a/n: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! And in this chapter we touch on my deep and abiding crush on W.B. Yeats once again. I used lines from "When you are Old."
Rose handed Susan a thick black parka. "I know all about 'superior Time Lord physiology,'" she said as Susan opened her mouth to object. "And I know for a fact that you can still get frostbite. Take the coat, or stay here."
They were standing in a small room off of the main cement tunnel. Torchwood 3 was built like a maze, but Susan was confident that she could find her way around perfectly. The body of a Time Lord was incredibly efficient, including the brain. Humans only used approximately ten percent of their neural capability, but she used all of it. She was also fairly certain that she could take Rose in a fight, if she absolutely needed to, but that tended to put a damper on relations. "Fine," she grumbled, and pulled the ungainly coat on. "But I'm sure it looks ridiculous."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "It's a great many degrees below freezing out there. Ridiculous or not, your limbs will thank you."
"Goin' somewhere?" A young black man stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. His face was impassive but his posture was tense and he watched Susan like a hawk. "Tosh found me, said you're going back to the ship."
"Mickey." Rose acknowledged him with a nod and a smile. "This is Susan."
"I gathered," he said dryly and held his hand out. "Mickey Smith at your service."
Susan shook it. His grip was firm and steady and he was studying her with a great deal of intensity. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith."
Mickey laughed. "She's a sight more polite than the Doctor ever was," he told Rose.
He had a nice smile, Susan noted, although the beard was a bit off-putting. She'd never been fond of facial hair. She smiled in response. "Grandfather can be a bit—brusque."
He blinked. "Grandfather?"
"We'll talk about that later," Rose broke in. "Susan and I are going back to her TARDIS."
"It's nearly nightfall." Mickey crossed his arms again and shook his head. "You can't, Rose. The temperature's dropping wicked fast."
Rose pulled Mickey out into the hall. Susan remained where she was more out of courtesy than anything. She'd seen the look in the other woman's eyes before and she knew what it meant: nothing short of a miracle was going to get between Rose Tyler and what she wanted.
Mickey and Rose returned and as Susan predicted, the other woman was undeterred. Mickey grumbled something about 'stubborn women' and 'bloody aliens' but he also pulled out one of the thick jackets. "If you're set on getting frostbite," he told them, "you might as well have someone with a bit of sense along."
The last time Susan had been outside she'd also been unconscious and in the grips of regeneration sickness. Her memory of how she came to Torchwood three was fuzzy at best, and there were large chunks of time she couldn't describe at all. She was certain that she would have remembered the cold that stole her breath away for a moment—but she didn't. Mickey was right; the sun was low on the horizon and if it was this cold during the day it must be brutal at night.
"We have to move quickly," Rose reminded them. "Hypothermia is nasty and frostbite is worse."
"How long has it been like this?" Susan asked as they set off towards the center of what used to be Cardiff city.
"Ten years since the meteor hit," Rose replied. "It's gotten worse every year. We used to be able to grow food outside, but that stopped two years ago. It was sheer luck that Torchwood had been experimenting with hydroponics."
Walking through snow was more difficult than she remembered, and she was short this go 'round. It came up past her knees and she felt like she was walking through molasses. "What about the snow?"
Mickey grunted. "This is nothin'. When the deep cold sets in we get drifts twenty feet high in some places, and it gets near as hard as ice." He glanced down at what looked like a large watchface on a thick strap around his wrist. "We've got about an hour before it gets deadly, an' I'd like to be back inside by then so let's hurry up, right?"
Susan nodded. "Right."
Susan's TARDIS sat in the exact center of the city. The Chameleon circuit, like everything else on the once-magnificent time ship was dead and for the first time they could see the ship as she truly was. Rose had always known the ship was alive; it was one of the first things the Doctor told her when she decided to travel with him, but the TARDIS had always appeared so mechanical apart from the coral walls and organic structure of the interior. She hadn't understood that all the wires and levers and buttons, even the outside appearance of the ship, had been designed to allow others to interact with the living core of the TARDIS. Outwardly, the ship looked very much like a stone, but no stone the Earth (either of them, any of them) could have produced. Brilliant swirls of color danced and shifted with the rays of the sun and they formed patterns that Rose recognized: she'd seen them for years on the sticky notes that invariably clung to the monitor on the TARDIS console. There was a structure too, one that reminded her of coral but not anything she'd seen (on or off of Earth). The angles were wrong, like an M.C. Escher painting, and although she tried to follow them with her eyes she invariably lost the trail. The overall effect was of something undeniably alien.
