They brought him in on the stretcher bed, already fever-struck, his temperature dropping, his body shaking like a man in a demon's grasp.
The doctor looked up as they set the bed down.
Fitz's voice, the man on the bed thought. That /has/ to be Fitz. What's he doing here?
'Critical.' the technician - Lee? Was that Lee? - said. 'Anti-time infection. Think he's Patient Zero.'
'Jumped to him.' Fitz's face twisted. 'Poor bastard. Solutions?'
Lee shook his head. 'None I know. He looks like he's ready to let loose.'
'And once that's done, we're all screwed.' Fitz sighed. 'Advice?'
'Kill him.' another voice - the nurse? - said flatly. 'Kill him now. It's the only way to contain it.'
Don't, he tried to say. Don't. There has to be another way. Don't do this.
'Two scalpels, please.'
The nurse passed them to the doctor silently.
The doctor looked down into his face. 'I'm sorry. I really am.
'But there's no alternative.'
The scalpels plunged home.
The Doctor's eyes fluttered open.
He checked his chest. No scalpel. No injury.
He sat in the shade of an overhanging oak, in the middle of a forest.
'A dream sequence.' he muttered sourly. 'Great. Those always go well. Wonder what this one's going to be about?'
A harsh whisper echoed from the trees, a familiar whisper, one he should know, should remember...
+Zagreus sits inside your head
Zagreus lives among the dead
Zagreus sees you in your bed
And eats you when you are sleeping...+
'Why are you doing this?' the Doctor said quietly. 'What do you want?'
+I have everything I want.+ the voice said. +And soon, there will be nothing I want.
+As for why this is happening... Nosce te Ipsum, Doctor.
+Nosce te Ipsum.+
He's flying, flying above an endless blue ocean.
Peter Pan, he thinks. That's what Charley called me. Peter Pan. The boy who never grew up. Living in Never-Never Land...
But every dream has to end sometime.
And if the reality is worse than the dream?
He sees a speck in the sky, a dot... heading towards him? Yes... yes, distance is hard to judge, but /approaching.../
He's reminded of the crocodile, the crocodile who swallowed the clock - tick-tock, tick-tock, following Hook, tick-tock, tick-tock...
Hungry for more.
Hungry for what?
He sees it now, sees it clearly. A Vortisaur. One of the predators of the Vortex, hungry...
There are worse predators.
His own thought, or someone else's?
It's almost upon him now, mouth wide open, ready to bite.
Ready to feed.
He stands in the dock of a courtroom.
Trial again. Always being judged, being held responsible.
Am I responsible?
What did I do?
He looks at the prosecutor's side, and is unsurprised to see Fey and Shayde there.
He almost expects there to be no-one on the defender's side, but there is. Izzy as she is now, the fish girl, not the girl she was.
In the jury box, six jurors. Compassion. Fitz. Sam. Stacy. Lee. Anji.
Behind him, the hulking form of the bailiff - or should that be executioner, he wonders - Ssard.
'All rise,' the bailiff rumbles. 'for Her Honour, Charlotte Elspeth Pollard.'
The judge enters the room.
He can see where this is going.
'Can I just say I plead guilty, and be done with it?' he asks no-one in particular. 'I always hate trials. Much better with executions.'
'You could.' Shayde says, his voice low. 'You could, but it would be too easy.'
'And too many people,' Fey says, 'have put their effort into this to let it end now.'
'Got to give the public a show for their money?' he wonders idly. 'Never let it be said I never put on a show.'
'You do.' Izzy says. 'That's the trouble.'
REM sleep, he thinks to himself. Rapid-cut dreams, scene to scene, each scene making little sense...
...but put them all together...
No time, no /time.../
Don't think, don't think about what it means, what's happening, avoid, evade...
Why? he wonders. Isn't that what he does? Deduce, work out, guess, intuit - and then solve? Why would he want to avoid a question?
What is your name?
