Title: Echo Across the Void
Summary: Romana brings complications and danger to Pete Tyler's Torchwood.
Ships 'n' characters: Ten/Romana, Ten/Rose, assorted Tylers, Jake, Mickey and at least one random alt-verse counterpart.
Notes: I started this expecting
it to be 2,000 words and a couple of days' work. Instead it took
several months, a full rewrite and about 15,000 words. That's
about 60 pages, fyi. *collapse* Full beta credits at the
end, because they're long.
Fandom: Doctor Who
Echo Across the Void
is the second time that Romana has found herself alone – almost alone –
in another world. She feigns confidence as she enters the building.
Straight spine, decisive step, head held high. Her footsteps echo on
the marble floor.
This world is almost familiar, but there is
a subtle difference in the air, a metallic tang that sets her teeth on
edge. She pauses for a moment to breathe it in, to acclimatise. And to
give herself a moment to think. She doesn't know where to go from here:
the Doctor gave her an address, but nothing else. "Just look for
whichever place is most likely to be hiding a secret government
organisation. It'll be obvious."
She mentally addresses a rude comment to the Doctor. Her back is sore, and she's tired, and she's not in the mood for this.
security guard has appeared by her side, gently hinting that she is
perhaps in the wrong place. He is terribly polite, but even in this
world, she thinks, most desk guards don't carry guns.
her hair out of her face and gives him her brightest smile, and says,
"I'm so terribly sorry. Could you take me to Torchwood, please?"
"I need to speak to Rose Tyler, please."
is taken to a bare, windowless room, seated in an uncomfortable chair
and subjected to a barrage of questions. The people are all under the
flattering assumption that Romana is both hostile and threatening.
They're all so earnest; if not for the guns they didn't bother
concealing, she might have laughed.
This goes on for five hours
and forty-three minutes. Then a man enters: middle-aged, with a
pleasant face and thinning ginger hair. Not a soldier, she thinks,
although the guards all defer to his authority.
"Has anyone offered you food?" he asks, "or anything to drink?"
comes in a sealed bottle. He watches her drink it down, and tells her
that his name is Pete Tyler. She had guessed, but she doesn't let him
He says, "I suppose you know the Doctor then."
She swallows the last of the water and says, "Yes."
you're here because...?" Tyler spreads his hands, as if he is prepared
to be amused and entertained by the story she tells. She thinks he must
spend much of his time making himself seem likable.
"I need to
see Rose," she says, rising to her feet and pulling her coat around her
body. It's like a blanket. Comforting. It's bright red. Scarlet. She
found it on a planet where red was the colour of slavery, although
there were no slaves when she left.
On another world, it was the
colour of the gods, and there was, inevitably, a misunderstanding. The
Doctor thought it was funny. He caught her hand as they ran (because it
always ended in running) and she kissed him as the TARDIS doors closed
She sees the surprise in Pete Tyler's face as he sees her properly for the first time.
"Please," Romana says.
Tyler is at this moment in another world. Or she may as well be. Wine –
good Californian wine, not the sour stuff that passes for French wine
in this polluted, metallic universe – and meat, and fresh vegetables,
and it's all perfect.
Except, of course, for the company.
Nev catches her eye and raises his glass in a toast. "To defending the Earth," he says.
she forces a grin and says something inane in response. She wishes he'd
shut up and let her enjoy her meal in peace, but he's going on about
security issues – sorry, Security Issues – again. The
difficulties of working for the Ministry of Defence, clearing up
Cyberman remnants and keeping malcontents quiet. He's not crass enough
to ask her outright to put in a good word for him with her father, but
he says, as she eats her salad, that he'd love to branch out a bit, try
using his skills in other areas.
Rose tells him a couple of
stories, non-classified business that has already been used for
propaganda, but she throws in a couple of new details. She considers a
second glass of wine, but it's early afternoon, and she has a full
in-tray back in her office...
He pays for lunch – which she
doesn't mind, because theoretically she has access to her dad's
accounts, but she doesn't like touching his money, and her own salary
wouldn't cover this. But he makes sure she sees his gold ration card as
it's swiped. Tacky, her mum would call it. Rose pretends she doesn't
He walks her back to Canary Wharf – anything, she thinks,
for a glimpse of Torchwood, the holy grail of defence – and she is
almost ready to enjoy his company until a gang of kids cross their
paths. The kids are shabby, wearing thin clothes that contrast
strangely with their new-model earPods, and they shout abuse after Rose
and Neville, who are well-dressed and clearly different.
"Damn kids," says Neville. "Should be rounded up."
"And shot?" Rose asks lightly. One day, she thinks, she'll shock him proper by turning around and shouting right back.
even they're too valuable for that," he says. He might be joking. She's
not sure. "They have everything handed to them. Free education, net
access, council flats. And they don't appreciate it one bit."
Rose says. Now she's sorry she kept her mouth shut. What would Neville
say if he knew Pete Tyler's beloved stepdaughter had grown up in one of
those flats? Or that sometimes, she missed the old place with its small
rooms and old, unmovable stains? Suddenly she hates him.
As if by magic, her earPod chimes.
"Rose." Her father. He sounds ... odd. "You're needed."
"Right. Good." She catches Neville's eye and offers an apologetic smile. "I'll be ten minutes."
"Work?" Neville asks.
"Yeah. I'm off to save the world."
And she leaves him there alone, and doesn't look back.
gets her father's assistant to explain it twice. Then she goes and
looks at the camera footage herself, not that it's informative, but she
just wants to see.
Then she tidies her hair, squares her shoulders and goes in.
Tyler is older than Romana has been led to believe. The Doctor was
typically hazy on the matter of relative time passages. Rose is
twenty-seven at least, dark-haired and serious.
Her brown eyes
widen slightly as she sees Romana, but she simply throws a folder on
the table in front of Pete and says, "It's a trick. The Doctor was the
Romana paces. Her back is aching, but she's not
going to let the humans know. Rose is staring openly, hands on her
hips, lips pursed.
"He said the rift was closed," Rose says. "Forever."
thought it was." Romana is surprised at how calm she sounds. Once she
would have been shaking with self-righteous anger, but she is so much
older now. "The Daleks reopened it. The Doctor saved your little world
again, and none of you even remember."
It's not their fault their minds are so limited. They're both watching her now. They're trying.
"Why are you here?" Rose asks. She is clearly trying to sound gentle.
"You," Romana answers. "He said he could trust you with the universe."
Doctor said a lot more than that, romanticised exaggerations mixed with
observations on the inherent limitations of humans, but Romana is
inclined to keep those points to herself. At this moment, she needs
Rose, and for the most part, she trusts the Doctor's judgement.
"The Daleks remember you," she says, mostly to see how Rose reacts.
Rose's smile takes years off her face, and for a moment she can see the girl the Doctor described to her.
Rose reaches out. Her fingers close over Romana's wrist.
"Double pulse," says Rose. "It's true."
told the Daleks you knew about the Time War," says Romana. "Well, I
fought that war. I commanded an army." President, War Lord, Time Lord,
Keeper of the Matrix and the Great Key. She's so sick of titles. "You
She expects Rose to argue, but the girl
just looks at her. She is sympathetic, which should be insulting, but
it's strangely ... healing.
"When are you due?" Rose asks.
Romana's throat is tight.
"Two months," she says.
that, it becomes remarkably easy, because Rose starts making demands
and giving orders. So Romana is given an apartment at the top of
Torchwood Tower, and clothes, and medical attention. She should feel
like a prisoner, but she is glad for the opportunity to rest.
the first week, she just sleeps. Or hovers in a state between
wakefulness and oblivion. Her dreams are vivid and ugly, Dalek Sec and
the Cult of Skaro, the burning of Gallifrey, the long, slow decay of
the Matrix. She survived. It's a kind of victory.
The baby kicks when she moves. Her nightmares leave him agitated. Calm, she thinks, be calm. So he stills.
"Of course not," Rose says to Mickey when he asks if she minds about, you know, the baby. "Why should I mind?"
"I figured, you and the Doctor..."
are sitting on the floor of his flat, eating Chinese food out of the
cartoon and watching TV. It doesn't taste like much – bland hydroponic
vegetables and cheap protein substitutes – but the company is wonderful.
Or was, until he decided to stick his nose where it didn't belong.
"It was a long time ago," she says at last. "I was a different person, then."
Medical demands blood and tissue samples before subjecting her to a
series of increasingly intrusive tests. Romana acquiesces, to a point.
She can lie immobile while they remove her flesh and blood, but to be
enclosed in a metal chamber with the dull thuds of magnetic locks
sounding around her ears and her throat closing and her hearts racing--
"It brings back memories," she tells Rose. And Rose doesn't press her for details, for which she is grateful.
Pete is less understanding. Torchwood has given her shelter; all they ask is information in return.
