There’s a ping from the TARDIS console. The Doctor leaps up from where he’s been noodling on his guitar, dashes to look at it, frowns. He doesn’t know what this means. He doesn’t like not knowing.
He presses buttons, types a query: a blip in the timeline. The map zooms in, pinpoints it to Earth, England, refuses to go any further.
‘Oh come on,’ he says, exasperated. ‘Surely you’ve got more than this?’
Now the intermittent ping is joined by a steady beeping, like a metronome. At – he listens, counts – more or less the heart rate of a human.
‘You must know,’ he mutters. ‘You always know.’
He moves around the console, presses buttons, pulls a lever.
The TARDIS materialises in London, just around the corner from the Tower. It’s still beeping. Still not giving him anything more. He opens the door, sticks his head out. Everything seems normal: no sign of an alien presence, nothing to immediately suggest a wonky timeline. The screwdriver agrees. The TARDIS is insistent, though.
‘Alright, fine. You win.’
‘Doctor. To what do we owe the pleasure?’
‘Anything odd going on?’ he asks, striding around the room to look at all the screens.
‘No apparent alien threat, if that’s what you mean,’ Kate says, hands in her pockets, calmly watching his flurry of activity.
‘I don’t think it is.’ He spins around to look at her. ‘Blip in the timeline, somewhere in England. TARDIS won’t give me anything more.’
‘Won’t, can’t, I don’t know. Either way, she won’t shut up about it so I need your help to find it.’
Kate presses her lips together to hide a smirk at this and nods to the scientists looking at her, who all turn back to their computers and set to work.
‘Blip in the timeline?’ she asks. But before he can reply her mobile rings. When she looks at the screen she frowns. ‘Bernie?’
The Doctor wanders off to scowl over the shoulders of various scientists, to frown at screens and generally interfere.
‘Ellie?’ Kate asks. ‘Serena’s Ellie? What happened?’
Suddenly the Doctor freezes, spins around, waves both arms to catch Kate’s attention.
‘Ellie?’ he shouts urgently, dodging around the room to get to her.
‘Family matter, Doctor. I hardly think this–’
He snatches the phone from her hand. ‘Ellie who? No, no, no,’ he says when he hears the answer, shoving the mobile back to a frowning Kate. ‘No, that’s not right,’ he mutters. ‘She can’t, not now. Not yet. No wonder the TARDIS was insistent.’
‘I think we’ll be paying you a visit,’ Kate says. ‘No, I’m not sure either, but it generally means something when the Doctor gets like this. Look after Serena, keep Elinor alive. I’ll see you soon.’
She ends the call, slips the phone back into her blazer pocket, turns to the Doctor. ‘Care to explain?’
‘Ellie,’ he says, as if that’s enough. ‘Elinor Campbell,’ he adds impatiently, heading for the door.
‘Yes. My sister’s partner’s daughter.’
‘Oh, she’s going to be so much more than that.’
‘What do you mean?’ Kate asks, gesturing to Osgood to follow her as she strides after the Doctor.
‘Spoilers,’ he calls over his shoulder. ‘But she isn’t supposed to die now, that’s what the blip is. Someone’s interfering, trying to get her out of the way so she can’t–’
‘Aha, no, nice try. Can’t tell you, sorry Kate.’
‘But you’re going to save her?’ she asks, glancing at Osgood, who looks just as confused as she feels.
‘Yes, Kate Stewart, yes I am.’
‘Bernie, how did you get here before– wait, your hair? And–’
Bernie turns around. And then there are running footsteps behind her.
‘Serena,’ says a breathless voice. Bernie’s. Only not coming from the woman she’s looking at.
Serena turns around slowly. Bernie’s stood just inside the door to Elinor’s room. And – she turns back – stood beside her daughter’s bed.
‘You must be Serena,’ smiles the Bernie-with-the-wrong-hair-and-clothes-and-orange-kitten-heels, holding out her hand. Serena takes it automatically, eyes wide with confusion. ‘You didn’t bother to tell her about me?’ she asks, eyes flicking to the Bernie-in-scrubs. ‘I’m Kate.’
