Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The White Tiger Billion Goods Company (Doctor Who)

This is the second story I wrote for the Big Finish Short Trips thing (got it done right before the deadline.) It was also rejected. Heh. Features the 8th Doctor and Charley.



A picnic. That's all Charley asked for: a sunny meadow, a blanket, and a basket of food. Not monsters, not deaths, and not endless chases up and down corridors. The Doctor did his best to oblige.

"Saena Prime, a bucolic paradise of villages in perfect harmony with the countryside. Overly regimented for my taste: they achieve their harmony by regulating every last breath and footprint." The Doctor headed for the TARDIS doors. "Still, it's the perfect place for a picnic, as long as we keep a low profile. Just smell that air!"

Charley followed him outside and inhaled deeply. "I smell smoke." She found its source in the village square below. "People with torches, about to light...a bonfire?"

"Probably some traditional summer celebration. All the better. The locals will be distracted."

"There's an old woman tied to that pole. They're going to burn her!"

"They what?" The Doctor spun around. "We have to stop them!"

He dashed back into the TARDIS and re-emerged with what looked like bright orange guns. "Here. Andromedan fire extinguisher. Point the nozzle at the base of the fire and pull this lever."

They hurtled towards the village, the Doctor using one hand to fish an official-looking card out of his pockets as they ran.

"Everyone freeze! Health and safety inspection!" The Doctor flashed the card at the startled crowd, then dived forward and shocked the growing flames into submission with a spray of white foam. Charley followed suit on the other side. "You are in violation of Regulation 7532 governing carbon combustion in open spaces."

"But we have a permit for the fire!"

"Ah, but not for the smoke. I see no record of form 7532-C on file." Then he muttered out of the side of his mouth, "Knife. Left front pocket." The Doctor aimed Charley at the prisoner. "We'll be taking her, of course, as evidence."

"Now wait just a minute..."

"No time!" The Doctor took the freed woman by one arm while Charley supported her on the other side and navigated back through the mob, brandishing his card as a shield. "Quick, Charley, back to the TARDIS."

"...that's a library card!" shouted the closest torch-wielding villager. "Get them!"

The Doctor dropped the card and the woman's arm to fire foam straight at the man's face. "Not today, thank you. Run!"

They barely made it back to the TARDIS ahead of the mob. The Doctor hit the dematerialization switch while the old woman collapsed, coughing and wheezing, into an armchair.

"Don't worry. We're safe here." Charley fetched the woman a cup of water. "This is the Doctor and I'm Charlotte Pollard."

"Felicity Chen, eternally in your debt," gasped the old woman once she could speak again.

"Well, we could hardly let them burn you at the stake," said Charley.

"Indeed," said the Doctor. "What did they have against you, Mrs. Chen?"

"I'm from off-world. Mistake. Meant to land at Saena Secundus."

Charley eyed the Doctor. "Just as well we left, then. 'Bucolic paradise,' you said?"

The Doctor coughed. "It's been a while since my last visit. I don't remember them being quite so xenophobic. Anyway. Saena Secundus, main spaceport. Will that do?"

"Wonderfully!"

The journey didn't take long. The old woman was recovered enough by then to hobble out on her own feet. She marvelled at the blue police box shape. "It's very compact."

"I find it convenient," said the Doctor.

"And the interior! A real eye-opener. A perfect home, except..." The old woman hesitated.

"Except what?" asked Charley.

"It's only my bad taste that I find any fault in it. Except it's lacking one thing. A Nine Happiness White Tiger Clock. Thank you so much for saving my life!" She grasped the Doctor's hand between both of hers. "Good bye!"

Mrs. Chen was soon lost in the anonymity of the spaceport.

The Doctor blinked at the glossy flyer he found himself holding.

"What's that?"

"'Come to the Grand Opening of the White Tiger Billion Goods Company,'" read the Doctor. "'Spend one thousand imperial flying tortoises and receive a free gift...'"

"Isn't that redundant?"

"'...of a special collector's edition of our famous Nine Happiness White Tiger Clock. Offer ends soon!'"

"It's a trap," suggested Charley.

"Probably not." The Doctor stared in bemusement at the illustration. "Who baits a trap with something so...kitsch?"

"Oh, please, Doctor. You can't be thinking of going?" Charley sighed. "So, what can you buy with one thousand imperial flying tortoises?"

"About one milligrain of jethrik, or a ten year subscription to the New Galactic Herald. Come on, Charley, let's go."

