And We've Only Just Begun

A Doctor Who fan fiction

by

Douglas Neman

After all these years, despite my knowledge of time, I still wonder about destiny. Was it all just coincidence, or was it planned by that infuriating prankster, The Universe, with that wickedly devious sparkle it sometimes shows? I'm sure I'll never find out, for no one can possibly know. Not even the Time Lords can see all things.

Thank goodness.

I was so happy then, but it was the blissful, ignorant kind of happy, the happiness of childhood that comes from not knowing hurt. Only later did I learn that not everyone is fortunate enough to start life in such a manner.

I hummed with energy. How strong I was! I knew the parameters of my own design, and they were almost boundless! I was brand new, the cutting edge of technology.

But the knowledge of what I could do was a mere whisper to actually doing it. I still remember how enraptured I was when I rode the time winds for the first time, how I fell in love and knew no joy could be more complete. The exhilaration was overwhelming!

The only disappointment, of course, was that the pilots treated it as mundane.

"Where are we going, sir?" Bandil asked his teacher.

"Sector 17, Beta quadrant," Westfall answered, "roughly 4500 years ago. We're going to witness the benefits of good communication."

I reluctantly slipped back into real space/time and hovered over a planet, slightly above the plane of its solar system. This was because to be in the plane itself would have been madness, as the planet was surrounded on all sides by a fleet of battleships. Almost absently, I flowed my plasma shell into the form of an asteroid, its rough surface randomly structured.

"The planet is Aren IV, just beginning to learn space flight. The armada you see is from the Holy Order of the Flaming Sword, the official – and only – religion of the Jinkorian race and government. Now, at first glance, what would you say was happening here?" Westfall asked his pupil.

"Obviously, this planet is about to be obliterated," Bandil answered, surprised at such an obvious question. As to the possibility of the act itself, I sensed no emotion.

"You say that so quickly, even though you yourself are in a time/space machine which, at first glance, appears to be a lump of rock. Is that not so?

"Well, yes, but-"

"Take a reading of the defense installations of the planet below," Westfall instructed him. "Then observe how the battle fleet is arrayed." He stood expectantly, with his hands clasped in front of him.

Bandil did as he was told, his face worked up in concentration. Westfall didn't rush him. That was their way, these people who had made me – they were never in a hurry.

After several minutes, he said cautiously, "The battle fleet is not configured in the best possible way to render the planet's defenses inoperative. In fact, it almost looks as if they are ignoring the defense installations entirely."

"Precisely. Now what does that tell you?"

Bandil concentrated some more, trying desperately to win the favor of his teacher. I didn't have to answer, so I merrily observed and recorded all that was going on around me, waiting for the next destination. Oh, how I wanted to soar through the vortex again!

"It tells me...it tells me that...they have such incredible firepower, they don't care at all about the planet's defense systems!" he finished triumphantly.

"Not with those primitive weapons. Look again."

Bandil turned back to the instruments, his left hand waving in small circles in front of him, searching around for the explanation his teacher sought. He found none.

Westfall said, "The reason they aren't training their weapons on their bases is because they don't intend to attack at all. They have come in peace."

"But then, why the battle fleet?"

"Because, to the Holy Order of the Flaming Sword, this is the honorable way to greet one's neighbors. It would be an insult merely to send a representative party of one or two people."

Bandil seemed amused. "That's right – you said this was a lesson in communication. So where did the fault lie?"

"Oh, both parties, as usual. The entire situation was compounded by the fact that the Arenians misunderstood the only message: 'Bring us your leaders.'" Westfall chuckled. "They thought it was a threat, of course."

That's when the firing started.

It blazed forth with power and ferocity, the guns of the battle fleet reacting automatically the moment their sensors picked up the missiles from the surface. A horrible, mind-boggling array of heat and light blasted back and forth through the light layer of atmosphere. Ships as large as cities were blown out of the sky. Great chunks of land and sea were boiled away under the nuclear inferno.

