There weren’t many times when The Doctor could say he was absolutely content. This was one of them. And he found it in possibly the last place he expected to find it.

Well, yes, he had known a few contented times on Earth. But he really hadn’t expect to be so happy in winter, in Central Park, in New York.

It was the last place in the universe he had planned to take Louise. He had, of course, every intention of showing her Earth. It was the planet both sides of her family came from, after all. Her Forêtean forebears had left France to travel to a colony planet several generations before she was born. Her father was a fifty first century Irishman. A quiet few days on the west coast of Ireland or in the French countryside would have been a more suitable introduction to the planet. New York, with its teeming masses was completely wrong.

But the TARDIS had proved, yet again, to have a mind of its own and had materialised by the Turtle Pond on the morning of December 31st, 1999 and then developed a fault that necessitated twenty-four hours rebooting of the central drive computer. The Doctor had grumpily complained that the TARDIS was trying to pull a sick day on him and had nothing wrong with it, but his attempts to override it and leave for somewhere else proved fruitless. In the end he told Louise to wrap up warm for a day out.

And to his surprise, Central Park had enthralled Louise. At first as they walked in the early morning December sunshine she had preferred to stay near the natural woodland areas of the park. From their familiar security she had viewed the skyscrapers of Manhattan before venturing out onto the wide expanse of the lawn dressed in warm, fur lined boots and a woollen dress covered with a hooded cloak.

The Doctor was dressed in his familiar brown suit and tan coat and plimsolls and was oblivious to the biting cold that turned all the grasslands white with frost. He held her gloved hand in his as they explored the park all day. He smiled blissfully as they walked around the zoo and she gazed with wonder at animals she had never seen before. Her amazement as her known universe expanded hugely was a source of pleasure to him.

Then they had gone to the Carousel. The beautiful stone building, now nearly fifty years old, fascinated her, and when she saw the ornately painted wooden horses on their brightly lit revolving pedestal she was speechless.

The Doctor, with all of time and space at his command, who had seen Nebula’s burn, who had watched planets enveloped by supernovas, who had witnessed whole solar systems falling into black holes, had only rarely experienced the simple pleasure of sitting on a painted wooden horse holding a woman he cared dearly for around the waist as it slowly turned and bobbed up and down.

But for once, he had done just that. He leant his head against Louise’s shoulder as she held on to the reins and he sighed happily. He felt younger than he had felt for a very long time. He felt he was at the start of his manhood again, with everything to live for and a young woman to share the experiences with.

Love was doing him a power of good.

Even she noticed as they walked along the footpaths of Central Park enjoying the winter sunshine. She stopped walking and reached out to touch his face.

“You look younger, chéri, like you did when I was a child. The darkness behind your eyes is gone.”

“You did that,” he said. “You made me forget the darkness.”

That was true. It sounded corny, but since he returned to Forêt and found her waiting for him, he had been a happy man. He slept easy with her in his arms. And he really did sleep, in the ordinary way, untroubled by nightmares. When he was awake, there were, of course, deep, painful memories that hurt him constantly, but with her in his life, he found them haunting him far less. He knew he smiled more.

It was easy to fall into a long, lingering kiss. Passers by smiled to see them, knowing they were in love. He knew they made a pretty couple when they stopped kissing and walked on again.

They had eaten a nice meal in a restaurant called The Conservatory, just outside the Park itself, for no other reason than sentiment. One of the few social places he liked in Gallifrey’s Capitol was a restaurant called The Conservatory. Then, in the dark they walked back through the park again to the ice rink. Louise stared in surprise at people indulging a sport she had never even known existed before. She had grown up in a community that lived in the tree tops. In winter they hunkered down in extended family groups and kept warm. Coming out to slide across ice on blades of steel, especially in the dark of night, was an idea completely alien to her.

When The Doctor brought her to the kiosk where skates were hired out she pulled back fearfully.

“No,” she protested. “I can’t do that. I wouldn’t know how…”

“Yes, you will,” he promised her. He paid for two pairs of skates and set her down on a seat to put them on. He swapped his plimsolls for a pair of men’s skates and held her hand as they stepped out onto the ice. She wobbled a little, but he held her upright. He turned her to face him and held her by the shoulders as he looked into her eyes, gently hypotising her into believing that she could skate.

The ability came from him, mentally connecting to her mind and giving her the confidence as well as the skill to move gracefully around the ice hand in hand with him and not fall or falter.

