CHAPTER 6: Sins of the Grandfather
The Doctor's proposition was greeted with ashen faces. Was that really his plan? To go back in time and destroy his past self? Did he really think that would resolve this situation? To the three before him, it couldn't have been a more drastic option. "Doctor," said Amy. "No. You can't do that. There must be another way."
"There is no other way," he replied. "And you know it as well as I do. TARDIS, your front garden, me in tails, you in white. An anomaly was detected — me, existing when I shouldn't. Alive when I should be dead. It was always going to happen. Well..." He took a deep breath. "This is the moment when it does happen. This is the beginning of that moment."
"The beginning of the end?" Amy was incredulous. "No, you don't need to do this!"
"I'm wrapped throughout time, Amy. Throughout all of history. I've involved myself in too much for too long. Remove me right from the start, before any of this ever had a chance to happen, and a chain reaction of interlinked paradoxes will occur from end to end, star to star. The ripples will build to a critical mass, releasing a force of space-time energy that should be enough to blast every—"
"But what about you? What good is a universe — any universe — without you?" Amy didn't care for an explanation. "Doctor, you're a time traveller! You can change this! You can change your future!"
The Doctor regarded Amy sympathetically, and tried to respond with a gentle tone. "And for what? Save myself so the universe can collapse? Save myself so every universe that has ever and will ever exist can implode into the very fabric of reality? Surely one stupid man in a box is a small price to pay so that time and space can continue to exist."
"I don't understand," said Susan. "Who are you talking about?"
The Doctor looked at the young woman, and his hearts sank — clearly, her involvement in a matter ten regenerations before her time put her closer to the man he once was, rather than the man he now embodied. He approached Susan and gently put his hands on her shoulders, his arms taught and braced between them, forcing her to look him in the eye.
"Me," he said. There was no getting around it. "Younger me. Well, older-looking me." He inhaled deeply. "Your me."
A moment passed before the Doctor's words registered in her mind, and Susan's face warped into an expression of horror. "You mean you're going to... oh, but you can't! You mustn't!"
"I must. I have to."
Amy stepped forward. "Well, I won't let you." She looked at Susan. "We won't let you."
The Doctor sighed. These humans. These complex, yet simplistic creatures. They were too short-sighted, not letting themselves see what needed to be done just so they could hang on to what they wanted to have. Their emotions always got in the way. Intentionally or otherwise, they served as a shield. An excuse.
But then he thought of Susan — his own kind, reacting in kind. Why could she, of all people, not see? Why could she not understand? Had she spent too long with humans? Probably. But then he himself had been by their side just as long. He'd fought for them, defended them. Loved them.
These humans. He had loved them.
His throat felt thick, and the Doctor swallowed hard. He suddenly grew aware of the true impact of his plan. He pictured faces, sad and lost. Hundreds of them. Thousands. But then, just as swiftly, he pictured an imaginary wind blowing them into grains of sand; he couldn't let them get in the way of what he knew had to be done. He needed to convince the humans of more than the simple end-game. He needed to have them see how he saw. To know what he knew.
A simple explanation wouldn't cover it. They needed to arrive there themselves.
"Amy," said the Doctor. His voice was calm, even. "Susan. Every parallel universe that has ever and will ever be is collapsing inward, breaking the fabric of reality and tearing apart time and space. Infinite existence will be crushed into a timeless nothingness. I want you to picture that. I want you to feel that in your mind. And I want you to think about what you could do to prevent it."
Amy said nothing. Nor did Susan.
"Because you can do something," said the Doctor. "You have the means. You just need to think. Picture how it looks. Picture those circles closing in on each other. There they are, moving in closer and closer. You need to push them apart. How would you do that? Think of the obvious."
Amy bit her lip. She didn't want to answer. "By force," she mumbled. "An explosion."
"An explosion. Yes. But think how massive that explosion would need to be. Think of the power it needs to have in order to literally move countless universes away from each other. Raw physical power won't be enough; it would need to transcend the physical and draw from something far greater. Something deeper. Something that, from the perspective of the universe, has been there from start to finish. Influencing. Guiding. Shaping. The course of time has been structured the way it has because of this thing — it's like a support beam, a tentpole that gives it its form."
The Doctor paused. "That tentpole is me."
An empty moment passed. The analogy was clear, but Amy's face remained still, unconvinced. She cleared her throat to speak, apparently giving much thought to whether or not to do so.
"You're a wonderful man," she finally said. She looked at Rory. "The second most wonderful man I know. But right now, it's not you who's talking. It's your ego. Doctor, you've been doing this for so long, seeing so many places and changing the lives of so many people, that right now, looking back on it all and looking at what lies ahead, you really do see yourself as the centre of the universe. You really think you're this great all-important figure. This great presence that the universe owes itself to. The Doctor, the big man in the box."
