A Few Good Men
Gustave Eiffel's hands were shaking.
"Tell me what happened," the general asked.
He had been interviewing witnesses to the spectacle from dusk till dawn. He hadn't slept or eaten. Usually around that time of day it would've been time for his second breakfast but he skipped it that morning. He would only feed on information that day. I know of species in the Viridia Monassaria cluster that literally do. One-eyed creatures called Oracles that literally starved to death when they were all out of things to say to each other and similarly the general grew tired of the constant pauses in the conversation. Eiffel grew weary of repeating his story.
A servant boy brought the architect a drink but all the old man could see in his eyes was his son. The general quickly dismissed the boy.
"There was a light and a door," Eiffel said when he remembered the hour he spent in the dark trapped in the catacombs of Paris. "The Doctor saved my life."
"That wasn't what you said before," the general persisted.
"What did I say before?"
"That it wasn't supposed to have happened."
He wasn't the only one to obfuscate what little truth they thought they knew.Buffalo Bill Cody laughed in the general's face. He had no respect for bureaucrats like him.
"The Doctor's one weird fellow," he said. "But I like him. He's smart. And funny. Not afraid to get his hands dirty."
Annie Oakley kept going on about how she would shoot any pirate that dared to come back, while the Native American Sioux Sitting Bull never acknowledged any one of the general's answers. He just sort of stared into the dark. Afterwards, the general could've sworn he heard both of them laughing.
I imagine it wasn't one of the general's better days trapped in the same room with people constantly saying good things about me. I tend to have that effect. Of course, others weren't as generous as Bill Cody. Most of them were barely aware of what had gone on. Some thought I'd endangered their lives. Others barely got half of the conversation right when they spoke of how I put the entire universe in jeopardy. Or saved it.
But there was one man who got the whole story. The intrepid reporter I called him. The accuser. I stood accused.
"I warned you, didn't I?" he told the general as the room filled with cigarette smoke.
Simon de Leeuw was a good man. A timid and quiet man, never before known for his temper, only his secrets. So he fit right in with an organization that dealt with them. He was MI-6 before there even was an MI-6. UNIT before there was a UNIT.He started as just a pen-pusher. Simon had never dared to stand up for anything before.
But he'd read about me. Researched me. Followed me. I would dare say he was a fan. He read about my history in files like pulp adventure novels. Gobbling them up. But there was always something in the back of his head nagging at him.
It wasn't envy. Or maybe it was. It wasn't even anger. Something was simply wrong. He had an eye for injustice. But I never said I was just.
"I would've arrested him if I could have," Simon told the general.
Humans. Whatever happened to you? You used to be cavedwelling scavengers drawing with animal blood or plant die on cavern walls. Huddled together in the dark around a flickering flame, fighting for survival across the tundras of Africa a million lightyears away in the past.
Now look at you.
This ordinary man stood among the biggest of characters the universe had ever seen and he told us off with a wag of his finger. Mankind ever going where angels fear to tread. Good for you!
Was he wrong?
We had raced off into the sunset, one last run, to save Nikola Tesla from dying.
"Okay! We're gonna do this, Simon! Amy!" I said. "We're gonna save history!"
I ran to the console aiming to impress or dazzle, trying to make everyone forget about all the bad. Trying to make myself forget.
And in the process I'd forgotten all about Nemo.
I remembered my promise to him while Simon only remembered the crimes and threats he had made against so many people. Amy remembered when she was inside his mind. And Nemo remembered things that never happened, but did. New memories of a new life emerged from within him as time was being rewritten.
His ship was lost in time. All the other Nemoes erased. There was only one now. Like Highlander.
"NO!" Nemo screamed. Good, the voices were back. "That never happened!"
I pointed Simon and Amy to the chairs where they could lay down Nikola. Amy didn't realize Jack had been left behind in France until the TARDIS had fully well departed.
"Where's Jack?" she insisted to know.
"In a better place," I answered absently. Timing's not her best asset. My eyes were fixed on Nemo's fragile mind. He could snap at any second or fall apart. His mind was being rewritten.
The walls were closing in on him. The TARDIS suddenly wasn't that big on the inside anymore. Not to him.
The TARDIS experienced more turbulence then. Her spacial dampeners were still recuperating and there were still some glitches that needed to be fixed, but generally soaking up the remaining rift energy had done her good. Apart from a few sparks and bumps.
Nemo was standing in the mouth of madness and it would take him everything to not get eaten.
"Nemo, listen to me. The memories you're experiencing now are your own. They're yours. They're real. They happened."
