second chances

by ryan twombly
Copyright © 2002 by the author. Reproduction of any kind is forbidden.

 
“Lovely day for a drive, don’t you think, Liz?”

“Lovely,” agreed Liz Shaw, “but must we go so fast?”

“Sorry, what was that?” said the Doctor.

Liz raised her voice above the sound of the wind rushing past and the steady hum of Bessie’s modified engine. “I said, ‘Must we really go so fast?'”

The Doctor cupped a hand around his ear. “Hmm?”

“I said, ‘DO WE REALLY HAVE TO GO…'” – at that the Doctor flipped a switch and all external noise abruptly ceased – “SO…fast,” she finished, letting her last word drop.

“No need to shout, Liz,” said the Doctor, and flashed her his most cherubic grin. He slowed them down.

“Really, Doctor. You know I hate to side with the Brigadier, but upon the subject of your driving I’m afraid he’s got you dead to rights. You’re reckless.”

“Oh come, Liz, you sound every bit the mother hen.”

“He hates it when you call him that.”

“Yes. But really; you know how maneuverable Bessie can be in a pinch…or is it my driving skill you distrust?”

“You know it isn’t, Doctor. But you treat these back-country roads as if they were your own personal raceway.”

The Doctor harrumphed and toggled the noise filter. The clamor of their passage cut off speech.

Liz sat back, a slight smirk playing up the corners of her mouth. The Doctor flipped the filter on again.

“And besides,” he said, “if there were any moving objects within a three mile radius, Bessie would pick them out on her proximity sensors.” He tapped a finger on a green crystal display Liz had never noticed before. “See? All clear.” He smiled smugly and switched the noise on again.

Liz switched it off. “What’s that then?”

“What?”

“I saw a blip.”

“It’s gone now. Must have just skimmed our periphery.” He went to flip the switch but Liz batted his hand away.

“No, it was quite near the center and moving toward us, I’m sure.”

“You’re imagining things, Liz.”

“There it is again,” she said, and pointed.

“And gone again,” said the Doctor, but he tapped at the dial with a knuckle. “Possibly there could be a fault in the system.”

“Is it your system, Doctor? Then I think it’s very possible.”

Before he could reply, Bessie’s proximity alarm gave a sharp buzzing. Liz said, “Doctor! Look out!” as they clipped the figure that seemed to materialize from nothing and sent him sprawling in the dust.

The Doctor was at his side before Liz had managed her lap belt. She rushed to join him with the medical bag.

“He’s alive,” said the Doctor. “There’s a bit of a concussion and these ribs are broken.” He took the man’s pinkie finger between his own thumb and index. “Hmm. That is rather more serious.” From the medical bag he produced Bessie’s remote control unit. At the touch of a button, the deceptively ancient roadster slipped into reverse and crossed the span between them, settled into a gentle idle, and opened its driver side door. The Doctor slipped the control unit back into the bag.

He started to stand up, but something down the embankment caught his attention.

“What is it, Doctor?”

He pointed. A few feet from where they crouched was a ring of white mushrooms.

“A faerie circle?” said Liz.

“Yes,” said the Doctor, “Fascinating.” Then he turned his attention back to the injured man. “Now, my dear, would you take his feet please?”

•   •   •

The stranger was tall, and spilled over the limits of Bessie’s back seat. The Doctor propped his feet up to accommodate the broken ribs. They sped along the roads at a furious pace, the Doctor commenting, “Let’s hope no other phantoms pop up.”

None did. Half way back to HQ, however, Liz felt a tingling at the back of her neck. She glanced over her shoulder.

“Doctor! He’s gone!”

“What?” said the Doctor. As he turned about, the man faded back into view. “It’s worse than I thought. Hold on, Liz.” With that, he put the pedal to the floor.

•   •   •

“Mind the door Sergeant.”

“Doctor,” said Liz, rounding the corner into the Doctor’s lab, “are you sure we shouldn’t attend to his injuries first?”

They loaded the man onto a table, “His physical ailments won’t matter if he ceases to exist in time, Liz.”

“Is that likely to happen?”

“It will certainly happen unless I intervene.”

“Right,” said Liz, and joined the Doctor at untangling the mass of wires running from TARDIS console. “Anything we’re looking for?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Central lead to the temporal stabilizer circuit. Great clunky thing made up of two lines and an insulated grip…white with black markings, I think.”

“Like this?”

“Well done, Liz,” said he, and took it from her hands. He twisted a sort of knob imbedded in the grip and split it into its two halves.

Sergeant John Benton looked a bit fidgety. “Perhaps I’ll just be making my report to the Brigadier, then,” he said.

“No time, Sergeant,” said the Doctor. “I’ll need your help to carry this out. Here.” He thrust one half of the stabilizer into Benton’s hand. The other lead he passed to Liz and strode over to the TARDIS console. They watched as he adjusted a dizzying array of buttons and switches. “Now, the both of you, your parts in this procedure are vitally important. This man is phasing in and out of time itself, and unless I intervene, he’ll soon cease to exist entirely. I’m going to attempt to adjust his temporal harmonics….”

“The oscillations of his atoms that anchor him to a particular time dimension?”

“Spot on, Liz. To do that, I need a control subject – that’s you, Sergeant Benton. Your purpose is to provide a model for the proper harmonic frequency.”

“How’s that, sir?” asked Benton.

“Simple, Sergeant. I want you to press that lead to your forehead and keep it there until I tell you.”

“Right,” said Benton, and did it.

The Doctor looked up at Liz. “Now, Liz, your function in this is purely mechanical. I want you to press the other lead to our friend’s forehead and make sure it stays steady throughout the procedure.” He punched a final key and the console came alive with an electric hum.

“Alright, Doctor. Like this?”

The Doctor rested a hand upon the console as if feeling it for heat then swung himself down to the floor. “Just fine, Liz,” he said without looking, and used his sonic screwdriver to open a panel beneath the console. “Now, you two, it is absolutely essential those leads stay in place, no matter what. Is that clear?”

“Yes.”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. And Liz, by no means are you to come in contact with the unshielded portion of the wire during the procedure.”

Liz nodded.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Benton, still holding the wire to his head. “Have you done this before?”

The Doctor paused in his work. “As far as I know, Sergeant, no one has ever done this before.”

“Doctor!” Liz Shaw exclaimed. Two pairs of eyes joined hers in looking at the stranger. Bits of him were swiftly fading away.

“Hold on!” said the Doctor. He reached into the console innards and pulled on something vital.

