“Will they be all right?” Susan asked as The Doctor piloted the TARDIS away from the Rhekan system. “They are all so young. Can they really build a new society all by themselves?”

“They’re not all young,” The Doctor told her. “They have teachers as well as students. And they ALL have two thousand years of knowledge to help them build their new world, as well as the Arch-Chancellor and Ric to care for them all.”

“I’ll kind of miss Ric,” Susan sighed. “But I suppose he’s happier there than tripping around the TARDIS with us.”

“I’ll have to come back and see him again,” The Doctor said. “Some day I WILL have to come and do the lecture about poetry. They will need their history and culture. Even people setting out on a bright new future need a past.” He sighed as he looked one last time at the Rhekan system and then pressed the switch that sent them hurtling into the time vortex. Then he smiled cheerfully. “Onwards to the next adventure,” he said.

“Yes,” Susan agreed with an enthusiastic smile. The Doctor was glad to see that she WAS enthusiastic. He liked having her around. He even liked the music she got the TARDIS to play.

Strange that, he thought. Because a lot of the music his own Susan played drove him nuts. He was five hundred years older than when Cliff Richard and the Beatles and the like were blasting out of the console speakers and yet his musical tastes were ‘younger’ than he was then. He still liked serious music, too. Puccini was an old friend, after all, but he found himself singing along with Kurt Cobain and didn’t get the sort of headaches he used to get in his ‘older’ days.

“Where do bad folks go when they die,

They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly

They go to a lake of fire and fry.

See them again on the 4th of July.”

“You know, there’s a planet in the M66 Galaxy that is covered in burning lava and there is a sentient species that lives within it, called the Euneks. Their bodies are made of liquid rock. Very peaceful. Not many other species try to bother them.”

“I think I’d be happy to leave them well alone,” Susan told him. “But it’s a big universe out there. Must be lots of other places we can visit.”

“Oh, lots,” The Doctor said. “I think a spot of R&R is in order. We should visit one of the leisure planets. There’s Avidos, with its zero-gravity swimming pools, or Te-Fot Quartus, with its intergalactic zoo, or Jux-Sotha XI, that’s an interesting one. Jux-Gaming - Anti-gravity paintball.”

Susan was still trying to work out how exactly you could SWIM in zero gravity. Wouldn’t the water drift away?

“You don’t swim in water,” The Doctor explained. “You swim in the air, inside huge globes. It’s really rather relaxing and enjoyable.”

“It sounds better than the paintball,” she said, trying and failing to imagine The Doctor in mock combats stalking through a fake landscape with a paintball gun. “But how about the interplanetary zoo? That seems kind of exciting. As long as that loony woman, Vance, hasn’t got anything to do with it.”

“Oh, not at all,” The Doctor assured her. “The Te-Fot Quartus zoo is well-respected throughout the galaxy for its work in breeding near extinct and endangered species. They have a pack of Pazithi wolves.” The Doctor’s eyes looked strangely misty when he said that. Susan wondered why. “Pazithi wolves come from Gallifrey,” he said. “They… and me… all that’s left of home.”

“Right then,” Susan told him. “Let’s go to the zoo and see these wolves.”

The Doctor grinned and went to set the co-ordinate. There was a slight change in the engine tempo as the time rotor accepted the new destination. As he stepped back from the console, though, the TARDIS jerked violently. The Doctor grabbed the console with one hand, and with the other grasped Susan firmly, pulling her closer so that she could grasp a handhold for herself. She cried out in fright as they dropped vertically very fast.

“We’re falling out of the vortex!” The Doctor yelled as he tried to get them back on course. “Something pulled us out - something exerting a really strong force on us. Something that.…”

“What sort of something?” Susan asked as the viewscreen resolved into a starfield somewhere in space.

“Something…..” The Doctor began to speak and then stopped again. He stared at the monitor in front of him. “No,” he cried. “No, that’s not possible. No…”

“Doctor?” Susan looked at him and thought she had not seen him look quite so shocked as he did right then. He looked up at the viewscreen as the TARDIS slowly revolved around and his face went pale.

