Roman à Clef
Featuring the Doctor and Peri
"Where are we, Doctor?" Peri Brown asked as she stepped from the TARDIS, her eyes adjusting to the brilliant daylight that surrounded them.
"Dalmatia XVII," the Doctor explained, tugging at the lapels of his technicolour dreamcoat, "on the very edges of the New Roman Empire."
The TARDIS had landed on a marble platform atop what seemed to be a skyscraper; before them, a beautiful city, apparently built entirely of marble in various shades of white and glass in various shades of green, stretched away to a turquoise ocean. Small hovering vehicles flitted between the towers, which easily dwarfed even the largest buildings of Peri's time, and the street below was crowded with people. The sky was cloudless, a light violet colour, and the sun shone down from between two moons, the surfaces of both obscured by swirling storm formations.
It was a vista of remarkable beauty.
"The New Roman Empire?" Peri asked, and she walked to the edge of the platform, leaning over the railing to get a better view. "This is incredible!"
"Oh, yes," the Doctor agreed. "Wonderful. Fantastic. Limited, of course. A desire to return to the ideals of the Roman Republic gave way to a rise of empire, as was to be expected… quite astonishing, while it lasts."
"While it lasts?"
"Those who can't learn from history are doomed to repeat it," the Doctor quoted. "The New Roman Empire goes the way everything else does. It decays, collapses, and dies. Before it does that, though, there's a new Renaissance of poetry, philosophy, politics, invention, ideal, idiom, mathematics, medicine and, annoyingly enough, religion."
Peri grinned. "That's pretty cool. Can we go explore?"
The Doctor looked her up and down, taking in her denim shorts and tight pink blouse. "Not dressed like that, you can't."
"My outfit?" Peri said, incredulously. "What about yours?"
The Doctor ignored her, and pushed open the TARDIS door, saying "Come on, there should be something in the wardrobe. Vintage Roman, you know…"
Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus tapped the stylus against his holotablet as the turbovator accelerated towards the roof of the Grand Bibliotheca, the centre of learning not just for Dalmatia XVII, but for the entire sector. The tablet was trying to access the ScientaNet, but the wifi didn't seem to be working.
Sighing, he looked out over the city, and couldn't help but smile. The GB's wifi might falter, but the New Roman Empire never would. Knowledge and peace, spread through the stars. A new Pax Romana.
Gabriel's father had been a Centurion, commander of an entire star wing of Legionaries, and had been instrumental in bringing civilisation to the Dalmatia Sector. Less than thirty years later, and this entire, glorious city had been created, built on the ashes of the devastating conflict. There was much work still to be done, a galaxy for the most part still in turmoil, and Gabriel, a student of politics and philosophy, could imagine a universe at peace, under the direction of the Caesarium on Earth.
It seemed inevitable.
The elevator arrived on the rooftop platform. The door hummed open, and Gabriel stepped out beneath the blazing sunlight. Even though the roof of the GB was more than seven hundred metres from the ground, the marble platform was protected from the bitter wind by a low-power forcefield.
Finally, the wifi started to work, and as Gabriel walked across the platform to one of the benches, the ScientiaNet started to upload the speech given by the Caesar, broadcast from Earth a few hours ago…
Eyes trained on the holotablet, Gabriel walked right into a wooden box he hadn't noticed before. Stumbling back, he blinked. A tall, blue box, with windows on the upper quarter and a light on top. It hadn't been there a second ago. At least, he thought it hadn't been… the more he thought about it, the less sure he was. The Caesar's speech forgotten, he secreted the holotablet into a pouch in his toga, and wandered around the box.
There was a sign in it, with letters he recognised but arranged in words he couldn't understand, and a lock beside it. A door.
"This makes no sense," he said, and realised he was simply stating the obvious. Stating the obvious to himself.
