Six: End of the World
I sprinted through the corridors at random, feet pounding the concrete floors. "Rose!" I hollered outside every closed door, opening them to check the rooms within. Empty. Every single damn one was empty. "Rose Tyler!" I held the sonic out, opening the doors before I reached them, making my search as quick as possible. A sun filter was descending somewhere along this corridor- I didn't know how long it took to go down, and didn't want to entertain the possibility that I would be too late. "ROSE!"
"Oh, God, yes! I'm here! Let me out!" Rose screamed back, sounding very close. Two doors down, a control panel sparked under the sonic's pressure and I made a beeline for it, skidding to a stop and working on opening the doors as quickly as possible. "Kia! Please!" Rose shouted, panicked and obviously terrified. My heart hammered in my chest and my brain hurt as I struggled to work faster. "Let me out!"
"Hold your horses a sec!" I shouted back, giving the computer one last triumphant slap.
Sun filter rising.
"Aha!" I cried, arms folded as I waited for the filter to rise high enough to let the doors open. Rose laughed with relief inside the room and my grin widened; frankly, I couldn't wait to go racing after the Doctor, but I wouldn't leave her until I knew she was safe.
Sun filter descending.
My smile faded and Rose gave an audible squeak. "Kia!"
"I know!" I cried, leaping back to the computer, my bottom lip pulled between my teeth. "Give me two ticks!" I worried my lip as a distraction from the flood of panic making my chest uncomfortably tight. The computer was fighting back, every move I made was undone as soon as I moved on; I'd never worked with something so sophisticated before.
I could see the sunlight bursting through the top of the door and grit my teeth hard.
Sun filter rising.
I beamed at it triumphantly, though I really should have known better. Since when was anything that easily fixed?
Sun filter descending.
"Stop mucking about!" Rose shouted from the other side. A litany of curses filled my mind and I kicked the wall in frustration, flinching at the pain.
"I'm not!" I snapped, hurrying to stop whatever the hell was messing with the computer systems. Through the crack in the not-quite-sealed doors, I could see a thin line of sunlight escaping and scorching the wall behind me. It was this I used to mentally calculate how long Rose had to live; in that moment, I wasn't thinking like the compassionate human I usually was, but as a detached bystander.
Compartmentalising was a blissful thing, sometimes.
"The lock's melted!"
I heard Rose's faint cry and it only made me work harder, faster, to try and get her out of there. If I could only open the doors, maybe she could crawl out before she was singed? "Come on," I muttered, teeth grinding and sonic whirring.
Sun filter descending… sun filter rising…
Without a second thought, I disabled the controls for the door, regretting leaving Rose locked away but knowing she'd be safer in there than anywhere else. Without a computer attached to this room, the sun filter couldn't be touched, so she'd at least be safe from that. "The whole thing's jammed," I lied through the door, hearing her sob dryly on the other side. "I can't get you out. Just… stay there!"
"Where am I gonna go? Ipswich?!" she retorted. I snickered and knocked twice on the door, hoping it would be fortified enough to keep her safe. Safer than the rest of the ship, in any case.
"Don't move!" I said, one last warning, before turning on my heels to find the Doctor. There was nothing more I could do for Rose; in order to save her, we'd have to save the entire platform. Brilliant; more lives saved the better.
Earth death in five minutes.
I quickened my pace, hurrying back towards the observation platform and where I knew the rest of the guests would be. Jogging through the corridors, I retraced my steps back past the Steward's office and to the main guests' entry doors. They whooshed open at my approach and I smiled as a familiar voice rang out.
"Five billion years and it still comes down to money," the Doctor said, disgusted and disappointed. I hovered near the back of the room, standing beside the Moxx of Balhoon's attendants. In the middle of the room, the Doctor faced down a sheet of stretched out skin with a face; despite myself, I had to suppress a giggle. Of all the intimidating monsters and villains we'd thwarted together… a talking trampoline didn't make it onto the list of Things That Scare Kia.
"Do you think it's cheap, looking like this?" the trampoline asked, aghast. Well, I imagine she'd be aghast, if she had a proper face to portray those emotions with. "Flatness costs a fortune. I am the last human, Doctor. Not that freaky little kid of yours."
"Arrest her, the infidel!" the Moxx shouted beside me.
"Oh, shut it, pixie. I've still got my final option," she sounded like she was gloating; I knew this part of the story very well, where they'd gloat and preen before the Doctor, boast and marvel at how wonderful they were for outsmarting the Time Lord… and then he and I would tear their plans to shreds. At least… I hoped it would happen that way.
Earth death in three minutes.