Susan paused in front of her ship and rested a hand on its finely textured surface. There was something off about it, Rose realized. The presence she had always noticed around the Doctor's ship was gone. It was—empty. She had believed for a moment that Susan had been exaggerating, that the Time Lord's TARDIS would be fine, but now she knew: it was dead. Well and truly dead. However they were getting home, it wasn't in the TARDIS.
"We'll wait here," Rose told Susan.
The other woman nodded. Somehow she managed to find a door, although Mickey and Rose saw no trace of one, and slipped inside the fallen time ship.
"So," Mickey said after a long moment of silence. "It's true, then. You're going."
Rose watched their breaths turn to ice crystals in the air. "Yeah."
"Tosh told me." He laughed, half-heartedly. "I didn't believe her."
"I have to, Mick." Rose wrapped her arms around herself. "If there's a chance, I have to take it."
"What about us? What about this?" He threw out his arms to encompass all of Cardiff. "What about the people who depend on you Rose? What are you going to say to them?"
"That I've got the man for the job."
He blinked. "What? Who?" She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Me?"
"You don't need me anymore, Mickey," she said gently. "You haven't for a long time. Everyone here respects you; they'll listen if you give the orders. Mum's gone, and Pete, an' even Tony—you're the only thing anchoring me to this universe."
"Yeah," Mickey replied. "They're gone. You're all I got left, Rose."
She shook her head. "You've made a home here, Mickey. Look at you." A small smile curved her lips. "You're not a kid from the estate anymore. You're a man now, an' you've got the beard to prove it. You did just fine for three years without me."
He pulled her into a hug and she went willingly. "You find him," Mickey ordered as she wrapped her arms around him. "Find the Doctor, Rose, an' give 'im hell for letting you go."
"I will." She smiled at him but her eyes were bright with tears. "Take care of yourself, and be happy, Mick. You deserve it."
Susan fought the urge to retch. The air inside her TARDIS was thick with smoke. The taste of ash and fire coated her tongue and broken glass and shards of coral crunched beneath her heavy boots. The console was a burned-out stump in the center of the destroyed control room. She ran her hands over the twisted levers and blackened switches. Deep inside her mind the fractured link to Gallifrey screamed with all the anguish of a lost child. She was alone, without even the comfort of her TARDIS.
Most Time Lords used TARDIS like humans used cars: a convenient method of transportation and nothing more, but Susan had grown up with her grandfather and with the knowledge that flying a TARDIS was a joint effort. If the TARDIS didn't wish to go somewhere, no power on or off of Earth could compel her. Even Susan's own TARDIS, although it was young and lacked the eons of experience her grandfather's ship had, possessed its own personality. They had been close, almost as close as she and David had been though the nature of the relationship differed in the extreme. Her TARDIS had saved her life so many times, and Susan tried to return the favor. The ship could have abandoned her, could have jettisoned all of the rooms to give her enough power to break free of the Void—but that would have killed her pilot, and so the ship chose instead to sacrifice her life in order to save Susan.
It was an act that precious few Time Lords would have been able to understand. Susan laid a hand on the warped and twisted Time Rotor and said a silent farewell. A macabre horror made her stomach clench as she knelt to unfasten the maintenance panel beneath the console. Using the remains of what had become her closest companion in the chaos and madness of the Time War like it was some sort of machine, only worth the parts it was made of felt wrong, but there was no other way.
She found her toolbox in its customary place, latched onto the column of the console. Susan took a deep breath, pressed her lips together into a thin line, and went to work.
Nearly twenty minutes passed before the door to the dead TARDIS opened again and Susan stepped out into the frigid twilight. She looked like the Doctor did after Van Statten's bunker, like nothing would ever be right, not ever again. There was a weight behind the other woman's eyes that was so familiar that Rose felt her stomach clench in sympathy and an alien cast to her features that called to mind ice blue eyes and grief strong enough to burn stars. The Time Lord pulled a thick cardboard box out and shut the door behind her.
"We can go now." Susan's voice was rough but Rose and Mickey new better than to comment on it. "I have what we need."
