Scenes from a Time Travelling Life
Martha Jones is having a typically non-typical day, Donna's indicators don't work, the Doctor finds him- (and her-) self on Terminus with unexpected companions, and a malignant force contrives to link things together across time and space for its own ends.
Warnings: mild horror, some violence
Beta(s): Rusty Dog, Adsartha
"Fictions are real, too, in certain forbidden regions of space-time. There are some places even Time Lords won't venture."
"But you've been there?"
"Yes." The Doctor smiled ruefully. "By accident." --Timewyrm: Revelation, by Paul Cornell
Once upon a time...
The TARDIS was screaming.
He slammed the front doors behind him, fumbling at the latch with slippery fingers until it clicked. Why had he thought it a good idea to replace the originals with their large, easy to use handle? He stumbled to the console to throw the deadlocks, sealing himself in. Time howled outside. The blood smears left on the controls began to steam. Dragging the view-screen around, he squinted against the sharp mauve glare of the readouts, spiralling chains of Gallifreyan numerals spelling out imminent temporal collapse.
"Back," he muttered, pulling himself around the console. "Have to go back. Come on, old girl."
Still she screamed. The cloister bell sounded, deep and distant. The lighting dimmed from a bloody orange to a pulsating, clotted, red-black. He grabbed the plunger of the helmic regulator, yowling as it seared his hand but not letting go, forcing it down even as his skin bubbled and burst. The air was too thick, too hot. He stopped breathing, forced his eyes wide. Pain was irrelevant. The smell of his own flesh cooking was irrelevant. Chronoton alignment had to be exact.
"Come on," he whispered, entreated, cajoled, and finally threatened. "Come on, you piece of--!"
Groaning and juddering, the time rotor began to move, inching its way upwards.
"You beauty!" Crowing, he tore his hand away from the plunger and darted back around the console, banging on the dematerialisation circuits until they sparked and caught and the whole ship lurched around him.
Power swelled too fast for the surge protectors to cope and burst from the console in a superheated blast of vaporised mercury, setting his suit on fire, burning through him. Smoke billowed and he waved it frantically away, gaze darting from readout to readout, melting fingers mashing buttons in response. Another board blew, then all the roundels on the east wall, one by one. Huge thuds and booms started echoing from behind the doors to the rest of the ship as the internal architecture reconfigured, destroying rooms to make up for the power loss. The time rotor squealed in protest but it kept moving, now rising, now falling, faster and smoother with each trip until, with a triumphant, cacophonous roar, the ship tore itself free of space-time and plunged into the vortex.
Instantly, there was silence. The lighting shifted again, coming up cool orange-pink. Carbon scrubbers finally kicked in and he sagged against the console, allowing himself to breathe again.
"Best TARDIS ever," he gasped out, patting the console.
His hand came away wet and, when he lifted it to look, he found he could see his bones through the flesh, watch his muscles expand and contract as he wiggled his fingers.
"Ha! Will you look at that?" He beamed gleefully, spinning to show his--
There was no one else in the console room. Hadn't he had a companion? He couldn't remember. He'd had so many over the years. So many. He couldn't remember their names. There had been a Chris, hadn't there? With an odd surname. Mel. Benny. Jason, and ... Alice? No, that wasn't quite right. Gone now. Names and people, both. All left.
"Broke my heart," he coughed, sliding down the console. "Broke both my hearts!"
His chuckle became a wet, hacking noise, and he doubled up as cramps squeezed at him, red hot bands tight in his chest. No time left, then. Entropic cascade. Old doctors don't die, they just fade away. They--
Not now. Not while there were still places to save and people to go. He reached inside, activating symbiotic nuclei and temporal platelets, triggering the Rassilon Imprimatur, feeling the TARDIS wrapping herself around him, trying to aid the process, to speed the healing and ease the change. He had time to wonder just what he would get this turn around (ginger, just once, go on) before everything exploded into golden light and he knew no more.
Scenes From A Time Travelling Life
PART ONE: DENNIS
"Where to next, then?" the Doctor asked, sprawled out with his trainers resting on the console, tossing a cricket ball from hand to hand.
The TARDIS hummed quietly around him.
"What do you fancy? A bit of sightseeing? Tour the seven hundred wonders of the universe? Go back to the groves of Villengard; stock up on bananas? Orrr," said the Doctor, desperation mounting in the face of continued impassivity, "we could find some nice little backwater where injustice is being done, overthrow the oppressive regime of the day, and establish a new and benevolent order!"