Susan looked and she, too, went pale.

The expression ‘dead in space’ came to her mind as she looked at the object that filled the viewscreen. And the word DEAD was the all too ominous operative word.

“It’s a TARDIS,” she whispered hoarsely. “Doctor… it’s….”

“Not A TARDIS,” he said. “MY TARDIS.”

“You mean HIS… the other one….”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “Yes, that’s what I mean. HIS TARDIS. And….”

“He’s dead? The other Doctor?”

“He must be.”

The Doctor’s hearts sank. He bit back painful tears as he thought of it. More than once before, when they both faced the challenge of the Rite of Progression, when Nine was trapped in the vampyre den in Flydale, he had fervently wished he could change places with his other self, because Nine, with his children and grandchildren, a whole dynasty that depended on him for so much, had so much more to live for than he did. The patriarch of the New Lords of Time had more of a place in this universe than the Lonely God.

But that wasn’t true now. He wasn’t a Lonely God, a homeless wanderer. He, too, had a wife and a son, a future.

So he mourned the death of the other half of himself, but this time he had no desire to sacrifice himself to save the other, even if it were not too late.

“What happened to it?” Susan had repeated the question twice before he realised she was speaking. “Was it attacked?”

“Must have been,” The Doctor said, biting his lip thoughtfully. “But what sort of a weapon could do that to a TARDIS? The outer shell is virtually impregnable. I’ve piloted it through plasma storms, asteroid belts… It’s survived direct hits from missiles…”

They both stared at the gaping hole in the ‘dead’ TARDIS. A chunk had been blown out of the top right corner of the door, and part of the roof, leaving it open to the vacuum of space. The hole bore signs of burning around the edges as if the TARDIS really WAS made of wood.

It really WAS dead. It hung there in the emptiness of space because even a dead TARDIS was a thing that disobeyed the laws of physics as they applied to this universe. Otherwise it would be tumbling away, eventually to be caught up in the gravity of some planet and to burn up in the atmosphere, perhaps falling to the surface as an intriguing meteor with metals in it that would puzzle some research department or other.

Or perhaps it would fall into a black hole and be crushed to a singularity.

Or it could drift into a nebula and its own weak gravity field would attract rocks and dust and eventually it would become the heart of a new planet.

That would be fitting, he thought. A new beginning. New life, perhaps.

But right now, it was just dead. And so were its crew.

“Is it possible anyone could be alive?” Susan asked, almost as if she had read his thoughts just then.

“No,” The Doctor answered. “No possibility at ALL. Nothing could survive. The hole… that isn’t a problem. Even without power the TARDIS’s emergency gravity field would hold for a thousand years. But there was fire, too. The smoke… They would have asphyxiated before they burned.”

Fire! The Doctor swallowed hard. His throat hurt him as he thought of it. Fire had always been his greatest phobia, an irrational fear, he always thought. Until the day he saw his planet burn, felt his people die in the inferno. Then he knew that the fear that haunted him all his life was actually a strong precognition of the most terrible moment of his life.,

That fire should take him – one of him – in the end – was it ironic, fitting, fate catching up?

Fate having a last cruel laugh?

“Are you sure, Doctor?” Susan glanced at the environmental monitor. “That nobody could be alive? Isn’t THAT a lifesign?”

“Where?” The Doctor dashed around the console to see what she was looking at. “Sweet Mother of Chaos!” he murmured. “You’re right.” He ran back to the drive control and began pushing buttons frantically. “Oh, please,” he whispered to the TARDIS. “You can do it. Come on.”

He ran back to the environmental control and looked at it closer. It was a human life sign. Not Time Lord, not a half-blood or hybrid or any other species, but a Human. The significance of that pounded in his brain but he pushed it away as he worked to established a safe link between his TARDIS and the stricken one. He couldn’t do what he usually did when he and Nine met up in space, connecting the two doors and simply stepping from one to the other. There was too much damage to the other TARDIS. Instead he made his craft do something it COULD do if it absolutely had to, though it took so much power he didn’t even attempt it often - a gravity bridge – basically extending the TARDIS’s gravity field, the field which prevented decompression when the door was opened in space, into a sort of tunnel that he could use to pass from his TARDIS to the other one.

