(A.N.) Last chapter of this episode! You'll find a preview of the next one at the end of the chapter. It'll be a two parter, and although I'll still in the middle of writing it, it's coming along very well.
I'll post it as soon as possible, but for now here's the end of Episode 3:
Some of the people recognised the blue box materialising in their town square as the same one from that morning. Others didn't care, as they had not cared the first time. When the doors to the TARDIS opened, however, and one by one the lost souls of the damned compound stumbled out, the townspeople took notice.
Ryan was among the last of the near two hundred to disembark from the ship. Earlier, he'd created a vague picture of what was going to happen when the Doctor saved the day. Fresh from a daring rescue mission, all there would be left to do was take the compound-dwellers, saved from death's clutches, and reunite them with their people. He and the Doctor would have watched with satisfaction from the TARDIS doors, before flying away, off to the next adventure.
The moment was happening in front of him. With the cursed sun setting behind them, people were pushing through the crowd around the TARDIS until they cried with joy upon seeing the long-lost family member they thought they'd never lay eyes upon again. He saw Dempsey emerge from his tent and catch sight of his brother. The two of them staggered towards each other in disbelief until finally running into an emotional embrace.
There were cries of joy and sob filled hugs. Ryan felt a firm hand fall on his shoulder, and he turned to see a teary-eyed Gallagher surveying the scene.
"I don't know who you are," he said to Ryan. "Either of you. Or where you come from. But thank you."
Ryan nodded silently in response as Gallagher walked forwards, where he was welcomed into the crowd amid jubilant calls of his name. The scene was exactly as he had pictured it, except for those who had done the saving.
He was covered in dirt and scrapes, and cradling his left elbow which was swollen painfully. He watched the blissful homecoming happening before him, not with an immense feeling of satisfaction and achievement, but with an emotionless expression clouding his face. His whole body ached, like it had never been so worn out in all his life. And his fatigue was only outweighed by the anger brewing dangerously in the pit of his stomach, just waiting to erupt.
On that thought, he looked around. He had not seen the Doctor leave the TARDIS, yet he was not amongst the crowd of townspeople, and a quick glance inside the TARDIS proved he wasn't in there either. A door slammed somewhere outside the celebrations, and Ryan saw the wooden walls of the council building shaking slightly.
"A flying box?" President Randolph exclaimed from behind his desk.
"That's what it says," said Thames with a giant smile.
He was reading information coming from a rickety fax machine in the corner of the room, from which government observers were relaying the rescue of the compound they'd watched from a safe distance.
"How many have we saved?" asked Randolph.
"They guessed around two hundred," said Thames.
"That's nearly all of them!" Oli enthused from his point in the centre of the room.
The three of them fell into a chorus gleeful laughter, and Randolph rubbed his temples in exhaustion.
"Oh, I may finally be able to sleep tonight. I almost can't believe it."
There was a beeping noise, and more paper slowly churned out. They all looked to it eagerly, but when Thames tore it off and looked at it, his smile fell away.
"What?" asked Randolph. "What news?"
"No," said Thames, shaking his head dumbly. "It's not from the observers. It's an automatic alarm - I didn't even think those were still running… it says…" He looked to the President. "One of the locks had been broken."
The room turned silent. Randolph and Thames stared at each other, each with an identical expression of confusion and dread on their faces. Oli looked between the two, frowning at the sudden drop in mood.
"Locks?" he asked. "What locks?"
Randolph rose from his chair and strode over to Thames, where he took the fax and read it for himself. His eyes crawled over the single sentence again and again, hoping he was reading it wrong. When the reality settled in, he looked to Thames anxiously.
"We need to go," he said
"If someone has found them, we can't be seen there," replied Thames in a hushed tone, while Oli watched them bewilderedly.
"It a lock has been broken," said Randolph, "someone might be inside. We have to go."
Thames was about to argue, Randolph was about to cut him off, and Oli was about to ask what the devil they were whispering about. However, neither of them were the next person to speak.
"A lock? What's so special about a broken lock?"
The three council members looked to the doorway of the office. They had not seen the intruder enter, nor had they noticed him lurking in the shadows. The sun was starting to set outside the window, casting one last line of deep red light across the entrance to the room, which the man stepped into, revealing his face.