Rose laid a hand on the other woman's arm for a brief moment, and then they turned in the direction of Torchwood three. Susan's shoulders were hunched but her spine was ramrod straight, and she did not look back.
Susan threw herself into fixing the rift converters with a vengeance. She confiscated the tech squad (all four of them, and Tosh) for three days. They were dubious at first, when Rose told them they'd be assisting an alien, but after the first day they believed. Susan ate little and slept less, and there was a desperation to her movements that Rose knew well. It was easier, sometimes, to push the pain away than to deal with it, to pile more work and refuse to sleep until exhaustion overcame her, to run as fast as she could from any memory of the Doctor and the life she'd had before Torchwood and Canary Wharf.
Rose also knew how it would end. She'd seen it before, with the Doctor, with herself. The past cannot be outrun; you carry it with you, wherever you go. She tried, oh she tried when she first landed in this strange, not-quite-right universe. She ran and she worked and it took a mental breakdown to get her to stop, to face up to the truth of the matter: she was stuck here, and the Doctor wasn't coming for her. Susan was a Time Lord and she was more like her grandfather than Rose believed she knew. The Doctor was always running. Rose had seen it catch up to him, though, in a bunker in Utah, on a space station thousands of years in the future, in the heart of an agency designed to capture and exploit him—and on an impossible planet in orbit around a black hole. He couldn't run, then, couldn't get away from the possibility that he'd be trapped in one timeline, maybe on one planet, for the rest of her life.
She wasn't sure how long it would take Susan to reach the point of no return, when the reality of the situation sank in and the universe fractured around her, but she'd been through it before, and sometimes the best medicine was someone who understood. Mickey had, just a bit, and having someone she could talk to had made Rose's life so much easier. She couldn't do much, but she could listen.
After noon on the third day Susan declared the job complete, and the rift converters were pushed to maximum. The ever-present hum intensified, the lights flickered, the whole building seemed to hold its breath—and then the power fluctuations stabilized.
"We're good!" Tosh exclaimed from her perch on the catwalk, surrounded by computer screens. "The rift is stable, the output is stable—and there's a 200% increase in power!"
Someone clapped. Someone else cheered. And then the dam burst and shouts and cries and tears and laughter filled the room to its high, vaulted ceiling. People were dancing, and hugging, and spinning in circles. A guitar appeared in the hands of a serious-faced young man and a ginger girl with a brilliant smile pulled out a flute and soon there was an impromptu party happening in the common room. Susan remained on the outskirts, watching children weave between dancing adults. A hand on her shoulder drew her out of her reverie.
"You did good," Rose told her. The other woman's eyes were dark and bright and the laugh lines her wide smile brought out only made her more lovely. Susan could understand how her grandfather could fall in love with such a woman. She'd known the girl for a day, and she couldn't deny that there was a magnetism about her. "Look at them," Rose continued, and turned her eyes back to her people. "You've given them hope." Her hand tightened, and then released. "That's a precious thing, hope."
Susan smiled. "Yeah," she said softly. "It is."
Tinkering was always grandfather's realm. At first it was a necessity; the TARDIS was a museum piece when he stole her, after all. She hadn't been used in centuries, maybe even millennia and she barely made it into the Vortex. He'd grumbled at first (he grumbled about everything) but Susan noticed a rapport form between the cantankerous Time Lord and the tempestuous ship that seemed to grow the longer he spent splicing wires and reconnecting old circuits. She had asked him about it once, but he's simply told her that it couldn't be explained, that she would understand when she had her own TARDIS.
She had. It was as close to talking as a TARDIS could get; something about their basic construction prevented any sort of real speech. There was the bond, of course, if the TARDIS in question deigned to communicate telepathically, but there was something physically satisfying in performing maintenance. Susan knew every inch of her ship like she knew herself.
Well. Perhaps not anymore. She was still getting used to being short and the inside of her mouth still felt funny (it was the little things that kept plucking at her—new teeth and different tastebuds and a strange accent) and she had absolutely no idea what to do with all the hair she had this time around. Cutting it didn't seem right, somehow, so she settled for pulling it back into a bun to get it out of her face. Building a pandimensional transport engine was delicate and occasionally explosive work, and she had no desire to end up suddenly bald (and the smell of burning hair always made her nauseous).