•   •   •

The stranger’s eyes opened to the white walls of the infirmary.

“You’re awake,” said Liz, closing the book in her lap.

“Am I?”

He stared at her, and Liz shifted nervously under his gaze.

“No,” he said at last. “I must be dreaming.”

“How do you feel?” said Liz.

He didn’t answer. Liz found him handsome, in a helpless sort of way. His face was neither striking nor entirely forgettable, but she had stared long enough to find it likeable.

“Where am I?”

“HQ,” said Liz, “United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.”

“UNIT,” said the stranger.

“Yes, that’s right. Do you remember what happened to you?”

“Yes,” he said. “The Doctor.”

That startled Liz. “You know the Doctor? But how? Oh…you mean the doctor who attended your injuries.”

“No,” said the stranger. “I mean the Doctor. Your Doctor, Liz.”

She jumped to her feet. “But how could you…I mean…have we met?”

With an effort, the stranger pushed himself into a sitting position. “You wouldn’t remember. I’m not sure I can explain, Liz. We did know each other quite well, but that was before. It’s all been undone now.” He sank again into the bed.

“I don’t know what you’re saying….”

“The Doctor, Liz. He did this to me – though I’m sure he’ll put it down to an accident.”

Liz sat. “Perhaps you’d best start at the beginning. Tell me just who you are and how you know the Doctor.”

He fixed her with a deep stare. She was struck by something in his eyes, a quality of endlessness that she’d only seen in the eyes of the white-haired adventurer who’d swept into her life and shown her the limitations of her philosophy. Not much surprised her now that the Doctor was in her life.

“It doesn’t begin with the Doctor, Liz. It begins with you.”

Occasionally, though, surprises did come along.

•   •   •

The two men made their way toward Benton. It struck him that they might be a pair of mismatched socks, the one a silk knee-high, the other freshly starched and pure military issue. But the thought didn’t stop him from snapping to attention.

“Ah, Sergeant,” said the Brigadier. “Is Miss Shaw about?”

“Yes sir,” said Benton. “She’s attending to Mr. Doyle.”

The Doctor said, “And how are you feeling, Sergeant?”

“Just fine, sir. Bit of a scorch here.” He indicated a black circle the size of a half-crown on his forehead.

“Good, good,” said the Doctor distantly and slipped past him into the infirmary.

The Brigadier looked Benton up and down. “Aren’t you supposed to be on bed rest, Sergeant?”

“No sir…I mean, yes sir, but I’m fit for duty now, sir.”

The Brigadier locked his hands behind his back. “Your duty, Sergeant, is to be ready to spring into action at a moments notice. That readiness requires that you be well rested, so I am ordering you to take the rest of the day off. Is that clear?”

Benton saluted sharply. “Yes sir.”

The Brigadier gave a final nod and followed the Doctor inside.

Benton hesitated for a moment, and was rewarded when Liz came out the door, a round tin resting in her hand.

“Gave you the boot too, Miss?”

“What?” said Liz. She turned her head toward him, but her eyes didn’t follow.

“I meant, they sent you out, Miss?”

“Oh…yes,” she said. “All too top-secret for my sensitive ears, I suppose.”

“I’m sure it’s for the best, Miss. The Brig’ll get things sorted out.”

Liz doubted that, but she wasn’t about to upset the Sergeant’s boyish faith. “Perhaps,” she said. “Are you on duty, Sergeant?”

Benton straightened unconsciously. “No, Miss. Brigadier’s orders.”

“The Doctor thought your forehead might benefit from a bit of this salve. I could apply it, if you like.”

“Thank you, Miss,” he said with a little stutter. “And perhaps you could fill me in on just what’s going on, I mean with Mr. Doyle and all. I’m really in the dark.”

Liz couldn’t help but smile at his awkwardness, and it was a welcome distraction from that which troubled her. “Would there be any coffee involved in this transaction, Mr. Benton?”

“If you like, Miss.”

“After you, then.”

•   •   •

The coffee was awful, but she scarcely noticed. They had taken a table close to the wall, away from most of the cafeteria’s other patrons. It was probably a pointless precaution, surrounded as they were by professional soldiers, but Liz preferred to keep to herself, as usual.

“So he’s another time traveler, like the Doctor?” said Benton.

“Not exactly. James was the Doctors assistant, recruited out of Cambridge just as I was. Only I wasn’t, in his reality. He says he tried to recruit me himself, but the Brigadier wouldn’t stretch the budget.”

Benton chuckled. “That bit sounds right. But what do you mean, ‘his reality’?”

“Just as it sounds. James comes from some sort of divergent timeline, one nearly identical to ours as far as we can tell. He crossed over to our dimension during the Inferno affair. You remember? The Doctor entered a parallel universe with his TARDIS console. In James’ timeline he was with the Doctor, and somehow he got shaken off. He says he could feel himself traveling backwards, wiping himself out of the past as he went. That was in my first interview, and the Doctor says it’s entirely possible.”

“Over my head, I’m afraid, Miss.”

“Over mine too, Sergeant, believe me.” She stared into her half-empty mug.

Awkward though he was, Benton could tell there was more to the story than Liz was telling. “Did he say anything about us, I mean about the Brigadier, UNIT and whatnot?”

That was Benton, thought Liz, always on about military secrets. “Not much,” she said briskly.

“And what about you, Liz?”

That snapped her head up. “Me?”

“Yes, Miss. You said this Doyle knew you at Cambridge, right?”

She took a deep breath. “Yes. We were…quite close.”

Benton adjusted his perfectly straight tie. “It’s not my place to say, Miss, but it seems to me that if Mr. Doyle does come from a sort of…alternate timeline, he ought not to push himself onto ours. You see my meaning? He can’t expect everything to be the same here as where he’s from.”

Liz wondered if he was being cruel, but the look on his face was one of deep sincerity. He couldn’t meet her eyes, but seemed to be trying very hard to explain his point to her coffee.

He said, “Well, I’ll leave you to your thoughts.”

“No,” said Liz, lifting her head, “stay, please. Maybe you can be a model for my harmonic frequency.”

He deliberately rubbed at his burnt forehead and Liz laughed sympathetically.

•   •   •

The Doctor bent over the console, frustration showing across his forehead. “I simply can’t understand how this could have happened.”

“It was an accident, Doctor. You have to stop blaming yourself.”

He looked across the room at her. “I suppose you’re right, Liz. If only I could convince James of that.”

