Stuck in the Middle with You
Breathing. We all do it. Us humanoids at least. At least most of the time. Humans breathe, Timelords breathe, often, but how do living spaceships breathe? And more importantly, how did you breathe (or eat for that matter)?
The metal mask covered your entire face. There were no apparant holes in it. No hinges. It was like it was superglued on and you couldn't even speak underneath it. The metal had entered your mouth and nostrils, perhaps even glued itself to your eyes, and I think it fed you. Like how a tree converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, and very much like a tree the metal mask too was alive.
And maybe that's how the ship sustained itself: through photosynthesis, like a big, giant metal tree in a symbiotic relationship with its passengers. You've got to admire that. And the mask makes it sort of official.
It takes away your individuality and literally hooks you up to the ship. Connected telepathically. Yet outside the reach of the ship the mask still lived! Was it really an extention of the ship or could it be that it was a self-contained lifeform in itself? It's really quite extraordinary when you think about it.
I was sweating, my knees buckled under the added weight of one newly arrived Amy Pond and I held you as the Eiffel Tower held me. I wonder how much more it could take until it buckled? The Eiffel Tower wasn't made to last in outer space. We were bound to the floor. You were ecstatic and feeling all over my face and tweed jacket as if you were trying to read brutish braille.
"I've got you, Amy!" I said. "I won't let go! You're safe here!"
I lied of course. We weren't safe here. We weren't safe at all.
Our troubles weren't half over, yet they could've ended any minute with our painful deaths.
"Get it off her!" Jack strained and he tried to bury his fingernails underneath the nonexistent edge of the mask. Even sonicking it wouldn't do the trick.
Nothing seemed to affect the metal until I briefly brushed its surface with my cheek and it exploded into being. The metal snapped at my face in the form of liquid snakes intended to latch on to my face. The people who had rushed to her aid quickly fell back in fear.
The mask was intended to be worn, designed to be worn, and it would only accept another face. I wonder if it cared which.
"Everyone stand back!" I said. What else was I going to say? 'Dig in?'
"Doctor, is it really you?" Jack asked. "But how is that even possible?"
I'd almost forgotten he was there. I didn't want to deal with him just yet.
"Would you believe me if I said I had no idea what you're talking about?" I said, because I really didn't have the time for this. Too much was at stake. We were in a tricky situation. Time was the one thing we didn't have!
"But it's you!" Jack said. "It has to be! I know you, Doctor. Only you're that bold..."
He had a crush on me, you know. As I looked into 1889 Jack's eyes I couldn't help but note the irony in his words. I'm not really that brave. He didn't know me as well as he thought. Time was the great gap that separated us but I like to still call him a friend.
My mind was running like a steam-engine out of control. Too much chatter, too much noise, too much possibilities, like balancing a tightrope while juggling burning chainsaws pondering whether you left the kettle on.
There were men coming in to kill us, there was a mask smothering you and a past companion desperate for answers he can't have and a young boy destined to die if I even think about trying to change events back...or forward.
But it was too late! Things had already been changed and already been set in motion. And I couldn't stop it. I can't fight time.
Not on my own.
"Who are you, Doctor?" Tesla asked me. "Who is that man who fell from the sky? And who is she?"
"They're with me," I said. "They're-"
"They're his companions," a voice suddenly said beyond Annie Oakley, the cowboy and the silent Sioux. Something that had been boiling for some time could boil no more.
The Flemish man spoke as he trembled before me: "The Doctor will always need a companion. A henchmen. A partner in crime. Someone to die for his cause. Someone to do the dirty work for him. It's in his file! It's all over history, for crying out loud, but people just don't want to see it!"
Simon de Leeuw finally dared to step forward. I've been waiting for him to say something. Maybe I should've nodded or waved. What do humans do in that sort of situations where you recognise an acquaintance? Kiss?
"I wasn't wrong, was I? When I said you'd bring death and destruction in your wake?"
"Oh, come on," I said. "Grow up, Simon..."
"He's an alien, I tell you! A man from another planet! He's going to be the death of us all!"
Tesla backed slightly away from me. His very instinct and mysophobia had turned on me, considering me to be one giant germ. An alien element in a human environment. Except this time, it was the other way around. The human race was out of its element and stranded helpless in an alien environment. Technically, they were the aliens, the invaders, the germs. And this was my world.
"Doctor, is this true?" Tesla asked.
"Look around you, Nikola," I said. "What'd you think? Yes, I'm from another planet! It doesn't have to be such a big deal. Not yet anyway."
"But he looks human!" someone else shouted and I couldn't tell who it was.