Ice skating was actually a sport on his planet. Though, in point of fact, not one that sons of the aristocrats were supposed to indulge in. As a young Gallifreyan he had played Lacrosse, a team sport for gentlemen, and had learnt sword-fighting and martial arts, again, both suitable skills for a young nobleman of his kind. Skating was done by the lower classes. Some of them were good enough to receive patronage from the aristocrats who would pay to see them perform. One or two attained something like celebrity status and would find themselves invited to parties and functions where the high born ladies and gentlemen would talk to them almost as equals. It was a way for the lower classes of his world to gain an illusion of social mobility.

But one young aristocrat had learnt to skate. A lonely boy growing up in rural Southern Gallifrey, he had spent the winters of his youth on a frozen lake within his own family demesne and he had enjoyed the sense of speed and freedom. A weak, skinny boy had discovered he did have muscles in his arms and legs after all and gained strength and stamina. He had sustained a few bumps and bruises into the bargain, but nothing that a healthy boy would worry about even if he didn’t come from a species that healed easily,

He hadn’t done it for a very long time. And in his case that WAS a very long time. Not since he was a young Time Lord with his life ahead of him, enjoying the sweet taste of love for the first time. But as he glided around the ice with Louise in his arms, actually dancing to the music that was played on the pa system, it all came back to him.

“Did I tell you today how much I love you,” he whispered as they came to the side of the rink to rest for a set or two. He reached to kiss her and she reciprocated happily.

“Yes, you did,” she answered. “About fifteen times.”

“Make that sixteen, then,” he told her.

“I love you, mon docteur a moi,” she assured him. He smiled to hear her call him that. Alone, in their bed, with the TARDIS sliding through the vortex towards another destination, she called him by another name – his real name known to only a very few people in the whole universe. A very, very few serious people in high commanding positions could use it in a formal way if he ever presented himself to them. But Louise was his wife. She knew it because it was hers to know. And she whispered it as he made love to her as a term of endearment that made his two hearts swell and his soul soar.

But anywhere else, he was, to her, as he was to the universe in general, Doctor. In her case ‘My Doctor’ and that was enough to mark her out as unique among the billions of beings in that universe.

“My Louise,” he said in fond tones. “My wife.”

He took her hand and drew her back onto the ice again. He wanted to ice skate with her until midnight. The rink was open until then, for people celebrating the new millennium in the Park. The Doctor had no plans to be anywhere else.

Not this time around.

It hadn’t escaped his recollection that he had lived through the millennium on planet Earth before. It was a long time ago. Three lives ago, he had fought the Master in San Francisco to stop the planet being turned inside out. Midnight Pacific Standard Time had been the crucial moment. That was still many hours away. His existence here in New York at the same time wasn’t a problem.

That last time had been a painful time for him. A difficult regeneration, his mind slowly coming together while the planet almost fell apart around him, a fight to the death with the Master. And when it was all over, he didn’t even get the girl!

So he was perfectly content to relive this day with his new girl in his arms and some pleasant music to listen to.

She was more than content to be in his arms listening to the music, all of which was new to her. She loved skating with him.

“I think I like this place,” she said as she looked around at the skyscrapers that pushed up into the sky with their lights illuminating the darkness. “It’s so pretty.”

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor agreed. “Like this, at least. But Manhattan is too big for you, sweetheart. You’d be lost in it. And I don’t want to lose you.”

Midnight came closer and a sense of expectation filled the air. The skaters on the ice stopped where they were and chanted the countdown to the moment when the twenty-first century would begin.

It was an arbitrary moment, of course. It was only because humans used a decimal method of counting and considered a hundred to be a significant figure that the turn of the century, the turn of the millennium, meant anything at all. And after all, it already was the first day of the twenty-first century for more than half of the planet because of the way it was divided into time zones. The American landmasses were the only sizeable populated areas left to catch up.

Even so, The Doctor, the last Lord of Time, felt a thrill along with everyone else when the moment came. He hugged Louise in his arms and kissed her as the new century began in Central Park. Then he held her hand and encouraged her to take hold of the skater nearest to her as a spontaneous circle formed up to sing a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

“I helped him get the rhymes right, you know,” The Doctor said as they walked hand in hand along the lamplit path afterwards. There was still music playing as the celebration continued. Fireworks lit the sky with myriad colours and even from within the park the sounds of revellers in the streets of Manhattan could still be heard. “Old Robbie Burns. He never really got the hang of assonance…”

He stopped talking. He looked around. Louise wasn’t listening to his chatter. She wasn’t beside him. He tried to remember when she had let go of his hand.

