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There were times that Graham had found himself cursing the TARDIS and its innate ability to alter its interior whenever it chose to. Many times, while wondering corridors, he’d found himself opening a door to what he thought was the kitchen and finding that, actually, it was another room entirely. Once, the door had opened on a cupboard so full of clutter that he’d been buried in an almighty crash, and another, he’d ended up in Ryan’s bedroom (much to his grandson’s annoyance).

It was times like these, however, when he smiled a silent thanks to the sentient ship: loaded with four steaming mugs of tea (two in each hand, like a sort of British superpower), the kitchen door opened before him right onto the console room steps, cutting the time it would normally take him to walk there by more than half.

He climbed the steps towards the murmuring voices of Ryan and Yaz, who were sat cross-legged on the floor beneath the centre console. As he approached, he could hear banging and muttering coming from beneath the panelling. Graham noted that a hexagonal floor panel that had been lifted away and was tucked to the side, leaving behind it a gaping hole from which smoke was gently rising.

“That stuff stinks,” Ryan was saying; “Are you sure it’s safe to breathe?”

“Probably,” came a cheery reply from under the floor. “I could stop it, I just gotta... reach… a little… further…” An oily boot appeared from beneath them, bracing against the edge of the hole, pushing its owner deeper into the bowels of the time machine.

Graham paused to peer down, but all he could see of the Doctor was the leg belonging to the aforementioned boot. Beyond that, her body disappeared into a mess of pipes, tubes and wires. The hole was obviously an access hatch, with a solid floor plate about two feet below floor level. Before he could investigate further, another cloud of acrid smoke billowed up, which sent them all reeling with their noses covered. Evidently, a face-full was even worse, as they could hear the Doctor’s harsh coughing echoing somewhere distantly below them.

“You alright?” Yaz called down.

The Doctor whooped in response. “That’s got it! That’s ten more points for me. I’m winning, you know; you lot’ve gotta up your game!”

As the Time Lord began to wriggle herself out of the TARDIS’s mechanisms, Graham suddenly remembered the four mugs still clasped in his hands and offered them to his friends.

“Ooh, Graham, you’re a star,” Yaz cooed, clasping her favourite galaxy-print mug between her hands and blowing at the steam.

“Yeah, cheers,” Ryan nodded. Without really thinking, he sipped, burning his tongue, and resorting to sucking air hurriedly through his teeth to cool his mouth down again. Graham smiled as his grandson tried to ignore Yaz’s giggling.

Between them, the Doctor’s boot gained a little height, waved uselessly in the air for a moment, before they could hear its owner grunting her defeat. “Thought I could get out of here. Now I think I thought wrong. In fact, I’m starting to think that I more than think that I thought wrong.” She gave another desperate wriggle, which brought her foot dangerously close to Graham’s tea.

“Need a hand, Doc?” He called down mirthfully, holding the mug safely up in the air.

“Might do, yeah,” She replied, sounding more than a little embarrassed.

Yaz and Ryan stifled a laugh as they grabbed hold of her feet and pulled. Looking for all the world like kitten rescued from a drainpipe, the Doctor finally popped out of the various pipes and tubes she’d managed to wriggle between. Lying on her back at the bottom of the hatch for a moment, she huffed, exhausted.

Graham waved the last mug at her. “Tea?”

Her oil-streaked face lit up. “Brilliant!”

 

The oily rag was really not helping the situation, Graham realised as he watched the Doctor trying to clean her face. With the panel back in place, apparently, whatever she was tinkering with had been fixed, and it was time for another adventure. That was, if anyone could decide where to go.

“Come on, Ryan, we did a city last time!” Yaz was calmly pointing out.

“Yeah, but countryside is always either boring or dangerous. Or both!”

The Doctor tossed the cloth over her shoulder (Yep, thought Graham, scanning her smudged face, she’s made it even worse). “We could do both! City in the countryside. In fact, I know a city that is the countryside! You know the Woodland Realm from Lord of the Rings, right? Like that, but real – the trees… the trees are buildings…”

Graham frowned as she trailed off, following her gaze towards a blinking red light on the console.

“That’s odd,” The Doctor scrunched her nose. “Communication channel?”

As if on cue, the phone buzzed, and some terrible 2000s pop music blared from the TARDIS speakers, all chirpy piano chords and jingling tambourines.

“Oh god,” Yaz groaned, covering her face. “That better not be what I think it is.”

“I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt…” The TARDIS sang. Ryan and Graham looked at each other, bemused. Behind them, Yaz had her hands firmly clamped over her ears.

Right Said Fred? Really, Doctor? If I get this stuck in my head...”

“Never really took you for a pop fan, Doc,” Graham quirked an eyebrow.

“And I’m too sexy for Milan, too sexy for Milan…”

The alien chewed her nail. “Personalised ringtone,” She breathed, so quietly they could barely hear her over the music. “But it can’t be. There’s no way. It can’t be him.”

Her companions frowned. She was quiet, too quiet, her body frozen in place while her gaze drifted somewhere far away.

“Can’t be who?” Ryan asked.

The Doctor didn’t reply, continuing to mumble to herself. Ryan was almost tempted to grab hold of her; she’d turned a sickly shade of pale, like she’d seen a ghost.

“You feeling alright?” Yaz’s frowned, concern practically radiating from her.

As though in some sort of dream, the Doctor began to move towards the control panel, raising a shaking finger to put the caller onto loud speaker.

Silence. It seemed to hum with tension. The Doctor swallowed thickly. “Hello?” It was barely more than a whisper.

“Hey!” a broad American accent beamed through the speakers. “Captain Jack Harkness calling the TARDIS. Is the Doctor home?”

 She reeled. Literally reeled, staggering back from the console like it had threatened to kill her. Graham went after her as the Doctor caught herself against a crystal pillar, confusion, fear, and – dare he say it – grief damn-near pulling her eyes out of their sockets. Even as he gently placed a hand on her arm, she stared at the console, but her eyes were somewhere far, far away.

The man didn’t pause. “Listen, I don’t have a lot of time. I’m in a bit of a bind, had a run-in with some Cartesian slavers. I’m sending you my coordinates – would really appreciate some back-up.”

Graham gently leaned forward until he could see past the curtain of blonde hair hiding the Doctor’s face. Her lips were parted, breathless, her skin cold and clammy. Distantly, she mumbled something.

“What’s the matter, Doc?” he breathed.

“Not fair…” she groaned. “That’s just not fair.”

Graham squeezed her arm, and she turned to look at him, finally growing more coherent. Her eyes said it all. Graham didn’t have to guess; he knew that painful look.

The screen flashed with a series of numbers. The phone line crackled; in the background, muffled shouts were growing.

“I’ll see you round,” Jack’s voice was dripping with charm.

All eyes turned to the Doctor as, all of a sudden, she lunged for the phone, slamming the sonic into it and trying to hold the line open. It was no use, though; in a heartbeat, the spaceship was silent and still.

“Wait!” The Doctor threw her arms up, wailing, “how do I know it’s you!?”

There was no reply, and she slumped against the console, defeated.

Chapter Text

She could feel the eyes of the team on the back of her neck, but she wasn’t in any mood for questions. Instead, she set about inputting Jack’s coordinates into the navigation system, flicking dials and switches, making sure the stabilisers were on this time. Everything on the inside of her was messy and hard to control; at least the TARDIS had buttons and displays to tell her what was going on.

Ryan was watching the Doctor. Surely, if a mate rang you up after a while, you’d be thrilled, right? Maybe it was an alien thing, but the Doctor didn’t seem that thrilled.

The crystal column began to rise and fall as the TARDIS’s engines kicked in, and for a moment, they had to scramble for a purchase against the tilting and swerving of the ship’s flight, less violent than usual, but still enough to throw you off your feet. Graham clutched Ryan’s arm, and Ryan caught hold of a handle under the console controls. At least, he hoped it was a handle. Who could tell in this place?

Then, as quickly as it had started, the TARDIS landed with a bump. Ryan staggered, but he managed to keep his feet, more for Graham’s sake than for his own. The old man cast a glance at him before letting go of his arm, leaving him to straighten up and accidentally catch the Doctor’s eyes.

The alien pointedly ignored him. Her face was stony and cold, lips thin and jaw tight. Flicking a few last switches, she turned her back on her crew, burying her hands deep in her trouser pockets, drifting into the darkness between the crystal pillars.

When she spoke, her voice was chillingly quiet. “Go on, then. Questions. Quickly.”

Ryan glanced at Graham and Yaz. They were staring at their feet. He gave them a look that said I’m not going first.

Grhaam puffed out his cheeks in a sigh, trying to imagine what he would want her to say to him, should things be reversed. Then, just as Yaz was about to open her mouth, he gently touched her arm and shook his head. “Actually, Doc, we don’t wanna ask any questions.” That made the Doctor raise her head. “In fact, we’re quite happy staying in the dark on this one, if it makes you more comfortable, ‘cos we can see how much this is upsetting you, and if it’s all the same to you, I don’t wanna make that worse.”

The Doctor was silent for a long time. Then, as though coming back to life, her hand flicked up to run down her face, and she turned back to them. Ryan bit his lip. Even in the dark, there was no mistaking the shine of tears in her eyes.

“See, I knew there was a reason I chose you lot.” She beamed warmly. Then, she moved forwards, her hands held out to them. Ryan didn’t look her in the eye, but he took one anyway, and Yaz clasped the other tightly. “What you need to know is this: Jack is another time traveller. He used to be part of an agency that protected earth from alien threats, but he’s also helped me on many occasions. Except… that was years ago. And when I say years, I mean… I mean about two-thousand.”

Ryan’s gaze jerked up to her face. Was she serious? There was no way – and yet, her eyes showed nothing but painful truth.

“I thought my time with him was up,” she continued slowly. Her voice was choking up: She had to stop for a second. Ryan squeezed her hand. What else could he do? Gulping awkwardly, blinking at the ceiling, she continued, “And now he’s back, and I don’t understand it. No calls, no messages, and now this. I don’t even know what part of his timeline we’re in.”

“Well, we’re here now. Let’s get out there and find out,” Graham smiled, nodding towards the TARDIS doors. The Doctor fixed him with a steady gaze, and finally cracked a smile.

 


 

“This place would give my ancestors flashbacks,” Ryan grumbled, hand over his nose.

The spaceship was dark, lit only by yellowish lamps on the floors that could’ve given better, had they not been smeared with a layer of grime. Open drain channels in the floor carried a foul black liquid from which a sick stench of raw sewage, sweat and blood rose, and on either side, barred cells lurked emptily.

The Doctor whizzed the sonic around herself. “Not far now,” she mumbled, more to herself than her team. The buzz fell into a steady, rhythmic beep, the screwdriver’s tip pulsing in time.

Ryan ducked under a sticky-looking wire. “These ‘Car-too-shuns’ seem friendly,” he grumbled.

Cartesians. No, they’re not particularly. At least you lot stopped when you realised there was a better way than slavery.”

“Most of us did,” Yaz spat. Ryan was struck with the overwhelming sense that he might need to talk to her about her job, at some point.

They came to a door, and the Doctor sonicked it open. This corridor seemed to hold slightly different cells, with key-pads instead of keyholes.

“Higher security,” the Doctor muttered. “That’s more promising.” She cast a glance back, as though checking they were all still there behind her. The sight made her pause. “Alright, Graham?”

Ryan turned back. His grandad seemed to have dropped behind them a short way, stopping dead beside a cell door. “There’s someone in this one, Doc.”

The Time Lord shook her head darkly. “They’re dead, I’m afraid. Sorry.”

Graham paused for a second, then nodded curtly, shuffling to catch up.

The sonic continued to beep, growing quicker, the Doctor waving it ahead of her. Ryan noticed that in this part of the ship, the cells only lined one wall, the other leading off into corridors at measured intervals.

“So, exactly what do they do with the slaves here?” Yaz asked quietly. They could hear a moaning start up somewhere deeper into the ship, rising up from below the floor.

“You don’t want to know,” The Doctor replied evenly. “It’s not good.” She suddenly stopped with a gasp, her hands flying up in front of her. “Of course! That’s why they want him! It all makes sense-” Then her face fell. “Oh no. no, that’s not good. Very not good. They can’t find that out.”

Ryan looked at Yaz as though she might be able to make sense of the Doctor’s ramblings, but she just shrugged. They didn’t have time to ask, either, as the alien suddenly strode off ahead with a renewed sense of vigour.

The sonic’s tracker was pinging faster now, flashing more insistently. They had to be getting close. Good, thought Ryan, ‘cos every step away from the TARDIS is a step further to run back. He was already looking at the state of the floor, the wires in awkward tangles sticking out of the walls: that, and that open channel in the middle of the floor were gonna make running away very difficult.

The Doctor stopped so suddenly that Yaz bumped into her, and Ryan into them both. When they looked up, they found her peering into the cell ahead of her, triumph mixing with hint of trepidation on her face. A quick scan with the sonic confirmed it – this was Jack’s cell. If only she could find some lights…

A change of sonic setting brought a dim haze glowing through an overhead bulb, illuminating a body crumpled in the middle of the floor. His shirt was a mess of drying blood; Ryan was sure he could see the fleshy hole in the man’s stomach. He and Graham turned away in horror.

“Oh my God.” Yaz’s eyes were wide and staring.

When she looked at the Doctor, however, the Time Lord folded her arms and pursed her lips as though growing bored. Then, she cast a glance at the sonic.

“3,2,1…” she muttered.

And suddenly, with a gasp, Jack sat up.

Chapter Text

Even the Doctor jumped as the man sat bolt upright; Yaz gave a little squeak, and Ryan recoiled so fast, he stumbled and had to grab his grandad’s shoulder for support.

“Wh- Hang on!” Graham yelped. “No, hold on, ‘e was dead!”

“Sort of,” the Doctor shrugged, recovering quickly. “Not really.”

Captain Jack Harkness was casting his eye over them in a state of some bemusement, his normally neat black hair matted with a mixture of God-knows-what and the lively colour slipping back into his pale skin. His lungs worked furiously to re-oxygenate his body.

Graham glanced at the Doctor. She was smiling amicably, but her body was taught, coiled like a spring, and he could almost feel the prickling at the back of her neck.

Jack cracked an easy, charming smile. “Ladies – and gentlemen – to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Yaz cringed internally. Not one of those guys, she thought to herself. “You tell us, mate, you asked for the help.”

His grin widened. “Doctor! New face, I see.”

He was looking right at her, and Yaz didn’t quite know what to do with the information. “…me? I’m not the Doctor.”

“No? Alright, hang on, lemme guess…” He paused a moment, then looked pointedly at Graham.

“No, no – stop it – I’m not doing that again!” The old man complained obstinately.

Jack glanced at Ryan, who shook his head adamantly. A smile was growing on his lips, and he rose and strode towards the bars, getting as close as he could before the chains attached to his wrists pulled him back. With his bloody shirt untucked and his ripped black trousers, he looked like something from a Bond film.

“Of course it is,” he purred, his eyes finally finding the Doctor; the real Doctor. “I’d know those eyes anywhere. And you did always have a thing for blondes.”

“Who are you thinking of, Mr-Moonlight-Serenade?” she retorted coolly, then her voice took on an air of mocking. “Ooh, let’s have champagne in front of Big Ben during a German air raid!”

