No Third Option
Things happen. Good things, bad things, all things, and sometimes if you're very lucky there're amazing things...
Oh, Amy, I was so messed up in my head at that point I was practically jamming the end of my sonic screwdriver into my forehead. I was making a mess of things. Granted, that's nothing new but sometimes when I make mistakes I don't get lucky. You can't plan for lucky.
I'd left you there. On Earth. At least, that's all I ever knew. You were gone and I was here. You were collateral damage and you were my responsibility.
You can't believe how many times I've had the fate of planet Earth in my hands. It's really annoying sometimes. Can you imagine being the smartest person in the room and the only one capable of joining the dots? I was panicking and I had every right to while everyone else was still distracted by the pretty lights. I had to explain the situation to them somehow.
I babysat a friend's nephew once. The menace spent the entire night chewing the edges off tables.
Now imagine that but a hundred times worse. That toddler's going to be the end of human history. What would you do, Amy?
Sometimes alone isn't enough. Sometimes I need help. I realized it too late and played right into fate's hands. It's not often I'm fighting time itself. Reality is so frail it tends to split into apart like a single cell splitting to become two, then four, then eight and exponentially increasing.
Somewhere out there, there's a universe where we were just sipping coffee in a Parissiene café, nothing on our minds and everything in it's right place. On second thought, that would've been extremely dull.
Oh, these people are brilliant. They really are. Scientists and artists and curious minds unite. How could I possibly persuade them to let it go?
Of course an inventor of Nikola Tesla's ilk could never resist the temptation of analyzing the contents of an object like this despite his phobias. I know I couldn't but I had to.
I would've given anything to just sit there and watch him figure it out but there was no time and definitely no space. There was no third option. Not anymore.
"Never mind the box!" I quickly said and I clasped my hands together. I leaped around the box trying to draw as much attention away from it as possible. "We should take a poll. Show of hands. Who wants to be a pirate? Anyone?"
Of course they didn't respond. Half of them still hadn't a clue what was going on, where they were or what choice they were expected to make. Toddlers, every single one of them. The rest of them were still completely in the dark of the implications of everything that had been building up to this moment. They would definitely not ever be the top of the class here.
"How did you do that?" Bernárd spoke and I had to hide my sonic screwdriver.
"Ignore the toys!" I said.
"Can you do that again?" the Swedish scientist asked: he wanted me to repeat my initial experiment. They were all gathering around it now. I'd realized it too late!
"Just look away from the box! It's just a box!"
What would I have to do to draw their attention away from it? Do a song and dance?
"The light's fading..." Bernárd noticed. "What's wrong with it?"
"Everything's wrong with it. Did I say everything? I meant nothing. Nothing's wrong with it."
Nikola slowly rose from his position. They were turning on me. If they hadn't the world would've been doomed. Sometimes I need people to challenge me. I need people to confront me.
How else will I ever learn?
Sometimes the details are the story like a tiny shard of glass in a box.
Who knows where it could've come from? I don't. Think of the backstory it has. How did it get inside that box? Who harnassed its power? What gave it power to begin with? Maybe it's an adventure yet to come; maybe it's something we'll never hear of ever again.
The universe has a life of its own. Better yet: billions upon billions of lives. It's practically teeming with it (almost like an infestation) but it would be so boring without it.
It's life that gives the universe colour or at least gives those colours a name. It brings order into chaos and chaos into order. Life is amazing.
Yeah, well it bloody well hurts. My leg is killing me! When will it be done, Doctor? I can't stand it anymore.
Give it time. Let's not mess with your leg anymore. Before you know it you'll be sprouting a sixth toe.
Doctor, you're not helping!
I watched inspiration strike Tesla like someone struck him with an arrow. The spark of genius and I had to annihilate it. Just when they were catching up I had to nip their brilliance in the bud.