Perhaps. Maybe. Ask me again tomorrow.
Such a paradox, a man who solves mysteries, secrets... yet is just as much a mystery and a secret as those he meets.
Don't /you/ want to be solved? Don't you want to be revealed, all your mysteries opened up for the world to see? Confession is good for the soul, Doctor.
What's there to confess? The past is another country; they do things differently there.
What's done is done, and the future waits before me.
So it does.
But whose future?
Zagreus the destroyer.
...That wasn't very funny.
Wasn't it? I thought it was.
He remembered this place - that little bookshop on Oxford Street, back in 1933, where Charley had caught sight of that first edition 'Oliver Twist'.
A wonderful little place, filled with hidden nooks and crannies - he loved places like those, could spend hours upon hours looking through them, seeing what treasures, what answers, they'd offer up.
Charley. That was who it came back to.
Charley and Zagreus.
Charley /is/ Zagreus?
He dismissed the idea almost immediately - didn't fit, didn't make sense.
Charley and Zagreus.
Charley telling him he was Peter Pan, him telling her about Zagreus, about that old nursery rhyme Aunt Flavia had told him, Charley sitting in judgment of him...
That voice... Zagreus's voice, he knew it, was certain of it, as certain that his hand was attached to his arm.
He checked, just in case. Good, still there.
Nosce te Ipsum, it had told him. 'Know thyself'.
Know thyself, and know why this is happening.
Infected, he wondered? Have I been infected by Zagreus? Is that why this is happening? Infected with anti-time?
Close, so close... but so far, the answer almost there, almost within his grasp.
Zagreus is a myth. A tale made up by unreal people, Never people, to lure the unwary to their lair. A myth that claims Rassilon is lost, lost in anti-time...
...but he wasn't.
He should know.
He'd met him. Met him in his tomb, in the Dark Tower on Gallifrey... met him in the Matrix, where he watched his children, the Children of Rassilon, carry out their duties.
He'd met him, told him why this was happening, why the Web of Time was falling apart.
Because he'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because Charley had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He'd saved her, saved her from the R101 - a wreck where everyone on board should have died, had died - but he'd saved her, saved one person -
- and caused a breach in space-time. A way for the creatures of anti-time to enter this Universe.
Making her - making Charley - the gate and the way, the way into the universe of Time.
Rassilon created the Eye of Harmony, stabilising the Universe, establishing /time/, establishing causality, that one thing causes another, that there is past and present and future, bound together in the Web of Time, and things would not flux, or wither, or change their state.
They really ought to find some new words for English, he mused.
So anti-time would be the antithesis. Endless entropy, no past, no future, only the eternal now - infecting, twisting, distorting time. Spreading like an infection, changing things as it goes.
And the Neverpeople, the creatures of anti-time... created from those /in/ time, created when someone was erased from time - for if they had never existed, never been a part of time, then they became part of anti-time.
Wanting justice. Wanting revenge. For themselves, only for themselves, caring nothing that the creatures of time would suffer and hurt... only that they finally got revenge on those who destroyed them.
On his people. On the Time Lords.
For they had /been/ Time Lords. Hundreds and thousands of Time Lords, murdered over the years, murdered for daring to threaten the CIA's oh so precious stability, their security.
Purging, they called that on Earth. Purging the dissenters. The ones no-one will miss, the ones who dig too deep, learn too much, ask too many questions...
There were times, he reflected, when his homeworld reminded him of Orwell's '1984'. Or Huxley's 'Brave New World'. They'd never been there - but they'd captured its spirit almost too well.
Almost Kafkaesque in its insanity, its fanatical devotion to the rules of order...
...but he couldn't let billions of innocents suffer for the crimes of a few, not and stay the Doctor.
Anti-time coming through the breach, through Charley, spilling into reality faster and faster, further and further...
...only the Eye holding things together, only the Matrix remembering the way things used to be...
