Doctor Who

Rose reached the control room to see The Doctor darting around, feverishly checking readings in different sections of the hexagonal console. He looked worried and just a little ANGRY.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We’re being pulled by something.”

“Pulled? What could PULL the TARDIS?” She giggled. “A boy TARDIS?”

The Doctor looked at her and laughed despite himself.

“Nice idea, but I’m afraid not. The TARDIS is as alone in the universe as I am.” Then he turned to the console again and punched buttons that set the viewscreen to three hundred and sixty degrees. They were in the outer solar system, being pulled along by some kind of traction that was slowly bringing them towards a large vessel. Its cargo bay doors were a dark mouth about to envelope them. The Doctor tried to dematerialise the TARDIS, but something was blocking it.

“This isn’t happening,” The Doctor protested. “No way anyone in this sector of the galaxy has tractor technology that can inhibit MY TARDIS.”

“Umm… it kind of looks like they do.” Rose watched in fascinated horror as they were pulled into the huge craft. She held The Doctor’s arm and he turned and held her.

“I never promised you a quiet life,” he said. “Looks like we’re getting stuck into another scary adventure already, though.”

“And we haven’t even left the solar system.”

He knew she was scared. But she didn’t complain. She didn’t cry. She was fantastic.

He knew that when he left the safety of the TARDIS to try to find out what was going on she was going to come with him. He had no way of stopping her.

The TARDIS had been dumped unceremoniously in the hangar bay where it was surrounded by assorted craft that had obviously been dragged in against their will in the same way.

The only sound was the distant hum of the drive engines but there was a smell of death in the air that overwhelmed The Doctor’s superior senses, leaving him nauseated and filled with a sense of foreboding and a fear that gripped his hearts icily.

“You should stay in the TARDIS,” he told Rose. “This place… is bad.”

“We’ve been through this,” she said. “This is not Lois and Clarke. I don’t wait at home while Superman saves the day and comes home for his tea.”

“No, and I’m not superman,” The Doctor said. He did have a few things in common with the fictional superhero. But he had some limitations. He wasn’t immortal and he couldn’t fly.

And more than three armed guards were more than his superhuman skills at unarmed combat could deal with. Especially when they had more than three arms!

He knew almost every racial or species type in the universe and these creatures shouldn’t even have been possible. There was a humanoid shape there somewhere, but the bulbous head had a single compound eye and a mouth that seemed all venomous fangs. They had eight limbs. Two were obviously legs, four were double jointed and ending in claws and two were just three foot long pincers. The torso and legs looked as if clad in leather, but he suspected that it was some kind of exo-skin. As they were taken prisoner he was repulsed by the stench of rotting flesh on their breath and reflected that they were almost certainly not vegetarians.

In front of the commander of the creatures he decided to call Arachnoids for want of a better word, he did his best to act the haughty and superior species that he was - no mean feat while he was a prisoner of creatures who could kill with a single blow and who, nevertheless, had blast guns pointed at them.

“You have committed an act of space piracy against the Rialox Code and the Treaty of Umoxz. I demand that you release me and my companion and return my ship to me.” His demand earned him a blow across the face with a closed pincer. If it had been open, his face would have been torn off. That was just a warning.

“You demand nothing. Your ship is our salvage. You… will be our food in the fullness of time.” A subordinate sidled up to the commander and spoke in hushed tones. The Commander turned to The Doctor.

“Your machine cannot be opened.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” The Doctor replied. “There’s a very good reason. IT'S MINE!” To his satisfaction the creatures nearest to him backed off momentarily when he snarled those last words. Not quite far enough, though. He was at their mercy, and he wasn’t even sure they had any.

“How does it open? We mean to use its superior technology.”

The Doctor would have replied with “Over my dead body,” but they might have taken that as an invitation. He settled for “NEVER!”

“You will tell me,” the leader said. “Kill the female…” he snarled.

“NO!” The Doctor stood in front of Rose, in the face of the weapons pointed at her, banking on them still wanting to keep him alive. The commander indicated to the guards to lower their weapons.

“So, your weakness is what they call ‘love’?”

“Love is not a weakness,” The Doctor said. He held Rose with one arm as he reached out with the other and with a flick of his wrist left the nearest creature screaming in a huddle on the floor while he brandished the blast gun. “LOVE is the BETTER part of me,” he shouted. “And I am sick and tired of evil creatures like you testing me. How often has some piece of space trash used a friend of mine as a bargaining chip, threatening their lives to manipulate me? Well it won’t work. Rose knows I would die for her. And SHE would die for me. She knows I would then pursue her murderer to the edge of the universe and see it turned to atoms before I would rest. Love is not my weakness. It is my greatest strength.” He kissed Rose very quickly on the lips before pushing her to the ground and firing the blast gun.

