(A.N.) I go missing for months at a time then randomly reappear, bringing with me time travel, monsters and adventure. So yeah, I'm basically the Doctor now. :)
Everyone in the laboratory was so busy that the Doctor was able to move about freely. He strolled from desk to another, peering over scientist with keen interest at the what they worked on.
With a quick glance to the top corner of the room, where Blitz continued to be thankfully unaware of his presence, he chose a desk at random. A young woman in a white coat typed away at her computer, having to tear her eyes away from the screen when the Doctor greeted her.
"Hi, so sorry to interrupt," he said pleasantly. "Thingy wants to see you." The woman stared blankly back at him. "Oh, you know. What's his name? Bah! I'm drawing a blank, don't you hate it when that happens? You know who I mean… the big boss!"
"Dr Wilhelm?" the woman offered.
"Yes! Sorry, long day, you know how it is in this place." (He was quietly pleased to see the woman smile in understanding.) "Anyway, I just got asked to pass the message along. Your presence is required. Don't worry, you're not in trouble or anything, just a chat."
The woman gathered up her papers and set off down the stairs. The Doctor waited until she was a good distance away, then sat down in her chair and pulled her keyboard towards him.
Ryan had sat in his room for a long time, searching for something to occupy his restless mind. But it wasn't until he went back downstairs, where his mother and father watched news report on the explosion, that his spirits perked up.
"Have they said anything?" he asked, rushing into the room.
His dad shook his head. "It doesn't seem like they know any more than we do."
"Well I'll want answers," said his Mum sternly. "Two minutes more and all of our kids would have been up with that school. They should have been checking their gas or electrics or whatever it was caused it."
Ryan frowned. "Thing is though, you hear about gas or electric explosions all the time on the news. They never seem to have trouble identifying them. Why don't we know what caused this one yet?"
From the couch he stood next to, Jack and Karen Murphy shared a bemused look, then laughed.
"Get on the case, then, Sherlock," said his Dad.
Ryan thought for a second, then had to laugh as well. "Sorry, yeah, what am I on about? God, I'm even starting to talk like him."
"Who?" asked Karen.
"Staring to talk like who, love?"
"Oh," said Ryan quickly. "No one."
A look of worry crossed his mother's face, and she stood up to look at him.
"It's been a bit of mad day, hasn't it?"
Ryan caught her implication and shrugged evasively. "I'm fine, Mum, honestly."
"It's alright love," she insisted. "We understand. Look, I'll tell you what, I'll get right on the phone to them teachers and see how long it will take for them to find out what your A-level results were. That will put your mind at ease, won't it?"
She smiled lovingly then went off to the kitchen carrying the phone. Ryan gaped at his father.
"Is she for real?" he asked. "Inches from being blown to smithereens and she thinks I'm upset because I don't know if I passed Business Studies?"
His Dad gave him a knowing smile and a shrug. "You know what she's like."
Ryan shook his head in wonder, sitting down next to Jack where his Mum had just been.
"Hey," said his Dad seriously. "Look at me." Ryan did. "Are you alright? Properly, though? And don't just tell me you are like you'd say to your Mum so she didn't worry. Tell me really."
The first instinct was to give the same nod, shrug and false smile he'd been giving all day. But for some reason Ryan found himself sighing deeply instead.
"Not really," he said.
Jack turned off the TV with the remote. "Talk to me."
And Ryan realised the explosion would be a perfect opportunity to tell his Dad about the turmoil his brain had been subjected to, without going into the rather curious details about time machines and alien planets.
"I feel like I can't sit still. Like things have changed in between when I left the house this morning and when I came home. After what's happened, to just sit in my room with games, and the internet and stuff, just all seems… I don't know. Pointless, I suppose."
"Why do you say that?" asked Jack.
"Because of what I've seen. Real life things. Death. Or," he added quickly, "close to it. I mean, any one of us could have been killed if we were any closer to that school." His seemed non-fazed by his slip up, so he carried on. "And maybe this is stupid, but I can't stop thinking I've been left with a choice. I can go back to the way things were yesterday, try and ignore that I know now that stuff like this happens all the time without me realising. Or…"
His voice trailed off, and he looked up to see his Dad listening intently, concerned.
"It's hard to explain."
His Dad nodded. "Just try."
Ryan ran frustrated hand through his hair and tried to find the words to explain without really explaining. "You know how you see things on TV sometimes, like documentaries about people who do these amazing things? And you say, 'That's brilliant. What that person does with their life is completely brilliant, and now I'm going to try and be like that too'. But even when you say that, really underneath you know you never could. Because some people just have the right stuff inside of them to that and some don't. There's the people that have documentaries made about them, and there's the people who watch."
"This," said Jack carefully, "is about more than the explosion, isn't it?" Ryan's face fell, and he wondered how he'd possibly gave the truth away. "It's University, isn't it? And your Mum?"
Ryan, strangely, didn't know whether to feel disappointed or relieved.
"I'm just tired," he said, standing up.
Jack studied him worriedly, and looked about to say something, when Karen's voice drifted in from the kitchen.
"Clean up operations? What about my son's education? I think you need to get your priorities in order!"
