Then and Now, part 1
by Jay McIntyre
1 September, 2011.
The harbor was busy, but not too busy for the locals to start in amazement when a blue box ground into reality on one of the docks.
Inside that blue box, the Doctor and Peri saw everyone staring, via the view screen.
“That.....wasn't supposed to happen,” the Doctor muttered, for once not nearly as loud as his garish patchwork coat.
“Admit it Doctor,” Peri said, “You've had a harder time piloting the TARDIS since you regenerated.”
The Doctor emitted a genuine harrumph, restored to form by her jibe. “I'll have you know that this incarnation is a vast improvement on the last, young lady! I've become the flower of Gallifreyan elegance!”
“I'm a botanist,” she reminded him wearily, “And you're not so much a flower as a weed.”
The Doctor's eyes flashed, and for a moment she saw real anger there; but then the light faded and he snorted. “As a botanist, you should know that weeds are merely those flowers that gardeners choose not to cultivate, much to their detriment.”
“You have the right to debate,” the Doctor corrected her. “That does not mean your argument has merit.”
“Then tell me, oh wise one; what will we do now that you've landed us out in the open?”
“Why, step out and greet the locals, of course! Come Peri, do develop some self confidence!” He shoved the door lever with obviously artificial cheer, and strode out.
Peri rolled her eyes and followed.
As the Doctor and Peri stepped out of the TARDIS, an excited crowd gathered around them. The conversation rose and fell, punctuated by the Doctor's booming voice.
At the edge of the crowd, a middle-aged man with streaks of gray in his hair watched. His attitude was detached, mildly interested. “So finally,” that one muttered to himself, “After all these years, this is how it happens.” Nodding to himself, he pulled a cell phone from his pocket. “It's me, sir. A most...unusual pair of individuals has arrived at the docks. I think they might be of use to us.” Listening to the reply, he smiled. It was not an entirely pleasant smile. “Let's just say I've heard of him.”
Peri had to admit, the Doctor could be charming when he wanted to be. And this....version of him was certainly a natural orator.
He had entertained the crowd for a few moments, pretending it was all part of a publicity stunt. She was amazed how quickly they bought it, and went back to their business, laughing and chattering.
Part of her mind wanted to put it down to him seeming like a jester, but as they moved on into the town, she had to ask. “How did they accept it so quickly?”
“Because,” he said, pitching his voice low and giving her a warning look, “People don't want to believe anything out of the ordinary. Occasionally there are exceptional individuals, like yourself.”
Peri blinked. Had he just paid her a compliment? “Thank you,” she muttered.
“You're quite welcome.”
“Why did we come here again?”
“I was actually hoping for a little vacation time.”
“But?” She prompted.
“I believe you mean however,” the Doctor chided. “In any case, Cornwall is fascinating in it's own right.”
“You really want me to believe that's it?”
For once, he didn't argue; instead, he merely shrugged. “This is where the TARDIS chose to land. When the old girl does that, it's usually for a reason.”
“Including being out in the open like this?” she teased.
“Perhaps,” he allowed. “I'm honestly not certain.”
“The Doctor, I presume,” a voice cut in.
They stopped and turned towards the voice. A middle aged man was looking at them with a bland expression, but his eyes gleamed with intelligence and interest. His hair was black, shot through with premature gray, and his face was covered in stubble, as though he didn't bother to shave that often. To Peri he seemed an unpleasant but not unreasonable man.
“Do I know you?” The Doctor raised an eyebrow at him.
“You don't. But let's just say I'm familiar with your reputation. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gregory Waters.”
“You're not a local,” the Doctor said. “That's a London accent.”
“I'm from Brent,” Gregory agreed. “But I moved here some years ago. My employer has a problem he needs help with. Small scale for a man of your skill, but perhaps of some interest to you.”
“I should be flattered that my reputation precedes me,” the Doctor said, “But I'm not entirely sure I trust you.”
“Nobody said you had to,” Gregory answered. “But I trust you, and hopefully that will be enough.”
“I'll hear you out. I promise no more than that.”
“He found an interesting artifact in his basement, from olden times, apparently. Very old. But we shouldn't talk of such things out here.”
The Doctor and Peri shared a glance. Both of them were wary of this man's quiet confidence. It wasn't smugness—the Doctor knew smugness backwards and forwards in this incarnation—but rather a calm certainty. Peri was worried, and the Doctor didn't like it at all.
“Very old you say,” the Doctor mused. “Well they often say the past is another country.”
“And the further back you go, the more strange it seems,” Gregory agreed. “To the point where it seems to be another world entirely.”
“So you do know me,” the Doctor said.