He WAS a pacifist. But seeing these evil creatures blasted apart by his own effort was strangely satisfying.

There were too many of them, though. They poured into the command centre and kept on coming. For every one he blasted there were two more. His very flesh recoiled as they drew nearer and he knew the death creatures like these might inflict would not be one he could regenerate from. He felt a pincer close around his throat, capable of decapitating him and knew that it was a quick way to go at least. But the leader hissed a warning.

“Keep them alive. We still need the secret from that one. Put them in the web. When his mate is dying he will tell us. And if not, they will both make good eating when their bodies have ripened.”

He felt himself being lifted in half a dozen pincer-arms and carried away. He glimpsed Rose being taken the same way and though she was bravely silent he FELT her screaming inside her head. He reached out mentally to her, and was surprised when he made contact. Perhaps her heightened emotional state let him in where he couldn’t when she was calm. He told her not to worry, that she knew she never had to worry when The Doctor was there. She stopped screaming long enough to call him a liar.

“You’re scared too,” her mental voice responded. “I can feel you.”

He had to concede she was right.

He wasn’t sure what he thought the “web” was going to be, but his wildest nightmares would not have conjured its horror before he saw it with his own eyes. It was a huge web, roughly dome shaped, made of metal. Inside the dome, all around, victims of the Arachnoids hung in the web just as flies are in an ordinary web, except flies are not clamped on with iron manacles at the wrist and ankles.

It was cruelly done. In nine hundred and fifty years he had learnt to roll with the punches and not mind small physical hurts, but there was something so malicious about this.

Rose was fixed to the web right beside him with barely an inch between his fingertips and hers, but the manacles were so tight he could not reach that extra inch to touch her as he desperately wanted to do. He could hear her already struggling as his captors completed their task and left the web to the agonised moans of the victims upon it.

“Rose,” he called out. “You have to make the effort to breathe. Push up against the web and breathe.”

She did so.

“Keep doing it. Don’t give up.” He knew only too well how a contraption like this killed. It wasn’t by exposure or by hunger or thirst - though those would come in time - but by suffocation. The Human body – even his own non-Human body - could only breathe if it could raise the diaphragm and press the used air out of its lungs and take a new breath. Hanging like that they had to make a conscious effort to push the diaphragm up. When standing on the ground it happened automatically. The effort became too much even for the most determined to live after a while. It was a tried and trusted old way of killing people. Two thousand years ago on Earth the Romans perfected it, calling it crucifixion after the contraptions they hung their victims on.

He was aware of many other bodies trapped on the web, most of them Human or humanoid. Some had already succumbed, others were still struggling.

He didn’t have to breathe as often as they did. He could put his energy into surviving. But if Rose died he had only one reason to live – to keep his promise to her and hunt her murderers to the edge of the universe.

They would both die if he didn’t do SOMETHING. But these creatures knew how to fasten manacles. He was painfully trapped. Even his muscles were starting to protest. Rose was hurting badly. He hated being unable to ease the pain for her. If he could have touched her, he could have put her into a slow trance and she would not have felt the torture. But he couldn’t influence her body with his mind. There needed to be physical contact.

His mind was free, even though his body was locked down. He searched the room with it, finding out just how many people were alive, how many dead. There were too many dead. Hundreds. But there were hundreds alive, too, and many of them were military of some kind, he realised. If they COULD be freed they had a fighting chance.

He let his mind reach beyond the ‘web’. He sought out his TARDIS. It was impervious to telepathy from all other sources, but it knew him. It almost lovingly took him in. He felt more than ever before that the TARDIS was female. It caressed his psyche in a feminine way, reassuring him of its love and loyalty. But he couldn’t bring it to him without being able to reach the key that was in his pocket, and his remote telekinetic skills were not good enough to pilot the TARDIS. The best he could manage, and it was a great mental effort to do it, was force down the button that he had installed a year or so back that sent a transporter signal to Jack Harkness, summoning him to the TARDIS.

He also managed to turn on the hologram of himself to talk to him.

“What the hell?” Jack swore as he turned and saw the hologram.

“Jack,” The Doctor made his hologram say, with difficulty. “I’m in big trouble. Bigger than you can handle, maybe. Turn on the viewscreen and tell me what you can see.”

“What the….” Jack looked and went pale as he saw the Arachnoids outside the TARDIS. “There’s about fifty ugly things with too many arms out there.”

