Find your 42nd entry ever. Yes, this may require some counting and basic maths. Deal with it. Copy that entry in a new entry. This is the meaning of your life.
Ooh, look, it's fic! There's a shock. (Actually, this is another of those ones I wrote during S3 that I remain proud of. I'm getting dangerously close to writing some sort of "author's commentary" post; please dissuade me.)
Title: They say the past must die for the future to be born
Word count: 1500ish
Summary: What was going on inside the Doctor's head during The Christmas Invasion
Spoilers: The Parting of the Ways, The Christmas Invasion; some non-spoilery references to the The Shakespeare Code
Warnings: Overcooked symbolism, irritating typographical trickery, and a smidge of implied Doctor/Shakespeare
Acknowledgements: DW elements all owned by the Beeb, obviously; title and subtitles from "Monday Morning" by Pulp. (Er, yes, I appear to have committed something resembling songfic. Shutup.)
What are you going to be?
He has no name.
He has many names. Names to conjure with, names of power. The Oncoming Storm. The Blessed Destroyer. The Sum of Death. The Other. The Lonely God. Merlin. The Eighth Man Bound. Time's Champion. The Bringer of Darkness. Grandfather. The Doctor.
He has no name, but he names them: "Jackie! Mickey!"
Ties to Earth. But are they anchors? Or restraints?
His mind is racing; there is something important he must tell them. He babbles as he tries to remember.
There are a million million things he could tell them. Some they would be unable to comprehend. Some they would understand, but the knowledge would change history. Some they would consider utterly inconsequential.
And he collapses.
And who are you going to see?
A needlessly controversial statement. There can be no real "there" nor "is" here, in this no-place of shadow and analogy.
There is a room--
If a whole landscape is not adequate as a metaphor for the complexities of his mind, then what hope have we to understand it with a single room? And yet--
There is a room with fourteen sides.
A tetradecagon, a shape of power.
One side leads out, to an infinite corridor. In each of the other thirteen is a door. Behind each door is an entire realm that can be sculpted to its inhabitant's wishes. The first eight of the rooms are occupied, the final five stand empty.
It is a mausoleum. It is a retirement home. It is a prison.
From the blinding darkness of the corridor a figure emerges. A haunted face, with cropped hair and piercing eyes. A lean body that speaks of hidden strength, sparingly applied.
The latest corpse. The newest resident. The most recent convict.
His successor is here, waiting for him: a courtesy. He begins to lead him the long way around to the ninth door.
For the footing between the twelfth and thirteenth doors is uncertain and treacherous, and must be avoided.
"Didn't get very long, did I?" says the new arrival with an overexaggerated grin.
They are passing the second door. The man behind it says, "Well, you know what they say. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Is that what they say?"
They walk on. Between the sixth and seventh doors, the newcomer pauses. Turns to look at his successor, a penetrating gaze.
"Did you kill me?"
"The way he killed him." The pronouns are accompanied by gestures ahead and behind.
"Nonsense," says the one who will assume his mantle. "Why would I kill you? You killed yourself, by taking the Vortex energies into you. Killed yourself for her."
The name remains unspoken, but there is only one "her" it could be.
"You think I'm ineffective. Passive. Weak. You think you have to replace me for the good of the universe."
The eighth door just ahead is dark, but manic eyes shine out from within. "Pull the lever. Push the button. Do what has to be done."
"Don't worry about him," says his neighbour in a soft Scottish burr. "Quite mad, unfortunately."
"I think you killed me," the new arrival says again to his replacement.
The voice comes from the world beyond the room. It is the girl, whispering in his ear. Desperate, frightened, disoriented. But still possessing faith in him.
Their dispute is stilled by the simple plea. They look at each other. "Go to her. Go now."
And where, where will you go?
He has returned. He is doing what he does, fighting the monsters, pushing back against the darkness. The familiarity of the scenario is bolstering her faith, badly shaken by everything that has changed so suddenly.
And then he speaks. "Remote control, but who's controlling it?"
This is the Doctor. But he is still weak. She helps him outside, helps him find the controllers. But he dismisses them. "Pilot fish, they're just pilot fish."
He begins to babble again. "You woke me up too soon ..."
He is having a neuron implosion.