"It's not as though you're about to be invaded by an army of Time Lords," she tells him.
Romana. At least consider it." He squeezes her arm and says, "I'd never
allow them to hurt you." His smile is practised. "Trust me on this."
Later, she finds he has left bruises, and the doctors no longer accommodate her fears.
keeps a photo of her family on the bedside table. Her mother, looking
serene – an illusion, she was in a foul mood that day, but she never
frowned when there was a camera around – and Pete with a grin on his
face, holding Hayley up to wave at the camera. And herself, Rose,
looking pale and slightly ill. Dark roots against faded blonde, messy
make-up, a distant, unhappy expression.
Rose looks at it every day, to remind herself of how far she's come.
has let go of the Doctor. It wasn't easy, but life went on and one day
she had looked up around and realised that it had been months since
she'd woken up with the ever-present pain.
It's strange, now, to see her own grief in another woman's face. Romana is older and alien, but the emotions are the same.
asks her one day, "Are you all right? I mean," she hesitates,
remembering the way people used to watch her, "I just ... wondered. If
there was anything you need. In this universe."
watching her with an amused half-smile. Rose wants to shake her, to get
a proper reaction, to see her scream or cry, but all she gets is that
"Never mind," she says, feeling stupid.
She is about to leave when Romana says, "Time."
"Time will make it easier," Romana clarifies.
"I know," Rose tells her.
This time, Romana's smile reaches her eyes.
brought two possessions with her, carrying them between worlds in the
pocket of her scarlet coat. One is her sonic screwdriver, and she keeps
it close to hand.
The other is a jar, filled with a liquid that
isn't water. The liquid cradles a shard of what might have been coral,
if were transparent and soft.
Romana keeps it by her bed. Every morning she holds it up to the light. Like the child, it is growing.
Another century, and it will be ready for the first carving.
This is the second time she has grown a TARDIS in an alien dimension.
"I guess he was happy," Rose says, "when he found he wasn't the last."
They're outside for once, watching the zeppelins glide overhead.
"Happy," says Romana, "doesn't quite cover it."
would take too long to explain that he thought she was an illusion at
first, one more feature in the last dying corner of the Matrix. And she
had spent so much time, alone in that decaying unworld, to be certain
that anything was real. The last president of Gallifrey, trapped in the
Matrix she was sworn to protect and preserve.
And when they had
freed themselves, and she had found herself alive, and real ... she
doesn't think Rose would understand what it's like, to be alive when
you thought yourself dead.
He had held her hand as the Matrix
finally died, and then it was gone and she was still there. He'd pulled
her into a wild dance and she followed because she couldn't quite
She hardly slept for the first few weeks, for fear she'd wake up and find it had all been a dream.
"I notice," she says, "that you don't ask what I felt, when I realised I wasn't alone." She smiles to soften her words.
"All right," says Rose, "how did you feel?"
"Rather pleased, actually, once I was sure it was ... true."
"Quite pleased. Very pleased."
They're both laughing now. Romana realises with a start that here, in this very moment, she's happy.
Having thought that, the moment passes and she becomes serious.
"We did it together, you know," she says, "destroyed Gallifrey, I mean. It was a joint decision."
"I didn't know."
likes – liked – having found himself alive, he felt compelled to take
full responsibility. Although we both thought we would die with the
planet. With everyone else."
"You got lucky," Rose suggested. "Twice."
"Luck," Romana says, "is one word for it."
She had tried to ask the Doctor how he'd ... come to terms. His answer had been flippant, and she let him change the subject.
After that, they rarely discussed Gallifrey.
Rose is watching her.
"Euro for your thoughts?" she says.
"I was thinking about the law of unintended consequences," Romana says. "Isn't there a human saying about good intentions?"
"Yeah," says Rose, "but he's not human."
"So he sent you here," Mickey says. He aims a projectile weapon at the target range.
chose to come here," Romana corrects him. There's an energy weapon in
the open locker. The power cell is damaged and the whole thing is more
likely to take her hand off than actually shoot anything, but
retrofitting it will be simple.
She knows a great deal about weapons these days.
The important thing is that it will penetrate polycarbide. That's really all she cares about.
not the first time we've wound up in separate universes." She makes a
mental note of the access code to the weapons locker. "This is better
"Rose keeps buying baby clothes." Mickey shakes his head. "It's not like her house isn't full of old baby clothes, but the Doctor's baby can't be wearing hand-me-downs."
"I don't mind," says Romana, surprising herself. "It's nice to feel that someone else is thinking of us."
She stops, slightly appalled at how much she has revealed. But Mickey puts his weapon down and pulls her into an awkward hug.
not saying that Torchwood's like a family," he says, "because that'd be
a lie. And stupid. But we're not gonna chuck you out in the street."
After a moment, she returns his hug.
he lets her go – lightly hitting her shoulder, to indicate, she thinks,
that this was strictly a platonic gesture – she points to the particle
"You up for a bit of engineering?" she asks.
sends Rose to Manchester for three days, to liaise with the local
office and take possession of their recovered tech. Mickey and his team
have already gone to Sussex, where a cache of Cyberparts have been
Abruptly alone, Romana finds Torchwood Tower a colder
place. The medical procedures escalate in frequency and intensity. The
nurse, Barbara, offers a running monologue about babies, child-rearing,
the problems she has with her two sons, the peculiar sexual habits of
her late husband – converted by Cybermen, and she was just lucky her
earPods had been in for repairs that day – and anything else that comes
into her head. Sometimes she brings Romana a cup of tea. On other
occasions, she simply gossips, launching into tales of gory, improbable
complications that arise in late pregnancy – all attributed to a
cousin's friend, or that woman who used to work for Torchwood until
they caught her leaking files to Cybus Industries, and Barb never found
out what happened to her after that, didn't like to ask, really—
stories never have an end, happy or otherwise. Romana can't decide
whether or not she likes it that way. She is rapidly growing tired of
gestation, but she finds she's dreading parturition. And everyone she
feels she can talk to is gone.
Tired, sore and lonely, she
drifts through Torchwood Tower, testing the limits of her passcard. She
can access certain labs, a few empty rooms and the main offices. The
lower levels are entirely off-limits. In the end, she curls up on the
floor of a dark room on an upper floor, vast and unused. She head rests
on the wall, suddenly glad to be away from humans and their noise.
baby is kicking, and she finds herself humming an old lullaby under her
breath. That ancient Gallifreyan myth of a sentient, benevolent Time
seems reassuring these days, whereas once she would have dismissed it
The near-silence is broken by footsteps. Romana
opens her eyes as Rose appears in the doorway. She's still wearing her
long coat and scarf; she must have returned and come straight to find
Romana. It's touching.
"What are you doing?" Rose asks.
"Listening to the void."
Rose approaches slowly and sits beside her.
"He said it was closed."
can see the cracks, if you know what to look for." She feels the ghost
of a smile touch her lips. "Like damaged porcelain. No amount of
repairs will hide the scar. There are cracks all through the universe."
Rose runs her hand over the wall. It's just wood and paint and plaster now.
"What does it sound like?"
The baby kicks again. Calm, Romana thinks, you're safe here. We're among friends again.
ocean in a seashell," she adds. "But Helmholtz resonance has nothing to
do with it." Rose looks blank. Romana laughs. She'll have to educate
her one day.
"I enjoy having the freedom to think in metaphors," she says, and for the moment, she is happy to enjoy Rose's confusion.
late when Rose finally arrives home. Her father is in his study – she
sees the light beneath the closed door as she goes upstairs – but
everything else is quiet. She opens her door, throws her bag on the
floor and switches on the light, wondering if she should reply to
Neville's voicemail messages now, or tomorrow.
Brown eyes are peeping through a mass of dark blonde hair as her little
sister sits up. "What are you doing in my room?" Rose asks.
Hayley shrugs. "Bad dreams," she says. "I didn't want to bother Mum."
Rose discards her coat and hat. "What was it this time?"
found a Cyberman at school today. It was sleeping, but..." She trails
off. Rose sits down beside her and strokes her hair.
"But Torchwood came, didn't they?" she says. "To take it away?"
the basement. That's what I heard them say." Hayley's eyes are huge and
scared. Rose was nineteen when she discovered the real monsters. Her
sister, six, has grown up with them. "And I dreamed that the Cybermen
came, and Dad took us to Torchwood. We thought we were safe, but the
Cybermen were in the basement, and we couldn't get away – we were
running, but we weren't going fast enough."
Rose gives her a hug.
are no Cybermen in the basement at Torchwood," she says. This is,
technically, true: recovered Cybermen are broken down into parts.
"No monsters at all?" Hayley asks.
Rose promises. This is an outright lie, but she can hardly tell the
truth. Instead she changes the subject. "I bet Mrs Philips was pretty
pissed off about the Cyberman."