...but it's not enough, things are still holding together, they need to break the Web, break the Universe.
And so the plan, the lure. Bring someone from the world of time to the world of anti-time, offer up a bait, a prize...
...like, say, Rassilon himself. Or his body.
To those who knew nothing of the Death Zone - and most didn't - there would be no reason to doubt, no reason to disbelieve...
...except for one gaping hole.
What had been the breach that allowed /Rassilon/ entrance? There /was/ no entrance until Charley...
And rationalisation would fill *that* hole.
Slip the story into the myths, the legends, the folk tales and nursery rhymes. People will believe /those/, even if they don't believe the official accounts, will find the seed of truth - or what they think is the seed of truth - within.
Will come for the bait the Neverpeople offered. A tainted lure. A booby trap.
Anti-time, sealed within a Zero Cabinet, isolated from time and anti-time.
Waiting for the moment, waiting for the time.
When it's brought into Time, brought to Gallifrey...
...and explodes, breaking the last strands of the Web.
He stopped. Replaced the book he'd been flicking through, unreading, unseeing.
He knew. Oh yes, he knew.
He went up to the counter. Looked around - no-one there.
Only to be expected, really.
'Well?' the Doctor said. 'Don't you think it's time we dropped the charade? We're both adults here.'
+Oh?+ Zagreus said. +And have you worked it out, then?+
The Doctor's voice was cool, lacking warmth. 'Know thyself. And I know myself. I know what happened, what I've been trying to tell myself. A little time to myself, with a good book, and it soon falls into place.
'Infected by Zagreus...' The Doctor chuckled hollowly. 'Hardly. Or exactly, depending on the way you look at it.
'There was... there was going to be an explosion, an explosion of anti-time, an explosion that would rip Time apart, leave nothing but the endless Now.
'But I materialised my Ship around it, contained it within her.
'Or contained it within me.
'I absorbed the anti-time the explosion released, contained it within myself. With the breach - with Charley's survival - resolved in her favour, there was nowhere for it to go - except into me.
'I am become Zagreus. And Zagreus is become me.'
+Congratulations.+ the voice, Zagreus's voice - his *own* voice - said. +Let us end the game. Now.+
Blackness. Nothingness. Void.
And from the void, a voice.
+You were close, Doctor.+ Zagreus said. +Once the story was over, you could have changed back. Become yourself once more. But... you had the power of anti-time, the power of Zagreus...
+Had *become* Zagreus - made the lie a truth, made the myth reality. And you embraced it.
+But something in you did not accept it, /could not/ accept such a fundamental change to everything we were. Knew there were other places, other times, where you /could not be/ Zagreus, for to do so would be to break the Web.
+But Zagreus /is/ the breaking of the Web, the shattering of Time. The destroyer come at last. The power to remake the world. To end the world.+
'The enemy within...' the Doctor murmured. 'The Valeyard would be displeased.'
+But I am other than he, other than the ghost of your future, the darkness within. I /am/ you - and you are becoming me.+
'And there's no way for me to remove the anti-time. You know that as well as I.' the Doctor murmured, almost to himself. 'With the breach closed, there was nowhere else for it to go. I contain it. I /cannot/ negate it - because you will return, you /must/ return, to continue the story, to learn what happens next.'
'But that isn't enough for us, is it? We could walk the worlds, break Time... avatar of vengeance, of destruction. Even were we killed, even *could* we be killed, we would still return... Who could stand in our way? Who could stand against us?
'We sweep across the worlds, across the planes, leaving nothing in our wake. Entropy. Devastation. Dissolution.
'Our time will be the end of Time. Our moment, Time's undoing. Living at the end of the world, because we are the end of the world.'
The Doctor's gaze flicked upwards. 'But you haven't won. I'm still here - I am that part of us that rejects what you offer, what you hold out to us. That knows you, and will let you go no further. I cannot be rid of you - but I will stop you where you stand.'
'Or, to put it another way, Zaggie...