I was shocked, so appalled, so unable to do anything. I quickly sought out the empathic link with the two in the control room, but there was nothing there! Horrified, I realized that they were only observing in the most curious way, as if they were watching a tiny science experiment. My systems began to shudder. I had never known in my short life, never dreamed, that any being could do this to another.

Then the screams came.

I felt them. I felt them all. The dying on the ships, on the planet below, the people who looked up and wondered why, the parents who wanted nothing but a home where they could raise their children in safety, the children who would now know nothing beyond this, the young soldiers in the ships who realized, in their final moments, that their bright uniforms and their big guns suddenly seemed so silly, so meaningless.

Involuntarily, I began to move away. I wanted to leave, I wanted to go home, I didn't know what I wanted.

I wanted to throw up. I wanted to purge my systems and my memory of what had just happened.

"Sad," Bandil shook his head. They both turned back to the console, and Westfall started setting new coordinates.

"So – the lesson for today. Never take things at face value, and always try to communicate as best you can, to strive to understand the other, and to get your own ideas across with as little misunderstanding as possible. The result," he gestured back to the scanner screen with a wry smile, "could be disastrous."

"Yes, I see what you mean. Still, it's a pity they didn't learn. If only someone had said something, even one word, that entire carnage could have been avoided."

Still shuddering, I latched onto Bandil's words. Could have been avoided? Of course! I was a time machine!

I left real space and slipped back into the vortex. No way was I going to allow that horror to happen, not while I had a communication booster and translator on board.

"What? What's going on? Bandil, did you reset the coordinates against my wishes?"

"No," Bandil was surprised. "Why? What's happening?"

They looked up at the scanner. Suddenly the planet was much closer to them, and the fleet was once again intact. My shell resembled an Arenian communications satellite. Appropriate, I thought.

I also registered the presence of another TARDIS, disguised as an asteroid, almost directly above us. It was me. But when I had been there, I had not registered myself as a satellite here. I logged the anomaly and ignored it. I had other things to worry about.

I scanned all local transmissions, translating and copying. I also composed a brief message: "We come in peace, do not fire." Simple enough.

Suddenly I hit an unbreakable wall. At least that's what it felt like. My whole being lurched sideways. Bandil was thrown into a corner. I felt his pain as the bones in his left arm shattered.

Westfall was resetting coordinates, taking me back into the vortex. To my astonishment, I could not fight him! He had control of my systems. I frantically tried to stabilize, then tried to throw him off by jumping over a second of time.

That was the worst thing I could have done. Time-jumping meant going into the vortex, which was precisely where he wanted me to be. Once there, it was even harder to return.

I slipped sideways in the time stream, like aiming for a riverbank instead of fighting upstream against the current, then spun my real self around to get him away from the controls. Nothing worked! For a doddering old man, he seemed amazingly agile and quick-minded.

I shut down all non-essential systems and diverted their power to the materialization controls. I had to stabilize, even if it meant overpowering him!

The circuit blew up in Westfall's face. Flames sprang up along one side of the controls. Suddenly, there were no coordinates at all being fed into the central computer. Caught half in and half out of the vortex, I experienced a sense of confusion. My navigation circuits had nowhere to go.

I couldn't just hover between real and unreal space/time. The dimensional stabilizers, which maintained the pocket universe inside my plasma shell, would slowly stretch and tear, spilling all out into the vortex. Including me.

Westfall was screaming in agony. Bandil was on the floor in shock, too dazed and inexperienced to do anything. It was up to me.

Ignoring both their pain and my own, I quickly told the navigation circuits to initiate emergency procedure Delta 1. It was all I could do. The part of my being which set the coordinates had gone completely dead. I couldn't tell it to set new coordinates any more than a blind man could see, even though he might know what color looked like. I could only stumble in what I sensed was the right direction.

Home. Emergency procedure Delta 1 yanked a TARDIS back to Gallifrey, no matter where or when it was.