As if on cue, James entered the room, propelled by Sergeant Benton. One of Benton’s hands held his arm, and in the other was his pistol.

“I found him snooping about outside, Doctor,” said Benton.

“I wasn’t snooping,” said James. He added an “Ow!” as the pressure on his arm increased. “I was coming to see the Doctor.”

“And here I am,” said the Doctor. He crossed the room to them, and applied a bit of gentle pressure to the Sergeant’s elbow joint, freeing James. Then he addressed himself to Benton’s revolver. “I think that’s quite enough for now, Sergeant.”

He hesitated, but finally said, “Right, sir,” and lowered his weapon. Benton gave Liz a hard look and said, “Well, I have other duties to attend to, then.” He backed out the way he had come.

James stood shaking his arm, plainly furious. “Schoolyard ruffian,” he growled.

“He means well,” said the Doctor calmly. Surely you had a Sergeant Benton in your own timeline, James?”

“Yes,” James said, simply. “Our paths didn’t cross much.”

“Well, that is interesting,” said the Doctor, all the self-loathing gone from his voice. “We see quite a bit of Sergeant Benton, on a daily basis, in fact. And you say it wasn’t that way in your timeline?”

James hesitated, and scuffed his feet half a step in retreat before answering. “Well…it’s not as if I never saw him, we just…weren’t familiar.”

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “That’s fine, of course, James, but it is interesting. If you were my assistant, as Liz is now, your not encountering the Sergeant is rather of a peculiar variation between the timelines, wouldn’t you say? But I suppose we forget, sometimes, how much our own behavior colors our destiny.”

James gave him an offhand smile. “I suppose you’re right, Doctor. Our own desires, hungers – they can make a change.”

“Yes.”

Liz stepped into the Doctor’s path. “I really don’t know what you two are on about.” She turned to James. “I’m sorry about Benton, James. He’s a bit overzealous. But should you really be up? Those ribs need time to heal.”

“No worries, Liz. I’m fit as a fiddle.”

“Well, I’ll believe that when I hear it from the medics. Come along now, Mr. Doyle,” she said, and steered him one-hundred-and-eighty degrees about. “It’s back to the infirmary for you.”

They began to leave but Liz looked back. “Will you be needing me, Doctor?”

“Oh, no,” said the Time Lord. “I believe there may be something illuminating for me to read in the TARDIS libraries. I’ll be there for awhile, I think.”

“Very well, Doctor.”

They made it nearly out the door, but the Doctor spoke up. “Oh, James?”

“What?”

“What was it you were coming to see me about?”

“Ah.” He coughed slightly, glanced at Liz and said, “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for the way I received you yesterday. It was…an accident, my coming here. I don’t blame you anymore.”

“Thank you, James,” said the Doctor. “That comes as a great comfort. Carry on.”

James held out a hand, but the Doctor ignored it.

“Goodbye, Doctor,” said Liz through gritted teeth.

“Goodbye.”

He stared at the empty doorway for a minute after they had gone, then vanished into the cavernous depths of the TARDIS.

•   •   •

“It was like…falling backwards and seeing the ceiling pull away from you. Only the ceiling was my ‘now’ and as I fell the now went farther away. And it wasn’t like remembering. I lived my life again, only in reverse. At one point, I remember quite distinctly, I felt a spider that once I had crushed between my hands come back to life. Anyway, all at once it came to me that I shouldn’t to be looking up at where I was falling from, but down to where I might be landing. Of course, I’ve no idea if that realization had anything to do with it, but suddenly I was face to face with a young boy whom I didn’t recognize. I reached out to him, and he, like a mirror, stretched his hands out to me.”

Liz, on the very edge of the bed, felt all the blood rush from her face.

“Then I remembered. I remembered being the boy, and seeing my face coming to me at night; and then…nothing. It was as if sound and light died at that moment, and everything after was silence and dark. Then I was catapulted back the way I had come. But this time there were no ‘old times’ to light the way, only a black expanse where my life had been. And then I was back here, in a field close to where you and the Doctor discovered me. Only I wasn’t all there at first. I was like an apparition unable to touch anything or even be seen.”

“That’s horrible,” said Liz.

“Yes,” said James, “But at least it gave me the opportunity to work out what had happened to me. It’s strange. Part of my brain tells me I’m as I was before the accident, and it’s the world that’s gone wrong. The other part says it all ended when I was eight, when I saw that face. Everything after is blackness. It’s like having double vision, but being blind in one eye.”

There was a long pause, which Liz broke. “James, you said before that we were intimate, the way you remember things.”

He nodded. “You were the first thing I remembered, Liz.” He took her hand. “Your skin, your eyes…and this.”

Very slowly, James brushed a kiss against her wrist. He spread her palm and kissed her there, then took her fingers and licked gently the division between each pair.

A shiver shook Liz and she jerked her hand free. Clutching it to her breast, she rushed from the room.

•   •   •

Liz tried to gather her thoughts at the footbridge that spanned the creek across a corner of HQ grounds. She came here to escape her work and the Doctor, both of which she generally adored, but which sometimes became too much for her.

Liz bent over the railing as far as her long legs would allow, put her hand in front of her face, and stared between her fingers into the water below. In this position, her chestnut-brown hair cut off the rest of the world. So it startled her when Benton cleared his throat.

“Oh, John. You scared me,” she said.

“Sorry to frighten you, Miss.”

Liz did her best to look dignified. “Nothing of it, Sergeant.”

“You…weren’t planning to jump, were you, Miss?”

“Oh, ha ha,” said Liz, though she wasn’t at all certain he was joking. “I was just…clearing my head.”

Benton dug his hands into his pockets. “Of course, Miss,” he said. “I was hoping to have a word with you.”

“Oh,” said Liz, “you came looking for me, then?”

“Well…yes, Miss. I mean, I knew where to find you, so….”

“How, Sergeant?” said Liz. “How did you know where to find me?”

“The bridge Miss. I’ve noticed you come here, sometimes.”

“Oh,” said Liz, and dropped her eyes back to the water flowing underneath their feet. “I didn’t realize anyone knew. I….”

“Just me, Miss.”

She straightened up, and tried giving him a smile. “Ah. Well I suppose I owe you my thanks then, Mr. Benton.”

“Miss?”

“For not giving away my big secret. That Liz Shaw has to hang off a bridge to be alone with her thoughts.” She decided to tease him a little. “You haven’t been following me around base, have you Mr. Benton?”