'COME AND HAVE A GO IF YOU THINK YOU'RE HARD ENOUGH!!'
+I thought you'd never ask.+
Judgment comes due, Charley's voice whispered. Are you responsible?
I am, he answered. Oh, Charley... I am.
The void exploded-
The world swam into view around him.
Room... /his/ room, his bedroom, in the TARDIS. Figures... dark figures, reaching for him, holding him down, ready to take him back-
'It's okay...' he gasped. 'It's okay.'
'Compassion?' a voice - Fey's - said.
'Anti-time contained.' Compassion's voice said. 'Integrated into his biodata... but contained.'
'Doctor?' Izzy's voice, concerned. 'Doctor, that *is* you, right?'
'It is.' he said. 'It's me.'
He hauled himself up from the bed, looked around the room, at his companions, taking everything in, spilling out what they had to know. 'Listen - listen, *please*. Zagreus isn't gone. He's still-' He tapped his head. '-in here. Still a threat. Still a danger. Waiting for his time - and his time will be the end of Time.
'But until then...' He took a deep breath. 'I am the man who collects model trains and rescues lost kittens, who defeats the monsters without becoming a monster, who saves the world before breakfast.
'That's our boy,' Fitz said, grinning. 'That's our boy.'
The Doctor rubbed his chin. 'Ow. That still smarts.'
'Lucky for Charley,' Stacy said. 'If your chin had been any stronger, I don't know /what/ we'd have done.'
'Yeah. Evil Doc not really on the agenda list, know what I'm saying?' Lee commented.
'Although we do have certain contingency plans...' Compassion said blithely, ignoring the glares the others shot her way.
The Doctor grinned. 'Thanks for that, Compassion...'
'What I want to know,' Anji said, 'is whether or not this counts as an Adaptation.'
'I hope not,' Ssard said.
'Knowing our luck, that probably means "yes".' Sam gave the Doctor a enormous bear hug. 'And if you don't mind me saying, you and a Beard of Evil? Not a good match.'
'Oh, I don't know...' the Doctor mused.
Sam grinned, and boinged him on the nose.
'Before we get any further, there's someone here who needs to see you.' Fey stepped aside to reveal a downcast Charley Pollard.
'Hey, Charley... hey, don't cry, this wasn't your fault.'
'It /was/.' Charley sniffled. 'If it hadn't been for me, if I hadn't decided to get on board, none of this would have happened...'
'You didn't know,' the Doctor told her gently. 'And when you /did/ know, you did everything you could to set it right. If it hadn't been for you, none of this would have been put right. You helped bring the boy who could fly back down to earth.
'But in the end, it was my choice to make. My decision.
'The Universe, my friends... or myself?
'It was a painfully easy choice to make.
'And if it means I have Mr Big-Scary-Mythological-Destroyer rattling around in my head...' The Doctor shrugged. 'There are worse prices to pay, believe me.'
'I know...' Charley whispered. 'I know...'
'Come here,' the Doctor said, folding Charley into a massive hug. 'Your eyes are all swollen... hankie, where'd I put my hankie...?'
'Here you go,' Anji said, not entirely managing to stifle a sniffle of her own.
'We're gonna get all weepy and soppy about this, aren't we?' Fitz said to the room at large.
'So?' Compassion said.
'Just wanna be sure before I start blubbing like a baby-man, is all...'
'We're gonna need more hankies.' Lee announced.
'Cam, where did you get that- no, don't tell me, I don't wanna know...'
The Doctor relaxed, letting himself smile, watching his friends bicker and banter in the way only people who care about each other can.
+My time will be soon.+ the voice in his head said. +And you will not stop me.+
But your time is not today, the Doctor said.
He regarded his friends.
Today is my time, and theirs.
And that you cannot take from them.
+We shall see. We shall see.+
So we shall. But not today.
For today, I am the Doctor.
And the day is mine.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat.