The Storyteller

Collateral Damage

I wasn't a proper doctor, but I was the next best thing. I thought it best to step in before they'd apply pincers to the nipples just to check whether he was alive or dead. I think I carried a stethoscope in my coat pocket but I luckily had no use for it: Bill was still breathing.

"Good man!" I said, slapping his baffled cheek. "Good man! You lucky, lucky man! Unlucky to be here to begin with, but you might as well be born unlucky. We are talking about Earth after all."

Direct danger had been averted but the war hadn't yet been won. I jumped from group to group to check on both survivors of this weird encounter and I leaped across the puddle of sludge in the middle of the floor. The only visible remains of the Drone which had attacked Buffalo Bill, barring one: you.

We placed the two Amy's side by side for careful examination. Both versions of you looked identical to one another, up to the painted fingernails. We couldn't compare faces, but we had our memories. Luckily. We knew the face that was hidden underneath that mask.

You lifted your arm and, while concentrating, the arm of your real body moved simultaneously and for a moment we could not discern who was the puppet and who was the master.

"This is freaky," you said.

We were crouched over both of you (or should I say the one of you) when Jack finally went straight to business. The mysterious glass box glowed in between us on the floor and the shard of glass was rattling its insides, twitching like it was being zapped with electricity. Like it was alive.

"Doctor, it can't be Validium. Validium's a myth," Jack said.

"So am I," I said.

The others were taking care of Bill and making sure he was okay. Nikola repeated his circling motions three times before settling to linger around the four of us in nervous silence, listening and taking in as many information as he could.

"Doctor, is this a problem?" he asked and I teased them while I was still contemplating several possibilities and scenarios in my mind.

"Possibly," I said. Needs more work.

"I checked my wrist watch to see how much time we had left, while a shadow was contorting around us."

"Doctor," Jack insisted but I had to shush him. 6 giant arms and 2 giant legs were morphing in the dark, stretching out across the vast cold toward the Eiffel Tower for some monstrous hug, eclipsing the night.

Nemo was on the move. His ship was changing shape. More elements from Jules Verne's story were taking shape: we were looking at the giant octopus and all I could do was smile.

"We have to get this to the top," I told Jack and I shoved the glowing glass box into Nikola's hands. Quite rudely.

Jack and the sweat on his brow understood their mission. Here be pirates...

Oh, yes, they were coming. Nemo must've figured out the reversed teleport feed by now.

There was yelling down below. In the silence of the surrounding vacuum of space it was easy to make out the voices that were materializing into being or the footfalls that were making the metal tremble.

Time was running out. All that was left was to take the required components as close to the ship above as possible.

There was up and there was down and all that was really left to us was the lift that was supposed to come back down in the middle.

"Jack?" I said. "Don't look up."

He immediately looked up. "Oh, boy."

"Nope. I can't look at myself. It's too weird," you finally decided, still lying with your back on the dusty ground.

"Too bad, because we're taking her with us," I replied, pulling you back on to your feet. "You'll thank me later."

Distance didn't upset the connection between you and the metal duplicate. Space wasn't the issue here, time was.

You had been more drained by the encounter than you would admit. You were starting to lose the slight control you had over this metal avatar of yourself. The Drone was part of you now, perhaps even too much of a part, tipping the balance no longer in your favour.

What part now was Amy and what part was Nemo, what part was the ship and what part a coldblooded killer?

In the end we're composed of bits and pieces. Take out one vital piece and the body may work around it, adapt anew. Bodies are fragile but memories are more abstract. More like a river. It flows where it can, makes things gel even if they don't want to gel, covers up plotholes in stories to make the storyline flow better.

Humans are pattern-seeking creatures. You seek connections. Sometimes even when there are none. Bridge a gap to ignore the hole. Desperate deep down to fill it.

You didn't walk for long though before staggering again and it was Jack who caught you. You didn't thank him. He tells himself he doesn't need to be thanked, but he does. Everybody does.

"Doctor, what is Validium?" you kept asking but I couldn't stop.

"Come on!" I rallied the troops. I was the only one moving freely. With energy. I felt like the only happy man at a funeral. The sounds downstairs were increasing. The pirates were climbing up the stairs. 340 steps is still a long a lot.

"You good to go?" Jack asked Bill's team. The Sioux Sitting Bull was the first to rise. His gaze pierced the night. He was the first to understand, without words, the need to keep moving. The wind had grown unfavourable. The ground barren. Nemo would never stop hunting us.