The computerised announcement sent a chill through my spine as the dots connected for me; she planned to kill us all. We'd fry with Earth burned… "And here it comes. You're just as useful dead, all of you. I have shares in your rival companies and they'll triple in price as soon as you're dead. My spiders are primed and ready to destroy the safety systems. How did that old earth song go? Burn, baby, burn!"
The spiders. Those creepy little metal things. I'd spotted them in the docking station and had forgotten all about them; I had been planning on telling the Doctor. Bloody forgetful human mind! He might've figured this out sooner if I'd not forgotten!
"Then you'll burn with us!" a woman who looked like a walking tree stood beside the Doctor; I could see two more of her kind stand behind her. Not wanting to be left out, I stepped beside the Doctor and he glanced down at me; I nodded once, letting him know Rose was alright. He'd know that anyway; I'd never leave someone to die if I had a way of saving them.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Pancake-Face simpered. I wanted to punch her flat face. "I know the use of teleportation is strictly forbidden, but I'm such a naughty thing… spiders, activate." The platform rocked as explosions were set off throughout the ship, the room shuddered and I feared for a moment that the protective glass would crack and doom us all. "Forcefields gone with the planet about to explode. At least it'll be quick- just like my fifth husband. Oh, shame on me!"
Safety systems failing.
"Bye, bye, darlings, bye, bye…" she faded out, blessedly, and I turned to the Doctor.
"What's the plan?" I asked, knowing he'd have to have one. He didn't stay silent for that long for nothing; he would have been formulating a million ways out of this situation and I knew he had something. His mouth twitched and he held his palm out flat; I placed the sonic within his grasp and he chucked me gently under the chin.
Heat levels rising.
"Reset the computer!" the Moxx shrieked, panicking.
"Only the Steward would know how," said the tree-lady, her tone calm but her face afraid.
"No," the Doctor shook his head and headed towards the door. "We can do it by hand. There must be a system restore switch. Kia, Jabe, come on. You lot… just chill!"
I grinned and followed on his heels, Jabe a step behind. The three of us raced to the nearest entry to the maintenance duct, the sonic giving us a way in. The Doctor assumed the lead and I was right behind him, Jabe bringing up the rear. "What are you?" she asked me, her tone so quiet I assumed she didn't want the Doctor to hear. I wondered briefly how much she knew about him, before giving her a small smile.
"Almost human," I replied, deciding to use that whenever I needed to identify myself. Of course, I was technically all human, but the watch around my neck constantly reminded me that I wasn't fully anything anymore.
Jabe looked pensively at me and I looked away, not wanting to see the questions in her eyes. There was a whole kettle of fish I didn't particularly want to start sorting through when the world was about to explode.
Earth death in two minutes.
Heat levels critical.
The three of us emerged in the engine rooms, the Doctor and I scanning the walls to find that switch. He stopped short and I nearly walked into the back of him, following his line of sight. "Oh, of course," I huffed.
"Of course," the Doctor echoed, his voice low and irritated. Jabe shook her head and we approached the three cooling fans; I hoped that maybe they'd be on a cycle and we'd have time to jump through, if we calculated correctly.
No such luck.
Heat levels rising.
"There's a breaker," Jabe noted, pulling it down. The fans slowed and instantly I started to sweat, giving the wooden woman a concerned look. There was no way she could withstand being down here for too long, not if the heat continued to rise. She'd burn easily.
"Why is it," I muttered as I shooed a reluctant, but ultimately obliging, Jabe out of the cooling room and grasped the lever, already feeling the hot get a little too hot- even for someone like me, who quite preferred heat over cold. "That whenever you say 'safe trip', it turns out to be 'save the world and pretend it's fun?'"
"What are you talking about?" the Doctor retorted, scoffing, throwing his head back and giving me a wink. "This is fun! Pull the lever, Kronk!" He faced the fans again and I did as he asked, the quote finally making it through my otherwise occupied mind and making me laugh breathlessly.
"Ha! That makes you Yzma!" He half-turned back towards me to respond, but changed his mind and hopped through the second fan as the computer called thirty seconds to Earth destruction, and began the ominous countdown. I held the lever down and stopped smiling, the skin on my hands starting to blister with the contact to the hot metal. Would he hurry up already! The countdown reached three... two...
Nothing. Not a sound- I still held the lever, my eyes watering with the strain of holding on, when he appeared beside me and placed his hands on my shoulders. "C'mon," he muttered, his tone darkening as his anger at the person responsible took over. Oh, that tramp were so going to pay. I peeled my fingers away from the lever and gasped at the sight of them, burnt and raw and blistering already.