Rose visited sometimes. As Commander she had duties, of course: she mediated disputes, oversaw plans for expansion, heard grievances, and directed the teams that combed the city for survivors. She ran the base with a light, if firm, hand and the arrangement seemed to work well. Mickey, as Rose said, was her second in command. He brought important matters to her attention but seemed to handle most of the daily minutia of organizing and caring for one hundred and seventeen people. Tosh was in charge of tech and leader of a small group of computer savvy individuals. She supervised the hydroponic gardens that generated most of the camp's food supply. Gwen and Rhys Williams took care of supplies and personnel. She was familiar with them in passing, but Rose seemed to enjoy helping Susan work.
At first their conversation only extended to which tool Susan needed and where Rose should put her hands, but after an hour of easy silence between them, Rose started to speak. She told Susan about the Powell Estate, about working for Henric's and the first time she met the Doctor, when he saved her from what she thought was a prank and then blew up her job. There was a light in the other woman's eyes and a fond affection in her voice that was infectious, and Susan found herself caught up in the tale. When Rose mentioned that she refused the Doctor's offer to travel with him Susan very nearly objected, but the revelation that her grandfather—the man who didn't even want Ian and Barbara along and only brought them because they'd seen the TARDIS and he couldn't afford to have them mucking with timelines—that man asked Rose to travel with him twice. He came back. It was strange, hearing about the man who was-but-wasn't the man she knew. Rose's stories revealed a man tormented by guilt, a man who was desperately trying to make up for the blood on his hands, a man who still managed to find joy in the simplest places and who persevered despite the vast odds against him, in a universe that was uncaring at best, and hostile at worst.
Gradually Susan returned the favor. She couldn't talk about the Time War or Gallifrey; not now and maybe not ever, but she told Rose about her grandfather as she first knew him—a curmudgeon of a man with long, neatly combed white hair and sparkling blue eyes—and as she met him later—a polished dandy of a man with Disney princess hair and a velvet jacket from a hospital locker (just before a costume party, apparently) in San Francisco. She tells Rose about Ian and Barbara, about going to an Earth school in the nineteen sixties, about meeting David and how the Doctor left her, kicked her out of the TARDIS practically, so that she would stay with the man she loved.
"He's always doing that," Rose said, with the air of someone who knew it well. "He sent me home once. We were trapped on this satellite two hundred thousand years in the future and there were Daleks," she paused. Susan's knuckles had gone white around the soldering iron, although her hands were still perfectly steady and her breathing even. "He tricked me into the TARDIS," the blonde woman continued after a moment. "Said he needed my help, that he had a way to fix everything—and then he locked the door and the TARDIS left. She took me home because he was okay with dying, as long as I wasn't there."
"He didn't, though. He didn't die." Susan's voice was level and she was fairly proud of herself. Unknown years of fighting the Daleks had worn the shape of hating them into her heart, like grooves in a dirt road.
Rose snorted. "Course not. I wouldn't be here if he had." Her eyes went distant and she titled her head to the side, like she was listening to something just beyond hearing. "I couldn't fly the TARDIS, but I didn't exactly have to. She's alive, and just before that she'd turned Blon the Slitheen back into an egg. She could take me back to him—if I could just make her understand. We tried to get the console open, me an' Mickey, but his car wasn't strong enough." A smile crept onto her face. "Then Mum showed up with this big yellow truck, an' she didn't even like the Doctor, not one bit. Second time she met him, after he brought me back home a year late, she slapped him and she was always after me to leave him, to come home where it was safe—but she knew I couldn't. I couldn't just sit there and eat chips and watch the telly and live a 'normal' life, not when I knew he was fighting and dying for us. We opened the console…" Rose's voice trailed off and she frowned. "There was light, an' this singing…and then I was on the floor of the TARDIS and he was babbling on about the planet Barcelona and dogs with no noses." She looked away, and worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "And then he regenerated."
Susan stared at Rose. "You opened the console of a TARDIS?" she asked incredulously. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? You were exposed to the Time Vortex—not even a Time Lord could survive that! It would burn right through you, like flashpaper."
"I couldn't let him die!" Rose snapped back.
"So you would die in his place?" Susan demanded.