They complied and helped Bill to his feet. In passing, Annie asked: "Who are you people?" She didn't want an answer.

Validium. Knowing what the ship was made of didn't exactly change anything about the situation just yet. It only made it that much worse. More questions roamed my mind than there were before.

Validium is supposed to be indestructable. How did the Eiffel Tower die? Scratch that, how did the ship die? And how did it survive in the first place?

I am the last of the Time Lords. Everything of my race, my species, my civilization, my home, has been locked away. Literally timelocked. Something can't go in or out without paying a heavy price. Death, madness, complete and utter destruction or worse...much, much worse.

Some secrets must never be unlocked. The past is a thing of the past. I look to the future. But without the past there is no future. Or at least, that's what I always thought to be true, but maybe the future can restore the past. I don't know. Maybe there's still some semblance of hope...

I keep saying it's impossible, I never try to, because I know I'll someday end up swallowing my own words. The living metal could've never escaped my home planet. Except it did once before. It could've again. Before the timelock. Before the war.

The tiniest drop survived and accumulated more and more metals throughout the universe like a single snowflake rolling down a mountain and becoming an avalanche.

Oh, the avalanche was here. That was undeniable.

"We have to get to the third floor," I said. "And we mustn't teleport there. Jack! Save as much energy as we can. We're going to need it."

"How much?" Jack asked.

"All of it," and I looked up again. "The ship's not going to let us go that easily."

The ship? You mean Nemo.

This is bigger than Nemo. These events are now part of something going back thousands and thousands of years, billions, long before the Earth was even formed, or even your Sun, or even your Milky Way. They were all but rocks swirling in pools of distant starlight in a galactic shooting gallery. Particles met particles and fire met ice. Just a twinkle in the eye of the galaxy.

It was a dangerous place to be. A dangerous time. Conditions were temperamental. Volatile. Survival almost impossible.

It was a time of legends and whispers. Vampires and angels. Of Chaos.

The time when my people created the first TARDIS, by capturing black holes and harnassing the power of supernovas. The first time machine. I've got the very last.

It's often said we're standing on the shoulders of giants. That, if nothing else, is an understatement. The human race this day and age could barely fathom the history that preceeds them. You've barely arrived on the scene and already arrogantly claiming everything started with you or even revolves around you.

Then again, when has the Earth not been part of some cosmic cataclysm? Always on the brink of destruction. Always ending, but rarely never beginning.

That day on the Eiffel Tower destruction met somewhere in the middle. The secret of it all hidden inside a strange box...

Nikola couldn't resist examining it as he held it in his hands. One could only wonder what he truly saw dancing around inside that light. A tiny shard of glass was twitching inside still, one part of it floating, another unable to let go of the bottom. Sometimes I could've sworn I saw tiny surges of lightning strike its sharp edges. Like a Tesla coil, and its inventor was of course standing right beside me.

"See anything you like, Nikola?" I asked him. I bet he could feel the electromagnetic field pulsing through his fingertips. Then came a sudden shudder. The lift above us seemed to rattle and scream as it slowly came down at the beckon of my sonic screwdriver.

It crashed to a slow stop at our level. Luckily intact. The more time we spent in outer space the more the Tower seemed to object to its cold surroundings.

"Going up!" I exclaimed. "Everybody into the lift, please! Things to do, places to be!"

Nemo moved his pieces and now it was my turn. And the question was, would he expect my move?

I was the first to leap inside the lift but then I had to stick my head out to see whether the ship was still changing shape above us. It had horrific forms in the past and would again in the future. If there was still any future left for all of us when all of this would be over.

""I once knew a girl called Trampoline," Jack told you to cheer you up as he helped you into the lift. "She always bounced in and out of trouble."

"Lucky girl," you replied jokingly. "I bet she loved her friends."

"She hated it. She tried to change it to Yo-Yo but the nickname kinda stuck."

"Yo-Yo? How's that any better?"

"She thought it was more romantic."

"What, a puppet on a string?"

"Wherever she went, she'd always come back to me."

"If she's the yo-yo, it sort of implies you're the one doing the throwing, right? And she's all helpless and spinning and under your control. Did she really think this through?"

"Think she does better as Trampoline Girl? Because she's not the one doing the jumping."