If Jabe had been holding that lever, she would have burned before he reached the switch. The Doctor covered my burns with his hands and I flinched at the pain, yanking them away and nodding to the door. "Allons-y," I murmured.
"What was that?" he held my sleeve, since he couldn't hold my hand, as they headed back for the viewing platform. "French, innit?"
"Mm," I hummed in confirmation, nodding. "Means 'let's go'."
"I'm gonna use that one day."
Snickering, I bumped his hip gently with mine. "Knock yourself out, Time Lord."
"Daresay I will at some point."
I gave him an incredulous look, but smiled anyway. He caught the motion and chucked me under the chin, his expression softening to the point where he looked almost sappy. Of all the emotions I'd seen cross the man's face, 'sappy' was the last one I'd expected. Nonetheless, it gave me an excuse to step closer and hug him awkwardly round the middle with one arm, as he hooked an arm across my shoulders. He didn't step away as we approached the observation deck.
I turned to step in front of him, tiredly nodding at the corridor behind us. "Rose," I mumbled, trying to ignore the pain spearing up my arms. My hands were throbbing and I could swear I heard them sizzling. "She's stuck. I'll go." The Doctor looked between me and the empty corridor, clearly not liking me going off on my own. He conceded after a moment of silent contemplation. I refused the sonic and headed off, walking backwards for two or three steps before spinning around.
I heard the doors open behind me and hurried to fetch Rose, hoping that as the shields were up the doors wouldn't be so bloody stubborn. Luck was apparently on my side and Rose looked up at me, crumpled on the floor with her tearstained face resting on her knees. "Kia?" she breathed, a disbelieving little question.
"Hi," I replied, nodding to the door. "Come on. It's over." Rose scrambled to her feet and rushed up to my side; I barely had time to blink before she threw her arms around me and hugged me tight. Eyes wide with surprise, I gingerly rested my wrists on her back. I hadn't expected such an outburst of emotion, especially since we'd barely had time to talk, but I guess she was just grateful to see someone she knew.
"I thought I was gonna die. The window- it cracked- the walls are all burnt and…" Rose cut herself off, walking beside me as I nodded towards the observation deck. I had a feeling we wouldn't want to miss the finale- I certainly had something to say. "Thanks for coming back," Rose whispered after a minute of silence.
I paused for a moment, shaking my head. "I- we- will never leave you behind, okay?" I promised her, stopping to give her a serious expression. I wanted to touch her, to reassure her with some form of physical contact- Rose reached to grab my hand, but I flinched away and gave her a small smile. "Best not, love. C'mon." She must have seen how my hands shook as I held them away from my body, careful not to touch anything I didn't have to. My elbows became my new hands, they opening every door for Rose and me.
"What happened to you?" she asked quietly.
My smile was only half pained, taking comfort in the fact that I might have been hurt, but Jabe was so very alive. "I saved a life," I replied, a little thrill shooting down my spine at those words. Nothing felt better than knowing it was a direct result of my actions that someone was still alive. Rose smiled at me and stepped ahead to open the door, holding it for me as I edged in beside her.
"Alright?" the Doctor asked, appearing by our side as if by magic. I nodded, giving him a wide smile. I always tried not to show him how bad things actually were; I couldn't feel my fingers, and the numbness was frankly a blessing after the burning pain they'd been in first. Satisfied that we were both alright, the Doctor turned to the room in general and clapped his hands. "Right, now, I'm full of ideas, bristling with them! Idea number one, teleportation through five thousand degrees needs some kind of feed. Idea number two, this feed must be hidden nearby." He danced over to an ostrich egg and smashed it, a little silver device slipping out and rolling on the floor.
"Brilliant," I heard Rose whisper, in absolute awe. I smiled fondly.
"Idea number three, if you're as clever as me-" the Doctor shot a grin in my direction and I winked in return, he paused for a moment to silently gloat at how wonderful he was- "- then the teleportation feed can be reversed!" And with a twist of his fingers, the feed started to whir and a shimmering blue field of light appeared in the middle of the room. From the light, a familiar and grating voice slowly materialised. "Oh, you should have seen their little alien-" the so-called Last Human reappeared, the smirk slowly slipping from her face. "Oh…"
"Welcome back, trampoline twit," I smiled, waving with a huge sarcastic smile.
"The last human," the Doctor greeted; his tone was calm but his face was hard, unforgiving.
Cassandra's flat face looked slightly panicky, as well she should. "So, you passed my little test. Bravo. This makes you eligible to join, um, the human club!"
"People have died, Cassandra. You murdered them," the Doctor snapped, no nonsense.