Then he tried to remember who had let go of his hand.

He tried to remember why he felt sad in the middle of so much gaiety. Why was he crying? Why did he feel so lonely?”


He turned around as somebody called his name. He gasped as he recognised the man who had spoken to him.

It was himself. A younger version of himself.

“You can’t be here,” he said. “It’s a paradox. You’re supposed to be in San Francisco, fighting The Master.”

“I am,” the Eighth Doctor answered. “Still three hours to midnight, there. He hasn’t even started trying to steal my lives, yet. But yes, it is a paradox. I spotted your TARDIS’s resonance in the park. I was on the track of an Erazser hiding somewhere in the vicinity. It knew I was near… but it fixed on you by mistake… two hearts… quadruple helix DNA… it thought it was striking a blow against me…”

“But…” The Doctor took a deep breath and wiped his eyes. He still wasn’t sure why he was crying.

“The Erazser took somebody from you,” his younger counterpart said. “That’s why you feel so confused. You know something is missing, but you don’t know what. And it’s tearing up your mind. It thinks it’s won, because it thinks it’s beaten me… you… us.”

“Who did it take?” The Doctor asked. “Who am I missing? It feels…”

“Where’s your TARDIS?” Eight asked. “Is it close? Mine is parked on Broadway…”

“My TARDIS…” The Doctor shook his head. Trying to remember what he was missing was overwhelming every other thought. He tried again and managed to point in the general direction.

“Come on then, quick,” Eight told him. “We need to get a fix on this creature and get back what it took from you before it’s too late.”

The Doctor didn’t know why he had to hurry, but he hurried anyway. The closer he got to the TARDIS the more he felt the urgency of the situation. But he still didn’t know why he felt so sick with worry. Who was he missing? Why did he feel such a yawning gulf in his soul?

“If you could remember, it would help,” Eight said. “Causality has been messed with in a big way. Your missing memories are only one aspect of the problem, but they’re the key. If you remember who you’re missing, then we’d be halfway to finding him or her.”

The Doctor was trying very hard to remember. But when he tried his mind seemed to be in a fog.

“Trees,” he said. “Trees are something to do with it.” But he looked around. He was in a woodland area, after all. Trees were everywhere. Perhaps that was nothing.

He reached his TARDIS and opened the door quickly. His younger self followed him inside and looked around at the console room. It was, of course, very different from the way it looked in the latter days of his seventh and most of his eighth incarnation.

“I like it,” Eight said. “Yes, it’s… very organic.” Then he forgot about internal TARDIS décor. He moved to the console and after a brief, confused moment as he looked at the very different layout he began a proximity scan.

The Doctor thought about pointing out that this was his TARDIS and he was in charge, now, but he was still feeling confused and very conflicted. Inside the TARDIS the sense of loss was even deeper than it was outside.

“Whoever it was, it was somebody who mattered a lot to me,” he said.

“That doesn’t narrow the field down an awful lot,” Eight remarked. “Lots of people have meant a lot to us in our lifetime.”

“I know. But…”

The Doctor moved towards the inner door of the TARDIS. There was an answer to the puzzle, and he felt it was inside the TARDIS somewhere. He walked slowly down the corridor, past the library, the kitchen, the bathroom, the lumber room.

He stopped at his bedroom door, holding the handle for a long moment before he pushed the door open. The feeling of loss was strongest here. Inside this room he would find the answer to the mystery. And he suddenly wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to.

Because he knew it was going to be an emotionally painful remembrance.

At first nothing jogged his memory. The room was just as it had always been for centuries. The TARDIS had changed many times. He had changed nine times. But the room stayed the same. It still looked like his bedroom in his home on Gallifrey.

No… it had changed. Most of those centuries it had looked like the room where he slept as a boy. It was the bedroom of a youth with an interest in science, full of books and computer equipment and a dressing table that was covered in pieces of meteorite, fossils and assorted curios.

This was a replica of the master bedroom in the same house. The room he moved into when he became patriarch of his family with his wife at his side. The bed was a huge king size one with black satin sheets and coverings. The headboard was deep red-brown mahogany and so was the dresser and the huge double wardrobe and the bureau that made up the rest of the furniture. There was a door in the same wood leading off from it into what he knew was a huge, luxurious bathroom that included a Jacuzzi bath big enough for two.