"The universe needs him! You haven't seen it, Susan. There is no one left, no one but him. He can't fall back on Gallifrey anymore and half the aliens we encountered didn't even know what a Time Lord was, but bad people don't stop just because he's alone!" Rose's eyes were bright and hard as she glared at the Time Lord. "I would do it again in a heartbeat, if it meant saving his life."
"Yes," Susan said softly. "I believe you would."
Susan was brilliant and Rose was a capable helper, but building a pandimensional transportation engine in the basement of a twenty-first century refugee camp (albeit a camp that was much nicer than most) was slow going. She'd give a regeneration for a sonic screwdriver. Her grandfather extolled the virtues of his pet invention for centuries and she'd always rolled her eyes and agreed with him more to keep the peace than anything—but then Susan had never been trapped in a primitive time and required to build machinery that was complex even by Gallifreyan standards.
The company, at least, was decent. Rose was surprisingly well-versed in temporal physics (for a human, anyway) and she picked up the bits she didn't already know quickly. She knew when to pull Susan out of the spiraling horror of her thoughts, and when to leave well enough alone. Familiarity pulled at Susan, like this was a pattern that Rose knew well, and she realized that the other woman had likely done the same for the Doctor. She pushed away the thought as soon as it had fully formed. It was easier to focus on the work, to remember that she promised to bring Rose home than to consider what she would do when they got there.
If they got there. The machine was very nearly complete. It lacked, in fact, only one part—but without a temporal stabilizer it was just a pile of wires and pretty lights. The temporal stabilizer would allow them to travel through the Vortex without a capsule and make sure that they could phase into the same time as their surroundings. Without one they would be adrift, out of sync with the world and at the mercy of whatever time stream they happened to inhabit at the moment. It was an ugly, painful, drawn-out way to die.
She'd known for some time that the temporal stabilizer she'd ripped from the TARDIS was broken beyond repair, but she couldn't find the strength to tell Rose that they were stranded here—for good. It was far too early for human beings to have time travel—actually, in this universe they might never develop the ability. Perhaps there would be no Time Agency with its morally dubious, sex-crazed agents. Even if the agency still existed, there was no guaranteed way to attract a Time Agent, or any assurance that said agent's vortex manipulator would have a temporal stabilizer suitable for their needs.
There was nothing for it. Rose needed to know. She deserved to know, and it was a good life she was building. Still—the words crawled back down Susan's throat when the young woman in question entered the workshop.
"Have you ever been to New Earth?" Rose asked as she dropped neatly to sit across from Susan. "They've got Apple grass—it's fantastic. The Doctor an' I went once, but we got stuck saving some clone-people from these nurse-cat-nun things." A wistful smile curved her lips and guilt gnawed at Susan. "I always wanted to see a show on broadway, suppose 'new' broadway will do. I'll make him take us when we get back…"
It was too much. "We can't," Susan blurted out, her eyes squeezed tightly shut to keep out the way disappointment would kill the light in Rose's eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but the temporal stabilizer is fried and without that it's no use and I tried to fix it, I really did, but this is a completely primitive time and my tools are less than ideal and I can't even explain how a stabilizer would work in terms you would understand let alone build one with the materials at hand. So. I'm sorry—but it's not going to work."
Rose blinked. "Temporal stabilizer," she repeated, like she was tasting the words. "Is that important, then?"
"We'll die without it," Susan replied. "It lets us phase back into reality, keeps us anchored in one time stream." She shuddered. "Shifting without it is suicide."
A beatific smile spread across Rose's face: fine lines crinkled at the corners of eyes that fairly glowed with a wealth of emotion—none of which was despair or resignation or hopelessness. Susan frowned. "I don't think you understand, Rose. Without a temporal stabilizer we're stuck here. Forever."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" she asked.
"Hope is a powerful thing." Susan studied her for a moment, more confused than she had been in a very long time. "I couldn't crush that."
Rose stood and held out her hand to help Susan up. "Come with me," she said. "There's something you need to see."