Inwardly, the Doctor bristled. Ego.
"I really don't need to look at that way," he said gently, "but can you think of a bigger one? Can you think of any one thing that has touched all corners of time and space in a fashion that comes even remotely near what I've done?" He turned to Susan, to make sure she was hearing his words also. "I've been up to a fair bit. More than any Time Lord has the right to involve themselves in. Influencing species, shaping history. Becoming part of events that are yet to be, moulding and shaping moments from long ago." He sighed. "I've done too much. This... perhaps this always needed to happen."
"You're no martyr," Amy said. "If this is just about absolving a nagging case of centuries-old guilt—"
"Then think about why you feel you need to do anything at all!"
The Doctor was taken aback. He didn't expect that. "How can you ask such a question? After all you've seen? If I have the means to help, why shouldn't I use them?"
"Because you're my friend!"
And Susan, with wide eyes and a trembling lip, added in a voice barely louder than a whisper:
"Because you're my grandfather."
The Doctor took a moment to regard their responses. There they were. There was the honest truth. Those words, driven with such passion and emotion, finally hit home.
The Doctor smiled.
"And that's exactly why I need to help," he said.
Cautiously, Rory waved a hand into the conversation. "I, uhh, I know I'm not an expert in time travel or anything," he said, "but you're talking about travelling back to change the past, and I do seem to remember you saying that paradoxical events split off to become parallel universes."
"Correct, but then there was that other thing I said, about how we can work around it. An extremely clever thing, if I do say so." The Doctor seemed to regain some upbeat energy, as though the challenge fuelled his mood. "'Course, when I said two bits of string and a piece of copper wire, I meant something a bit more complicated."
The Doctor started pacing around the TARDIS console. "Any event that conflicts with the past, present or future will split off to create its own de-paradoxed parallel universe. It's just how things are. So we need to prevent that split. We need to contain the paradox. A barrier, or a bubble, around the universe would keep the anomaly in a place where the point of conflict can generate the paradox and prevent timey-wimey from siphoning it outwards into parallel safety. A new twist on an old trick I learned from an even older friend." He looked at his audience and caught himself. "Long story."
"A bubble?" said Susan.
"Around the whole universe?" said Amy.
The Doctor nodded.
"But what good would that do?" Rory said. "Why contain it? So the barrier prevents a time split from escaping. So what?"
"So what? So everything! A universe that's both with and without me is a big thumping huge paradox with plenty of universe-shifting oomph, and like any oomph, if it's contained, it will want to escape. The pressure will keep building and building until it breaks through our barrier — and that's precisely the force we need. Massive, universal, eternal. Or, to put it a tastier way, it's the fizz in a soda bottle — fine by itself, but shake it up and it'll blast the top off and go all over that nice rug. So, really, we're bottling the universe."
Amy snorted incredulously. "You make it sound so easy."
"Well, it is."
"The whole universe? With what, a balloon and sticky tape?"
"Of course not. With this." He patted the TARDIS console tenderly. "She's not just for travel, you know. We can use the energy of the TARDIS to generate a time shield; one that exists at every point in history, in every point in space. That's the plan, at least. End to end and beyond. But as capable as this ol' girl is, we're going to need more power to do it. A lot more. As much as we can get. And the good thing is, we already have it."
He flicked on the display monitor, and a sharp burst of static gave way to reveal a familiar sight: an endless horizon of police boxes, stretching as far as the eye could see. "Hundreds, thousands, millions of energy-laden ol' girls," said the Doctor. "Thanks to a timeless realm and our good friend Carol, we have an infinite supply of parallel TARDISes."
Susan, Rory and Amy could't help but smile as they craned in to look. Sure enough, the array offered an eternal field of powered units, all active and all glowing the same blue hue.
"We can use them," said the Doctor. "Every single one of them, together. With a bit of jiggery-pokery, we can chain-link all those TARDISes together — one into two, two into four, four into eight, eight into sixteen, and so on. An infinite stream of TARDIS energy, which gets fed back into this TARDIS and broadcast as a shield that's big enough to cover our entire universe, with more than enough juice left over to break through the time lock. Another long story."
His plan laid bare, he didn't waste any time. Immediately, the Doctor raced down the TARDIS platform stairs and examined the underside of the structure, a baffling array of exposed cables, wires, and electrical equipment. The others, in an effort to keep up with his supercharged mind, had no choice but to follow.