"Nothing is what it seems," I said. I even impressed myself with that bumpersticker, but there was little time for me to enjoy it when seven times a blinding flash transported a Rygellian pirate in our midst.
They charged their weapons, growling, one at a time and when the last surge of lightning brought the last pirate down from the ship Jack raised a hidden weapon at the pirates.
I had to stop them. I had to yell.
This was a massacre in the making and I was the only one who could stop it. "Wait!"
Jack didn't fire first, oh thank goodness, he didn't fire first. Then all hell would've broken loose.
The hostages had rounded themselves up before any pirate made any noise. I saw the black leather bands around their wrists and I had to move fast.
"Look at me!" I yelled and I aimed the sonic at the ship above and closed my eyes. If it hadn't worked I would've been shot then and there and this story would've ended very quickly. I closed my eyes and made a wish.
I turned the problem into part of the solution and sent the pirates back from where they came with a flick of a switch! Seven more flashes and then silence. You should've seen it.
"It worked!" I shouted. Because I'm brilliant, let's face it.
"Remember me?" I told Jack, because what's the point of being clever if you can't get to brag about it? "Good with teleports!"
"You really are the Doctor," Jack said. "Ow!"
You pinched him.
"There are times I really love being me," I said.
"Me too," Jack said with a smile aimed solely at me, which I admit was slightly awkward. So I addressed the crowd as a whole from then on. It would help them learn to trust me. From now on they had to. I was the only one that could get them out of here alive.
"They've all got the same time vortex manipulator! Same wavelength! Same feed!" I explained. "Stolen from Nemo's temporal counterparts and so reversing the feed is really child's play! Oh, I love child's play! Now...I can only keep the feed reversed for so long until they find a way to work around it. So what I need is suggestions. ANYONE?"
"The TARDIS, Doctor!" Jack said and I could see you balling your fists already. "Can't we use it to get out of here?"
"It's not here. It's back on Earth," I pointed out, bursting Jack's bubble, but then I already knew exactly what it would take to get these people home. Simon de Leeuw was right. If I did this, I would lead them all to their deaths. One way or another.
"We need to level the playing field," Buffalo Bill spoke. "We have to think strategy. Find cover. Find some way to use the weakness of these killers to our advantage."
"They have blasters, Doctor," Jack said. "We've got sticks and stones. If it comes down to a fight we won't win."
"We don't have to fight," I said. "Not really. Of course, if they decide to just suck all the oxygen out of the bubble we're done for anyway. But I can get us out of this!"
And I couldn't stop staring at the mysterious glass box at Jack's feet. The end of the human race came in the littlest package...
"I just need more time!"
"If you need time, Doctor," Bill spoke and he brought in his own companions, Annie Oakley the best marksman in the world and the silent Sioux Native American at his other side, Sitting Bull. "we can buy you some time. All you need to do is say the word."
"Excellent," I said and Bill loaded his rifle which I then tried my best to ignore.
Top hats were scattered all over the floor and no-one knew anymore to whom anyone of them belonged. Jack caught you standing with your foot hooked in one and trying desperately to shake it off.
"Hey," he whispered to you. "Listen to me, okay..."
You squeezed his hand.
"The Doctor's going to fix everything. He always does. He'll find a way to get this mask off your face. You just have to hang on a little longer, okay? You just have to endure a little more..." he said.
"...maybe even twenty years more..." he added under his breath.
The grip on Jack's hand lessened. And I talk too much. I should've seen it, but I was distracted and under a heck of a lot of pressure, but I still should've seen it. The connection.
This had happened before. You thought you were dreaming. Except you weren't. Someone else was. The wire had been cut but the connection still existed.
"Doctor," Bernárd asked but I cut him off with a snap of my finger.
"Don't interrupt me! I'm thinking!"
I had been counting down since the beginning. How much oxygen did we have left? How much time? How many people? Roughly 986 feet and 10,282 square meters makes 409 times 409 times 886 equals 164939066 cubic metres which makes for 164939066000 litres of oxygen plus leg room, but minus the matter -9,441 tons of it- and the people and 1,671 steps to the top...
And humans breathe 550 liters of pure oxygen on an average day when not excited or under extreme pressure. Anxiety takes a toll on a man. 550 times 50 and add to that the hole Jack probably made on his way into the bubble...
I don't know, I might've made a mistake back there you may want to check but the point still stands!
Oxygen is leaking into space. Killing us slowly. It was only a matter of days. Except the Earth didn't have another hour, let alone a few days, but who makes the time? Do I or does fate? This was one date with destiny I was desperate to avoid. Postpone at best. But if we stayed in the present any longer we'd be sitting ducks.