He moved in as close as he dared. About fifteen feet lay between them when he established the link.

“Susan,” he said very seriously. “I want you to do something for me. I want you to STAY RIGHT HERE. In a long lifetime of TARDIS travel with friends on board, not one of them has EVER managed to obey that instruction. But this is going to be the first. Please, STAY here. Don’t even THINK about following me.”

“You don’t want me to see what might be over there?”

“No, I don’t,” he told her. “Call me a male chauvinistic pig if you like. Call me over-protective. Call me whatever you like, but PLEASE obey me.”

“All right,” she said. “But… Doctor.…” She reached out and hugged him. “Whatever you find… however horrible it is… I’m here for you. I’m your friend. Remember that.”

“I will,” he promised her. Then he turned and went to the door. She came with him to the threshold. When she saw what he was doing, the very THOUGHT of following him fled from her mind.

He was WALKING on empty space. There was NOTHING beneath his feet but stars, millions of light years away. He didn’t look at them, she noticed. He just kept walking until he reached the stricken door. She saw him reach out to push open the door.

She turned away and went back to the console. She watched him on the lifesigns monitor as a dark blue blip moving towards the pale blue one she had spotted.

The gravity extension encompassed the other TARDIS, but he had to close off his lungs and recycle his air as he stepped into the dark console room. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and used it in penlight mode. It lit a small section of the burnt and blackened console as he stepped up to it.

He found the body lying by the environmental control. He knelt by it and he knew straight away what he was looking at. He had died of severe burns and asphyxiation.

He had died three times. The first body had succumbed to the heat and smoke and regenerated. The new body had barely had chance to draw breath before he, too, died. The final regeneration had, he supposed, suffered the least. He died, finally, for good.

He stood up and walked away from the body. He had been dead for a while. A Human was STILL alive somewhere.

He shone the penlight down and spotted the slight movement. He yanked the grilled floor panel up and reached to lift her up from the hiding place. She was wearing an oxygen helmet - the sort he kept on board the TARDIS for when they explored planets that didn’t have oxygen atmospheres. But it worked by extracting what gases there WERE and converting them to oxygen. There was almost nothing left in the TARDIS. The fire that had raged hotly had consumed most of it. She was dying, more slowly, but dying.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered in a voice that was harsh and strange because of his recycled air. “Oh my girl, I am so sorry.” He held her in his arms and gave what comfort he could.

“Doctor,” she managed to whisper and her hand reached for his jacket pocket. She slipped something into it. “You told me... to hang onto this. You said it was important.”

“Thank you,” he answered and pressed her even closer to him as he heard her last, ragged breath and felt her Human heart stop beating. He carried her to where the other body lay and put her down next to him. Then he turned and walked out of that terrible place. He stumbled blindly across the gravity bridge and through the door to the bright, alive, functioning TARDIS, and into Susan’s arms as she reached for him.

He tried not to cry. But he couldn’t help it. His tears forced themselves out as he gasped for air and clung to her, his face pressed against her shoulder, long black hair smelling so clean and fresh, her body warm and alive against his own, her Human heart beating in syncopation to the two hearts in his own chest.

“I won’t ask,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me anything. I saw the other lifesign wink out. I guess we were too late?”

“Yes,” he answered her. “Too late.” He drew back from the comforting embrace of a friend. He kissed her cheek gratefully, then he turned to the console. He cancelled the gravity bridge and pressed the automatic door control. Then he moved the TARDIS back away from the dead TARDIS. When he was at least a hundred metres from it he began to type rapidly and with a strange kind of desperation. Susan saw on the viewscreen, something that looked like lightning arc out from their TARDIS and hit the other one.

Then the other TARDIS imploded in bright, actinic light. Even from the safe distance they felt the shockwave hit them. Their TARDIS rocked and bucked but was unharmed.

“I sent a beam of Arton energy into the central coil,” he said. “With the power out and nothing to suppress it, the beam just went straight down to the Eye of Harmony, the heart of the TARDIS and sent it into meltdown. It’s over. For both of them.”