For a moment, it almost looked as though to two were going to start fighting, but Jack just laughed, a genuine, joyful laugh. “Alright, you got me.”

The Doctor tilted her head cheerily, a wonky smile showing her teeth. “Jack, this is Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Now, down to business: I have a question for you-”

“No, hang on a bleedin’ minute,” Graham protested. “You were dead! I mean not to be rude, but – great big hole, you had, right in the stomach. How are you still alive?”

Jack simply shrugged, “I can’t die.”

“Oh, well, that explains it all,” Graham grumbled. “You said he was a time traveller, but you never said he was an alien with it.”

“That’s ‘cos he’s not,” the Doctor replied blankly. “It’s very complicated, Graham, I’ll explain later.” She then leaned forward and studied the key-pad on the door. “Hmm. Might take me a minute. Oh, hang on, I had a question. Wait… no… never mind, it’s gone.” Shrugging, she flicked the screwdriver back into action, hitting the lock with everything she had, changing settings with practiced ease.

“Jack,” Yaz piped up almost shyly, “I don’t know if this is a sensitive question but… they just tried to kill you. In fact, they didn’t just try; they succeeded. Well, ish. Why?”

“They caught me phoning you lot,” he explained. “They don’t like their slaves making calls. I might be calling the Judoon, which, incidentally, I did - just not when they found me.”

“Oh!” The Doctor piped up. “That was my question! See, we’re on the same wavelength, Yaz and I.” She looked up suddenly from the key-pad, gesturing between herself and the girl with the sonic. Then her brow furrowed. “What did they say, The Judoon?”

Jack pulled himself up to his full height, pulling a face of intense concentration. “Something along the lines of LOH!-GOH!-JOH!-ROH!-JOH!-SOH!-FOH!-JOH!”

The Doctor winced, like she’d actually understood all that nonsense. “Oh. Not good, then?”

“Sadly, no. Would’a got paid pretty well, too.”

“Hold on,” Yaz interjected, “If these cells are supposed to be full of slaves, where are they all?”

“Generally, when all the cells are emptied, the fleet is being prepared, usually for some battle, or for another slave-collection…” The Doctor spoke matter-of-factly, until it dawned on her, and she froze. “Wait. What star-system did you say this was?”

“You had the coordinates, Doctor, you know I wouldn’t be here unless-”

“No.” The screwdriver almost slipped from her hands. “Tell me you’re joking.”

The look on Jack’s face told her that he most definitely was not.

“Doctor…?” Yaz was trying to work it out. The look in the alien’s eyes said that it was bad, really bad, but she couldn’t quite work out why. The Time Lord flashed her screwdriver around herself, staring at the readings in open-mouthed horror.

“Of course… of course it would be… oh, I’m so stupid! Stupid!” She knocked herself on the head with her sonic. “This is Torchwood era. You’re part of Torchwood.”

“Is that the alien-fighters you were saying about?” Ryan asked.

“Exactly,” she replied. “the Cartesians don’t care what kind of slaves they capture, as long as they have blood, and flesh, and a life. They’ll raid any planet they fancy – including Earth.”

Chapter Text

Footsteps echoed down the corridor, along with the shouting of orders. Yaz whipped around to look, terror setting her heart into frantic motion. Though she could see nothing, the pounding vibrations under her feet were unmistakable.

“Someone’s coming!” She yelped.

The Doctor grimaced, looking to Jack, in his cell and chains. “Better get to it then,” she muttered, leaning in to work on the key-pad.

“What happens if they find us?” Ryan asked, biting his lip.

“If I had to guess, I would imagine it involves slavery,” Yaz replied dryly, jabbing a finger towards the empty cells.

“Cheery, these lot,” Jack said to the Time Lord. “How come you’ve got so many this time? I thought you were a one-on-one kinda guy-I mean, gal?”

“Comes in handy, in a lot of ways,” she replied, flashing half a smile at Yaz and Ryan, who, she noticed, were watching her intently. They tried to smile back, but it was weak at best.

The shouts were coming closer. Even Jack was beginning to look nervous.

“When I say run, you run, and you stay together, understand?” The Doctor was giving orders now, like her frantic sonicking wasn’t going to work.

“We ain’t leaving you behind,” Graham protested.

She was just about to reply when the pad gave a sad sort of beep, and then spat a cloud of sparks onto the Time Lord’s shoulder. “Aha!” she cried, patting at the smouldering blue material.  “Brilliant!”

Yaz booted the door inwards, SAS style, and the Doctor whizzed the sonic over Jack’s cuffs, releasing him in an instant.

“Go! All of you, run!”

Sprinting forwards, Yaz took the lead, with all the power she’d amassed on the beat. Her head and heart were filled with all the bravery she had; if anything got in their way, she was gonna get her friends through it, no holding back. Behind her, Graham was holding the back of Ryan’s coat as they both navigated the plethora of obstacles half-visible on the floor. They stumbled together over a low-lying pipe, keeping each other upright.

A little way behind them, the Doctor closely followed Jack, once again cursing the shorter legs of this body. “You’ve lost your coat!” She shouted ahead to her friend

“They took it,” he replied. “Good job I know how to hide a communicator.”

The Doctor scrunched her face in disgust. She definitely wasn’t about to ask where.

Suddenly, from a hallway to their left, they heard footsteps and shouts. Lasers cleaved the air in two, leaving a burning, acrid smell behind them. Just as Graham and Ryan got past the opening, the space behind them was filled with what looked like humans in black armour and helmets. They raised their weapons to either side.

The Doctor and Jack skidded to a halt, trapped. The corridor behind them was rapidly filling, too, surrounding them. Beyond the shoulders of the many Cartesians, the Doctor could see Yaz, Ryan and Graham hesitating, lingering by the door they’d come through earlier.

“Run!” The Doctor howled. “Go to the TARDIS and pull the lever – we’ll meet you there!”

She could see Yaz faltering – it wasn’t in her nature. Please, the Time Lord thought to herself. Trust me, all of you.

And then, the girl nodded, and Ryan and Graham heaved the door closed, shutting them off and leaving them behind.

 


 

Yaz could cry, except that that wouldn’t help anything. Who knows whether they’d see the Doctor again, alive or dead. But she couldn’t think about that right now; instead, she thought about what the Doctor would want her to do, and that was to get everyone (including herself) safely back to the TARDIS. Stick together, she thought to herself.

Graham and Ryan skidded to a halt at a crossroads, looking frantically between the paths.

“Anyone remember where we parked?” Ryan said nervously.

They both looked back at Yaz, like she suddenly had the authority here. Frowning, she observed the corridors. Come on, visual memory… She was sure she remembered the odd bunch of wires on the floor to the left, and the cluster of green lights around this doorway.

Suddenly, she had a thought. For a moment, it almost made her chuckle; it was exactly the sort of thing she could imagine the Doctor doing. She turned on her heel and walked backwards through the doorway, facing the way they’d come, focusing on that visual memory, trying to remember when she first saw it.

“It was this one,” she nodded finally, pointing to her left. “I’m sure I remember now.”

Not far behind them, they heard the door crashing open and boots piling through it.

“Good enough for me,” Graham shrugged, already leading the way.

 


 

The Cartesians were hovering, as though waiting for orders. The Doctor and Jack exchanged a tense glance, raising their hands above their heads.

“Listen, we don’t want any trouble,” Jack began.

“Maybe you should’a thought of that before breaking out of your cell,” One of the soldiers retorted, to the music of cruel laughter from her mates. She waved a hand behind her, and a few troops headed for the door, setting about trying to force their way through after Ryan, Graham and Yaz. She must be the commander, then, the Doctor realised.

With a wave towards them, she ordered, “Jook, scan ‘em.”

The man two to her left lifted a tubular device and clicked its button, sending a stream of light running down the Doctor’s body. Everything became eerily silent as he studied the read-out, then handed it to the commander.

“It doesn’t make sense…” He muttered.

The Cartesian looked for herself. She then fixed her gaze on the Doctor. “What are you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” She replied, somewhat carefully.

Jook was leaning over her shoulder. “Sooza, look at all that life energy!”

“I know,” Commander Sooza replied. “Put it in the cells, and take the other one too.”

The Doctor gulped as the Cartesians advanced.

 


 

The thunder of boot grew ever closer. Yaz knew it was only a few more corners away, but that seemed like half a world when the clatter of armour and humming of laser weaponry was growing ever closer.

Ryan was really struggling here. The confined space was forcing his feet perilously close to the open central gutter, and one wrong move could send him sprawling. Not only was it slowing him down, but it was pulling him further and further back, towards the rounds the soldiers sprayed off every time they caught sight of him around a corner.

Graham kept turning back, checking on him. “Not far now, mate,” he shouted encouragingly.

His words couldn’t stop the soldiers. Ryan gasped as burning laser rounds once again tore past him. One put a hole straight through the side of his jacket. It was only a matter of time before they put a hole in him.

He could only pray that, if he was hit, Graham and Yaz would keep on running.

Chapter Text

“Think fast!” The Doctor yelled, whipping the sonic screwdriver from her coat pocket and aiming it at the wall to her left. Jack jumped as a thick metal grate fell open and crashed onto the filthy floor. He instinctively grabbed it, tossing it into the crowd of soldiers advancing on them, knocking many of them over. Beside him, in one swift, practiced movement, the Doctor grabbed the lip above the narrow air vent and swung herself into the pipe, her body slipping down a steep descent and disappearing from sight. The last he knew of her was her shriek of fearful excitement.

The Cartesians were already pulling their guns up, opening fire. Jack had no choice; he dived for the vent, sliding down the tube head-first, eyes shut and praying for a soft landing.

 

Finally, they passed the last corner, and the TARDIS was in sight. Yaz paused, casting a glance over her shoulder. Graham was right behind her, but Ryan was a few paces back and stumbling. Without hesitation, she pushed his grandad ahead of her.

“Go! Get ready to pull the lever!” She shouted, then turned to close the gap between herself and Ryan.

He didn’t looked pleased that she’d come back, nor that the distraction of her coming towards him made him forget his feet for a second. One trainer plunged into the foul black gutter and he surged forward uncontrollably, arms flying out for purchase.

Yaz caught him, pulled him upright roughly. “Come on, you’re not done yet,” she growled in his ear.

The soldiers appeared around the corner and raised their guns, loosing a volley of shots into the air around them. Yaz and Ryan exchanged a look of terror. Now or never. They ran for the TARDIS.

The doors were open. The interior glowed invitingly. Graham waved his arm from the doorway. Suddenly, Yaz felt a sharp stab of pain across her shoulder. But, though she gasped, the adrenaline coursing through her deadening it. Shots were glancing off the spaceship’s exterior, which it really didn’t seem to like. In fact, Yaz felt sure she could hear it powering something up, humming, whirring. Quite unexpectedly, with a loud bong, she felt a rush of air, and everything went still.

She and Ryan paused, looked back. The soldiers were still firing, and yet, the shots were disintegrating about a meter from where they stood.

Ryan leapt for joy, laughing heartily. “Nice forcefield! Try getting through that.”

Yaz grabbed his arm, grinning. “Come on.”

The TARDIS whirred happily as they crossed the threshold and pushed the doors shut behind them. Almost immediately, the shots resumed, shaking the ship’s structure.

“Hit the lever, Graham!” Yaz yelled. The old man did as she bid, and the crystal leapt into action. The engines roared, and the TARDIS dematerialised.

 


 

As the second vent grating hit the ground, two figures burst out in a flurry, a tangle of bodies rolling to a halt some distance from the pipe they had travelled down. They finally came to rest with Jack atop the Doctor, and after an awkward half-second of looking at one another, he scrambled aside and lay next to her, heaving for breath.

“Sorry,” he huffed.

The Doctor just began to laugh. In fact, she began to laugh so hard that she passed it on to him, and eventually, they just found themselves, side by side, in stitches. That was, until they heard voices and running footsteps heading their way again.

Sitting up, the Doctor found that this corridor was markedly cleaner and better smelling than the last one. She scanned up and down it, and spotted a door at the end, clearly signed ‘Staircase 4’. On the panel beside it was written all the destinations of each deck of the slave ship, including, on the floor above, ‘Slave Cells’, and below, ‘Flight Deck’.

“I have an idea,” she said as Jack scrambled to his feet beside her and offered her his hand.

“Me too,” he nodded, pulling her upright. Then, he glanced at the sign. “Actually, I like yours better.”

“You tried; that’s what counts,” she smirked, before taking off towards the staircase.

Jack really wasn’t expecting the Doctor to take a running leap through the door and slide down the bannister. Although, in hindsight, it didn’t surprise him. He couldn’t understand where she got her energy from.

On the next level down, she dived through the doorway and out into the bustle of ten or so spacecraft all beginning to power up, ready to take flight, in a room so vast, it felt like a cathedral. Jack only caught up with her when she stopped dead, surveying the area. He looked, too. It made him uneasy.

“Right by the airlock-field.” The Doctor was seemingly oblivious, pointing to a craft off to their left, sitting beside a gap in the hull that looked straight out into space. The only thing separating them from the vacuum was a thin forcefield. “It’s ready to go but the crew aren’t there yet.”

“Then we better hurry up, ‘cos these guys aren’t looking too friendly.”

The Time Lord jerked her head back to face him, then followed his gaze. There were several Cartesians around them, slaves in tow, bristling at the sight of the intruders. From the corner of his eyes, Jack saw her gulp.

“Yeah, okay, let’s make this quick.”

The two tore off in the direction of their chosen spacecraft, sprinting full-tilt, trying not to notice the laser blasters beginning to appear all around them. The first shots sent shivers down his spine; he’d already felt what they could do; been there, done that, already ruined the t-shirt.

Jack was pulling ahead. Behind him, he heard the whirring sonic, and watched the ramp descend from the craft’s underside. A few shots hit a closer ship as they ducked underneath it, showering them both with sparks. More peppered the ground to their left, sending the Doctor stumbling into his back as she jumped to avoid them.

They were almost there. So close now, so close…

Then his leg exploded with pain. He cried out, tried to keep running, but it was no use; his knee caved. He almost cursed as he hit the ground. Now, he was a sitting target.

The Doctor was beside him in seconds. “Up. Get up. Come on,” she muttered, throwing his arm around her neck and taking his weight. She all but lifted him to his feet single-handed, shoving him onwards. The ramp was meters away now. Jack hobbled determinedly. He refused to die again today.

The ramp was so close. A few more steps, and…

They staggered together into the craft, the Doctor passing the sonic behind her and closing the ramp. For a moment, silence reined. Then, they both slumped into one another, sighing with relief.

The Doctor steered herself and Jack straight into the ship’s bridge, letting him go and falling upon the reems and reems of buttons as soon as she could reach them.

The ship came to life beneath her fingers, lighting up in green, the circular room gathering a lively yellow glow. Jack watched her work in awe, leaning against the control panel and wondering how long it would take this time for his leg to start to heal. He hoped it was soon, at least; the throbbing was already beginning to get old.

He cast a glance around the room. The semi-circular control panel ran beneath the wide front windows. Further back, there was a chair, positioned underneath a large, circular module in the ceiling, from which descended a single, fat cable.