The Doctor frantically worked his way through the array, unplugging cables and reconnecting them elsewhere at a blistering speed. "Normally it's a bad idea to loop TARDIS energy into TARDIS energy," he said, disconnecting and reconnecting. "But since we've already taken this girl beyond the reaches of time and space and we're living to talk about it, I'm feeling lucky."
Rory raised an eyebrow. "Lucky?"
"Still, daisy chaining these things is going to take some serious heavy duty hardware. Give me two bits of string and a piece of copper wire."
"Wait," said Amy. "You were serious?"
"Of course I was serious! How else do you expect me to bypass the temporal buffers while providing enough auxiliary power to the biomatrix resonator? Magic?"
"Naturally," said Amy. "Forget I asked."
The Doctor reached into his pockets and fished around. "Calculator, swiss army knife, leaky pen... oh, why is there never anything useful in here?" He kept rummaging. "Aha! Rory, hold this."
As he thrust a relatively short piece of simple white string into Rory's hands, the Doctor continued to pull a second piece out of his pocket. It was impossibly long, and the way the Doctor pulled and pull in a mad scramble to reach its end seemed akin to a magician revealing an endless length of coloured scarves. Eventually it emerged, and the full length of string sat in a limp coil at his feet. The Doctor scooped it up. "Two bits of string. Check and check. Now, about the wire... hmm..."
The Doctor delved deep, but seemed unable to find anything of use. Rory and Amy looked around, unsure of how to help. They were not known for carrying around such items on their person. Amy glanced at Susan, looking to gauge her reaction to—
"What's that at your neck?"
Susan looked at Amy. "What?"
She pointed. "The back of your collar. There's something sticking out."
Susan reached behind her, feeling her fingers at the back of her neck. She touched something, thin and wiry, and pulled it out, holding it up to her eyes as she examined it. "I didn't even notice. It must have been part of that horrid machine."
Amy pointed to the item. "Doctor, will this do?"
He stopped his rummaging and leaned in to give it a close inspection. "Yes, yes, not too shabby. Nice work, Susan. Thinking two steps ahead, very resourceful."
"But I didn't know I—"
Amy cut her off and leaned in with a whisper. "It doesn't matter. Take the compliment and let him do his thing."
The Doctor craned his neck to look up at the masses of electronics and cabling hanging from the underside of the platform. He twisted an end of the wire around a cable that stretched taught, and again around another cable that, by itself, didn't reach it, resulting in a rudimentary connection between the two. "Getting to where we're going should be the easy part," he said. "A realm without time means it exists at all times, everywhere. Like a doorway leading to every single point in history. The hard part is keeping it open long enough for us to slip inside." He stood back and admired his handiwork, pleased.
Rory raised an eyebrow. "That's it?"
"What do you mean, 'that's it'?" said the Doctor, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "Temporal bypass? Hello? Now come on, it's time for all hands on deck."
The Doctor raced back up to the TARDIS console with the others in tow. They all crowded around the panel and awaited his instructions.
"Don't touch anything," said the Doctor.
Amy tilted her head. "All hands off deck?"
"Off. Totally off. Power regulators are decoupled, and everything's charged above and beyond their normal payloads. Don't move near a single button. Don't even breathe. In fact, just stand over there." He pointed to the floor a short distance away. "All of you."
Amy, Rory and Susan looked amongst themselves, figuring their only response was to follow his directions, and as they did so, the Doctor very slowly tied one end of the longest string around a single lever. His movements were careful, cautious, and in stark contrast to his usual manic, energetic presence at the TARDIS controls. He took his time. Eventually, the knot was complete, and he looked at it, delicately pressed a couple of nearby buttons, then picked up the length of string that trailed from the lever. He walked away from the console backwards, laying the string in front of him like a long explosive fuse, and joined the group that awaited him, clenching the string's other end between his teeth.
"String tastes funny, did you know?" The Doctor spoke through the twine as his fingers fashioned a small loop from the second length of string, the shortest piece. He twirled it around his left index finger and finished it with a knot. And that was it, just a piece of string tied around his finger.
"What's that for?" Amy asked.
"A reminder of what?"
"Shush! Questions are noisy, and I need to concentrate. This is a highly delicate process..."
The Doctor gradually increased the tension on the long string, slowly pulling it towards him until it was taught between his fingers and the console lever. A tense moment passed until, suddenly, the Doctor finished the motion with a hefty yank, pulling the string; a distant click from the console confirmed the movement of the lever. Gradually, the time rotor in the central column of the TARDIS started to glow a vibrant blue; a dull humming noise emerged and slowly built in volume.