Benton’s jaw flopped open. He said, “No, miss,” with a look of utter horror.

Liz laughed. The Benton situation was coming into focus for her. “It’s alright, Benton, really. Only, if you wanted to spy you could at least have told me. I might have liked the company. What was it you wanted to say to me?”

Benton breathed deeply. “Well, Miss, it’s about this Doyle chap.”

“James? What about James?”

“Well, it’s just…he was snooping about the Doctor’s lab this morning, despite what he said. I know a man’s bearing when he’s trying not to be seen or heard, and he – I mean Mr. Doyle – was defiantly trying to sneak around, as if he wanted to know if you or the Doctor were about.”

Liz shook her head. “But why, Sergeant? What interest would James have in the Doctor’s equipment? I mean, he was the Doctor’s assistant in his timeline, but he couldn’t understand much more about it than I do. Even the Doctor doesn’t know how to work most of it! So what could he possibly have been interested in?”

“That’s just it. I don’t think he was interested in the equipment. I think he was hoping to find you alone.”

“Me?” said Liz. She didn’t even notice the conspicuous absence of the word ‘Miss’ in his speech. “That’s foolish, Benton.” She turned her back on him.

“I’m sorry Liz, but I don’t trust him. It’s nothing I can put my finger on, but something about Doyle doesn’t sit right with me. I didn’t feel it right away, but when I first say you talking…something about him seemed familiar, and not in a good way. I mean familiar like an Auton would be, if ever I met one again.”

Liz turned to face him again. “I can’t believe you’re acting this way – so childish, petty, jealous. Yes, that’s it. You’re jealous of the time James and I have been spending together.”

“Liz….”

“Don’t try to deny it. I think your conduct has been disgraceful, Sergeant. You should be ashamed.”

She set off for the nearest door back into HQ.

“Liz, please….”

“Not another word, John. You’ve said quite enough.”

She reached the door, but before she could key her entry code, it opened by itself. Or rather, by the action of James Doyle from inside.

“Liz,” he said, obviously surprised. He spotted the Sergeant moving up behind her. “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Not at all, James,” said Liz. “Mr. Benton and I are quite finished.”

“Well then, perhaps you’d like to give me the tour of the grounds.” He looked at Benton. “It is alright for me to walk around, I gather, provided I’m accompanied by UNIT personnel.”

“Yes,” said Liz, “it certainly is.”

James smiled. “Oh, good. I’m fascinated to see what sort of things might be different from the way I remember them.”

“Then let’s make it the grand tour.” With that, she took his arm in hers and led James off. He nodded at Benton, but she didn’t look back or say good-bye.

The Sergeant watched until they were out of sight around the corner, then entered the building. He started for his office, but instead turned down the hall toward the Doctor’s lab. When he turned in, he nearly collided with the Brigadier.

“Watch where you’re going, Benton!”

“Sorry, sir. I was just coming to see the Doctor.”

The Doctor spoke from behind the Brigadier. “And your timing couldn’t be better, Sergeant. I was just about to show Lethbridge-Stewart where our guest Mr. Doyle comes from.”

They joined the Doctor at the console, where he was frowning at a display panel. It displayed a flat plane, done in wire-frame, and covered in ripples. The ripples weren’t static, but washed over and through each other, colliding in seemingly random patterns.

“What is all that, Doctor?”

“That, Brigadier, is a slice of time viewed lengthwise. The ripples are temporal incursions – time travel outside of the usual dimension.”

“Ah,” said the Brigadier.

“Now watch closely,” said the Doctor, and he zoomed in on a particular quadrant.

Benton didn’t know what he was meant to be looking at, but after a few repetitions of the pattern he caught on. One ripple, in the center of the display, was pulsing higher than the rest. It seemed to be more rounded on the top as well. He pointed. “There, Doctor?”

The Doctor nodded. “Well done, Benton. The military mentality hasn’t quite destroyed your scientific mind.”

“So what is it, Doctor?”

“It’s an arrival, Brigadier, from outside our physical dimension. It is the incursion pattern of some creature so powerful it can walk the high planes with the casual air of a bootblack on holiday. And the incursion occurs at precisely the time-space coordinates that mark James Doyle’s appearance.”

“Are you telling me that this Doyle chap is some sort of alien?”

“Alien indeed, Brigadier! Alien to our whole universe, and one who is obviously veiling his purposes.”

Benton took a long step backwards. “Sir! I’ve just sent him off alone with Miss Shaw!”

“What?” exclaimed the Doctor. “We’ve no time to lose! Liz may be in grave danger!”

•   •   •

They requisitioned a car without the usual hassles, since James remembered enough about the service man at the desk to chat him up on the Reds. It was one of the under-cover vehicles, coal-black and well fitted. Liz sank luxuriantly into the leather upholstery.

James had told her, shortly after they’d left Benton, that he didn’t give a toss about seeing the grounds, but wanted desperately to get off base. He knew a pub in the village that she’d only heard about. “You love it, Liz. I mean, you will love it.”

“So was that the sort of girl I was in your timeline? The sort to frequent drinking establishments and the like?”

“Not at all,” he assured her, “but perhaps I had a bit of an influence on you.”

It felt good to laugh, and with James beside her she felt supremely comfortable doing so. She had no fear of some bug-eyed monster popping its head around the corner in the next moment. It was as this thought crossed her mind that she’d noticed James’ breathing, his labored intake and slow exhalation.

“James, are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” said James, but he didn’t sound fine.

Liz reached toward his wrist, intent on checking his pulse. “Maybe you should pull over.”

“I said I’m fine, Liz.”

“But your breathing….”

Suddenly he lashed out with his left arm and knocked her hand away. The blow struck her face as well, and was strong enough to throw her against the passenger door. Oddly, though, the moment after her shock subsided she was sure he hadn’t actually touched her, only swept his arm in her direction.

Liz wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth. Her jaw ached, but it wasn’t broken.

“James,” she said, with neither fear nor surprise.

The creature, whatever it was, turned its head toward her. It had taken both hands from the wheel but seemed to be in control without them. “I really am fine, Liz,” it said. “Just very, very hungry.”

•   •   •

“Just what are we up against, sir?” asked Benton. It was the first he’d spoken to the Doctor since leaving HQ.

The Doctor gave him a quick glance. “I’m afraid I can’t give you a simple answer, Sergeant. I believe it to be a Chronovore, but not of a variety I have encountered before.”

“And that worries you, Doctor?”