"This is not who I am! What are you doing to me? This didn't happen!"
"Trust me. They did. This is your life. Didn't I tell you? This is your life rewinding itself. Spinning backwards towards the present. Tell us what you see, Nemo. Tell us about your life."
He was hyperventilating. I looked over to Amy and Simon but it was already too late. I could barely catch him as he fell and fainted. Struck by dizziness, Nemo turned pale and clung to the railings while he half laid on the floor while the whole of time and space was filling up the holes in his mind.
The timeline was healing itself and Nemo experienced it real-time.
The TARDIS console was still hot to the touch, almost as if she was cross. I had to reassure her we were almost there.
"Why are you helping that man?" Simon said.
If it had been any other man but me he would've hesitated. Any normal man and he would've sympathized. But not me. We wielded the power of the gods and with that power came responsibilities.
"He did this! He doesn't care! He doesn't care about anyone!"
"He didn't do this," I told Simon and I gripped the railings heaving back and forth with every breath. I was angry.
Angry at myself.
Sometimes you have to stop running. Sometimes you have to own up to your mistakes and admit when you were wrong. Take responsibility for your actions. I did this. Simon was right.Right from the very beginning.
I try to do better but people always die. Stories always end and not all of them have happy endings. Especially mine.
"The Doctor will fix it," Amy told Simon. "He always does."
"He travels through our lives like a man skimming through a book and writing himself into our stories. And does he ever consider the lives he changes? The lives he leaves behind? By what right, I ask? This time-machine is an abomination!"
And yet it had just saved his life! Give credit where credit is due.
Suddenly out of nowhere Nikola Tesla returned to life and started to scream and convulse like a man on fire. He was breaking through. There was still a part of him connected. He could still be saved. And I knew it.
I did a double take, looked from Nemo to Nikola and back again and still managed to beat Simon to the bench they had propped him on so I could keep him back, but before I could even manage to utter the words: 'Don't touch him!' he'd stopped. Like it had never happened.
Except for the smoke that was slowly rising from his jacket begged to differ. Simon pushed my arm away.
I was smiling and I really shouldn't have. That was wrong of me. Bad Doctor.
"Are you enjoying this?" Simon said.
I ran back to the TARDIS controle panel. Internal sensors would do the trick.
"Something's blocking the signal. Time's trying to heal itself, but something's stopping it...oh."
"Oh, what?" Amy said. "OH WHAT, Doctor?"
It's like we removed an exotic animal from its natural habitat. He can't adjust. He can't fit in. He can't connect with this world. This is not his world. He's dying.
"Something happened to time," I said, becoming more frantic with every passing second. "This is a wound in time. He is wounded. He IS the wound!"
A high pitched scream filled the TARDIS and then something started banging on the outside of the door. And again, as if something was scratching it violently, trying to get in. Claws started to shake the TARDIS. Then there was more screaming. More scratching. The TARDIS overloaded with sparks as it fought off these attacks and the lights went down before it switched to secondary back-up lighting. A dark moody green hue descended upon the control room.
"They're here," I said and perhaps I should've sounded less scared there. I didn't mean to frighten them. The monsters did.
"For Nikola," I added.
The Reapers had come to heal the wound in time just like they had before. Incredible creatures. Vultures sapping away at the age of the TARDIS and draining the power. Poor girl wasn't done defending us. But I wasn't called the Doctor for nothing.
"What's happening? What's out there?" Simon asked.
"Monsters," Amy said facing the door. "From the time-vortex."
When the banging grew louder she flinched but she wouldn't give up.
"Doctor," she said staring at the TARDIS doors. "I'm really tired. The guy I fancied was just put on a bus and we're about to be devoured like a can of worms. Can we please finish this?"
Her wish was my command.
"I thought you'd never ask!" I said as I socked the wibbley lever. That really hurt.
This wasn't the time nor place. I thought I could shake off Simon and the Nameless's words but they had dug deeper than I thought.I felt as if I had been the one disconnected from time and desperate to reconnect, not Nikola.
Saving him would not save me, but that wasn't why I was doing it. I did it because it was the right thing to do.
Smooth sailing turned to turbulent waters. The shrieks of the temporal creatures faded but they would be back. Now it was time to return to Earth. Bring Nikola back to his natural habitat.
Paris was about to suffer another massive blackout. The first of many.
The general was still holding his interviews by candle light. He was restless. I think he was trying to get back at me somehow or find me like a hunter tracks its prey through the tracks I left behind. But where I went he could not folow. All that was left were the impressions I had left on the people I had met. Their stories would survive me after I was long gone.