"I stand corrected. Wait..."

"AND WE'RE OFF!" I shouted, aiming my sonic screwdriver at the lift controls below the car where the operator should've been sitting. Except I had no need for a manual kickstart. I've gone wireless.

And you know me. I can't stop thinking. Jack's story was echoing through my mind, because I heard it, but then again I hear a lot of things and only so much actually sinks in straight away. Some of it simmers for a while. A lot of it will never find resolution.

I'm a Time Lord, not a robot, but I sensed something nonetheless. Something was wrong about this car.

I started pacing, tapping the end of my sonic screwdriver against my forehead while trying to gauge everyone else's reactions. Are you that stupid or am I really that clever?

Don't flatter yourself, Doctor.

Something was wrong. Remember what happened in that very lift? I haven't told you yet, have I?

What? Bernárd went down. Wait, what happened to him?

Something good. Something bad. Something that had to happen.

Did he die?

Almost.

It was the first thing we saw when we reached the middle section, while the pirates were climbing up and the ship was reaching down towards us to close the trap.

I saw his silhouette as the lift proceeded up, standing at the centre of the narrow bridge towards the other lift car. The entire scene reeked of wrongness.

I desperately pushed aside the metal fences and was the first to step outside the lift. Bernárd was there, completely silent, and I thought of calling out to him, but I didn't.

Then I saw his body lying behind him, almost like a physical 3-dimensional shadow. I couldn't tell if he was dead or alive.

"No, don't step any closer!" I told the others. I used my body to push you back. To shield you from its gaze. It was the final Drone. At least I thought it was.

"It's Nemo!" Jack shouted and shot at the Bernárd duplicate at point blank rage. I yelled for him to stop. Violence would only feed it.

"Doctor, what is it?" you asked. "What is Validium?"

But how could I possibly tell you? I had to start from the beginning. The Dark Times. The Rise of Gallifrey.

There was a war, Amy. Once upon a time. Between my people and the vampires. The Great Vampires. Colossal grey creatures that ravaged universes and drained planets dry. They came to our part of the galaxy, some say in migration, others say it was an infestation. Always thirsty, never stopping. So many lives lost.

The tribes of Gallifrey fought them for centuries, scattered throughout the universe in a time when only the soothsayers could predict the next onslaught of the Vampires.

That was until the day the Time Lords took control. There was a revolution and the followers of Pythia were overthrown. A triumvirate of scientists established a new order and reclaimed Gallifrey as its capital. Together they changed the fate of the galaxy forever.

It was Omega who powered the rise of the Time Lords, fueled the bowships that would defeat the Great Vampires and establish Gallifrey as the most powerful civilization the universe had ever known.

And it was Rassilon who lead our armies, who created the weapons that would defeat them, for the only way the Vampires could be defeated was by stabbing them in the hearts with steel bolts, to destroy it or even encase it in metal.

Except for one, the Great Vampires were finally driven into extinction and the war ended, but through its advances Rassilon and Omega had created the perfect weapon. The ultimate defence. Validium. Living metal. Constructed for a single purpose and that was to destroy.

A sufficient quantity of it could destroy galaxies, defeat battle fleets or even inspire conflict.

I've encountered it before. It called itself Nemesis then. Validium parts that were never supposed to leave Gallifrey somehow found its way into the universe to wreck destruction. The tiniest drop of sentient metal and this batch barely has a voice. But it has consciousness.

Nemo had its subconscious beamed into his head for five long years trapped inside the mask, spoonfed death and destruction in the womb. Who can blame him for turning out as he did?

This isn't just a story anymore, is it Doctor?

Validium was just as big a part of my past as Jack was. One of the last remaining relics of my race. And for a while I wondered whether this would be the only legacy of the Time Lords.

Death and destruction.

But somehow the most dangerous weapon in the universe found its way into the hands of children.

A duke in Austria takes the wrong turn into the street where his assassin happened to be eating a sandwhich and history is changed forever. His death lead to nations signing treaties with nations and like a line of dominoes falling lead to boys fighting and dying in trenches and healing in hospitals.

And one day there'll be some unexploded bomb buried underneath a playground waiting to go off.

Look at them, Amy. Hear them. The victims of this war."