‘Kate,’ Serena says blankly. And then comprehension dawns. ‘Kate. She told me she had a sister. Failed to mention you were identical twins, though.’ And then she looks past Kate to Elinor, to the man scanning her with some sort of device, the younger woman in a lab coat on the other side of her bed. ‘Who’s he?’ she asks, her voice hardening. ‘And what’s he doing to my daughter?’
But everyone ignores her.
‘Osgood,’ Bernie says to the woman, who flashes a small smile of greeting and then returns her attention to Elinor. ‘You’ve changed,’ she says to the man.
‘It’s what I do,’ he says, not looking up. ‘Nice to see you too, Berenice.’
‘Don’t call me that,’ Bernie mutters, to Kate’s obvious amusement.
‘I need to get her into the TARDIS, if anyone’s interested in helping.’
‘Would someone please tell me what the hell’s going on,’ Serena snaps.
Both Bernie and Kate look at her. The same warm, dark eyes, only Bernie’s are filled with worry and pain, and Kate’s are steady and confident. Then they look at each other, Bernie’s silent question answered by Kate’s slight nod.
‘He’s going to save her,’ Bernie says quietly.
‘How, may I ask?’ Serena says acidly.
Bernie and Kate both shrug.
‘I, uh, I don’t think we have much time,’ Osgood points out.
Another glance passes between Bernie and Kate, and with a touch to Serena’s arm Bernie moves to Ellie’s side.
‘Ok,’ she says. ‘Let’s go.’
‘It’s alright, Serena.’
‘You trust this man?’ she asks Kate.
‘Not always,’ Kate says honestly. ‘But right now, yes I do.’
‘If it was your child?’
‘Yes.’ There’s the same steely confidence that Serena’s used to seeing and hearing from across the operating table and even amid all this, even coming from a woman she’s never met before, it calms her. ‘Shall we?’ she says, gesturing to the corner of the room where Bernie and Osgood are wheeling Ellie’s bed into–
‘A police box?’
‘Bigger on the inside,’ Kate says over her shoulder as she walks towards it, hands in her pockets, as calm as if this happens to her every day.
‘I must be going mad,’ Serena mutters, then shakes her head and follows – and stops dead when she steps over the threshold, gazing around her. ‘Or dreaming.’
‘I don’t usually do this,’ the strange man is saying to Bernie. ‘So don’t expect me to come running every time you fail to save a patient.’
Serena bristles at this but Kate puts a hand on her arm, silences her with a shake of her head.
‘I’m perfectly capable of doing my job, thank you Doctor.’
‘Circumstances suggest otherwise.’
They glare at each other across Elinor, the air practically sparking between them, until Osgood coughs politely. ‘Don’t really have time for this. Maybe save the arguing for later?’
‘Quite,’ Kate agrees mildly. ‘Anything we can do to help, Doctor?’
‘No. Well, I don’t know. Maybe.’ He rummages under the console, drags out various wires and sets about attaching them to Elinor.
‘What are you doing?’ Serena asks, half worried, half intrigued.
Serena starts forward. All the strangeness, the unreality, the impossibility of this – none of it matters. Some strange man with apparently no clue what he’s doing is attaching her baby to this – whatever it is.
‘Serena,’ Kate warns, in time for Bernie to catch at her arm before she reaches the Doctor.
‘You’re just going to let him mess around with my daughter?’ she rails. ‘What sort of a doctor is he, anyway?’
‘I’ll explain later, I promise. Just – trust me, Serena? Please?’
Serena looks at Ellie. Osgood is holding her hand, keeping a check on various flashing lights and displays as the Doctor works.
‘But he doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ she protests.
‘He doesn’t,’ Kate replies. ‘But the TARDIS does.’
Serena frowns, opens her mouth. And then the insistent, steady beeping changes.
‘Doctor, is that a good thing or a bad thing?’ Osgood asks.
He dashes around the console, looks at another screen. ‘Good,’ he calls. ‘Definitely good. Timeline’s settling. Whatever it is, keep doing it. Come on, Elinor,’ he mutters. ‘Come on. You’re practically a Lethbridge-Stewart, giving up would be an embarrassment.’
Serena doesn’t know what it means but the beeping has changed again. She moves to Ellie’s side, reaches to take her hand.
