that fuel stations were sad places to visit. You've got all these lonely travellers with long, tired faces waiting in line at the till, the place was flooded in awful artificial light that made every healthy person look terminally ill, and they sold absolutely horrible food. He found them especially sad when they were remote from the larger towns and cities, or in this case, so far away from the first inhabited planet nearby that it would take three days cruising at light-speed to reach. That was if you were only travelling on a spaceship typical of the 46th century of course. The Doctor was far better off with the Tardis.
He had parked it at the back of the main building in one of the garages. It was already well out of sight, but he locked and put it out of sync with time just for a second. He was going to leave it here for quite some while. Better to be safe than sorry.
He didn't exactly know why he was here, standing alone in this run-down place on this tiny rock at the far end of the galaxy, which had little more to offer than two rusty fuel pumps covered by a half-collapsing roof. It didn't even have a proper shop. He liked shops. It was the only thing that made a place like this somewhat sufferable.
Still, he was left with some sort of guidance. His hand slipped in his pocket and took out the tiny object. He held it in his palm, careful not to drop it. It was a shard of pure diamond, the only thing left to him from his home planet, now lost and forever gone. A white point star.
"Alright. I'm here. Show me where to go now." He wrapped his fingers around it and shut his eyes. Even so supposedly close to the source, the signal was weak and very difficult to pick up. There was so much noise coming from all around him, satellites screeching, planets rumbling, and stars burning that it was extremely hard to concentrate. How the Master had managed to hear that sound over vast distances of space and even across time itself, was a completely mystery to him.
"I should really ask him." He mumbled to himself. "When I find him. Or if."
If indeed. He shook his head. He must listen carefully, concentrate on the signal alone, block out the rest, even the sound of his own heartbeats. There! There it was. The drums. The rhythm of four. The very sound that had driven the Master insane and had nearly cost the Doctor his life. Once loud and threatening like thunder, it was now softer than a frightened child's whisper, nothing but a faint echo of what it once was. However, it still came from the man who was once possessed by it, and it had led the Doctor straight to him like a beacon shining in the night.
The sound came from the other side of this solar system, far away, behind the red giant that filled up half of the entire sky. The Doctor shook his head.
"No, no. I know that already. How do I get there? I can't get near with the Tardis. It's locked for Timelord technology. Come on. Show me."
The drums moved away from the source, turning to the left, and the Doctor followed it. He traced it back all the way to the front of the gas station till it faded away in the background noise. The Doctor tried to concentrate, but it was of no use. The signal was lost again. Frustrated, he uttered a scream and kicked an empty soda can. With the limited gravity field on this tiny planet, it was catapulted right out into space. The Doctor stared after it till it vanished into the dark.
"Blimey, it should be fantastic to kick a ball around here." He muttered.
He sat down on the cracked pavement. Although he could try again to relocate the signal, it was hard to pick up his hearts from down the tip of his shoes. He had been following this trail for so long now. Ever since the events of that catastrophic Christmas back on earth, from the moment that the Master vanished with the Timelords into the Time Lock back to the final days of the time war, he had been searching.
It wasn't a matter of silencing his guilt, or even repaying the Master for his unusual act of sacrifice.
The real reason was because he felt utterly alone. The years had worn him out like an old shoe. His wonderful companions had faded from his side, living their lives without him. He was either forgotten or remembered, but in the end, they all left. And as for the Timelords…well, did he need to open those wounds again?
With a heavy heart, he gazed at what was left of the white point star. The six faces of the shard reflected the sterile light and shattered it like stardust.
Suddenly, the Doctor heard a noise that sent him straight up. It was a rattle, a tapping, a rhythm of four beats. He perked his ears and listened. A silver winged cruiser slipped into the station. A pipe was loose from the exhaust system, and the whole thing made a noise like an old barrel running on Chinese firecrackers. The Doctor stared at it in amazement, then mouthed a silent thank you to the diamond before slipped it back safely inside his pocket. He ran to the two men stepping out of the vessel. His face was burning hot with joy.
"Ello there. Need a hand?" He nodded his head to the back of the cruiser.
"Um, no. We're fine. Just want to fill up on the power supply." Neil answered.
"Sorry, are you the mechanic here?" Will asked. "Could you take a look at the exhaust pipes? They are making an awful racket."
Neil grabbed his mate by the arm, urging him to shut it. "I said that we are fine."
"I'm not the mechanic. I am the Doctor." He beamed a smile at Will and shook his hand.
"William Banner." Will replied and smiled, it was difficult not to be taken by the Doctor's friendliness.
"William Banner." The Doctor repeated. "Nice to meet you. Ello!" He shot a smile at Neil. "And you are?"