“Get to the TARDIS, rescue the team, escape the Cartesians,” the Doctor was muttering to herself. “We can do this. ‘Course we can.” A heavy blast shook the ship; looked like the slavers were bringing out the big guns. She cast a glance towards Jack. “How’s the leg?”

“Been better,” he replied. Glancing at the flight path on the display, he traced a dotted line drawn towards the Earth. “I hate it when I’m right.”

“Urgh!” The Time Lord threw her arms in the air. “There’s no battery, I can’t take off! Unless… maybe…” She whipped out the sonic and scanned the console. “If I re-route all auxiliary power to the engines…”

“Then we’d have no shields, no weapons, no operating systems!”

“Well, do you want to source me a Cartesian battery?” She shot back. He glanced at the chair behind them. “This is the best we’ve got. All we have to do is pick up the TARDIS, then we dump the ship, whizz over to the closest Judoon vessel and ask for help.”

“I tried that; they don’t wanna hear it.” Jack pursed his lips. The Doctor’s eyes were doing that thing they did, where they went all big and scared. Nevertheless, he continued. “The Judoon won’t do anything without evidence. If we want their help, we gotta fly this ship right to them.”

Chapter Text

“Then we connect up the TARDIS; she’s got enough power to compensate. Shouldn’t be too hard.” The Doctor’s hands were flying over buttons, re-routing all power to the engines. Another blast rocked the ship, almost knocking them off their feet; without shields, they were only a few shots from being pulverised.

“How quickly can you do that?”

“Don’t know until I try,” she replied.

The ships engines suddenly roared to life, and the Doctor gave a shriek of victory. Then, clasping the throttle lever, she thrust it forward and the craft leapt out through the force-field and into the stars.

Jack slouched forward in relief. Only now, he realised that his leg was itching furiously, so he hobbled over the chair, planting himself into it and pulling up his trouser-leg to take a good look. The skin was beginning to knit itself back together again. When he looked up, he caught the Doctor glancing back at him, her eyes flickering from his face to his injury.

“A couple more minutes,” he nodded brusquely. “Now, listen, the Judoon are running exercises on the dark side of Neptune. If we can make it there, we’re home and dry.”

“Gotcha. Just one thing to do first,” The Doctor was scanning the radar screen carefully. All Jack could see were the ships beginning to launch in pursuit of them. “Aha! There it is! Team TARDIS, you do me proud.”

Jack rose, limping back to the console to peer over her shoulder. “What did you leave the TARDIS out there for?”

“I didn’t,” she explained smugly. “When they got back to her and pulled the lever, the TARDIS used the same coordinates again. Last known destination. Except, that destination was on a moving spaceship, so the coordinates now put them just outside it.”

“Nice thinking. But how are they gonna get in here?”

The Doctor scanned the control panel. “Slave ship. Has a great big, empty hold down there somewhere, which I’m hoping has a door big enough to fit a TARDIS through. Ooh! Speaking of, can I borrow your phone?”

 


 

Just as though the silent, mournful journey couldn’t get any worse, the TARDIS phone suddenly piped up with the same infuriating tune from earlier. Yaz couldn’t bear it; what with the throbbing of her shoulder and the aching in her stomach, she wanted to smash something.

“I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt…”

Suddenly, however, she remembered what the tune meant. She jumped up from the steps and strode over to the phone, the eyes of the other two following her as she did so, and hit the button she’d seen the Doctor use earlier.

“Doctor?”

“Aww, she wants you!” Jacks voice purred from the speakers. It sounded like he was trying to hand the phone to her, but she was protesting. “Sorry, she’s not available right now, can I take a message?”

“Yeah, how about ‘what do we do now’?”

“Just sit tight,” Jack replied, gone all serious now. “We’re coming to pick you up. If you see a Cartesian slave transporter heading your way, don’t panic. If you see several, feel free to panic all you want.”

The TARDIS’s projection flashed up on the wall behind Yaz’s head, and she whipped around to look. The craft looked weirdly similar to a fat lizard with no legs. The bulbous body must have been designed to fit in as many slaves as possible, which turned her stomach a little.

There was a commotion on the phone line, a scuffling of static, and then the Doctor’s voice rang out, “Yaz! Are you all alright?”

 


 

“Yes, Doctor; we’re all fine!” The Doctor’s heart soared at the sound of Yaz’s voice. She would’ve thanked a god, but there were too many to choose from. Leaving Jack at the controls, she paced back and forth.

“So what’s the plan, Doc?” Graham asked.

“Well, basically, we’re going to scoop you up inside this ship, connect it to the TARDIS, using her fuel as a battery, and then we’re going to take a short hop up to Neptune to ask the rhino-space-police for help.” The Doctor halted, looking out at the stars. “Questions?”

“Plenty,” the old man grumbled.

As she stroked a hand down her face, Ryan piped up: “What do you want us to do?”

 


 

“Ah yes, Ryan, perfect. Remember I was telling you about the buttons on the console the other day?”

“Yeah,” Ryan replied, feeling a little apprehensive. Just because she’d told him didn’t mean he could remember.

“I showed you the gravity controls. The little bronze switches, near the custard cream dispenser.” In the background, they could hear Jack questioning her choice of food dispensary.

“I remember,” Ryan nodded, and he moved across to look at them again. There were sequences he could just barely remember for adjusting the internal and external gravity of the TARDIS. He could make it light enough to float into the air or heavy enough to bury itself into the core of the Earth.

“This spaceship only has artificial gravity on the bridge. The slave decks don’t have it, and we can’t have the TARDIS just floating around anywhere; she’ll get damaged. I taught you how to do an artificial gravity lock, right? I need you to do that for me when I say so.”

Ryan felt the pressure pressing down on his head. “Alright,” he shrugged, hoping he could work it out in time. He remembered the sequence, it was just… what if he did it wrong?

 


 

The Doctor flipped a few more controls. She wasn’t keen on this ship at all; it was clunky, and all the controls were kind of… sticky? She made a mental note to wash her hands as soon as this was over.

Jack was controlling the slave-bay doors. It was up to her to control the flight path, scooping up the TARDIS from the midst of space without hitting it. It was a task, to say the least, particularly when she couldn’t see behind the bow of the ship.

“Think you could find some cameras around the bay doors?” She asked Jack. He nodded, scanning his side of the console, hitting a couple of switches.

“How about this?” A projection popped up of the underbelly of the ship, but it didn’t quite have the range she needed.

“Does it move?”

“Negative. I can’t see any controls for that.”

“Any other cameras in the area?”

“Also no. Sorry. The one at the tail is watching behind us, and – actually, you might wanna take a look at this.”

A second projection popped up beside the first. It showed a clear view of the Cartesian Mothership, gliding slowly towards Earth. From its flight deck, three craft were launching and heading their way, glowing bright white, filled with power.

“They’ve got batteries attached,” Jack breathed. The Doctor grimaced, looking down, swallowing. “That means weapon systems, shields, the whole shebang.”

The rest of the fleet were closing on the slowly turning silhouette of the Earth beyond, lit by a halo of sunlight caught by its clouds. The Time Lord looked up, fixing her eyes on her TARDIS, spinning slowly in space.

“Then we’d better hurry up and get on with it.”

Chapter Text

On the monitors, Yaz watched the Cartesian craft loom closer. She also caught sight of three more, heading their way at worrying speeds. Carefully, she watched Ryan beside her, running through sequences in his head.

“Know what you’re doing?” She asked, leaning on the console beside him, arms folded.

“Think I remember it, yeah,” he replied.

On his other side, Graham sidled up and clapped a hand on his shoulder. He then chanced a glance at Yaz’s arm, where the leather of her jacket was torn open and slightly smouldering. It looked pretty painful, all told.

“Your arm alright?” He tentatively asked her.

Yaz gave him a look that was forcibly blank. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, Graham.” Her eyes flickered towards Ryan, who looked deep in thought. Maybe she was right, the old man thought. Better not to distract his grandson.

Together, the three of them looked up again at the display on the TARDIS wall; the Doctor and her stolen ship drifting ever nearer.

 


 

“Open the bay door,” the Doctor said.

Jack obliged, hitting the button, and the projection showed the doors on the ship’s underbelly gently parting. “You’re good to go,” he reported back.

The concentration on her face was almost comical. The Doctor’s eyes were trained on the camera read-out, her hands working the controls so very gently: a touch here; a nudge there. Every muscle was tight. From her lips, her tongue was just beginning to appear.

Jack chanced a glance at the ships closing in from behind. They really didn’t have much time. Not that he was going to say anything; adding pressure would do nothing but make her panic. The delicacy required was unimaginable; one wrong move, and the impact of the TARDIS on the ship could rip the hull apart.

The ship’s shadow fell over the TARDIS, and Jack readied the phone at his ear. The Doctor had left him in charge of giving Ryan the command. Everything was set; it all now rested on the Time Lord’s shoulders. Chancing a glance, he was concerned to see that she’d broken a sweat.

 


 

Gently, so gently, the ship’s bulk consumed the TARDIS’s display, so that all they could see was the gaping blackness of the slave-bay interior. They could feel it, though; the time-ship was ever-so-slightly vibrating with it, like she herself was trembling with tension. Yaz could see Ryan’s fingers shaking. Almost there. Come on, Doctor. You can do it.

 


 

The air felt thick and still, like a pool of water in the depths of a cave, on the cusp of freezing. Then, almost invisibly, the Doctor nodded. “Close the doors.”

Jack hit the button again, and on the projection, they lifted back into position.

“Now,” she breathed, using the quietest voice he’d ever heard, as though the mere vibrations of her voice could knock everything out of alignment. “Tell Ryan to hit the sequence.”

Jack turned away from the console, tilting the phone towards his mouth. “Now, Ryan.”

 


 

Ryan looked at Yaz, then Graham, as though he could draw in their strength through his eyes. Then, he licked his lips, flexed his fingers, and slowly flicked the switches down, down, up, down, up.

The TARDIS whirred, listening to his command.

Silence held. Then…

THUMP!

The TARDIS jolted. The impact threw them all off their feet as she magnetised to the floor of the Cartesian ship. Tangled together in a heap, the TARDIS bonging to itself proudly, it took a moment for the fear to drain away, for their hearts to slow.

And then Yaz began to laugh.

 


 

The clang echoed up from the slave-bay, rattling the ship, and finally, the Doctor could slam the throttle to full speed. The ship jerked forward, almost eager.

Jack almost grabbed the Doctor as she sagged over the console, concerned for a moment that she was falling, but she quickly threw her body back, laughter pealing from her throat in great, ringing gasps. She did a happy little dance, turning to him, grinning, then skipped around him in a circle, releasing the tension from her muscles. Her childlike enthusiasm was infectious; Jack found himself laughing too, open-mouthed, pulling her in for a brief hug. They’d done it; all of them. They’d done it. Together.

Then, all of a sudden, the Doctor broke away from him, rushing for the door, the bright smile still caught on her lips. “Head for Neptune! Back in a mo’!”

“Got it,” he replied, chuckling to himself as he grasped the Y-shaped steering control, plotting the course in his head.

 


 

Ryan was the first to fling open the TARDIS doors, Yaz and Graham poking their heads out from behind him. The space was endlessly huge; bigger than any building he’d ever encountered. The ceiling reached right up into blackness above them, with row after row of heavy metal bars running from wall to wall, fitted at regular intervals with heavy straps. There was no doubting what those were used for.

Somewhere way, way above their heads, a door opened, the hiss accompanied by a long, long beam of gold light. “Hellooooo…” called a familiar voice that echoed and echoed, Helloooo… Helloooo…

“Doctor!” He shouted back.

Doctor!... doctor… tor…, the echoes replied.

Taking a few running steps from the TARDIS doors, Ryan suddenly pitched forward, his feet missing the ground, his momentum spinning his feet up in slow motion above his head. Of course, he thought to himself as he hung in plain air; no gravity.

Through the bars, a figure in a powder-blue coat came floating, weaving expertly through the weightlessness. “Ryan!” She cried out joyfully, her wide eyes made madder by the wild, unruly mess of hair that seemed to be making an escape from her head. God, was she a sight for sore eyes. He didn’t even complain when she drifted right for him, feet pushing and hands pulling, and wrapped him up in a tight hug.

“You did it! You did it! Augh, I’m so proud of you!” she jabbered, releasing him only to mush his face between her palms. Her movement pushed them into the ground; Ryan felt cold metal against his back. The Doctor’s grin glowed in the darkness.

“Yeah, I did,” he replied, like he almost didn’t believe it himself. “I guess you’re a good teacher.”

“A teacher is only as good as her pupils,” the Time Lord replied easily. Then, her eyes lit up anew as she spotted the other two taking their first tentative steps into zero gravity. Kicking off from the ground, she rushed to hug them, too.

Ryan looked up at the shaft of light far, far above him. The Doctor made it look so easy, but the antigravity was already making him feel weird.

“Are we supposed to feel funny,” Yaz asked tentatively, pressing a hand into her stomach, “or is it just me?”

The Doctor nodded, her lips pursing. “It’s alright, this is very new and very sudden. Your body’s probably not going to like it much. Follow me, I’ll show you up to the bridge.”

 


 

The door hissed open, much to Jack’s relief. He span around, locking eyes with the Doctor, a very serious look wiping the grin from her face.

“What? What is it?” She said tersely, all the breath leaving her body.

“Take a look,” he replied grimly.

She hurried to his shoulder, her eyes washing over the instruments. He took the opportunity to glance at her new companions once again. What were their names again? Ryan, Yaz and Graham? Regardless, they were all carrying themselves carefully, looking rather green. Antigravity, he thought to himself.

“That’s not good.” He turned back to the Doctor, who was mumbling to herself. “No, worse than that; it’s bad. Very bad.”

“We have three minutes,” he scowled. She took a shaky breath, dragging a hand down her face, eyes wide and searching for answers.

“Until what?” Yaz tiptoed closer, unsure.

Jack glanced at her. “Until the ships on our tail are within range to start shooting at us.”

Ryan strode over, still filled with the glow of victory. “But we’ll be fine, right? I mean, we have to have shields-”

“We have nothing,” The Time Lord took over the explanation, and she wasn’t sugar-coating it. “All our power is going into our engines. No shields, no firepower, no non-essential systems. We do anything else, and we could lose power, or Life Support. I mean, I could only open the bay doors because I shut the engines down to nothing.” This Doctor looked so much more afraid. It worried him, Jack realised, and he wasn’t the only one. All her companions were quiet, frightened.

“Then… what do we do?” Graham breathed.

Jack turned to the Doctor. “How long will it take you to hook up the TARDIS?”

She shook her head, her brow creasing almost painfully. “Too long.”

“Then what?” He pushed, even though he knew where it was going, and so did she.

It took her a long time to reply, her voice quiet, controlled. “There’s only one option. We’re going to need a battery.”

Chapter Text

There was dread in the pit of Yaz’s stomach. Battery. The way the word left the Doctor’s lips, it felt sick. It didn’t sound right.

“Are there any on board?” Ryan asked, still seemingly oblivious. Yaz stared at the Doctor’s back. She wasn’t turning around. More frightening than that, she wasn’t just still. She was silent.

Jack nodded soundlessly. “Five, actually. Right in this room.”

Yaz counted her friends. The dread was growing deeper, cold fingers reaching up and clenching her stomach, making her ill. Jack’s eyes were fixed on something beside her, and as she turned, she caught sight of the chair, of the thick, black tube descending from the ceiling.