‘Can you get all of this gubbins out of her?’ the Doctor asks, gesturing at the tubes that have been keeping her alive.
Bernie does so, speaking softly to Elinor all the time, reassuring her, disconnects her from the ventilator.
Ellie’s chest keeps moving up and down.
Serena sags, grasps the edge of the bed tightly until Kate is suddenly behind her, holding her up with a grip almost as firm as Bernie’s. ‘Is she–?’
Kate glances at Bernie, who’s shining her pen torch into each of Elinor’s eyes in turn. She nods. ‘Both pupils responding.’
Serena lets out a shuddering breath, leans further into Kate, tears of relief spilling from her eyes.
‘Okay, that’s bought us some time,’ says the Doctor.
‘Time?’ Bernie asks.
‘The TARDIS is keeping her alive for now but we need to work out what’s doing this to her so we can reverse it.’
‘Osgood?’ Kate checks.
‘I’m on it.’
Kate nods then looks at the Doctor, her arm still tight around Serena. ‘You think this was deliberate,’ she says, and it isn’t a question. ‘Who?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Kate, who do you think? Who do we know who could be aware of the future and be able to go back in time to change it if it doesn’t suit her?’
Serena feels Kate stiffen against her. ‘Why?’
‘Why not? You know what she’s like. It’s just a game to her, you’re all her playthings.’
‘Deliberate?’ Serena manages.
‘Why don’t we go and have a cup of tea?’ Kate suggests.
‘Is in safe hands,’ she promises, glancing at Osgood again. ‘We can’t do anything for now.’
Bernie’s hands are twisting, her eyes refusing to meet Serena’s.
‘You can’t avoid the conversation forever, Wolfy,’ Kate says firmly. ‘May as well have it now.’
Bernie mumbles something unintelligible that makes her sister bark a laugh and shake her head in exasperation.
‘Get a move on, soldier.’
‘Not one of your dogs, Tiger,’ Bernie warns, but complies.
‘So, he’s an alien, this is a spaceship, and my daughter’s been poisoned by his old friend turned enemy because of some unspecified action she’s going to perform at some point in the future?’
‘Just about covers it,’ Kate says.
‘And you work for a secret military organisation dealing with alien threats to Earth?’
‘Right. This can’t possibly be real.’
‘Oh, it is,’ Bernie says softly, staring at the mug in her hands.
‘How come you ended up being called Berenice Griselda yet she’s Kate?’ Serena asks, clinging desperately to a shred of normality.
‘Luck?’ Kate shrugs, shooting a warning look at her sister.
‘Her middle name’s Marvina,’ Bernie smirks. ‘Katherine Marvina.’
‘Could do with a doctor out here! A real one!’
‘Ellie,’ Serena breathes. But Bernie’s out of the room before she’s even out of her chair, and Kate holds her back with a hand firm on her elbow. ‘My baby,’ she protests.
‘I know,’ Kate soothes. ‘Trust her?’
Serena nods. ‘I do.’
‘Then let her do this for you.’
Serena’s sigh is almost a growl, and she swipes angrily at the fresh tears spilling from her eyes. ‘This is actually happening?’ she asks, looking Kate in the eye.
‘And he’s really going to save her?’
‘Yes. Some timelines shouldn’t be messed with. Apparently your daughter’s involved in one of them. Saving her might mean saving the world.’
Serena laughs wetly. ‘Don’t tell her, I’ll never stop hearing about how important she is.’
‘She can’t know,’ Kate says, shaking her head. ‘Not a good idea to know your own future, you might try and change it.’
‘So as far as she’s concerned…?’
‘This never happened.’
She turns to the door. ‘Os?’
‘Ellie?’ Serena asks, heart in her mouth, fingers rising to fiddle with her necklace.
‘Sleeping,’ Osgood says firmly.
Serena breaks from Kate’s grasp, retraces their steps back to her daughter. She stops, hand braced on the door frame, takes in the single line still connecting her to the TARDIS. Watches as Bernie examines her, as she gently takes her hand, as her entire frame relaxes and she bends her head low over the bed with a sigh.
Bernie looks at her, offers a weary smile.