“Naturally it worries me, Benton. Doesn’t it worry you?”

“No, sir,” said Benton. “I mean, we’re never sure when we go up against an enemy. The sort of work UNIT was founded for – it’s all about facing the unknown. So it doesn’t worry me, sir, not particularly.”

The Doctor stayed silent for a moment. He smiled. “You know, Sergeant, I think that is an extremely refreshing perspective. Thank you.”

Benton adjusted the dials of his field radio. “You said this thing was called a Chrono….”

“Chronovore. They’re a race of highly advanced beings that inhabit a plane outside of time. They actually feed on time, which is why I believe our Mr. Doyle is one of them.”

“I see,” said Benton.

“What I can’t understand is why he has limited himself to this dimensional plane. In their native reality, they have no need to target specific time events, but can subsists on the raw energy that seeps through the cracks.”

“Cracks in time, sir?”

“Yes. Time is riddled with cracks and fissures, Sergeant. The Vortex through which I travel – it’s just one great big rift.”

“Ah,” said Benton.

“Anyway, the point is that this creature is exhibiting some unusual behavior and it troubles me. I admire your optimism about the unknown, Mr. Benton, but I’m afraid that in this case I can’t quite share it.”

“Well, sir,” said Benton, “I can sympathize, so far as Miss Shaw is concerned.”

“Yes,” agreed the Doctor, “she is weighing rather heavily on both our minds.”

Benton took a moment to let the truth of that statement sink in. Before he could ask his next question, the Doctor applied the brakes and brought old Bessie to a halt. He pointed toward the edge of the wood. There, a small break could be discerned, and at the edge of that break, the missing car.

“How did you know, Doctor?”

“Elementary, my dear Benton. Our quarry wants to be found. He’s returned to very near the spot where Liz and I discovered him. And at this range, I can feel the temporal energies he’s gathering to himself.”

“Did you feel that before?”

“No. Which means that the Chronovore is weakening, failing in its attempt to shield itself from time-sensitives such as myself. It will have to feed soon.”

Benton had a feeling he knew what that meant, and drew his pistol. The Doctor placed a restraining hand on his gun arm.

“Hold on, Sergeant. Let’s not go off half-cocked.” He activated the field radio. “Alright, Brigadier. We’ve homed in on our target. Is all in readiness?”

The reply was almost drowned out by the whir of helicopter blades. “We’re well within schedule, Doctor.”

“Excellent. I’ll delay as long as I can, but you’ll need to move at a moment’s notice.”

“Just give the word, Doctor. Over.”

“Quite.” He set the radio aside, and fished inside his jacket. “You have the most dangerous part to play in this, Benton.”

Benton said nothing, but looked at the Doctor expectantly.

“First, you had better conceal this….”

•   •   •

The hunger had never been so terrible. The Incubus had gone longer between feedings before, but never on so meager a portion. It had consumed James Doyle in a moment of desperation, the moment after it had lost its last meal – vomited it out, to put it in human terms.

Humans. Its palate had been on the verge of growing tired of the limited variations on this planet when the Incubus had discovered the little pocket of tainted prey, that small handful that exhibited subtle differences in “flavor”.

The memory of James Doyle provided a parallel. At the age of twelve his family had moved up from the country and young James had discovered the intricacies of Indian cuisine. And he’d hated it. That was the problem with James Doyle. He failed to savor new experiences like the Incubus did. For the Incubus, the discovery of “seasoned” prey was a revelation. It abandoned its foremost aim, which had been to escape this world, and began to concentrate on enjoying the excellent new delicacies that had unexpectedly appeared on its doorstep.

Like any would-be connoisseur, it had first tasted those dishes that were more familiar, with just a hint of spice, avoiding the more exotic fare. Gradually it had become more accustomed to the new tastes, though, and craved more and more of the spice, in all the rich variety it created. Finally it had worked its way into the inner circle, those recipes that came packed with the highest concentration of the wonderful spice. But upon sampling the first of these, it had come across a paradox. Though the spice at these levels drove its senses to ecstasy, the concentration proved to be overwhelming to its system. It had, plainly put, vomited it out.

It regarded the girl. She was sitting by a window, self-consciously rubbing the bruise on her cheek. The Incubus was sure she did not know true pain, like the pain of the hunger. True pain would surely have destroyed so frail a creature. It considered feeding upon her. But she had been close to the source for longer than any of the others. Its palate would reject such an extreme dosage. Soon, though, after it became so accustomed, it would have her.

The prey was very near now. It had known the prey would come, for it remembered, in a washed out sort of way, how powerfully devoted to the girl he was. It had been the prey that had known about the girl, not James Doyle. Even when the rest of the prey’s memories were lost to the Incubus, the memories of the girl merely dimmed. And since they had started as the most vivid of the memories, they remained easily discernable. It had been a simple matter for the Incubus to act upon the memories, using Doyle as a vessel.

The girl was almost more of a temptation than it could bear, but the memory of its last meal shored up the Incubus’ resolve. And the prey was closing in. Very soon it would reap the reward for its suffering.

From her position by the window, Liz kept one eye on the thing-that-was-not-James-Doyle and the other on the dirt path that led from the road to the little cottage. She was expecting the Doctor at any moment to come charging out of the woods, with Benton and a whole brigade of UNIT soldiers, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was precisely what the creature intended. The cottage was small, but hardly inconspicuous. It sat not far from the road, and in the middle of a clearing, so it would stand out from an aerial view.

Thus, she had decided that the creature wanted to be found. She further concluded that what it really wanted was the Doctor, and was merely using her for bait. She tried not to think about the danger she was in, but the bruise on her cheek was a persistent reminder.

She was very concerned about what the thing might resort to if faced with violence by her would-be rescuers. The bruise really hadn’t been life threatening, but she was certain it had been holding back. One got a sense about these things. What troubled her more, though, was the familiarity her captor possessed that had enabled this masquerade. It had been her observation that the Doctor often relied upon his opponents’ lack of appreciation for his resourcefulness to prove their undoing. This thing knew enough to deceive them all. Perhaps it would not so underestimate the Doctor. Perhaps he would underestimate it instead. She had to shut her eyes to get this thought completely out of her head.

•   •   •

Liz’s heart leapt when she saw the Doctor stroll into the glade. Benton was the real surprise, though, doing his best to appear casual as he walked at the Doctor’s side. His sidearm wasn’t drawn, though she could see that he was scratching at it compulsively as they approached the cabin.