“No,” she whimpered, her voice cracking. She clutched her aching shoulder. They couldn’t be. They couldn’t do that. All those slaves. All those people.

Jack seemed to shake off the morbid hush that had fallen on them. “Well, today’s your lucky day. What’re the odds you’d have the pleasurable company of the galaxy’s only professional martyr?”

“No.” The Doctor’s arm was up in a flash, snatching the fabric of his shirt sleeve in a deathly, white-knuckled grip.

He shot back a look both offended and scared. “What?!”

“Not you.” She refused to look at him, staring at the console, blank and unseeing.

“What do you mean, not me? Are you kidding? I can’t die!”

“That’s just the problem!” The Doctor exploded with rage, white hot and scalding. She yanked Jack towards her, snatching hold of his collar and thrusting her nose so close to his, they were almost touching. “You can die, Jack. Your body can die, only for a minute or two, but it can. It’s a forty-minute trip to Neptune, and you’ll last thirty at most. What happens when your body gives out?”

Jack held his nerve in the face of her fury, just about, though the fire in her eyes made his belly tremble. She was right, of course. In the time it took his body to reboot, the other vessels would catch up and destroy them. The Auxiliary power wasn’t fast enough to keep them ahead.

He pursed his lips, considering his response, watching as the anger seeped from the Doctor’s body, just as fast as it had come. Her body sagged, her hand loosening her grip on his shirt, though she didn’t let go.

“Then what do we do?” He tentatively asked. Her head drooped, falling against his chest, her whole body quaking. He would’ve hugged her, but he felt frozen, held by some immovable weight. “Doctor… what else have we got?”

 “Me.”

Her voice was so muffled, he almost didn’t hear it, could’ve tricked himself into believing she hadn’t spoken at all. But, without warning, she jumped up, pushing away from him, reaching into the pocket of her coat for her sonic. The terrible emotion was suddenly behind her, discarded with a flap of her coat tails.

“You?” he asked.

“Yup,” she replied blankly, as though he’d asked her about the weather. Throwing her trenchcoat to the floor, she jumped up onto the chair and sonicked the module on the ceiling.

“You can’t,” Yaz cried unhappily.

“Sure I can!” She chirped, full of false brightness. “Binary Vascular system, Respiratory Bypass; and Jook already said I was full of life energy.” She began to fight with the black tube, pulling it down further. “I’ll last much longer than you lot would, that’s for sure.”

“Hang on a minute, Doc, cos I’m still not sure what’s going on,” Graham said quietly.

The Doctor froze, lips pursed. Fear showed through the cracks. Then, she turned to him, felt the full force of the fear bubbling in his eyes. “Oh, Graham… I’m sorry. Let me explain.” Hopping down from the chair, she clasped his hands in hers, tightly, so tightly. “The Cartesians are a bit stuck in the past, see. They collect people from across the universe, use them to power the technology they developed hundreds of thousands of years ago. Then they use that to get more slaves.”

“And what happens to the them? How do they power it?” He was really hoping for a sort of Pirates of the Caribbean sort of thing with a capstan and a team of people, but he could tell from her expression that it was much, much worse than that.

The Doctor let him go, held up the black tube. On the end, a sharp, fat needle glistened. “Plugged straight in through the brain stem. Like a Duracell. Used up, then discarded.”

Graham pulled back, his lips turning white.

“Do they die?” Ryan’s voice was faltering.

“If they’re lucky.” The Doctor planted her feet, balling her fists by her sides. “If that doesn’t kill them, the vacuum of space does the trick, as soon as they’re ejected through the airlock.”

“That’s monstrous,” Yaz spat, eyes glistening with the injustice of it all.

“That’s why I have to do this.” The Doctor was wasting no time. “I know we could all just hope into the TARDIS and run away from all of this, but… I can last long enough to get us to Neptune, to the Judoon. I can. I’m sure I can.”

Yaz looked at the Doctor, long and hard. She had a point, not that the young woman had to like it. In return, the Time Lord was giving her a searching glare, her eyes flashing to her shoulder. She raised an eyebrow. What have you done to it? Yaz grimaced, shaking her head ever-so-slightly. Don’t worry about it.

“One minute till we’re in range,” Captain Jack reported.

The Time Lord relented and began to spout orders. “Jack, steer the ship. Graham, help him with the controls. Yaz and Ryan, with me.”

They hurried over to her as she sat down in the chair, Ryan kneeling to one side and Yaz to the other. The Doctor handed the young woman the nasty-looking needle, then braced her arms against the chair, taking a deep breath.

“Are you sure about this?” Yaz asked softly.

“To save all those people? You’d do the same,” the Doctor nodded. “There’s a soft bit right at the base of my skull. Here.” She pressed her fingers into it, and Yaz copied her, brushing her blonde hair up and following her hand. Her skin was cold and clammy, and her body shook so badly, the young woman was afraid she might miss her target.

“You alright?” Ryan asked from her other side. The look in the Doctor’s eyes as she met his gaze; frightened didn’t even come into it. He wanted to squeeze her so badly, like his nan used to do when he was a kid. This wasn’t fair.

“You need to hold me still,” she told him. “When Yaz puts that thing in, I can’t move, or the damage might be irreparable. You have to hold my head.”

Ryan nodded, though the thought of having control over his friend’s life and death was wet-trouser inducing.

“And then, when it’s in and we’re going, you both need to stay beside me and make sure I don’t fall. Same thing really; if it rips out, I might not come back.”

“Right. No pressure, then,” Yaz whimpered.

A brief look of concern ghosted over the Time Lord’s features. “And when I’m back, we’re talking about that shoulder.”

Yaz frowned at the floor to avoid the look of confusion from Ryan. “Yeah. Ok.”

The Doctor wrapped her arms around her companions, pressing their heads together with hers, holding them tightly. “You’re more amazing than you can ever know. You’re here with me because I trust you both with my life. Well, all of you, actually. But if something goes wrong, this was my decision, not yours. It’s not your fault. None of this is.” She gulped, her eyes swimming. “I’m sorry I have to ask this of you.”

“We love you, Doctor,” Ryan whispered, so gently that only she and Yaz could hear.

The Doctor cracked a shaky smile. “I love you too. All of you.”

Then she broke away, and the moment was over. Ryan shuffled in front of her, on his knees, clasping her head between his soft hands. Yaz raised the tube, feeling for the soft spot with her fingers, gently pressing into the skin.

“Ready?” She asked.

“Firm and quick, Yaz,” The Doctor replied.

Yaz took a breath. Ryan felt the Doctor screw her face up tight, and put his forehead to hers.

Then, Yaz pushed hard on the needle.

Chapter Text

The wail that escaped the Doctor’s body was unlike anything they’d ever heard; primal, guttural, loud. Her voice cracked with the power of it. She gripped the chair’s arms, knuckles white. Though she strained against his grip, Ryan held on for dear life, her dear life, his stomach turning inside-out. He wasn’t prepared for this. It was horrible, horrible, the worst sound he’d ever heard.

What really broke him, though, wasn’t the scream, or the broken cries of agony the followed; it was the soft, warm wetness that wormed its way beneath his palms. The Doctor’s tears, set free to run down her cheeks and drop onto the fabric of his trousers.

He kept his forehead locked against hers, prayed that she could still feel him there. He never wanted to let go.

Dimly, he realised he could see the light of the bridge growing brighter, turning white. With another howl, the Doctor’s back arched, and he had to release her, had to open his eyes and look at her glistening face, her features contorting cruelly, mouth gaping, gasping for air, for relief.

Then, quite suddenly, her shoulders dropped, and she slowly grew still, sitting back, her rapid panting giving way to deep, soundless breaths. Straight-backed against the chair, her chin levelled, and with glowing white eyes, she stared straight ahead into nothingness.

Yaz dropped to her knees, letting her forehead fall against the Doctor’s arm, allowing herself a moment to break down, to sob. I’m so sorry. Then, the moment was over; she drew a deep, deep breath, roughly drying her eyes with her sleeve, and looked down at Ryan.

He hunched under her gaze. “Think I’m gonna throw up,” he mumbled pitifully.

“It’s alright now, Ryan. It’ll be ok.” How could she keep her voice so steady like that? Probably practice, on the job. He sniffed, wiping his nose on his arm.

“It’s over now though, right? It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“’Course it does,” came an unwelcome voice from across the room. Jack regarded them with piteous, apologetic eyes. “It’s agony. Why d’you think she wouldn’t let me do it?”

Yaz chanced a glance at Graham, but he was standing in the corner, in a rare patch of shadow, staring straight out into the stars. When she looked away, she found Ryan doing the same, except his eyes were lost somewhere in his lap.

“C’mon,” she murmured gently, reaching out to touch his shoulder. “Grab her arm that side. You heard her; we can’t let her move.”

As they took a firm hold of the Doctor’s shoulders, Jack flicked a few buttons and switches. He could feel Graham watching him from a distance, waiting for a sign that the Doctor’s sacrifice was worth it. The ship was slowly gaining speed, and the once closing distance between the dots on the monitors now held steady.

Jack released a pent-up breath. “Speed increasing. She’s done it.”

“Does that mean we can out-run ‘em now?” Graham asked hopefully.

Jack sucked in air through his teeth. “Out-run them, no. The ships are exactly the same: same build; same top speed. But, if we keep going like this, we can stay far enough ahead to make it to Neptune.”

Graham nodded. It was better than nothing.

Silence held for a beat, then Ryan leaned forward to look at Yaz. He nodded towards the Doctor. “What did she mean? About your shoulder?”

Yaz scowled straight ahead, but he could see that she was definitely holding one arm a bit too close to her body. In fact, he was sure he hadn’t seen her use it for quite some time. “Nothing. It’s fine.”

At the mention of it, Graham had perked up from where he was standing, casting a wavering glance back at them. Yaz avoided his eyes, too. The old man glanced at Jack for permission, and upon his nod, he shuffled away from the console, heading for Yaz’s side.

She continued to look away from him, her body tense, eyes holding the dangerous glint of an injured animal. “I said it’s fine.”

“Nah, don’t bother tryin’ to lie to me,” Graham stopped a few paces away, hands in his beltloops, regarding her carefully. Nothing but warm, grandfatherly concern radiated from his face. “Mind if I have a look?”

She held out for a moment longer, before her body relaxed, relenting. She didn’t fight him as he knelt beside her and gently turned her body into the light.

“Ooh, nice one,” he grimaced, fingers dancing lightly around the scorched hole in her leather jacket. “And you were just gonna ignore this?”

“Was trying to, yeah.” Yaz hissed sharply as his hands got a little too close, jerking involuntarily.

“Hmm.” Graham chewed his lip as he continued to inspect the nasty scab, this time from a safer distance. Evidently, the lasers were hot enough to instantly cauterise the wound, which would explain how she had hidden it up until now. The blackened skin was tight, pulling whenever the muscle beneath it moved. Surely, it had to hurt. “The Doc’s not gonna be happy when she wakes up.”

If she wakes up,” Ryan muttered darkly.

Yaz leant forward to glare at him. “Hey! Come on, now. Don’t think like that.”

Graham rose to his feet, looking between his young friends. Were they his friends? They felt more like family. His eyes brushed over Yaz’s wound again. Even if it did send a shiver down his spine, there was nothing more any of them could do for it, at least until they got to the TARDIS. For now, he was helpless; pretty pathetic, really. And then there was the Doctor herself, a half-shell of the woman he knew. She was deathly pale, her face slack and expressionless. He hated it. She didn’t look like herself. Maybe it was the stillness, maybe it was the glowing white eyes.

Captain Jack turned back over his shoulder. “Graham, can I have a hand?”

“Yeah, ‘course,” he said amicably, heading back over.

“Can you just hit those two yellow buttons under the radar screen? Need to scan the asteroid belt, just in case.”

“Asteroid belt?” Yaz chimed nervously.

Graham sympathised with the sentiment. “Aw, now, don’t tell me we’re gonna have to do a bloody Star Wars thing to get through it?”

Ryan, however, snorted with amusement. “Come on. Don’t tell me you think it’s dangerous. Loads of stuff’s got through it unmanned: like New Horizons and stuff.”

 “He’s right. Most of it is just little pieces spread out widely, avoidable and fairly harmless,” Jack nodded his approval, then glanced at the Doctor. “She’d be impressed you know that, Ryan.”

The boy glowed proudly. That was two victories in one day. If it wasn’t for the whole needle-in-the-head thing, he’d be having a pretty good time of it.

The radar beeped, a thousand tiny objects showing up ahead of them. Jack studied it, licking his lips, then nodded. “Alright. That’s good. Just one to keep an eyes on.” He tapped a large, amorphous blotch on the radar screen with his finger.

“That’s huge!” Graham said, awed. “What is it?”

“Looks to me like Hygiea. Dwarf planet, fourth largest object in the belt. Actually, at this point in time, we’re probably the closest humanity has ever got to it. So far, at least.”

“Whoa,” Ryan said simply.

Slowly, the mass grew out of the darkness of space. It glimmered in the navigation lights of the ship, growing closer and closer, captivating them. Way different to Rosa Parks, Ryan thought to himself; the surface looked black and seemed to glitter like coal. He could never, ever get bored of this. So many wonders, so many things to explore; no wonder the Doctor was always so cheery, having this on her doorstep whenever she wanted.

Jack made a few small adjustments to avoid it, manoeuvring to its right side, and the crew just stared and stared until it passed out of the range of the front screen.

Silence held, calm and thoughtful. The quiet seemed silky and gentle with the many wondrous thoughts running through each of their heads. Graham and Jack shared a smile, hovering over the control panel, checking over the route.

Suddenly, beneath Yaz’s fingers, the Doctor’s muscles began to move. Almost nothing, at first, but the more she focused, the stronger the tremor grew. Snatching a glance at Ryan, she could see he felt it too. The Time Lord’s fingers were twitching on the arms of the chair, the tendons in her neck pulsing, too.

A cold dread settled in the pit of Yaz’s stomach. “Jack, I hate to do this, but… I think there’s something wrong with the Doctor.”

Chapter Text

Jack whipped around, his eyebrows shooting up. “What do you mean?”

All of a sudden, the ship shuddered, and the Doctor’s body began to sag towards Ryan. He grabbed her shoulder, pushing her back up, but her head was falling, too, pulling the cable forward, close to putting dangerous tension on it.

Yaz’s eyes bored into him, and Jack realised that she was waiting for him to do something, to say something that would help. He shook his head, lost. “I’m sorry. The other ships have already had to change their batteries out-”

“Can we not call them that?” Yaz snarled. “They’re people. People who are dying.” Then it hit her, knocking all the breath from her chest. The Doctor is dying too.

Jack winced. “I know. I’m sorry.” He thought for a moment, tapping a couple of controls, checking the navigation screen. “It’s not too far. She can make it. Just keep talking to her.”

Ryan looked across to Yaz. “Talk to her? What are we s’posed to talk about?”

Yaz shrugged. “I dunno… what about where you want to go next? You know, after all this is over.”

“I don’t know, though.”

“Aw, come on, Ryan. There’s gotta be somewhere. What about history? Isn’t there a time period you’ve always been curious about?”