He wiggled his hands, all, 'da-dah!' The time rotor rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell.
"Nothing?" The Doctor sighed. "No. I might as well be talking to myself. In fact, I am talking to myself. How sad is that?"
He stared at the slow blinking lights.
"Still," he mused, "it does guarantee intelligent conversation. So! Doctor!" He spun the ball idly on his fingertips, before bouncing it off the rotor and catching it again. "Where would you like to go today? In so far as there is such a thing as 'days' when you're not tied to planetary rotation and your various body cycles have irrational length periods." He bounced the ball again. "That certainly is an interesting philosophical point, Doctor, and we could discuss it in greater detail but today I think I would rather go toooo..."
He lifted the ball to bounce it again and then stopped, hand in mid-air, frowning.
"To," he repeated, and waited. And waited. "Oh, that's not good." He swung his feet off the console, sitting up properly. "Come on, Doctor. The vast wonders of space and time! You're only a thou-- nine hundred and something! Far too young for travel fatigue to set in. Think!"
He tapped himself on the temple with the cricket ball, and then bounced it off the rotor again. The TARDIS made a little whine of protest, which he ignored in favour of idly kicking the toolbox under the console.
"I guess I could actually do some of those repairs I've been meaning to for the last few years. Well, decades. Well, centuries." Then there were those dodgy fluid links he had been meaning to replace ever since his first incarnation. "Splendid idea, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor." He frowned, tossing the ball from hand to hand. "This is getting a bit creepy, isn't it? The talking to myself thing. I should stop. Though I do have a fine oratorical voice. My sixth incarnation, you remember him--"
The console lights twinkled and the Doctor took it as a response, though they had been doing that for some time.
"Now, he always claimed to have the best voice of us all. Claptrap and nonsense, of course. Terrible fashion sense. Suits! Suits are good. Perhaps I should go to my tailor?" he pondered, rubbing the cricket-ball against a stubbly cheek. "Or my barber. No, no. Still! Fine voice! I could have done Shakespeare, no innuendo intended."
There was the faintest shudder in the ship around him. He ignored it. Temperamental old thing.
"Good old Shakespeare." And Martha. And the witches, of course, but they weren't so much nostalgic as evil aliens trapped in a crystal ball he kept in a locker in the attic under the console. Which reminded him that he really need to have a look at the architecture configuration circuits because why was the attic under the console? That made no sense. "And ships should make sense, I think. A certain sort of sense. Ship-sense. Shape-sense? Ship-shape! Hey!"
He beamed at the console.
"Maybe I could have another go at fixing your chameleon circuit!" His sixth incarnation had botched it up, of course. 1986. Poor misjudged Lytton. And his seventh had fixed it and then he'd broken it again for reasons that had made sense at the time. That was the problem with regeneration. You could suddenly see all your old choices from new angles, see where you went right and, more often, where you went wrong. "Still. No point moping when there's tinkering to do. Allons-y!"
Hefting the ball, he started to throw it again. The view-screen instantly popped down into the way. Stumbling forward a little with the momentum of the aborted throw, he blinked at the screen and then pulled out his glasses, put them on, and blinked at the screen again. Numbers scrolled across it, sketching out a peculiar Fourier curve, something both new but oddly familiar, like listening to the Muzak version of some half-remembered sixties classic. (He really should visit John Lennon again.) There was something different, pulsing away in the background noise of the vortex.
"Hello," he said, balancing the ball on the top of the console so he could pull the view-screen around for a better look. "You're not supposed to be there."
Fingers deftly manipulating the controls by touch alone, he reconfigured the sensors to filter out everything but the new beat. Converting it into a five-dimensional vector equation, he projected the path onto a two-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional star-field map. A single point lit up, flaring from pink to mauve and back again. A planet, a planetoid, a moon, a ship; some place where someone was doing something potentially untoward. Or just randomly broadcasting a transtemporal signal, but either way was cool.
"Oh, ho!" Grinning to himself, he locked the TARDIS's materialisation circuits on the source. "That's more like it! Good girl!"
The Doctor patted the console, absently pushing the view-screen back. It knocked the cricket ball down, which took a bad bounce, spinning out of his reach, clanging off the grating and rolling out of sight. He ducked under the console, scrambling around as it managed to evade his reach, until the path forced him to crawl on hands and knees to follow it through the maze of hanging cables.