Gabriel frowned, and decided to see if he could go inside. Placing his hand on the door, he gave a gentle push. It swung open, and closed again. There came a noise from inside, like an echo of the door closing, but much, much louder, as though it were echoing in a grand space, far larger than the box itself appeared to be.
"Curiouser and curiouser," he said, muttering a line from an ancient, pre-civilised Earth text he'd had to study as a youngster.
Resolved, he pushed the door open, and stepped inside the blue box.
"How do I look?" Peri asked, turning this way and that to show off the toga, which she thought she'd draped excellently.
The Doctor, standing in the TARDIS' enormous closet with his hands buried in his pockets, looking as bored as she'd ever seen him, ran a pair of disinterested eyes over his companion. His lips kinked in a momentary smirk, like he was thinking of a joke at her expense, but he decided against saying anything, and she chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. "It's fine."
Peri shook her head. "I can't believe you, Doctor. One moment, you're demanding I put on a toga, and the next…"
"I didn't think it would take you this long," the Doctor said.
"It took me three minutes!"
"Which is three minutes of Dalmatian sunlight that we've lost," the Doctor said, turning towards the console room. "Now, come on, let's…"
He stopped short as an echo rang throughout the TARDIS. It sounded like a door closing.
"What's that?" Peri asked, frowning.
"The door just opened…" the Doctor said, "but that didn't sound right."
Suddenly, the TARDIS shook. Peri stumbled, but the Doctor managed to stay on his feet; he was running for the console room even before she was able to right herself.
"Doctor!" Peri called after him, running barefoot through the corridors in pursuit. "What is it? What's wrong?"
The room Gabriel found himself in was enormous. He blinked. There was no way this massive chamber, at the centre of which sat a hexagonal control surface with a glowing column extending upward from it, could fit inside the blue box he'd just discovered on the roof of the Grand Bibliotheca.
His mind began to run through the possibilities; a miraculous creation of one of the Gods, or some other deity? A hallucination? A delusion? Some sort of trick of theoretical mathematics made manifest? This last seemed the most likely.
The room was white, sterile, and seemed to glow with an intrinsic light. Hexagonal shapes were set into the walls. There was no sign of anyone, but there was a low hum, like an idling engine. Gabriel muttered in astonishment at what he'd discovered; an entire world inside a blue box. A hyperdimensional reality, beyond his own understanding. It was the only possible explanation of all this space inside such a small form.
The work of the Gods, surely. Or of the god-like.
"Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from the miraculous," he said to himself, reciting one of the most sacred precepts of technotheism, a philosophy he found himself subscribing to more and more with every second he was inside this chamber.
He wandered over to the control surfaces. Lights flickered on and off; there were buttons, levers, knobs, switches. Some of them were marked with small paper notes, and a text that seemed to be made of curves that resembled a clock.
"Who the hell are you?"
Gabriel looked up, but couldn't see anyone. He turned around, but the chamber was empty. Suddenly, it shook. He grabbed the console, keeping himself steady… the room pitched forward, and he was slammed into the controls.
Stunned, he righted himself, stumbling backwards… the console looked different. His impact against it had activated any number of controls. The light in the room changed, the pitch of the hum shifted. The room began to shake, at first with a slight rumble, and then with more violence. It was almost ferocious. Gabriel fought to hang on to the console, but the shaking was only getting worse. It was almost as thought a bull was fighting to fling an unwanted rider from its back.
He tried to press more controls, to undo whatever he'd done, but nothing seemed to help.
"Doctor!" Peri screamed as the TARDIS bucked and shook around her. She had braced herself against the wall of the corridor, and she could see the Doctor in the doorway leading into the control room. "What's happening?"
The Doctor shook his head, his eyes clenched as though he were fighting an enormous headache, his blond curls bouncing about him.
And then it hit Peri.
A pain like she couldn't imagine, as though there were suns burning behind her eyes. She screamed, throwing her hands up to her head, losing her footing. She slipped, and suddenly was on the ground, but she didn't care; the pain was so intense, so utterly agonising, that she couldn't move, couldn't see, couldn't breathe.