The Doctor slumped again, wheezing. Ryan pushed her upright and locked his arms against her shoulder. Yaz copied him on the other side. “To be fair, I’ve always wanted to see real dinosaurs. I heard that they had, like, feathers or something.”

She snorted in disbelief. “Really?”

“Yeah! No kidding. They found all these sick fossils and stuff.”

The conversation was wooden at best, and they knew it. In reality, Yaz’s heart was thudding in her chest, pushing a hard lump up her throat and tying knots around her ribs. Instinctively, she placed a finger on the Doctor’s pulse at her wrist, taking note of the two hearts racing beneath her skin. Ryan gave her a searching look, dripping with concern. She pursed her lips and shook her head.

“How’s she doing?” Jack called back.

“Not good,” Yaz replied. The Doctor gasped again, her eyelids flickering, as if to add insult to injury.

Jack stroked his chin. Graham realised he recognised the look in the man’s eyes, one that threatened a risky idea forming in his brain.

“What’s that look for?” He asked tensely.

“Well…” Jack studied the readout, his eyebrows knotting. “There’s something I might be able to try. If it works, we can decrease power-”

“Which makes it easier for the Doc?”

“Exactly.”

“And what exactly would that something be?”

Jack smirked. “Take a look out the windows and tell me what you see.”

Graham did as he was told, scanning the beautiful star-scape beyond the screen. He studied the glittering lights carefully, the little pieces of space rock, turning his head until-

“Oh my God… Ryan! Ryan, look at that! It’s- That’s Jupiter!”

Ryan did look, his eyes filled with wonder. How had they missed that? The gigantic gas planet swallowed almost half of the view, rising out of the shadow of its night side. Sunlight threw a halo around its outer edge. “That’s massive,” he breathed.

Jack grinned devilishly. “Exactly. Jupiter. The biggest planet in the solar system. And you know what that means? Gravity.”

Graham slowly turned to his companion, his face a picture of bafflement. “Gravity? Well, I mean, it obviously means gravity – it’s a planet!”

“Yeah, but this is the planet that had enough mass to prevent the asteroid belt from creating a solid object. And, if I’m smart and skilled enough – which I am, by the way – I can use that gravity to slingshot us in the direction of Neptune.”

“Just like an asteroid,” Ryan smiled.

“Exactly.” A twinkle began to show in Jack’s eyes.

Graham smiled sadly, glancing over his shoulder. “You know, I can see how you and the Doc were friends; you sound exactly like ‘er.”

His lips twitched in a smirk. “Maybe it was a good thing she left me at the helm; I bet she could never do this.”

Yaz scoffed incredulously. All the times he could’ve chosen to insult the Doctor, the many, many times she hadn’t been literally saving their lives, and he chose now? “You don’t wanna let her hear you say that.” Her voice was cold and controlled.

“Sure I do. ‘Cos if she hears, she’ll have to wake up and prove me wrong.”

Yaz was taken aback for a moment, then sighed, glancing at the Time Lord beside her. She could almost feel her sitting up straighter. A part of the young woman’s heart leapt at the hope that the Doctor might take up his challenge, that the white light would fade from her eyes, a cheeky wisecrack breaching her pursed lips. But it was not to be. She remained still and silent.

“Just let me make… a few adjustments…” Jack’s fingers flew over the controls, tweaking this, flicking that. “Gonna need manual controls, semi-automatic navigation won’t let me do this.”

Graham regarded the planet, awe beginning to give way to a certain tense nervousness. “Doesn’t Jupiter eat some of the asteroids that get caught in its gravity?”

“The ones that get too close, yes,” Jack nodded. “But we won’t.”

“Have you done this before?”

“Watched someone do it.”

“Oh, well, that’s reassuring…”

The ship gave a gentle wobble as Jack took manual control and aimed to Jupiter’s near side, fiddling with a few controls as he did so. As he coached a reluctant Graham through activating the shields, Ryan and Yaz turned back towards one another, their eyes flashing up to the Doctor, who had gone strangely quiet.

“Think she’s alright?” Ryan murmured.

Yaz bit her lip, brushing a few stray golden strands from the Doctor’s eyes. Her forehead was soaked in sweat, as must be the rest of her body, Yaz realised; her skin was fever-hot to the touch.

“Just hold on, Doctor,” she breathed, trying to smile. “You can do this.”

Chapter Text

Captain Jack spread his feet, holding himself steady at the controls, every muscle in his body tensed. One hand kept a tight grip on the steering column, the other hovered, poised, over the throttle bar. There was no margin, no room for error. They would all die. He didn’t know if he could live with that.

Jupiter loomed ever closer, and the speed gauge was gently increasing as its gravity took hold, drawing them in. This was the calm before the storm. The boost he’d need to slingshot them all to safety was huge. He could only hope the Doctor could take it.

As it was, the Time Lord was looking pretty dire. Hair plastered down with sweat, hollowness growing in her cheeks and bags darkening under her eyes. She’d be screaming if it wasn’t for the paralysis; that, he was sure of. Some cruel, merciful part of himself kept on nagging at the back of his head. It should be you. This isn’t fair. Unplug her; let her go. Guilt: it really wasn’t helping things.

She chose this.

She did it to save you all.

Nothing could make this easier.

“Get ready, you two. This is gonna take all she’s got.”

“The ship?” Ryan’s question was less ignorant and more hopeful.

“The Doctor.” Jack wished he could’ve answered differently.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Graham checking the radar again. “And what’s to stop these geezers doin’ the same as us?”

Jack smirked. “They aren’t as good as me.”.

“Or as stupid,” Graham muttered weakly.

He momentarily bit his lip, reconsidering “Also, the small problem that they can’t disable their semiauto-nav system, or the mothership will probably blow them to pieces.”

The old man chuckled contemptuously, “Huh, yeah, might ‘ave an effect. What is it with big ships and bombing their little guys?” A quiet pause took the room for a moment, before he continued. “Well, s’pose at least we’re getting away from them now.”

Jack chanced a glance. Graham was right; the little dots in the radar were drifting to their left, pulling away from the chase to avoid the planet’s pull. That was something, at least. No slowing down now, though.

“What’s the plan, Jack?” That was Yaz. Gorgeous, brave, unflappable Yaz. He had really taken a shine to her (purely platonically, of course), and he could only imagine what the Doctor might say to that. Stop flirting, probably. In fact, he’d rather taken a shine to the entirety of the new Team TARDIS. For all their faults, the Doctor had excellent taste in friends.

“We accelerate with the force of gravity, use it to turn. Then, I have to put on a burst of power to bring us away, to straighten the course and break the pull.”

“Otherwise we get eaten?” Ryan asked, as he always did, voicing the concerns the others wouldn’t dare to.

“Something like that,” Jack nodded. “Think of turning a bend in a car. You coast in, then accelerate away.”

“Push the force down into the road, through the tires. Better grip. Do it in my patrol car when nobody’s looking.” Yaz nodded, the ghost of a smirk passing over her lips. Then, she frowned. “We don’t have a road to push on, though.”

Jack hissed through his teeth. “It’s a weak analogy, I know. The Doctor’s better at them than I am. What I’m saying is, boosting the engines will maintain speed and break the planet’s grip on us.”

“Slingshot,” Ryan muttered, pursing his lips.

“Do I need to sit down?” Graham asked, genuinely concerned.

Jack shrugged. “Maybe. Not sure till I try it. It’ll have to be perfect…”

“We’ll shut up, then,” Yaz said quietly, sending meaningful looks to both of her friends. Jack silently thanked her. This would be hard enough as it was. For all her boundless energy, the Doctor had focus like nothing he’d ever seen before; something he frequently found himself lacking. If he could channel even the smallest amount of that…

The ship was very noticeably pulling to the left now, and Jupiter’s surface began to pick up the light of the sun, growing brighter, stronger. The glow grew almost blinding, bathing the cockpit in orange light, warming them. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed how cold it was.

Gently, gently, he turned the control, baring away slightly, so slightly. The effect, however, was tangible; the Doctor’s coat, discarded on the floor behind him, began to slide with a gentle whisper. Gaining speed, faster and faster as the ship began to shake. Faster, faster, till with a light thump, it hit the far wall and stayed there.

Graham began to lean towards him, countering the force, his hands flying out to steady himself against the controls. The tremors grew, rumbling, rumbling. Jack kept his feet firmly planted. Carefully, now. We can do this. It’ll be ok.

The speed was increasing, racing now, with a feeling that the bridge was tipping backwards. It was getting harder to stand, and the steering control was heavy in his hands, pulling hard against him. Not only that, but the vibrations rattling through the ship were making it harder and harder to see straight.

His wrists were burning, arms aching, back twisting with the effort of it. A groan escaped from between his bared, gritted teeth. Graham’s eyes shot up as soon as he heard it, concern twisted and tangled into his thick eyebrows. If he hadn’t been clinging on for grim death himself, he probably would have asked what was wrong, maybe tried to help.

Instead, he cast a careful glance behind him as alarms began to blare and red lights flash, making sure his grandson was alright. Ryan and Yaz had thrown themselves across the Doctor’s chest, locking her in the chair with their bodies in a last ditch attempt to keep her safe. The Time Lord’s head was loose, resting on their shoulders, groaning brokenly.

Jack gulped. It was time. “Hold on!” He yelled, slamming the throttle into full ahead. Behind him, he heard the Doctor give a sudden gasp. Her reflection, distorted on the screen, strained against her friends, back arched, mouth gaping open, eyes burning blindingly bright. He looked away. He wasn’t strong enough to watch.

Suddenly, from deep in the console came a deathly crack. Eyes flying open, Jack stared, but he couldn’t see a thing. They only had to hold it here for another few seconds. Come on… Don’t do this…

It was no good. With another boom, the steering column shattered, the Y-shaped control coming off in his hands, throwing him across the bridge and into the wall. He gave a yell of anguish. The craft began to list wildly, beginning to spin, out of control. The screams of the crew echoed in his ears.

The bridge suddenly swerved the other way, tilting, throwing him helplessly across the floor. Graham, too, slipped towards the opposite wall, and the coat with him. Jack was dimly aware of an odd orange glow catching his eyes as he tumbled past the chair, leaving a stripe of blindness lingering. That, and an odd, high-pitched whirr below the screaming of the alarms.

Painfully, his head struck the wall, and everything went dim. The alarms stopped, the flashing lights with it. In fact, he could no longer even feel the heavy tilt pressing him down. Some head injury, he thought to himself. I can barely even feel it. That was, until he clearly felt the clasp of a hand, tight around his bicep. His head shot up, frantic gaze immediately met with Graham’s wide, frightened, watery eyes.

Confusion burned hotly as he looked around. No steering, and yet, the course seemed to have corrected itself. The alarms were silenced. The ship was stabilised. The trembling vibrations wracking the bridge told him that the engines were still on full power. The broken steering column had come to rest at Ryan’s feet. Everything looked the same, all except for the fact that he was no longer in control.

“Jack… what’s going on?” Graham hissed.

He shook his head, mouth hanging open, comprehension just evading his grasp, until, as he shakily stood, he fixed his eyes on her.

The Doctor, sitting bolt upright, screwdriver in hand. Eyes open. No longer glowing.

She smirked, gaze flashing his way. “Good plan, poorly executed.”

Chapter Text

There was no way. Surely, the system didn’t allow for that? Consciousness took too much power, took too much from the ship; inefficient, unnecessary. There had to be safeguards, something in place to stop it. And yet, there she was. Still plugged in, still powered up, but awake, alive, vibrant. Jack shook his head incredulously.

“How are you doing that?”

The Doctor gave the ghost of a chuckle. “Just clever, me.”

Her two young companions were lifting their heads to stare at her, joy and relief flooding their expressions. It was cute, really. A quick glance at the screen showed that Jupiter was slowly leaving their view, the course beginning to correct. And there, far, far in the distance, a dull, blue planet was glittering. Neptune.

Hope blossomed in his chest. The Doctor’s stare was fixed out there, willing their destination closer. She had the glassy eyes of someone concentrating very, very hard. Whether that was on their course or on keeping from making a sound, Jack thought bitterly, was anyone’s guess. In fact, by all accounts, she shouldn’t be able to do this - the battery module wasn’t even set up for it - but she had.

A shuffling beside him reminded him of Graham’s presence, and, looking down, he extended a hand and helped the old man to his feet.

“All good?” He asked.

“Peachy,” Graham replied, dusting himself down. “Or - what is it Ryan says? - Sick. I’m sick.”

Ryan let out a groan of annoyance. “It don’t work like that.”

Jack grinned at the both of them.

Flicking his eyes to the woman in the chair, Graham asked, slightly nervously, “What’s she doing?”

Abruptly, the Doctor slouched back in her chair, sighing with satisfaction, and the engines eased. “There we go. Out of Jupiter’s gravity. Home and dry.”

Jack grinned as she looked at him. “Piloting the craft with your brain? That’s crazy!”

Yaz flashed her teeth in a grin. “And, can I just say, awesome.

“Yeah,” Graham nodded, a mischievous glint in his eye. “That really is sick.

Stop it, grandad!”

“No, don’t stop. Please do say it. Say it as much as you want.” All of a sudden, the Doctor’s voice was hoarse, breathless. “In fact, say anything at all. Distract me. Please. Distractions are good.”

The white lights flickered weakly, and she bowed her head, moaning. Yaz’s grin soured immediately.

“Are you alright?”

The Doctor winced. “Not really, no. In fact, not at all. Takes a lot, this.”

“You’re bleeding.” Ryan’s eyes grew wide as saucers at the sight of a thin dribble trailing from the Doctor’s nose. With a shaking hand and sinking hearts, she reached up to drag her fingertips through the flow, holding it out to inspect it, as though she didn’t quite believe him. Her nose crumpled.

“Oh.” The thought seemed to take a long time to process. “That’s not good.”

Jack glanced out of the screen again, noticed that Neptune was drifting quite dramatically out of view. “Hate to alarm you, but we’re going off-course.”

“Ah!” The Doctor’s head jerked up, and with a sharp jolt, the ship reset itself. “Sorry. Really should concentrate…”

“How does that even work?” Ryan said incredulously.

“Very complicated, difficult to explain,” the Time Lord admitted. “Pretty cool though, eh?”

Her cheeky grin fell almost instantly as another rush of sharp pain hit her, making her hiss, hand flying to her temple. Though doggedly determined to continue her pilotage, the Doctor was certainly showing signs of her agony that were less ‘signs’ and more ‘billboard advertisements’.

“Jack, the comms should be functioning: fancy sending a message to our good friends?” Though her voice was chirpy enough, the Doctor’s face had lost all semblance of brightness, fixed in place like pale marble.

Jack nodded, heading to the console and flipping a few switches. “Hailing them now.”

“Tell ‘em they might need to meet us halfway…” As she began to falter again, Yaz clasped the Doctor’s hand tightly in her own, Ryan copying her on the chair’s other side. Somehow, she seemed to draw strength through them, but Yaz knew there was no way it could last. Her body was being drained of everything it had.

She quietly asked, “If we’ve lost the Cartesians, can’t we go back to auxiliary power?”

The Doctor replied gravely, “Even if we’ve got ahead, they’re still coming for us. They could still catch up. Besides, no steering column, remember?”