“Ok,” Susan said. She didn’t understand most of the words in that paragraph, but she got the general idea. “So.…”

“So now.…” He looked at her. He looked away. He closed his eyes and remembered the scorched remnants of a pinstripe suit and white canvas shoes that still hung on that body with an unfamiliar face and what had been ginger hair.

“Always wanted to be ginger,” he whispered as he remembered holding Susan in his arms and comforting her in her last moments.

“So now.…” he reached into his pocket and found the thing she had given him. It was the TARDIS equivalent of the black box flight recorder. It was the record of what had gone wrong over there.

“Now, Susan, I need you to be braver than you’ve ever been before,” he told her. “I need you to keep calm when you see something so terrible….”

He slotted the memory chip into the console and stood back. He took hold of Susan’s hand, first, then held her by the shoulders, tightly, as the hologram of himself shimmered and steadied itself.

“I’m dead,” the hologram said. “Or I will be by the time you play this back. We both will be. Susan and I…. I might be able to buy her a little more time- enough for her to pass this on to you - so that you can do what we’re not supposed to do. I pulled you out of your proper timeline, to show you this so that you can break every rule in the book. Because you HAVE to do it. CHANGE your future, Doctor. Make this NOT have happened.”

The hologram flickered off and the viewscreen flickered on. They both watched as information filled the screen about the disaster that struck the TARDIS.

“We weren’t hit by something from outside,” he said when the recording came to an end. “It was something inside. It was something I did wrong.”

“The TARDIS blew up… from inside?” Susan looked at him fearfully. “We both… Doctor… WHEN did this… when WILL it happen?”

He looked at the data stream on the computer screen that came with the audio visual. He looked up at the real time and date according to the TARDIS clock.

“It happens… in about an hour’s time,” he answered. “Except it WON’T. Because I told myself to make it not happen. And I’m going to do that.”

He darted around the console again and began initialising the drive. Susan felt the change in the engines as they entered the vortex and began flying back in time and through light years of space.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I’m going to take you home for a start,” he said. “Back to Earth in the 21st century, back to where you’ll be safe.”

“No,” she protested. “Let’s at least see this through together.”

“But if we do, we’ll die together,” he answered her. “I don’t want that to happen. What happens to me in the TARDIS, that’s a risk I have taken all my life. But you don’t belong here. You’re not a Time Lord. You’re a Human being. A precious Human being who belongs on Earth. You should die at the end of a long, good, fantastic life, Susan, with your loved ones around you. Not out here, in space, not now.”

“What if it happens AFTER you’ve left me? What if you die alone? Doctor, you can’t. I won’t let you.”

“I don’t want to,” he admitted. “I want to live a long life. I want to be with Dominique. I want to see you marry Miche, see Dominic marry Thérèse. I thought… when my time is near, I would return to Forêt and die among my descendents, the great, great, great grandchildren of my son. I don’t want to burn to death in my own TARDIS in the middle of nowhere.”

“I won’t be able to marry Miche if you take me to Earth,” she said. “I’ll never see him again. And Dominique and Dominic will never know what happened.”

“I’d rather they never knew,” he said. “I don’t want her to know I… I died so….”

“Doctor,” Susan protested. “Please don’t. Don’t do it that way. I would RATHER take the risk with you.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. I can’t let you.”

Then the TARDIS dropped out of the vortex violently again. The Doctor reeled back from the console as he felt an electronic jolt and the drive console blew up. He reached for the fire extinguisher and the flames were put out, but he stared disconsolately at the damage.

“We’re stranded,” he said. “I can’t get you home. I can’t do anything. The power… it’s failing.”

“Well… If the power is failing, then it’s not exploding all over the place, causing fires?”

“The conduits are overloading. The risk of an explosion….” The Doctor looked at his console. the TARDIS had been his most faithful friend all his adult life. He had depended on it as a home, as a friend, as an advisor, all that time. It had rarely let him down.

Now it was dying and he felt as if he was letting IT down.