"I really need to tidy up in here," he muttered and shuffled around the corner to see the ball finally roll to a halt.
He pounced on it triumphantly and found himself suddenly nose to toe with a pair of black leather shoes. Following them up revealed a dark pair of trousers, a white shirt under a black blazer, a red and gold striped tie, and a teenaged boy with dark eyes and a mess of mousey-brown hair smiling quizzically down at him.
"Hello!" the boy said cheerfully. "Are we landing then?"
"What?" The Doctor straightened up quickly and promptly smacked his head against the underside of the console. "Ow!"
"Why do people always say 'be careful' after you've already hurt yourself?" the Doctor asked, accepting the hand up and brushing himself down.
"So you don't do it again in future?" The boy -- the young man, really, though he was shorter than the Doctor was and could readily have passed for twelve instead of the sixteen or so he probably was -- tugged the Doctor around to check the back of his head. "Does it hurt? You're not bleeding."
The Doctor, who right up until that point hadn't been worried that he was, dodged away from the boy's poking fingers and tried to use his dim reflection in the view-screens to check the back of his own head, which never worked properly. (Except during accidental personal-time-line intersections, of course.) The boy watched with interest. He oddly reminded the Doctor of the young psychic lad he had met in 1914 in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. Dean, hadn't it been? Or, no, Latimer. Timothy. "Tim?"
"It's Dennis," the boy corrected. "Dennis Creevey? Do you have amnesia again? Because I never did find out where Saint Louis is. Oh!" He beamed. "Maybe you have concussion! Unless you have some kind of concussion bypass system. Do you?"
"Cree--" the Doctor started and then interrupted himself to scoff. "'Concussion bypass'?! How would that even work?"
"I don't know how a respiratory bypass works either," Dennis said reasonably, "but you said you had one, and that it wasn't just you holding your breath for a really long time. Look!" He pointed at the screen. "We are landing!"
He pushed his way around the Doctor with casual familiarity and flicked a few necessary switches that the Doctor was just getting to, thank you very much. The TARDIS's engines roared around them and the ship shook a little as it dropped out of the vortex. The Doctor grabbed the console for balance. Dennis just wobbled across the floor like he was on a ship, grabbing up a black robe with red trimming from where it was slung over one of the seats and pulling it on.
"Where are we, then?" he asked. "Is it a surprise?" He bounded back to the console as the ship settled, gaze darting across the readouts. "Nominal radiation, breathable air, pleasant temperature, and..." He tilted his head at the screen. "Some kind of transtemporal signal? A navigation beacon, maybe. It's a bit wibbly-wobbly, though. Oh!" He spun around again. "Are we investigating?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to answer and then shut it again, because Dennis had already bounced around him again to unseal the doors. Three quarters of the way there, he skidded to a halt and turned back with sheepish grin, clearly waiting for the Doctor to go ahead of him.
"Right," said the Doctor, pocketing the cricket ball and grabbing his brown coat from the hat-stand that he was half-sure that he'd left on Frontios. "Let's see where we are." Pulling the coat on, he reached out to open the doors, then paused, and looked back.
Dennis promptly recited, "Don't wander off, don't do any magic, don't press any buttons, don't introduce you as Merlin, and try not to get kidnapped."
That hadn't been precisely what the Doctor was going to say, but since it covered all major eventualities (and two - magic? Merlin?! - he hadn't even thought of) he let it go, opened the door, and stepped outside, right into the path of a stern, square-jawed, middle-aged man in a dark blue uniform that put the Doctor in mind of sixties-style English policemen.
"Is this your time-ship, sir?"
"Is..." The Doctor frowned at the man, looked down (neatly cut grass) and up (a sparse but glittering star field beyond an overarching dome that looked like glass but had to be transparisteel) and around (low, pretty gardens, a few benches, stone walkways) then back at the man. "What?"
"This space-time capsule," the man repeated patiently. "Is it yours, sir? Only there's no parking allowed on the grass."
The man pointed. There was a sign. It read 'No Parking on the Grass.'
"Right, yes, sorry, what was I thinking?" The Doctor pulled on a smile.
"I think he might have concussion," Dennis said, trying to edge around him to see. "Hello! I'm Dennis Creevey, and this is the Doctor. Where are we again?"
"Good place to come for concussion," the man allowed.
"Because people hit you on the head a lot here?" Dennis asked. They both stared at him. "So, no, then?"