The Time Lord chanced a glance at Yaz, trying a smile that turned very quickly into a grimace. Her companion bit her lip, fishing in her pocket for her packet of tissues, slipping one out to dab at the trail continuing to grow from her friend’s nose.

“That looks rough,” she breathed.

“‘Least it’s only the left nostril. The right one’s my fave anyway.”

“Doctor, come on,” Yaz smiled chidingly. Always count on the Doctor to be ridiculous in the face of immeasurable odds.

“It’s true! It’s the most reliable one.”

Ryan shook his head, rolling his eyes. “That’s not the one that told you you had two minutes left right before you collapsed, is it? ‘Cos that ain’t accurate.”

“To be fair, my brain was a bit… scrambled. Like an egg. Love a good egg. Have I told you- argh!” Her final thought was cut short as she winced, screwing her face up like it might help stem the suffering. Chin to her chest, she tried to slow her increasing breaths, but nothing was helping. “Ugh… not good… Come on, brain…”

Yaz leant in, wide-eyed. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Not really,” the Doctor growled through her teeth, before she gave a sudden shout, tilting her head back, heaving. The lights flickered around them. The engines shuddered. For a moment, she deflated, and it looked as though she were losing consciousness, but then she jolted back upright with a wheeze.

Yaz span around to face Jack. “How long do we have to go?”

“Hard to say,” he replied, his face an unmasked mess of tension and emotion. “They’ve responded to my hail, but that doesn’t mean to say they’re anywhere close by.”

The Doctor pitched forward with a violent scream, falling towards her own lap so that only Ryan’s quick hands saved her from pulling the tube from her head. Shuffling around to her front, he clasped her trembling shoulders, heart pounding, unsure. He had to do something, had to help her. Think, Ryan. What would Nan do?

“Hey, listen.” He moved his hands to her chin, tilting her head back up, brushing the hair out of her eyes. “It’s all gonna be ok.”

Dimly, the Doctor shook her head. “Sorry, Ryan; I’m really not sure that it is.” Her voice was so broken. It was as if she’d suddenly lost hope, suddenly crashed out of the dream she held where everything turned out alright. Well, he wasn’t ready to give it up, not yet.

Her right nostril had joined the other in releasing what was fast becoming a torrent of blood. Thin and orangey, it coated her lips and made an escape in droplets from her chin. He couldn’t quite be sure that it wasn’t coming from her mouth at this point.

“It’s gonna be fine ‘cos we’re here. We’re with you.” Ryan reached towards Yaz’s lap, taking the already bloodied tissue from her hand and dabbing the Time Lord’s face clean. “We’re never, ever gonna leave you.”

Chapter Text

A smile flickered across the Doctor’s lips. Fumbling, she reached for him, found her hand on his shoulder. “I always choose the best ones…”

He didn’t have time to dwell on that. Quite suddenly, there was a loud noise - like a weird space-static screech - and then an image flickered onto the console’s holographic display. The Doctor’s head shot up, she closed her eyes, and he felt the engines die down as power was diverted somewhere else.

A block-headed creature with a horned nose appeared on the holographic communication display, and Ryan realised that when the Doctor said ‘space rhino’, she really wasn’t joking. Apart from the pale, almost white skin, the Judoon really did bear a striking resemblance. Horns, ears and everything.

Abruptly, it began to shout: “ROH!-JOH!-LOH!-JOH!-FOH!”

Silence fell as Jack and the Doctor listened. Then, Jack took two paces back, spreading his heels and, just as he had in his cell, thrust his chest forward to reply. “JOH!-JOH!-RAH-SAH-FOH!”

Ryan shook his head, his lips twitching in amusement, both at Jack (because did he really have to stand like that?) and the odd words coming from his mouth. “Is that actually a language?” he whispered to the Doctor.

She nodded, a serious look peaking her eyebrows. “Course it is! You sound just as funny to them.”

“Fair point.”

She must have been feeling better; she looked much brighter. Then again, the engines were blissfully quiet. Ryan smiled to himself. He could only imagine how good that felt.

There was a short (and loud) exchange, Jack continuing to reply to what must have been an onslaught of questions. Then, without warning, the display fizzled out. Ryan’s heart leapt, his head whipping round to check that the Doctor was still alright, but she just shot him a questioning look, her eyes still bright.

“That’s that, then,” Jack grinned. Then, he clapped his hands, barking out a laugh that made the Doctor flinch. “Rendez-vous arranged! You’re all very welcome.”

Beside Ryan, the Doctor slumped, sighing with relief.

“Where, exactly?” Yaz was quick to enquire.

“Not far,” he said, heading for the console, raising his hands. “Just need to input the co-ordinates-”

“No!”

Jack froze, whipping around, not sure of what he’d heard. The Doctor extended a hand out towards him, her face contorted in a strange mixture of fear and pain.

“Please,” she breathed. “Please… I can’t take it. Not yet. I need… I just need a little more time.”

There was a guiltiness in the way she dropped her eyes, a humiliation that made Ryan furious. What, did she think she was being weak?

“You can’t go on like this” Jack told her, firmly, and yet so very gently, as though he was beginning to realise it for himself, too. He swept across the room and knelt before her, trying to look her in the eye, but she’d dropped her gaze to the floor. “What if I fix things up, go back to manual steering?”

The Doctor shook her head.

“Won’t that help, though?” Yaz frowned, a hint of fear souring her confusion.

“Jus’ makes it worse,” she whimpered. “Consciousness is hard to maintain, and yeah, it hurts, but the paralysis” - she shuddered involuntarily – “it’s even worse. Like your whole body’s burning - and not in a good, regeneration-y way either.”

Yaz and Ryan looked at Jack, and he winced, turning his attention back to the Time Lord. “Alright. Ok. Just hang in there; I’m gonna fix that steering column and go back to aux power.”

Ryan brightened. “Then we don’t need a battery!”

“Exactly,” Jack grinned proudly.

Yaz looked to the Doctor, then back to them. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” The Time Lord grimaced at her, and she pursed her lips apologetically. “Sorry, I know, but… won’t it be too slow? No good you doin’ all this if we’re gonna get caught up to anyway.”

Jack glanced back to Graham, standing by the console, and the old man searched the radar screen. “Well… can’t see our friends yet,” He shrugged.

The Doctor fixed Jack with a silent, searching look, until she allowed herself a small, hopeful smile, and pointed to her coat, still crumpled in the corner. “Take the sonic, and please make it quick. I don’t have to tell you how much this hurts.”

As Jack headed back to the console, and Yaz gave the Doctor’s arm a squeeze, all Ryan could think about was that awful shame in the Time Lord’s eyes, like she wasn’t worth their time, wasn’t good enough to save them all. As the engines roared again, he watched the pinch in her brow deepen, the muscles twisting in her throat. Her nose began to bleed anew.

There had to be something more he could do to help, but what, he couldn’t say. All he could do was turn to the one person he thought might have an answer.

Graham had been standing by the console for what felt like a very long time. Arms folded, lips pursed, carefully watching the exchanges, the events as they unfolded before him. A spectator and nothing more. What else could he do? He was never very good at injecting himself into conversation.

He was, however, a top-class observer, and right now, he was observing a silent plea for help.

Ryan stared at him from across the room with a deafening cry in his eyes. And really, why wouldn’t he? There was the Doctor, one of his very best friends, slumped forward in her chair as the life was sapped out of her body and fed to the endlessly hungry engines. As seemed to be her creed, she was once again saving their lives in exchange for her own.

Graham sighed. There was a ball of terror knotted around his guts, squeezing tighter like some dreadful serpent with every shade paler she grew. Watching yourself dying, that was scary enough – he’d found that out the hard way - but it wasn’t half so bad as watching it happen to someone else. Only once, God rest her soul, and yet, he felt that once was enough to fill a whole lifetime.

But there it was, that look in Ryan’s eyes that said please, Grandad, I need you. Enough to break the marble that seemed to be growing around his feet, to slide his arms apart and bring him trundling gently across the room.

Ryan stood, leaving the Doctor with Yaz and meeting him halfway.

“What’s up, son?”

“I dunno what to do. I’ve tried talking to her, I’ve tried everything I can think of. Nothing’s helping. There has to be something else.”

Graham smiled mildly. “If I do say so, I think you’re doing a pretty good job.”

Ryan shook his head. “It’s killing her.”

“I know.”

“She’s dying.”

“I know.”

Silence held for a beat.

“I’m… scared,” Ryan finally muttered, looking away at his shoes.

“It’s alright. Me too. So’s everyone else. We’re all proper frightened, that’s natural.” Graham took a breath, letting it sink in. “But you know who’s the most scared of all?”

Ryan glanced back and nodded. “I do, yeah.”

A burst of pride leapt unbidden through his chest, twitching at the corner of his lips. His grandson. He’d never been prouder. “She needs you, son. She needs us all to be strong for her, ‘cos this is the one time she can’t be.”

They turned as one at the cry of distress that suddenly tore through the quiet of the bridge. Yaz was grasping the Doctor’s hand in her own, holding firmly, offering encouragement, coaxing her. Trying so hard, but it wasn’t enough; the lights flickered, the Doctor hunched further, howling like the noise was being ripped from her very tongue.

“What’s going on?!” Ryan yelped, the blood rushing from his head. His question, however, was left to drift in the air.

“You’re doing really well. Just stay with me,” Yaz was saying, her voice and expression practiced, controlled. But it was no good; the Doctor was fading, fast. The ship was lazily swerving away from Neptune, the engines slowing down, slowing.

There was but a flicker of panic across Yaz’s face, just for a moment. “Still with me, Doctor?”

All she received in response was a low, guttural growl, the Time Lord clenching her teeth against the onslaught of noise her body was desperate to produce. There wasn’t much her companion could do; Yaz hesitated, then slipped a hand under the Doctor’s chin and tried to turn her head, even slightly.

She recoiled, however, when her fingers found blood. Under her hair, the alien’s ears were wretchedly joining the flow, and Yaz could barely stand to have it touch her, staining her fingertips. There was very little time now. Very little time at all.

“Hurry, Jack. Please.”

Chapter Text

Jack muttered beneath his breath, halfway inside the casing of the console. The panel lay a few feet away, discarded, and a few wires and bits and pieces seemed to be spreading from the opening like a wound. “Doing my best. This thing’s totally shattered.”

With a rasp that Yaz thought was never going to end, the Doctor doubled over, putting her forehead into her palms and threading her fingers into her hair. White as a sheet, she was a new level of fragile, like a heavy breath could blow her away into dust. Yaz put a steady hand between her shoulder blades.

The sonic was buzzing away, working over-time. “Don’t supposed you’ve got a welding setting?” Jack called over.

The Time Lord’s hands slipped, just enough that she could peer through her fingers. With a groan, she closed her eyes, willing herself to remember. Yaz bit her lip. It was as though every single thought was agony.

“4-2… 4-2… something…” The Doctor gave a snarl of frustration. “Come on, brain…”

“Take your time,” Yaz breathed.

“Ugh! Normally it’s just… right there!” There was a frustration settling into her voice that was beginning to make Yaz nervous.

“It’s not…” The Time Lord buried her face once again. When she finally looked up, she looked sadder and older than they’d ever seen her. “4-2-6,” she murmured, her voice abandoning her and leaving a pitiful croak in its place.

When she looked away, Yaz caught Ryan’s eye. He must have been watching, she realized. She hoped against hope he didn’t see how she’d flinched. Jack adjusted the settings, and sparks began to fly, glittering in a waterfall that poured from the open compartment. Then, quite suddenly, the steering column, which had just about been resting in place, jerked and fell to the floor with a crash.

“Arh!” Jack pushed himself upright, wincing at the dent in the floor, a fingers-width from his knee. “Damnit! Could do with an extra pair of hands.”

Ryan stood bolt upright, looking over his shoulder to Graham, who leaned nonchalantly against the back of the Doctor’s chair. The old man grinned. “Well, you did say you wanted to help.”

It was all the invitation he needed. Ryan sprang to his feet and hurried across the room, carefully hefting up the Y-shaped control and slotting it clumsily back into place.

“Good man!” Jack grinned at him as he lay back down, tucking his head and arms into the opening. “a little more… no, the other way…”

“Sorry, I cant-“

“Don’t sweat it; I can guide it from here.”

Meanwhile, Graham crouched in the space that Ryan had left behind, folding his arms across his knees and peering under the Doctor’s hair. “You alright in there, sunshine?”

The Doctor cracked an eyelid, and behind her, Yaz shot him a look that said, since when do you call people ‘sunshine’? It had the desired effect, however, as the Time Lord’s lips twitched in amusement.

“I gotta hand it to you though, Doc, really,” he continued. “This… this is something impressive.”

“No,” she croaked, swallowing another groan. “It’s stupid.”

“Well, yeah, of course it is. It’s one of your plans.” Graham cracked a smile. “Doesn’t mean it’s not impressive.”

Finally, he coaxed a breathy chuckle from her lips. Quickly, though, the pinched frown took over again. She glanced at Yaz, who was seemingly engrossed in fiddling with the hem of her shirt. “I’m sorry.”

The girl sat up like she’d just jolted awake. “What?”

“For all this…”

“Which, by the way, you are absolutely not to feel guilty about,” Graham quickly put in. When she tried to laugh bitterly, he continued. “Doc, you’re saving our lives. Not only that, you’re saving the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people you don’t even know. That’s bloody heroic, if you ask me.”

“Mmh…” She didn’t sound convinced. Actually, scratch that, thought Graham as he watched her eyes beginning to flicker and roll. One hand suddenly flew to her chest, the other tightening it’s grip on Yaz, mouth gaping in a silent scream.

“Doc?...”He grasped her shoulder. “Doc! What’s going on?”

She cried out, groping at the neck of her shirt, her strangled huffs attracting the attention of her friends across the room. Ryan gawked, wide-eyed and terrified.

The Doctor threw herself against the back of the chair, sounding for all the world like she was choking. “Heart… my heart - ugh!”

As she pounded her chest with a fist, Yaz went for the pulse at her throat. “It’s stopped! Her heart’s stopped!”

The Time Lord snarled with agony. “Urgh! Come on, Lefty…” She was too weak, though; her arm was flagging, and she sagged forward again, like a sack, folding uselessly in the middle.

Yaz’s shining eyes met Jack’s, frightening in their intensity. “Do something,” she begged.

All Jack could do was stare back, helpless.

With a gulp of air, the Doctor tried to straighten up again. “How do you people cope?!”

Graham bit his lip. It could’ve just been him. Easily. He was well known for being overly cautious. And yet… he was sure her face was falling on one side. That arm, too – the one closest to Yaz – it was losing its grip.

He fixed her with a serious stare, catching her eye as she leant towards him. Sent her a stern look that said we need to get you off this thing. And, for a brief moment, she seemed to be considering the proposition, her wide doe-eyes filled with genuine terror. Then, she jerked forward again, and this time, she didn’t manage to catch herself.

Ryan was there just in time, sprinting as soon as he saw her going, crashing to his knees and slamming his body into her chest. So sudden; too sudden. Arms wrapped around her, her chin on his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare,” he whispered.

Weak, now. So very weak. She forced her lips to perform for just a second longer. “2-3-4…”

There was no time to question her. He screwed his eyes tight shut and held her as the last painful gasps soaked from her body, until the terrible, fitting shudders drifted into a cold and bitter stillness.