The journey took no longer than the previous one, though it spanned a greater distance.

"Here we are. Orange yellow green. Remember that." The Doctor nodded at the striped column next to the TARDIS. "I hate forgetting where I parked."

"In the middle of Kitchenware," said Charley. She frowned at the brightly lit displays. "Miles of shelves and not a shop assistant in sight."

"Oh, it's completely automated," explained the Doctor. "It's basically a vending machine the size of a small moon."

"Lovely. I can't say I care much for the background music. Or the merchandise. Do we really need a ---" Charley paused to read the label. "A Draconian egg slicer? Or a salamander grill? Or a cast iron karahi?"

"Mmm. Maybe not," conceded the Doctor. "Perhaps we'll find something more interesting...this way!" He strode off confidently in a random direction.

"Doctor! That wall. It moved!" Charley stopped in her tracks. "So this is a trap after all."

"Nonsense," scoffed the Doctor. "The place is fitted with smart shelves, that's all. They're all the rage in this time zone. A computer tracks your eye movements and deduces via a rather ingenious algorithm where your interests lie, then generates a path to maximize your expected spending."

"It's watching us? Ugh, what a thought!" Charley flung an arm over her eyes and tried to follow the Doctor without looking at anything.

She studied their fellow customers, instead. "Hmmm. Not much of a crowd, for a Grand Opening."

"Well, it's a big place. Besides, places like this, if it's not the Grand Opening, it's the Store Closing sale. I once knew a shop that was officially closing for over ten years."

"Never mind that. Doctor, that man over there looks just like you. I mean, exactly like you, except with shorter hair."

"What man? Oh, him." The Doctor sauntered up to his lookalike. "Hello, there. What do you think of this --- ah --- sonic bread machine?"

"Shuh shuh fablo!" said the man.

"I quite agree. It uses sound waves to make the dough rise. That'd come in handy in the Yeast Exclusion Zone."

"Wunka shoom. Aloka ha ha ha!"

"I see." The Doctor frowned and turned to Charley. "You're right, he does look like me."

"But what is he saying?" whispered Charley. "I thought the TARDIS translated everything."

"It can't translate what isn't there. He isn't really talking at all. In fact ---" The Doctor abruptly swung a hand right through the man's face. " --- he isn't there at all! Randomized holographic reflections, generated to make the customer feel at ease."

"It's creepy!"

"Ekili dekily," burbled the hologram. "Help. Help us. We can't get ---"

"Wait, what did you say? Doctor..."

"Yes, I heard."

The hologram hiccuped. "Ekili dekily. Help. Help us. We can't get." Blip. "Ekili dekily. Help..."

"Sounds like a message. But why is it repeating itself like that?"

"A sign of hasty programming," muttered the Doctor as his holographic reflection continued looping. He squinted up at the ceiling. "The projectors are up there. I wonder if I can access an interface... Charley, hold the shelf steady."

He hauled himself onto the nearest display and climbed. Charley grabbed the edge, but as she followed the Doctor's progress, the shelf slid away from under her hands.

"With your eyes, Charley! Keep your focus on the bread machine."

"Ah, right." She dropped her gaze to the machine. The hologram continued pleading behind her. She heard the whine of the sonic screwdriver, then a click.

"As I thought. Now if I can... Charley!" The Doctor scrambled for his footing as the shelf jerked beneath him.

"Sorry! But someone's coming!"

"Where?" The Doctor dropped to the ground with a thump. "It's Mrs. Chen!"

The old woman hobbled purposefully towards them, shelves parting before her.

"Is she a holo-whatsit too?"

"I doubt it. Or the shelves wouldn't register her presence."

The old woman shuffled to a stop before them. She raised her hands and clapped. The holograms disappeared from all around them in a fizz of static. "A glitch. The White Tiger Billion Goods Company apologizes for the inconvenience."

"Hello, Mrs. Chen." The Doctor smiled. "How pleasant to see you again!"

"'Again'? Forgive me, but you must be mistaken. We've never met."

"Of course we have," said Charley indignantly. "Of all the...wait. Doctor, do you think we've arrived here before she left?"

"No, it's not that."

"I understand." The old woman smiled. "Perhaps it was one of my sisters. We all look the same to you."

"No, it's not that, either," protested the Doctor. "Unless..."

"It's ok! No worries. I am here to welcome you to our Premium Membership Club." The old woman stepped forward to shake both of their hands simultaneously.