But Nemo wasn't just going to watch us die; not now I practically challenged him to his face, and with that I bought us some extra time.
"I might've bought us an extra five minutes until Nemo figures out how to work around the teleportation feed. Then we're dead," I said out loud.
"Then tell us what to do, Doctor," Jack insisted. But was I really the one to give orders? I was tired of giving orders. Tired of seeing my best friends turn into soldiers. Qere they really my best friends? I don't know sometimes.
Someone once told me I'm dangerous. And people tell me I'm dangerous lots of times, but this one was different. This one hurt. He said I make people a danger to themselves by trying to impress me. And they don't even know my name.
"Everybody get in the lift!" I finally said. "We're going up! Jack, take Amy. Nikola, come with me We've got work to do."
I saw Simon de Leeuw reluctantly accept his fate that now rested in my hands. Good for him.
"What do you want to do with this, Doctor?" Bernárd asked and when I turned I saw him holding the glass box. The thing to end all things. Whatever those things may be.
He was practically holding his own murder weapon. Not the actual blaster that would eventually kill him, but the item that lead to the event in question. And he was only trying to help.
"Give it to me, Bernárd," I asked gently, reaching out a hand. "Don't drop it. Let me hold it for a while."
Here aboard the Eiffel Tower suddenly the memory of the young boy's body struck me as very tangible, very possible, downright inevitable, yet the present disagreed vehemently with that notion. He was standing alive in front of me.
"Remember what I said," I told him. "Stay close."
He nodded. I needed him to remind me. I mustn't forget him. You know how easily distracted I get.
I needed to remember. There are so many of them lost forever. So many nameless stars that only exist in my memory. They live through me in many ways. The people time forgot.
We must remember.
"Allons-y!" I told the young boy (he probably thought I was speaking Occitan) and lead him to the lift with a pat on the shoulder while Jack watched.
"DOCTOR!" Jack yelled for my attention and I rushed to him. "It's Amy!"
Something was wrong with you. Your hands were cold.
"She's not responding," Jack said.
"What about the mask? Is it still responding?"
"Responding to what?"
No time to play nice, so I pressed my hand down on the metal mask and it was like digging your hand in wet sand at the beach. The water would billow up as I pushed down and the metal formed a cast around my hand. I almost couldn't even let go.
"It's still alive," I said. "Proximity to the ship is what's keeping it alive!"
"It's telepathic?" Jack asked.
"Oh, it's wireless!" I said.
"I could put some distance between us. I could teleport her to safety. But Nemo de-activated my time vortex manipulator."
"Yes, I know, I know...you want me to re-activate it and I could...I could..."
"I COULD!" I cried out and jumped up. "Oh! But that's it! I could! We could re-activate the engine! Bring back the dead!"
"Not now, Amy, I'm busy!"
"Doctor, you have to listen!"
It was your voice. You were back and gripping Jack's arm with a vengeance. But your face...
Somehow, the living metal had warped itself to become a pristine presentation of your facial features, constantly morphing and changing like ripples in a clear black oil lake.
"Something's coming," you said out of the dark. "Something's been released. I don't know what, but it's bad."
"Isn't it always?" Jack said.
"It's coming for you, Doctor," you said. "It's coming here."
Then something crashed on the far end of the platform, crushing the metal, something that had been shot down like a torpedo from the ship above.
"Is it here?" you said. "I can't see. Is it here?"
It was like a blob, like shapeless clay, sticking to the floor, then another crashed down right beside it. And another.
"Do you know what it is?" you asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do," I said and a shiver ran down my spine. "It's plan B."
"Doctor?" Jack said.
"Oh, I agree," I replied. "Run."
We ran towards the lifts carrying you in between us. When we looked over our shoulders we saw the blobs of metal slowly coming alive. Humanoid shapes were emerging from their own wreckage. Something featureless with claws starting running at us with the speed of something that had just been shot out of a barrel.
"Close the door! Close the door!" Jack yelled at the lift operators. It had been a few turbulent hours since they'd actually done their jobs. I sonicked the controls to help them along and the lift rattled back to life.
The creature roared. It sounded like something a garbage disposer would grind if it had a larynx.
"What the hell was that?"
"Where are the others?" Jack asked Bernárd while the lift moved up and the creature assaulted the doors. We backed up to the other side. There might've been over twenty people crammed into these four metal walls. We were rising out of its reach.
"They're already up. There's four lifts..."
"Yes!" I said. "Two designed by the brilliant Otis from America and the others by some clumsy Frenchmen. Which are we in?"