"Doctor!" she screeched, fighting her way through the wall of hurt. "What is it? What is happening to me?"
"Not just you," she heard him say, and realised he was crouched over. Indeed, she was wrapped in his arms, held tight against him. He was trying to protect her, to keep her safe. The pain seemed to subside, if only a little. She was with the Doctor. "Something's happening to the TARDIS. Something has disrupted the hyperdimensional matrix."
The pain was dissipating even more rapidly now.
"What does that mean, Doctor?" Peri asked, her headache now more of a hangover. Her vision was even clearing.
"Something has violated our temporal isolation," the Doctor explained, and Peri was finally able to see him. She blinked away the last of the pain, and realised the TARDIS was dark.
"The TARDIS…" she said.
"It's gone offline," the Doctor said, "to protect itself. In the case of an intrusion which causes a disruption the hyperdimensional plane or damage to the TARDIS' higher systems, it enters a fugue state until it can resolve the problem. The trouble is, this TARDIS is old. It won't be able to do it on its own. We need to locate the whatever's caused the fugue, and expel it."
"What could have happened?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I have no idea. It could be dangerous. Perhaps you should go to your room, until I have it sorted out…"
"You're sending me to my room?" Peri exclaimed, pulling herself up. "I know I'm young, Doctor, but really! That's unfair."
"I'm only doing it for your protection," the Doctor said, getting to his feet and helping Peri to hers. "There are three things that could have caused this kind of complete shutdown. Whatever has entered the TARDIS is either a paradox, or a fixed point in history that has been removed from its timeline. Something that shouldn't have happened at all, or something that must happen at any cost."
Peri frowned. "That's only two things."
"Hmm?" the Doctor asked.
"You said three things could have caused it."
"Oh," the Doctor said. "Yes. The third. Well, that's the truly troubling one. Sabotage. Intentional or accidental. And if we're really, really, very unlucky…"
Peri bit her lip. "Yes?"
"If we're so cosmically unlucky it makes every black cat in history walking under every ladder all at the same time forever look like the luckiest thing since the foot of the Great Rabbit of Klexahong Vek," the Doctor said, "it might be all three. A paradoxical fixed point sabotaging the TARDIS."
"Well, then," Peri said. "If it's so dangerous, I'm not letting you out of my sight."
The Doctor looked at her, eyebrows raised. He looked more than a little annoyed, his shoulders and spine tight. "Why are you always so obstinate?"
"Because, Doctor," Peri said, with a small, sad smile. "You're all I've got."
The Doctor's shoulders relaxed. He offered her a smile, true and genuine. "Come on, then, my dear."
Together, multicolour coat and white toga, the two made their way towards the console room.
Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus stood in the darkened control room, shaking. What could have possibly happened? What had he done? The pain in his head had been utterly excruciating, and had vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
"Who the hell are you?"
The words echoed again through the dark chamber, and Gabriel shivered. In all his training, in all his study, nothing like this had ever happened. Where was he? A flight of panic took him. He ran to the doors, and tried to wrench them open… they stayed shut tight. Swallowing, he took a look around. There were two corridors leading away from the room… he chose one, and ran down it.
Perhaps, he thought desperately, there would be another way out.
"The console's dead," the Doctor declared as he and Peri entered the control room. He went over to check the readouts. "Damn. If we had some system access, I'd be able to use the TARDIS' security systems to track down the intrusion…"
"Doctor!" Peri cried from the doors. "I can't get them open!"
"No," the Doctor said, coming to her side, "I shouldn't imagine that you could. The TARDIS has removed us from the timestream."
"But why?" Peri asked. For the first time in a long time, she would have felt safer outside those doors than in.
"The rest of the universe's," the Doctor said, turning back to the console.