“I’m trapped by them. So is Rose. We’re dead meat – literally – in a few hours unless you can help. But Jack, you’re outnumbered already. I know. If you can’t help… if you want to hit that button and go back where you were… I won’t hold it against you.”

“You think I could just walk off and leave you? You don’t know me as well as you think. But I need weapons. And I REALLY need some back up.”

“You’ll find weapons second door on the right past the kitchen,” he said, hoping his symbiotic relationship with the TARDIS WOULD extend to something so out of character for both of them as an armoury! He was telling the TARDIS with every ounce of his mental strength that he WANTED such a thing. Backup, though, was difficult. Jack was one of the few people he knew who had militaristic tendencies. Well, him and Ace, maybe, or some of the U.N.I.T. chaps. Right now, any one of them would be a welcome friend.

“Doctor,” Jack said. “What’s THAT?” Jack was pointing to the panel where the recall button was. The button was glowing red and buzzing insistently.

“Press it,” The Doctor said. Whatever it was, the TARDIS knew what it was doing. But he was becoming very weary and he couldn’t hold the hologram open much longer. “Jack, we need you,” he said before he had to break the connection or fry his own brain.

Jack felt strangely lonely when he saw the hologram collapse, but not for long. When he pressed the red button he was aware of startled voices coming closer and a crowd of people were suddenly there. Of them all, the only one he recognised was Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Grey of the ADF. He grasped him by the hand and told him he was glad to see him.

“Well, I’m pleased to see you, too, Jack. But what’s going on?”

“Long story,” Jack said. He turned and looked at the puzzled faces around him. He called for attention from them. “Ok, look, I don’t know who all you people are, and you don’t know me, but I’m guessing you’ve all been pulled here because the TARDIS knows you, and because YOU all know The Doctor from somewhere or some time.”

The different clothes around the room were a clue to different time zones. “He’s in trouble and he needs us all. So I’m not even going to ask if you’re in on this. He must have saved you all at some point. I know what he did for you, Simon. You definitely owe him one. So, anyway, I’m told there’s an armoury down here. We all need to lock and load.”

He went down the corridor and everyone followed. He opened the door that he knew was not there the last time he was on board the TARDIS and there WAS, indeed, an armoury.

Everyone seemed to know what to do. Even the two women. One, a very capable looking woman in her 40s with a pony tail and leather jacket was strapping a grenade belt on and practically hugging two P-90s. The other was an oriental woman whom the TARDIS had provided with two lethal looking swords which she strapped to her back before fixing on a set of wrist held throwing stars. The two soldiers in what looked like 1980s British army fatigues with U.N.I.T. cap badges had little trouble with the modern weapons. The young man in civilian clothes but with a distinct mark of a soldier about his bearing that even Jack recognised didn’t even hesitate before selecting his own weapons of choice.

They were a strange army, but they were an army that could kick ass, he thought. Jack loaded two pistols and pocketed them and ten grabbed two p-90s and magazines for them.

As he turned he saw an elderly man in Brigadier’s uniform. Although he was military, he was way too old for this mission. Maybe the TARDIS got him out of the wrong part of his timeline. “Who are you, sir?” he asked.

“Brigadier Sir Alasdair Lethbridge-Stewart, at your service,” the man said with a soft Scots accent. “At the Doctor’s service any time.”

“All due respect, sir, I think we’ll put you on communications here in the TARDIS. I don’t think The Doctor really meant for you to be here.”

The Brigadier assented to that. Jack tried to tell the two women the same and nearly got his head sliced off when the oriental girl swung her sword at him.

“Ok, ok, women’s lib… I get it.” The look given to him by the other woman was nearly as deadly.

“Excuse me?” The young ex-soldier stood next to the oriental girl. “I am not sure why WE are here. WE don’t know anyone called the Doctor. And although we DO know what a TARDIS is, this…”

“This doesn’t look like Chrístõ’s TARDIS,” the girl said.

“Chrístõ?” Jack frowned. “Yeah, that was his name before…. You guys must be from way back. The Doctor… tall, handsome guy, eyes you would die for, devastating smile, leather jacket….”

“That sounds like Chrístõ,” the girl said. “He rescued me from slavery in 1845.”

“THAT sounds like the Doctor. He does that sort of thing. Come on, he’s dying out there and we have a bunch of giant bugs between us and him.” Jack hesitated for one moment. “Simon, I think you’re the senior combat officer here….”