I could tell Bernárd treasured that bit of trivia. He was proud to be able to cite some of the achievements of the man he called his father. Some of which he even had the slightest hand in himself. But there wasn't time!
The lift violently shook and stalled. The creature was ripping apart the fence that stood in its way in order to attack the bottom.
The people in the lift screamed as something heavy suddenly started pulling it down.
And you were gone again: fading in and out of consciousness. You fell to your knees in the shaking lift as twenty people made room for you to fall flat on your face. When we turned you over you were unconscious again and the metal was blank. Flattened like clay.
A stain started growing on the ground next to you and it bubbled up through the metal until it became a puddle. Everyone backed away to the sides of the lift while it shook and stalled and Jack pulled you from the ground as the creature became manifest from liquid metal.
"What is that, Doctor?" Jack asked holding you with one hand and aiming his weapon at the creature of living metal.
"Metal," I thought out loud. "Metal that can take any shape. Or form. Metal that can change. Metal that can adapt. It's metal on a mission. And that mission is to destroy us. How does it know what will destroy us?"
The liquid metal oozed into being, towering over us in a smooth, silvery and shapeless form, bubbling and boiling closer as it leaned forward, assessing the greatest threat in the room and we were only halfway up to the next level.
Then it changed.
"What's it doing?" Bernárd asked.
"It's adapting!" I said. "Adapting to the strongest fighter in the room."
Suddenly the metal grew a humanoid shape, then clothes, a chiseled jaw, a long navy-blue army coat and big blue eyes. A second Jack Harkness took shape right in front of us.
"Should I be flattered?" Jack asked petrified and he handed you over to me.
The second Jack brushed away the lock of hair on his forehead. He had mimicked Jack perfectly in practically every way.
"Good luck," I said and backed away. With a flick of the sonic the lift was spurred into motion again while Jack avoided the punches of his metal self.
But it wasn't just an imitation of Jack. It created itself to be better. It didn't share Jack's flaws. Maybe that's what makes him human.
The lift rattled finally and shook to a standstill when it reaches its destination and I opened the doors for all twenty passengers to exit in a hurry. Some bumped into the creature on their way out. Others could no longer even tell the difference between the two. I could tell you right now. It's the voice.
I quickly examined the second platform of the Eiffel Tower for threats, found Buffalo Bill and handed you to him to safeguard.
"If anything happens to her..." I said to him but I didn't even have time to finish the thought. "Nikola, get out of there!"
Every punch Jack threw hit unstained metal. I tried sonicking the creature for some clues to its nature, perhaps some achilles heel, but whenever I tried the creature would take a swing at me.
"Run, Doctor!" Jack finally said through hurried breaths after being thrown on the ground a third time.
"I'm not leaving you here!" sonicking the creature from the doorway.
"You did before!" Jack said, dodging a punch that hit and buckled the wall of the lift behind him. "You can do it again!"
"I can help you!"
"No, this is my fight, Doctor! This is something I have to do alone!"
"But you can't! You idiot!" I said as he punched the lift controls. "You'll die!"
"I can't die, remember?" Jack said and one final punch sent the lift hurtling down below.
"Then you two have something in common!" I yelled down the lift shaft. "But it's not a fight to the death: it's a fight to the pain!"
I turned on the spot and saw fifty oblivious humans staring at me for guidance. I told them I could save them. It was time for me to keep my promises. But it was going to be tricky. Nemo wasn't going to let us go that easily. Every second we eluded him angered him.
He was standing at the centre of his strategy room surrounded by the lieutenants that had failed him previously. A burdening silence thickened the dark.
He watched impatiently as he gripped his fingers around the edge of the only round table standing at the centre of this perfectly round black abode surrounded by shadows. Above the table in the air floated a hologram made of tiny droplets raining down from the ceiling which formed into an image of the Eiffel Tower structure within a beaming blue bubble.
A clump of red dots indicated the presence of life on the second platform. One flickering dot just returned down to the first where it was about to be surrounded by four new white dots.
"The drones have been released, sir," one of the pirates spoke to his captain.
Nemo didn't reply. He merely watched.
His loyal servants were waiting in silence. They did not question any confusion.
But someone would.
"This isn't real. This isn't happening..."
Nemo ordered silence but he was the only one hearing it be broken. He ignored you just like he did all other voices trapped in the lower decks. But you were different. You were new.
"WHO ARE YOU?" Nemo bellowed at the dark.
Then he found you standing at the other side of the table (or at least an idealized mental version of you) folding your arms and raising an eyebrow at the new Captain.
Like a ghost who haunts her killer you haunted Nemo. Good for you.
"YOU?" Nemo said. "How did you..."
"You tell me."