A spike of pain roiled through his head, and his feet disappeared from beneath him… he was standing in the console room, but it was lit up, glowing, like it normally was. There was a young man, wearing a white toga with a red stripe decorating it, hunched over the TARDIS console, poking at it…
"Who the hell are you?" he called, and the man looked up.
The Doctor found himself in Peri's arms. "Doctor?" she said, her voice quiet with fear and concern. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, Peri," he said, sitting up. "It's far worse than I feared."
Her arms tightened about him. "How? What's happened?"
"Temporal dimension inside the TARDIS has been fractured," the Doctor explained. "I just saw our intruder, in the past, standing at the console… he heard me speaking, but couldn't see me."
"What does it mean, Doctor?"
"The TARDIS' fugue state is like a computer operating in safe mode," the Doctor explained, getting to his feet, and heading with Peri to the console. "It's a diagnostic procedure, meant to allow us to root out whatever's causing the difficulty with no chance of damage to the ship's systems or the outside universe. The intrusion is so great that it's tripped us into fugue, but even that's not enough… space-time within the hyperdimensions of the TARDIS is being splintered, broken. The past and the future of the TARDIS itself are being brought together."
Peri blinked. "That won't end well."
"No," the Doctor agreed. "It won't."
He flung out a hand, squeezing Peri's shoulder to keep himself steady as pain threatened to overwhelm him again. He saw the console room, darkened and offline, and saw the same man, in the same toga, dashing off down a corridor. A second later, he was back.
"Are you okay?" Peri asked, her arm around her friend. "What happened?"
"I saw him again," the Doctor said. "The man, the intruder. He ran down there!"
The Doctor slipped from Peri's grasp, and ran for the corridor down which he'd watched the intruder disappear, Peri behind him.
Gabriel found himself in a gallery the size of a cathedral, as large as the grandest temples on Dalmatia XVII. This chamber was even larger the console room, and though it must have been splendid lit up, it was dank and terrifying in the darkness. Shadows loomed large over him.
He took a few steps into the room, and shivered. It was draughty in here.
"Who the hell are you?"
Gabriel turned, and found himself face to face with a tall man in a brilliantly coloured coat, his hands buried in his pockets. His hair was a mess of golden curls, and he was watching Gabriel with an imperious expression.
Swallowing, Gabriel drew himself to his full height.
"Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus," he said, "student of politics and philosophy." The man frowned, and then he was gone.
"Where are we, Doctor?" he heard a woman's voice say.
"Dalmatia XVII," the man's voice echoed.
Gabriel grabbed at his head as fresh waves of pain broke over him. He jammed his eyes closed, and tried to think, tried to remember where he was, what had happened. He'd entered the blue box, and then… the great gallery shook all around him, dust falling from the ceiling. He lost his footing, and fell to the ground, but he barely noticed through the pain.
"Where are we Doctor?"
The voices were echoing, over and over again. So many words, so many names, places, things we couldn't recognise. The woman and the man she called the Doctor at first, but then other voices. Men, women, robotic creatures; uncountable people. Dozens upon dozens, speaking of things that Gabriel didn't understand, couldn't imagine. An entire reality he couldn't believe was being created in his head, and it hurt.
Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus screamed.
"Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus," the Doctor said, suddenly, a frown frozen on his features.
"What?" Peri asked, confused.
"His name. The man's name. The intruder. I asked him the question, back in the console room, and he just answered me…"
"The console room?" Peri repeated. They were standing in a TARDIS corridor, on their way to one of the rooms Peri loved to lounge in between their adventures, an enormous gallery adorned with statues of alien figures, the identity and purpose of which the Doctor had never bothered to explain to her. "That was five minutes ago."
"No, no, it's eternal. It's happening over and over again. A temporal storm, brewing in the heart of the TARDIS," the Doctor said, looking at Peri. His lip quivered, ever so slightly. "I'm being broken up, spread throughout the TARDIS."
"I don't understand, Doctor."
"Of course you don't," the Doctor said, dismissively.
"I'm only trying to help!" she shouted, unable to believe he was being so petulant considering their current circumstances.