“I think the Doctor is the only man any of us take our orders from,” Simon answered. But he accepted Jack’s offer of the command of their ‘army’. He looked around him. He went to where the Brigadier was looking at the viewscreen and whistled at the sight he saw. “Our main problem is the TARDIS door. It’s a bottleneck. No more than two of us can get out at once. Jack… and you….” He pointed to the ex-soldier.

“Sammie Thomlinson, formerly Lieutenant, SAS,” he said, coming forward.

“Special Forces – just what I need. You two guys are advance guard.” He nodded to the two U.N.I.T. men. “You two get ready with the door. Have a couple of grenades ready.”

It worked perfectly. Captain Mike Yates and RSM John Benton took up positions either side of the door while the former SAS Lieutenant and Captain Jack Harkness whose regiment or army nobody had ever determined stood with guns ready on the walkway to the door. As the doors opened they began firing and Yates and Benton tossed two grenades out. By the time the smoke cleared they had a lot less enemy to worry about, and by then Jack and Sammie had moved out and were in defensive positions either side of the door, firing at everything that moved while Yates and Benton moved forward, fanning out, adding their firepower to the battle. Simon and the English woman who told him her name was Ace flanked the Chinese girl, Bo, whose weapons would not come into their own until they had close quarter fighting to do. In that formation, they cleared their way to the end of the bay where the TARDIS had been impounded by these ‘spider people?’ Simon had seen enough by now not to be surprised, but he was repulsed by them.

“Have you any idea where the Doctor is?” Simon asked Jack as they emerged into a corridor with himself and Jack flanking Bo up front. Yates and Benton flanked Ace in the middle rank and Sammie, in the rear, kept a close watch behind and above their heads.

“This way.” Jack looked at his wrist held life-signs detector and saw The Doctor’s DNA imprint among a jumble of Human ones, all distressingly at a low ebb. He knew The Doctor was alive from that, and also from the faint telepathic awareness of him. The Doctor had connected with him psychically before and he knew the feeling, the sharp touch of silver in his brain. The feeling he had now was more like lead. The Doctor was trying to reach him but he was tired and hurting and couldn’t connect fully.

“Come on. He needs us.”

The whole troop picked up a faster pace, though without losing any of their vigilance against the enemy. Rounding a corner Jack blinked as two throwing stars whizzed by his head and sliced into the necks of two Arachnoids before he was on it himself, dispatching three more of the monsters while Simon took out four his side and their flanking guard did for the rest. Bo retrieved the stars nonchalantly.

It was not an especially long journey, but twice more they came under attack. The things moved fast and an empty corridor could soon become screaming death. At one point they found themselves cut off from front and behind and they fought back to back, Jack, Simon and Ace one way, Benton, Yates and Sammie the other, with Bo between them, her swords at the ready. If anyone thought she was surplus to requirements they didn’t see the decapitated, sliced and diced Arachnoid bodies that piled around her. Dropping from the roof was a bad idea when quick death at the end of a skilfully handled and very sharp sword awaited them.

“Nice work,” Jack said to her when they finally ran out of enemy and regrouped.

“That’s my girl,” Sammie said, and Jack recognised that he was stepping into another man’s territory and retreated with a comradely wink.

At last, the corridor widened out into a huge, dimly lit cargo bay where they found the ‘Web’. For a moment they all stared at the monstrous thing but Simon organised them. He set Yates and Benton on guard at the only entrance and everyone else to getting people down from the web.

“Get them ALL down,” he ordered. “Alive or dead. Clear this filthy thing.”

Jack was already on the case. He had spotted The Doctor and sprang into action. He climbed the frame quickly and with his combat knife began to unfasten the cruel bonds. He looked anxiously at The Doctor as he freed his legs. He was just hanging on to consciousness, but as Jack worked he rallied. Once he had an arm free he reached into his pocket for his sonic screwdriver and told Jack to see to Rose. He quickly freed his other arm and climbed over to where Jack had Rose’s arms free. He held her upright while Jack freed her legs. She fell limply into his arms and he was worried as he climbed down the framework with her. Jack was already off finding others who were alive.

He knelt by Rose and felt her pulse. It was very weak and he couldn’t see her breathing. He bent over her and covered her mouth with his, performing mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Jack climbed the web towards one figure that was very clearly alive. He had found too many already that weren’t. It was a woman, or at least he thought so. The close cropped hair and slender body in tight military grey body suit defined the word androgynous. Jack freed her quickly. She asked him if he had a weapon. In any other situation his reply would have been much more innuendo laden, but he quietly handed her a P-90 and magazine clip and moved on looking for more victims.