“What is it?” he asked, touching the comforting ceramic panel gently. “What is wrong? Why is this happening?”

The TARDIS said nothing in reply, of course. It never did. But he had given himself a clue. The flight recorder. It wasn’t just to warn him of impending doom. It was meant to tell him how to avoid it.

“CAN we avoid it happening?” Susan asked as she watched him run the recording again. “Isn’t it… preset? Like fate, destiny… I mean it MUST have happened in order for you to pull us out of the vortex to warn us…. Doesn’t that mean there’s nothing we can do? Doesn’t it mean we fail? We’re going to die….”

“No,” The Doctor said. “We’re in a paradox situation. By warning myself, I have a chance to do something about it. I can CHANGE the future. I promise you, Susan. I WILL change it.”


“Trust me?” he asked her.

“Yes. But maybe this is something that you can’t do anything about. Maybe you will fail. Doctor, have you never thought about the possibility of failure? All these years, all the time you’ve been fighting all kinds of evil, al kinds of scary stuff, have you never thought that one day you’ll fail, you’ll DIE?”

“Yes,” he said. “All the time. Every time I face an enemy, I expect to die. I never expected my own TARDIS to kill me. And I don’t believe it will. We’re not done yet. I just have to work out WHAT went wrong with the TARDIS. What caused it to fail so drastically.”

“What if….” Susan began. But The Doctor wasn’t listening to her. His attention was drawn to the information on the database and to the disaster unfolding on the viewscreen.

“Yes!” he cried out, almost joyfully. “Yes, I know what went wrong.”

“Then… then you can fix it?”

“No,” he answered as he glanced at the environmental console. He did his best to stay calm. “It’s too late. The problem is in the engine room. And I can’t reach it. The TARDIS is on fire.”

“It’s… WHAT?”

“The TARDIS is on fire. The engine room is burning. When it reaches the warp generator, it will reverberate through to here. The console room will burn, too. We have minutes….”

“We’re going to die?”

“NO,” The Doctor decided. “No, we’re not. We’re going to make it. Susan, hang in there. We’re going to live. We’re going to break the rules AGAIN.” He began pulling wires from under the broken drive console and rerouting them frenetically.

“Ok,” Susan sighed. “I guess I have to ask. WHAT are you doing?”

“I’m pulling the earlier version of us out of the time vortex. A few minutes earlier than when we were pulled out the first time. We’re going to do it earlier than we did the first time, while we’re both still alive. And we can TELL our earlier selves what to do to prevent this happening.”

“We can do that?”

“No,” The Doctor answered. “We’re not supposed to. It’s crossing my own time line. It’s against the Laws of Time. And I don’t just mean the laws my people wrote. It’s SUPPOSED to be physically impossible. It shouldn’t be able to happen. But I’ve already done it once. Twice is no more difficult. I need you to help. Push that lever there.”

Susan ran to do as he asked. Doing something, doing ANYTHING, felt better than doing nothing. She felt less scared now. She knew he was going to do something that would prevent them both dying a horrible death. She didn’t know for sure that it would work, but at least they were BOTH trying.

“Doctor,” she said. “I just want you to know… if it doesn’t work, if we die… I’m not sorry I came with you. I’ve loved every minute with you.”

The Doctor looked at her, and smiled gently.

“That’s not entirely true, is it?” he said to her. “You had some terrible things happen to you, because you came with me.”

“Yes, but I had some great things happen, too. My sister… Miche… lots of good stuff.”

“But you could have had a good life on Earth, learning to be a journalist. I took you away from that… because I didn’t want to be alone. It was for me, more than for you.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she told him. “I’d still rather be here with you.”

The floor shook and the console sparked and flashed. There was an explosion somewhere deep inside the TARDIS. The lights went off and low level emergency lights came on instead.

“Do you still want to be here with me?”

“Yes,” she answered. But she wasn’t so sure now. It WAS frightening.

“Did the thing work? Pulling the other TARDIS… I mean our TARDIS from earlier?”

“It’s WORKING,” The Doctor answered. “It’s just a matter of time.”