"Charley, keep back!" The Doctor dodged away, but Charley was a beat too slow.

"Ow!" Charley snatched her hand back when the old woman released it. The image of a tiger's snarling face was inked deeply into her palm. "That burns!"

The old woman reached for the Doctor. She said sternly, "The upgrade is mandatory!"

The Doctor looked at his hand. "You mean that literally, don't you?"

Then with his other hand, he aimed the sonic screwdriver at her head. It buzzed shrilly. The old woman crumpled. The Doctor caught her and opened a panel on the back of her skull. "And you really do look just like your 'sisters'."

"She's a robot?"

"Something like that." The Doctor fiddled with the controls. "I've switched her power off."

"And the one we met before?"

"Yes. That would explain...yes. The people of Saena Prime have an intense dislike for artificial life forms."

"I'll say. But she seemed so human!"

"In a way, she is." The Doctor frowned. "Hello, what's this? Emergency power?"

The old woman stirred, joints creaking. She croaked, "Emergency program...online. You must...leave...now. She is...marked. Danger."

The Doctor turned to Charley and seized her hand. "What kind of danger? Poison?"

The old woman stood. "Marked for special packaging. Must go to...Central processing." Her voice changed. "Help. Help us. We can't get out. The system won't let anyone leave. We're in Central, but the doors won't hold for long. I can't override the main computer, but I can hack into the emergency protocols and record a message, piggybacked on the PR droids."

"I see," said the Doctor.

"You do?"

"We have to get out of here." The Doctor pulled Charley after him. "Which way to Central?"

"This way." The old woman hurried away, shelves shifting away to give her a straight path. "Don't waver..."

The Doctor and Charley followed.

Then the ground began to vibrate. A deep rumble shook their bones. Something very large and very heavy was approaching.

Charley risked a quick glance over her shoulder. A vast machine rolled towards them, walls prostrating themselves before its bulk.

"The Mobile Packaging Unit!" cried the old woman. "It's homing in on her. Run!"

But more walls slammed shut, barring their escape. The Doctor pushed and glared at the shelves in vain. "They're locked."

"The packer projects an override signal."

Charley searched for something to defend herself with. She settled for what looked like a spear. "It says this Githarian lobster pick can cut through the diamond shells of Githarian lobsters. Let's see what it does to --- agh!"

The pick clattered aside as a scaly steel tendril wrapped itself around her wrist, then reeled her inexorably closer.

"Stop!" The old woman inserted herself between Charley and the machine, clamping her hands over the tendril. Charley felt a shock numb her arm, then staggered back, suddenly freed.

"This way!" The Doctor tugged at her wrist. "I've over-ridden the override."

"But..."

"Go!" said the old woman. "It will process me, first. That will take time."

"Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Chen!" The Doctor and Charley fled, leaving ominous hisses, grinding whirs, and squeals behind them. But without Mrs. Chen's inhuman gaze to hold their path, the walls turned mazelike again, veering this way and that.

"This won't do!" The Doctor extracted a red cricket ball from his pockets and sent it rolling before them. "Keep your eyes on the ball! Focus!"

At first it seemed to work. Then Charley found blurry images flickering around her, demanding her attention.

"Holographic pop-ups!" said the Doctor. "Ignore them!"

She tried. She could hear the rumbling noise of the machine catching up behind them, and tried not to think about what "processing" might entail.

"Ignore it! We're almost there."

Charley nailed her gaze to the red splotch of the ball. But wait! There were now two of them. Four. Eight. Which one to follow? She couldn't tell which one was real.

Then she realized she couldn't see the Doctor anymore.

"Charley!"

Steel whipped around her ankles. Her wrists. Her waist. Coils tightened.

Ice stung at the back of the neck.

Then white.

White.

Silence.

Nothing.

***

"Once upon a time," said the Doctor, "one of the programming geniuses of the White Tiger Trading Company, tired of implementing the headache-inducing algorithms developed by the marketing mathematicians, decided to simplify his work."

It took Charley a long time before she understood that she was awake.

"He said to himself, this genius, that it was obvious that the longer a customer spent shopping, the more they would buy. Thus all he had to do was to program the system to maximize everyone's stay in the White Tiger Billion Goods Trading Company."

It took even longer for her to remember who she was.

"Don't worry, the paralysis will wear off. But you see what went wrong. A careless definition of 'everyone' and 'maximize', and hey presto, the computer responded by packing everyone into stasis bottles and shelving them with the rest of the merchandise!"