He remembered sharing that room, the real bedroom, with his wife. He remembered happy times when he was young. He remembered the sadder times, when he was older – but that was the inevitable price of the happiness.

But that wasn’t what was missing from his life. That was old memories of a life long past, a different man who was, at the same time, the same man, the man he was.

He stepped closer to the bed. It wasn’t made quite as well made as it was in the real house, long ago, on Gallifrey. They had servants there, who would come in quietly during the day and tuck in the sheets neatly and tidy up.

He had no patience for neatly tucked in sheets. And his new wife was used to sleeping on a feather mattress covered over with furs.

His new wife….

He pulled back the covers and moved one of the pillows. It dislodged a silk nightdress. It was pale green coloured, with embroidered lace around the thigh length hem. She looked pretty in it, his hamadryad in green. He loved to hold her in his arms, feeling the warmth of her body through that silk.

Both the nightdress and pillow smelt faintly of a perfume that he had bought in the market of Xiang Xien. She wasn’t really used to wearing artificial scents, but she did so to please him.

He lay down on the bed, hugging the pillow and grieving bitterly for the woman he loved and who had been taken from him in an eyeblink, in a heartsbeat, without him even realising she was gone.

After a little while he stopped crying. He sat up and looked around the bedroom again. He gripped the nightdress in his hand as he walked, feeling as if his legs didn’t belong to him, out of the room and along the corridor, back to the console room again.

Eight looked up from the console as he entered. He was about to speak, then he saw The Doctor’s face and changed his mind.

“It took Louise,” he said, his hearts bursting as he put the dread truth into words. “It took her…”

“Louise?” Eight obviously didn’t know her. How could he. She was in his future.

“She’s my wife. She… I love her… and… I can’t believe that I forgot her, even for a moment. How could I do that?”

“It’s an Erazser,” Eight reminded him. “You know what they do.”

“Not to us. We’re Time Lords. We’re beyond the reach of such creatures. How could… how could it do that to me?”

Eight shook his head sadly.

“I think it could be me,” he answered. “The stuff going on in San Francisco, I mean. Remember, time was coming apart at the seams. All sorts of anomalies were happening. It’s made you vulnerable. Sorry about that. I… I suppose that’s one reason why we’re not supposed to cross our own timeline like this.”

“We have to find her. I have to get her back. I can’t lose her.”

“We’ll get her back,” Eight promised him. “I’m scanning the area. I know the Erazser is in the park, somewhere. It won’t be ready to leave, yet. The park is full of people. Lots more victims… humans… easy prey.”

More people suddenly finding themselves alone and lost, with an empty space in their souls, The Doctor thought.

“I remembered inside the TARDIS,” he said. “Because the TARDIS is shielded… it protected her memory… left the clues that she exists. But if I step outside again… will I forget?”

Eight looked at him thoughtfully, then took the nightdress from his unresisting hands. He found a place where the lace on the hem was loose and pulled it away. The Doctor looked horrified at the vandalism, but when his younger self took his hand and wound the lace around his wrist several times, he understood.

“Remember her,” he said. “And come here and tell me where she is.”

He stepped closer to the console. The environmental monitor was showing the whole of Central Park and its immediate area. In the skyscrapers that enclosed it there were hundreds of Human lifesigns piled upon each other. In the park, there were still many people. A large group were gathered around the ice rink, still, but others were drifting away through the park, heading for taxi ranks or walking back to their apartments.

To a trained eye all those looked perfectly normal and natural. What both the Time Lords were looking for was something abnormal, unnatural. They knew they would not find the Erazser. It was a non-corporeal entity that existed in organic dimensions only by feeding off the life force of its victims.

Off Louise. The Doctor’s hearts thudded as he thought of that. She was alive, yet. He could be sure of that. Her life force would sustain the Erazser for a few days before she was exhausted – in the sense that a battery would be exhausted after continuous draining of its power. Then she would be thrown away and a new victim taken.

Not if he could reach her first. He pulled his mind back from the horrible possibilities and concentrated on the environmental monitor.

“There…” he said. “There shouldn’t be any sort of lifesign there. It’s a body of water…. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir… Nobody should be there at this time of night. It’s certainly not the time for water sports. Besides… it’s her… I know it is. Look… she’s Human, of course. But… see the aura that proves she’s travelled in the vortex.”