The floor shook. A surprise attack in the middle of the night sent a division of young boys over the top and out of the trenches, but first came the artillery. Bombs were flying like fireworks in the distance. Amy used to welcome the sound and love the countdown every New Year's Eve to when the sky would light up with fire (and her aunt would always ruin it every year by repeating how she thought New Year's Eve was the perfect time to murder someone. Any gunshot would be believed to be fireworks).

But there was no countdown here. No warning.

These were not toys, these were weapons. Every explosion could mean another death. The very thought made Amy's heart miss a beat. She closed her eyes and tried not to listen to the screams in the other beds or the people who could use her bed or her treatment more than her.

She knew the Doctor was listening. Whenever he paused she could see him thinking.

"Doctor," Amy said. "The Saloccian treatment. Couldn't we share it? Couldn't we help someone? Anyone? Just this once?"

He bit his lip as he got out of bed and lingered for a bit at the edge.

"Who?" he asked. "Out of everyone could you really pick just one? Out of all this suffering? Should we look for fathers, lovers or shellshocked young boys? Who would you choose?"

He rubbed his brow, trying to clear an imaginary headache. Amy waited for an apology for his grumpy behaviour that wouldn't come this time.

"Can anyone really shoulder the responsibility of life and death like this, appoint himself arbiter of destiny, deciding who gets to live and who gets to die, on a whim?"

"People die, Doctor. You said so yourself. People always die, but sometimes...Sometimes people get to live."

Another pause. She hated the pause because they let in the screams. "Doctor, are you crying?"

"No, Amy. I'm thinking."

"Looks a lot like crying to me. It's just a story, right? It's not real? Nothing to cry about."

"Then why are you crying?" the Doctor said and threw a clever smile back through damp eyes.

Amy touched the inside corner of her right eye with a careful ring finger but was too late to stop the tear rolling down her cheek. Confused, she tried to cover it up.

He loved the fact that she cared.

"It's your fault. It's your dreary story."

"Dreary?" the Doctor said.

"Every story needs a romance, yet you've been talking to me for hours without even a hint of sexual tension."

"What?" the Doctor spoke baffled. "I'm not a Hollywood screenwriter! I'm just telling a story. And you're a really bad audience."

"Don't shoot the messenger. Of course. It's your story. Love doesn't even cross your mind, Doctor. You're too busy trying to be Space Gandalf. Saving the world, but what about the girl? Can't she have a bit of fun?"

"I just gave you superpowers. What more do you want?"

"You know what I want. A little bit of romance in the middle of a world war."

She patted the bed as a welcoming sign for him to lie down in his previous spot. It was still warm.

"Don't we all?" he said. Then he continued his story.

"All these people on the Eiffel Tower were victims. Them and everyone on Earth who would about to be consumed by their own history. They were collateral damage.

The after-effects of a forgotten earthquake would shatter the world all over again and everything feared to fall into its cracks into the dark. The silence.

A lengthy speech wouldn't dissuade the living metal of a thousand year old grudge, but it didn't stop me trying.

"I am the Doctor," I told it. "I am a Time Lord. The last, actually. Can you hear me? Can you understand? Oh, I bet you can. Because you know, don't you?"

I could see it in its fabricated eyes. Oh, it had been my intention to save Bernárd, not to drive him towards his death, but how could I have possibly known? Why didn't he just go up like all the others? Why did he have to go back?

Why do people do anything? Because they want to live.

"I'm so sorry, Bernárd," I said, with the tiniest part of me hoping he could hear. "I tried to save you. I really did."

All I could do was stare at this metal reflection. This metal imitation. It was no substitute for the real thing. But it was almost as if it actually listened.

The lift must've stalled as the metal invaded and for a while as he gazed into his own reflection beaming off the silver skin of the monster that was about to kill him, he must've seen so much else.

The girlfriend that got away, perhaps. His father sacrificing his life for his. The life he could never have.

Children are always told the good will be rewarded and the bad will be punished. They're told that the universe is fair, but how could you still believe that when you gaze into the eyes of certain death? What could this boy have possibly done to deserve this fate? Now, really?

"But you know, don't you? You know!" I told the Drone. Bernárd's duplicate was watching me. Waiting. For something. But then I realized something.

What?

I wasn't the one linked to this thing. I wasn't the one it was trying to connect to. It was you.

"We could win this," I said. "Amy!"

I pulled you from the crowd of ten and told you what was at stake. You were about to become part of Time Lord history. The woman who persuaded living death to care.