Charley tried to speak, couldn't. So how did we get out?

"I reached Central while you were being packaged. After that, it was simple to shut the whole thing down. First, though, I had to get everyone out."

"How?"

"Ah. I ended up ordering the lot and having everyone delivered to the TARDIS! And do you know, it cost me just over one thousand imperial flying tortoises. And you know what that means!"

Charley finally forced her eyes open. A tiger-shaped clock ticked away on the console. "It's tiny! And...it doesn't match the rest of your decor."

The Doctor's face fell. "No. Isn't that the way it always is? Now, about that picnic I promised you..."

Arvak's Ransom (Doctor Who)

This is a story I wrote for the 2010 Big Finish Short Trips New Writers' Opportunity. As it was rejected, I'm posting it here for lack of anything better to do. :-) The limit was 2500 words (I barely made it!). Features the 7th and 8th Doctors and no companions.



Burning ice, biting flame; that is how life begins, say the storytellers. But this far from the origin, spacetime is a vast frozen darkness that breeds only monsters. It is so cold that even an icy wasteland like the fifth planet of the Arvak system can be considered an oasis of warmth and life.

But Gann, shivering with all his feathers fluffed inside a triply insulated environment suit, can only think how damned cold this planet is. He stands outside the sturdy dome that shelters his laboratory and watches the moon rise, cursing the waste as his body heat radiates into the void.

"That's the last moon," says Gann to his dog. They are the only two lifeforms on Arvak 5, and the dog is questionable. It certainly has no comprehension of Gann's words, being guided by a harness of delicately woven threads of coded light. "The last one, so this must be our final test."

The thing that Gann thinks of as his dog wags the conceptual equivalent of a tail and licks at Gann's gauntleted hand.

"Good dog, Sig, there's a good dog," says Gann. He knows it's a mistake to think of the creature as anything other than "Experimental Subject Sigma", especially given the failures of "Alpha" through "Rho", but he can't help himself. He checks the time, double-checks the coordinates, triple-checks the instructions, then finally allows himself to input the command sequence.

"Experimental Subject Sigma, ready and go dog go!"

The dog is gone from his side. Like a fading thought, like a shadow falling, it is gone without any hint of movement or existence.

Gann stares up through his visor at the moon, tracing his dog's path in his mind. He holds his breath, then lets it out in a laugh. The dog is already back. Has always been there. "You did it? Of course you did! Good dog."

Gann can hardly sleep that night. The next night will give him his proof.

The next night, Gann and his dog are outside again, watching the moon.

Halfway up the sky, the moon loses its lustre and slowly, slowly balloons outwards into a cloud of dust.

Gann is mesmerized. His dog has defied time and space to chase down tomorrow's moon, yesterday. It can fetch him anything from anywhere in this system, destroy anything, at any moment in his week. But Gann needs more. He triple-checks the next program, activates the command. "It's time, Sig. Time to go after the dragon!"

The dog flickers out of existence once more.

Gann gazes up towards the empty sector of space where once the fourth planet of the Arvak system would have spun. Not completely empty: it holds the sludge of dying thoughts from which he fished what would become Experimental Subject Sigma. And it holds his own past.

***

"What can I get you, sir?" The boy Gann couldn't help but stare at the stranger, because he had never seen anyone as strange as this: featherless and pale, covered in heavy white clothes unmarked by clan insignia and wearing a barbarian's hat. A furled umbrella leaned against his chair. The boy wondered why he needed an umbrella when he already had a hat.

"Ah, hello!" The man smiled, doffing the hat. "I'll be having one of your famous hravelberry pastries. The best in the galaxy, so I've heard."

"Right away, sir." It didn't take long to fetch the plate from the kitchen, but the man wasn't at his table anymore.

He was standing at the window, staring up at the sky. He spoke in a low, urgent voice, without turning around. "It's wrong. All wrong. Can't you hear it?"

"Hear what?" asked the boy, unsure what to do with the plate. "Sir, I have your order..."

"They're coming. The TARDIS... must return to the TARDIS." The man turned and glared fiercely at the boy, then hurried out the door. Once outside, he broke into a run, one hand clapped over his hat.

On impulse, the boy ran after him, still holding the plate. "Hey! Wait!"

The man disappeared into a tall, blue shed on the side of the road. The boy was surprised to see it, as it hadn't been there that morning. Even so, he knocked on what he guessed to be the door. "Sir? Your order..."

The door opened. "No. Not order. Chaos! Pure chaos."