Rose led Susan through the twisting cement corridors of Torchwood three, down numerous flights of stairs, past more surveillance equipment than the Time Lord had seen in one place on a human-dominated planet in a very long time, to a very ordinary-looking door. She pressed a succession of buttons on the unlabeled keypad next to the door (red-green-blue-blue-yellow-red-orange-black) and a soft 'click' echoed through the empty hall. Beyond the door was a small room with cubbies set into the wall, like lockers in a train station. A tall, wiry man with salt-and-pepper hair and a short, graying beard lounged in the only chair. A shotgun lay across his lap and he held a book in long, elegant hands. His clothes were utilitarian and dark and marked him out as a former Torchwood agent. Bright, intelligent blue eyes studied them for a brief moment and then a smile brought out the fine lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth.
"Hello Jerry," Rose said. She was also smiling.
"Rose." His voice was pleasant and warm and a slight Ulster accent blurred the edges of his words.
She nodded at his book. "What are you reading?"
He smiled again. "Yeats. I finished the Dickens you leant me. It was good—but there's something about Yeats."
"Jerry's our resident poet," Rose told Susan with a bit of fond exasperation, "but he's fixated on William Butler Yeats. I think he's got a bit of a crush."
"He was a brilliant poet," Susan pointed out. "And quite prolific."
"Are you familiar with his work?" Jerry leaned forward and closed the book.
Susan shrugged. "A bit."
"He knew people," Jerry continued, and stroked the book's cover much like her grandfather stroked the TARDIS. He was speaking to Susan but his eyes were on Rose as she ran a hand over the lockers set into the wall. "How many loved your moments of glad grace," he murmured, "and loved your beauty with love false or true, but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face."
Rose turned back to them and placed a gentle hand on Jerry's shoulder. "Two years," he continued, apropos of nothing. "Last week."
She nodded. "I know." There was warmth and understanding and a deep-seated, radiating compassion in her eyes and the slight curve of her smile. But she was like that with everyone. Susan understood, finally, why her grandfather would be drawn to this woman after the horror of the Time War: despite everything that had happened to her she still found the strength to love, and to love everyone; compassion, after all, was just love applied to the rest of the universe. She knew loss, and grief, but instead of letting it crush her or pull her down into despair she persevered. It was so very human, the idea that life would have to get better. The universe owed them nothing, after all, and Susan knew it well.
Jerry covered Rose's hand on his shoulder with one of his own, and the look he gave her was decidedly more personal and not platonic, at all. How could Rose miss the way his eyes softened when he looked at her, or way he was focused on her, only her? Hell, he even quoted poetry in her general direction! Rassilon knew how, but Rose was oblivious. Was she that bad when she traveled with the Doctor? Was it possible?
Rose gave Jerry's shoulder a light squeeze and then let her hand fall. "I need the cannon out," she said softly.
He started. "What? But you said…"
"I did." She nodded. "But times have changed. Susan," she gestured to the other woman, "can get me home, back to my proper universe. But we need the cannon."
Jerry stared at her, his eyes veiled, his expression unreadable. "Mickey said," he murmured, mostly to himself, just loud enough so they could hear. "He said you were leaving, but I didn't believe him. Rose Tyler leave Torchwood? That would be the day…"
"I don't belong here." The smile was gone from her face, replaced by determination and just a hint of regret. "You know that, Jerry. You know I've been trying to get back."
"So you'll just leave us here?" he demanded. The hand resting on the shot gun's barrel was white at the knuckles and there was a wildness in his eyes and in the way he gestured with his other hand that Susan did not like at all. "You built this place! You hold it all together! Every single person here depends on you, Rose, and you're just going to abandon us? How long before the kids start starving, d'you think?"
"Stop it!" Rose's hands had curled into fists and Susan concentrated on being unremarkable. "You don't need me—you never have. Mickey can run this place just as well, if not better, than I can. An' Jerry—I'm going home."
He stared at her like she was a puzzle he couldn't figure out. And then he reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of keys strung on a large metal circle, and dropped them on the floor. The chair creaked as he stood and stalked off without a word.
Rose remained where she was until the echo of his footsteps faded from the hallway. She bent down and retrieved the keys from the floor. "He's just—distraught," she said to the lockers lining the walls. "His wife died two years ago last week, and his son died a few years before that. He'll come around."
Susan didn't reply, but then she didn't need to.
The Cannon, as Rose called it, was rather like a Vortex Manipulator that had been taken apart and put back together by a blindfolded genius stranded in the stone age—with chewing gum and bits of string. It was incredibly improbable and, Susan had to admit, completely brilliant at the same time, as if its creator hadn't known that the task at hand was impossible, and so it wasn't.
