Warp War: Chapter 35 : Time's Caress
As the FERN complex vanished a shockwave rippled out across the universe; many universes. It travelled at an immeasurable nul-speed, touching everything.
You might imagine that such an event would be cataclysmic in nature, accompanied by an explosion of stars, flashing lights and a fanfare of grinding of cosmic gears as the jigsaw of time fell back into place.
But you would be wrong. This was a whisper. As tenuous and subtle as breeze in a field of long grass. And where it found fronds that had bent or twisted, it straightened them with the merest caress...
BREAKING NEWS – World Government sources have confirmed that an expedition to the FERN complex, orbiting Procyon A , arrived ten days ago. In a mystery to rival the 'Marie Celeste' of ancient times, the expedition found no evidence that the FERN complex had ever been there! A government spokesman stated that contact had been lost with the FERN complex two years ago and deep-space Rangerscopes had been unable to locate it. Despite frantic searches throughout the Empire, nothing has been found of Sir Anton Stovold or any FERN personnel.
(REUTERS 2 November 3237)
On her return from Peladon with the Doctor, Jo Grant cashed in seven days accumulated leave. She booked into a London hotel and spent the time shopping, seeing the sights, taking in a West End show or two and then more shopping. Towards the end of the week, with snow on the ground and in the air, she visited her uncle in Whitehall. She had never really thanked him for getting her the UNIT job in the first place. They had an early tea together.
On the way back to her hotel Jo got off at the wrong Underground station and found herself lost. She turned into a dimly lit road and was just in time to dive in front of a skidding car and pull a three year old girl from virtually under its wheels. The car screeched off through the snow and Jo was nearly crushed by the hug of the little girl's grateful mother, Muriel Gideon.
Despite her protestations Jo was frog-marched into Muriel's kitchen for a coffee and an outpouring of Muriel's effusive thanks. It took nearly half-an-hour for Jo to gently extract herself. She guessed that Muriel didn't get the opportunity to entertain too often. Little Kim was all she had.
Jo left, promising faithfully that they would keep in touch. As is the way of many such promises she never saw Muriel Gideon again.
The Sword of Damocles hanging over all living things fell on Muriel Gideon a few days short of her forty-sixth birthday. A brain hemorrhage. Quick and decisive. Her twenty-six year old daughter found her folded neatly at the bottom of the stairs. She cried for her.
There was no one else to do the crying. Kim's father had never put in an appearance since he had found out about Muriel's pregnancy. There was only Kim. To see her awkward and graceless daughter promoted to Assistant Librarian had been some kind of triumph for Muriel . She never, though, saw her daughter reach for the stars. She would have been amazed.
Muriel Gideon never did find her Mr. Right. But she never knew how close she came...
Several Universes away, in a place we designate 'E-Space' , a woman looked out from the balcony of her palace, out across the Lake of Five Moons. Behind her, music played in the glittering ballroom and laughter wafted on the breeze.
As the society papers would confirm the following day, she looked particularly stunning tonight. The Belle of the Ball. Tall, elegant in her form-fitting black dress and with her skin parchment white, almost blue. At her throat was a perfect tear-drop pendant. She gazed out from her kidney-shaped face and wondered about her dreams.
She was dreaming the same thing each night. Of Monsters, and Tragedy and War. Churning over and over. But there was a man...not of her race... but a beautiful chiseled man in a long blue coat who came to save her. Again and again.
The Lady Battonica de Regis sighed and looked at the stars. She decided firmly that if these dreams continued she would have to consult a doctor...
In the vicinity of the Descrii system the Tardis passed peacefully en route to its next destination. There was no collision with a Hunter-class Cryo ship. No Time Ram. Because such things as Hunter-class Cryo ships had never been built. Never would be.
"It hasn't worked, has it ?" Kim said, with some bitterness.
The Doctor looked up from his controls and raised an eyebrow. "Oh yes? What makes you say that?"
"I can remember it ! All of it ! If everything had changed back then I shouldn't be able to remember it at all, should I?"
The Doctor smiled. "Brilliant, Kim. You are truly brilliant. Wrong of course..."
"How am I wrong ?" She thrust out her chin, angry at his condescension.
"Well, you have failed to take account of where you are." He waved his arms about. "You are here. In the Tardis with me. At the eye of the hurricane. Of course you remember. It doesn't mean that it hasn't worked. Anyway, there are one or two signs...promising signs."