Somehow Serena’s shaking legs get her across the room so she can check for herself. She runs her hands carefully over Elinor’s face, checks each of her eyes, her pulse, watches her chest rising and falling on its own. She lets out a sob of relief and is instantly wrapped tightly in Bernie’s arms, both laughing and crying as they hold each other.
‘She’s not there yet,’ Bernie says eventually.
‘But we know what it is now,’ comes Kate’s voice from behind them. ‘Thanks to Osgood.’
Bernie raises her face from Serena’s hair to see Kate’s hand gently touching the small of Osgood’s back. ‘And?’ she asks, catching her sister’s eye and smiling slightly.
‘It’s a microscopic parasite, attaches itself to the brain stem and then releases a chemical to paralyse the host and render it unconscious while it feeds, but eventually it, well…’ Osgood trails off, unable to look at Serena who’s buried her face in Bernie’s shoulder again. ‘Anyway, the TARDIS located and killed the parasite, so no more chemical which means no more paralysis and no further damage.’
‘But she hasn’t woken up,’ Bernie says.
‘No. I think it’s reversible though, with the right chemical.’
‘You don’t know?’ Serena asks, sharp enough to make Osgood flinch.
‘How could she?’ Kate interjects calmly. ‘We’ve never seen it in humans before.’
‘She was probably expecting it to kill her straight away,’ the Doctor mutters. ‘Well ha, humans aren’t so weak and weedy after all, are they? Looks like you got to her just in time.’
‘How did she ingest it?’
Osgood shifts uncomfortably. ‘Well it was probably–’ she breaks off, breath short, wheezing slightly.
‘Inhaler,’ Kate says, and Osgood reaches into the pocket of her lab coat, takes a puff.
‘It was probably cut into the cocaine she took,’ she says quickly.
Serena stiffens in Bernie’s arms. ‘What?’
‘Definitely cocaine in her system,’ the Doctor confirms. His head pops around the console at the sudden stony silence. ‘Ah, you, uh – you didn’t know?’
Serena shakes her head, looks at Elinor and then at Bernie.
‘We’ll deal with it,’ Bernie says softly.
‘If Edward knew,’ Serena says, voice low and angry.
‘We’ll deal with it,’ Bernie repeats. ‘Later. Not our main concern right now.’
‘I’ll kill him,’ Serena mutters, eyes flashing.
‘She’d have got to her anyway,’ the Doctor says.
‘Not the point,’ Kate says before Serena can snap at him.
‘Um, what now, Osgood?’ Bernie asks, dragging Serena’s attention back.
‘We need to administer the right chemical to wake her up.’
‘Like a medically induced coma?’
Kate sighs. ‘We don’t have it.’
‘Here?’ Bernie asks, already suspecting the answer.
‘On Earth. Alien parasite, alien cure.’
‘But that’s okay,’ says the Doctor, racing around the console, pushing buttons and pulling levers. ‘Not a problem. We are in a spaceship, after all. Gently does it,’ he adds, apparently speaking to the machine. There’s a whooshing noise, the slightest of judders.
Serena reaches for Bernie’s hand, looks at Kate, who smiles reassuringly, and then back at her daughter. I’d do anything to keep you safe, she thinks.
And so, with her daughter lying in an alien-induced sleep, Serena finds herself hurtling through space, and then looking out at an alien planet.
‘Won’t be long,’ Kate promises, eyes meeting Bernie’s for an instant. ‘The TARDIS will look after you.’
Bernie’s barely had time to get restless before they’re back in a whirlwind of activity.
‘Didn’t go quite to plan,’ Kate says, slightly out of breath and with a gun in her hand, as she ushers Osgood past her. ‘Inhaler,’ she murmurs automatically, and then calls, ‘Doctor?’
He skids to a halt, trips inside, sprints to the console as Kate shuts the door. And then the odd whooshing again.
‘Did you get it?’ Bernie asks.
Osgood draws a vial of purple liquid from her pocket and smiles. ‘And a spare, so we can study and archive it. Just in case.’
‘They weren’t entirely keen on handing it over, though,’ Kate explains, tucking her gun away. ‘Don’t worry,’ she adds, seeing Serena’s expression. ‘That was just a precaution.’
The whooshing stops, Kate opens the door and Serena sees that they’re back on ITU. ‘Has no one noticed we were gone?’