As usual, Hayley is enchanted by the mild profanity. She grins.
"She told the Torchwood people that families don't pay good money to have their children attacked in the schoolyard."
Hayley went to school with the President's children. It was a good school. Exclusive.
"What did I tell you about Mrs Philips?"
"That she's a snobbish old twat?"
Hayley clings to the eiderdown. "You're not going to make me go to my own room, are you?"
Rose sighs. "No," she says. "You can stay."
"Can I have some milk, please?"
"Sure," says Rose, mostly because she could do with a snack herself. "Wait here."
hears her father's voice in the kitchen, and she's pleased; she can
report back on a successful trip and tease him about leaving dormant
Cybermen lying around for spoilt kids to find. But as she gets closer,
she hears her name, and pauses despite herself.
with her," he father is saying. "I was worried at first, but it's
useful. What? No, just ... after all Rose went through with the other
one ... Yes, that's it."
Rose holds her breath.
soon, I think. The medical team have been working on anaesthetics ...
yes. Yes, exactly. No, I think I'll leave the infant in your hands for
the first few years. Maybe longer. Sorry? No ... yes, that's what I'm
thinking. Frankly, I'm not sure how valuable she really is. Give us a
few years to work out what she knows, and we'll send her up to you."
Rose is frozen to the spot. Her father is laughing.
"No, no," he's saying, "I have a board meeting with Vitex next month, and a free weekend after. We'll go fishing."
takes a careful step backwards, then another. Then she silently races
back towards the stairs, climbs halfway up, descends again, this time
making sure her footsteps can be heard. Her father has just rung off
when she reaches the kitchen again.
"Tea?" he offers.
she says. She can hardy look at him, but her voice is perfectly normal.
"So what's been happening?" she asks, and she forces a smile and
half-listens to his answer.
Rose brings Indian food to Romana's apartment the next night, and they linger over rice and aimless conversation.
says Rose, "have you picked a name yet?" She's lying on Romana's couch,
her stockinged feet hanging over the edge. She was quiet and distracted
when she arrived earlier. Romana wonders what she's concealing.
"No." Romana hesitates. "The Doctor liked 'Percival'."
Rose wrinkles her nose.
"I know," Romana says. "He only did it to annoy me."
sit in silence for a few minutes. Romana watches as Rose fidgets with
her necklace and pulls at a loose thread on the sofa.
been talking about moving you up north," Rose says suddenly. "There's
another base up there ... it's more open. Room for a kid to play, you
She isn't meeting Romana's eyes.
"I don't get a choice in the matter?"
... he's not a bad person," Rose says, "but I think the baby's just an
idea to him. Not ... not a person. And you're an alien."
"Yes," says Romana bitterly. "You people aren't terribly good at distinguishing between allies and enemies, are you?"
doing my best," Rose snaps. More calmly she adds, "Dad worked with
Lumic for a long time," she says. "I think ... in a way, unless he's
close to you, everyone's just a product to him."
fascinated by Rose's loyalty to Pete, who is related to her only by
genetics. Will her child feel the same longing for a hypothetical
progenitor, despite the separation of universes? Surely it's a learned
behaviour, she thinks, but of course, such things can be passed on
But if Rose is correct – and she has no reason
to doubt Rose – she hopes suddenly that she gets the chance to make her
own errors in childrearing.
"I won't let anything happen to you," Rose promises.
facilities in Scotland are for the long-term storage of alien material.
And prisoners. Rose's diffident attempt to mislead her was pointless;
Romana can fill in the missing pieces for herself.
And as much as she appreciates Rose's promises, she isn't going to rely on them.
Romana knows most of the Torchwood personnel by name. She has memorised
the locations and access codes for all major weapons caches and could,
if necessary, build a trans-dimensional bomb from random bits of
equipment left in the storage bays. She knows where the exits are. She
knows which soldiers would shoot her without hesitation if so ordered,
and which would pause for a fatal moment of consideration. She knows
how to forge identification and access currency, and she knows where
she'll go if she has to run.
She hopes she won't need this information, but it's nice to have it.
sits at her table without asking, steals her untouched chips and says,
"Did you see the news? Marilyn Monroe died. Again."
"Pity," says Romana without looking up from her book. "She was awfully nice."
when I think I'm used to this universe ... Kylie Minogue has an Oscar,
you know? And Jackie reckons Jude Law's working down at the chip shop.
Rose says that's just wishful thinking, though." He leans forward.
"What are you reading?"
Romana closes the book to examine the title: Forty-Thousand and One Names for Your Baby.
"Rose gave it to me," she says.
"Find any you like?"
hadn't even planned to open the book, but somehow she looked at one
page, then another, and now it's heavily annotated. "'Sherard'," she
says. "It means, 'Of splendid valour."
Mickey shakes his head. "Too girly. He'll get called 'Sherry'."
never watched cartoons, have you?" He pulled the book out of her hands.
"There. 'Alexander'. 'Defender of mankind'. Lot to put on a baby's
shoulders, but he'll probably cope. Or you could name it after the
Doctor. If he's got a name."
"He doesn't. Not anymore."
(She's somewhere else for a moment, pressing the Doctor against a console and whispering a name he no longer recognises.)
"Are you going to eat this?" Mickey asks, and the spell is broken.
Mickey takes the rest of her lunch. "Not hungry?"
"Not for anything on this planet, I'm afraid."
He eats in silence for a few minutes, while she reclaims her book. Michael. Simon. Paul. Leo. Samuel. Nicholas. They're all so human, and the food she's craving is a tasteless nutritional supplement from her childhood.
says Mickey suddenly, then stops. "She was different, before you came.
It's not like she's been obsessed with the Doctor for the last seven
years. It's just that you--"
"I know," says Romana. "It's all right."
"Just thought you should know. In fairness."
armour piece. Broken." Romana tosses the scrap aside, and a tech lunges
to catch it. "Irreparable," she adds, in case they haven't got the
message. She moves on to the next piece in Pete's exhibit of junk.
"Warp power modulator. Useless unless you happen to have the rest of
the engines lying around."
"That was the only complete component," says the tech.
all obsolete anyway," she says calmly. "That's a particle wave
inhibitor. Unless you happen to be a physicist, you probably won't
begin to understand what it does. This is a – well, I've never seen
anything like it before, but I think it's some sort of data crystal. Or
possibly a paperweight." Romana hefts it experimentally. "It could go
"But you can identify everything else?" says Pete.
"Just about. Some of it's obvious. The rest are simply variations on common themes. Or paperweights."
Pete holds the crystal up to the light.
"Of all of the things in this storage area," he says, "how many would you say come from hostile civilisations?"
"'Hostile' is such a relative term."
Pete's lips thin. "Try."
"About at third," she says. "Although if you've been shooting at every passing alien, there are probably more."
Pete replaces the crystal on its shelf.
"I want you to train staff," he says. "Alien recognition, recommended courses of action, major threats, that sort of thing."
Romana attempts to smile. "Picking my brain?"
"Go on," he says gently, "prove your value."
"Mum had a go at me the other night," says Rose.
"The job. Mostly."
"The monsters," Mickey guesses.
nods without taking her eyes off the road. She's driving; Mickey's
riding shotgun, and Jake is passed out in the back seat. And the boot
is full of scavenged alien tech, safely locked in sealed boxes. Another
"The monsters are part of the job," she says.
"She and Pete fighting again?"
"She really hates Torchwood, your mum. And it's practically the family business."
Rose forces a grin. "She doesn't drink Vitex, either."
halt at a checkpoint but the guard sees Rose's ID and waves them
through. They slip past a bus full of tourists, a dozen faces staring
balefully as the Torchwood car leaves them behind.
"She hates this whole universe, I think," Rose adds. "Not all of it, obviously, but ... she wants it to be better."
"Don't we all?" asks Mickey. "I mean, we destroyed the Cybermen, but there are still human soldiers everywhere."
"Like us," says Rose.
Mickey leans over and squeezes her hand. "What's up, Rose?"
... I'm not," she hesitates, but this is Mickey, and he knows her
better than anyone in this whole universe. "I'm not the person I was
when I was with the Doctor," she says. "I was so young, then, and maybe
a bit mad, but ... I was happy. I knew what I wanted. And I knew I
wanted the right thing."
"I don't know," Rose
whispers. "I think ... I want to make the world safe for Hayley, and
Romana's baby. I just don't think I can save both at once."
nods. He understands. He always understands her, and she realises
suddenly that he's felt this way for years. It's the reason he's a
grunt – albeit a senior grunt – instead of working in tech or with her
in operations. He knows what Torchwood is.
"I miss the certainty," she says.
Me too." They drive in silence for a moment, then Mickey asks, "So if
he came back – if the TARDIS appeared right now – what would you do?"