The Doctor felt Rose breathe for herself at last but she was still unconscious and he couldn’t wake her. He looked around and saw that the others had things in hand. Some of those who had been freed already and were fit to fight had been given the spare weapons the rescue party brought and were taking up defensive positions around the edge of the web while others continued to free the living and pass the dead down to lie in a sad but dignified line. He wasn’t especially needed. He could give his time to her without feeling guilty.

As he held her in his arms he felt somebody tap him on the back and he looked into the pretty oriental eyes of a girl who came from so far in his past it took him a moment to remember her name. When he did he felt guilty at having forgotten her so easily. She gave him a small glass bottle with a coloured liquid inside and told him to give it to Rose.

“Precious, beautiful Bo,” he said, remembering her. “Thank you,” He kissed her cheek gently then she ran off to climb the web skilfully to near the top and release people from their bonds with a slice of her sword that went through the metal but stopped short of slicing through flesh. He looked at the liquid. He remembered from deep in his memory that Bo, as well as being deadly with edged weapons when danger threatened, practised the much gentler art of Chinese medicine. Whatever it was, he was sure it would help. He lifted Rose’s head and put the bottle to her mouth, letting a few drops trickle in. She had only slipped into unconsciousness a few minutes before the rescue party arrived, but even a few minutes without oxygen could harm the Human brain. He was more than relieved when she opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“You’re still you,” she said cryptically. “I am glad.” He hugged her close to him for a long time, but there were things to do yet. He stood up with her and looked around. The job was almost done. He stepped towards the sad line of dead. He noticed that many were wearing a military uniform and recognised it as the 22nd Space Corps, the twenty-fifth century intergalactic special forces.

“We lost hundreds,” a woman’s voice said, and he turned to see the androgynous Space Corps Major.

“We’ve saved as many as we could,” The Doctor told her.

They all heard the high pitched sound of the Arachnoids approaching. Their escape had been detected The Major ordered those of her people who were armed to assume defensive positions. But there were too few of them for an effective stand. The Doctor put his hand in his pocket and found the TARDIS key. He wasn’t sure it was going to work, but he pressed it anyway. To his relief he heard the sound of it materialising. The remnants of the Space Corps were surprised and alarmed, but the rescuers were all seasoned TARDIS travellers and viewed it with the same relief The Doctor did. He opened the door and stepped inside with Rose then looked back. “Anyone who wants to live, in HERE, now, he said. The Major looked momentarily at the strange blue box and wondered how they could get in there, but something about The Doctor made her trust him. She called to her people to fall back through the blue door.

The Doctor turned and saw the Brigadier at the console and was surprised. “I thought of you,” he said. “But only briefly. Sorry to drag you in.”

“Just like old times, Doctor,” the Brigadier said with a smile. “That’s a new look for you,” he added.

The Doctor remembered he hadn’t seen the Brigadier since two lives back.

“It's an old look, too,” he said as he saw Bo come in, holding hands with Sammie. “Long time,” he said to them. Sammie smiled.

“It is you, isn’t it,” he said.

“It's me,” he told them, and that settled that. Of course they were confused. They knew him when he was a student on a field trip to learn about Human culture. Long before he lost his real name and became known as The Doctor. Even he tended to count his life as a space wanderer from the time he left Gallifrey with Susan. He’d almost forgotten his earliest adventures.

Most of the others didn’t know him by that face, either. Ace did, of course. It wasn’t so long since he had left her in Ireland with Jo and Sarah Jane. She came straight up to him and hugged him.

Yates and Benton knew him at once when he spoke to them. Simon grinned at him and commented that, at least this time, he didn’t need any spare part surgery.

Jack was the last of the rescue party to come inside, walking with the Space Corps Major. Her troops were following. The Doctor nodded to Jack then he told the troops who were pouring in to spread out along the TARDIS walls and keep still for a while. They looked at their Major who confirmed his order.

“You’re in charge here?” she asked. “This is your vessel?” She looked around it and seemed about to comment but decided against it. She identified herself to him as Major Hellina Artura of the 22nd Space Corps.

“Yes,” he said. “This is my TARDIS. And I can get everyone away to safety once you have your people on board.”

“That won’t be necessary. All we need is weapons, if you have them, and we’ll retake our ship.”

“It's YOUR ship?” The Doctor asked.

“Yes. Those THINGS came on board in a craft we found floating in space. We thought it was dead but as soon as we opened the airlocks they boarded us. At least three hundred of our company were killed in the fight. Those of us who survived were put on the web…. to be kept as meat. You saw how many died there.”

