Simon was running and kicking up heaps of sand.
This was a nightmare all too real for him. He pounded on the doors and yelled for help, while the past was gaining on him. They were coming.
In the parts of the castle where the sand hadn't reached yet, there was a strange icy fog. Always distant and always cold, sterile to the point of toxicity. Literally cool.
The sonic screwdriver's vibrations caused ripples in the texture and surface of reality. It bubbled and morphed like liquid, absorbing the vibrations like a boxer would absorb a punch. It rippled like water or flesh.
The rules had gone all topsy turvy and impossible. I loved it and it drove me mad. All the good mysteries do.
"What is this place?" I complained. Grumpy old me. I smiled because of the effect the mystery had on me. I really shouldn't have.
There was a constant creak in my step. The same sound. Everything was fake.
"Sand and glass," you rightly pointed out back in the dungeons.
It was hotter depending on proximity to the cracks.
"You think there's a connection there?"
"I like the way you think," Jack replied.
"Is that a yes or a no?" you said. It made him laugh.
He stepped back and aimed his blaster at one specific point. This time it didn't deflect or bounce but the wall absorbed the blast, twice, turning red like a sore spot before cracks appeared in the surface of the door. Then it shattered.
"Seven years of bad luck! I've had more than my fair share!" Jack quipped when he stepped through the broken arch. "The Doctor's not getting rid of us that easily."
He stepped through the shattered door, a gateway unto destruction. The blast rippled and had blown out all the torches and taken out all the lights, until you clicked on your nifty flashlight.
"Finally!" Jack smiled looking over his shoulder. "A professional!"
"I just thought it might come in handy."
"Early twenty-first century?" he asked as he peeked at the torch. "Give or take. Those were some good times."
You neither denied or confirmed him. For some reason, you didn't want to talk about it and walked right past him. He respected it, though found the way you went on doing so a bit too obvious.
"What about you then? What time are you from?" you asked reversing roles.
Blogging at the end of the universe, as usual. There should be a rule against it! It's like I have to drag you into adventure...and nearly get you killed.
"Oh, I'm from a long long way away," Jack said, purposely vague. You raised an eyebrow at that, but stopped there.
A piece of shrapnel was still glowing orange with absorbed energy on the floor and Jack found it and used it to light several torches on the wall.
"Don't touch the shadows," Jack said when he caught you reaching out to them.
"I wasn't," you lied. "Why?"
"Trust me. You don't want to do that," Jack said, on his way through the corridor.
"You know something," you deduced feistily. You couldn't resist following in his wake.
"Just a hunch," Jack then admitted, but he still wasn't going to tell.
"You're no better than the Doctor."
"No," Jack said and he flashed you his trademark smile. "I'm much worse."
Ever look in a mirror and think you're seeing a whole other world? Well, this time it's not an illusion. Mirrors can be gateways. A single shard a connection to another world. A splinter in time holding on to a dying dimension on the other side. A lifeline. Or a nail in the coffin of reality.
And we had fed it, pumped all the energy of time itself into its veins, to keep it alive, unknowingly.
Two planes, two worlds, two cars parked in the same space. Our universe was still here, raging underneath us, unseen, the tornado of time and space raged on beyond the veil.
A billion billion moments in time and space, a billion billion 'presents' and this one took over in the very last second. But that means there was still a living second; there was still a present. Linear time could still be saved, but only if this present was removed from the equation. The squatter had to go.
There was a reflection staring at Jack from the dark and there was a woman in the great hall sitting all by her lonesome self drinking an imaginary cocktail. Where to begin?
I had found my way into a beautiful ballroom. There were shiny floors and mostly mirrors, an array of sharp colours white and grey; blue and gold.
Enchantment under the Sea. There were long red drapes reaching up to the high ceiling and there was a mirror spanning the entire ceiling, reflecting the slippery floor below. And me. And the woman.
"Excuse me," I asked the brunette, mostly legs, in the blue dress sitting in the corner with earpods, lonely listening to music.
It was perhaps a bit awkward, but I was kind of expecting her to burst into flames at the sight of me. Or turn into a wherewolf. Or elongate her jaws so she could shriek at me, horribly.
It freaks me out when they do that, but she didn't, luckily. She just stared at me, almost as if she knew me. And her make-up was all running, poor thing. I actually started to feel sorry for her. So I smiled.