"It's a hospital," the Doctor said, stepping aside to let Dennis out of the TARDIS and pointing to the far end of the gardens. Above the stairs leading down, someone had etched a green crescent moon into the pale-cream wall. "See? Universally recognised symbol."
"That's right," agreed the man. "Welcome to Terminus; please leave your vehicle in the designated landing area."
The Doctor stared. "Terminus?"
"That's a bit of a depressing name for a hospital, isn't it?" Dennis asked. "Also, I don't think the Doctor should be driving if he has concussion."
"I don't have concussion," the Doctor told him.
"You did park on the grass, despite the quite clear signs, sir," said the man.
"I do not have concussion!" the Doctor insisted.
The man just nodded complacently. "A service droid will park your vehicle for future retrieval. If you follow the blue line, it will take you to arrivals."
"I don't--!" The Doctor frowned, and then grinned. "Actually, yes, you know, I probably do have concussion, which is why I think I don't; so, absolutely, we will follow the blue line. Come along, Croydon."
"Creevey," Dennis corrected.
"Close enough," the Doctor agreed, already striding off across the grass.
It had been a long time, at least subjectively, since the Doctor had been here last, and that had been an accident (or, well, Turlough); moreover, the station had clearly been overwhelmingly refurbished since then. Despite his frankly prodigious memory, a thorough understanding of architectural aesthetics, and how if he concentrated he could feel the faint vibration of the engines, the Doctor was -- well, not lost, obviously, because he was the Doctor, and he didn't get lost; he just didn't know where the things he was looking for were. Which was quite different.
"I thought we were supposed to be following blue," Dennis said. "I can see why they put them down like that. Every corridor in this place looks exactly the same!"
They did, a bit; long and cream and with helpful (but unlabelled) coloured lines on the floor.
"Where do you think the monsters are?" Dennis asked.
"What makes you think there are monsters?" asked the Doctor, trying one of the side-doors and then pulling out his sonic screwdriver when it proved locked.
"There are always monsters," Dennis said. "Or killer aliens! Everywhere we go. Like the time in Greece with the robot men, and the cow-people on the moon."
The keypad bleeped, its light turning green, and the Doctor pushed open the door into the room beyond. It was a large, open space, with low, square, plush blue seats in the middle, a number of glass covered display stands around them, a matching door opposite and a row of headshots on the opposing walls. Letting Dennis in, the Doctor closed the door behind them and noticed, with some annoyance, the label 'Staff Only' on the inside, which meant they'd wandered out into public space again.
"Yep." Dennis nodded. "Should have followed the blue line."
"Why? What are we missing?" the Doctor asked, watching him carefully. "Something in particular you think I should see?"
Dennis shrugged, examining the portraits. "How should I know? I only just got here."
"Yes," the Doctor agreed. "You did."
"Hello? Do you talk?" Dennis waved at a headshot of a man with a beard and glasses. "No? I guess not. Muggle portraits are so boring. Oh!" He beamed at the Doctor. "Is this a test? Okay! So!"
He pulled a pair of brown framed glasses out and popped them on, peering around him.
"I think--" Dennis drew the words out. "--that we should be looking at..." He looked in the display cases, examining a broken signal box and a green glowing tube. "Um. Oh! We could read the history of the station for hidden clues!"
"I already know the history," the Doctor said. "They cured Lazar here, and then turned the place into a research hospital for other diseases."
That wasn't the whole story, of course. It left out the part where long before that, Terminus had been a giant time machine that had jettisoned unstable fuel and possibly caused the Big Bang, although it wasn't the only explanation for the beginning of this universe he had been offered, and he liked to keep an open mind. Well, not too open. Open-ish.
Dennis considered this, and then beamed. "Oh! You can read it again, right, and then work out what the differences are between what they're saying and what you know, and use that to work out what they're trying to hide, and then we can go and find all their laboratories."
"They're clearly marked on all the floor plans," a clear, female voice informed them.
They turned to find a young woman, wearing a brown velvet jacket and corduroy pants, had entered. There was an ornate golden comb in her mass of brown curls and an interested, intelligent light in her pale eyes. Though small in stature and young in years, she nevertheless carried herself with aristocratic grace.
"There are no secrets in Terminus," she added. "May I help you, gentlemen?"
"Nyssa!" The Doctor beamed. "Hello!" He frowned. "It is Nyssa, isn't it?"