"It doesn't work," Rose said as she laid the device on one of the long tables in the workshop. "Not yet. Tosh took it as far as she could, but temporal mechanics is difficult to understand when you don't have the language to describe it." She tucked a stray lock of blonde hair back behind her ear and glanced up at Susan. "Well?"
"How?" Susan asked. "I mean—he told you it was impossible. The walls had closed so tightly that sending a hologram took the power of a supernova."
Rose shrugged. "I got tired of waiting, and after everything I've seen, everything I've done—impossible is just a word, Susan. The Daleks were impossible, but they came back, the werewolf was impossible but that didn't stop it from nearly having me for dinner. Travel to parallel worlds was impossible, but we ended up here when Lumic decided to make the Cybermen. So." She leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. "Can you make it work?"
Susan ran a hand over the Cannon's smooth metal casing. A smile bloomed into a full-blown grin and then Rose was smiling back and something like joy was unfolding in Susan's chest, just beneath her hearts. "Yeah," she said softly. "I can make it work."
Adapting the Cannon into the Device (as Susan had begun to call it, capital 'D' included) took two days, most of which was Susan attempting to understand exactly how the Cannon was supposed to work. Gallifreyans were temporally sensitive and possessed an inherent understanding and interpretation of time that humans lacked. It was something Susan tried to explain to Rose frequently, but she could never get it quite right. Eventually—after three false starts and one rather epic swearing fit—the Cannon was installed and took the place of the missing temporal stabilizer.
Rose said her goodbyes as Susan triple-checked the Device. Mickey was there, and Tosh and Gwen and her husband Rhys and Dr. Owen Harper, head of Medicine, and nearly every one of the camp's occupants. It was true—she held them together, kept them going when it looked like their world was ending. But there were good people here and they would keep her legacy going.
Jerry was noticeably absent. Rose shot a questioning glance in Mickey's direction, but he simply shook his head. Her lips pulled into a thin line for a moment, but when Gwen's daughter Anwen grabbed her hand Rose smoothed her irritation away and smiled for the little girl. After several more tearful hugs and a moderately moving speech Rose disentangled herself from the crowd and joined Susan in the workshop.
"This is just a test," the Time Lord cautioned. "I'm ninety-nine, well, maybe ninety-eight and three quarters, percent sure it'll work, but just—just remember that it might not."
"It might, though." Rose's voice was soft and her face pensive. "That's what kept me going, all those years stuck here. It might not work, yeah, but then again—it might."
Susan straightened and picked up the Device. It had two thick metal handles, one at each end, and a swirling mass of wires and blinky lights between them. Nestled in the center was a tiny metal box with several shavings from Rose's TARDIS key. There was a synecdoche about Gallifreyan technology, Susan explained. In extreme cases a piece could act as the whole and Rose's key was tied to the TARDIS in such a way that, with at least a little bit of the key, they could track the TARDIS itself—possibly materialize inside if everything went according to plan. The likelihood of that happening was less than one percent, in Susan's experience, but some of Rose's optimism was bleeding into her. They were going to test the Device with a short jump in time (five minutes into the future) and space (just outside the footprint of the camp). Rose grabbed the proffered handle and Susan's hand hovered over the large, red button that would start their journey.
A siren blared and the red emergency lights flashed. Shouts echoed from the corridor and beneath the tumult something changed in the steady hum of the rift converters. A high-pitched whine was building in the back of Susan's skull and Rose dropped her end of the Device. Susan opened her mouth to ask what the hell was happening, but the blonde woman was already out the door and sprinting down the corridor. Susan followed, her superior Time Lord physiology allowing her to catch up to Rose in short order. The hallways were strangely clear, but then it wouldn't do to have them clogged with panicking people during an emergency.
They were halfway to the rift converters when the radio at Rose's hip crackled to life.
"Rose!" It was Mickey. "Come in Rose, do you read?"
She skidded to a halt and yanked the walkie off her belt, bringing it to her lips in one smooth movement. "I copy. What the hell is going on?"
Mickey's voice was grim. "It's the rift converters. They've been sabotaged."
Susan grabbed the walkie away from Rose. "Mickey, talk to me. There should be a readout on the bottom left corner of the display, underneath the row of green and blue buttons. What does it say?" He read it off to her, and she swore.