"Hello again, council members," said the Doctor.
Randolph and Thames stared at him. The Doctor was not smiling brightly like he had been earlier, not bouncing around the room or sitting himself down in the President's chair. He just stood there, arms held behind his back and a cool indifferent look upon his face.
"Doctor," said Oli happily, a tone that seemed alien given the current atmosphere. "You did it!"
The Doctor nodded.
"Yep. Everyone from the compound is safe. They're all outside. Your people, Mr President, await you. Surely welcoming home two hundred prodigal sons is more important than investigating a broken lock. Isn't it?"
Randolph studied him. There was nothing threatening about the Doctor's demeanour. He didn't seem to be baiting or implying. There was a remarkable calmness about him, and so Randolph hastily nodded his head.
"Yes, of course, Doctor. You're right. Thames, Oli, let's go join the celebration. It's been too long since there's been cause for one."
The Doctor stood aside for them to pass him, walking to the centre of the room and waiting till they were just at the doors to speak.
"I'd be happy to replace it, if you'd like."
Thames and Randolph stopped in their tracks.
"I'm sorry?" said the President, turning back to the Doctor.
"The lock," the Doctor clarified. "If you need a new one for your ovens, I'd be happy to foot the bill. I did break it, after all."
No one spoke. Not for a long time. President Randolph and Thames stared at the Doctor, their faces draining of any pretense. The Doctor stared back, his own façade of coolness coming apart as his temper boiled beneath the surface. His gaze was aimed so sharply at the council members it could easily have cut through them. No one was pretending anymore, the council's deepest, darkest secret was out in the open.
"Now you listen here, Doctor," Randolph started.
"How long did you wait?" the Doctor cut him off. His tone was casual, and yet Oli saw the hands held behind his back shaking violently. "How many other last-resorts did you consider? Before you just decided to round people up, and - "
"Those people were murderers!" spat the President. "They were killers! Thieves, and criminals. They were all already serving life sentences."
"And they still are!" the Doctor countered. "Sentenced, every second of every day, to a life of unbearable pain and suffering and an urge to kill they just can't satisfy."
The President shook his head, he didn't want to hear it.
"We had to do something," he insisted. "The fee the man wanted was astronomical, if we didn't pay then our world - our people - would burn."
"Your people did burn!" the Doctor yelled, crossing the room towards the President. "It doesn't matter who they were or what they'd done, they were your people. They were living, breathing people. And you burnt them! You boiled their bodies until their souls started to escape into the air, and you bottled them up to be sold it. And what's more, when the things that were left started climbing from their graves and gutting everything they saw, you didn't even call for help! You let the people you didn't burn be mauled by those you did, because you didn't want to risk any outside authority clocking on to what you'd done."
Randolph's mouth dangled open pointlessly. There was nothing to say. He dropped his gaze to the floor. The red glare of the sunset revealed every guilt-ridden sleepless night in the wrinkles on his face. Beside him, Thames glared at the Doctor.
"It is rather easy to present yourself as holier-than-thou from your high horse, Doctor," he snarled. "These are the facts: the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. We did what was necessary to save as many of our citizens as we could. That's what Governments are for, they make the difficult choices for the greater good. If the Shadow Proclamation considers that a crime then you are even more naive than I always assumed."
The Doctor smirked.
"Sorry to disappoint, Thames. But I'm not from the Shadow Proclamation, so I won't be arresting you this evening. You'll have to face some other folks for your crime. Around two hundred of them."
The Doctor reached into his inside pocket and removed the small radiohe'd swiped from the compound.
Outside, the festivities had stopped. The TARDIS doors were open and Ryan, along with every single person in the town square, had just listened to the council's confession being blasted out of the console speakers. He turned to look at the crowd of people, who stared at the council building in stunned silence. He saw their expressions start to change.
"Oh, boy…" Ryan muttered.
"Murderers!" was the first shout.
It cut through the quiet like a blade, and was soon followed by similar cries, until suddenly the elated crowd had become an angry mob. And more than that, a mob on the move. The throng of two hundred plus charged forward as one. The men on guard outside the doors to the council building were easily overpowered and tossed aside, and the flimsy wooden doors fell apart under the force of so many marching through them.