It struck her that she shouldn’t have shown so much emotion at seeing them. For all its boldness this still might have been meant as a sneak attack. Cautiously, but projecting a defeated air, she swung her head around to check on the not-Doyle thing.

It was standing, head back, arms out to either side, precisely two-and-three-fourths feet off the floor. Though its eyes were shut tight, Liz expected it could still see her, but with two of the men she admired most advancing into danger for her, she decided to take a chance.

She made a dash for the door, but an unseen hand closed around her throat and hoisted her off the ground. The creature made a sweeping motion with its other hand, and the door flew off its hinges.

Outside, the Doctor froze, and held Benton back. The Chronovore drifted through the doorway, its arms extended to either side. Liz drifted out after it. Both hovered a few feet above ground, but Liz had folded into a fetal position, clutching her throat as if she were being strangled.

The Chronovore turned to face the men. Its eyes remained unfocused and distant. “I knew you would come,” it said.

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “I do have a weakness for coming to the aid of my friends.”

“Silence!” the Chronovore commanded, and hefted Liz higher in the air. She kicked her feet, her face contorting in pain.

Benton, who in his youth days had spent many an hour watching American cowboy movies, had his revolver drawn and pointed before the Doctor could respond. “Right!” he said. “Let’s see your feet on the ground and hands back of your head!”

The Chronovore rounded on him, and its eyes stopped searching the heavens to settle firmly on his. Liz felt the pressure on her neck ease off, and she felt herself settle gently onto the cabin’s front stoop. The Chronovore floated lightly to the ground and lowered its arms to its sides. Then, for the first time since it had abandoned its masquerade as James Doyle, the creature smiled, though Liz could not see this from her position at its back.

Benton saw very well, though, and the Doctor too. This latter stepped neatly between the Sergeant and their foe. He placed a hand over Benton’s weapon, lowered it. “Ah. Very interesting,” he said. “Are you alright, Liz?”

Liz struggled find her voice, but she said, “I think so. I’m swearing off men for good, mind you.”

The Doctor frowned as he turned to whisper something in Benton’s ear.

“Let her come to us,” Benton said. He hadn’t raised his weapon, but his voice carried a promise of his skill with a hip-shot.

The Chronovore said, “Come take her, Benton.”

“Oh, I think not,” said the Doctor. “I wonder if we could chat a little first. Let’s start with introductions. I’m the Doctor, and you are?”

The creature raised a hand in Liz’s direction. She instinctively clutched at her throat, but it didn’t put any pressure upon her.

“You may refer to me as Incubus, Doctor, but I will not tolerate your interference. Send Benton to me. He must come to help his friend.”

“Why?” said the Doctor, taking a long stride in its direction.

“Do not test me, Doctor!”

Now the squeezing of Liz’s neck recommenced. She gasped, but the pressure was not so great as to restrict her speech. “Get away, John! You have to get more help! Save the Doctor!”

“Me? Oh, I’m not in any real danger. Isn’t that right, Mr. Doyle?”

Liz would have looked confused, if she wasn’t otherwise occupied choking.

“The Chronovores are the Titans of my people’s mythology, and in many of Earth’s as well. They’re immensely powerful but usually quite remote creatures, avoiding the lower planes. Still, their journey began in this universe, and when they made the transition…well, as in any mass migration, there were a few stragglers that got left behind.”

The Incubus began pacing to the Doctor’s right, but the Doctor moved along with him, so that he was between the creature and Benton.

He continued. “The young, the weak and injured – a few were forgotten. But the mad, the sick in mind – these the Chronovores abandoned en masse during their ascension to the higher planes.” He turned toward Benton, but kept one eye on the Incubus. “That’s where our Mr. Doyle comes from, or at least, the creature that now animates James Doyle’s body.”

“I am more James Doyle than anyone is,” said the Incubus.

The Doctor set his hands on his hips. The Incubus had worked its way halfway around them now, but kept Liz in one spot, still clutching at her throat.

“Who was James Doyle, anyway? Certainly not whom you presented him to be.”

“He was a delivery man who brought milk for the cafeteria on Mondays and Thursdays. My intervention was the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. Of course, he only realized that for a nanosecond before I consumed him.” At the word consumed, all human expression dropped from his face, and he once again rolled his eyes heavenward. “And then he was no more.”

Human expression dropped from the Doctor’s face as well. They seemed very far away to Benton, as if this confrontation were taking place on one of those higher planes the Doctor had described.

“Let me help you,” said the Doctor. “I know of artifacts – devices your people left behind – that could keep you far better fed then dining á la carte on earthling lives. And you know all about my travel machine.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Provided you could help me get it in working order, I can take you anywhere you desire. Perhaps I could even help you achieve the higher planes. Just agree that you’ll leave in peace and I’ll do all that’s in my power.”

“I know all about the artifacts, Time Lord,” said the Incubus. “But their purpose was to feed the wounded and the young. I am neither. I could ascend to the higher planes at will, without any help from a lesser species. I choose to remain.” It made a hollow sound that might have been laughter. “And to think, Doctor: I had all but given up on this miserable planet before you arrived and brought such savor to my meals.”

“So I’m the lure but not the fish?” said the Doctor. “As I suspected. The buildup of artron energy in my cells prevents your assailing me directly, so you resort to feeding upon the timelines of persons close to me. What I don’t understand is why my proximity should prove such an attraction.”

“You want to understand my attraction to your companions?” It turned its head to look at Liz, then back at the Doctor. “Have you ever sampled the cuisine of India, Doctor?”

“India?” Revelation showed plainly on his face. “So that’s it! You crave the pain of consuming my artron residue like a Brahman craves curry!” He put on the aspect of a disapproving schoolmaster. “You’ve absorbed far more than just human lives, you know. You’ve become a masochist as well.”

“Enough!” exclaimed the Incubus. “You will hand over Benton or I will destroy the girl!”

“Destroy her?” said the Doctor. “Why not feed upon her? Oh, I see. The addiction is becoming more pronounced, but your stomach lining isn’t. Liz has been too close to me for too long for you to consume her properly.”

“But I will destroy her!”

“I think not!” said the Doctor, stabbing an accusing finger at the beast. “You can’t bring yourself to destroy so succulent a feast. It’s obvious you’re stair stepping. Who’s next, the Brigadier? Or will you be ready for Liz? No, you said yourself your last meal was the milkman. You can’t possibly be prepared!”

“You do not understand, Doctor. I must have Benton. I will destroy this despicable planet if I must. I must feed!”

