TARDIS Control Room

Sarah Jane glanced over to where the fourth Doctor and the young redheaded woman named Willow stood hunched over what Willow had called a "laptop". From her time traveling with the Doctor, Sarah Jane was able to guess that the "laptop" was some sort of miniature computer. Shaking her head in amusement over how much things were going to change in just three decades on Earth, she turned to take a closer look at the interior of the new Doctor's TARDIS. Gone were the white walls and smooth floor she was used to. In their places were brownish-gold walls and a metal mesh floor that looked like it was broken up in pieces to allow easier access to the TARDIS' systems. Sarah Jane slid her hand down one of the coral support columns. The uneven texture drove home the fact that the TARDIS and the new Doctor had changed more than she ever thought was possible. She decided to satisfy her curiosity and speak with Buffy and her husband, Spike.

"So… what's your Doctor like?" Sarah Jane asked the couple in her usual perky fashion. At first, neither Spike nor Buffy answered right away. Sarah Jane could see by their expressions they were trying to put into words how they felt about the old alien that meant so much to all of them.

Spike leaned back against the railing and looked over at the fourth Doctor. "In a lot of ways, our Doctor acts like your Doctor over there," he replied. "He's always polite to people he meets and gets excited like a schoolboy who finally figured out what girls are for whenever he gets the opportunity to learn something new," he stated. Spike paused again as he tried to find just the way of explaining the differences between her Doctor and theirs.

Buffy took over speaking when she noticed Spike pause. "But a lot has happened to the Doctor since he wore THE Scarf," she added, chuckling when Sara Jane rolled her eyes at the odd costume addition. "He's had to do terrible things to protect the universe and make sure everyone else has a chance at life," she told the young reporter. "Those events left huge scars in the Doctor's soul and looking back on things, I think that if he and Faith hadn't found each other, he might have self destructed," she said in a soft voice.

Sarah Jane paused to think about what Buffy had said. It was strange to think of her Doctor being vulnerable to human emotions like despair and love. "Faith must be an exceptional woman to have won his hearts," she observed slightly wistfully.

"I think it had more to do with both of them being broken Champions than anything else," Spike said.

Sarah Jane cocked her head to the side at Spike's choice of words. "What do you mean by 'Champions'?" she inquired.

Buffy answered the question so she could drive home a certain point with her undead husband, something the couple argued about every so often. "In the line of work we do, a Champion is someone the Powers That Be rely on to step into the gates of Hell and hold the line so everyone else can live and love," she explained. "Champions are very rare. We were able to get our hands on a severely redacted report from an evil law firm that suggested there were less than 15 Champions operating on Earth at any one time. Faith, Spike, and I are on that list. Considering there are over 6 billion people on the planet, the odds of even meeting another Champion is pretty rare and I managed to marry one," she said happily.

"I keep telling you, Pet, I'm no bloody Champion," Spike protested.

Buffy stared up at her husband and snuck her hand behind him to smack the back of his head. "Riiiight," she scoffed as she cuffed him one. "That's why you fought to get your soul back and were willing to go with me into the Hellmouth and face off against an army of Uber-Vamps when we were sure that none of us were going to survive," she reminded him. "Oh yeah, why don't you also remind me who was willing to turn himself into a living torch to give me and the new Slayers a chance to escape," she scolded her husband.

Sarah Jane again looked over at her Doctor. She could easily see how he fit the requirements for being a Champion. "You said you, Faith, and Spike were on the Champions list. Why wasn't the Doctor on the list?" she inquired.

Spike's smile showed how proud he was of his friend when he spoke. "There was a second list... a list of what the lawyers called the 'Super Champions'," he stated. "The Super Champions are beings so powerful that the PTB have no influence over them and try to stay as far away from them as possible," he explained. "As you can imagine, that's a pretty short list with our favorite Time traveling alien at the very top," he said proudly. Spike had managed to find the Super Champion list when he stole the other one from the Chicago branch of Wolfram and Hart. He had never heard of the rest of the Super Champions and was still trying to figure out what some farm boy in Kansas had that would earn him a spot right below the Doctor. The Super Champions list had burst into flames before Spike could pull it out of the file cabinet.

Across the control room, Willow and the fourth Doctor were deep in conversation while they took turns on her laptop. "This is truly a remarkable program you wrote," the Doctor praised Willow. "I have no idea how you managed to integrate magic and programing this way," he said.

Willow beamed at the praise the younger version of her friend gave her. "Thank you, Doctor," she replied. "However, spell-crafting and programming really aren't that different," she told him. "A complex spell relies on several smaller rituals working together in the proper order to have the desired effect," she stated. "The incantations used to trigger the rituals have to be phrased just the right way," she said. "So just like in programming, if you don't have the right sequence, input your information correctly, or classify your variables right, you end up with either nothing or something horribly wrong," she explained. "In fact, it was the early Druid spell-crafters that first came up with the concept of GIGO," she said.