“In a manner of speaking,” Gregory shrugged. “Will you come?”
“I will come,” the Doctor sighed heavily.
The estate of Gregory's employer was a small but comfortable place under some trees on Park Terrace.
Inside was deep blue wallpaper, portraits on the walls, the occasional bust on a pillar. Aside from Gregory himself, the Doctor only saw one member of staff, a butler. But he had no doubt there were guards on call. The fact that he didn't see them only made him more wary.
But when the butler showed them into the study at the back of the ground floor, some of the Doctor's concerns were eased. Gregory's employer was a polite, wide man with a jovial attitude and friendly eyes. Not a member of the aristocracy, nor a corrupt businessman, either.
“The Doctor, I presume.” He extended a hand. “Gregory speaks highly of you. I am Sydney Lambert.”
The Doctor shook hands. “This is my assistant, Perpugiliam Brown. I confess to not knowing exactly how Gregory is aware of me.”
He waved a hand. “Oh, he's a source of all kinds of esoteric information. It's why I hired him. He realized that that what we found....was very unusual. But he couldn't specifically identify it. He mentioned you, and thought you might be able to.”
“Interesting,” The Doctor murmured, shooting another suspicious look at Gregory.
“I can recompense you for your time and trouble,” Lambert said.
“That will not be necessary,” The Doctor assured him, somewhat stiffly. “Though I may need access to laboratory equipment.”
“Gregory has some basic facilities here,” Lambert agreed. “If something else is necessary, we'll get it for you. I presume you'd like to see the artifact?”
Peri could see curiosity and suspicion warring in the Doctor's expression. Not surprisingly, curiosity won. “We have come this far,” the Doctor conceded
Gregory led the Doctor and Peri down a dark, dank stairwell into the basement, Lambert in the rear.
The basement was large and cold, unsurprisingly. What was surprising was that it was here at all. The Doctor mentioned this.
“Oh, it was here when I bought the place. And we found the artifact down here.”
“Was it sealed off?” Peri asked.
“No, just abandoned. Can't think why.”
The Doctor and Peri exchanged a look.
“Here we are,” Gregory said, leading them to a corner of the large basement, His facilities were small, but adequate, the Doctor judged; microscope, scanner, thermal imager, x-ray, computer. Not low-end models, either.
And just beyond them, on a small plinth, was the artifact.
It was a small, hard, dark green thing, almost like an egg. But it was slightly too wide, at least for a chicken egg, and there was strange, swirling script all over it.
The Doctor bent forward. “Interesting.....not Osiran, not Silurian....hmmmm.....”
“I presume those are alien races?” Lambert asked.
Now it was the Doctor and Gregory exchanging a look.
“Technically the Silurians are not alien,” the Doctor said. “Long story. The Osirans, most definitely. But the point is, it's not either one. Nor do I recognize it. Something new.”
“You can't help us then.” Lambert looked disappointed.
“I didn't say that,” the Doctor huffed indignantly. “If nothing else, I can probably determine some of it's characteristics.” He turned to Gregory. “Any test results I should be aware of?”
Gregory shrugged and made a face. “X-Rays produced nothing. Nor electron microscope. I tried to get the script analyzed, and a couple scholars made joking references to Lovecraft, but that's about it.”
Now the Doctor stiffened. “Lovecraft had his own sources. Do you have their reports?”
“Surely you jest!” Lambert barked laughter.
The Doctor only flicked a glance at him, then returned his attention to Gregory, holding out one hand. “Do you have,” he repeated, “Their reports.”
“Not in printout,” Gregory was glancing back and forth between the Doctor and Lambert. “It's all on the computer.”
“Boot it up then,” the Doctor said impatiently. Peri could tell he was trying to keep his emotions in check.
“Give him whatever he needs,” Lambert said. “But surely we can all admit Lovecraft is not to be taken seriously?”
As Gregory went to the computer, the Doctor turned to face his patron. “Really sir; you hired Gregory for his esoteric knowledge. Is it so strange that some of what he finds may be true?”
“Some, absolutely. I'm just having a hard time accepting this particular bit.”
The Doctor grinned dangerously. Peri knew that look; he was on to something now. “Well, I won't know if it's acceptable either, until he brings up the relevant information. But at this point, I'm not prepared to rule anything out.”
“Here it is,” Gregory called.
The Doctor loomed over his shoulder, eying the screen. “Central America......also the ruins of the Yangshao...”
“The Yangshao?” Peri asked.
“The original Chinese people,” Gregory put in.
“....and finally, a reference from the Kazakh Khanate, in what is now Kazakhstan.”
“Didn't think the bastard political offspring of the Mongol hordes cared about such things,” Lambert said.