After so many hours trapped in that dank office the general was about to give up, because he'd heard the same stories over a dozen times now, just told from different perspectives. And in every story I was there. Just out of his reach. He was beginning to lose his patience with this game.
He would soon have to start writing his report to Prime Minister Sadi Carnot and he wasn't going to be happy about the results.
I'd already been banished by Queen Victoria and I didn't need the French to add to that. Napoleon was worse enough.
The ripples of the temporal meltdown had left most of the world completely oblivious. The farther away from the centre of the rift the less they had felt its effects. Carnot was in his office in Paris when it struck and he was no doubt now looking for a scapegoat, as all politicians do.
"Who is this Nemo?" the general asked Simon. The Dutchman nervously pulled his own moustache.
"More stories..." Simon said. "Too many to count."
"Just tell me one," the general replied brusk.
"I'll tell you his. You think the story may start with Jules Verne's novel. Remember that? Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Fout. The evolution of this character is a tangled woven web of half-truths and lies. Nobody knows the truth. Not even Nemo himself. The Doctor changed history. The Doctor changed his memories. He didn't even know who he was."
"You're testing my patience."
"But we were about to find out," Simon said. "I asked him when his senses returned to him. I faced the man and made him look at Tesla. I wanted to know. I asked him what he felt. Whether he cared at all. And he just looked at miss Pond. He just looked at her. I can't describe it."
"I don't know. But I think because...because he didn't know how to feel. Or at least that's what the Doctor said. He asked miss Pond what she felt."
"What did she say?"
"Nothing. None of them did. I don't know who those people were but they weren't human. They were just as disconnected from the world as Nikola was. I don't know. Maybe I was too.
"Maybe that's what happens when you travel with the Doctor. You lose something of yourself along the way. Travel long enough and you'll eventually lose your humanity. You're no longer living. You're visiting other people's lives. The Doctor doesn't have any friends. They don't know him. Not even Amy knows the Doctor. I've studied him for years and I haven't even scratched the surface. I knew less about the Doctor than I did about Nemo. At least Nemo was honest."
"What did he look like?"
"Thin, like a wraith. Slightly darker skin, but pale and depraved, frail like a starving man and eyes like someone who had just seen a ghost; lost and bewildered, the streak of wildebeast and an animal trapped inside the body of a prince. He was dangerous and violent, but there was something in the way he lit up in his waking moments...I don't know, but it scared me. More than it did the violence. He looked straight through me..."
Simon clutched his silver necklace and kissed the cross hanging around his neck.
"It's the same look the Doctor has all the time," he concluded.
"Why are you telling me all this, Doctor?" Denise asked and he smiled.
"Look at you lot," the Doctor said as he looked around the hospital from face to face. Beaming.
"You're not lions lead by donkeys. You're brave."
The Doctor didn't like soldiers. He'd been one himself. Yet he saw the plight in their eyes. He saw them.
"Was Nikola Tesla more important than ten of you? Or a hundred?"
The Doctor wanted to say yes, but he couldn't. He couldn't bear to say those words. Or even think it. He slid a sweaty hand across his mouth. Thought pounded his brain.
"Who determines who is important? Who gets to do that? By what right? Do I? Does time itself? Can time not be rewritten? By what right do I judge you little?
That's why the Time Lords swore never to interfere. To only watch time unfold. But then they created weapon after weapon, nightmare after nightmare and the war to end all wars. And for once all the important people died and all the little people lived.
That day, fittingly, was the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille. The little people taking down the big people. What right did they have? They had every right. Power brings responsibility. And when you have the power to change time itself...
That's why I have so many rules...
And Gustave Eiffel's hands didn't stop shaking because he knew. And Simon knew.
Saving Nikola was easy. I just had to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. Quite literally since his neutrons were all in the wrong order. Took quite a punch to fire up Frankenstein's monster. Nikola Tesla was already brilliant, but we simply made him impossible. His work would inspire millions.
But saving history came at a price. And we knew that from the beginning.
I always wonder whether I knew all along and I just didn't want to know. Maybe I lied to myself. Rule one. I left Jack with Bernárd knowing what would happen, didn't I? I told myself I was busy.
I was juggling too many balls and I was bound to drop one. I was destined to drop one. I was busy saving Nikola, busy saving the world, busy CARING about the IMPORTANT PEOPLE.
The night Bernárd died was one of the coldest nights in the history of Paris, like all of the heat had been sucked out of the day. A small drizzle turned to snow.
It was a Monday.