"TARDIS energy has a unique signature," said the Doctor. "Normally it's contained, but my bit of jiggery-pokery has let out just enough for it to resonate with itself, seeking it out and feeding it back into — look, you can see it!"
He pointed to the console, and sure enough, it had started to change. The entire array started to become blurry as a TARDIS console of a totally different build appeared to overlap it — two unique designs sharing the same space. Then a second faded in. A third, a fourth. Faster now, they continued to pile in, and the entire area soon became one blurred, overlapped mass of TARDIS consoles, reeling in the designs of so many parallel units and bringing them into the one space.
"The energy of our TARDIS is looping into the energy of two parallel TARDISes," the Doctor said. 'Those two loop into two of their own, and so on, feeding back a daisy-chain of TARDIS energy — and that energy is stretching out among the stars, to every corner of the galaxy, across every moment in history. That energy is our barrier. That barrier is our bottle."
He dropped the string and went a short distance to the TARDIS wall. The weapon they had collected from the Shadow Proclamation, the genome blaster, was resting against it, and the Doctor picked it up and held it in both hands, gripping the gun stock tightly. He looked determined now, and the cards of his plan were well and truly on the table. This was it, then.
"Time to shake the bottle," he said.
Amy, Rory and Susan all braced themselves. But the Doctor didn't move. His face had frozen as a moment of sudden realisation overtook him. Blindsided.
"It just occurred to me. I can't see me. Past me can't see future me. If past me knows what the future me will look like, it might cause past me to change his course, thereby preventing future me from doing any of what we're doing now. I need to arrive at this point, which means I need to stay hidden." He tapped a finger on the grip of the gun. "I can't be seen. This needs to be done by someone else."
Rory and Amy exchanged wary glances.
The Doctor noticed, shook his head. "You two can forget it. You're part of my future; the moment past me first meets you at the proper point in his timeline, he'll know what's coming. We can't risk it."
"So who then?" Amy asked.
The Doctor bit his lip. "It needs to be someone he already knows. Someone he would have no reason to regard with suspicion. Someone he trusts."
In crisp, rhythmic echo, two immaculately polished black shoes clacked against a seemingly endless hallway of white tiles. The shoes lead to the cuffs of tartan trousers, pressed to a crease so fine as to appear razor sharp. Together, they moved in strong, confident strides. Filled with purpose. Determination. And yet, beneath it all, a hint of desperation.
The rhythm was disrupted, and the footsteps stumbled slightly. A brief gasp for breath, and they started again, the sound of the two feet now punctuated by a third clack — an ebony cane, its tip pressed to the floor as the owner used the stick for support. The offset reverberated from wall to wall. Clack, clack-clack. Clack, clack-clack.
The hallway was long, and the steps were many, but eventually they came to a halt at the foot of a stark white shape. It appeared to be a featureless rectangle, standing tall on its narrow end, its proportions similar to that of a conventional phone booth. There was no visible door, but a wrinkled hand wearing a blue signet ring on one mottled finger reached out and touched the surface. It pushed inward, and the hand drew back, startled, as though surprised by the motion. Or, perhaps, expecting a different result to what had been offered.
A crack of darkness was visible beyond the open door. There was no indication of what was inside, so the hand pushed the door further in, revealing an interior that, although shrouded in shadow, hinted at a space far bigger than what the outward walls would be expected to contain. Tentatively now, the figure entered the room, with footsteps that echoed against far-away walls inside as distinctly as they did outside.
He advanced slowly, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Ahead, he could see only the barest of details masked by shadow. That looked to be the time rotor straight ahead, and beneath it, yes, that was the console alright. Six sides. One for each pilot. It appeared a little elaborate for a Type 40, even a little blurry. Perhaps his eyesight wasn't what it used to be. Still, he should have no problems figuring—
A harsh spotlight cut into his thoughts as it glared down on him from overhead, bathing the figure in brilliant white light and revealing his full form against the darkness. Those tartan trousers were accompanied by a number of distinctly Edwardian-esque garments: a waist coat, a white dress shirt, a fob watch, a frock coat. Grey, almost white hair touched the shoulders. Brown eyes surrounded by wrinkles squinted into the light, and he held up a hand as a shield. A man, old in appearance but young in body. A Time Lord.
A second overhead light shone before him. Standing near the blurred console array, illuminated by the light from above, was Susan. He recognised his granddaughter instantly. She was holding some sort of device with both hands — thick and bulky, about the length of a rifle and emitting a constant high pitched electrical hum. Heavy, from the way she struggled against its weight. A weapon. Clearly, a weapon — because it was pointed right at him; he was staring directly down the barrel, lit in a brilliant blue hue.