The fourth Doctor paused for a moment in confusion. "I'm sorry, but what is 'GIGO'?" he asked.

"Garbage In-Garbage Out," Willow replied. "A few of the earliest programmers where closet Druids and borrowed the term to refer to how precise they needed to be when writing their code," she said.

The Doctor nodded his head, his face beaming from learning a new concept. "I still say it is a remarkable feat," he praised Willow again.

"Yeah, it's pretty neat, but will the program be strong enough to break through the firewalls of a TARDIS data matrix?" she asked.

The Doctor leaned back from the laptop and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "No, I don't think it will be," he muttered. "This model of TARDIS matrix used a rotating seven layer firewall so it would be impossible to know which layers to attack in what order," he told her. A grin spread across his face as he went back to work at the computer. "However, I know just the subroutine to use to help your program smash through the firewalls and leave your program intact," he stated. His fingers flew over the keys as he rewrote the code he had used on several occasions to hack into the computers at the Academy in order to alter his attendance record. "During my school years, I needed to… um… alter certain records in the Dean's computer. He had an eight layered, rotating firewall," he said. "Quite by accident I learned that once the invading code had been destroyed, whatever layer of the firewall system that engaged the intruding program deactivated for a short time while it rebooted leaving the other firewall layers to defend the core. By layering shells of false programs around my true program, I was able to lose a shell program per layer of firewall and still get my program into the Dean's computer," he admitted. "I don't see why the same approach wouldn't work here," he stated with a grin.

Willow looked over the fourth Doctor's shoulder and she started clapping in excitement. "That's too cool!" she exclaimed as she scanned the code. When the Doctor was finished, Willow ejected the jump drive and held the small device in her hand. "Go kick some ass, Hunter," she ordered. Willow laid the jumpdrive down on top of the TARDIS data matrix that had stolen her friends. A red glow shot out of the USB end of the jumpdrive, arced a few inches above the matrix, and then dove into the alien metal using the access codes and trojan software the Doctor had added.

********DrW********

TARDIS Data Matrix - Information Citadel

The Rani stood up from her throne and took one step towards what the scanners told her was the tenth version of the Doctor. The damage to her DNA in the final moments of her life outside of the TARDIS matrix left her without many of the abilities her race enjoyed, one of which was the ability to see into the Time streams. When the Doctor responded by stepping away from her, the Rani frowned in mock disappointment. "Come, come Doctor, no hug for an old classmate?" she asked with saccharine sweetness.

The Doctor made a point to look slowly across the room. "That depends on whether or not I can get my hands on something sharp and pointy first," he replied angrily.

The acid in his voice made the Rani smile even more. "Honestly, Doctor, you aren't still holding a grudge for the 12 times I've tried to kill you are you?" she inquired sweetly.

The Doctor ran his hand through his hair so he wouldn't strangle the Rani with it. "It was 13 times and you know it!" he countered.

Laughing, the Rani sat back down on her throne. She pressed a button on the armrest and a forcefield shimmered around her before becoming invisible. The Rani admitted she had the emotional range of a teacup, but even she knew the Doctor was dangerously close to losing his temper. "No one, not even you, was able to prove the attempt on your life during our 5th year at the Academy had anything to do with me," she reminded

him.

The Doctor rolled his eyes, annoyed they were having this argument again. "A deadly, genetically modified animal was let loose in my dorm room the day after it was announced I finally scored higher than you on a trans-dimensional physics test. As I remember, it was the one and only time someone beat you on a science test," he said. "I never had any doubts as to whom let that… thing loose under my bed," he told her. "The only thing I ever wondered about was how you came up with such a disturbing creature in the first place," he stated. "What kind of sick mind creates a venomous duck?" he wondered aloud.

The Rani shrugged her shoulders. "A misunderstood genius, no doubt," she responded.

"What do you want from me and my Companion?" the Doctor demanded, knowing he wasn't going to get anywhere arguing over how many times the Rani had tried to kill him. "And while we're discussing things, how did you end up here?" he added.