“No!” Jack staggered forward.

Too late, Ryan thought to himself bitterly. It was too cruel, this. Way too cruel. This woman, this crazy, impossible woman, like a supernova trapped in a pair of suspenders. More life and more energy than her body could hold. He wasn’t ready to add her to his list, too.

At this point, the numbness was almost a familiar old friend.

“Jack, do something! Get that thing out of her!” Yaz snarled. Her arm clung to the back of the Doctor’s shirt, just below Ryan’s, like if she didn’t let go, maybe they wouldn’t lose her.

She still had faith in him. Somehow, from somewhere.

“I’m trying…” He fumbled helplessly with the sonic. “I don’t have the setting!”

The setting, Ryan thought to himself. When she’d talked about them earlier, she’d given him three numbers. Three numbers…

“2-3-4…. Try 2-3-4!” He shouted out.

Abruptly, he was aware of Jack leaning over him, reaching for the tube, the needle. The sonic buzzed, the ship shuddered, and the lights flickered out.

“Stay very still,” Jack breathed in Ryan’s ear, wrapping his arms around both him and the Doctor, carefully, ever so carefully, and taking the needle in both hands. “Don’t move… anything…”

Ryan held his breath, as did everyone else.

Finally released, the tube was a cacophony, shattering the silence as it fell against the chair, and the Doctor’s body dissolved into his arms, limp, lifeless.

Gone.

 

Chapter Text

Courthouses, Jack thought to himself. Seen plenty of the ungodly places, and they never got any more inviting. Earth-Victorian to 21th-centuary-Azonian, they all stank of beard oil and injustice. Slouched in his bench seat, he cast his eyes about the vast room, taking in the enormous crowd of dignitaries, hailing from hundreds and hundreds of different species, all come to sneer down from the galleries. If it wasn’t for the glowing white walls, it would almost have looked like Rome’s colosseum.

Closer to the ground, Judoon guards flanked the benches of witnesses, of which he and his new-found friends were a part. Watching patiently as justice was dealt. Finally, the slavers were facing their crimes.

Good riddance.

Turned out the Judoon already had a warrant to arrest the Cartesian High Commander. The Azons (who, strangely, didn’t appear to be relatives of the Axons) were among hundreds of species decimated and terrorised by Cartesian raids. Short and fat, with wrinkled skin, flattened heads and long, wide mouths, they were on the look-out for their leader’s daughter. They wouldn’t find her, though: once famed for her beauty, she was now one of the many, many victims Jack was sure was floating in space somewhere.

Bored.

They’d been droning on for hours. Casting a glance to his left, he found Ryan’s empty stare echoing the sentiment. Beside him, Graham was actually asleep and quietly snoring, which was almost photo-worthy, if only he was allowed his mobile in the courthouse. Then, last on the row was Yaz. She’d made a valiant effort to focus, but even she was now fidgeting uncomfortably.

Abruptly, the talking stopped, and the witness giving evidence stepped down from the dock, shuffling back into the crowd. An Azon near to them stood, catching his eye, and waved a hand, sweeping the gesture towards the judge. Jack pursed his lips. His turn, apparently.

Floating down the steps in his new-found great coat, he hopped up into the box, grinning at the squat, sober Azon judge who glared out like a frog beneath the giant hat they had him wearing. To his left, in a patch of shadows, a tall, rugged and altogether unpleasant-looking Cartesian glared out of the defendant’s cage. Jack leant forward on the railings as the judge spoke.

“Who is this man?”

“Captain Jack Harkness, sir.” He nodded with a cheeky wave

“Madam.”

“Ah, right, sorry.”

The judge looked unimpressed. “You’re not on my list.”

“Well, someone asked me up.” Jack gestured to the Azon standing on the floor below him. She shuffled her feet.

“Madam, he is representative to the Victim.”

A hush of whispers washed up the rows if dignitaries. The Judge’s eyebrows disappeared beyond the reach of her enormous hat. Jack, however, just scowled. Was that what they were calling her now?

“She has a name,” he glowered, the bravado giving way to annoyance. “She’s not a victim.”

The Judge and her panel leant forward, intrigued despite themselves. “And what does she call herself?”

Jack scoffed. “I think you’ll find she prefers The Doctor.”

 


 

Yaz slid a pint of something green his way. Normally, he would’ve downed it in one, just to show off. Today, though, he wasn’t feeling it. None of them were, really. For a bar, this one didn’t carry much of a vibe anyway, just lots of rich-looking aliens floating around one another in their official robes of office. Somewhere in the back, surrounded by low pulsing lights, two four-armed, shiny-skinned creatures played strange melodic tubes and wailed.

“I think you did really well out there,” Yaz smiled, though she was looking at the mirror above the bartender’s head.

“Glad to hear it,” he replied with a small smirk. Then, he cast a glance at her drink. “What you got?”

“I dunno, honestly. I just asked for something that wasn’t toxic to humans.”

Jack chuckled, which made her giggle too. “Wild night on Azos 4, hey?”

A noise to his right made him start, and he turned to find Graham hopping up onto a stool, Ryan struggling awkwardly onto the next one down.

The boy glanced across the hundreds of strange bottles stacked behind the bar. “Any recommendations?”

“D’you think they do tea?” The old man asked hopefully.

Yaz shrugged, taking a sip of her ice-blue whatever-it-was. A sip that she instantly spat back out with a look of disgust. “Oh… Oh, god, that is really nasty.”

Jack guffawed heartily as she spat into her hand and wiped it on her trousers, but stopped abruptly when, for good measure, she wiped it on him, too.

“Whatever you get,” she grimaced, “avoid the Eau-du-Fatberg, won’t you?”

Ryan and Graham stifled their laughter, and, after careful consideration, decided to stick with good old-fashioned H20.

Jack raised his glass in a toast, eyeing them in turn. Each one of those amazing, kind, brave faces he’d come to be quite fond of. “Well, it’s been a hell of a journey, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it with anyone else.”

“Here, here,” Graham nodded.

“Course, there’s one person missing from the equation: the one who brought us all together.” He paused for a breath, watching them cast their eyes down, feeling the pang in his heart. “Here’s to you, Doctor.

 


 

Back in court again. It was tiring; it really was. Did the Azons actually need every single slave to give their own testimony? Then again, perhaps the ones who spoke were getting something for it. Money they could use to make a new start, back on their home planets. Money they could use to get to their home planets.

Jack watched another slave step down, heading for the door beneath the jury’s balcony, and yes, there, he saw it – she was handed a small bag. Clutching it tightly, she bobbed in a curtsey, and took off down the corridor.

The Cartesian High Commander was looking even rougher than before, every testimony scoring a new wrinkle into the corner of his eyes. Helmet-less, they had mostly human-looking features, but with no noses; instead, the centre of their faces were pricked with two sets of slanted nostrils, and their cheekbones picked out with a line of raised black points.

There was a young girl sat in front of the team today, one Jack hadn’t seen before. Well, he said ‘young’. Probably Yaz’s age, or whatever was the equivalent for her species. Pretty, too. Not that he was looking, but… he was definitely looking.

And so was she. He’d caught her several times, casting him a curious glance over her shoulder. Jack leaned towards Ryan. “Remind me to find her at the bar later,” he murmured.

As if on cue, she looked back again, and caught his eye. Jack flashed her a brilliant smile, and she giggled, looking away.

“Mate…” Ryan looked somewhere between impressed and disapproving.

Before he had a chance to say anything more, however, the girl turned around to face them both, her yellow eyes bright with curiosity. The two mouths were an interesting touch, Jack thought to himself, giving her face a delightful length, and the four tentacles that replaced her hair… well. Thought-provoking.

“You’re him, aren’t you?” She whispered, like a child meeting her favourite celebrity. “The representative of the Living Victim?”

Jack’s grin faltered ever-so-slightly. “Uh, yeah. That’s me.” He gestured to Ryan, Graham and Yaz. “That’s us, actually. We’re all here ‘cos of her.”

“Is she really like they say?” The girl gripped the back of her seat with her webbed hands. As she spoke, her second teeth grinned, a whip-like tongue running over their sharp points. “They say she glowed like starlight,-” her other lips took over “-and she controlled all of time and space!”

Her three companions all shot Jack looks of varying degrees of confusion. He bit his lip. “Well… Maybe not all that.”

“She don’t control time and space,” Ryan said sadly. “Just travels in it.”

“But she does glow like starlight,” Yaz smiled, her eyes far away. “On the inside, she really does.”

The girl laughed. “But she saved them all, didn’t she? All those people.”

Graham nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, she definitely did that.”

There was a murmuring in the seats above, and in the jury. Jack frowned. What was it they just said? He’d missed it, too interested in their conversation. They must have been calling another witness; he heard the door beneath their seats opening.

An unnatural hush fell over the arena, all eyes trained on the centre. Uneasy, Jack and his friends craned forward to see. A hooded figure, bundled in blankets, was wheeled in by nervous medical staff. The wheelchair stopped a short way away from the steps of the witness box, the Azon nurses buzzing about the place, applying brakes and checking monitors.

The figure, however, seemed unperturbed. Unnaturally still. Pulling the thin blankets from her body, she braced her arms against the chair and slowly stood. A tiny, thin body drowning in the folds of the garish, white hospital overalls, covered over for warmth by a familiar powder-blue coat, trimmed in rainbows.

The nurses raced to help her up the stairs, but she refused, climbing step by step, tap by tap of her bare feet on the wood.

The judge rose to her feet in respect. The jury followed suit. The amassed crowds held their collective breath.

The blue hood fell. Head bandaged almost to unrecognition, with blonde strands escaping beneath her ears, but still totally and utterly her.

“Your honourable ladyship and fellows of the jury, ladies and gentlemen, and all people beyond.” Her voice was cracking, but her open-armed greeting still carried to the highest rows, filling the room with her unmistakable presence. “Here I stand before you. Your humble witness. Your Living Victim.

“But I prefer to be called the Doctor.”

Chapter Text

One day, she thought to herself. One day, they might decide against the death penalty.

The roar of the crowd was dulled through the glass of the viewing platform, but it still rumbled through her feet, worsening the aching beneath her eyes. In the centre of the city of Azorna, surrounded by tall, sharp, grey buildings that blocked out the sunlight, the stage had been hurriedly put together. Lighting rigs were raised on rickety scaffolds, their yellowish light washing the people gathered below them, amassed to watch the Cartesian High Commander’s death. Light was glowing off their heads, their raised hands, as they twisted and swirled together in an undulating mass…

The Doctor closed her eyes, just for a moment. It was making her head go funny. Not that that was difficult, not at the moment. Brash of her, refusing the chair Braida had offered her. She could’ve used something to lean on.

 “How are you doing?” the nurse asked her, appearing by her side, as squat and friendly-looking as the rest of her species.

“Me? Fine, yeah,” she muttered distractedly. “Are you sure my friends aren’t allowed up? I’d really feel much better if they were here.”

Braida smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, you need special permission from the Chancellor. You can try talking to him yourself, but… no guarantees.”

“And you can’t?” Her question was met with a small shake of Braida’s head.

The Doctor nodded, pursing her lips into a thin line. Were things beginning to spin, ever so slightly? She took a deep breath, steadying herself.

Turning from the crowd, she instead observed the few people gathered on the viewing gallery. The trial’s judge stood not far away beside the Azon Chancellor, eager to watch her justice carried out. Hon, her name was, if the Doctor was remembering right. Fitting. A few other dignitaries milled calmly about at the back, and far away, on the other side of the gallery, Commander Sooza of the Cartesian Fleet was calmly observing, hands clasped in front of her. Jook lingered by her shoulder.

Braida slipped a phone-sized monitor from the pocket of her long, white coat and glanced over it, wide nostrils flaring together. “Your blood sugar is low. Would you consider trying some canapés?”

“I’m not really hungry.”

“Please, it will make you feel better.”

The Doctor rolled her eyes. It would do, wouldn’t it? Braida waved over a couple of young boys carrying silver platters twice their own arm-span in width.

However questionable she felt, the Time Lord couldn’t help but be fascinated by the collection of brightly coloured nibbles. “Ooh! What’s this?”

“Courbon fruit jellies.”

“And this?”

“Braised Roxforr.”

“Hmm. Got any custard creams?”

Braida smiled and pointed to a small pink cube topped with fantastic spun-sugar shapes. “This has the highest glucose content.”

Shrugging, the Doctor took two, biting the swirl off the top and crunching it loudly. “Graham would love this. Actually, so would Ryan.” She cast a glance at the Chancellor again, then opened her mouth and tossed in the rest of the nibble.

Braida was following her gaze. “I wouldn’t hold you hopes too high, madam.”

“Hmm, ‘madam’…” The Doctor tilted her head, considering the word. “Nope, I’m still not quite used to that. ‘She’, and ‘her’, and ‘Oi, you!’ perhaps...” She tilted her head back and dropped the second canapé into her waiting maw, then side-stepped the nurse before she had a chance to protest.

 


 

Judge Hon and the High Chancellor stared out of the window in amicable silence. As far as they were concerned, the deed was already done, and the stone-faced Cartesian commander, mounting the stage steps under armed guard, was to them but a child in need of discipline.

A moment later, they were surprised to find a third body joining their party, one they didn’t hear approaching, or notice halting at the judge’s shoulder, and only realised had appeared when she spoke.

“High Chancellor of the Azon? A pleasure. Big fan of your work.” The odd, yellow-crested biped extended a hand, perhaps in a gesture of greeting, though he didn’t recognise it. He observed it as it faltered, bringing the hand back down. “Not a handshake person? I do hugs, too. Or kisses.”

The Chancellor turned to Judge Hon. “What is this?”

“High One, this is the Living Victim.”

The Chancellor whipped back around. Could it be true? The only creature to survive the cruel practices of those Cartesian villains?

“I prefer ‘the Doctor’, actually,” It beamed.

“Extraordinary.” His face broke into a smile, nostril-holes flaring, black eyes sparkling. “Your crest was hidden during the trial; I didn’t recognise you.”

The Living Victim laughed. “Funny you should say that; usually, people don’t recognise me without my hair.” Still wearing that crinkly, friendly expression, she (for he had finally established that she did, indeed, present as a female) fluffed the strands of keratin atop her head with her un-webbed appendages.

“Your input during the trial was invaluable,” he continued. “Your description of the pain; I can only imagine what you’ve been through.”

“Ah, it was nothing,” she shrugged, though her pursed lips betrayed her lie.

Down below, on the stage, the Cartesian commander had been secured to a chair, and a lethal dose was being prepared for administration. The crowd grew quieter, waiting. From the corner of his eye, the High One spotted the Victim- no, the Doctor – draw her facial muscles together.

“Does it have to be the death penalty?”

Judge Hon lowered her head. “I’m afraid so. So many thousands of counts of murder and cruelty; he could not serve all the prison sentences I would have given him.”

She had no reply for that. As they watched, the commander was held back by one large Azon, while two more showed the filled needle to the crowd. The Doctor winced, and then caught herself. Oh no, come on, body. There’s no need for that.

With the poison administered, the commander quietly slipped away. For a while, nobody really moved, watching in silent, gory fascination as they took his body away. Then, the crowd began to disperse. On the viewing platform, a slow, quiet humming of music began.