"What do you think?" Rose doesn't look at him. "A whole army couldn't get me out of there."
first training session is on Daleks. The sessions are only compulsory
for operations and security staff, but the room is crowded with people
from all departments.
"Never mind the science. How do I kill them?"
knew Torchwood's head of security back when she was almost a Time Lord.
But she thinks that if she said this to McShane, she'd be risking
physical assault, so she puts the thought aside and says, "A rocket
launcher at short range can be effective."
McShane nods and makes a note.
"But people have survived," says Blake. She looks around. "I mean, you're standing here, so obviously--"
the Time Lords tried to estimate the number of races conquered by the
Daleks. The most conservative estimates were obscene.
"Luck," says Romana, "usually has a lot to do with it."
Luck and the Doctor, but since he's not here, she'll have to do. If worst comes to worst.
Rose catches her eye and smiles.
the work makes her miss the Doctor more keenly than before. She is
sleeping heavily as she enters the final month, and her dreams are more
like memories. Sometimes she wakes and wishes she could simply abandon
the past. More often she finds herself urgently cataloguing every
recollection. The tilt of his head, the arrhythmic tap of his hand
against the TARDIS console, his little start of surprise the first time
she kissed him--
That had been a surprise, that she
could find herself alone but for him, the last of their species and him
responsible for the loss of their world, and that she didn't hate him.
"Good thing there's no romantic tradition on Gallifrey," she said to him one night.
"I like to think of myself as a one-man romantic tradition."
(He must have been almost asleep, she realises now. Awake, he never let her steer the conversation to Gallifrey.)
(Anyway, she ignored him.)
(Looking back, she wonders at her use of the present tense for Gallifrey.)
such a cliche," she said. "Last surviving members of the species and
all that. Any other primate-evolved biped would laugh at us."
he had no answer, so she sat in the darkness and listened to his
breathing. Skin against skin gave her glimpses into his mind. Mere
He was alone and lonely even with her, and when she realised that, she almost wished she could hate him.
(But, she tells herself, those moments were rare and fleeting.)
finds her in a lab one evening, writing a report that explains, in very
simple, unambiguous terms, why alien life-extension technology should
not be made available to senior government officicals. She simply looks
up, and there he is.
"Do you want to live forever?" she asks.
"Are you making an offer?"
"No. Are you leaning in my doorway for a reason?"
"We're going down the pub. Me and Jake, I mean. And my gran. Want to come?"
She pauses in her typing. "Not Rose?"
busy. Dinner with a fellow from the Ministry of Defence." Mickey rolls
his eyes. "Shot a few rioters and thinks he's a hero. She could do
better, but I think she's bored. Or something. Come out with us. We
need a new face."
Romana hesitates, but only for a moment.
"I'll get my coat," she says.
minutes later, and she is beginning to understand the way these humans
relate to each other. Jake, she thinks, is in love with Mickey, who is
aware of it but pretends not to be, just as he pretends he's nothing
more than Rose's best friend. While Rose is conspicuous by her absence.
Mickey and Jake chafe under Torchwood authority, but Mickey pretends
otherwise to maintain his own position while privately questioning
Rose's ability to do the same, and his grandmother conceals the depth
of her concern with a stream of trivial complaints—
"So," says Jake, jolting her out of her reverie, "did you know the Doctor for long?"
"Oh," she says, "only about six hundred years."
"'Only', she says."
laughs. And because he's had a few drinks he leans forward and says,
"I've got to ask, though. I mean, what we really want to know is, how'd
you get him to shut up long enough to--"
Romana raises her
eyebrows and gives Mickey a prim smile. Jake punches him in the
shoulder, and Rita-Anne slaps him lightly. The moment passes, and
Romana is not even slightly tempted to tell Mickey that the Doctor can
and will talk through anything.
(For a moment she is somewhere
else, and the Doctor's hearts are beating in rhythm with the TARDIS and
he is laughing as she kisses him.)
(His absence strikes her sometimes with the force of a blow. She thought it would be easier, the second time around.)
he found out," says Mickey, "did he talk a lot? Or was he speechless?
And please say he was speechless. I can cherish the image when I'm an
"All right," says Romana, "he was speechless. Didn't say a word for a week, except to ask me to pass the sonic screwdriver."
Mickey sits back, grinning. "All right. That's it. My life's complete now."
"Check your contract," says Jake. "You're life's complete when Torchwood says, and not a day before."
"It was in the fine print."
Romana isn't listening.
can't remember quite how he found out – she thinks it slipped out in an
argument about something else, something quite trivial. She told him
and then she walked away, she knows that. It's the part that came next
that she remembers best.
The Doctor found her in the deepest
reaches of the TARDIS. The pale light emanating from the power cells
cast strange shadows on his face. He looked like a stranger.
She looked up at his entrance, but said nothing, simply kept on realigning flux inhibitors and circuitry.
“It's not that bad,” he said, “once you get used to the idea.”
She said nothing.
mean, the time goes pretty quickly. One day you're telling them not to
put Zeus plugs in their mouths, the next minute they have a TARDIS of
their own and they're off to investigate paradoxical developments on
some backwater planet you've never even heard of.”
“There aren't exactly TARDISes to spare.”
She could hardly hear her own voice over the throb of the engines.
but I'm talking in general. It's not that bad. Did I say that already?
'Cos it's true, it really is. Changes your life.”
“My life has changed enough.”
She stood up.
“I will adapt,” she said, and her tone left no room for argument. “In my own way. In my own time.”
“And that's good, really good--”
“Honestly, Doctor.” For a
moment, she sounded exactly like her old self. “If you're so
excited, you can gestate it yourself.”
She pushed past him, leaving him alone with the power cells and circuits.
she heard him say to no one in particular, “that's a completely
ridiculous proposition. Haven't got the right equipment, for one thing.”
She started laughing at that, so he found her doubled over in the corridor, giggling and crying at the same time.
not your fault," she said when she could breathe again. She wasn't sure
if she was referring to the unexpected embryo or the way the War had
ended, but he didn't ask and she chose not to think about it too
Anyway, he took it at face value.
"Good. I wasn't feeling guilty. Well, not much. What should we do about gestation?"
"Are you volunteering?"
"No," he said quickly. "But I know of a few good hospitals. Highest standard of placental transfers, no questions asked."
Looking back, she thinks, it seemed like a terribly good idea at the time.
returns to Canary Wharf to find Rose pacing in her apartment. She's all
dressed up, red dress, high heeled shoes, perfect make-up, but her
hair's a mess and she's not, Romana thinks, quite sober.
She's also furious.
an alien," Rose ticks the points off on her fingers, "pregnant, in the
wrong dimension, with your head full of Torchwood secrets – and you
decided to go down the pub with Mickey and Jake?"
"Mickey's gran was there too." Romana leans back, arms crossed, watching Rose.
"So, what, you sat around, watched some football, played a bit of darts ... not that Mickey plays darts..."
"I could tell," said Romana.
"This is serious," Rose snaps. "If anything happens to the baby – if they think you're unreliable—"
is almost crying. "I'm sorry," she says, "but I've seen Doctor Harper's
psych reports. I mean, I went through Dad's files until I found them. I
don't think I can protect you. Maybe if it was just Dad, but so many
people want your baby—"
"That," says Romana, "is nothing new."
She pours Rose a glass of water and leads her to the sofa. She waits
until Rose is calm.
"I'm sorry," Rose says eventually.
puts her arms around Rose's shoulders. For a moment, she's aware of
that tangled mess of human emotions, fear and anger and hope and oh—she
misses him so much—
"I understand," Romana says. Rose is breathing normally again. "It's all right."
"I can't help you." Rose wipes her eyes, smearing her make-up. "I should be able to, but Dad's so far ahead—"
"I know," says Romana.
didn't intend to carry the child," Romana says. She keeps her voice low
and steady, the way she remembers the creche-mothers on Gallifrey when
they told stories. "The Doctor knew of a good hospital – thousands of
years in the future, the doctors were more than competent, and they
owed him a favour."
"Typical," Rose says, blowing her nose.
"Quite. We were going to have the embryo transferred to a gestation chamber. Very civilised. Very safe."
"No stretch marks."
never occurred to us that a little bundle of Gallifreyan cells would be
valuable. Or that our information would be sold to the highest bidders,
then stolen by another agent and passed on—"
"You escaped," says Rose.
"Barely. But the information was out there. After that, we were always in danger."
"So you came here?"
shrugs. "Compared with everything else, Torchwood seemed like the
lesser evil. The Doctor knew I could trust you, and – you may need me
"I hope not," says Rose. "No offence, but—"
"No," says Romana. "I know."
"I need to get home," Rose says.
Left alone, Romana goes to review the escape routes.
Later that night, she's woken by a whisper.
