The Doctor was seated at the head of the table, on an ornately carved high-backed chair. Ohila of the Karn Sisterhood sat at the opposite end, observing the activity.
Assembled before her were The Doctor, having regained the office of Lord President from the deposed and disgraced Rassilon, and The General, chairman of the Gallifreyan War council.
Their agenda this day was to discuss the malicious and misguided actions of the former President, his intent to confront the prophecies regarding the nature and impact of the mythical hybrid that would come to claim Gallifrey and stand amongst its ruins.
The choices made by Rassilon had left The Doctor alone, without a friend, without a reward, and with nothing to lose.
“If you wanted to know about the hybrid, why didn’t you come to me? You’ve summoned me home before”
“We dared not risk bringing the hybrid here, you claimed it was you in your message to the young boy you dispatched to the capital”
“So being time lords and knowing not to cross hairs with the web of time, you ensured you couldn’t just force my TARDIS back here because you heard a remark from me in your present”
“And this very admission from you was what prompted Rassilon to take action and to seal you within the confession dial, so you would be given a chance to elaborate”
“And face a just punishment in the process of working out a means to escape” The Doctor replied.
“Your companion, Ms. Clara Oswald, was not intended to be a victim of your interrogation, please believe that Doctor”
“Clara did a very human thing, she tried to one-up me, and she got herself killed. I can’t turn the clock back on that as much as I want to. Rassilon laid out the mines, but she was the one who stepped on them”
“Then you forgive us?” The General asked.
“The Doctor tore out the weed at the core of Gallifrey’s arrogant bout of paranoia, no one else is to blame but Rassilon himself” Ohila said, chiming in.
The Doctor tilted his head upwards, his eyes fixated on the large oval window atop the building, trying his best to make up distant suns glistening across the bright and burning orange skies of his homeworld.
“When I said the hybrid was ‘me’, I didn’t mean myself, I meant someone I had turned into a hybrid, a human who’s life I prolonged indefinitely using a piece of alien technology. She had a name, but as time passed, everything that name was associated with withered and died around her, so she abandoned it, she became singular, unattached. She identified only as ‘Me’. That individual was the crude she-devil you arranged a deal with on Trap Street”
“How does she come to Gallifrey?” The General asked.
“You’re Time Lords, can’t you decide when it is time to see for yourselves?” asked Ohila
“Well, perhaps time has already decided for us. Rassilon made the deal with her to keep her street safe, she knows our race exists, and she’s got all eternity to wait for the universe to run out of breath. A heat death means plenty of sun, and you picked a fine spot to deposit this old nursery in, ideal conditions for a final, fateful vacation”
“All prophecies are not clear on what shape the hybrid will come in, it is possible this girl is but one of many diversions” The General argued.
“You mean your prophecies aren’t even clear on what colour it is? They’re not trying to offend anyone on the P.C spectrum are they?”
“This is no time to play the fool. Doctor”
“It’s the end of the universe. It’s the only time I’ve got. And you want me to keep you all safe”
“I’ll need help obviously”
“Gallifrey is at your command”
“Oh, not from you lot. No, you’d cramp my style. Look at your hats. I’m going to need the use of an extraction chamber, to request a favour of someone”
Many years earlier, at Bannerman Road, a familiar scenario played out
A young boy, Luke Smith over excitedly, chats on his phone with his friend Clive over the events of Christmas 2009, the day the world became one man everywhere.
“That was the maddest Christmas ever, Clive. Mum still doesn’t know what happened. She got Mister Smith to put out this story saying that Wi-Fi went mad all across the world, giving everyone hallucinations. I mean, how else do you explain it? Everyone with a different face ”
Luke crossed the road without looking, only for the Doctor, a much younger Doctor, dragged him off the road before he could be struck down by a speeding car.
“But it’s you! You’re…”
The Doctor walked back to his TARDIS.
“Mum! Mum!” Luke said, heading towards his mother, Sarah Jane, as she stepped out of the house to check on him.
“What? What is it?”
“It’s him. It’s the Doctor”
The Doctor waved goodbye, Sarah smiled.
Then she noticed something wrong.
The Doctor seemed frozen, locked in position, no longer moving a muscle.
She looked all around her, and everyone else was the same. Luke, the cars, the people going about their business on the road, all motionless.
A shimmering light emitted from just behind the TARDIS, Sarah felt compelled to investigate, etching closer and closer towards it.
She saw a hand beckoning her, an unfamiliar voice calling her name.
Sarah stepped into an all-white room, with operatives also dressed in white. The only colour are their faces, the General, the Doctor, and Sarah, and some blue computer panels.
“Where am I? What is this?”
“Hello Sarah Jane” The Doctor said.
“Doctor? Is that you” Sarah said, pricking the front of him with her finger.
“It is, and to answer your question Sarah, this is home”
“Home? Your home?”
The Doctor nodded.
Sarah felt her confusion give away to untempered elation.
“You found it”
She placed her right hand warmly against The Doctor’s right cheek and stroked it tenderly.