His last words as he slips back into his coma: "Something is coming."
And how will you know you didn't get it all wrong?
Suddenly, he is back in the tetradecagon. There is a full-blown argument in progress now between the others. He is divided against himself.
Neuron implosion. Argument. Different concepts, same phenomenon.
"Now, look here!" demands the white haired man behind the third door. "I--"
"You've nothing to be proud of," declaims a loud voice from the sixth door. "You could always rely on the Brigadier to--"
The debate is about means, and ends, what can be justified and what cannot, and whether there is even a difference between means and ends in the first place.
"Stop it, all of you," he says, with quiet authority.
They fall silent.
A good sign. He is beginning to assert control over this quarrelsome quorum. His subconscious may not be too restless, this incarnation.
"We are all of us reactions against our predecessor's weaknesses." He begins to march around the room to each door in turn. "You were old--" a harrumph from behind the door "--so you were young. But you lacked gravitas, so you were deadly serious." He smiles at the occupant of the third room. "Well, some of the time.
"But you were overconfident in your little quest for knowledge, so you had that lovely childlike wonder. Hope I inherit some of that," he says with a wink, and the curly-haired man in the fourth room seems pleased, eyes goggling out as he smiles. But his face falls as the new Doctor continues: "But you couldn't cope with Romana leaving, so you--" he points at the fifth door "--were more emotionally open. But it made you too vulnerable, so in turn you were arrogant."
"I beg your--" But he doesn't give him time to protest, instead wheeling on the man behind the seventh door. "You thought you killed him, but you know what, that's just the way you are. And you in turn were too manipulative, too scheming, so he was spontaneous and vital." He does not try to address the man in the eighth room directly. Instead, he turns to face the new arrival, now standing outside his own door. "But in the end, despite all that vitality and joie de vivre, he had to make the ultimate sacrifice, over and over and over again, and the third time he did it it broke him. And that is why you were incapable of action yourself. But you were the catalyst, the one who brought out the best in everyone else, drove people to exceed their own expectations. You were fantastic."
"So if you didn't kill me, why did I die?" he demands.
"That's what you can't face up to. The fact that what killed you was her."
The other her. The constant her who has been with him throughout his travels. Without whom he could have no travels.
"She had to rip herself apart, tie time in knots -- not to rescue you, but to prevent a disaster of cosmic proportions. She had to risk Rose's life. You had to die because of your inaction, but it wasn't me that did it."
Reluctant, but resigned, the new arrival steps into his room, his realm. As the door closes, he turns to face his successor. "Killer or coward. That's what the Emperor said. If I was the coward, what does that make you?"
"I don't know yet," comes the whispered reply.
"Don't mistake mercy for weakness," his predecessor advises.
The man behind the fifth door interrupts. "The quality of mercy is not strained," he quotes quietly. "It is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
"Blesseth him that gives and him that takes ... I can certainly think of things you did with Shakespeare that fit that description. Oooh! I'm a bit saucy, aren't I? Hey, I wonder if this will be the incarnation where I get to meet Shakespeare for the first time from his point of view? That'd be good. And what else have we still got to do?"
"None of us has been Merlin yet," points out the man two doors down.
"Ooh, yes, Merlin. I quite fancy being Merlin. What do we know about the us who'll be him?"
"It's very dangerous to know too much about one's own future," comes a stern voice from behind the first door. "Very dangerous. ... But I think we can safely say that he has ginger hair."
There is a signal, from the real world at the end of the impossible corridor.
Tannins, tickling at his synapses. Free radicals freeing his mind.
"Got to go. See you all in dreams."
He walks quickly to the exit.
He takes the direct route, past the empty rooms, the first of which he knows will be his own at some point in the future.
Is this the light of a new day dawning? A future bright that you can walk in?
He does what he always does. He does what needs to be done to remove the immediate jeopardy.
He is a hero. He is the Doctor, as he always has been. As he always will be, until the thirteenth room is filled.
But it is only a holding action for now - the Sycorax can wait. He has more important concerns. He turns to the girl. "How do I look?"
"Good different or bad different?"
"Am I ... ginger?"
So, the meaning of my life is subtly Nine-bashing, NA-referencing Doctor Who fanfic with Pulp lyrics. And you know what? I can cope with that.