The Doctor looked very calmly at Liz, as the creature’s unseen grip tightened around her throat. She was hoisted off the ground, unable to breathe, her full weight pulling at her neck. She felt she was going to pass out. She thought she caught the Doctor giving Benton a quick wink.

“Alright,” said Benton. “That’s enough. I can’t allow it to hurt Liz any more, Doctor.”

“Get back, Sergeant,” the Doctor commanded. He turned his head for a fraction of a second, just enough time for the Chronovore to break the line separating it from Benton. It dropped the arm it had extended toward Liz and raised it toward Benton.

“At last,” the Chronovore breathed, drawing him closer.

The Doctor wasted no time pretending to be shocked. “Come along, Liz!” he said, seizing her by the hand.

The Incubus drew Benton toward itself. It would again meet the Time Lord soon enough. And again they would meet, and again, as it consumed those closest to him. Finally, it might even develop such a taste for artron radiation as to be rendered truly immune. Then it would consume the Doctor himself. It was a dream of his people to be able to feast upon a Time Lord, and he was very close to achieving it.

•   •   •

The Doctor practically dragged Liz back to Bessie, she the whole time trying to ask him about Benton’s well-being but gagging from her injured throat. Nonetheless, he said, “He’ll be fine, Liz,” as he jerked open the car door.

He took the field radio in hand. “Brigadier? Is everything ready?”

She couldn’t make out the reply, but the Doctor seemed satisfied. “Excellent. We’ll be upon you in a moment.”

Very shortly they pulled up to a stretch of road she recognized. It was where they’d run into James at the first. A string of UNIT vehicles had massed here: a truck around which were clustered a dozen-or-so troops, a flat-bed vehicle with the Doctor’s console tied atop it, and the Brigadier’s helicopter, idling down the road a bit.

The Doctor set the hand brake, climbed out and rushed toward the console. She hurried to catch up with him.

“Doctor!” she said, her voice returning. “What’s going on?”

The Brigadier sidled up beside her and said, “Not to worry, Miss Shaw. The situation is well in hand.”

“I need you in the air, Brigadier,” said the Doctor.

“Right,” said the other, “I’ve got my best man on it.” He waved at the helicopter and it lifted off.

“Give me a hand up, will you old chap?” the Doctor said to the youngish trooper stationed on the flat bed.

Liz followed close behind. “Doctor, what’s happened to John?”

The Doctor busied himself with a flurry of button pushing and toggle switching and said, “He’ll be alright for the moment. I equipped him with a talisman against the Chronovore’s power. It will be trying to eat his timeline back from the now to the before, but it should find him extremely hard to swallow.”

The Brigadier addressed himself to Liz, “What the Devil is he on about?”

“I think I understand,” said she. “The creature – the thing that called itself James Doyle – feeds on human timelines….”

“Or any timeline it can get a hold of, yes Liz,” said the Doctor.

“And it likes especially those timelines which the Doctor figures in.”

“Artron residue. It’s an energy that permits my people a degree of control over time, just enough for us to pilot our TARDISes. The Chronovores find it indigestible, painful even, but this one has developed a taste for it, just as a man develops a taste for spicy foods.”

“I see,” said the Brigadier, but by his tone he plainly didn’t. “So what’s this about Benton?”

“Let’s just say,” said the Doctor, “that I’ve made the Sergeant a bit harder to swallow. It will delay the Chronovore a bit, but not stop it. Now come on, Brigadier! There’s work to be done!” He rapped a knuckle against the glass of the lorry’s cab.

“Right,” said the Brigadier, and climbed in. He stuck his head out the window. “Where to, Doctor?”

The Doctor studied a display on the console for a moment, answered, “Three-hundred and forty feet…that way!” and pointed down the road.

“Clear!” said the Brigadier, and set it in reverse.

“You’re taking the TARDIS console to the faerie circle, aren’t you? Why?”

The Doctor paused to give her an approving smile. “Because that’s the Chronovore’s point of ingress. The circle marks the space at which it entered this dimension.”

She nodded, needing to hear no more.

•   •   •

The Incubus drew its victim closer. To a human observer, they would appear already to have merged, to be occupying a shared space, but it was the victim’s time the Incubus desired, and it was the nearest loose thread of time at which it scratched. Once that thread came loose, the Incubus could feast.

It felt the Benton thread give a little, preparing for dissolution. The Incubus opened wide and bit into Benton’s life. Suddenly it gagged, as something exploded in its mouth. The effect could have been likened to biting into a pepper clove, if it had been thinking in human terms at that moment. But it was not thinking at all. It recoiled with sensory overload and spat Benton out.

The Doctor had done this to it. The accursed Time Lord had somehow armed Benton against its assault. But it had felt his talisman shatter. It would not be repulsed again, and the extra dosage of artron residue had pushed the Incubus to develop an even greater immunity to consuming it. It could skip Benton if it so desired, skip the Brigadier and go straight for the girl next, then it would be ready for the Doctor. But it would consume Benton, just in revenge for the pain he had brought, as soon as its perception cleared.

Then it could see again, but Benton had gone. No, the Incubus had gone instead, been taken. It knew this place – the roadside where it had materialized from its last time jump – the ring of fungi that had marked a weak point in the planes. It was standing just outside the faerie circle now.

A voice came from a few yards behind it. The Incubus turned to see the Doctor hovering over his travel machine’s console. He said, “Now!” and a trio of UNIT men started an earth vehicle rolling down the hill. It struck the Incubus before it had the chance to get its footing, and carried it into the heart of the faerie circle.

It saw, by looking through the lorry, the Doctor flip a switch and flash it a grin. Then the world came apart before the Incubus’ imitation eyes.

In its panic, it did a most peculiarly human thing and screamed as it was torn away from the mortal planes and thrust into the interdimensional void.

•   •   •

The Brigadier sat at his desk, his fingers wrapped around a mug of coffee, his face relaxed except for his eyes, which were peering intensely at the Doctor. “Let me see if I understand.”

“Hmm?” said the Doctor, peering into his cup of Earl Grey as if its leaves would reveal the universe to him.

The Brigadier frowned, but Liz said, “Go on, Brigadier. He’s listening.”

“Very well. This fellow Doyle; he was some sort of alien miscreant who needed to eat human timelines to survive.”

“Not needed, Brigadier, enjoyed. The creature enjoyed devouring the lives of what it would consider lesser beings, and it developed a particular affinity for humans.” He looked up with a kind smile. “I suppose I can relate to that.”