She was crying.
"Susan?" he said. "Gracious, child, what are you doing in here? What's that you're holding?"
"You need to stay where you are, grandfather."
The man heard a sound behind him — a creaking hinge. He turned to see two figures, a man in a checked shirt and a woman with red hair, locking the doors and standing guard, preventing access to the only exit.
"What is this?" said the man. "What are you talking about?"
Tears began to flow from Susan's eyes. "Please. Stay there."
"I'd do as she says," said a voice from the shadows. It sounded like it was coming from above, from an upper level. "Locked doors behind you and a charged genome blaster in front of you. Consider it advice that you'd do well to heed."
The old man looked around him, trying to find the source of the voice. "Who are you? What are you doing in my TARDIS?"
"It's not your TARDIS." From the shadows, the Doctor spoke slowly, with deliberate authority. "But it looks like the unit you had your eye on from the outside, doesn't it? Why use a chameleon circuit when a perception filter will do, that's what I always say. Besides, you and I both know what you came in here to do." He paused. "It's not 'your' TARDIS. Deep down, you'll always know that. But in another world, it wouldn't matter."
The old man puffed his cheeks. "The words of a fool do pain the ear. Show yourself so that I might see your face do similar to the eye."
"You don't need to see me. You just need to listen and obey."
"Obey!" The old man snorted at the word. "My dear fellow, I insist you show some respect for your elders."
He could almost hear a smirk from the shadows. "I might ask the same from you."
The man made a gruff noise in his throat and turned his attention back to Susan, still standing under the spotlight and still training the gun directly at him. He looked to her hands; whether by tension or by the sheer weight of the device, they were shaking. The barrel of the weapon wavered slightly. He considered the situation. If he was going to gain ground, it needed to be now.
"Come child," he said gently, taking a cautious step forward. "Move away from these fools. Let's you and I leave this place. You don't know what you're doing."
"No, grandfather. I can't."
"Put that weapon down this instant."
"Put it down!"
"No, grandfather! I won't!"
Her sharp tone rattled him. Such a direct refusal from someone so young. So unlike the girl he knew. "You've gone mad, child," said the old man. "What have they done to you?"
Susan didn't answer. There was nothing to say. Nothing she could allow herself to say.
The old man licked his lips, nervous. He was running out of options. He started to back away towards the TARDIS door. "That's far enough," said Amy. The old man halted his steps as she motioned to Rory. "This one watches kung fu movies and I know how to deliver the deadest of dead arms."
"What is the meaning of this? Stop this nonsense at once!"
The Doctor still stood in the shadows. "You're not going anywhere," he said. "We need you. And in a way that you can't understand, you need us."
He took a step forward, edging towards the light just far enough to better establish his presence yet not reveal his face. "We're here to stop you. Time and space is on the brink of total collapse. Actions you are yet to do, decisions you are yet to make, are intertwined throughout the past and future. You can't know why or how, but you need to know that stopping you is the only way to set things right in this universe and beyond. Your journey needs to end before it ever had a chance to begin."
The old man stood there, processing his words. Working through their meaning, feeling the consequences. "You're... you're insisting on a sentence before the crime. I do not know who you are or where you're from, but some would consider that unjust."
"Others would consider it necessary."
"To kill in the name of judgement? To task my own granddaughter with my execution? I beg of you, hear the madness in your words. Find the decency to give life the chance to learn."
A long pause. "I can't do that today," said the Doctor. "You in my shoes would condede that."
"I shan't take this TARDIS. I'll leave it alone. I'll walk away. A journey ended before it—"
"That's not enough," said the Doctor. "We need to be sure."
"But you have my word!"
"We need more than your word."
The old man swallowed, hard. His throat felt thick and dry. There seemed to be no way to bargain for a compromise. Their goal was unmoved. He said nothing.
The Doctor spoke again. "Susan. Now."
She looked up at the platform with pleading eyes. "But grandfather..."
"Don't worry, child," said the old man. "It will be alright."
"You need to do it now, Susan," said the Doctor, his voice taking on a firm edge.
"Please, don't make me, I can't..."
The Doctor shouted. "Now!"
Susan tightened her grip on the gun. She looked down the barrel at the old man.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
Her finger curled around the trigger, tighter and tighter. It pushed back against the pressure until, in an instant, it touched breaking point. Sparks of blue energy crackled around the weapon before it shot a vibrant pulse straight at the old man, loud and booming, and hitting him square in the chest with overwhelming force.
The gun was fired.
The Cloister Bell tolled.
And everything went white.
CHAPTER SEVEN — THE FINAL CHAPTER — COMING SOON!