“It must be her. But… she’s ok so far. She’s not drowning. Her lifesign is steady. Only…”

“What’s THAT…”

Eight reached for a dial at the same time he did. His younger incarnation retracted his hand and gave way to him. He adjusted the sensitivity of the lifesigns sensor and concentrated it on the reservoir.

“Sweet Mother of Chaos!” Eight swore a Gallifreyan curse as they both stared at the screen. One Human lifesign showed up clearly in the midst of the forty foot deep reservoir. But there were others, too. The monitor thought they were Human, but it couldn’t positively confirm that they existed.

“I count about two dozen of them,” The Doctor said. “Louise isn’t the only victim….”

“But she’s the only one who still has a name, an identity… who hasn’t been forgotten. So you’re the only one who can defeat the Eraszer.”

“Defeat… If she has been harmed in any way… I’m going to rip it to shreds.”

Eight looked at his older incarnation and frowned.

“Hot-headed vengeance was never our thing. She must be VERY special to you.”

“She’s my WIFE!” The Doctor reminded his other self with emotional emphasis hanging on the word. “I have never… no Time Lord would… marry for frivolous reasons. She’s more important to me than my own life.”

“Humanity is rubbing off on you. Calm down and don’t say stupid things like that. You’re no use to her dead. Besides, I don’t think an Eraszer CAN be ripped to shreds.”

“Let’s get on with this. I can take the TARDIS to it? Now we’ve identified the location of the creature… and Louise… we can go there.”

“Try to stop me,” Eight answered. “But we go in protected, prepared. You remember learning how to protect yourself from these things?”

“Lord Azmael’s class,” The Doctor remembered. “He was always giving us extra-curricular lessons. He reckoned some of us would go out into the universe. He wanted to equip us to fight the dangerous things out there.”

“He told us, when facing an Eraszer, we had to forget everything Lord Drogban taught us in Emotional Detachment class and be as emotional as we could be about every person we have ever been emotionally attached to. Holding onto the memories for dear life is the only way to fight one of those things.”

“Everyone I’ve ever been emotionally attached to…” The Doctor smiled. “Quite a back catalogue. Louise, Donna, Dominique, Wyn, Rose, Jack….”

He remembered back through all the people he had travelled with. Eight started from the beginning and had reached Polly before they both decided their memories were just fine.

“I can’t risk a wide-ranging materialisation,” The Doctor said as he powered up the TARDIS and prepared to take it beneath the surface of the deep, dark reservoir. “Those other lifesigns are so faint, maybe they’re already being absorbed by the creature. I don’t know what it would do to them. Otherwise… I’d get her safe inside here first.”

“We could try,” Eight suggested. “If she means so much to you…”

“She means everything to me. But since when did I ever put one life before all others? That’s…. that’s how I lost Rose. Because I couldn’t save her and save this planet at the same time. If so many other lives are at stake, then I can’t let one be my only priority.”

With that he pulled the drive lever towards him and the TARDIS dematerialised. The sound as it rematerialised was strange. It almost seemed as if the TARDIS was resisting - or being resisted.

Then the time rotor wheezed one more time and came to a halt. The environmental monitor registered the existence of an oxygen atmosphere outside while telling them that they were on the bottom of the reservoir.

The Doctor reached for the door release and ran down the gangway. Eight followed a little more cautiously. He stood on the threshold and stared around at the strange place they had arrived in.

They had both expected some kind of psychic shell holding back the 3,800,000 square meters of water that filled the reservoir. But neither had imagined the Erazser using its own non-corporeal body as that shell. Eight looked up at the opaque, faintly glowing dome at least thirty yards across. It pulsated with the electro-static energy the Erazser was made of at some fundamental level.

It was strong, because it was feeding off all the lives it had taken in the hours since it fixed upon Central Park as a place to nest. They were there, standing on the slimy, muddy reservoir floor, the two dozen he had counted. They were alive, but in a switched off kind of way. That was the best description for them. Eight stepped over the threshold and reached for one of them, a young man. His eyes were open but unfocussed and he seemed unaware of where he was. Eight pressed his hand against his forehead and tried to read his mind. There was brain activity, but no thoughts of any sort. He had been erased from existence. His loved ones had forgotten him and he had forgotten everything. That was why his lifesign was weak. What made him a Human being, not merely living flesh, was being absorbed by the creature.