She has only been asleep for a few minutes. When she opens her eyes, the Doctor is looking down at her.
she says, thinking this is a vast improvement on her other recent
dreams. Then she is properly awake and sitting up. "Doctor. It must be
bad if you can break through in here."
"Bad and getting worse."
He's wearing his glasses. His hands brush against her belly; she can't
feel them, but it's a comforting illusion. "If you reinforce the
barrier now," he says, "we'll have a chance."
She is out of bed and dressing, reaching for her sonic screwdriver.
"You look huge," says the Doctor.
She returns his grin. They stand for a moment, just watching, then he vanishes.
Romana unlocks her door and goes out. She has work to do.
The guard finds her in what she thinks of as the void room.
She is working feverishly. Muttering to herself. She must seem mad.
The guard takes a step forward. Romana has pinned him as one of the
least likely to shoot her. But it's not a theory she cares to test.
"What are you doing?"
"Saving the world."
"Oh." The guard shifts his weight. "I'd better call Mr Tyler."
"Good idea." As he leaves, Romana calls after him, "call Rose, too."
afraid I haven't been entirely honest with you." Romana works as she
speaks. Plugs a power cell into a socket, rips a cord out of an old
processor that hasn't worked since its ship crashed on earth eight
years ago. The conductor comes from a Cyberman.
"Obviously," says Pete. He's standing a little too close.
universe is fractured. It might be natural. Probably not." Cross the
wires. Insert the conductor. "It's open to the multiverse. Vulnerable
to incursions. We tried to seal the cracks, but it hasn't worked."
Rose understands. Pete is slower, but she continues anyway.
the Time Lords ... existed ... this wouldn't be a problem. The rift
would be controlled. Movement prevented. Hold this down, would you?"
While Rose holds the cords in position, Romana uses her sonic screwdriver to seal them in place.
"Why can't you and the Doctor fix it, then?" Pete asks.
"I told you," she snaps, "we tried. Thought we'd succeeded, too. But we didn't count on the Black Dalek."
Rose's finger slips. "His name was Sec. Dalek Sec. I thought he'd been sucked into the void with the rest."
"It survived. It always survives."
"The Daleks are opening the rift?" asks Pete. "Why? What do we have that they want? That they can't get in your universe?"
Romana bites her lip.
"Me, I'm afraid," she says.
exactly. The baby. The Cult of Skaro exists to imagine, strategise and
create, as far as a Dalek is capable of creation. Human children have
been used as battle computers. A Gallifreyan child would be superior.
far as the Cult is concerned, the Time War is far from over. And they
are more than capable of appreciating the irony of using the Doctor's
And until they have that child, a Time Lady will be
useful. Properly connected to their central computers, a slave to their
technology. Physically unhurt, but otherwise--
"They took you into the void, didn't they?" says Rose.
"Did he come after you?"
rescue had torn the fabric of time and reality. A decade that never
happened, a moon that never existed. A person who was never born.
They counted it as a fair price.
it was just a reprieve," says Romana. "The Daleks were temporarily
neutralised, and they're always learning. They had void technology."
"So you came here," said Pete. His voice was cold. "Bringing the trouble down on us."
have come for you sooner or later," Romana snaps. "Sooner, in fact,
because it's easier to enter this universe than any other. The only
difference is that I've had time to rest and prepare, and you have me."
"You said you couldn't close the rift."
"This is a patch-up job." Romana plugs her machine in and switches the power on. It comes to life with a hum.
"What's that doing?" Rose asks.
a shield." Romana is tempted to give them the full explanation, just to
confuse them, but all the says in the end is, "it will hold until I
come up with something better. I'm concerned the Doctor's timing was
off." She runs her fingers over the wall. "I can hear the Void. It's
"He asked after you. The Doctor, I mean."
This is a lie, but Romana is a former president of Gallifrey. She's had practice.
"He was here?" Rose looks hopeful for a moment, but then worry takes over. She's afraid.
"He projected a message."
"You spoke to him." Rose bites her lip. "If the Doctor could get a message through..." she trails off.
"The Daleks won't pass through so easily," Romana tells her.
"Romana..." Rose glances at her father, then meets Romana's eyes. "They're already here."
"Downstairs," says Rose. "In the basement. We bought it from Van Statten a year ago."
So this is what it's like to absolutely betray someone. Romana sits down slowly, looking murderous. Rose can't blame her.
wanted to kill it," she adds. And it's true, but it feels like an
excuse. "But some people," she gives her father a cold look, "thought
it was better to keep it for study. So yeah. It's downstairs. In the
basement. Waiting for orders."
Romana looks up. Her eyes are bright.
"I need to see it," she says.
Her dad is activating his earPod, calling for a heavy security detail to meet them en route to the basement.
"I'll get a rocket launcher," says Rose.
Romana is shaking as the elevator descends. She stuffs her hands in her pockets and bites her lip.
"You okay?" says Rose. Stupid question. Nobody is okay as they approach a Dalek. Rose's hands are shaking slightly.
"Fine," says Romana.
Now Pete is watching her. All this mutual distrust, Romana thinks. She's so tired of it.
"It's not my fear," she snaps.
Lords are slightly telepathic, after all, and although the baby is just
a mass of emotions and instincts, they've been her constant companion
these last months. She's not sure where she ends and he begins anymore.
She meets Rose's eyes and sees the dawn of understanding as Rose puts all this together.
"Oh," says Rose.
The lift stops. The doors open. Romana takes one deep breath and steps out.
almost makes her laugh. Six soldiers, plus Pete and Rose, dwarfed by
their stolen alien weapons, and the Dalek isn't even armed.
But it's awake, and it sees her.
"Do you know me?"
The familiar metallic growl makes the hairs on the back of her head
stand on end. It makes her name sound obscene. Rose is moving forward
slowly. Protecting her, Romana realises. "President of Gallifrey.
"If you're setting up to tell me what a good
Dalek I'd make," says Romana, "you can forget it." She shifts her
weight. Her ankles are sore, and Daleks don't care about body language.
"I've already discussed it at length with the Cult of Skaro."
The Dalek offers no visible reaction to this name-dropping, but Romana can picture the creature within as it recoils.
"So," she said, "what are your orders."
"Infiltrate. Seek. Locate. Exterminate Gallifreyan female."
"Nonsense. Dalek Sec wanted me alive."
she can convince herself that she is still the president and still the
war leader of Gallifrey, that she has a true army of Time Lords at her
back, she can convince herself that it is anger she feels, and not fear.
"Seek. Locate. Exterminate."
"With what?" Rose snaps. "We disarmed you."
For the first time, the Dalek looks away from Romana.
"Human agents," it says.
Everyone becomes very still. Romana doesn't have to look back to know that the humans are suddenly watching each other.
"I don't believe you," Romana snaps. "Where would you find them? How would you control them?"
The Dalek is almost purring.
"Volunteers," it says. "Humans who recognised Dalek superiority."
there are always collaborators, and those who are tempted by the
promise of power. On this world, as in her own universe, there were
those who volunteered for Cyber-augmentation.
Pete steps out of the room, activating his earPod. No one else moves.
"I have the advantage of you," says Romana. Her mouth is dry. "I know how this story ends."
"Your own Matrix predicted the ascendancy of the Daleks."
says Romana, "but not even the Matrix was right all the time. It
couldn't predict its own destruction. Do you think," she says, "that
you'll be able to predict your own death?"
"You will be ext--"
yes, probably, but what does it matter to you? You're just a soldier.
The Emperor's gone--" she caught Rose's eye -- "the Cult is practically
myth. And, of course, you're in the wrong universe." She is manically
cheerful. She would sit on the floor, cross-legged like a child in
lessons, if she thought she'd be able to get up again. "You're all
alone, Dalek. Just like me."
"I have orders."
"But no way to carry them out. Face it, Dalek, you're useless. Impotent."
It says nothing.
"I wonder what the Cult of Skaro will do when they find you've failed?"
"I welcome death."
is wracked by sympathy. Not her own. All her child wants is life. It
knows fear, but not death. He doesn't understand yet.
behind her. McShane has fired her weapon, and a man's chest is blowing
open. Something warm and soft hits Romana's face as she spins around.
She can't think of his name. She had spoken to him, once.
And Rose's weapon is raised, she's pulling the trigger. The Dalek dies in a fireball that singes the ends of Romana's hair.
There is chaos around them. Pete is giving orders, McShane is standing still, her jaw set, her eyes distant.
"Warner was about to shoot you," said Rose. "The Dalek was controlling him." Her lip is quivering. She takes deep breaths.
"Well," said Pete, "what now?"
try again," says Romana, "and again. And again." She wipes Warner's
blood off her face. "This was a bad idea," she says. She cannot stop
shaking. She walks away. She cannot meet anyone's eye.
"What now?" Rose asks.
Romana is in the void room. Listening, Rose thinks, to something beyond human perception.