"That's correct," she agreed. "Doctor Nyssa Aliz. I'm sorry, have we met, Mister...?"
"Apparently not," the Doctor sighed. "Spatial genetic multiplicity. Gets you every time."
"Hello!" said Dennis, taking his glasses off. "I'm Dennis Creevey and this is the Doctor. He has concussion, maybe."
Aliz came forward, running a critical eye over the Doctor. "I'm sorry to hear that. I was on my way out, but I have a little time if you would permit me to examine you." She frowned prettily. "I'm sorry -- Doctor who?"
"No," Dennis corrected. "Just 'the Doctor'. It's his name."
She arched an eyebrow, smiling a little. "Mister Doctor?"
"Just the Doctor," the Doctor said. "I'm not a mister. Or a miss. Or a doctor. Doctor Doctor, wouldn't that be terrible?" He didn't wait for a reply. "No secrets in Terminus. That's good. I've never been a fan of them. Perhaps you could give us a tour?"
"The Doctor," Aliz repeated slowly.
"That's me." He waved at her. "Hello."
She graced them with a beatific smile. "Oh! This is wonderful! It really is a pleasure to meet you, both of you. You have no idea how much I've wanted to meet you. I wrote my doctoral thesis on the research methods pioneered by the first doctor -- that is, you would have known her as Nyssa of Trakken. I am right in that, aren't I?"
"Oh!" said Dennis. "That Nyssa! I've seen pictures of her in the TARDIS logs. You're both very pretty."
"Well, thank you." Aliz gave Dennis a quick, friendly smile, but her attention was quickly back on the Doctor. "I hope this isn't too much of an imposition, but I would very much like to take a look at your ship. Dimensional transcendentalism has always fascinated me, though I find I have no particular talent for such pure physics; biology is much more my field. Speaking of, I see you've regenerated. The bone structure, the hair -- amazing!"
"I like to think so. Tell you what," said the Doctor, "I'll do you a swap. I'll give you a tour of my ship, if you give me a tour of your time experiments."
"Absolutely," agreed Aliz instantly.
"Ah hah!" said Dennis. "So you admit it!" They both stared at him. "Well, she did. Ah hah?"
"I was hoping to ask," Aliz said to the Doctor. "I know you won't compromise the integrity of our history but, truly, any pointers at all would be of utmost value. Please, if you would follow me?"
On the way down to her laboratory, which proved to be a large white room full of interesting medical equipment at the very heart of the station, Aliz explained to Dennis that Terminus had once been a great experiment in time travel that had gone horribly wrong, leading one fuel pod to explode and leaving the other in an unstable condition. It had been made safe over the years, but proved unusable as power source for more conventional superluminal engines and so had remained unused and quarantined over the years while the hospital was built around it. Experiments with controlled radioactivity had provided a simple and effective cure for the Lazars and the doctors subsequently had extended research into using various different forms of energy for similar effects against other diseases.
"It was then that we chanced upon certain unique properties of what I believe you call artron energy, a side-product of the natural breakdown of Terminus's fuel," Aliz said, logging into one of the terminals to allow the Doctor to examine their research notes. "It permeates the whole station, at a low level."
"We're being irradiated?" Dennis asked. "Isn't that bad? Will my hair fall out? I like my hair!"
"Artron energy is harmless to most carbon-based life," Aliz assured him. "Indeed, it has been shown to reduce DNA mutation and enhance the immune systems of many species."
"So you zap people with this energy and then they become super healthy?"
"In essence, yes." Aliz nodded.
"That's not where you stopped though," said the Doctor. "You're trying to -- Dennis!"
Dennis snatched his hands back from the device he was examining and attempted to look innocent. "I didn't touch anything!"
It was the smallest piece of equipment in the room, a flat, somewhat bumpy oval split into two screens, each about hand-sized. Aliz picked it up, thumbing it on with practiced ease. "It's just a simple scanner. We have more sensitive instruments for specific purposes and, of course, there are passive scanners built in, but for simple, gross-level work, it suffices. Curious," she added, aiming the scanner at Dennis. "Perhaps it needs recalibration."
The Doctor deftly took it from her, also aiming it at Dennis. An image of the lad appeared on the right hand screen, while data oscillated across the left. "Homo magi," he said. "Nothing to worry about; just an example of parallel divergent evolution." Which explained the Merlin remark. He really should drop in on Anslem and Bambera again some time. He fiddled with the controls for a moment, moving the scanner every time Dennis tried to lean over and see, and then tried it on Aliz. "You're part Trakenite."