There was a hollowness in her chest that she couldn’t quite place. She took no joy from that man’s death, but at the same time, it marked a new chapter in the history of his species. Perhaps she just didn’t quite know what to feel. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t any sort of victory.

“Forgive me, I don’t mean to be rude, but… are you supposed to change colour?” The Chancellor was peering at her with some level of concern. The Doctor furrowed her brow.

 “Actually, I was going to ask you about something.” Before they could go too far down that road, she pushed the conversation in the other direction. “Big favour, if you don’t mind. I have four friends down below; would you mind-”

“I’ll have them brought up immediately.” The High Chancellor was already rounding up a few attendants, sending them towards the lifts. She gave him a big smile, bobbed an awkward curtsey, then turned to leave him in peace.

“Doctor.”

She halted, bent slightly. Turned, slowly, back to the Chancellor.

“I was hoping you might help me with one last task.” He glanced across the room, to where Commander Sooza was still stood, frozen. “If you’re able to, of course.”

 

Chapter Text

The High Chancellor of the Azon’s circular office sat at the peak of the tallest tower in Azorna, with a near 360 degree view of the city skyline, curved glass walls displaying a vista all the way out across the countryside beyond, to the mountains of the north and the ocean in the south. For the most part, the room was empty – just one huge, semi-circular desk, a chair at its centre, and two black cube-shaped stools. Aside from that, there were only two tall, red potted plants framing the A-shaped lift doors.

Jack, Ryan, Graham and Yaz had tucked themselves in beside these vines, under strict orders not to interfere (seriously, this time). They were only allowed in after a lot of persuasion on the Doctor’s part, and even then, the Chancellor and the new Cartesian High Commander had regarded them with distaste as soon as they’d stepped out of the lift.

“What is this? Why are they here?” Commander Sooza had spat at the sight of them.

“Ta very much, feeling most welcome,” Graham smiled jovially.

The Chancellor looked them all up and down. “They are here upon request.”

“Who’s request?”

Well, that was obvious. Yaz folded her arms, leaning back against the window. They’d been stood here for what felt like hours: it was hurting her feet. Add to that the endless circles the two leaders were heading in: it made her head spin. She’d seen better direction in the drunks they pulled into the station on Saturday nights.

“Commander Sooza, I must insist; this treaty represents the best course of action for both our species,” the Chancellor tried to explain. Silhouetted against the purple sunset blooming against the flushed clouds, they made an odd pair – the short, round Azon with his big, bulging eyes, dwarfed by the sheer height of the sour-faced Cartesian soldier, taller than them all, even a head and shoulders taller than Ryan. The Chancellor gestured to the desk, where files of paper were displayed, all with signature lines as yet left blank. Many points had been crossed off, adjusted, tweaked to suit both species. However, nothing seemed to be enough.

“And I must insist that you’re wrong.” Sooza was far from a diplomat. She didn’t mince words – a hardened battle commander, used to watching her will be done by reems of grovelling underlings.

Yaz’s eyes flashed across the room, falling upon the Doctor, who was standing apart from them all, in her own little bubble, staring out at the city with her hands thrust deep into her coat pockets. The golden light caught her dishevelled hair and turned it to a halo of fire.

“Please, Commander. We’re offering all we can.”

“I can see that.” Sooza placed her hands on her hips. “But you must understand, surely, that the sudden and complete eradication of slavery leaves the Cartesians in a very weak position.”

“I do understand that.”

“Do you?” Sooza stepped forward, towering over him. “Stopping the use of the batteries has single-handedly decimated my entire fleet, and the whole power grid of our planet. While we can see that things must change, I ask you, respectfully, how you propose we develop new technology with no power to fabricate it?”

The Chancellor had to stop and think at that. Yaz glanced at the Doctor, found her frowning. To be fair, she could see the point. What she could also see, however, was the solution.

“Excuse me!” Yaz stepped forward, raising a hand, and fighting the urge to shrink away as three blazing, powerful gazes turned in her direction. “Sorry, can I make a suggestion? If the Cartesians need power, why don’t the Azons offer up some sort of power source, like a generator.”

Jack, Graham and Ryan stared at her as if she were mad.

The Doctor, however, simply smiled, then turned back to the sunset, her face soft, considerate. The two leaders, on the other hand, didn’t look quite as convinced.

“Our hydrogen generator technologies are patented systems respected through scores of galaxies.” The Chancellor scoffed. “Our economy thrives off them; we cannot just give them out for free!”

Not even to save hundreds of innocent lives, Yaz thought bitterly, though she bit her tongue to prevent from saying it.

“We’re paying your people damages, right?” Sooza asked. “Can’t you take that as payment?”

The Chancellor laughed outright at that. “What you pay us in damages won’t pay for even half of the systems you need to power a planet.”

“Then discount them,” Yaz suggested quietly. “Enough people have suffered. Your people, High Chancellor.”

“Don’t do the same to hers.” Jack nodded, backing her up.

The Chancellor’s smirk vanished. “Hmm. Well. I suppose I could look into it…”

“Good. Onto the next problem.” Sooza was clearly bored. “What do we do in the meantime?  The nights are cold, the people are hungry, hospitals and essential services will have no power. Surely, you can allow for a fazed transition?”

The Chancellor remained silent. He wasn’t looking at the Doctor, couldn’t have noticed the fire growing in her hazel eyes as she turned to look at the two of them. God, he almost looked like he was considering the proposition. Yaz shrank back as the Doctor drew herself upright quite suddenly. Fazed transition, she thought to herself; technical speak for continuing the slaughter. She wasn’t gonna like that. Not a hope in the universe.

“You do realise what you’re suggesting?” The Time Lord said sharply.

Sooza rolled her eyes. “So she does speak. And what sway do you hold in any of this?”

“She is the Living Victim,” The Chancellor quickly explained.

“I didn’t ask who she is.”

Beside Yaz, Ryan took a sharp breath through his teeth. Sooza had no idea who she was playing with.

The Doctor, for now, was holding her temper, though they could see it tugging at the muscles in her throat. “Shame; got quite a history, me.”

Sooza snorted, amused, as the Time Lord began to wonder in a near-perfect attempt at aimlessness across the room towards the two leaders.

The Chancellor had broken a sweat. “She is part of the agreement.”

“Is she, indeed? Well, I won’t be taking her with me, if that’s what you ask.”

“It isn’t,” The Doctor sniped. She then turned her back on the Cartesian Commander and brushed her short hair up, uncovering the shaved patch at the top of her neck. Red, puffy and shining, the injury was enough to make Sooza wince. “Recognise this?”

The Cartesian wrinkled her four nostrils. “It’s true, then; you did survive.”

“I did!” The Doctor gave a bright little hop as she turned back around. “Can always rely on good old-fashioned Time Lord anatomy to pull you out of a pinch.”

“Time Lord?” Sooza’s eyes widened.

The Chancellor cut them off hurriedly. “The Doctor assures me that she can persuade you against using slavery as a means of power.” He nervously glanced at the Doctor from the corner of his eye. “Now, refuge and shelter can be arranged on your planet for all of your people until the generators can be installed. That installation will also allow for a new means of employment for a lot of your soldiers…”

“Persuade me?” Sooza was still facing the Doctor.

The Time Lord lifted her hands and flexed her fingers. “Touch telepathy. I can let you feel, for just a second, the pain your systems put me through; and every person you’ve ever enslaved.”

The Cartesian Commander pursed her lips, her eyebrows rising. “And is it so painful?”

A flicker of something raw passed through the Doctor’s face. “Oh, yes. Would you like me to show you?”

Sooza paused. “It’s safe, is it?”

“Didn’t know you were so concerned with safety, High Commander. Or is it only your own that matters?”

She bristled at the insult, then drew herself up to her full, imposing height.

The Doctor stood before her, flicking her sleeves back and reaching for the other woman’s temples. “Deep breath,” she warned. The Cartesian commander did as she was told, though she smirked a little, and the Doctor sucked in a breath of her own, before placing her fingertips on Sooza’s warm skin.

It was over almost immediately. The Commander cried out with unbid agony, hot and white, and pulled back, staggering and stumbling until she found purchase against the wide window. There, she held herself, panting against the shock, wide, wild eyes fixed ahead. The Doctor, in turn, fell against the desk, catching herself and fighting to regain her feet.

Do not interfere. The words rang like a bell through Yaz’s brain. Of course, the message never quite reached her feet. Jack and Ryan had no chance of catching her before she’d crossed the distance between herself and the Doctor, grabbing her arm and hauling her upright.

“You alright?” she murmured, radiating concern, but, save for lifting a hand to release Yaz’s grip on her shoulder, the Doctor ignored her.

 “Are we done here?” She swept the tangle of hair back from her face.

The Chancellor gazed at Sooza. “I believe we are.”

With a curt nod, the Doctor span around on her heels and headed for the lift. Yaz hurried to catch her, and her friends fell into line behind her as the doors opened invitingly. As they hissed shut behind them, Yaz caught a last view of the office. And, more than anything, of the wide, watery eyes of Cartesian High Commander Sooza.

 

The Doctor was the first out of the lift as the doors opened. She sped a few steps down the hallway towards their assigned sleeping quarters, before halting and spinning around.

“Everyone alright?” She asked.

Ryan looked at his friends, shrugging. “Alright, yeah.”

“Why?” Graham was quick to add.

The Doctor threw her arms up in an overzealous gesture. “Oh, you know, standing for a long time can make you tired.” Her hand flew distractedly to her forehead. “Really tired…”

“You sure you’re alright?” Yaz was treading carefully; she knew how the Time Lord could be.

“Me? I’m fine. Always fine. Just going to pop off for a bit, actually, if nobody minds?”

Jack narrowed his eyes at her, a knowing glimmer that made Yaz nervous. “Pop off where, exactly?”

Yaz was expecting her to say, ‘to the nurse’, or maybe ‘the spa’. What she wasn’t expecting, however, was for her to pitch forward violently.

“Doctor!” Jack cried out, fumbling to catch her, sweeping her up in a practiced motion and cradling her like a child.

Yaz grabbed his elbow, anxiety gnawing at her. “Is she alright?”

“Not sure. Does someone wanna-”

“Nurse. Got it,” Graham nodded, heading off in the direction he was sure Braida’s room was. After a second’s hesitation, Ryan went after him.

For a moment, Yaz froze up. What could they do? She was a police officer, not a paramedic! First-aid training didn’t cover this. And as for Jack… No, come on. Stay calm. You’re better than this! But then, the Doctor gave a quiet groan and turned her head, cracking one tentative eye open.

“Oough… Alright, Mistress Savage, you’ve got a competitor for worst hangover…”

Jack’s face creased in confusion, but Yaz let out the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding. “Hey, welcome back,” she chuckled, reaching out to take the Doctor’s hand.

“Rating for that one?”

“Solid five.”

“Is that all?”

Jack snorted with laughter – he was totally lost. Which usually mean the Doctor was alright, at least.

His guffaws shook the woman in his arms, whose face crumpled up. “Hang on- whoa! Hold on! A bridal carry?! Could’ve at least thrown me over your shoulder!”

Her offense only made Jack laugh harder. “Well, that’s the best I could do under pressure.”

Yaz shook her head, smiling at the both of them. They did look a right pair, that was for sure. When Jack caught her eye, she tilted her head back towards the bedrooms.

“Think you can walk?” He asked the Doctor.

She winced, eyes drifting closed. “Mmgh… Not sure about that - everything’s all spinny.” Jack just shrugged, striding forward as she continued sleepily. “I bet I could carry you like this. In fact, I’m going to, once I’m better. Just you wait.”

Chapter Text

The room glowed warm, the light dim, comfortable. Monitors surrounded the single bed, set to silent, green displays calmly keeping touch with their patient. Braida had said five minutes. No more, no less.

She looked like marble, like the statues that rested atop cathedral monuments, sleeping while skeletons and angels danced around them. Jack took a moment to watch, eyes fixed on the white bedsheets, making sure he could detect the gentle rise and fall of her breathing.

This image seemed like a shade of the woman he’d come to speak to. Jack hung back, biting his lip awkwardly. Still, he had to see her. He couldn’t leave the Doctor without saying goodbye.

Then, like she’d felt his presence, the Doctor’s body jerked, waking with a sharp breath. Her eyes flashed open, taking in the room around her, finally falling upon his shadow, frozen by the softly closing door.

He smiled. “Nice to have you back with us.”

She groaned, rubbing her eyes. “How long was I out?”

“A few days.”

“You’re joking.”

Jack shrugged apologetically. Huffing a frustrated breath, she fell back against the pillows, tucking her hands behind her head and stretching out her back. Then, flicking the covers to the side, she made to get up.

Instantly, Jack was there, his hands outstretched, hovering, careful. “Whoa, whoa! No, stay down.”

She glared at him, but it was half-hearted at best; The Doctor’s eyes were already growing unfocused, drifting. She squeezed them shut, biting back a grumble.

“Don’t gimme that,” Jack chided. “You need to take it slow. Braida said so.”

“Braida’s boring,” She pouted, though she relented, resigned to propping herself up on her elbows instead.  “Why are you here, Jack?”

He scoffed, straightening up. “Can’t I come visit my friend when she’s ill?”

“I’m not ill,” She retorted, a little too quickly. “Besides, that’s not a face that says, ‘just visiting’.”

Jack pursed his lips. “Alright, you got me.” He paused, trying to find the right words. How to put it? Maybe he should just rip off the band-aid. He cast his gaze down at her, pale and quiet, waiting patiently for his answer. Great big shining eyes boring into him.

He puffed out his cheeks.

“I’m leaving.”

Her nose crumpled. “Already?”

“It’s been nearly two weeks!”

The Doctor bit her lip. “Really?”

“Really. And Torchwood can’t carry on without me.” At her raised eyebrow, he relented. “I mean, it could, but it shouldn’t have to.”

“Hmm,” was all she had to say to that. Her gaze wandered.

He huffed. “Sorry.”

“Sorry…?” Her head jerked up again. “What do you mean, sorry?”

“Sorry for going so soon. I feel like… well, I know you haven’t seen me for a while.”

“A long while,” she nodded.

Jack sighed. “It was fun, though. Apart from the bit where we almost lost you.”

The Doctor didn’t laugh. In fact, her eyes had unfocused again, lost deep in thought.

Jack shuffled his feet. “Well… Shuttle’s waiting. I’ll see you ‘round, Doctor.”

Halfway to the door, he heard a hurried rustle, felt a hand on his shoulder. “Wait…”

Spinning around, he grabbed her arms before she had a chance to fall. Not that it seemed she would. Somehow, the Doctor had regained something of herself in the threat of his leaving.

“Don’t go. Not yet.”

“I have to.”

There was a pain in her eyes he wished he couldn’t see. “I know this bar, just off Tornos II. Serves every kind of alcohol in the known galaxy.”

Jack laughed, in spite of himself. She knew what he liked. “Come on, you know I can’t.”

“Why not? Just a quick spin. I’ll drop you right back on Canary Wharf, whatever time you want. How does two weeks ago sound?”

He smiled.

“Just… let’s have this, eh?” The Doctor tilted her head hopefully. “One crazy night, one last hurrah. What do you say?”

Her bright eyes and dazzling grin were infectious.

How could he say no?