But he was still alive and if they worked fast, it was possible they could save him and all of the other souls here. He took hold of the young man by the shoulder and drew him towards the TARDIS door. He didn’t resist. He seemed to be sleepwalking and stepped over the dimensional threshold easily.

Once inside, a change came upon him. Eight watched him blink and focus his eyes on the console. They narrowed in fear and confusion.

“Where am I?” he asked. “What…”

“It’s all right,” Eight said to him. “You’re safe. Go to sleep and when you wake everything will be fine.”

He pressed his hand against his forehead again and sent him into a soft REM sleep. He gently laid him down on the floor, noting that the green metallic mesh wasn't exactly a feather bed, then he went back outside. He reached two more men and a teenage girl and again there was little resistance as he brought them into the TARDIS. Again he sent them to sleep rather than disturbing their minds with alien technology on top of their alien abduction.

“I’ve found her.” The Doctor came inside with two sleepwalking men and a young boy he was carrying in his arms. There was a pretty, slender woman wrapped in a fur coat clinging to his arm. “She’s ok. Scared, but ok.” He brought the sleepwalkers and the boy and put them with the others. The woman held onto him, still.

“She knew you?” Eight looked at Louise. Her eyes didn’t have the unfocussed look and she obviously knew where she was.

“She knew me,” The Doctor said. “She said she ‘woke up’ about ten minutes ago, surrounded by these sleepwalking people. That was about when I remembered her… it broke the hold that thing has on her.”

“I didn’t know where I was,” Louise confirmed. “But I knew my Docteur would come for me.”

The Doctor smiled at her and kissed her cheek. Eight noted the affection between them, and he certainly didn’t begrudge his future incarnation such comfort. But there was still a job to do here, and he reminded him of that.

“Louise,” he said, looking around at the people Eight had already rescued. “Stay here and look after the people we bring in here. We’re going to help them.”

“Hurry back, chéri,” she told him as he dashed back outside. Eight looked at her then started to follow. He was halfway across the gangway when the door suddenly closed and they both reached for handholds as the TARDIS bucked as if it was being tossed.

“It’s fighting back,” Eight cried out as he ran to the console. “We were lucky to get away with it for so long, I suppose. Now it’s trying to stop us from rescuing its victims.”

“You must save them,” Louise told him. “You must save HIM.”

“Hold onto something again,” Eight replied. “I’m going to try a wide materialisation. I’ll get as many of them as I can inside. We couldn’t take the risk before, but I don’t think we have anything to lose, now.”

The Doctor saw the door close on him, but he didn’t try to run back. Instead he ran forwards. He moved towards the victims who remained. Seventeen of them in all. He grasped the hand of a woman with vacant blue eyes and drew her closer to a middle aged man. He pulled them all close to each other. He knew Eight was going to try a wide ranging materialisation and pick them all up. If they were closer together it would work better.

He thought he had them all when he spotted the child. A girl, aged about three. She was standing apart from the rest. The Doctor’s hearts thudded sickly as he realised she was the one the creature was using right now as its source of energy. A three year old child whose parents didn’t even know she was missing because the eraszer took away her existence. Louise still existed inside the TARDIS. Her nightdress was under the pillow, her clothes in the wardrobe. And within its walls, he remembered her.

But the parents of this child would have gone home to a house in which she never existed. No toys would be lying around the floor, no child’s bedroom, no photographs of his three birthdays so far. They would have known that something was wrong with their life, something missing. But they would not know what it was.

He grabbed the little girl up and enfolded her in his arms. He touched her face gently and felt the emptiness inside her. His rage against the injustice of it boiled up. He clutched the child and turned around, looking at the entity that surrounded him.

“You can’t have her,” he said. “I’m cutting you off from her. She’s going back to the people who miss her.”

As he spoke, he heard the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising and then materialising again. He looked around and saw the other victims disappear as the police box solidified around them. He started towards it. He only had to reach the safety of the TARDIS door with the girl.

But the TARDIS dematerialised again before he could reach it. It did so in a strange way, as if it was struggling. Or as if…

It hadn’t dematerialised. The Eraszer had expelled the TARDIS. It had forced it out. He knew his younger incarnation would be able to get control of it, but he probably wouldn’t be able to force his way inside the shell again. He was on his own.

Alone within the entity with one last innocent victim to protect.

“She is still mine, and so are you!”

The voice echoed in his head. He knew it came from the Eraszer.