"I know that name," he went on, ignoring her. "Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus… I know that name. But where? How?" He closed his eyes, thinking… they snapped open, and he looked to Peri, obviously horrified. "Him!"
"Him?" she echoed, but the Doctor was already off down the corridor.
Peri gave chase, but as the Doctor slipped into the gallery, the deck suddenly pitched beneath Peri's feet, and she tripped. Falling hard against the floor, she gave a cry of pain. It echoed down the corridor… and then it echoed back. And again, and again, and again. The air was growing cold, electric, Peri's throat was getting tight. The corridor pitched and shifted, and the very atmosphere seemed to warp.
"Doctor!" she cried, her every fibre screaming with fear. "Doctor!"
The Doctor found the young man face down on the floor of the Occasional Gallery. "Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus," the Doctor said as he rolled him over, his eyes sad. "I know you, young man. I know you all too well."
The man stirred in his sleep, and mumbled something the Doctor couldn't make out.
He recognised that face, thought it was far younger than he remembered. Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus. A fixed point in history, for sure. What this man did, what he was responsible for, had to happen. He'd come aboard the TARDIS, somehow, which had recognised him as a fixed point, a figure absolutely essential to the correct passage of history…
"No!" the Doctor cried. "That's not how…" Sighing, he placed a hand against the side of Gabriel's head, slipping into the man's memories.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Gabriel had wandered aboard the TARDIS, and had accidentally activated the controls, which had begun the fugue state… but that wasn't all. Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus was an essential figure in the history of the New Roman Empire, a fixed point in time; but he hadn't been until he'd boarded the TARDIS, until he'd activated the fugue state, until the temporal disruptions had afflicted him, exposed him to the universe the TARDIS had explored, far beyond even the New Roman Empire's greatest extents. He shouldn't have been important at all, and yet he was, simply because he was.
Blinking, the Doctor broke the psychic connection. "Well, that's a mess."
The TARDIS had recognised him as a saboteur, and had tried to shake him loose… which had caused the sabotage. It had recognised him as a fixed point and as a paradox, only because it had made him one. The fugue state had created the conditions for the fugue state, and the resultant paradox had disrupted the space-time of the TARDIS' hyperdimensional interior.
"Crap," was all the Doctor could say.
Not only had he met Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus… he'd created him. He'd created one of history's greatest monsters.
Suddenly, Peri's scream ripped through the air. The Doctor was on his feet in a second, and bolting for corridor. He found Peri sprawled on the floor, surrounded by temporal disruptions; the air was twisting, changing. The past was converging around Peri, the future breathing down her neck, the present crushing her beneath the weight of its potential. The Doctor took a deep breath, steeling himself for what was to come. He could survive the temporal storm that was surrounding his friend, but she couldn't.
Head down, he pushed his way down the corridor. Temporal energy released from the very heart of the TARDIS assaulted him, tried to push him back, but he fought his way through. He heard words, spoken by voices he hadn't known for centuries; saw faces he had spent so long trying to forget, but never could. Everything the TARDIS had been, everything it would be, was pressing down upon him.
He almost tripped over Peri, and sank to his knees.
"Doctor…" she gurgled, and he saw her body had been ravaged by the temporal energy. Her face was twisted, her left cheek wrinkled and ancient, her forehead fresh like a baby's, her chin studded with the blemishes of adolescence. She was dying.
"I've got you, Peri," the Doctor said, pulling her into his arms. "I've got you, do you understand? I'm not going to leave you."
"What…" she struggled to speak, her body ravaged by scoliosis and arthritis and the infirmities of age battling with the vitality of youth, "what happened?"
"It was my fault," the Doctor admitted, and he fought to hold back the tears that were already spilling down his cheeks. "It was all my fault. I'm responsible for everything he's going to do, and I'm responsible for this. I'm sorry, Peri, I'm so, so sorry."