"What?" Rose demanded.
"Someone started them on an overload cycle," Susan replied. She stared at the wall like she could melt a hole in it with her eyes. "Mickey, press blue-red-green-green-blue and then tell me what the readout says."
He did so. Susan swore again.
Rose grabbed her arm. "What is happening?"
"It's deadlocked." Susan's mouth had gone dry. Her eyes flickered back and forth but her mind was startlingly empty. "I could break the seal, maybe, if I had an hour and a sonic screwdriver, but now—now there's no way."
"Slow down," Rose ordered, "and start from the beginning."
Susan took a deep breath. "You know what a deadlock seal is." Rose nodded. "Someone, someone who is very clever, managed to activate the deadlock seal on the rift converters. I put it in myself—great way to make sure no one would tamper with my work, but this very clever person also overrode the fail safes I had in place. The converters are absorbing more energy from the Rift than they can handle, like when a lightning bolt hits a powerline and fries your motherboard. Only—when the converters overload it'll be a bit more dramatic than some melted plastic."
"How much more dramatic?" Rose asked. Her voice was dreadfully quiet amidst the noise but Susan heard her clearly.
"It'll blow this place to pieces." Susan's hands clenched into fists. "And we can't stop it. Not you, not me, not Mickey. This is going to happen, Rose, and I can't fix it."
The blonde woman's eyes had gone wide and her face was pale in the dull red glare of the emergency lights. "They're going to die," she said dully. "Everyone here—they're going to die."
"Rose." The intercom shrieked and crackled for a moment over the sirens.
If possible, Rose paled further. It was Jerry's voice, his distinctive accent. Her eyes darted down the corridor, and landed on one of the intercom panels set into the wall. She darted to it, slammed her hand down on the button. "Yeah, Jerry," she said, panting slightly. "You've gotten my attention, now turn this thing off."
"I can't do that Rose. You're leaving us—you don't care anymore, and I can't blame you. There's nothing left here, just ice and the corpse of a city. We're going to die one way or another—this is faster. Nearly instantaneous, very nearly painless."
Shock and horror warred for expression on Rose's face. "No, Jerry!" she shouted into the machine. "It's not hopeless! The rift converters power the hydroponics lab and the ice won't be here forever. Please!" she begged. "What would Eva say if she saw you like this?"
"Her death was a mercy, and so is this."
"Rose!" Mickey's voice blared from the walkie. "Leave him, Rose. Take that thing you an' Susan have worked on, and go."
Rose shook her head, and then realized that Mickey couldn't see her. "M not leaving you," she rasped into the walkie. "I'm not."
"Yes," he disagreed. "You are."
The floor shook and the whine in Susan's skull threatened to split it clean open. She grabbed one of Rose's hands, wrapped it around the second handle of the Device, and pushed the red button.
It was cold and blackness so absolute that Susan thought she might never be warm again, that for a moment she was sure she existed not as a physical being, but a strand of consciousness caught between living and dying. And then the world materialized around them: cold and white and the air thick with dust and a huge crater just beyond them, where the camp had been only moments ago. Rose's hand slid limply from the handle as she stared at the blackened hole. It was filled with debris, and there was nothing recognizably human in the wreckage (Susan was grateful for this).
"He was my best friend, Mickey." Rose spoke slowly. Her voice was strangely flat, devoid of any inflection, any hint of what she was feeling. "Since we were kids. An' Gwen—she was a PC before this happened, married Rhys eight years ago. Anwen was six, seven in three months. Tosh was gonna ask Owen back to her room for a movie; she's been pining after him for years, finally got up the courage to ask him."
"I'm sorry," Susan said softly. It wasn't enough, wasn't even close to enough, but it was all she had.
"Two hundred and fifty-eight people," Rose murmured. Her hands opened and closed reflexively. "Most of them were kids. How—how could he do it?"
"Greif does strange things to people," Susan replied. "I think it drove him a little mad."
Rose closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then she turned away from the destruction. "Come on." She grabbed the end of the Device. "There's nothing left for me here—not anymore."
Susan's fingers flickered over the keypad as she input the coordinates for (hopefully) their original universe. "Are you sure?" she asked.
A muscle in Rose's jaw twitched. "Just do it."
Susan hit the red button, and then the world dissolved into blackness.