"What? No. I'm sorry but we are very busy." Neil backed away and put his hands in his pockets before the Doctor could grab hold of them. "We don't have time for a chat."
"His name is Neil, Neil Armstrong." Will said. His friend rolled his eyes at him.
"Great, why don't you give him my credit number as well." He snorted.
"Oh! Neil Armstrong! Like the astronaut? That's a great name!"
Aurelia stuck her head out of the cabin door. "What's going on here?" She asked, gazing at the tall stranger in the long coat in surprise.
"No, it's not like the astronaut, but like the astronomist, the one who discovered the existence stable black holes." He couldn't help himself from correcting him, but the Doctor was already strolling past and went straight for cabin. "Ello! My name is the Doctor." He shook Aurelia's hand.
"Aurelia Northernlight. Hey, you can't just come in here!"
Ignoring her, the Doctor walked up to the cockpit where the planet-nav was still running.
"Look at that! Everything is brand new in here. You got dual automated pilot operators, asteroid warning systems, radiation shields, and a second-generation invisibility cloak! You even got heated seats!" The Doctor popped into the driver's seat and nudged his head in the soft padding. "Oh that feels like a sunbeam in early spring. Only it's shining on your bum instead of your face. Anyway, real cutting edge technology, must be a pain to pay off."
"It's a rental." Neil uttered, he was sweating beneath his T-shirt. "Sir, I insist you get out of our ship. We don't know you and…"
"But I just introduced myself! I am the Doctor." He waved at him.
"Yes, I know, but I don't want you on my ship." Neil said firmly, his head was turning red.
"Oh but you do." The Doctor took out his laserscrewdriver. "I see you're heading for the forbidden zone in the Adratic constellation. You're looking for a planet called Pevolga."
Neil's mouth dropped open. "How did you know that?"
The Doctor pointed with the tip of his screwdriver at the planet-nav.
"Yeah but it's only displaying the coordinates. No-one knows about the planet."
"Well, no-one believed it still exist, but I'm very clever." The Doctor grinned. "And I happen to be heading the same way as you guys. Only I've got no ride. I'm in need of a ride. Can you offer me one?"
"To Pevolga?" Neil uttered, still baffled.
"Are you a hitchhiker?" Will asked.
"Me? Oh yes. Yes I am!"
Will sighed of relief. "Thank God, I thought you were going to hijack our ship."
"Oh no. I'm a traveller, tramping around, out to see the stars, hitchhiking through the universe." He held his thumb up and smiled.
"Great." Aurelia rolled her eyes. "That's what you get for not locking the cabin doors when you stop at fuel stations."
"I'm actually planning to write a book about it. The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy." His cheeky smile quickly faded when he noticed the lack of response coming from the humans. "Well, it's more a bed and breakfast guide sort of thing, anyway." He leaned forward towards the others. "Listen, you need me to get to your destination. You can't go to Pevolga without me."
"Ha, with the way things are going, none of us is getting there." Aurelia snorted. "The planet-nav is broken. It keeps telling us to drive in little circles around this God-forsaken wasteland."
"For the last time, it's not broken." Neil muttered, agitated.
"You're right, it's not broken." The Doctor said. "It's only corrupted. Something is interfering with it. Sending out signals to distort the calibrations. But it's nothing too fancy, not compared to these posh seats." He activated the sonic screwdriver. A blue light shone down on the planet-nav module, just for a second or so. "There. Fixed it." He tossed the screwdriver up in the air before putting it back inside his pocket. Neil and the gang moved closer to the cockpit. The planet-nav now sent out a holovid in full colour instead of only blue and red, and the planets, stars and moons displayed in the hologram were no longer shimmering dots, but downsized full 3D images of the real thing. Neil couldn't belief his eyes.
"That's freaking amazing." He muttered.
"I know." The Doctor said, tilting his chin up. Well, he may have overdone it a little this time.
Neil came closer to the screen and took the controls. They still worked like they used to. He scrolled over the map. He knew exactly where to look, having memorized the primitive map on the last pages of the book that he took from The Library, so many years ago. He scrolled into the Mare Superum, the great asteroid belt of Adratic constellation, passed the twin red giants Castor and Pollux that had burned for eons, till he finally reached the stable black hole, named Ammut, the devourer of the dead. Neil's breath caught for a moment. There it was, hiding inside the black hole, the black planet with the red sky. It looked exactly like he had imagined it. He held his hand in the projection and let the globe sit on his palm and slowly turn.
"Neil?" Will laid a hand on his friend shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Will, go outside and recharge the fuel tanks." He tore his gaze from the spinning planet and set his eyes on the Doctor. "Welcome on board Doctor. We're going to Pevogla."