"I think you need to prepare for an invasion," Romana says. "It could take weeks. Months. Years. But they'll come."
Rose reaches out to take her hand.
"You'll never be safe," she says.
For some reason, this makes Romana smile. "You should be worrying for your own species," she says.
Rose pushes her hair out of her face. Less than five hours ago, she was
listening to Neville's self-promotion. Now— "Dad's decided you're a
security risk," she says. "He's sending you up to Torchwood House in
the morning – he and McShane are organising security right now. As soon
as you're there, they'll induce labour—"
"And will no doubt die
a convenient and primitive death." Romana sounds completely detached.
"As if the Daleks weren't bad enough. Now I have to deal with humanity."
"I'm trying," Rose snaps. "Mickey's getting ready to deflect security. We leave in fifteen minutes?"
"I'm not sending you off on your own to go into hiding and have a baby!"
"Rose." Now Romana is squeezing her hand. "Your job is to stay here. Defend the Earth and all that."
"I can't leave you alone."
"I'm nearly seven hundred years old, Rose. I know how to look after myself."
"And the baby?"
"Him, too. Rose, your duty is here."
the worst thing is, Rose thinks, that she's absolutely right. They
could get away, and they'd probably be safe for a while, but everyone
She thinks of her mum. Mickey. His gran.
she says finally. "Mickey'll be at the back dock. Bay three. He'll take
you past the roadblocks. And here," she gives Romana a wallet. "Cash.
ID. Ration card. You'll need to get new cards, but I figure you can do
"Thank you," says Romana. "I've left the Dalek file in the system—"
"Go," Rose orders. "And hurry." A moment later—"Wait!"
Romana pauses in the doorway.
"The Doctor," Rose says, feeling foolish. "When you spoke to the Doctor – did he have a message for me or ... anything?"
"No," Romana says. She offers Rose a sad smile, then walks away.
"Where'll you go?" Mickey asks as they pass the final roadblock. He's heading for the nearest train station.
"Do you think they'll invade soon?"
"I don't know," Romana admits. "But – trust Rose."
"I do," he says.
They reach the station, and she kisses his cheek before she climbs out. She watches him drive away.
The sun is coming up.
gives them an hour, then she goes in search of her dad. He's in his
office, pacing as he reads a printed file. He puts it aside as she
"Romana's gone," she says without preamble.
He sinks into a chair, suddenly ashen. The night has taken its toll; he
looks old and worn. "Torchwood House will want my head on a plate. To
say nothing of the President."
"I checked the cameras. They were all on a loop."
dad taps his earPod. "McShane?" he says, all affability, "we have an
issue. Yes, a new one. Get up here." He turns back to Rose. "When did
you find out?"
"Just now. Fifteen minutes ago, I think. I
thought she might need someone..." Rose lets her voice trail off and
bites her lip. "When I couldn't find her – well, I had a hunch." She
looks down and wonders how far she can push this. A bit further, she
"The Doctor," she says slowly, "he wouldn't have run."
Pete squeezes her hand. "I know, Rose. I know."
Rose keeps looking down, because she's afraid he'll see her smile.
are no retired Time Lords in Cambridge. Romana should have known this,
but she had to come and see for herself. She spends a morning walking
along the river, and signs the lease on a flat in the afternoon. Her
forgeries pass without notice. She smiles with pride as the estate
agent processes the deposit. He thinks she's smiling at him. Everyone's
happy. Romana thinks its marvellous.
The baby is calmer here,
and everything is very peaceful, although the curfew is strictly
enforced and it's harder to forget how alien and military this world
is. Rationing was never a concern for Torchwood, and the London curfew
was more an idea than a reality.
Romana finds a midwife whose discretion matches her competence.
After that, there doesn't seem to be anything left to do except wait.
sleeps a great deal, and when she's awake, she finds herself designing
weapons. She fills up a notebook, and then another. Then she burns the
papers, and watches the wind carry the fragments away.
"Tell me a story?"
"Yeah. 'Cos I'm good at that sort of thing and all."
"Go on, Hayley," Rose tells her sister. "Don't let him wriggle out of it."
sighs. "Right," he says. "You asked for it." He lies back on the grass,
staring absently up at the sky for a few minutes. Rose is almost scared
to ask what he's thinking of. Then he sits up, grinning. "Here's a
story, Hayley. Once upon a time, there was a girl."
"There's always a girl," Hayley points out.
"Yeah, but this one was special."
"Why?" Rose asks, against her better judgement.
"Well, she wasn't a princess, was she? Or a witch, or any of those other things you get in stories."
"What was she?" Hayley asks.
"Just a girl. She worked in a shop."
"That's no fun," Hayley says. "It has to be a proper story, Mickey."
"It is a proper story. Because one day, the ordinary-but-special-girl was, um, saved by a magician. From--"
"Monsters," Rose cuts in. "Not like Cybermen, though. Better monsters."
"Better like they were nice?" Hayley asks. "Or better because they were scarier?"
... that's a really subjective kind of thing," Mickey says. "Anyway,
she was rescued. And she went travelling with the magician – without
stopping to tell anyone, by the way, so her mother made all kinds of
unfounded accusations and completely innocent people got accused of
crimes they'd never done—"
"But the important thing is that she had adventures," says Rose, before Mickey gets out of hand. "And learnt a lot."
Hayley looks unimpressed. "This isn't a very good story," she says.
we're doing our best," says Rose. "She had adventures, and saw ... oh,
all kinds of mad things. And then she came home. It wasn't quite the
home she'd left, but it was all she had. So she made the best of it."
Rose shrugs. "Lived happily ever after, I guess. Isn't that what's meant to happen?"
"That's the worst story I've ever heard," says Hayley.
"Everyone's a critic."
midwife arrives just after sundown. Romana is pacing the length of her
flat and reciting the Interdicts of Rassilon under her breath.
"Pain," she tells the midwife, "is a primal physiological reaction."
"Of course it is."
"It's very embarrassing," she adds as the woman takes her pulse. "I don't think I'm ready for this."
"No one ever is." The midwife frowns. "Your heartrate's a bit strange, love."
"Hmm. Oh well."
wish," Romana begins, but there's no point in finishing the thought,
and in any case, the next wave of pain wipes it from her mind.
baby, in the end, is small and red and wet. His birth certificate gives
his name as Samuel Carroll, son of Jean Carroll, father unknown.
"I'm sorry," Romana tells him when they're left alone at last. "I'm so sorry."
It's no life for a Time Lord, but it's the best she can provide for the moment.
Rose doesn't look up from her desk. "Paperwork," she says, hoping that Mickey will go away.
"I can see that." Instead, he sits down. "And you're nicely dressed for it, too."
Damn. Rose stops typing and glances ruefully at her dress. "Did Mum send you?"
you didn't come home last night. I figured you were with your boyfriend
from Defence, but she was worried you'd been eaten by Cybermen or
"I was with Neville."
"I also have paperwork."
"I understand." Mickey is nodding wisely. "Some men just don't look as good over breakfast."
Rose manages a weak grin.
me, of course," he adds. "Women line up to watch me have breakfast.
Queues around the street. The neighbours are starting to complain."
"How are we doing for heavy weaponry these days?"
you're back in work mode. We could do with more heavy ground defences,
but we're doing pretty well with personal weapons." He drops his voice.
"Romana gave me some tips on boosting power levels. I've been doing a
bit of work in my spare time."
"Good." Rose rests her head in
her hands, wishing she had slept the night before. "The readings around
the rift – everything's increasing."
"Are they coming?"
"Soon," says Rose.
takes the baby for a walk through the town, introducing him to his
planet. He sleeps most of the way, nestled in her arms with a finger in
When she reaches the river, she stops and inhales. It feels wrong, somehow. This universe, her body, nothing is quite right.
She holds her breath and half-closes her eyes. She can almost see the shadows of people who aren't there.
world is out of joint," she tells Samuel as they turn back. "I think it
was a human who said that first, and he was talking about time, but
it's all related."
Samuel removes his fingers from his mouth and curls a slightly damp hand around her finger.
"Yes," she says, "I know."
readings are higher every day. Rose fancies that the wall is brighter,
aglow with energy. She has recurring nightmares about shattered glass,
and she finds herself idly examining crockery for cracks.
A squad is assigned to guard the void room.
Two more Dalek agents are uncovered. Volunteers, both of them. Assassins, charged and aimed at her and her father.
By unspoken agreement, they don't tell Jackie.
Rose looks out the window one morning, and for a moment, the Zeppelin overhead seems to flicker.
Less than a second.
She taps her earPod. "I need the current readings from the void room," she says.
"They're – oh."
"There was a spike. Less than a minute ago."
"Yeah," Rose says, "I was afraid of that."