She was crying now, and she would have been screaming if she weren't so weak. "Just go, Doctor. Leave me."
"Never," he said, and he meant it.
He held her as she went still. He held her until she'd been aged to dust in his arms.
The unconscious form of Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus was heavy on the Doctor's shoulders as he heaved the man from the gallery back to the console room. He'd stopped crying, and even the dust that had once been Perpugilliam Brown had disappeared from his coat. Now, all there was was rage.
The console room doors opened easily before him, and outside was Dalmatia XVII. The Doctor placed Pyrrhus on the marble, and looked down at the man's sleeping features. Everything this monster would go on to do, all the horror and misery he would wreak… the Doctor flexed his fingers. It would be so easy to snap the man's neck, to end it all. Forget history, forget the Laws of Time.
Looking down at his fingers, he remembered them curled around Peri's throat. He remembered carrying her back to the TARDIS, his body ravaged by the spectrox… the tears came afresh, and he turned away, leaving the unconscious Gabriel on the marble.
The TARDIS came to life again around him as the fugue state came to an end, the intrusion having been successfully expelled.
The hum of the engines returned, but all the Doctor could hear was stark silence.
No voice to ask him questions, to argue with him. He was alone. All alone, and he'd failed her. He'd failed her so many times, as he'd failed so many before. The tears streamed down his cheeks as he slumped against the console, and he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"What's wrong, Doctor?"
The voice was unmistakable. American, bright. Almost bubbly. The Doctor turned, eyes wide, grin wider. Peri Brown, beautiful and young and still wearing the toga, was looking at him, as true as life.
He wrapped her in a bear hug, lifting her up, his mind racing to consider the possibilities… if time and space had splintered, then they'd torn Peri apart. When the fugue state had ended, when time and space had been righted, then so had Peri. He put her back on the floor, and took a moment just to look at her.
Laughing, the most beautiful sound in the universe to the Doctor, she said "Easy, boy!"
"Oh, Peri," the Doctor said, and he turned back to the console. "Sorry I made you get into the toga. We'll not be staying on Dalmatia XVII."
"I can't say I'm not relieved," Peri admitted. "That was enough adventure for a little while. Tell me, though, Doctor. What happened? Who was he? Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus."
The Doctor's expression, as elated as it was, grew dark. "The last Caesar of the New Roman Empire. He restored the ideals of the Republic, only to co-opt them. He was obsessed with the idea of a Pax Romana, a galaxy under imperial domination. He declared himself dictator-for-life, and he introduced conscription and slavery to build armies of conquest. He strip-mined entire worlds to fund and furnish his campaigns. He led the New Roman Empire right into its collapse. Millions died. And it's all my fault."
"If he had never come aboard the TARDIS, he never would have seen the extent of the universe, a universe he thought it was his duty to conquer."
Peri touched his shoulder. "You couldn't have known that, Doctor."
"No," he admitted, "but I could have stopped him. I didn't have to land on Dalmatia XVII. I was trying to meet him, Peri. That's why I came here. I wanted to meet him as a young man. I created him. I started him. I started all of it, and what's worse… what's worse is that it cost me you."
"I remember, Doctor," she said, "and I remember that you didn't leave me. I remember that."
The Doctor's expression softened. "Come on, then, my dear. Onwards?"
Peri smiled. "Onwards."
He slammed down a lever, and the TARDIS and its occupants, whole once again, disappeared into space and time, leaving Dalmatia XVII and the New Roman Empire behind.
It was night before Gabriel Bacchus Pyrrhus came to on the roof of the Grand Bibliotheca. He sat up, and saw that the blue box was gone… the stars glimmered above him, endless and beautiful. He had seen them, heard of them, so many of them. Not just the galaxy, but the universe beyond.
There was just one explanation. That box had been sent to him, a miracle sent to bring to him the knowledge of what the universe truly was, and what it should be.
A Pax Romana stretching throughout all of reality. He couldn't help but smile. He had so much work to do.