Standing up, but being careful to stay within her forcefield, the Rani stared at the Doctor. "As YOU well know, the final battle against the Daleks did not go very well for us. I worked the numbers early during the battle and fled from my post at the Citadel when I saw there was no way for us to win and more importantly for me to continue living," she told him. Memories of that night and what it had cost her made her grind her teeth in rage. The Rani sat back down, letting the useless emotion of hate dissolve. "I had almost managed to slip away in my TARDIS when both Kasterborous Prime and Minor flashed into supernovae. My TARDIS activated an emergency protocol I had installed and transferred my consciousness into its matrix right before the rest of it was destroyed. My experiments with the data core told me that barring a Universe ending event, this particular core would survive," she said. The Rani held up the digital representation of her hand to her face. "Unfortunately, during the transfer an anti-chonon pulse from the exploding Time drive swept through the console room just as I was digitized. My DNA was completely scrambled, making any chance of reforming outside of the matrix impossible," she stated. A beep sounded from the armrest of the throne drawing her attention. Tapping a button on her throne, she brought a screen to life hovering in the air in front of her. The Rani frowned as she read the results of the deep scan her tower had completed of the Doctor. As she feared, the damage done to her DNA meant that his Time Lord DNA made him unsuitable for her master plans.

The Doctor had been purposefully rude and turned away from the Rani as she spoke. He made a closer examination of his surroundings as she talked about her last moments in the physical world. The Rani never could skip out on bragging about her accomplishments. He walked over to a display showing the modifications the Rani had made to devices the students at the Academy used to play with while they were inside the Matrix of Gallifrey on field trips to the digital world. He noticed that the vast majority of the modifications she had made had been cosmetic and the basic function of all of the devices remained the same, including the "suit" every student wore to make them look more like a program. He let his hand slide over a black cylinder which was a "physical" representation of a subroutine that would activate a bi-wheeled transport construct, or a BTC as they called them, when a way of traveling faster than one could walk was needed. The Doctor spun around suddenly, startling the Rani and giving him a chance to swipe the cylinder without her noticing. With his left hand behind him and therefore out of the Rani's direct line of sight, he dropped the cylinder into a special holster that was built into every student's boot to carry just such a construct when not in use. "Forgive me if I don't shed a tear for you. I can't think of it happening to a nicer person," the Doctor snarked. He walked towards the throne, drawing the Rani's eyes away from the display. He stopped just in front of the force field. "You still haven't told me what you want with Faith and I," he reminded her.

The Rani gave the Doctor one of her rare, genuine smiles. "I would think that would be obvious, Doctor. I need an uncorrupted body to return to the physical world to continue with my experiments," she replied. "You haven't been the first group to stumble across the TARDIS core distress beacon. When we make contact, the matrix core has orders to digitize any sentient in range, evaluate their vessel for compatibility, and destroy it if it isn't compatible. After that the core goes back into standby mode waiting for our next 'rescuer'," she said. "Only the very best physical specimen will do for my return. For that purpose, I created a set of challenges that pit the specimens against the best programs I could find. Unfortunately, none of the specimens I have captured have survived the challenges so far. When I run out of specimens, which I seem to do at an alarmingly high rate, I use captured programs from the other vessels to compete against my programs to sharpen their skills," she explained. "Here, let me show you what I'm talking about," she offered. With a wave of her hand, a large screen appeared between the Doctor and a window looking out over the digital frontier of the matrix core.

The screen flickered to life and showed first several competitors riding their BTCs in a huge coliseum. These BTC, like the one the Doctor had nicked, had been modified to extrude a wall of solid light behind them as they raced around the multi-level challenge track. The Doctor winced as one of the light blue hued BTC stuck an orange light wall, shattering both the light blue BTC and its rider into their component bits. The screen flickered again and this time it showed three combatants with light blue highlights on their black suits surrounded by six orange hued attackers. One of the defenders quickly grabbed the disk attached to his back and threw it at one of the orange attackers. The orange program was just a little slow to respond and the disc sliced through him before he could he could evade. Like in the BTC battle, this program shattered into his component bits, the shiny representations of individual blocks of data bouncing on the ground when they hit. The remaining orange programs threw their discs at the same time. The light blue defenders never had a chance at blocking that many simultaneous attacks and they too were reduced to tiny blocks of data.

"ENOUGH!" the Doctor yelled and stepped into the screen, making it disappear. "I won't let you do that to Faith!" he bellowed. With surprising quickness, the Doctor's right hand shot over his shoulder to grab his own identity disc. He didn't have time to wonder why it felt different than what he would have expected had he grabbed a normal disc. Using all of the years playing various throwing games like Cricket or Nebunian tak-tak-vub, the Doctor threw his disc at the Rani with lethal precision. His disc bounced off the impenetrable force field and returned to his outstretched hand.

The Rani laughed at the disgusted look on the Doctor's face before he stalked over to the window to look out over her digital domain. "Did you honestly think I would risk myself by talking to you if I didn't know you were powerless against me?" she chided him.