"He isn't coming," I told her. Clever me.
"I know," she said, and so I sat across from her in the booth. Yes, there was a booth. I forgot to mention. Plastic seats lining the walls and short tables for drinks, whereas the entire centre of the ballroom was laid bare and empty. Shining, even.
"Good. Because I don't. I was making it up. Who isn't coming?" I asked and looked past the running mascara. She'd been crying. And at least for a very long time.
"I'm the Doctor," I introduced myself. She didn't extend to me the same courtesy, instead preferring to maintain the silence. And it's not like me to be impatient, especially when it comes to beautiful mysterious women.
"This is a ballroom," I noted. "So why aren't there people dancing?"
Nothing seemed to attract her interest and again, the silent treatment. Until...
"You're wrong," she suddenly said. I had heard her accent before. A hint of Romanian and broken English. Broken as in broken heart. There's nothing like a woman scorned.
Finally she took out her earpods. She placed them on the table in front of me.
I could hear the music now. My keen ears heard a cover of Blue Moon by the Styx Makers from the 51st Century. Their lead guitarist interestingly enough was actually born on a blue moon colony AND conveniently, a monday.
The lyrics of the song were clear at times, but mostly muddled and incoherent and it seemed to be on a loop. It kept playing the same bit over and over, like a tune stuck in your head. Stuck in a moment you can't get out of.
But it was definitely a ballroom. Note the disco ball and empty glasses.
I smiled, absent-minded, for a moment. Sorry, I tend to do that on occasion when my mind wanders and there's a lot I have to remember, think about or take into account. So I leaned over to whisper.
"Wrong about what?" I asked and she finally dared to look me in the eyes. Her eyes were grey.
"They aren't people."
Structures can hold memories. That's why houses have ghosts. But if houses can hold memories, could mirrors remember reflections?
Oh, there were definitely ghosts wandering these corridors. The shadows had been eating away at this place for years.
Mirrors can be gateways. Ceilings can be floors. Beginnings can be endings and up can be down. Death can be life. The rules had all changed here in the castle at the end of the universe.
"Don't you ever get sick of it?" you asked. "Whenever you get too close he pushes you out. He never tells us the whole story. Just the bits and pieces he wants us to hear."
"Yeah, I remember that story," Jack said.
You were hesitant to follow him into the sand of the next room. Jack reached down to pick up a handful of sand, then brushed his hands clean.
Where our reality bled into this one the air became charged and hot, like a furnace, energy seeping through the cracks. You could call the sand a waste product. I call it time and space dying.
"I don't blame him anymore," he spoke, and he lifted himself up with a heavy sigh, brushing the sand off his navyblue pea coat. "I just want to know why."
He trailed off and strode towards the next chamber. A labyrinth of locked doors.
Jack was trying to trace my footprints in the sand but the tracks had all but faded and his phase blaster was running out of batteries.
When you dashed around the corner, you were the first to spot it lying on the cold floor and the only thing that entered into your mind at that point was a single word. Bait.
"That's just too easy," you said. The room was completely abandoned, except for the timevortex manipulator half buried in the sand at the far end. "It could be a trap."
"Could be. Only one way to find out."
Was it a trap? Of course it was. The entire place was a trap. A cage.
The moment Jack moved forward you felt the hint of a breath in the back of your neck. A looming shadow thrust the cold edge of a dagger in the hollow of your back, whispering a warning. It was more a snarl, really. A malicious, pointless discontent. Vengeance for the sake of vengeance. Well, is there any other kind?
Jack heard your muffled cry under the pressure of his hand but realized his mistake too late. He tried to reach for his own weapon but the fiend was already one move ahead of him. And he couldn't help but gloat.
"Drop it," Nemo said. You tried to wrestle out of his grip but you couldn't escape the prick of the dagger against your spine. Your shoes dug themselves into the sand the more he forced you to stand still.
Jack had nothing witty left to say. Nemo let him face him and watched Jack take the blaster out of its holster with two delicate fingers only to let it drop to the floor and kick up dust.
"Now what?" he asked. "Are we just going to stand here and wait?"
"Move," Nemo said and nodded forward; Jack walked backwards but Nemo did not let him pick up his vortex manipulator.