The Doctor pointed over to the scanner which was showing a clear starscape.
"That, for one. I've moved us forward again to the fifty-second century. To the exact position of the Nebula of The Lion Rampant. It was the ejecta from the process that formed the Screamers. Leaking out through the CVE . It's not there. Never has been."
"OK." Kim wasn't convinced. "What else?"
The Doctor gave her a funny look. He raised his hand and jiggled his fingers at her. He had a lopsided grin on his face. He looked like an idiot.
Kim sighed. "Doctor, I'm not in the mood for charades..."
He did it again. Jiggle jiggle.
Oh for God's sake!
Kim raised her hand and jiggled back.
Her left hand...
Kim screamed, dancing around the room and clapping her hands together, like a hyper-active toddler. She high-fived the Doctor, over and over. She held her hands triumphantly together over her head, and clapped them again, just because she could.
And when her hysteria faded she threw herself forward, holding the Doctor tightly, frightened to let go. She sobbed, uncontrollably, as the Doctor patted her back.
"It's OK, Kim. Things are just as they should be."
She stepped back, wiping away her tears and looking with wonder at her left hand.
"You said it would be miraculous. I need to know how you keep doing these things."
"Cause and effect, pure and simple." The Doctor ticked off the points on his fingers. "The capsule was never fired into the star, right? The CVE was therefore never formed. The Screamers were never created. There was no war. If there was no war then there was no ship for the Tardis to collide with and no tunnel back to 1968 for the Taranium to mutate time... and so on."
Kim frowned." But it's a bit like the chicken and the egg. I can't get my head round it."
"Don't try. Someone invented a technical term for it, a long time ago."
"Oh, very technical," smiled Kim. She hesitated, "Doctor. You promised Anni that she wouldn't die..."
"You know I keep my promises, Kim. Especially to a relative. Anni was never born. She never knew the life of degradation that Stovold forced her to lead. Nor her brother. No pain for either of them."
"Then you're not my father any more?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I never was, Kim. Only in that mutated timeline." He suddenly looked sad. "I've lost a life I never knew I had. A wife, descendants...a daughter."
He became brisk. "The greater good, Kim. The greater good." He turned, as if struck by a sudden thought. "Although..."
"Well, if you wanted to meet your father..." He indicated the Tardis controls.
"No way," she said firmly. "Let's let sleeping dogs lie."
"I was hoping that would be your answer. Still, I do have somewhere in mind. Just to double check." He turned to his controls.
"Wherever it is, please can it be somewhere hot?"
All wars need a name. Sometimes, very occasionally, they lose it. A case in point was the Warp War. It lost its name. It never happened.
Warp War: Epilogue
Fraser Bay, New South Wales, Australia
The beach was delightful. Sandy, hot and kissed by waves of purest blue, frothing into virgin white.
Kim had hitched up her skirt and was paddling in the foaming water, occasionally doused by a large breaker. She didn't care.
Likewise, the Doctor had left his coat rolled up on the beach along with his boots and was splashing about like a big kid with his trousers rolled up. His morphing T shirt sported a huge smiley-face motif, as if to match their collective mood.
After a while they returned to the Doctor's coat and flopped in the sand, lapping up the rays. Kim looked around. The beach was sparsely populated, mostly of humanoid stock although with many variations.
A pair of blue-skinned toddlers ran past, laughing and proceeded to build a pair of sand-castles at the waterline. Kim felt a warm glow of satisfaction that even in the fifty-second century, children could still be entertained with a bucket and spade at the seaside.
She looked out to sea, watching distant surfers catching the waves and felt all her recent trials and tribulations draining away, like water into sand. In the sky various high altitude contrails formed a lattice basket overhead.
"I love this," she said simply.
The Doctor smiled. "The final proof, I think. Five years ago the Screamers' first missile destroyed Australia."
"Only it didn't, did it."
"No no, of course not -" The Doctor broke off, frowning. He stared off to his left.
Kim followed his gaze. In the middle-distance a dot was walking along the beach, shimmering in the heat. After a while it resolved itself into the silhouette of a man and grew bigger and more distinct as he came towards them.
"Don't tell me; Lawrence of Arabia!" said Kim.
The Doctor didn't laugh but he slowly rose to his feet, his eyes fixed on the approaching stranger. Kim stood at his side, feeling suddenly anxious.