"It depends on your definition of people, and that's enough of a technicality to keep your lawyers busy for centuries," Cassandra retorted, haughty and smug. "Take me to court, then, Doctor, and watch me smile and cry and flutter-
"And creak?" I asked, spotting the cracks in her framework. I tried not to smirk as I joined the Doctor, standing side-by-side instead of hovering behind him.
Cassandra had stopped, and her eyes widened. "And what?" she asked, confused. She gave me a look that said she thought I was thick, until the Doctor cocked a false grin at her.
"Creak," he repeated, smile on his face but his eyes still cold. "You're creaking."
"What?" Cassandra kept quiet and sure enough, her skin started to creak. Even with so little a face, she still managed to look terrified. "I'm drying out! Oh, sweet heavens. Moisturise me! It's too hot!"
"Don't play with fire if you can't stand the heat," I muttered, just loud enough for her to hear me. Neither myself nor the Doctor had any sympathy; I quashed the guilt before it could arise, lowering my eyes to stare resolutely at the floor. If I couldn't see her, I could pretend this wasn't happening. This woman was responsible for many deaths, and almost killed Jabe and Rose.
"Have pity! Have mercy! Oh, Doctor, I'm sorry, I'll do anything!" Cassandra pleaded. "Moisturise me!" she wailed, creaking louder now as she contracted, her taunt skin becoming tighter and tighter. The Doctor watched her with a sort of blank expression, and Rose stepped forward to grasp his sleeve loosely.
"Help her," she said softly, and I glanced up from my feet, ashamed to realise that I hadn't thought of helping the thing almost responsible for the murder of all these people. Peaceful companion indeed...
The Doctor shook Rose off, his eyes cold and hard- "Everything has it's time," he ground out, and I shivered at his tone. This wasn't like him. I had been travelling with him long enough now, had gone through enough horror with him, to know what kind of man he was. And this was not it. Cassandra gave one last gut-curdling scream before she exploded and Rose flinched while I closed my eyes, turning bodily away from the bloody remains of the Last Human.
Without a word, the Doctor stormed off deeper into the ship- probably looking out for any more spiders- and Rose looked at me with a trembling lip. "I'll sort him out," I murmured, nodding to the Doctor. "Watch the show, love. It'll be gone soon enough." Rose looked outside and was almost shocked to see that the Earth had exploded already, and stepped closer to the viewing platform to watch it disintegrate.
I, not caring to watch my own planet burn from space, satisfied myself that Rose was safe enough before darting through the same door the Doctor had just taken. I spotted him rounding a corner on the other end of the hall and ran after him, skidding to a halt as I found him sitting against the wall with his head in his hands. He didn't look up as I appeared, instead he simply held up his hand, wriggling his fingers in that same old invitation, a silent plea of please don't leave me and I need you now rolled in one.
Forgetting the burns, and despite the pain, I took the offered limb and sat beside him, resting my head on his shoulder. "I'm still with you," I murmured, and he held me closer still, his breathing ragged and his eyes squeezed tightly shut.
We stayed put as we listened to the computer announcing various departures- I realised a little regretfully that I hadn't said goodbye to Jabe. The computer announced it was shutting the platform down for maintenance; we took that as our cue to leave. "Let's go home," the Doctor muttered. I nodded and let him help me to my feet, taking a moment or two to get the feeling back in my legs. Our hands detached, thankfully, and I made a mental note to get the nanogenes in the Zero Room to fix me back up again. The skin was red and puffy, the blisters forming over my palms and between my fingers. I couldn't make a fist if I tried, not without bleeding.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor muttered, spotting the injury and trying to place his hands on mine. I yanked them away and gave him a small smile.
"It's not as bad as it looks," I replied, leading the way back to the observation gallery, where Rose had thankfully stayed put. I didn't feel up to scouring the ship looking for her.
The window was wide open and beyond it, lumps of rock and burning gas flew by, the sun imploding in on itself and dragging the remains of Earth into the black hole. Rose stood a foot away from the glass, her arms around herself. The Doctor and I drew up either side of her, saying nothing as we waited for her to say something. Would she want to stay, now that she'd experienced the kind of lifestyle we did? She'd been through the Autons with us, but that was on Earth. I'm not sure Rose really understood that it wasn't all travelling and fun.
"The end of the Earth," she started, quiet and teary. "It's gone. We were too busy saving ourselves. No one saw it go… all those years, all that history, and no one was even looking… it's just…"
The Doctor turned to look at her, recognising the sadness of her tone. She might have had a planet to go home to, where he didn't, but the grief she felt for it now was so poignant and real. His gaze met mine over the top of her head, and I tried to give him a reassuring smile.