Nemo looked just as confused as the pair of you regarding this mythical place, just as baffled to how he'd come to be here. But it wouldn't stop him trying to get his way.
"Where is the Doctor?" he growled, letting go all pretention of nobility in his panic. Droplets of sweat glistened on his skull.
"Don't do this, Nemo," Jack said. "Your ship's gone. Trust me, I know the feeling. You spend your life thinking that one thing will get you made and when you finally have it, it's not enough. It's never enough. You're looking for meaning in all the wrong places..."
Nemo yelled at him to be quiet and you felt the ominous sting of the dagger retreat.
"If you want revenge, fine, take it. But let her go."
The blade slid away unnoticed to make way for the muzzle of a pistol and in a flash of blue Jack's arm flailed backward and he dropped. You thrashed and screamed within his sweaty palm, elbowed him in the gut but he pulled you back by your hair, dragging you from room to room.
He spoke about how no-one understood, no-one knew, and with that a flickering instant of self-realization dawned upon him, yet he refused to listen. No time.
He flung you in his path and you fell at gunpoint. Looking up at him, all you could see was the vivid blue flash that hit Jack in your mind's eye.
"Please," you begged him. "Please don't kill me..."
"It's gone!" he yelled and tears started to run down his face. He walked in circles, writhing in the pains of anger, his gun an extention of his fear. He pressed its butt against his temple and screamed a primal scream.
Then he saw your face and it left him.
"I don't feel it anymore," he said. "But you! You. You felt it too. You were there inside my mind. The connection. It betrayed me. The silence is killing me!"
"I don't know..."
"A thousand voices inside my head! Tell me you felt it! TELL ME!"
You shot up when he aimed the blaster at you. You tried to crawl away in the sand, the tears of panic in your eyes lingering where confusion had really taken its place.
"I felt it. For a little while," you admitted and you tried to remember.
"Tell me why I shouldn't just pull this trigger right now," Nemo spoke.
He was looking for a reason. A reason to live. A reason to die.
The answer to his question hit him quite hard. Literally. He was hit sideways with a piece of wood.
Simon stood panting over Nemo's body. Victim of adrenaline. You couldn't believe the moustache.
He tried to remain dignified in a sense. Gentlemen don't boast about their feats of valour.
"Oh, you really have a way with words," you said to the speechless gent. Nemo was recovering. A second blow to the head might've lead to some serious brain damage, but he was lucky that in this place, just like doors aren't really doors, wood wasn't really wood. The glass shattered on impact like everything else.
"Run!" you told Simon when you noticed the former captain's grip on his weapon returned.
Then you both nearly bumped into the strangest sight. A pale man in a tux. A man without a face, like a plastic mannequin, but this wasn't an Auton. There was something living about it. Something hidden in its faceless features. Something blurry and unfocused. Incomplete.
In your fit of panic you ran straight past it, survival instinct kicking in and adrenaline taking over, with only one imperative in mind. Find Jack.
You ran as if the whole world was chasing you. Which wasn't at all far from the truth.
All the locked doors had suddenly opened and you ran from chamber to chamber and nothing seemed to make sense anymore. No room seemed to be in its rightful place.
Like someone had taken a puzzle and finished it with all the pieces in the wrong places. Or, basically, like a Picasso painting.
One moment you were running through a bedroom, the next it was a kitchen, and in every corner there was a faceless being staring while you passed.
In the dining area you came to witness the weirdest spectacle. It felt like a play.
There were maids in the kitchen chopping and boiling invisible foods. Mopping up sand no-one noticed was there. Butlers carrying trays with nothing on it. There were people laughing while smoking invisible cigars and drinking imaginary brandy from empty glasses. And you and Simon passed through these strange affairs unnoticed like ghosts, like the only visitors to the most weirdest Disney attraction ever.
"What are they, robots?" you asked but Simon did not understand what that meant.
"They're everywhere!" he spoke. "I've seen them all over this complex. Where are we? Where has the Doctor taken us?"
Then a vase exploded next to you. Nemo had caught your scent. The faceless did not seem to notice until suddenly the laughter stopped. The host's grip shattered the glass within his hand.
Some of them had eyes, others had ears and even noses, but never in the right place on their faces. At least most of them had fingernails, barely a consolation, but still...