The hooked handle of the umbrella caught the boy around the elbow. He cried out in surprise, dropping his plate, but the man dragged him into the shed before he could recover. He didn't even notice the doors shutting behind him. "But...but it's..."

"I know, I know, bigger on the inside," said the stranger. "I'm called the Doctor, by the way. Brace yourself."

"Why?" Even as the word left his beak, the ground shuddered under him, throwing him to the floor, where he slid until his back hit a wall. From this unaccustomed angle, he watched the Doctor race around the central pillar, hands frantically working the controls of this strange machine. It must be a machine. No animal ever made such a hideous, grinding cry.

"No!" The Doctor slammed a fist into the controls. "Too late. They must have scented the TARDIS and jumped the timelines ahead of us. I'm too late. I've failed you, boy. All of you. I'm sorry."

Bewildered, the boy crawled to the doors. He couldn't find a handle, so he pried at the edges. "Please, let me out."

"I can't."

"But Cook will be missing me."

"No."

"Then I have to go home. My parents..."

"They're gone, too. I'm sorry," he repeated.

"Everyone?" The boy wasn't sure what he was asking, but something in the Doctor's voice filled him with horror.

"Everyone."

The boy was stunned. Unable to grasp it.

"Everyone. Your whole planet. Millions of species. Now gone forever." His voice dropped, but the anger remained. "And they'll move on. Find another planet. And do it again. And again..."

"Can't you stop them?"

"Oh yes. I can stop them."

***

The creature that isn't a dog follows the track of the dragon that flies through the Vortex. Its quarry is far out of reach, but it will cross Sigma's path in its passage from tomorrow to yesterday.

When the dragon tumbles into view, the dog leaps out and tears into its belly. It wears the shape of a small blue box, but Sigma can feel the fire barely contained inside it, more powerful than any moon. It is too strong to be wrenched from its trajectory. The dog howls in frustration, refusing to release its grip. It chews its way through the armored hide of the dragon, searching for the heart that defies its will.

"Who are you? What are you?" The blinding light at the heart of the dragon has a voice. It has form and mass. It is a creature like and yet unlike the dog's master. For the first time in its life, Sigma hears the meaning in the vibrations in the air, understands it as a transmission of thought from mind to mind.

"Who are you? What are you?" Sigma recreates the sounds in its own form.

"I'm the Doctor. And I'm beginning to understand what you must be." The Doctor pauses, then says, "You're not at all what I expected to find here."

"Here. Here. Here." Sigma tugs at the dragon's tail.

"I see. You want me to come with you? Very well." The light dims from around the Doctor.

***

Gann watches the TARDIS materialize inside his laboratory. Sigma melts from around its outer shell and comes to his heel. "Oh, well done. I hardly believe it..."

The door clicks open and a man steps out.

"You're not the Doctor!"

"I've changed." The man frowns at the gun pointed at his chest. "And so have you. Gann, isn't it? What are you doing here? I thought I left you on a peaceful world far from here, with people to care for you."

"And they did. They were very kind. Don't think me ungrateful." Gann studies the stranger, finds something familiar in his strangeness. But he doesn't lower his gun. "They gave me a second chance at life. I made a fortune with a chain of patisseries, with my recipe for hravelberry puffs. Lucky for me I had a handful of dried berries in my pockets that day. Cook used to scold me for that. But it turned out to be a genetic treasure."

"But you're not a pastry chef now." The Doctor nods at the equipment stacked around them. "You've taken up engineering, I see. I like your dog."

"Sigma? He's an excellent dog, yes, but his range is limited to this solar system. He's missing quite a bit of his structure, despite my patching him up." Gann smiles and scratches the dog around its ears. Light flickers in contented lines over its body.

"Of course. But why go to all that trouble?"

"What a weapon he makes."

"Yes, I did notice a distinct lack of moons around this planet. I seem to recall there were once seven of them." The Doctor gazes steadily at Gann. "What happened to you, Gann?"

"When I grew up, I wanted to travel. So I did, once I had the money. And do you know what I saw in my travels?"

The Doctor's eyes darken, but he doesn't answer.

"Whole worlds stripped, civilizations destroyed, all to feed the Empire. What happened to my world wasn't an anomaly." Gann struggles to keep his voice even.

"What do you want from me, Gann?"

"The same thing I wanted before!"

***

"It's beautiful." A crystal glowed hypnotically in a nest of wires strung from the central pillar. Without realizing it, the boy leaned closer and closer.