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I need a walk."
The intention had been to spend two minutes, no more, at the young woman's computer. To scroll through two or three articles to get a working knowledge of what was taking place in this super-secret underground laboratory.
The Doctor had forgotten this intention six or seven minutes ago.
He had kept scrolling, he had kept reading, he had gazed at the screen with an open jaw at the absolute horror of it all. Because inside this underground laboratory, human beings were playing with fire. They were dealing with forces a long, long way beyond their control.
He heard footsteps and looked up, the woman whose desk this belonged to was climbing the stairs with a ticked off expression. The Doctor quickly stood from his chair and moved away. He moved down a level, away from the woman and further away from Blitz's line of sight. Here, he hovered on the spot for a few seconds, looking at all the scientists at their desks, probably keystrokes away from killing billions. Then his eyes fell upon the source of this madness, and he decided to stop hovering. He made his way down the steps, and approached the machine.
Where Ryan thought he'd been walking to, he wasn't sure. Yet somehow he'd ended up on the road that used to have a school at the end of it, but now had two police officers standing in front of 'DO NOT ENTER' tape, stopping anyone from entering the smoky remains. The other side of the tape was a hectic scene. The schoolyard was filled with officers and firefighters, still assessing the damage and searching for explanations.
Ryan watched this for a while, and then had to turn away. The sadness he felt at the sight of his destroyed school kept being nudged out of his head by a small voice which quietly speculated on the events that led up to the explosion.
Shut up, Ryan told himself. His days of solving mysteries were over. Uncontrollable curiosity was a trait of the Doctors, and the reason he'd given that sort of thing up was because he didn't have it in him.
Ah, said the little voice, then why are you still doing it?
If it were placed among the computer terminals that lined every level of this lab, the Doctor would have walked past the machine without a second glance. The fact that it was placed on a plinth in the forefront of the giant room was it's only defining characteristic; apart from that it looked like any old boring workplace appliance.
Not much bigger than an photocopier, it was made out a dull, beige painted metal, with various vents and fan openings placed strategically around it. There were a few buttons and little square lights on the top, but none of these were labelled, and so were just as boring as the rest of it.
As he walked towards this entirely mundane-looking machine, the Doctor thought about the information he'd just read, which also made it the most dangerous machine on the planet. And the Doctor had the slightest twinge of suspicion that these two facts were not coincidental.
Now standing in front of the machine, he cast a wary glance behind him. Fortunately, the scientists on the levels above were too engrossed in their work to notice a stranger climbing the steps and standing on the plinth, so he had no qualms about producing his sonic screwdriver.
He pointed the device at the machine... but did not press the button. Again, from what he'd just read, the science behind this thing was sketchy at best. A simple scan from the sonic could, potentially, have unwanted effects.
The Doctor ignored these worries. He pressed his button. The green light of the sonic lit up and pulled in readings from the machine. It did not blow up the Doctor's face, and so he breathed normally again. He had just flicked his screwdriver out to look at it's results, when his eyes noticed something. There had been a static green light on the top of the machine, only now it had started to blink, and had also turned red.
"Oops," said the Doctor.
Ryan, eager to distract himself from that silly voice in his head, walked down the little footpath that led away from the school and onto the field. He'd rather not go home right now, what with his mother mourning the loss of his a-level results and his dad's well-meaning but not-quite-understanding concern.
Instead, Ryan made his way to where all of this had started, the patch of grass that used to house Crazy Harry's hut. The TARDIS still stood a few feet away, and Ryan looked at with warring emotions.
He'd already made his choice. He'd told the Doctor on this very field just a few hours ago that he did not want to travel with him any longer, that he wasn't made of the right stuff, and that he wanted to return home to a normal life. So why exactly did he feel so conflicted? Why did he feel like he was making a huge mistake, or passing up the chance of a lifetime?
The image from the TARDIS doors as it hung in space came to him. The sight of that endless expanse of stars, each holding a different adventure, waiting patiently. Then Ryan saw the bloody eyes of the Nothing again, screaming at the top of their shredded lungs and ripping a man's body apart in front of him.
He shivered. The voice in his head had gone quiet. Putting positive spin on the Nothing was impossible. If you wanted to go on breath taking adventures with the Doctor in time and space, you needed to be ready to live through the terrible ones, too. And every time Ryan thought about being stuck in that compound he…
His train of thought disappeared. There was smoke coming from the wreck of the school behind the trees. But not a huge, mass cloud; if so Ryan would have assumed it was simply left over from the explosion. No, this was a single spire of ominous black smoke, steadily rising into the air.
Without thinking, Ryan was running. He ran towards the trees so he could peek behind them, through the fencing that used to surround the school. The smoke was coming from one particular crack in the destroyed foundations of the building. And not one of the dozens of police officers and firefighters inspecting the wreckage had noticed it.
Ryan looked back at the smoking crack. The broken concrete around it was trembling. The crack was getting bigger.
Ryan whipped around to look towards the TARDIS. If he had to guess between the time machine and the source of the black smoke, Ryan was fairly confident where the Time Lord would be found.
"Doctor," he said sternly. "What the hell are you playing at?"
End of Chapter Four.