The Doctor and Gregory shared a glance. “Not in the archaeological sense, perhaps. But you can see how they'd find something like this....startling, no?” The Doctor raised a brow.
“So that's where it came from? Kazakhstan?”
“Or one very like it. It could be all three are the same, or there could be two or more others of this type scattered throughout the world.”
“So is it alien? Peri asked.
“I think so. Very likely. Fortunately, whatever race put it here seems to have faded away long ago.” The Doctor wrinkled his brow in thought. “Or perhaps they left his Universe entirely?”
“So we can unlock it's secrets?” Lambert asked eagerly. “New technological advancements can be reverse engineered from it?”
The Doctor's face abruptly shifted. Now it looked like some ancient image graved in stone.
Slowly he turned to face Lambert. “So that's your angle, is it.”
If Lambert noticed the cold tone of the Doctor's voice, he ignored it. “I'm always looking for ways to better humanity.”
The Doctor's expression softened a little. But only a little. “Ah, an idealist then. Well, I share your sentiment, sir. But the simple truth is that humanity cannot get ahead of itself. Especially with such an exotic artifact such as this. That's even assuming that technological application is possible.”
“The knowledge alone could change our understand of science!” Lambert protested.
The Doctor nodded. He felt some sympathy for the man. But also in Lambert's eyes he saw the potential for another Davros, or Taren Capel, or even Morbius...the list went on and on. “We don't know enough yet. Let's be careful, yes? We don't want to face any unforeseen consequences.”
For a moment a look passed over Lambert's face as though he thought the Doctor was threatening him. But it passed. “Well, by all means study it. See what you can find.”
The Doctor smiled thinly. “That is indeed my plan.”
“Dangerous, then?” Peri asked, sotto voce.
The Doctor frowned. “As I said, Lovecraft had his sources. The Silurians worshiped the Great Old Ones, amongst others. This has flavours of something the Old Ones create...but I can't swear to it. Something similar, perhaps? Or maybe I'm completely wrong. Whatever it is, it's certainly dangerous.”
“So what do you recommend?” Gregory asked.
The Doctor started, he hadn't noticed he was listening. “To not touch it.”
“Too late!” Peri squealed.
The Doctor and Gregory turned. Lambert was reaching out to touch the thing.
“NO!” The Doctor roared. He rushed forward. “Don't--”
He was too late. Lambert touched the object.
The room was engulfed in green tinted darkness.
The Doctor blinked, then refocused. Slowly and painfully, he got to his feet; it was like forcing himself through treacle.
The green tinted darkness was focused around the object. It didn't shine, exactly, but it glowed eerily, and pulsed.
Lambert's head was thrown back, his mouth open in a soundless scream. He was still touching the object. Gregory was slumped over his keyboard, twitching. Peri was writhing around on the floor.
Green rings of energy pulsed out of the thing, circled around the room and came back to it. There were words in the darkness, and the TARDIS telepathic circuits tried to translate them for him.
Tried to. Something that resembled “Make us strong.” But the Doctor didn't listen. He knew it was mind control. The others wouldn't understand it, but given enough time, they would do whatever it wanted all the same.
He could not allow this.
The green darkness didn't hurt, exactly; but forcing himself through it towards the object required all his strength, and sapped his endurance quickly. He couldn't recall feeling this weary since his original incarnation had reached it's end. But he had no choice. If he failed, this thing would unleash itself upon the world, and perhaps beyond.
The first priority was to break Lambert's physical contact with the thing. Hopefully, that would be enough. If not, he would probably have to touch it himself. He wasn't looking forward to that.
The Doctor's first instinct was to kick Lambert away from the artifact, but the thick green darkness wouldn't allow him to gather the momentum necessary So instead he reluctantly grabbed hold of Lambert's suit, and pulled.
It was even more difficult than he thought it would be. Not only was the treacle-like darkness making it difficult to move, the object also seemed to want to stay attached to Lambert's hand.
In the green darkness, the exhortations to make “us” strong were getting louder, and louder. Soon they would become coherent, and not long after that, unbearable.
The Doctor pulled, against the weight of millennia. Pulled, pulled, pulled....
With a sucking sound, Lambert's hand came free of the object, and everything stopped.
The Doctor staggered, but did not fall. Lambert went down like a tree that had been chopped. Peri was coughing. Gregory was moaning in horror.
The Doctor closed his eyes and steadied himself. When he opened them, his vision slowly and painfully refocused itself.
He helped Peri to her feet; she hugged him and wept into his coat. He gently put his fingertips to her temples and did what he could to clear her mind. Psionics were not this incarnation's strong point. He could hypnotize fairly well, however; perhaps he would do that in the TARDIS later, to help clear the trauma.