"That's right," Aliz agreed.
"Hmm," said the Doctor in a non-committal sort of way, still fiddling with the scanner as he wandered around the room.
"Hey," Dennis said, frowning, "how can something be both parallel and divergent? That doesn't make sense."
"I'll explain later," the Doctor said absently, approaching a piece of equipment so large that the full sized bed in the middle of it looked toy-sized. Large circular frames, as wide as the Doctor was tall, looped around the bed like a half-finished tunnel. There were rows of emitters along the inner edge and a number of safety warning lights on the outer shell. The Doctor ran the scanner over them, before ducking down to look at the machinery built into the base of the bed.
"Oh, this is, this brilliant!" He beamed at Aliz. "Minyan construction?"
"It's based on designs from Minyos II, but it was adapted locally using reverse-engineered Terminus technology with-- Excuse me!" she called to Dennis who was tugging at the handle to one of the interior doors. "That's a restricted area; I really can't let you in."
"Ah hah!" Dennis beamed. "The secret room where the real diabolical experiments take place!"
"...is he always like this?" Aliz asked the Doctor.
"I don't know," the Doctor said.
"Because he has concussion," Dennis said, adding over the Doctor's protests, "Why can't I go in, then?"
"That's the bombardment area where we expose people to controlled radiation bursts." Aliz touched a control that made the windows in the door turn from opaque black to transparent, and Dennis stood on tiptoes to look through. "The room is scrubbed down regularly and, generally speaking, the residual radiation levels should be harmless, even over extended periods; however, in the interests of good health and safety routines, we don't allow anyone in without adequate protective equipment."
Dennis frowned. "I thought the energy made you better?"
"It's like chocolate frogs," the Doctor said. "If you eat a few, they taste good, but if you ate a few thousand, you'd be sick everywhere."
"Ohhh." Dennis nodded. "Does artron energy fix concussion too?"
Aliz nodded. "It can do, though we would not usually use it for such a mild ailment." She touched one of the cabinets, and a draw slid out with a faint hiss. Grey foam held rows of glittering gold vials, and a small gun-like injector for using them. "We have a broad range of neurological enhancers to provide buffering against brain injuries, nerve damage and the like. We often use them to strengthen test subjects before the process."
"Neat!" Dennis reached for one and then paused. "May I?" Aliz nodded again. "Cool." He took one of the vials out and held it up to the light. "It sort of looks like Felix Felicis."
"'Lucky Luckys'?" Aliz repeated dubiously.
"It's a potion," Dennis started.
There was a loud whistle from the bed and they both turned to see the Doctor prodding at one of the emitters with his sonic screwdriver, looking worried. They both approached the bed, Dennis absently pocketing the vial.
"Is this a scanner too?" Dennis asked. "It sort of looks like one of those magnet brain things."
"MRI," said the Doctor, "and no. This is part of the artron experiments. Artron energy has a certain--" He hunted around for a simple phrase. "--temporal component to it; it's a field whose associated particle actually travels in cis-chronal orbits. Well, that's not the important. The important part is, it can be used to sort of ... run the body backward, to return it to a state before damage was done."
"Like regeneration?" Dennis asked.
"A sort of clumsy, minor, artificially induced regeneration," the Doctor agreed.
"Reverse biotemporal fields are the future of non-invasive medicine," Aliz said. "The power costs are astronomical, of course, and it will never be a common cure-all, but I believe we may be able to reduce otherwise debilitating diseases to chronic illnesses that people will be able to comfortably live with. In fact," she added, checking her chronometer, "I'm due at a meeting with Queens Boudacia very shortly to discuss funding. I'm not sure this is appropriate, Doctor, but if there is anything you could tell me, anything at all...?"
"Your RBT machine is currently emitting artron pulses," the Doctor said.
"So we're getting healthier?" Dennis asked.
"Right now? Probably. Soon?"
Dennis nodded his understanding. "Thousand chocolate frogs time."
Aliz looked from one to the other and then back again. "That's impossible. We have very strict standards for use and shielding. All our equipment is tested to tolerance long before it even reaches the laboratories, let alone gets used."
"See for yourself," the Doctor said, handing her the scanner. "Watch the frequency shift ... there. Aaaand there. Then here and here, before it loops back again."