"That's not good," said Ryan, running after them.
Except they were already coming out - along with three others. Randolph, Thames and Oli had been hauled out of the office, dragged out of the doors and thrown onto the sickly yellow soil.
Ryan had seen many scary things in his short time with the Doctor. But this, he thought, this was scaring him. The people circled around the three council members, violently throwing Thames and Randolph back when they tried to make a run for it, while Oli simply stood and quivered, looking as frightened as anyone Ryan had ever seen. He and the President were screaming for the crowd to calm down, to have mercy. But the mob were running on a dangerous mixture grief and fury, and they wanted revenge. Thames knew what was coming; Ryan watched him give up any escape attempts, electing instead to stand still and await his fate, defiant.
Ryan spotted Gallagher at the edge of the circle, and he ran to his side.
"Gallagher, that's enough," he said. "Tell them to stop. They'll listen to you."
"Enough?" Gallagher seethed. "Enough? They kill thousands and then sit idly by while their undead corpses run riot? We won't stop until they've gotten exactly what they deserve!"
The Doctor emerged from the council building. From the ruined doorway he crossed his arms across his chest and, Ryan was confused to see, made no move to put a stop to the madness.
Ryan rushed over to him.
"Doctor, this is getting out of hand."
"It got out of hand the moment the council decided to build ovens to burn the emotions out of their own people," the Doctor replied. "They've dug their own graves, Ryan, and now they'll have to lie in them."
Ryan looked at him like they'd never met.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" he asked in disbelief. "You don't get to decide that. No one does."
He dug his hands into the Doctor's jacket and scooped out his sonic screwdriver. Before the Doctor could utter a word of protest, Ryan had thrust the sonic into the air and thumbed the button. It unleashed an unbearably high-pitched noise that brought everything to a standstill. The mob jumped away from the council members, and turned to see what had made such a horrible sound.
Ryan turned back to the Doctor, glaring intensely.
"You're the one who taught me: there are no excuses. Killing is killing. There isn't anything that makes it okay. So do something!"
The Doctor looked to the crowd, huddled around the bruised and bleeding council members like a pack of dogs. Without another thought, he grabbed his sonic back from Ryan, and walked right into the centre of the crowd. The President was lying on the floor, nursing a cut lip with the back of his hand.
"Get up," said the Doctor.
He pulled Randolph to his feet, then dragged a sneering Thames and a scared-stiff Oli so they were standing right next to him. Then, he turned back to the mob, who were watching impatiently.
"I know how you feel. If you believe anything I tell you, believe that. Because I've felt it on far too many occasions. I know the anger that builds up inside you. I know the urge to make those responsible pay. And I know how it can almost take you over. But you can't let it. This, what you're about to do, is not the answer. Killing these men will not make things right. They need to be brought to justice, but not like this."
"Justice?" said a voice. Someone pushed their way to the front of the group. It was Dempsey, with his brother at his side and staring furiously at the Doctor. "You're going to tell me there's any other type of justice that these murderers deserve than death? After what they've done?"
"I know what you're going through, Dempsey, I've seen it before. Too many times. I'm sick of seeing it. And every time I do it gets harder and harder to remember - what makes us different from people like this, what makes us better, is that we don't sink to their levels." He looked to Ryan solemnly. "Sometimes you need people to remind you of that. We have the ability to show mercy, like they never did."
"Mercy?" Dempsey exclaimed.
The people were growing unruly again. The Doctor again placed himself between them and the council, ready to protect them should he have to. But just in time, there came a helping hand.
"He's right," said Gallagher. He also pushed through to the front. He and the Doctor shared a look of understanding, and then Gallagher turned to the people. "No more murders."
"But Gallagher - " Dempsey cried.
"But nothing! They're the executioners, not us. If we're going to try and make this world a decent place to live again, then we have to choose what kind of people we'll be right now. I want no part in a society that takes lives." He glanced to the council in disgust. "No matter what they've done."
He turned back to the crowd and waited for their decision. The people stared at each other undecidedly. The desire to see the council pay was rife, yet Gallagher's opinion was rated highly. The crucial moment, though, was when Dempsey gave the council a look of pure abhorrence, spat at them, but turned away. He took his brother's arm and walking away from the crowd. The people watched, then did the same.