There is a rhyme circulating through the intranet, popping up in emails and messages:
Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today
Oh how I wish he'd go away.
has got into Rose's head like a song, and it's driving her mad. She
finds herself reciting it in odd moments. She hums it under her breath
while she watches Nev eat.
"You all right?" he asks.
"Fine," she says. "Just worried. Work and stuff."
He squeezes her hand. "You work too hard," he says. "You should take some time off. Go on holiday."
"Yeah. One day."
She looks away. He lets go of her hand.
she gets back to the office, she promises herself, she'll send a sharp
email about wasting Torchwood resources on silly rhymes and nonsense.
is much on Romana's mind these days. At night she finds herself
remembering odd things, the echo of her footsteps on the Panopticon
floor, the distinct smell of the air, the weight of the ceremonial
robes she wore as President.
She is acutely aware of her
isolation. There's nothing to distract her from memories of dead
planets and dead friends. She paces the flat, telling Samuel about
history and legends and the way her hands shook when she gave the order
to abandon Arcadia. They go outside every afternoon, and she tells him
how to recognise a category four paradox and three varieties of
"I hope you develop speech soon," she tells him. "If only to say something in return."
Samuel sucks his fingers without comment. Romana carries him to the window and watches the Zeppelins move and flicker above.
sees her dad more often at work than at home. He's spending long hours
in Torchwood Tower and when he comes home, he spends most of his time
Rose finds them playing computer games in his
study. Her mother is already there, leaning against the door with a
half-smile on her face.
"Never grows up," she says, but fondly. "He's worse than Mickey."
win, Daddy!" Hayley says. He watches from the floor as she does a dance
of celebration, spinning in circles until she falls down.
looks old, Rose thinks, and worn out. She wants to think that it serves
him right – it does – but he looks so tired. Over breakfast – just the
two of them, hours before anyone else is awake – she says, "Reckon we
need a holiday."
"Reckon we need new jobs."
"I could sell soft drinks."
He manages a smile. "They're health drinks, Rose."
"Right, yeah. Health drinks."
"How'd I die, Rose?" he asks suddenly. "In your world, how did I die?"
Rose drops her fork.
"Seriously," he says. "It was a car, wasn't it?"
"Yes," she whispers.
"You were there. It was a wedding. You and the Doctor were there."
rubs the bridge of his nose. "I keep seeing it," he says. "Coming for
me – I've never even been in that street, but I remember dying there."
"It's the rift," Rose says. "Everything's bleeding through."
I met a man who wasn't there, Rose hums as she prepares to go home—
—But he is there, large as life, like she never left—
the Doctor says. His smile – he's a bit thinner, she realises, and the
lines in his face are a bit deeper. How long has it been, for him? He's
smiling at her, like he can't believe he's seeing her – she can't
believe she's seeing him—
"Doctor," she breathes. "Oh, God, Romana – Torchwood wanted – it's time, isn't it?"
"Yes," he says. "The breach is opening on both sides. Romana's safe, I know where she is, but you have to leave now—"
"She's in Cambridge. In a block of flats near the university—" He is reeling off directions, and Rose is repeating them.
He's fading away.
"Doctor," she calls. He flickers. "Will we – can you—?"
"I'm doing my best, Rose," he says, and then he's gone.
She opens her eyes, but she already knows the room is empty.
"It's just a dream," she says.
In the next room, she hears the baby stir.
look what you've done," she says to the man who isn't there. She gets
up, pulling a moth-eaten shawl around her shoulders. The baby quiets as
soon as she picks him up. "He'll be up for hours, now."
"Sorry," the Doctor says quietly. For a moment she can see him. "What's he like?"
Romana settles the baby. Support the head. Keep him warm. Tiny double heartbeat beneath her fingers.
"Small. Red. I named him Samuel. He doesn't talk yet."
"Sam." He laughs. "Fantastic. I can take him to the beach and raise him to be a leg-spinner."
"This isn't a dream, is it?"
If she watches the shadows, she can see him.
"Why are you here?"
"It's almost time."
"Please, Doctor." She sounds unbearably weary. She is weary.
"I can't stay long. They're on their way."
"I told Rose—" He is fading – he's gone.
Her voice echoes through the room. The baby begins to wail in earnest.
The knock at the door comes twenty-two minutes later. It's Rose. Of course.
"We don't have much time," she says.
hands her a bag and wraps her scarlet coat around her shoulders. Her
sonic screwdriver and the embryonic TARDIS are heavy in her pockets.
She clutches Samuel, trying not to communicate her anxiety.
Mickey is waiting in the car downstairs.
took Dad's car," Rose says. "The baby-seat was still in the garage."
She straps Samuel in with practiced hands, and pauses to touch his
cheek. "He's beautiful."
"Yes. He is."
He holds Rose's
hand as they drive. Romana watches the dark scenery slide past. The
stars are bright, obscured here and there by the bulk of a zeppelin.
"The rift is opening," Rose says.
"There are echoes," adds Mickey. "Things creeping through."
"Like ghosts," says Rose. "Of things that never happened."
"I've seen it," says Romana.
"The world is ... leaking." Rose's voice is bleak. She tries to smile at Samuel, but it doesn't reach her eyes.
Romana takes her hand, and says with a conviction she doesn't really feel, "Don't worry. I can fix it."
good that you left," says Rose. They're on the outskirts of London,
pulling away from a checkpoint. The soldiers saw Mickey's Torchwood ID
and let them drive through. "There were two other Dalek agents. A
saboteur and an assassin."
"Who was the target?"
"You, me and Dad."
Samuel is sleeping now, still clutching Rose's finger.
Approaching Torchwood Tower, Rose says, "When we get inside ... don't let anyone take the baby except us."
"Is your father still—?"
Rose closes her eyes briefly. "He'd think he was doing the right thing," she says.
"That's a yes," Mickey adds.
come to a stop. Romana wraps Samuel in her shawl and holds him tightly
against her chest as they walk up to the entrance. Their footsteps echo
on the floor. Deja vu. The guard lets them pass, but he is reaching for
his earPod as the doors close behind them.
more guards in the void room, but they merely stand to attention as
Rose and Mickey enter. Romana hands Samuel to Rose and examines the
wall. She can feel the cracks in reality, the universes merging as the
barriers are broken down.
"Mickey," she says, "I need you to cut all the power to this building."
"Right." He opens his laptop and starts typing.
The lights go down. Romana's hearts are pounding in her ears.
"Now," she says, "cut the generator."
silence as the back-up systems go down. The baby is beginning to fuss.
Romana takes him from Rose, and goes out to examine the floor's weapons
locker. Mickey follows.
"I've made a few changes," he says, hefting an energy weapon. Romana grins.
"You must have read my mind," she says. "Can you bring this in for me?"
'This' is a high impact projectile weapon. Nicely retrofitted, she thinks. Mickey does good work.
"The guards all have them as well," Mickey says. "We'll only get a few shots, but we'll make them work."
"Good." She finds a particle gun, a small thing, but infinitely useful.
"Do we get an explanation?" Rose asks when they return. She has found a torch, and waves it at Romana. "Or is it a surprise?"
Daleks are using our own power to open the rift," says Romana. "I'm
drawing their attention." She drops her particle gun on the table and
hands Samuel to Mickey. "Can I have some light here, please?" She opens
up the particle gun and starts realigning the internal workings.
"Next," she tells them, "I'm going to open the rift myself."
"And that's going to save us," says Rose doubtfully.
smiles. She's feeling utterly reckless. She thinks Rose knows it, even
if Mickey is convinced. But that doesn't matter.
"Trust me," she says.
Pete arrives, quiet and furious. He doesn't look at Rose.
"I should arrest you," he says to Romana. He is watching the baby.
"Later," says Romana. "I'm saving the world right now."
says, "Do you want me to take the baby away? In case..." her eyes flick
towards the blank rift wall. "In case something happens?"
"Not yet," Romana tells her. "But if anything happens to me--"
"We'll be far away," Rose promises. "No one will be able to touch us."
This conversation is conducted in low voices. Romana clutches Samuel and feels Pete watching them.
"Thank you," she says to Rose.
Romana thinks, is probably wondering what kind of mother doesn't send
her new baby to a place of safety as she prepares to open the world to
Daleks. But Romana has ordered the death of planets, and this feels
exactly the same.
Anyway, Samuel has been a pawn in this war since his conception. He should be here to see it end, one way or another.
Romana closes her eyes for a moment, praying to ancient gods of time and chaos that she is doing the right thing.
Then she fires her weapon and opens the rift.
is strictly a one-way opening. She has no desire to let these humans
get sucked into the Void. Romana puts the particle gun aside and picks
up a projectile weapon. She is holding her breath.
Everything is still.
The void is almost blinding. It is perfect and silent and entirely dead.
is crying. Rose tries to hush him, but his wails only grow louder.
Romana risks a moment to turn back and look at him, a tiny scrap in
Rose's arms. He'll have thirteen lifetimes, if they survive this day.
