The early years of the Time War were the prime definition of “Hell.”
The war between Time Lords and Daleks for the sake of all creation; it seemed to have never ended in the decades it waged on. Millions were killed, only to be brought back to life every second. Women and children burned in the streets, their screams carrying into the halls of the Citadel.
Candace “Zoe” Curtsinger could hear them…she could hear all of it…trapped in a holding cell within the Citadel. She was brought to Gallifrey by means that were entirely vague to her. Rassilon’s experiments and tests wiped out a fraction of her memory. The last thing she could remember was running from the Gallifreyan guardsmen that abducted her from the barn in the Drylands – the place she called home for as long as she had been living on Gallifrey.
The Doctor left her there with people he could trust, including his old companion, Leela, a savage woman who apparently knew Zoe by her Gallifreyan birth name, “Neas.” Zoe never got the chance to ask her how she knew it, except for possibly the chance that the Doctor told her. And yet there was the question of how he knew it himself.
Months and years of being held captive in the Citadel, with the Time War raging beyond the walls, Zoe wondered if the Doctor would ever come back for her. She figured he had forgotten her entirely, unaware of the nightmare that had befallen his homeworld…that had befallen her.
Rassilon did something to Zoe’s body, injecting it with dosage after dosage of something he called “Regen-8,” a liquid substance that glowed gold. After every injection, Zoe would see her veins glow the same way, burning inside her. It was torture at the most extreme level, but she managed to stay alive, getting stronger every day.
According to Rassilon, a part of her that had been living dormant since her birth awakened.
It didn’t make any sense to her. Not that it would have, as insane as Rassilon was.
His day of reckoning – the day Zoe had longed for – finally came when word got out that the Doctor infiltrated the Citadel. Initially, it was believed that the Daleks were the real perpetrators of the attack, citing the barbaric nature of the infiltration; but that was not the case. It was the Doctor for sure, or at least a new incarnation of himself that no longer went by the rules of his predecessors. This Doctor was young and robust, angry and unrelenting. He was not the same man Zoe once traveled with.
By appearance, he even looked as much a warrior as his reputation made him out as. The young man who barged into Zoe’s holding cell carried a stern, determined, and clean-shaven face with green eyes and messy brown hair.
“Well, what are you waiting for? An invitation? Let’s get the hell out of here!”
Zoe was frozen in a state of disbelief (and enchantment) of her dashing young rescuer. There were so many questions she had for him, but no time to ask them. They had to escape the Citadel before Rassilon’s forces caught up with them.
Through all the excitement, Zoe – for the first time – discovered what all those years of Rassilon’s crude experiments had done to her. The first thing she noticed was how boisterous her heartbeat was. She assumed it was all the running across the Citadel halls, until she felt the beats coming from both sides of her bosom.
“I’ve got two hearts?!” she exclaimed in her surprise. “How did that happen?”
“Worry about it later,” the Doctor belayed as they momentarily huddled against a wall to hide from passing soldiers.
“No!” Zoe refuted, loud enough to be shushed by the Doctor. “I’m not gonna ‘worry about it later.’ I’m gonna worry about it now, ‘cause it’s freakin’ me out! What did Rassilon do to me?”
It was clear that the Doctor didn’t want to waste any time on the subject, yet he subjugated himself to providing a brief explanation that would appease the terrified girl. “He unlocked the Gallifreyan half of your hybrid DNA and made them your dominant genes,” he told her.
Zoe’s ability to comprehend his complex clarification surprised her more than the clarification itself. For all she understood of this “upgrade” she received, it influenced her mind as well, enabling her to be at the same level of intelligence as the Doctor.
All of it frightened her even more. “Is it permanent?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “That really depends on how long you last until regeneration.”
Zoe frowned. “Regeneration?”
“As a Time Lord, you’ll find out there’s a talent you possess that’ll give you the upper hand at cheating death. That is regeneration.”
“That doesn’t sound all that bad.” Zoe breathed a sigh of relief.
“Don’t mistake it for immortality,” the Doctor cautioned. “You can still die, even in regeneration…and that in itself is like death. You’ll no longer be you anymore. You’ll be someone else…an entirely new person.”
Just when Zoe had a second of release from this sudden change in her life, the Doctor completely crushed it with that bombshell. She would have wanted him to elaborate, had they not been suddenly discovered by a group of Citadel guards.
“Doctor,” the leader bellowed. “Give up the test subject now and come quietly!”
“I am not the Doctor! No more!”
“Did he just call me a ‘test subject’?!” an infuriated Zoe exclaimed. In her fury, she lunged at the soldiers, catching them off guard. With quick reflexes and acrobatic skill (more enhancements from her Time Lord conversion), she took every single one of them down. She barely had a moment to take in what she just did as she and the Doctor grabbed the guardsmen’s fusion blasters and blasted their way out of the Citadel.