She looked around as the last of her company came aboard and Benton and Yates closed the door. Hugging the walls of the TARDIS they seemed a large crowd, but she guessed maybe ninety were left out of seven hundred and fifty. The Doctor noticed her blink back tears that betrayed her otherwise hard-bitten military guise.

“But we’re not going to lose our ship. If you can’t help us we’ll go back out there and fight with our bare hands if we have to.”

“Doctor,” Jack said, coming up behind her. “We have to help her.”

“We don’t HAVE to do anything, Jack,” he said. “We’re NOT military.” Hellina looked mutinous for a moment. “But we WILL. Because it's the right thing to do.”

He told Jack to take the Captain and her men to the armoury. When they were gone he looked at Rose. She still looked dazed and he was worried about her. He brought her to where the Brigadier was looking at the console, monitoring the Arachnoid activity outside. “Brigadier, I need you to look after Rose for me. She’s already had too much adventure for one day.” He put her hand in the Brigadier’s and stepped away. She looked at him and her face froze.

“You’re going back out there?”

“I have to. I can’t let others die while I stay here where it's safe.”

“You’re not a fighter,” she told him.

“I am when there’s no choice.” He had been a warrior of his people in the Time War. He had fought ruthlessly - as ruthlessly as the enemy, the Daleks. He COULD fight if he had to. Sometimes he HAD to.

“Then don’t leave me here. Let me go with you.”

“No,” he insisted. “We’re going out there to fight or die. Maybe both. I’ve already nearly lost you once today because you wouldn’t leave my side. Let me keep you safe this time.”

“I could use your help, my dear,” the Brigadier said. “The TARDIS grabbed me so fast I don’t have my reading glasses and this screen is a bit of a blur. How many of these creatures do you think there are out there?”

The Doctor smiled. He was lying. He had perfectly good vision, but he made her feel useful. Jack was at his side again handing him a microphone headset and a P-90. Jack was surprised at the way he took it and expertly slotted in the magazine. For somebody who claimed not to be a soldier, he did it quite well.

The Doctor went to the TARDIS drive controls, opposite the navigation, and fine tuned it for something he had not tried very often but which the TARDIS COULD do if necessary. He looked at the life signs monitor the Brigadier and Rose were studying and saw the Arachnoids were swarming around and up and over the web, just waiting for them to emerge from the TARDIS. As Simon observed earlier, the door was a bottleneck and the first to step out would be immediately grabbed.

“Defence positions,” he ordered and this time everyone moved first time without reference to the Major. The Space Corps made ready with weapons pointing out and upwards from their circle around the edge of the TARDIS. The Doctor went back to the console and flicked a switch then hurried to stand beside Jack in the smaller inner circle that his own volunteers made up. He had set the TARDIS to move twenty yards to the left, which would take it into an empty corridor beyond the web, but leaving everyone who wasn’t actually physically touching the console exactly where they were.

“OPEN FIRE!” The Doctor yelled as it dematerialised and they were back in the web. Around him the 22nd Space Corps and the Doctor’s own volunteers opened fire on the Arachnoids. Surprise attack had a new meaning. One moment there was nobody, the next a small army came out of thin air and began blasting away. Arachnoids fell inside and outside the “web” until Major Artura gave the CEASE FIRE order and with the eerie ping of the last cartridges hitting the floor, the battlefield fell silent.

The Doctor listened on his head set as the Brigadier told him all the Arachnoid life signs had ceased. “But you’ve got another batch heading your way. Corridor, twelve o’clock…” Major Artura took the cue at that and ordered her troops up the corridor, heading straight for the Arachnoid second wave. The battle was brief, and the Arachnoids came off the worst. They pushed on towards the bridge.

Pockets of Arachnoid resistance blocked their way almost at every step. They fought hard. They didn’t have it all their way. Some of Artura’s troops fell. But all of the Arachnoids were killed as they pressed their advance.

The Doctor’s rearguard had a fight of it when a small contingent appeared from a side corridor very nearly taking them by surprise. Ace took the first two. Bo, with two swords flashing as she leapt into the air, dispatched three at once. Jack, Simon, Sammie, Yates, Benton and the Doctor all took out their share. The Doctor felt a strange satisfaction again in seeing a compound eye explode as he pumped bullets into the creature’s head. At the back of his mind he knew he was wrong to feel that way, but for the moment he didn’t care.

Rose looked with dismay at the life signs monitor. There still seemed more of the enemy than the ‘good guys’. And The Doctor was too much mixed up in the thick of it.