The walls contorted and shimmered around the scenes. People with half faces and permanent gloves wandered in assigned directions as if they were on a track.
Nemo shouted your name. Then mine. He assaulted the dinner table and threw aside the dinnerware in a fit of rage while the faceless barely noticed. They just kept on drinking with or without a glass.
"What sort of place is this?" Nemo cried out. Finally he realized the madness of this scene. He barely saw it as blood dripped slowly into his right eye. In the second it took him to wipe it away you found time to run.
Nemo's next shot bounced and hit the moosehead on the wall which fell down in a rain of sparks before shattering like everything else.
Back in the dungeons you found unexpected calm. The once unnerving setting now felt familiar and safe but with one vital piece of the puzzle missing. Jack.
Only a stain of blood was left behind in the sand as proof that he had actually been there and that he wasn't just part of your imagination the whole time. He was real and he had to be real. But nothing felt real. It all felt as some insane and paranoid nightmare.
"He was bleeding," you explained to Simon. Gasping for air after every sentence. He was shot and desperate and running and trying to find you! He could've gone anywhere in this labyrinth.
"What were those things? Who were all those people?" Simon asked.
"I don't know," you said, turning away, but when the next thought hit you, you grabbed him again, by the collar. "But the Doctor knows. We have to find him."
And Simon was mesmerized. Only you can pull of manic and beautiful at the same time. There should be a word for that.
Simon didn't know who to look for first. Jack or me. The adrenaline confused him.
"I haven't run like that since...since..." Simon said, but then he trailed off. "I don't remember."
"Listen," you told him, literally grabbing his attention again and he listened. "We have to find Jack and we have to find the Doctor and we're going to find a way out of this place. Whatever it is."
"I can't do this," you added and it caught you off-guard, like a secret. The words felt alien but they made sense and you wondered why you felt safe telling this man. This neurotic librarian.
There had been much confidence in your metal form. The events of the Eiffel Tower felt like a different country. So much power. Almost like a different Amy. Like you were role-playing as a stronger Amy. Human Amy was dark and daunting and vulnerable. Always running and always helpless and confused.
But this time you were putting your foot down. This was the end of the world and someone's arse was going to be kicked. And I really hoped it wasn't going to be mine.
"What do you want me to do?" Simon asked and you had to grind your teeth for a moment.
"Just shut up and follow me."
You let him go and he swallowed.
"A simply thank you would've sufficed!" he muttered under his breath, but he then realized saving your life would've all been in vain if you'd all died here anyway.
But now they were everywhere. The doors were no longer locked and you never wondered who opened them. Or what. Or what had locked the doors in the first place.
If you kept really really quiet, you could almost imagine yourself under water while these faceless white figures drifted past, floating through some dark and dreary dream. And they did not stop for anything and you were too scared to find out what would happen if they touched or passed through you. Clever girl.
"This isn't right," Simon said. "Their heads are made of glass."
And he was right. You hadn't even noticed it before. When direct light shone upon it they would reflect pure white and show vague images of features and emotions which almost made them look like people, but they were really empty inside. It's like these faces were projected upon the glass from the inside. But it didn't look mechanical. It looked more like a bubble drifting through a dark underwater show.
Jack had left a trail of blood from room to room like a trail of breadcrumbs. After a while these strange people started to feel harmless, but consciously you never left your guard down, especially with a gun-toting madman on the loose.
"Jack?" you asked the dark, hoping he hadn't wandered too far off. You started to wonder whether he had left you. It was more likely that he tried to follow and rescue you but got lost when the rooms changed places. Here it happened again.
The blood trail ended abruptly at the door and not a trace of it on the other side.
"Jack?" you pleaded, aiming your flashlight into the next room and you couldn't stop your hand from shaking.
A clock struck midnight, haunting.
Simon gasped. He thought he'd just heard something. The faceless moved soundlessly. Sometimes only the cutlery clashed, but there was a strange wind roaming the halls, like the deep bellowing of a distant sandstorm.
"Where are the others?" Simon asked.
"I don't know."
He grew uneasier by the second.
"So you're the Doctor's companion?"
"Companion?" you asked. "Whoever calls himself a companion?"
"The fate of the Doctor's companions never bodes well," Simon added darkly. As if this was really the best time for more scary stories.