They made it far out across the Drylands, reaching the old barn.
“You realize this’ll be the first place they’ll look for us,” Zoe forewarned.
“We’ll only be here temporarily,” the Doctor said. “The TARDIS isn’t very far from here. As soon as we’ve had a moment to rest, we’ll be on our way again.”
Truthfully, Zoe didn’t feel all that tired. Her hearts (still getting used to using the plural form) raced, beating through her chest like an endless drum solo. The events of the last hour were nothing short of exciting and not in the fun way. Rassilon would not stop in looking for her – his most prized possession – even if it meant pausing the Time War long enough to scour all of Gallifrey for her.
The moment of rest that the Doctor brought them to the barn for only lasted for a minute. They heard sudden movement from outside. Through the gaps between the wall planks, they could make out a figure. “Looks to be a single foot soldier,” the Doctor indicated, “which is rather odd…unless it’s a scout.”
It didn’t matter any to Zoe. She just wanted the guard to be on his way.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get her wish. The lone soldier burst his way into the barn, prompting Zoe to take him out the same way she did before with the others. This one, however, showed to have stronger, quicker reflexes than Zoe, blocking all of her kicks and punches. The conflict ended within a second, as soon as he delivered a fierce kick to her chest.
The blow not only sent her flying and crashing through a couple of pillars, it also stopped one of her hearts. There she lied on the floor, gasping for breath, while the super soldier began to advance on her. Only the Doctor barred his way, attempting to use Venusian Aikido on the man. His first method – immobilizing his opponent by using pressure points – had no effect whatsoever. So, he then tried to throw him to the ground. The man hardly budged an inch. He weighs like a ton, the Doctor thought in confusion.
To his misfortune, the Doctor fell victim to his own maneuver, tossed aside with such unbelievable force that he crashed through the wall. With the Doctor no longer a threat to him, the invincible guard moved on the tormented Zoe, who continued writhing on the ground.
What appeared to be her perpetual end for a brief second was thwarted just as another contender entered the clash. The mysterious individual’s hands ripped through the barn walls, snatching the guardsman by the shoulders and pulling him outside. The Doctor, who was already outside the barn, regained his senses in time to see the guard’s new challenger: a woman of tall stature with hair as black as a raven, dressed in Earth clothes. He had no idea who she was or where she came from; he was just thankful she showed when she did.
The woman and the soldier brawled over the sandy terrain, kicking up clouds in their tumble. Their exchange was fierce, both throwing hits that damaged their external physiologies. It was then that the Doctor discovered the truth about these supposedly enhanced people, as he noticed the face of the guardsman shredded apart, revealing a metal endoskeleton underneath.
Cyborgs! Not Cybermen, thank goodness…but just as deadly, it’d appear.
The Doctor scrambled for his fusion blaster, which had been left inside the barn. Once he stepped back out with it, he fired a few shots on the cyborg soldier, further damaging his fleshy exterior. Its body shut down and hit the ground with a loud, metallic thud. He then set his sights on the other cyborg: the dark-haired woman. “Friend or foe?” he asked her, taking aim.
The woman, with her right eye torn away to expose an optical receptor that whirred when it moved, looked on the Doctor while peacefully raising her hands. “Friend…definitely friend,” she answered.
“Then help me save my other friend.”
They both rushed back into the barn, leaving behind the decommissioned cyborg guardsman to rot or rust in the harsh heat of the sun. The dark-haired woman went to Zoe and placed one of her hands over the girl’s chest; a blue light manifested in the space between. Zoe’s body jolted, wheezing and coughing before drifting into unconsciousness.
The Doctor retrieved a stethoscope from his leather overcoat, using it to listen to Zoe’s heartbeats. “Got ’em both working again,” he said in relief. He pocketed the stethoscope back into his coat and looked on the cyborg woman. “Was that an EMP pulse you used on her?”
She confirmed his suspicion with a gentle nod. “It was designed to do the opposite, before I was reprogrammed.”
“Who are you?” the Doctor asked. “How did you know we were in danger this far out in the Drylands?”
The woman’s demeanor was melancholic as she explained, “I’m a friend from the future. That Time Lord soldier that tried to kill Zoe was a Terminator sent back through time and between dimensions to prevent Zoe from eventually winning the war.”
The Doctor scoffed. “Well, I won’t pretend to know what a ‘Terminator’ is, but it’ll have to do more than kill Zoe to win the Time War.”
“I don’t mean the Time War,” the woman clarified. “I mean another war – one far much worse than the Time War.”
“What war could be far worse than this one?”
The woman desolately indicated her exposed cybernetic eye socket. “The one that turned me into this.”