Bill stayed as far away from the box as possible, but I did catch him peering over the shoulders of others at times to see what the fuss was all about. Nikola crouched down beside it and his eyes almost burned holes into the glass the way he was ogling it. And the funny thing was he never took his hands out of the pockets of his travelling coat. Then he looked up at me.
"Who are you?" he then asked. I would've told him not to mind me but then I realized this was the perfect opportunity to distract them.
"I'm the Doctor," I said. Because that's who I am.
"You know what this is, don't you? Yet it's nothing our century has ever seen before. The power of the heavens locked inside a tiny glass box. I take it this is not from our world and neither are you, Doctor."
His deductions were spot on. He wiped his nose with a hankerchief and immediately brushed his moustache back into position.
"You're all far away from Earth," I told him and perhaps it was for the best that they never saw it again.
"So that lightning in a box: it's a power source, am I correct? Your tool made it come alive," Buffalo Bill spoke.
"It's not alive, it's a box," I said. "Boxes can't be-"
Then it hit me.
Could I save the world and save these fellow travellers? Could I have my cake and eat it too? You can when you're a time traveller. But it's still the same cake.
The temporal cataclysm that would engulf Earth was still in the future. It's cause was here on board the Eiffel Tower trapped inside that little box and my name wasn't Pandora.
"Whatever's inside that box, it can help us go home," I said. "But by doing so we risk its destruction. The Earth will cease to exist in past, present and future when we go back. So we can never go back."
They had a hard time both understanding and believing any word that came from my mouth. Astonishing event after event had been piled upon them with every passing minute and they had hardly been gone from Earth for more than twenty minutes.
How could I explain to them I couldn't save them? I shouldn't save them? Just by trying I would be endangering the lives of billions.
"I can't," I said.
What would you have done, Amy? Would you have let them walk into the arms of the pirates as slaves? To swab the decks of their spaceship for the rest of their lives? Would you have sacrificed fifty men and women to save history?
There was only one thing left to do. Beg. In the end everything depended on the mercy of a single man. And Jack knew that man.
"I never knew why he chose the name Nemo," Jack said. "He had a reputation of being a very dangerous man. Silent and deadly. A specialist. Even among those at the Time Agency he was considered a wild card and that's saying something."
Like whispers in the dark I had frequently heard of the Time Agency before. Basically they were two steps below the Time Lords in the hierarchy of legends but harder to track down.
They were once a respected organization in the Boeshane Galaxy. There were those who were proud to have been recruited, like Jack. But somewhere down the line this interstellar temporal police agency turned into little more than a group of spies and assassins. A secret police of a silent dictator.
I never actually crossed paths with the Agency before but I was once mistaken for an Agent.
"I met him only twice and he never said a word to me," Jack said to you, strolling down memory lane while strolling down the dark gut of the ship. "We Time Agents never gathered in assigned meeting places more than three or four at a time. And sometimes he was there and usually that meant trouble."
"Why?" you asked.
"We called him 'The Cleaner'. It was his specialty: cleaning up the mess we left behind. Sometimes even when the mess hadn't been made yet. He eradicated men, women and children from time as if they never existed. The most elegant cover-ups no-one will ever hear about. He came and left leaving nothing behind. Not one trace he'd ever been there; not one trace anyone else had ever been there. And when we asked his name he simply said: I am no-one."
"So you were a Time Agent too?" you asked and Jack signalled you to hush your tones. "Sorry."
"I was the youngest recruit they'd ever approached. Fresh from the Cradanna: first of my people," Jack said. His chuckle soon waned. "There was still some awe for the Agency back then. Respect. That was before they found out about the experiments. The massacres..."
"So, I get all that," you said. "I get where you came from and how you met the Doctor...but what I don't get is how you ended up in 1889."
You followed Jack as closely as possible, sticking to the shadows as close as possible to the point you were scraping your backs past the walls. Quite painfully.
"Don't step into the light," Jack said, holding you back. "Watch where you put your legs."
Undoubtedly you liked the way he noticed your legs.
Don't talk to me about my leg!
"So you were a Time Agent, yeah? When you met the Doctor?" you asked.