“What is he doing?” Rose asked. “He’s NOT a soldier. I don’t want him to be a soldier. Why is he doing this?”

“Because they NEED every able bodied man,” the Brigadier said. “He knows he can’t stand by and let others face the danger.”

“He keeps on saying he’s a pacifist.”

“Yes, but that’s just a word. And he knows very well that it's a meaningless word when your back is against the wall. He’ll be all right. I’ve known him for decades. He’s been up against WORSE than this.”

“You knew him before he changed?” Rose asked.

“Several times,” the Brigadier said. “I witnessed it once. Disturbing. Though at my age, I must say, I envy him.”

“I just want him safe.”

The radio link crackled. “Rose, stop complaining and tell us how many of these things are ahead of us.” The sound of his voice cheered her as she read the life-signs monitor.

“There’s about hundred and fifty of them,” she told him. “But they’re ALL on the bridge. If you make it through there, it's all over.”

“Ok.” The Doctor said. “Put the kettle on. I’ll want a cuppa when I’m done.”

“Make your own cuppa,” she said. “You want to be a soldier, you make your own brews.” She heard him laugh and then he cut the connection. She wished he hadn’t. But if he was going to die, did she want to HEAR it?

So the bridge was the last stand. Major Artura turned to The Doctor as they considered their last moves. “I think you ought to be in charge,” she said. “I don’t know why it is, but I think you rank a lot higher than I do, even without a uniform.”

The Doctor wasn’t sure he wanted to command an army, but he accepted the responsibility. She had given him an idea of the layout ahead and he quickly relayed to all of the troops, through the headsets, what he wanted them to do. Slowly they moved forward to where the corridor opened out onto a balcony above the circular bridge. The 22nd Space Corp and The Doctor’s volunteers silently spread right around the balcony. The Doctor stood at the top of the wide stairway down to the Bridge. Bo and Ace flanked him. He still had his gun, but he held it down, the safety catch on.

“You have committed an act of space piracy against the Rialox Code and the Treaty of Umoxz,” he shouted, getting the attention of the Arachnoid commander. “I demand that you surrender to the proper authority – which would be ME!”

The commander looked at him and let out a howl of rage. Four Arachnoids flew towards him. He didn’t flinch from his position. He didn’t have to. Before they were within pincer reach two had been dispatched with throwing stars through their eyes and the other two taken out by Ace and her P-90.

“OPEN FIRE!” The Doctor yelled again and the 22nd Space Corps and volunteers stood up from their hiding positions and laid down precise but heavy and sustained fire intended to take out as many of the Arachnoids as possible without damaging the bridge of their own ship.

Again they didn’t have it all their own way. Some of the 22nd fell as the Arachnoids returned fire. But the surprise attack from their elevated position worked in their favour. The Doctor and his two unlikely warriors held the only escape route. He flicked off the safety catch from his weapon as he stood his ground and fired at all comers. Ace glanced at him once as she stood shoulder to shoulder with him and kept firing. Bo was a blur as she launched the deadly throwing stars nearly as fast as they could fire.

The Arachnoid commander screamed his anger as he came through the firefight towards The Doctor. He was hit several times but he kept coming. The Doctor fired at point blank range into the creature’s head and even when it was clearly dead he kept on firing until he heard Jack’s voice in his ear and a strong arm on his shoulder.

“You can stop now,” he said. “It’s over.” The Doctor looked slowly around at him. He dropped the gun as the red haze of rage cleared from his vision.

“It's over,” Jack said again as they heard Artura’s shout of ‘cease fire’ and the order to secure the bridge. Artura’s troops poured down the steps past him and ‘mopped up’ – pumping what was left of their ammunition into any wounded Arachnoids they found. The Doctor felt no sympathy for them. They were monsters.

The 22nd Space Corps had their ship back. Hellina Artura stood in the TARDIS console room and thanked The Doctor for his help. Jack stood next to her and there was a look being passed between the two of them that The Doctor recognised.

“I’m sticking around here a while,” Jack told him. “Hellina and I….”

“Well, I’ll miss you,” The Doctor said.

“But it would never have worked between us, Doctor,” Jack ribbed him. “You’re a one-woman-man, remember. And… heck, maybe I can be, too.” Then he hugged The Doctor and Rose and the two of them left together.

The Doctor turned to look at the rest of his temporary crew. It was going to be a tall order getting them all back to where they were supposed to be. He told them to give him dates and places and he’d do his best. Meanwhile.…

“Ace, have you put your gun back in the armoury yet?” he asked. She said yes, but there was something about her answer that made him think she was lying. He nodded at Sammie, who opened her coat and extracted the P-90 from inside. The Doctor sighed and took it from him.