The room has filled with soldiers. The people of Torchwood, defending the Earth.
On the edge of the rift, a familiar shape is forming. And another. Four of them.
Romana holds her breath.
The Cult of Skaro do not acknowledge the humans; their attention is entirely on Romana. They advance as one.
Romana straightens her spine and tries to will her hands to stop shaking.
"Speak," she asks.
"Give us the Time Lord infant," the Black Dalek says, "and you will not be exterminated."
"And then? I just ... stand aside while you rebuild your armies? Take over the known universe?"
Sec watches her. She can sense the malevolent interest behind its casing.
"Yes," it says.
She is silent just long enough to let them think she might be considering it.
she raises her weapon and pulls the trigger. Sec evaporates into a
fireball, and before the other Daleks have time to respond, she is
shooting Thay. Her shot is repelled, but Rose, too, is taking aim, and
Thay is distracted—
And the others—
A soldier to her left
is taking aim, but Jast is already shooting at him. Romana hits Jast as
the soldier dies. The man falls in a heap, but Jast's eyestalk is
shattered, and another shot penetrates its casing.
The creature within twitches. Another shot and it's dead.
Mickey has shot Caan, at the same time as two other soldiers, The heat
of the explosions is unbearable, and the smell—but the Cult is
destroyed, and this is a victory.
She steps back, trying not
to breathe too deeply. Her lungs are burning. Chemicals and organic
death and fire. She is coughing so hard she can't straighten up. Mickey
holds her shoulders and keeps her from collapsing. She wants to thank
him, but she can't speak, she can only reach up and squeeze his hand.
"I must close the rift," she gasps.
But she can hear something. On the edge of her perception and growing louder, and Rose's eyes are widening.
The TARDIS is materialising.
The rift is cracking around it, warping under the strain of this incursion.
"No," she says. "I need to close the rift." Her lungs seize up again.
The door opens.
is on her knees, trying to clear her throat. She wants to be on her
feet, holding her baby and closing the rift. Instead, she is crouching,
listening to Mickey calling for help. She's surrounded by chaos.
Soldiers and scientists clustered around the noxious Dalek wreckage,
Rose giving orders. She should clear them away from the rift. She needs
to close it. As soon as she can stand straight.
accepts the bottle and drinks deeply. Cold water, and the juice of
alien fruits. Her throat is calmed, and when she breaths, her lungs
She stands up and says, "Thank you."
Doctor grins at her, and moves away. He walks over to Rose, kisses her
on the forehead – she is smiling and crying and saying something that
Romana can't hear – and takes the baby from her arms.
Samuel stops crying.
The Doctor turns back to Romana, who says in a low voice, "You shouldn't be here. I need to close the rift."
presence here must be causing impossible damage on both sides. Part of
her thinks it's worth it, simply to see him in the flesh again. And
part of her thinks it's typically irresponsible, and selfish. The rift
needs to be closed again.
"Do you want to come home?" he asks.
be absurd." There are tears welling up in her eyes. Like she's a
student of a mere century again, but she feels so old as she says,
"someone has to be here. To close the rift and protect them."
She turns away, to begin reversing to the settings on the particle weapon. She hopes it will be strong enough for the job.
says the Doctor. He pulls a piece of metal out of his pocket. For a
moment, she simply stares, unable to identify it. Impatiently, she
wipes her tears away. A particle magnifier. Perfect.
"Thank you," she says. Her voice is broken. "I think ... you should go now. Before it's closed."
should take Samuel with him, she thinks, fitting the magnifier. The
thought is like knives through her hearts, but at least the baby will
be safe from Torchwood. But both universes are dangerous. What he
really needs, she thinks, is both parents to protect him until he can
protect himself, but she won't ask the Doctor to stay.
She can hardly see for tears.
too, is crying. She doesn't know why; she's so happy. They're alive,
the Daleks are in pieces, and the Doctor is here, and as much as she
knows it's stupid, she feels that everything should be right now.
Her father is holding her hand. Afraid she's going to go away, she realises. Afraid she'll leave forever.
"We just saved the world," she breathes.
"It's our job," her dad says.
He lets her go, and she moves forward and touches Romana's elbow.
"Romana." Romana looks up from the particle weapon, wide-eyed and pale. "You should go," Rose tells her.
More tears. Rose wipes them away impatiently. She's so happy.
"The rift will never be completely mended on this side," says Romana quietly. "You never know what will come out next."
says Rose with a touch of impatience, "we don't need you here. We can
defend ourselves. Four Daleks were destroyed today, and that wasn't
just you." She is holding Romana's arm, forcing her to turn and look at
her. "You go," she insists. "I'll close the rift."
Rose risks a
glance at the Doctor, who is looking – so proud. She grins at him.
Probably looks a sight, sleepless, blotchy, puffy... She just smiles.
"Go," Rose tells Romana. "We'll take care of it, yeah?"
Romana draws a deep, shuddering breath. Her hearts are pounding.
turns slowly, and meets the Doctor's eyes. He takes a step forward and
lets her take Samuel. She clutches him tightly, so tightly she can feel
his hearts beating. He's becoming fretful again. Calm, she tells him. His hearts slow. So do hers.
Doctor is holding her arm – tightly, as if afraid she's about to change
her mind – but she precedes him into the TARDIS. And in the moment
before she closes the doors, she looks back, and meets Rose's eyes, and
Then she closes the door, and they dematerialise.
Romana closes her eyes.
Rose holds her breath until the TARDIS is gone. Then she exhales with a sob. Stupid to cry more, and there's work to be done.
The weapon is a simple thing, already adapted for use by humans. Downright straightforward.
Rose raises it and fires.
"Goodbye," she breathes as the rift closes.
the rift is gone, when it's just the one universe again, she steps
slowly towards the wall. She's been here before. It's easier the second
When she turns back, she's facing her dad, and Mickey, and a host of people who are looking to her for orders.
"Well," she says, wiping her face, "I guess we've got work to do."
"She did it," the Doctor says. "She did it! The rift is closed."
He is manipulating the console with a manic flourish. "Home," he says. "We're home."
leans against a curved pillar, feeling the deep hum of the TARDIS. It
matches the pulse of the embryonic TARDIS in her pocket, and Samuel is
already quieting. She sinks to the floor.
"Home," she says to the baby. "You're home, now. It's all right."
The Doctor sits beside her and takes her hand.
"I'd become used to getting on without you," she says.
"You're quite good at it. Much better than me. Not that I could get on without me, although sometimes I'd like to try—"
She kisses him.
"I can get on without you," she says. "I just ... don't want to."
He kisses her back, swiftly.
"Quite right, too," he says.
"Here." She gives him the baby, who is nearly asleep with his thumb in his mouth. The Doctor takes him without hesitation.
"Look at his little toenails."
clever, too. I left my sonic screwdriver next to him the other day, and
the next thing I knew he'd shorted out the power grid."
"He's going to follow in my footsteps."
"Yes," says Romana with a small sigh, "I'm afraid that will be the case." She caught his gaze and laughed.
"Whole species in one TARDIS," says the Doctor suddenly.
"That ... hasn't escaped me," Romana says.
I've been so busy opening rifts and chasing people and Daleks through
dimensions that I haven't quite thought about it. Do we know what to do
here? Do we have a plan?"
"I thought you did your best work without a plan," Romana says.
"I do, but raising a kid's not like bringing down an empire."
"At least you know the difference."
"Now you're laughing at me. I'm trying to consider the future of our race, and you're laughing at me."
"Oh, Doctor," she says, "you just have to think smaller."
He eyed her suspiciously.
"Family, Doctor, not species. You just take it one day at a time."
"I used to know how to do this," he says.
They sit in silence for a long time, listening to the hum of the TARDIS and the baby's snuffles.
"Missed you," the Doctor says.
"Your humans were very nice."
"They're not mine."
"For the most part, anyway. I didn't care much for Torchwood."
"No. Well, we knew that was a risk..." He hesitates. "Do you think Rose will be all right?"
Romana smiles. "She'll be superb," she says.
"I'm glad you're home. Did I mention that? I'm really happy—"
She silences him with a kiss.
"I guessed it," she says.
descends once more. If Romana is very still, she can feel the Doctor's
pulses as well as her own. And beyond them are the light, quick
heartsbeats of the baby, and the hum of the TARDIS engines, and it is
all familiar and home-like.
For the moment, the rest of the universe seems very far away. And she is content to keep it so.
Notes and beta credits:
Branwyn aka Cesario read the early
drafts and told me they had problems, then read the later drafts and
said they were okay. Calapine and Weaverandom pointed out all the
problems in the first version, which was a labour of Herculean
proportions. R. J. Anderson fixed my commas. Nostalgia
tweaked Rose. Lady Vivien gave it a final read-through.