Before I could get us there, the fire spread to include the force field controls, the detection systems, and seriously damaged the chameleon circuit – it would only work three or four more times before it failed as well. If the fire had reached the temporal stabilizer or the dimensional controls, no one would ever have known what happened to us.

Not even the all-seeing, all-knowing Time Lords.

 

I sat sulking heavily in the landing bay for a week, awaiting my fate. Two months old and already a rebel.

I learned later that my actions had created a problem never encountered before – as a semi-sentient being, was I entitled to a trial and legal representation, or could the technicians simply dismantle me as a rogue TARDIS?

But at the time, I knew nothing of that, especially as they repaired some of my systems. I knew so little of everything, really (as I had so abruptly found out), including how close to death I came. How close we all came. For a being with the most advanced local scanning and recording equipment at my disposal, I was remarkably ignorant and confused about my surroundings. It was a while before I realized that recording data and interpreting it into a cohesive pattern of logic, knowledge and understanding were two entirely different things.

It was during a heated debate about my future that I met him for the first time.

"It should be scrapped immediately," Ramail was saying. "This is not the first machine we've built which is self-aware, nor is it the last. Its self-awareness comes from the complex design necessary for the on-board systems-"

"Which resembles a living brain, as I keep saying."

Ramail was the Chief Time Technician, and I could tell he often found himself at odds with his counterpart in weapons research, a white-haired old man with a cane, of all things. I wondered why he would carry such a thing – anything wrong with his legs could be mended by surgery, certainly.

But even I could tell his eyes were sharp. And his mind, when I touched it, felt so alive and different from the others I'd encountered. It was like something in myself – the desire to learn. And something else, as well, something I couldn't quite understand.

"I don't care what it resembles, Doctor, it's still a machine! And it's obviously got a faulty telepathic circuit, which by now has probably affected other systems as well."

"And that's your answer, is it?" the Doctor lifted up his chin a bit. "What about the next one, hmm? And the one after that?" He lifted his cane to point at Ramail, and I began to see why he carried it. "Anything that is self-aware is going to develop its own personality. They're all going to be different. Don't you see that? Are you going to scrap every single TARDIS that shows the slightest signs of having a personality?"

Ramail's face was stone. "If necessary, yes. It's a machine. We build them, we design them, great suns, man, we even write the programming which tells them what to do and how to behave! And when I build a machine, and tell it what to do, then I expect it to do it!"

"Ramail, it is a living being, no matter what you intended it to be. You are a scientist, and as a scientist, you cannot afford to act upon what you wish were true, but what is true."

"Why did the TARDIS do what it did?" spoke up Leyna, the woman from the Castellan's office. The duties of handling the security and legal ramifications of my actions had fallen to her.

"Oh, who knows?" Ramail said with a tired wave. "I've no doubt it's unbalanced in some way."

"Why can't we just ask it?" she inquired

"Hmm?" they both turned to her as if she had just committed a horrible crime. "That's ridiculous!" Ramail sputtered.

"And why is that?" Leyna asked, slightly offended.

"It's not that simple," the Doctor explained. "Consider, if you will, just how many thousands of computer systems are on board, and how intricately they are all linked together. All of them are the most advanced we have to this date, connected to a database larger than any library that has ever existed. The awareness arises out of all of those systems interacting, and it is more akin to the group intelligence of a hive of some sort than to a single mind. It reacts more on feeling and instinct than the logical thought pattern of a computer. Consequently, it seems to communicate in the same way, through feelings and intuitive actions. Since we Time Lords are telepathic to varying degrees, a TARDIS can sometimes even form an empathic bond with its pilot, although it is extremely rare."

"Believe it or not, it was all quite accidental," Ramail continued. "We have tried to build a TARDIS without any self-awareness, but with no success so far. It's just not possible to build something so intricate and advanced without it happening. Damned irritating, if you ask me."

"And I find it fascinating," the Doctor snapped.