Lambert, of course, deserved no such consideration. He glared at the man on the floor, then went over to Gregory, treating him as he had Peri. As Gregory blinked awake, the Doctor eased him out of his chair and leaned him against the wall. Sitting at the computer itself, he checked that it was still functioning and connected to the internet. Once he was satisfied of those things, he emailed UNIT.
Then he got up and faced Gregory. “Are you lucid?”
“Just about,” Gregory said, groggily.
“Good. I've called in UNIT. If you know about me, you know about them, too.”
“I've heard of them.”
“They'll be here to clean up, and I've no doubt they'll put Lambert in prison.” Gregory didn't ask if there would be a trial, and the Doctor didn't mention that there would be one. The Time Lord went on, “Because you showed more sense than your employer, I'll give you one chance: Run.”
Gregory did a double take, then nodded slowly. He didn't run, exactly; but he did stagger for the stairs.
“Are you going to let these....UNIT people deal with that?” Peri pointed a shaking finger at the artifact.
“Oh no. I'll take care of it myself.”
For an answer, the Doctor pulled a large, purple polka-dotted handkerchief from his coat pocket, and carefully wrapped it around the sinister green egg. Tying the ends of the handkerchief together, he slipped the egg into the same pocket. “I'll use the TARDIS to take it somewhere we can safely dispose of it. Now, let's get out of here.”
He looked down at Lambert's comatose form one more time and slowly shook his head.
He led Peri out.
The Doctor and Peri, quiet and shaken, headed back towards the docks in the gathering dusk.
But when they got there, Gregory was waiting for them, looking up at the TARDIS, touching it, his face blandly curious.
“Please step away,” the Doctor said. He was in no mood.
Insolently, Gregory turned, offered a small smile, and leaned against the blue box. “Relax, Doctor. Just a word, before you go.”
“And what word might that be?” the Doctor bit out. Peri tensed. This could get ugly in a hurry.
But Gregory held up his hands, doing his best to placate the Doctor's rage. “Just to answer an earlier question of yours. Yes, I know you, in a way. We'll meet again, you and I; but for me, it will be the first time.”
The Doctor's temper cooled somewhat, and he raised an eyebrow. “You have my attention.”
“It was a cold winter's night in London, eighteen years ago. And you wore a different face.”
The Doctor stood up straight. “And this previous meeting with my future self is why you got into such investigations in the first place, isn't it?”
“Not precisely. I met the monsters first, that time. Then you came in.”
“But you needed to tell me, just as my future self told you,” the Doctor reasoned.
Gregory nodded. “Precisely.”
“Very well; I shall remember that when the time comes. Now,” and the Doctor's face grew grim once more, “Please step away.”
“As you will. I didn't get to see your craft last time; I was curious.”
“Well then, our departure should interest you. In you go, Peri.”
Gregory watched the TARDIS roar into nothingness. He exhaled. For him, it was over. Or at least, he hoped so. Meeting the Doctor twice was more than enough for him.
Now, he would take the Doctor's advice. The South American continent was lovely this time of year. Chile, perhaps...
The Doctor gently shooed Peri out of the control room.
“What are you going to do?” she asked him.
“Take care of our little problem.”
“What about Lambert?”
With the artifact's influence removed, he'll be no threat to anyone. Now please, young Peri. Let me dispose of this.....thing.”
She nodded, looking at him with sad eyes, and wandered down the corridor to her room.
He worked the controls. And the TARDIS soared through the Vortex. His original thought had been to toss it into the sun, but he didn't want whatever archaic radiation that was within the thing to be released, with the sun as a delivery system. He'd also considered tossing it into a black hole, but that presented risks to himself as well, and there was no telling what it would do once absorbed. Also, some black holes were portals to other universes. Normally that didn't matter; anything that got through to the other side was a handful of disassembled particles anyway. But with something like this....
So he settled for deep space. Not just a good ways between stars, but rather the endless deep night between galaxies, where even dark matter failed.
The Doctor opened the doors, but kept the air shell intact and added a one-way defense shield, just in case.
He pulled the handkerchief from his pocket, the insidious weight still inside it, and tossed it out into the void with a throw his previous self would've been proud of. He sealed the doors shut and dematerialized again.
As the TARDIS went on to adventures new, he pondered what had been achieved. A crisis had been averted, but all he felt was weary. Then there was Gregory, who he would meet again some day, for the first time. It troubled him a little bit that he himself might have set Gregory on that particular path. That was the trouble with causality. Especially for a Time Lord.
The green egg floated in the never ending darkness, as it would do until the end of this particular Universe.
To be continued......