"I met the Doctor years later," Jack spoke. "I'd left the Time Agency by then."
"Hey, I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition! Maybe it's about time I started asking some questions about you. Last time I saw the Doctor he was travelling with a blonde."
"So, who are you?"
A noise interrupted your thoughts and Jack pressed a hand against your mouth just in case. With his other hand he aimed his gun at the dark.
There was movement there. Shadows in the light like passing silhouettes, except upon closer inspection there was nothing there, and you dare not move any closer. Cold shivers ran down your back.
"We have to find the Doctor," Jack spoke.
United in a common goal didn't stop you from being separated into individual paths.
"That's your plan then?" you asked. "Find the Doctor? What if he doesn't have a clue? What do we do then?"
Thirty years of enduring and of not getting what he wants, of living in muck in 19th century Britain, might well take a toll on a man. It's the final lengths of the journey when you're inches away of your final destination but too tired to run: that's agony. Tugging at the heart strings they call it.
I call it pain. Mental pain. Because it hurts. It's not a broken heart but a broken mind when there are no more options left. It's being torn.
"I need the Doctor!" Jack whispered through clenched teeth. There was so much at stake but sometimes you can't help being selfish and from there a time-traveller always faces a slippery slope. A total disconnect from reality. What is reality?
The world around you will go on without you. When we step back into the TARDIS the Earth of 1889 is just a memory. And what are we left with?
Personal experience. Is the life of a time-traveller worth more than of those who take the slower path? Because we see the bigger picture. Does that make us more important?
The general was right to distrust us. Perhaps even to hate us. There were times I couldn't help but think of big and little people. The important times and the events that change history forever and just the average day. Who am I to judge it? Because I'm more clever?
There have been those that took it upon themselves to change time, to change history, and even reality to fit themselves. Those of my own race, my own friends...my own kind.
Who are we to judge right and wrong? I don't know sometimes. A thought too much might have us spiralling down. A single word in the wrong place at the wrong time...
Sometimes someone has to make the tough decisions. Sometimes someone has to make a stand and do what they think is right, especially if they have no other choice. Or the universe might just be doomed...
You walked into the light as if acting on a dare. A leap of faith perhaps. And a smile. You could've walked into a snake pit, perhaps right into the hands of the enemy. You had no idea.
Jack had to follow you. The moment he stepped after you he knew it was a bad idea.
In the darkness of this vast ship there were puddles of light and within these puddles of light that shone from above time and space merged.
The mildly telepathic ship sent you where you wanted to be. Lingering in the non-places is unhealthy.
Call it a teleport and you'd be wrong. It was an opening like doorways into different levels.
Suddenly you were on a different deck. The same darkness pervaded the giant hallways but this time you weren't alone. There were masked men squirming on the ground with their hands tied to the floor with shackles. All wearing the same clothes. All breathing the same air.
You stepped out of the light unsure of your new surroundings, half expecting Jack to follow you, but there was only silence.
"Hello?" you asked the men but they did not move. How many were there? Hundreds? You could only see those that were shackled in the light.
You had made a choice and you were lucky. Jack on the other hand wasn't and that's putting it mildly.
"I love being lucky," I told Bernárd. "I love chance encounters. Magical adventures. Impossible things."
We were staring out at the universe and I could feel Bernárd's wonder. Wonder is what keeps me going.
"I can save you. It's what I do," I said and I leaned both elbows upon the ledge that separated us from oblivion. The air bubble glinted in Pluto's reflective light below. "It's what I always do. But should I? Should I this time?"
"But even if I do," I said. "Even if I do save this poor lot and Earth from total destruction. Even if I perform a miracle..."
I had to face him. The poor boy. He barely saw me as he stared out into the universe. He barely felt the cold.
"...it means you'll have to die," I said.
The news had to be broken and with it broke the promise.
Time can be rewritten. Except it shouldn't be.
Some days everybody lives. But there's always a price.
There's always a price.