"Well, fortunately, you have no say in the matter," Ramail said airily. "You may know how a TARDIS works in theory, and I may have allowed your granddaughter to name them, but you don't know how to fly them. Ultimately, you really know nothing about them. Your domain is building weapons and security devices, not TARDISes. The decision is not yours."

"Yes, but if you decide to scrap it, then I would be perfectly within my rights to requisition it for my department. All I would have to say was that there was a possibility of using it for weapons research, and the request would be granted."

"What about the next one? And the one after that?" Ramail echoed. "Are you going to requisition them all?"

The Doctor's face was stone. "If necessary, yes."

"Completely off the record, I would be delighted if you would," Leyna said. "I would be perfectly happy to allow this controversy to fall into someone else's lap."

"I would only be delaying the inevitable," the Doctor told her. "Still, it is a solution for the time being. Well, Ramail? If you don't want it, then you wouldn't mind if I salvaged it?"

"Be my guest," Ramail replied, with a mock bow and a wave of his hand. "I only await your paperwork." He left the room.

The Doctor grabbed his lapels, and let out a quick, "Hmm," as if thinking about some tricky problem.

"There's something about you I don't understand," Leyna said.

"Oh, and what's that, my dear?" the Doctor replied testily.

"Well, I would have thought your positions would be reversed. I mean, you're our chief weapons researcher, yet you seem incredibly compassionate."

"And what's wrong with that?"

"Well, I-"

"What better position could I possibly be in to see that weapons aren't misused? They're going to be created. That's inevitable. So by attaining the position of the one doing the research, I can at least have some say-so as to their function and use. And I sleep a little better at night because of it. Now, if you will excuse me, young woman, I have much to do."

"Wait, Doctor. I'm not finished with you. I'm not here just to look at a TARDIS that disobeyed its pilot, I also came to talk with you about another matter, which you have actually just raised. You are aware, no doubt, of the turbulent political times in which we live."

"Of course I am," he snapped. "And any proper study of sociology and political science will tell you that it is the norm."

"Well, you are probably not aware that our best psychohistorians have predicted some sort of uprising against the High Council and the President sometime within the next three days."

This seemed to get his attention.

"What does that have to do with me? And why hasn't this been on any of the newscasts?"

"The Castellan decided that withholding this information was the best course of action. Most people are aware of the widespread unrest, because it is, of course, the people themselves who are very...disturbed by the recent power consolidations of the President."

"Yes, as well they should be."

She narrowed her eyes at him for only a second, weighing his remark as only a security officer could, then continued. "But most people don't know that over 15 arrests have taken place in the capital over the last three days having to do with insurrection and violence. Most of them were holding public meetings, trying to incite people to open rebellion. And agents from our office have infiltrated two factions and uncovered plots to assassinate the President. One is scheduled to take place tomorrow morning, but it will not happen, of course."

"And the other?"

"Was stopped yesterday afternoon."

The Doctor was silent.

"It was a bomb. It would have destroyed about a third of the capital."

The Doctor turned away, pondering, then asked, "But what does all this have to do with me?"

"Oh, I think you know perfectly well what it has to do with you, Doctor. You yourself said that the weapons in your laboratories should not be misused." Leyna paused for a moment. "We in the Castellan's office perfectly agree."

"What are you suggesting?"

"That a squad of the Chancellery Guard take up residence here on a permanent basis, in secret, just inside the last security checkpoint. If any rebellion occurs on Gallifrey, I want this post defended at all costs."

"I'm sure you also wish to keep an eye on me, in case I turn out to be one of your conspirators."

"Every eventuality must be foreseen," she replied smoothly.

The Doctor pursed his lips once, then said, "A wise precaution. Do as you wish."

He left the room as well, leaving Leyna looking curiously after him. Evidently, it was not the reaction she expected.

 

Two days later, the bloodshed Leyna feared came to pass.

Fighting occurred in various parts of the city. I was still on the landing bay, since the Doctor understandably had other priorities than moving me. The President and members of the High Council passed right in front of me as they were whisked away to a safe place in the TARDIS docked beside me.