‘Amazing what humans don’t notice,’ the Doctor says. ‘Also: time machine. It’s like we never left.’
Kate draws Serena away from Elinor’s bedside a little as Osgood passes the vial and a syringe to Bernie. The Doctor hovers, wires in hand, ready to reconnect her to the TARDIS if necessary.
‘As soon as she starts waking up we need to get her out,’ Kate says. ‘She can’t know anything about this. And if she says anything–’
‘Put it down to dreams,’ Bernie finishes. ‘Yes, I do know how this works, remember? Everyone ready?’
Serena finds herself gripping Kate’s hand tightly as Bernie carefully empties the syringe into Elinor’s arm, passes it back to Osgood, places two fingers on the side of her neck and picks up her hand, watches closely. Osgood’s eyes are on the TARDIS monitors; Serena’s are on her daughter’s face.
‘Okay, she’s coming round,’ Bernie says, after what feels like forever, and Serena sags against Kate with a soft sob of relief.
‘Out, now,’ the Doctor orders, disconnecting the last TARDIS wire that’s been monitoring Ellie. In the ITU room, as Ellie begins to stir and Osgood rearranges wires and tubes to look like they’ve just been removed, he points his screwdriver at the various machines in turn, falsifying readings to avoid arousing suspicion. Not that anyone would believe the truth, of course, he thinks. Humans.
They linger just long enough for Kate, head sticking out of the TARDIS door, to see Elinor open her eyes, for Bernie to look at her and smile in thanks and relief.
‘Ellie, darling? Ellie, can you hear me?’
‘Mum?’ she croaks, barely audible.
‘Oh, thank god,’ Serena breathes, tears spilling from her eyes, gripping Ellie’s hand as Bernie continues to check her over before calling for help.
As they stand back and allow the puzzled ITU nurses to bustle around, Serena leans against Bernie. ‘You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,’ she murmurs.
‘I’ll invite Kate for dinner sometime,’ Bernie replies, arm wrapping around Serena’s waist.
* * *
A decade in the future, more or less. Time is wibbly-wobbly, after all, and ten years for her could be one or a thousand for him.
He’ll have a different face, a different body. In fact won’t be a he.
She’ll have different hair, a different outlook on life.
Together they’ll save a species, a world.
When she steps into the TARDIS she’ll feel like she’s been here before, dismiss it as fancy because she can’t have been, can she, she’d remember. How could you not remember this?
When the TARDIS responds to her instantly, perfectly, it’ll feel like coming home and the Doctor will look at her oddly. Of course, she isn’t to know this isn’t normal.
Afterwards they’ll have dinner, the two of them, her mother, her mother’s wife, her stepmother’s sister and her wife. Six women around the table. She’ll know that Kate and Osgood know the Doctor, won’t be surprised that Bernie does – the Doctor’s part of their family history, after all. But something will pass between her mother and the Doctor – a look, a feeling, a touch, the slightest of nods.
The timeline will have been played out, completed. Safe.
‘The Doctor saved your life once,’ Serena will say over dessert.
‘We all did,’ the Doctor will say, in a display of humility that will make Kate stare in amazement, forgotten ice cream dripping from her spoon.
‘It was mostly the TARDIS,’ Osgood will point out.
‘And you,’ Kate will say, with a proud smile.
‘Why?’ she’ll ask.
‘For today,’ Bernie will say softly, as Serena reaches to take her daughter’s hand.
‘You were destined for today,’ the Doctor will say. ‘Someone tried to stop today from happening by getting rid of you.’
‘You saved me so you could use me?’ she’ll ask.
The Doctor will shake her head. ‘I saved you because you weren’t supposed to die then. Because you were supposed to be alive now.’
And she’ll look at each of them in turn, eyes eventually fixing on her mother. ‘You knew?’
‘Not something you forget,’ Serena will reply wryly, and Bernie will reach for her other hand, their fingers tangling.
‘So when I felt like the TARDIS knew me?’
‘She did,’ the Doctor will confirm.
Later Elinor will slip outside, to where the TARDIS will be standing in a corner of the patio. She’ll sit alone with a hand on the console and ask what happened.
And the TARDIS will show her.