"Come with me," he murmured, leading us both back to the TARDIS. With deft movements, he set our course and I led Rose to the kitchen, where she made herself a cup of tea and I ducked out to find the Zero Room. "Kia," the Doctor called, and I turned at the doorway to raise an eyebrow, longing to get my agonising hands fixed up. He stopped beside me and pulled me into a tight hug, the two of us just standing there for a moment or two. "Thank you for Jabe," he mumbled into my hair.
Not knowing what to say, I just nestled closer and listened to the comforting double-heartbeat, a rhythm I would never get sick of hearing. I sort of longed to hear it in my own body, as far away as that goal was.
The Doctor stepped back, giving me a small smile. "I'm going to take Rose home for a bit. You coming?"
"Yeah," I grinned, and he turned to fetch our companion while I let the nanogenes fix my hands. Within moments of stepping inside, the skin was healed and the scars faded, like nothing had ever happened. Healed and slightly hungry, I hurried back to the console room and tagged along as the three of us headed out into the busy morning traffic of London.
A mother and her baby rushed by, the baby crying out with displeasure. A man to our left laughed loudly, and a woman ahead spoke into her phone at a mile a minute. Standing still in the middle of the crowd, we let them wash around us like the waves of the ocean. "You think it'll last forever, people and cars and concrete, but it won't. One day it's all gone. Even the sky," the Doctor began quietly. "My planet's gone. It's dead. It burned like the Earth; it's just rocks and dust before its' time."
Rose looked up, concerned. "What happened?"
My thoughts turned to the Time War, and I had to close my eyes for a second to banish the imaginary thoughts, the memories I wasn't sure were real. Sometimes, a side effect of being controlled by the watch were memories and thoughts placed in my mind that weren't my own; some of them, like seeing myself as a little girl, or the happy thoughts of my younger mother, were a joy. The others… the war and the fear and the screaming… not so much. I hadn't even been there and it haunted me.
I hated to think of what the Doctor carried with him. As if reading my thoughts, he reached for my hand and I gave it willingly, watching him smile as he realised my skin was back to normal, all signs of injury gone. "There was a war and we lost," he said to Rose, explaining the Time War in the simplest way he knew.
"A war with who? What about your people? Are you…" Rose looked at me, the question dying on her lips.
"I was born on Earth," I replied, to the Doctor's nod of confirmation.
"I'm a Time Lord," he said, "I'm the last of the Time Lords. They're all gone. I'm the only survivor. I'm left travelling on my own because there's no-one else… except you," he hurried to add, squeezing my hand lightly. Not for the first time, I felt a pang of guilt over that long-ago fight, back when I'd barely known him and the war had just been a story to me.
"You're a Time Lord?" Rose asked me, eyebrows raised.
I shook my head. "No," I replied honestly; "I'm complicated."
She let the subject drop as she looked at us both at large. "You've got me," she announced, and I couldn't help but beam at her. The Doctor's smile widened, but it was a sad expression in his eyes as he looked at Rose seriously.
"You've seen how dangerous it is. Do you want to go home?" he asked.
My smile faded and I silently begged her to say no, to declare that she was staying with us. It was a complete turnaround for me, to go from being reluctant of her company to almost craving it. Another woman, another human, to talk to would be fantastic. The Doctor had said to me once that travelling always seemed better through someone else's eyes, because he got to watch them light up with excitement and joy. I wanted to see in Rose what he saw in me, I guess.
"I don't know," Rose replied honestly, genuinely thinking hard about her decision. "I want…" her eyes widened, softening at the edges, and she took a deep breath. "Can you smell chips?"
My next breath bore the smell to me and I nodded. "Oh yes," I smiled, my stomach growling.
"I want chips," Rose grinned, her tongue poking out between her teeth. I nodded eagerly, already looking for the source of that smell.
"Me too," the Doctor announced, pointing to a shop across the street with the door wide open.
"Right then," Rose continued, still grinning, "Before you get me back in that box, chips it is, and you can pay."
I giggled before I could help myself, poking the Doctor in the ribs. "No money," I answered for him, petting my pocket. "C'mon, I'll shout."
"What sort of date are you?" Rose asked the Doctor as the two of us stalked off towards the shop, leaving him to scramble to catch up. As we walked, I recalled some of the madder moments of our travels and shared the stories with Rose, marvelling at how easy it was to talk to her. I'd never been able to make friends easily, but with Rose it was like I'd known her forever.
With the chips between us, and the conversation lively and flowing, we had our own mini-celebration of our success.
After all, we only had five billion years until the shops closed.