"You can do this!" I said.

"I can't. If I absorb anymore I'll lose it. It'll absorb me."

"I don't want you to absorb it. I want you to think. Think, Amy. Reach out to it. Telling it how we feel won't get us anywhere, but we can actually make it feel like we feel. Feel, like you feel. You are linked."

"How do I feel?"

"That's not the point!" I said. "Look it in the eyes and say it telepathically. Show it in your mind. Feel it with your heart."

Jack took your hand and with a nod to me he guided you to where you were needed. Where history needed you to be. And you connected.

"Think of your favourite place on Earth," I whispered into your ear, with strategically placed words. "Now think how you would feel if it were gone. Plucked out of the air, not with a bang but with a whimper. All of that beauty. All of those memories. Erased. Think of the people that will die if we don't make it to the top...think of Paris...think of Leadworth...remember, Amy.Amy, what are you thinking of?"

The duplicate Bernárd started yelling. And crying. A thought had impacted it more than others, affected it like nothing had ever done before.

"Think of poor Bernárd, Amy," I continued whispering. "Destined to die. He just lost his father to the dark. He lost everything. Everything but hope."

The Drone looked upon the body of Bernárd at its feet when it turned. It understood now. Then it suddenly stopped to look at us.

"Think of all those people aboard the ship," I concluded as I aimed my speech at the metal. "Trapped inside those masks, living a half-life, an enslaved life, waiting in the wings...Feel them."

You closed your eyes and thought of all those things and more. You forced yourself to feel it, tapping into parts of yourself you never felt before. You started crying. And the metal did too.

All the damage could still be undone. You, Jack, Bernárd, Gustave, Bill, Nemo, Earth...

The Drone then suddenly ceased to function. It dropped dead beside the other Bernárd. And you kneeled beside it to absorb the tiny particle of Validium that was still left inside it.

"Did it work?" you asked. "Did we make a difference?"

"You never know," I said and I couldn't help but look up. I kneeled beside the other Bernárd to check his pulse. He was alive.

While Nikola and I helped him get back up to his feet on the narrow walkway so that others could cross, he noticed his own body lying beside him. There were scorchmarks all over his duplicate's chest where Jack's blasterfire hit it. It was dead.

"I'm fine," he said, drowsily. He was bruised where the Drone had taken him down. "I thought I was going to die. I thought I couldn't."

"Time can be rewritten. Time can adapt. If you had died right now it wouldn't have changed a thing. Ironically. You can die now, you can die later, you could've died before."

And that's when it struck him, when Bernárd gazed upon his identical counterpart again and deduced the obvious.

"But I don't have to die!" he exclaimed overjoyed. The wounds didn't matter. He would've jumped in the air and almost fallen to his death celebrating his survival.

When he kept pointing I started to notice it too. The resemblance was uncanny. The dead Drone looked identical to the dead Bernárd they found at the beginning of this story. What if...

"A classic case of mistaken identity," I said sober. I wanted to believe, but there were still parts of the story missing. I smiled nonetheless. "Sometimes things aren't what they seem!"

"But that means they were wrong! You were wrong, Doctor! I can live! I don't have to die!"

"Yes," I said.

At the other end of the platform Jack approached you while you were glowing. That's what Validium does when it recognises itself. It's how I recognised it.

Two girls were carrying your original, real self into the next lift and you were keen on letting them know you'd kick their bums if they'd ever drop you. How like you, eh?

"What did you think of," Jack asked. "to make the Drone sympathize with you?"

"You know, the things the Doctor said."

"You're a terrible liar."

"It's kind of personal," you said. "It's from when I was little. It's pathetic, really."

"Try me," he said to you as he closed his hands over yours. The metal warmed.

"I was a kid and the Doctor promised he'd take me with him. He'd be back in five minutes."

"Let me guess. He didn't show up."

"I waited all night. I waited my entire life."

"Yeah, I kind of know how that feels."

"He came back though," you added. "He found me."

"Do you love him?" Jack asked.

"What?"

"The Doctor. Do you love him?"

Time was running out. We had to keep moving. So I shouted over to you: "Amy! Jack!"

Perhaps it was because you knew I was watching. Perhaps it was just a sly way of avoiding the question, but you puckered your lips and kissed him.

It filled a gap you never knew was there before.

Did I make you jealous?

Not exactly. But you certainly made me proud.

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