“But we don’t have time,” she cried as another explosion rocked the floor beneath her feet. “Doctor, the TARDIS is dying….”

“There!” he said. The viewscreen flickered as the emergency power started to drain, but the TARDIS was there. The earlier version of this one. Five minutes earlier than when they had dropped out of the vortex and found the first stricken TARDIS, five minutes before the systems went critical and it was too late for them both.

He felt the gravity field extending around his TARDIS. His earlier self had been sensible enough not to try to connect the two capsules, seeing as this one was minutes away from a fatal explosion, but he had established a gravity bridge.

“Come on,” he said, grabbing Susan by the hand and running towards the door. It opened manually.” Close your eyes if you’d rather. But keep moving.”

She kept her eyes open and she kept them on the other TARDIS. The door was opening. She could see the familiar warm orange ceiling lights and the glow of the console. She felt something beneath her feet as she ran alongside The Doctor, but she didn’t WANT to know what it was.

They reached the TARDIS. The Doctor slammed the door behind him and ran up to the top of the ramp before he stopped and looked at the earlier versions of himself and Susan. HE was handling things philosophically. Susan looked scared to death.

“Susan,” he said. “Don’t move. We’re in a paradox. If we come into contact, the Blinovitch Principle… we’ll ALL die.”

On the viewscreen the other TARDIS shook as the explosion ripped a chunk out of the door. The other Doctor reached to break the bridge between the two TARDISes.

“Good idea,” he said. “Now you need to get to the engine room. The fault is there. If you try to enter the vortex again it will be catastrophic.”

“So I see,” The Doctor answered himself. “Come on then. Two heads are better than one. Especially our heads. Susan… Both of you… stay here and be careful.”

The two Doctors ran, one slightly ahead of the other, into the depths of the TARDIS. Susan looked at the other Susan. They both began to speak to each other then stopped, then tried again. They both looked at the viewscreen, at the now completely dead TARDIS, and no further explanations were necessary.

“You’d better sit down,” Susan told herself, nodding towards the sofa. She went to the command chair by the console. They stared at each other. Still neither was sure what to say.

“I just worked it out,” Susan said after a while. “We didn’t come here to help us, we came to help you. When he fixes the TARDIS, none of what is going to happen in your future… the reason why we’re here now, will have happened. Which I think means that we won’t have been here.”

“You mean that you won’t….”

“I don’t know if we just disappear or what. I don’t know if you’ll know anything about it. Maybe when it comes right I’ll disappear and you won’t even know I was here. I don’t know how these things work. But… in case you do… I told him some things before. And if he fixes the TARDIS and those things don’t happen then I won’t have said them. So… so say them, will you. Tell him, I AM glad I came with him. Even though some of it HAS been horrible, the good things more than make up for it. HE makes up for it. Just being with him here in the TARDIS, is worth all of the scary stuff. He’s the best reason for it all. And I love him to bits for it. And it WOULD have been worth dying for.”

“I think he kind of knows all that,” Susan answered herself. “He knows a lot of things without having to be told.”

“I know. But tell him anyway. Because you never know when you might not have a chance.”

“Sure. Ok.” Susan looked up at the viewscreen. The other TARDIS was gone. She looked around. The other Susan, the one that had come from the damaged TARDIS, had vanished.

The Doctor ran into the console room. Just one of him.

“She disappeared,” Susan told him.

“Yeah, he did too. That means it’s ok. We’re not going to have an accident in the near future. We broke the Laws of Time, the Laws of Physics and the Laws of Causality, but we saved ourselves from a nasty death, apparently.”

“There WAS a fault in the engine room?”

“Hairline crack in the power conduit. It would have broken the next time we went into the vortex. The TARDIS would have died from the inside out, and us with it.”

“Oh.” Susan looked at him and shivered as she realised just how big a disaster they had narrowly missed. She remembered what the other version of her had told her and repeated it.

“Yes,” he said. “I DO know all of that. But it is nice to be told.” He smiled warmly at her. “Shall we get on to that zoo then? Or has this scared you enough to want to go home?”

“Zoo,” she answered. “I don’t scare THAT easily.”