“Doctor, oh Doctor welcome back”
The Doctor reached out and held Sarah’s hand as it remained attached to his cheek, he felt its searing warmth, he wanted to wrap himself in it, he had missed it.
He had missed her; he had missed everything about her.
The General urged The Doctor to get on with the matter at hand.
“Sarah, this isn’t a house call”
“I just saw you, you were saying goodbye, like you always do, but something was different about it…it was like you knew you weren’t coming back, not as I knew you, not as you knew yourself”
“And you would be right, that version of me died Sarah, not long after bidding you adieu, that wasn’t even my previous form”
“You had a whole other life I missed out on?” Sarah asked, her hand disengaging from The Doctor’s face.
The Doctor grabbed her by the shoulders.
“You’ll come to know the self that succeeded him in time, that’s all it takes, time”
Sarah did not fully understand, but trusted the words of the man before her. She gave him a light smile, trying to hold back tears as she processed the news of the tenth incarnation facing his mortality.
“You’ve gotten old” she said.
“I’m probably only a couple of years ahead of you in appearance”
“Ah, so you’re finally keeping up with me”
“Ms. Smith, the lord president has requested your presence on this planet for as long as he deems proper”
“Oh I can’t stay; I have a son to look after”
“They’ll keep, don’t worry, you’ll be returned to this precise spot and moment when we’re done”
“Doctor, are you sure it is wise to use the extraction chamber in this fashion? There could be unforeseen side effects…”
“What side effects? Tell me”
“Sarah, I think we should go topside, it’s almost nightfall”
Before Sarah could utter another word, The Doctor grabbed her hand and escorted her to one of the lifts which took them up to the top of the capital citadel.
Atop the citadel, Sarah and The Doctor sat atop the roof, kicking their feet back and staring out at a few crimson stars as they ignited one by one and descended into the wild lands of the planet.
“I hope none of those areas are inhabited” Sarah said.
“No, no Gallifrey has specific defences, magnetrons that pull the falling strands away from any habitable area and into harmless dunes”
“Even at the end of everything, your people still cling to survival skills” Sarah replied.
“Sarah, I have to ask something of you, and you can say no any time you like”
“Tell me, just as long as you speak truthfully about the side effects of this extraction chamber of yours” Sarah insisted.
“The chamber is usually only used for people at the very end of their time stream, we take the person at the moment of their demise, and when they have provided us with the necessary information, they’re returned to see out the rest of their remaining seconds”
“Was I fated to die then?” Sarah asked.
“No, no we misused the chamber this one time. You have much more life left in you Sarah, and that’s why I need you for what lies ahead”
“Why not extract me at a later stage in life? When I’ve met your previous self?”
“That’s still to come for you, but this is you at your peak Sarah, this was when you had just earned your second chance and you revelled in it, this was the woman I knew could keep the earth in line even as I stepped over it myself. I was tempted, very tempted, to abuse the chamber in a different way, to bring a good friend of mine back from the brink of death, and keep her where I needed her to be. I wanted to be naughty Sarah, a very naught boy indeed. This, all of this, used to be my playground and the Time Lords the spoiled elders I wanted to mock in front of the unruly sorts, my aim was to be a champion amongst the unruly and strike out on my own”
“You succeeded at that, and more so you proved wiser than the so-called elders, you proved to them straying from home did more good for the universe than ruling out intervention” said Sarah.
“And what did it cost me? A friend, my Clara, oh I can tell myself she was to blame for her own demise, but had I not let slip that nonsense about the hybrid and Me the moment I got here, Rassilon wouldn’t have had the impetus to try and snare me in the past…it’s only now I realise this isn’t my playground Sarah, it’s my penance. I have to rule over Gallifrey, I have to prepare them for the hybrid, whatever form it takes, and I’m more scared that I may face it alone”
“And that’s why you summoned me…the absolute best version possible, to spend the duration of your presidency at your side…to keep you in line”
“I’m scared, and alone, and hell bent on succeeding, will you stand in the ruins, you, myself, and the one who only goes by Me, at the end of it all, and confront the riddle of the hybrid once and for all?”
“Oh Doctor, even if there were no stars left, I’d gladly light your path any day. Come on, we’ve got work to do”
The Doctor and Sarah climbed down from the edge of the roof and laid their heads down, clutching their hands and squeezing them tightly. They watched more stars descend from the burning sky.
“I suppose when I get back, I’ll have a few extra years on me”
“All of that will be covered when you realign with your correct timeline”
“And I’m sure I’ll need my memory erased”
“I’m not putting myself through that again”
“But if you do let me remember, when I see your earlier face, I’m not supposed to say anything?”
“Even if you hear of my ‘untimely’ death from a couple of vultures”
“It’s not like you to leave me a preview of what’s to come”
“Sorry, just trying to keep the timeline spoiler-free for myself”
“Hmmph, spoilers, reminds me of a woman I crossed paths with just a couple of days ago, my time anyway”
“Did she say anything about me?”
“Just that you never leave her any tin dogs”