"I don't understand." She fiddled with the controls, but the evidence didn't change. "You must have modified the scanner somehow with your sonic manipulator." She looked up at the Doctor, but he just sadly shook his head. "I really don't understand how this can be happening. No one has activated the RBT field emitters. The safety cut-outs should have been tripped a hundred times over if these readings are correct."
"Now imagine what would happen if you turned the machine on and left it for a few minutes," the Doctor said.
"Chronal cascade," Aliz said. "Massive entropic failure."
"And that would be bad?" Dennis asked.
"It would be cataclysmic," the Doctor said. "You'd open a rift in local space-time."
"I just..." Aliz made a bewildered noise. "None of our theoretical or scaled test models showed anything like this. I really do not understand how this is possible."
"Maybe it's sabotage," suggested Dennis from where he had wandered off behind them.
"You did say there were no secrets on Terminus," the Doctor said. "Perhaps someone doesn't approve of your work?"
"No secrets, yes, but you can't come down to the laboratories without being accompanied by a member of the staff," Aliz said, "and I trust them all perfectly. They are scientists; rational, intelligent people. They would come to me if they thought there was a problem. I cannot believe any of them would stoop to committing sabotage. What would it achieve?"
"Okay," Dennis nodded. "Only there's a woman in the radiation bombardment thingy where no one is supposed to go without protective gear."
"Impossible. This is the only door." Aliz and the Doctor hurried to join Dennis at the doors. "How would she have--"
The Doctor pushed Dennis aside so he could look, catching a glimpse of blonde hair spilling over a blue jacket before the windows turned suddenly opaque again.
"Get it open," he snapped at Aliz and then, when she didn't move fast enough, pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He aimed it at the electronic lock to no avail. "Deadlock sealed!"
"The computer systems aren't recognising my login," Aliz said. "I can't get control back."
"Let me," Dennis said. He pulled a wand from his sleeve and, before the Doctor could stop him, pointed it at the door and said, "Alohamora!"
The lock panel sparked wildly; the door jerked halfway open and jammed, motors grinding.
Aliz stared. "Telekinetic manipulation through vocal recitation and symbolic psychic focus! Is he part Carrionite?"
"I'll explain l-- Dennis!" yelled the Doctor, making a grab for the boy.
Dennis had already easily dodged through the gap. "Come on," he yelled back. "I can see her!"
"Stay here," the Doctor ordered Aliz, squeezing after Dennis.
The room didn't seem particularly big, but it was full of moveable radiation screens, converting it into a veritable warren. Catching a glimpse of red and black, the Doctor dived after Dennis, only to find Aliz on his heels.
"They never listen!" he muttered. Louder, he added, "Stay close!"
"Yes, Doctor." She nodded. "Which way?"
Seeing Dennis round the far corner, the Doctor grabbed the nearest screen and pushed it hard. Aliz joined him, pushing the next screen the other way, giving them a gap into the next 'corridor'.
"I see her," Aliz announced. "Excuse me! Please! We just want to talk!"
The woman had already ducked through the next gap. The Doctor lengthened his stride, but Dennis got there first, wand up again.
"I'll stun her," he called, yelling "Stupefy!" over the Doctor bellowing his name.
Red light flared out but, before it could reach the half-glimpsed woman, there was a massive burst of light and a noise like electricity crackling and suddenly she was gone. The stunner kept going, passing through the now empty space, and smacked into one of the movable screens, which tumbled backwards, striking another, and then another. The continued to fall like dominos, crashing into the walls. A warning siren sounded loud above them.
"The RBT field!" Aliz yelled over it. "It's been activated!"
"Shut it off!" The Doctor yelled back.
She looked around the room frantically, and then pointed. "The terminal, behind there; help me!"
"Um, Doctor," said Dennis, backing towards him.
"Not now," the Doctor said, trying to get the screens moving. It was a lot harder when they were half-lying on each other. "Help here."
"Doctor!" Dennis said again. "I really think you should--"
The Doctor felt the air ripple through him. The TARDIS screamed in his head. He saw Aliz still trying to move the screens, straining in slow motion. He saw Dennis, still backing towards him, wand raised. He saw the air rip open on a swirling void, the tear expanding too fast even for Time Lord vision. He tried to reach for his screwdriver, but it was like moving through treacle, that or marmalade, actually, he could definitely smell marmalade--
Hideous red-blue-red light swept over them.