He was over his own impulse to fire projectile weapons. A sort of madness had come over him for a while. Certainly he had killed the Arachnoid commander with more than minimum force. He felt ashamed of the way he had found satisfaction in the carnage. The least he could do was get rid of the TARDIS’s contribution to the affair.

He took the gun and strode away down the corridor. He opened the armoury door and dropped the P-90 on a rack inside. Then he closed the door again and closed his eyes and concentrated on TARDIS space. He opened the door again and smiled triumphantly as he looked at the dojo he used to use in his younger, fitter days. He’d find a use for it again, he promised himself.

He walked back to the control room. Ace was looking mutinous but when he kissed her on the cheek and called her his favourite juvenile delinquent she laughed and forgave him. When he brought her home to Cumbria she hugged him fondly and called him Professor as she always did. Sammie and Bo were his next pair to take care of. They were still a little puzzled by him. He was not surprised. It was nearly eight hundred years since he had seen them and eight lifetimes ago. When he returned them to the early twenty-first century Bo kissed him sweetly as she used to do – as he remembered with a blush and a hope that Rose would not be difficult about it.

Benton, Yates and the Brigadier, he left together in the late 1980s, the Brigadier promising to sort out with their respective commanders where the two men had been. Simon was dropped off in San Francisco in 2008.

And at last it was just him and Rose. He turned around and saw she was not in the console room. THAT in itself was odd. He checked the TARDIS’s lifesign monitor to be sure she was on board before putting it into temporal orbit.

He found her sitting alone in the ballroom where they had been having such a good time before the Arachnoids had taken them. He knew by the melancholy music that was playing that she was not happy.

“I’m sorry for neglecting you.” He picked her up from her seat and took her onto the dance floor. He danced slowly with her, pressing her close. “There’s no need to be jealous of anyone, you know. Ace, Bo, neither of them mean as much to me as you do. And they’ve gone now. It’s just me and you.”

“I’m not bothered about that,” she answered. “It's… I was so afraid for you. When you were out there, fighting. I was so frightened. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want you to lose me, either,” he said. “But sometimes…. I’m sorry I left you out. But this was a WAR. It had to be those of us with combat training. I know you’re a brave woman. I love you for it. But you aren’t a combatant.”

“Neither are you.”

“I do what I have to do. And yes, it is a corny line. But it's true.”

“You could have been killed,” she protested. “And I wouldn’t have been there.”

“I could be killed any time, anywhere, whether you’re there or not. Come on, there is something more to this, isn’t there.”

“I’ve been having weird dreams,” she admitted. “I even had the dream when we were trapped on the web. It's always the same… I dream that almost nothing of the past two years has happened… Because you DIED not long after we first met Jack. I mean… you didn’t DIE as such…. You became somebody else. The… the you I love… YOU died, and even though the other guy said he had the same feelings for me, it was too weird to be looking at him… and not you.”

“Sounds like you’ve picked up traces from another time-line,” he guessed. “After all, we got tossed about through a couple of them a while back. It's no wonder you’re seeing glimpses of the alternatives. Yes, there’s a likelihood that in some other time-line I’ve got myself into so much trouble that a regeneration was the only option. But Rose, whatever face I have… there is no time-line in which I don’t love you.”

“That wasn’t the problem,” she said. “It felt… as if I didn’t love you. Or I wasn’t sure if I could. Loving him… felt like I was betraying you.”

“Rose,” The Doctor sighed. “Understand this much about regeneration – the face may change – the whole body may change. But the hearts and the head are the same. You would not be betraying me. I will still be there.”

He kissed her on the lips. He didn’t often kiss her that way. Usually it was on the cheek or forehead, but he thought she needed to feel a real kiss for once. “If we come to that in THIS reality, be sure of that much.”

But even as he said it, he dearly hoped he never would have to face that. Because he knew, hearts and head notwithstanding, every regeneration had worked a mental change upon him as well as a physical one, and his tastes in clothes, music, food, all of that changed – that was why he hadn’t listened to Bob Dylan for nearly seven centuries.

He wasn’t sure if feelings such as he had for Rose might be changed. He didn’t want to open a new pair of eyes and look at her and not feel the same. That would be WORSE than her not loving him as much. He dearly hoped he could go on loving her with this same body, same face, same mind for a long time yet.

And he hoped his alternate time line self who had not been so lucky got his act together and realised that she was the best thing that ever happened to him.