"I don't care," you said. Simon thought you should.
"What's your name, girl?"
You didn't like the way he called you 'girl'. You don't like it when anyone calls you 'girl'.
"Amelia," you answered. You winced immediately.
"Amy," you corrected yourself. "Call me Amy."
You jumped when the next door opened. A little girl with golden braided hair smiled at you from the other side. No sign of glass. She almost looked completely human.
"I don't remember you," she said. Then she skipped and hopped towards her little writing desk.
Then she disappeared.
"JACK!" you hollered, then you changed to your inside voice. "Please, please Doctor, I want to get out of here..."
Then came a pained whisper. "Amy..."
You found Jack in the corner of what appeared to be a library, but the books that Jack had knocked off the shelf had opened up when they hit the floor and revealed its pages to be completely blank.
You supported him, for his side was scorched, bleeding, and he could barely stand.
"Any sign of the Doctor?" he groaned.
"Please keep the light aimed outward," Simon pleaded. "I can't see anything in this dark."
And as if his complaint had been heard the walls started lighting up suddenly and bright light started to burst through every horizontal and vertical line.
"We're the playthings of the gods..." Simon whispered.
The illusion faded and the glass lost form and shape, becoming completely see-through. Even the floors faded, the faceless people disappeared and beneath your feet the fire of the universe roared.
The entire structure of the castle was see-through but somehow still intact. A few chambers away, Nemo spotted you. His blasts shattered the glass around him in his attempts to reach you. One at a time.
"This place is dying," Jack told you. He succumbed to the pain and sank to the floor. He pressed his vortex manipulator device, bound in leather, into your palm. "Put it on and press this. It'll take you out of sync with this universe long enough until this place dissolves. You'll be safe. You'll rematerialize when the universe takes form."
"Where?" you asked. "And where will I be?"
"Trust me. You don't want to know."
Colours as bright as night and day swirling through the universe, starlight and black void intertwining in sparkling mass, a billion billion Earths and Saturns and moons stirring and merging in an endless storm, yet motionless and frozen in a blinding array of light from all spectra.
The light hurt your eyes. And mine too. Except you hadn't been conscious for the first show. I had seen it before. A second ago.
The brightness of the frozen galaxy reflected in the glass until they seemed to be only made out of pure light and you were expecting them to crack any minute and have you fall into the final abyss (the final second) to join the living dead in their never-ending dance.
In the glass shadows literally seemed to be dancing, figures and shapes, like a play of the light.
All the while I whispered: "Wait."
You held each other's hands.
And Captain Nemo shouted at the end of the universe, until the anger itself became toxic to everything it touched. Even himself. And you watched him and you felt pity.
And then he felt it too.
I appeared to him in the glass, real enough, the glass channeled my thoughts and I just waited as Nemo sank into a pile of man. Helpless from the moment he was born. At least, that's what he liked to think. He would've liked to be absolved of all responsibility, released from all the blame. I know the feeling.
But he never tried. He never once tried to be the better man. The man he could've been. A great man.
"Why are you doing this?" Nemo cried. I waited.
"This is all your fault! Your fault!" The gun was empty and he threw it on the ground, if there had been ground. There was only the glass.
"You've been your own undoing, Nemo. And you could've been so much more," I told him.
He crawled and quivered in the face of my reflection.
"Look at her," I said, knowing where his gaze would lead him. "Just look at her. Look at yourself reflected in her and look at how she looks at you. Look at yourself in the eyes of an innocent and see who you really are."
He touched the pity. Tasted it. The fear, anger and disgust. But mostly the pity.
"I've made such a mess," Nemo admitted. "Now I have nothing."
"No, you don't," I said. "There's just one last thing. Just one."
Nemo looked up, defying the bright light that blinded him to look at me, and I smiled.
Something rare and so precious and invaluable.
"A second chance."
When the universe would reshape itself in the way it was the paradox would be undone, Nemo's twisted life would unravel and undo the damage once done.
He could have a new life. A new start. A better life. But only if he wants it. Only if he takes responsibility and stops being afraid.
"Dare be a better man," I said. "Don't waste this. Paradoxes don't grow on trees, you know."
And he finally understood.