The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank you," he said to Gallagher.
A ghost of a smirk appeared on Gallagher's face.
"I think this makes us even," he replied. He reached out and shook the Doctor's hand. Then he looked to the council again, and his tone turned dark. "Take them. Dump them in the Poison Star, for all I care. Just get them off this world before we do something we regret."
Gallagher walked away, giving Ryan a final pat on the shoulder as he passed. When Ryan walked over, the Doctor attempted to meet his gaze, but found it aimed decidedly away from him.
"Where do we take them?" Ryan asked..
At the question, Randolph and Thames looked to the Doctor fearfully. The Doctor let their minds run wild for a long few seconds, before grabbing them by the elbows and shoving them towards the TARDIS.
"The Shadow Proclamation. You can be their problem."
"I didn't know," said Oli in the tiniest of voices. It was the first time he'd spoken since they'd been dragged out of their own office. He was still white as a sheet, and he looked at the Doctor with big, tearful eyes. "I didn't know," he said again.
"I'm sure you didn't," said the Doctor dryly.
"No," said Randolph as they reached the police box. "He's telling the truth. Oli wasn't even with the council when we made the call." He brought his gaze to the younger man. "He was better than us. And I'm sorry, son."
Oli said nothing, and the council members stepped into the box in silence. The Doctor felt Ryan's eyes burning into the back of his. He couldn't bring himself to turn around, but it didn't matter. Ryan made his thoughts known anyway.
"So Oli didn't know a thing. Good job you didn't let them kill him then, eh Doctor?"
The council were handed over to pay for their crimes. The people of Canatre went about rebuilding their world. The Nothing lay suffocated and finally at peace underneath the remains of the crypt.
In the TARDIS, the ship's engines groaned as they worked. Bits and bobs on the console flashed and beeped. The floor rumbled slightly as it always did whilst in flight, while the time rotor wheezed lazily on its endless journey up and down inside the central column.
And yet the time machine had never felt so quiet.
Ryan sat on the railings, his back to the console as he stared deep into the lower levels of the TARDIS. The Doctor busied himself at controls, doing so until he ran out of levers to pull, and decided to speak.
"Ryan, I know how it must be - "
"Don't," was Ryan's instant reply. "Just don't."
The Doctor looked at him, or rather at his back, thinking about taking a few steps closer, but unsure how Ryan would react.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there," he decided to say. "I should've been."
Ryan gave a small, cynical laugh. "Why? You couldn't have saved him."
"No," the Doctor agreed. "But you shouldn't have been alone. I should have told you, how dangerous this life can be, should have prepared you for -"
"No," said Ryan sharply. "You told me how dangerous it would be. A few times." He finally turned around to look at the Doctor. "But you always said it about me. My life. Not anybody else's. You never said anything about watching other people die. And not just die; be murdered."
The Doctor just looked at him. Ryan's eyes were tired, and hurt, and more haunted than a seventeen year old boy's should ever be. And nothing the Doctor said would change that.
Ryan watched him, almost daring him to spout some grand Doctor-ism or improvise an uplifting speech. But when the Doctor said nothing, Ryan shook his head bitterly, and turned away again.
The Doctor sighed sadly. He briefly fiddled with the controls again, before giving up and walking towards the stairs that led out of the console room.
"I'll give you some time," he said.
"Doctor, wait," Ryan stopped him.
The Doctor turned back. Ryan swung his legs over the railings to be facing him, though his gaze was very firmly aimed at the floor.
"This is too much," he murmured. "It's not what I thought it would be, and I don't know if I'm strong enough." He swallowed hesitantly, then looked at the Doctor. "I want to go home."
End of Episode Three
Ryan's had enough, and he wants to go home. Except going home will only lead him into his most dangerous adventure yet.
While Ryan takes some time alone to ponder his future in the TARDIS, the Doctor finds himself investigating strange goings-on around town. The local school is shut down on results day, overtaken by a mysterious government-led science organisation. The scientists think they're trying to fix the world, but unbeknownst to them they're being manipulated into playing with forces they can't control.
It's up to the Doctor to shut the science project down before it destroys the Earth - the only question is: will Ryan be fighting with him, or against him?