The Doctor pulled him back. "Careful. It's more than just a pretty rock."

"What is it?" The boy couldn't tear his gaze away.

"A phase-modulated crystalline matrix. I've caught the void creatures inside it. They're really little more than a collection of cleverly woven equations. Mathematical lifeforms in the vast reaches of spacetime."

"It glows..." The boy saw patterns. Ghostly images. It should show him nightmares, he thought, but instead it filled him with longing.

"Because it's not entirely stable. It gives off light when the information trapped inside decays. What you see is its slow death."

"Are the monsters dead?" The boy blinked and forced himself to turn away.

"Not yet." The Doctor pointed up at the window set high in the wall. It looked out onto a writhing darkness, against a background of more darkness, with the faintest glimmer of stars around its edges. "I've stripped away their motion, but their shadow lingers. It will be gone after a century or so."

"Good," said the boy. "I'm glad."

The Doctor sighed. He began to detach the wires from the glowing crystal. "This will last considerably longer."

"Can I have it?"

"No! It's far too dangerous. No. All the power of those creatures, distilled into one handy container. I can't let it fall into the wrong hands."

"But what's wrong with my hands?" protested the boy. "Those monsters ate the world. I'm the only person left. I don't have anything else. Why can't I have /that/?"

"It would destroy you."

"But I want it."

The Doctor shook his head.

***

"You mean this?" The Doctor, this new Doctor, twists his hand around in a magician's flourish. The white crystal glows between his fingers.

Gann's feathers prickle. The shock of seeing the crystal again mutes him for the space of several breaths. He can feel Sigma quiver at his side. "Yes..."

"Pretty little thing, isn't it?" The Doctor gazes into the light. "Tell me, what did you see in it, when you first looked into it, all those years ago?"

"Possibility." The light stirs old memories in Gann's head, revives forgotten dreams.

"Whereas I looked into it and saw danger. But perhaps you were right all along..." The Doctor shades his eyes with his other hand and looks back at Gann. "And now? What do you see in it now?"

"Power!" Gann snaps his beak in emphasis.

"Power? Is that what you want?" The Doctor's voice turns weary, but still he asks, "Why?"

"What happened to my world wasn't an anomaly," Gann says again. "The strong destroy the weak. I learned that, Doctor. You destroyed those monsters, but you leave the bigger ones to thrive on the blood of the innocent. Why? Don't you have the stomach to finish the job? Well, I do."

"Bravo. You do realize I can't allow you to trample over the web of time like that."

"Allow? Doctor, I'm the one holding the gun." Gann steels himself to fire it.

"So you are. So why haven't you shot me yet?"

"I don't want to kill you."

"I don't particularly want to die."

"But I will shoot. So hand it over."

"Mm. I don't think so." The Doctor turns abruptly, and in the same motion raises his arm and hurls the crystal away. "Here, Sigma! Fetch!"

The crystal vanishes before it hits the ground. Gann catches a glimpse of the dog's jaws snapping shut around it, then nothing more. "What have you done?"

"I've given them their heart back. With a few small modifications." The Doctor turns back to Gann. "I imagine Sigma is on his way to deliver it to his kin. Out there."

"You're insane! They'll kill us all...unless...can you control them?"

"No."

"But you said, you said you modified the crystal."

"Yes. I taught them to hear our languages. Now that they understand that sentience can arise even in beings of mass and matter, they can choose not to prey on inhabited planets."

"They're monsters! They won't care," says Gann. "Why? Why did you do it?"

"Because I've destroyed worlds, too. I've wiped out entire races. But I'm tired of death." The Doctor looks upward, where one can see through the top of the dome to an empty patch of sky where a planet might have been, once. "I do what I can to save lives, but I can't do everything. And sometimes I make mistakes."

"You're making a mistake now! How can you take such a risk?"

"How can you? You lived here with one of them by your side as your faithful companion, for what, years now?"

"That's different...I could control him."

"Is that what you think? But you're wrong. And that's why I choose to take the risk." The Doctor steps back into the TARDIS. "Good-bye, Gann."

The TARDIS fades, leaving only echoes behind.

Gann drops his gun at last and sits on the floor, head bowed. Waiting for the monsters to come.

Some time later, a cold semi-material nose nudges at the back of his neck.

"Sigma! You came back."

Space is dark and space is bleak, but on a icy planet far from the Empire, a boy and his dog sit together, seeing possibilities.