The glass started to crack and I focused all my might to redirect existence one final time and in a flash we found ourselves in the TARDIS, right underneath the main control room.
I rebounded upward, rejoicing and embracing the memory of my beloved TARDIS.
Simon leaped from one confusion to another. And he hadn't even stepped aboard the real thing yet.
"Come on, Pond! We're not out of the woods yet!" I yelled, running laps around the TARDIS console. It all felt real, but I knew it really wasn't.
"HELLO!" I exclaimed spreading my arms. "Welcome to the end of the universe! Please form an orderly line while I take care of some business. Jack!"
I could tell by your faces you were overwhelmed by events. And you were still holding hands. Jack was still bleeding.
"Rule number one!" I told Jack. "Don't wander off! What's so hard about that rule? And you!"
I pointed at you and I accidentally startled you. I shouldn't have pointed. That was rude.
"That's what you Ponds do! Pondering! Stop it! And you!"
I pointed again. At Simon this time. Then I took a deep breath and straightened my jacket.
"You were right. And I'm sorry. AND YOU!"
I pointed at Nemo, still speechless and mystified and slightly peeved, but he'd be over that in a second. So I smiled.
He didn't understand. I didn't expect him to. I ran another lap around the TARDIS flipping switches that didn't really do anything. It just felt good doing it. Was it cheating? I should've been more careful...
"They were memories," I told you.
Where the glass had come from was still unknown. It must've been part of this place. No, it was from our world. Mirrors can be doorways, but the doorway was shattered, except one piece must've pierced the link, wounded time, got stuck halfway dimensions when the gap closed!
Then it was salvaged, stored and harnassed by geniusses, stolen by pirates and it had been powering Nemo's validium ship ever since. Fueled by the power of time itself, which was everything we poured into it in time's final seconds, it retroactively powered Nemo's paradox!
"The castle! This TARDIS! Are all fake. All copies. Reflections of actual places. Memories of days gone by. But very specific memories."
"So those people without faces?"
"They weren't people. They were almost people. They were memories of people. Some well-preserved, well-remembered, others forgotten."
The last word struck a cord with you I couldn't help but notice.
"Were they alive?" you asked. I deemed it a question best left unanswered.
"A dimension shaped by psychic residue. Glass shaped by temporal waste. We're both creating and ending this place at the same time and all in less than a few minutes. This must be a record!"
"Doctor," Jack said. "What are we going to do about him?"
He was most definitely referring to Nemo. And I threw it right back at him, prodding his wounded chest. "What are we going to do about you?"
The wound was beginning to take its toll on Captain Jack.
"You know what's going to happen. Don't deny it. You knew all along."
I didn't deny it.
"I say we tie him up and leave him," Simon said.
"The paradox will take care of that!" I said. "Trust me."
Nemo closed his eyes. Redemption on his mind. He didn't care to apologize or make amends. He didn't care to make peace or accept responsibility. He just wanted it to end.
He accepted death and judgment. And mercy. To expect more would've been foolish.
Then the TARDIS shook. It was ready to burst. This dimension was falling apart. Its previous host had left and now I was the only thing forcibly keeping it alive. Feeding it with my memories to shape it and maintain form and substance while the universe pounded on the doors outside to be let in.
But if I opened the doors now we would've been swept away with the tide and scattered into atoms before Simon could even fathom what an atom was. Which is in no way an insult to his intelligence, by the way.
"This pocket universe won't last long," Jack said.
"Scarecrow?" you asked and I smiled. Finally someone took the bait and I had hoped it would've been you.
"Scarecrow," I said, pointing at Nemo. "Looking for a brain. Jack, the tin man looking for a heart. Simon, the cowardly lion, looking for courage. And finally Dorothy, just looking for a way home. See what I did there?"
Finally a smile. I had been waiting for that all day.
The TARDIS shook again. The cloyster bells started to chime.
"I still don't understand, Doctor!" you yelled over the noise while I strived to maintain the TARDIS and the façade.
In the back of my mind the psychic link burned, but not to worry. I spent an entire year hooking up to a psychic sattelite network once to connect the whole of humanity, so it wouldn't be much effort to keep a small room going for just five minutes.
Then the console exploded.
Oh, by the way, I'm slightly psychic. Yes, you were right. There was so much I wasn't telling you.