Liz returned his expression, but then turned very serious. “So you’re saying that it didn’t need to feed on innocents at all, Doctor. It just wanted to. That’s horrible.”

“Yes,” the Doctor agreed, “and pitiful as well. I would say that this Chronovore’s mode of life would approximate its species’ version of a drug addiction. I hope it gets help where I sent it.”

“And that’s the other thing, Doctor – just what happened to the creature? What did you do to get rid of it?”

“I simply used a bit of its power against it, Brigadier.” He set aside his beverage and began to pace the room. “The Chronovore is an immensely powerful time traveling creature, you understand. It can cross millennia with less effort than it takes me to cross a room. Such a powerful being gives off a lot of excess energy, even when not speeding through time. The Incubus masked its energy signature against detection by either my own time-sensitivity or the TARDIS instrumentation. But when it was feeding it couldn’t mask itself effectively, and I was able to get a lock on its tachyonic emissions. Then it was a simple matter of using those emissions to draw the Chronovore back to the weak spot it had left in our dimensions.”

The Brigadier blinked, slowly.

Liz said, “You mean the faerie circle?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “The faerie circle marked the point at which excess time was poured into this plane from the planes above, the planes the Chronovore uses for travel. It really wasn’t a circle at all. It was the same mushroom repeated in a ring by a symptom of the time spillage.”

“Is that true with all mushroom circles?” asked the Brigadier.

“No, of course not, Lethbridge-Stewart. What a question!” The Doctor sat back down and took a sip of tea. “Only this particular circle. And possibly one or twelve more. Anyway, after I discovered the Chronovore’s point of ingress, it was a simple matter for me to program the TARDIS console to tug on the tachyonic chain that connected the creature to its escape hatch. They’re rather like spiders, these Chronovores. They always leave a strand of webbing behind to guide them home.”

“I see,” said Liz. “The time emissions kept it tethered, so it could jump out of our dimension quickly. And you used that thread to force it to make such a jump. Quite clever.”

“Thank you.”

The Brigadier spoke up. “So where did it go?”

“To its own, I’d expect. I sent it into the interspatial void that surrounds the higher dimensions. It’s own kind should find it there. Poor chap.”

The Brigadier set his empty mug aside. “Well, as long as that’s settled.” He rose and made his way around the desk. “If you’ll excuse me, Miss Shaw, Doctor. I’ve other duties to attend, including explaining to the ministry why I spent my afternoon running around in the woods after a man who never existed and why I’m now half a lorry short.” He nodded at the Doctor and said to Liz, “I’m sure you’ll see that he files all the appropriate paperwork.”

“Of course,” said Liz.

The Brigadier left with a sigh.

After another minute of tea-life divining, the Doctor and Liz followed him into the hall. They walked in silence for a short time, the Doctor with his reflective face on.

At length Liz said, “How do you suppose the Sergeant is doing?”

“He’ll be right as rain shortly, I’m sure. A resilient lad, that; very nearly erased from existence and I understand he was already quite lucid by the time Lethbridge-Stewart got to the cottage. Stark naked, of course.”

“Was he? I miss all the fun.”

“Well.”

“Tell me this, Doctor,” said Liz, stopping and turning to face him, “if the Chronovore knew you and knew the technology of the TARDIS, why did it allow itself to be caught like that?”

The Doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Caught it unawares, that’s all. It knew it would have to drop its guard to consume Benton. That’s why it took you, to lure me away from the TARDIS for long enough to get to him. And it knew, I suspect, that Benton would count himself personally responsible and come along. Its plan would have worked if I hadn’t armed Benton against the creature’s power.”

“And how did you arm him?”

“Elementary,” said the Doctor, and produce from his smoking jacket a split-open metal casing, in which Liz could see the remains of a shattered glass vial.

“And what is that, Doctor?”

“This, Miss Shaw, is what remains of a laboratory test tube containing approximately nine microlitres of unadulterated Gallifreyan blood.”

“Your blood? Oh, I see! The blood stores a heavier dose of the artron energy than the Chronovore could handle.”

The Doctor clasped an arm around her and propelled them both down the hall. “Precisely, my dear. This was on Benton when the creature took him. When it tore away his physical wrappings, it split the vial and víola – instant indigestion! It spits out Benton, our helicopter friend radios in, and I capture it!”

“Very nice, Doctor. And you tell it well.”

“Thank you.”

She stopped him again. “There’s just one more thing I don’t understand.”

“Hmm?”

“How did James – I mean the creature masquerading as James – know so much about…well, about me?” She hung her head, uncomfortable.

The Doctor lifted her chin gently and positively beamed at her. “I think I know, but I’m not sure if I have the right to tell you. It concerns a future that may or may not turn out as it once did.” He faced her like a professor lecturing a class. “The Chronovore was traveling backwards and forwards in time, as well as sideways, and its means of travel was to ride along the timeline of one of its victims. It could do that even after it had wiped them out; all it required was the memory of the time to which it desired to go. It used Doyle’s memories to fix on this location in time, but I believe it actually came to us from the future.” He waited for her to nod before going on. “In that future it encountered Benton and tried to consume him, but was unable because it had not yet built up its system to handle the excess artron. But even though it could not digest Benton’s timeline, it still got hold of some of the Sergeant’s memories.”

Liz felt a little giddy, and leaned against the wall for support. “You’re telling me that all James knew about me…it was all from out of John’s memories?”

The Doctor nodded. A shiver ran down Liz’s spine.

“But you say that the future it came from may or may not happen?”

“There are many factors at play now, the visit of the Chronovore itself being one of them.”

Liz didn’t speak, she just continued leaning.

“Liz, your future is of your own making, and what happiness you find there is for you to discover and decide upon for yourself. Just one thing I ask.” He reached over and cradled the side of her face with his palm. “Please, Liz, don’t let this foreknowledge make you decision for you.” He let her go.

“I promise.”

“Good,” said the Doctor. “Well, I’ll be in the TARDIS resettling the console if you want to talk more.”

He laid both hands upon her shoulders in such a way that she wondered if he was about to hug her. Instead, he spun on one heel and made his way down the corridor.

Liz watched him go. She couldn’t think straight, so she decided not to think at all. She picked a random direction and began to walk. She took several twists of the passage, barely acknowledging those she passed. At last she stopped to get her bearings, and found herself in front of the infirmary door.

She hesitated for a moment, then turned and walked the other way.