Eventually the stranger reached them and stood a few paces away from the Doctor. They regarded each other evenly.
Kim, however, regarded the stranger anything but evenly. Her personal Phwooarr-ometer was flickering wildly all over the place. The stranger was clean-cut, handsome and tall. The only incongruity was his attire. A long blue coat that seemed more appropriate to the Battle of Britain and the R.A.F than a sweltering beach in fifty-second century New South Wales. Yet he didn't seem to be sweating. He looked icy.
"Doctor," said the newcomer, at length.
"Jack," said the Doctor, warily.
"You couldn't leave well enough alone, could you." said the stranger, somewhat bitterly. "There I was, happily dead. Then you come along and bingo! Here I am again."
"Sorry," said the Doctor. "Nothing I could do."
"You could have done nothing."
The Doctor shook his head. "The greater good, Jack. We've both lost something, but we're just specks in the scheme of things. Grains of sand."
Jack sighed and his tension seemed to dissipate. "They had me. The Screamers. They killed me. Something to do with E-Space matter. You changed it back but I can still remember..."
"You're unique, Jack. A singularity. That's why you remember."
Jack passed a hand across his forehead. "There's something else. I feel...different..."
The Doctor reached inside his rolled-up coat and pulled out his sonic probe. "May I?"
The Doctor scanned Jack in blue light and glanced at the probe.
"I can't be entirely sure. You really need a specialised diagnosis, but it looks as though there is some kind of mutation. At the DNA level. Very slow-acting."
"Mutation? I'm changing?"
"Not for thousands, maybe millions of years. Some kind of residual effect from your contact with the Screamers perhaps..."
"But that didn't happen!" objected Jack.
The Doctor shrugged. "As I said, you're a singularity, Jack. The normal rules don't apply."
"Millions of years, eh?" Jack stroked his chin. "Ah well. Even I might be ready for a change by then."
"What are you going to do next?"
Jack thumbed the contrails overhead. "Get out there again. There's a spaceport about forty klicks away. I'll jump a ship out. The old life."
"The Tardis is over there in the dunes," said the Doctor, carefully. "There's always a berth available. If you want it."
Jack sighed. "Thanks, Doctor, I've been there, done that. Anyway, you're too...dangerous."
He stood back and, to Kim's surprise, snapped off a regulation military salute. The Doctor replied with a casual forefinger to the brow.
Jack turned to go, but paused for a moment to address his only words to Kim. "Keep an eye on him for me."
She nodded dumbly.
They watched him go the way he came, diminishing to a dot.
"What was that about mutation? Is he going to turn into a frog or something?" said Kim.
"Maybe just a big old face," murmured the Doctor.
"Will you ever see him again?"
"OW!" This gasp of pain made them both turn. It was followed, to Kim's delight, by a stream of familiar oaths and profanities.
The author of this invective was limping up the beach carrying a surf-board under his right arm. He was tall, fair and muscular. His skin almost glowed golden and he wore a strip of lycra that left very little to the imagination.
Kim's phwoaarr-ometer had it's second run out of the day and virtually blew its top. She hurried gratefully forward to support the limping surfer.
"Thanks," he said, as Kim snuggled under his left shoulder. He had a distinct Aussie twang and, of course, perfect teeth.
They approached the Doctor who looked down at the surfer's left foot, which he held clear of the sand. Kim could see that it was red and inflamed.
"Jellyfish sting?" asked the Doctor, reaching into another of his coat pockets.
The surfer nodded. "A beaut!"
The Doctor pulled out a small transparent plastic square, bit off a corner and spread a bluish gel on the wound. "Give it a couple of minutes."
As Kim watched, the red inflammation mottled and faded. After five minutes it had gone and the surfer was tentatively dabbing his foot on the sand. His face broke into a delighted grin and Kim went a little weak at the knees again.
"Jeez! That's miraculous. You a doctor or something?"
"Sort of. And this is my friend Kim"
The surfer nodded and looked back out to sea. "There's a biggie coming in. I want to catch it if I can."
They went down to the water's edge where the surfer paddled out a few steps, surfboard under arm.
"Thanks for your help, Doc. 'Bye Kim." He turned to go but paused. "My name's Mik Dekka, by the way."
Kim wasn't the least bit surprised.