The Doctor took a long, calming breath, forcing himself to think rather than just react. With his body between his disc and the Rani, he had a chance to examine it to see what was different about it compared to a normal disc. Like most identity discs, his was more of a ring instead of a complete disc. The side of the ring fit squarely in his palm, making it easy to throw and catch. Unlike other discs however, the Doctor's identity disc had a silver tube running the diameter of the disc. A plan started to form in his mind when he realized what had happened. The Doctor knew that when a matrix core digitizes a sentient being, it finds a way to represent everything about them. In the Doctor's case, it had represented his unequalled skills at programing and hacking by fusing an example of his greatest hacking invention into the disc. Embedded into his disc, running through the middle of it, was a digital representation of his sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor allowed himself a smile as he decided to go ahead with the new plan. Granted it wasn't a fully formed plan and had far too many variables to be even remotely called safe, but it was plan none the less. He reached out his hand and tapped the "glass" of the window with his finger. Small blue ones and zeros radiated out from his tap like waves in a pond. "I see the windows of your fortress aren't nearly as strong as your personal force field," he said in an off hand manner.

"Of course they aren't. That would be a terrible waste of data resources. We are the digital equivalent of being 2 kilometers above the data floor. The only way to reach up this high is to use a flying construct and I control all of them. If for some reason a rogue program does manage to get their hands on one and fly this way, the Citadel's information cannons will blast it literally into bits before it the construct gets anywhere near it," the Rani replied. She allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction as the Doctor first strained to down through the window and then up to see the information cannons fashioned to look just like the tachyon cannons of the real Citadel. The Rani knew the Doctor well from their time together at the Academy. Any moment now his hearts would break as he realized he was trapped and there was nothing he could do about it.

"I thought as much," the Doctor muttered as he backed away from the window. He continued to back up until he reached the far wall. Without another word, he flung his disc at the window, shattering just like he had seen the slave programs shatter. The disc bounced back into his waiting hand and he put the disc back on his back.

The Rani sighed loudly at what she considered as the Doctor acting rather silly. She had factored in every variable she could think of and the digital world was designed to work much like the physical one. A fall from this height would guarantee the de-resolution of the Doctor. "That was childish. Other than lashing out at something like a caged beast, what was the purpose of that? You and I both know there is no escape that way!" the Rani scolded the Doctor.

The Doctor faced the now open window and turned his head so the Rain could see his eyes. "I know you as well as you know me. I know you believe that you factored in every detail. You probably even factored in the fact that by bringing me here and telling me what you plan on doing with Faith, I would never rest until I stopped you," he told here. "Thing is… there are still two factors that I'm positive you didn't add into your equations. The first is the fact that I love Faith and that love will drive me to do things that not even imaginable in your emotionless little world," he said coldly and then stopped speaking.

The Rani scoffed at his mentioning something as irrelevant as love. The Doctor always had been extremely over emotional in her opinion. Curiosity finally got the better of the Rani and she took the bait. "What is the other factor you believe I miscalculated?" she asked.

The Doctor's smirk and sly wink confused the Rani. "I always was better at computers and programming than you," he replied simply and then turned his head so he could look out the empty window.

Before the Rani could say something snarky back at him, the Doctor bolted towards the empty window. As he started to run, time seemed to slow down for the Rani. She watched the Doctor as if he were in slow motion, his lean body racing forward with simple, elemental purpose. The Doctor never even broke stride as he reached the wall and braced his foot on the window sill. Without even the slightest bit of fear showing, the Doctor launched himself into the empty space surrounding the top most levels of the Citadel. As soon as he was free of the building, his right hand shot back and grabbed his ID disc. With his left he reached into his boot and withdrew the cylinder that activated the BTC. The Doctor brought both hands together and an orange, enclosed, two wheel vehicle sprang into existence around him. The colored flicked for an instant and then the orange was replaced by the familiar dark blue of his TARDIS. The BTC started to fall but suddenly changed direction and slammed both wheels onto the wall of the Citadel.

The Rani shut down her forcefield and ran to the open window to watch her old enemy cease to exist. Her jaw dropped open as the Rani heard the whine of the BTC's computation engine as it raced down the side of the Citadel, completely ignoring the law of gravity. The dark blue, solid light trail zig zagged down the side of the building as the Doctor swerved to avoid balconies and other things jutting out in his way. It had never occurred to the genius who devoted her life to the bio-genetic sciences that it was even possible to hack the basic subroutine of the BTC and allow the rider to choose what direction was considered down and therefore what direction gravity was pulling them from. On the other hand however, to the student who would have been the most infamous hacker in the entire history of the Prydonian Academy had he ever been caught, such a hack was almost second nature.

Both the Rani and the Doctor were so focussed on his escape that they didn't see the data construct streaking down through the clouds like a meteor. It flashed red seven times as each layer of the core's firewall destroyed a layer of protective dummy programs. After the seventh flash, the meteor changed course and rocketed towards the giant coliseum where the games were held.