“You are mine, Time Lord. I will erase you from this world. All those who reverence your name will forget you ever existed, and I will thrive on your lifeforce. It will sustain me far longer than these feeble humans you sought to take from my lair.

“Ah!” The Doctor understood now. They were all, including Louise, including this child he was holding onto so tightly, bait in a trap. He was the big fish that was in the net, now.

“Louise,” he whispered. “Donna, Dominique, Dominic, Wyn, Stella, Jasmin, Rose, Jack, Grace…”

The names of his loved ones filled the air. Their images fixed in his mind. The Eraszer tried to take them, but Louise was safe in the TARDIS and the others were far out of range of its power. Even Grace was far away in San Francisco. It couldn’t harm them and it couldn’t, despite its threats, erase him so long as his other incarnation was inside the TARDIS, protected by its shields. As long as he existed, then his life couldn’t be undone so easily as a human life could be.

He felt the entity stop trying to harm him. The child in his arms shuddered as the Erazser fed off her life force again.

“No,” The Doctor insisted. “No, you won’t have her, either.”

Afterwards, he would have to admit he had no idea if it would work or not, but he acted on an instinct suddenly. He unwound the end of the scrap of lace on his wrist and wrapped it around the little girl’s wrist, too. That scrap was his physical link with Louise right now. His love for her was the most real and immutable thing in his life. And as long as she was safe and unreachable, it was his shield against the Erazser.

And it was hers, too. It seemed unlikely, and if he was pressed, he couldn’t have given a scientific explanation for it. But when he wrapped the lace around the girl’s wrist it gave her the same protection. He felt the Erazser’s mind falter. It was cut off from them both. Of course, it could find another victim. But not yet. Not while he was still fighting it, still occupying its mind, its energies, draining them as it fought to find a way of getting to him now that it couldn’t touch him emotionally.

He felt it weakening. The difference was subtle at first. Then it became physically obvious. He felt the water trickling around his shoes. It was freezing cold water. It was after midnight on January 1st. There had been ice around the edge of the reservoir even in daytime.

“Oh!” he said to himself. “This might be a bad idea.”

But there was nothing he could do. He felt the Erazser weakening further and the water began to flood through the cracks in the shield. He was up to his ankles in it. Then his knees. The light was flickering as the entity starved to death, cut off from its source of energy. The air was starting to turn stale.

Above him was forty feet of icy water. He might just do it. His Gallifreyan constitution could withstand extremes of temperature, and he was a strong swimmer.

But the child would never make it. It was all he could do to keep her out of the water as it reached his waist.

“Now would be a good time!” he whispered as the water rose still further and the light failed completely. Any second now the reservoir was going to close over them both and the girl would drown in his arms.

Then a light appeared in front of him and something was thrown at him. A lifebelt. He grasped it and put it around the girl. He clung to it as he felt the rope being tugged. The water crashed in upon them both as he grasped the threshold of the TARDIS and pulled himself aboard. The emergency shield held back the water, of course. He sprawled for a few seconds, dripping all over his otherwise clean and dry gangway. Then he pulled himself up onto his knees and looked at the child. He had been holding her close, but she had swallowed a lot of water, all the same. He began CPR. He was dimly aware of Eight and Louise bringing blankets. One was wrapped around the girl to warm her. One was placed around his own shoulders, but he didn’t really care about his own comfort. He just wanted her to cough up the water in her lungs and breathe. Only when she finally did that, could he feel able to breathe a deep, deep breath of air himself.

“Docteur,” Louise said, hugging him despite the fact that he was wet and cold. “chéri, I was so worried for you.”

“It’s all right,” he promised her. “It’s all over now. We’re all ok.” He reached and touched the child on the forehead and sent her to sleep just like the others. When she woke again, with any luck, she wouldn’t remember anything.

“What are we going to do with this lot?” Eight asked as he looked around at the sleeping victims of the Eraszer all around the console room. “Missing persons… Now we’ve erased the Eraszer they’ll have their memories back and so will the people missing them. There’ll be reports to the police, already.”

“We’ll call The Brigadier,” The Doctor replied. “He was transferred to the UN headquarters in New York last year. We can drop them off there and he can sort out some kind of cover story for where they all were. That’s the sort of thing U.N.I.T. are good at.”

Eight smiled wickedly.

“We’re going to call a Scotsman back to the office… after midnight on New Year… and ruin his Hogmanay party?”

The Doctor grinned a grin that outdid his younger self for deviousness and went to the console to put the call through.