As always, my sensors recorded every event within range, which was considerable, but I didn't have to watch it. I brooded, and wondered if this were all the universe consisted of, death and violence and bloodshed.

Staser fire erupted nearby, signifying a brief battle. There was a small explosion in the hallway outside, and the Doctor stumbled into the room, accompanied by billowing smoke and a young, dark-haired girl. She was clutching herself and crying.

He shut the door and looked around the room, then quickly strode to a TARDIS console in one of the workshops, half assembled by one of Ramail's crews. His fierce gaze darted in and around the structure, then he tore off one of the panels and dislodged a piece of machinery, trying to hurry and be delicate at the same time.

"Grandfather, please, I'm scared!"

"Hide behind Ramail's desk, Susan, quickly!" he told her while adjusting the machinery. Entering a sequence onto a keypad while making some calculation mentally, he placed the device in front of the door, poised himself, then jabbed his finger at a button and leaped clear.

The effect was startling, even to me, who knew what would happen. I was surprised anyone could jump out of a stasis field so quickly.

No sooner had the Doctor activated the device than an explosion ripped open a tiny hole in the door and stopped. The Doctor himself was drifting through mid-air, his body twisted in an ungraceful leap to the edge of the field. The closer he got, the faster he moved, until he landed in a heap on the floor.

Shaking, Susan got up from behind the desk. "What did you do?" she asked. The explosion in the doorway was happening in very slow motion.

"I used the temporal stabilizer from that experimental model," he nodded to the half-finished TARDIS console, "to create a stasis field around the doorway. But that's not the purpose for which it was built, and it won't last long. Now, I must..." his voice trailed off as he rummaged through Ramail's desk, and I sensed an incredible sadness. More than a sadness that he had to leave his home planet, for that was the purpose in his mind, as clear as daylight. More than the sadness at having his granddaughter in danger, which also disturbed him a great deal.

It was the sadness borne out of the slaughter around him. A sadness which came from feeling as if he was the only man on the planet who could see what was happening, how senseless it all was, how unnecessary it all was.

It was the sadness of someone carrying a burden. Many burdens, in fact.

I knew how he felt.

"Grandfather, what are you doing?"

"I'm looking for the keys to the TARDISes in the landing bay. Ramail keeps them somewhere around here. Oh, blast!"

"Grandfather, please hurry, the stasis field is fading!"

The old man looked around in desperation, then saw that each of the five TARDISes had a key in its door, with a spare hanging below it, connected to a key ring.

"Incredible!" he exclaimed. "The old fool has no sense of security. He obviously thinks the temporal shield alone would keep someone from stealing them. Come on, Susan, follow me!"

"But grandfather – oh, no!" I could tell from her mind that she suddenly realized what he was doing. I accessed my databanks on Time Lord law, and was surprised to find that the penalty for what the Doctor was about to do was death.

If he was caught.

He headed for the TARDIS nearest to him, and all my heart and soul cried out to him.

Choose me! I pleaded.

He stopped, and slowly turned.

The first stirrings of sound came from the explosion, which was happening faster and brighter. The girl screamed.

Choose me! I cried again.

"Grandfather, please," the girl pulled on his arm, realizing now that their only hope lay in escape.

The Doctor slowly advanced towards me. The noise from the fireball in the doorway became a low roar.

"No, grandfather, not that one, it's broken! We need a new one!"

"No," he held up his hand.

Please, I thought, choose me.

"Inside, now!' he shouted, and shoved the girl ahead of him through my doors. The door to the landing bay erupted. Shrapnel ricocheted around the room. Seconds later, a small group armed with pulse cannons and stasers taken from the Chancellery Guard swarmed in, waving smoke out of their eyes.

One of them ran to a monitor unit along the far wall. "They can't have escaped – the temporal shields are still up. They must be inside one of the time capsules! Destroy them all – now!"

They piled back outside as fast as they had come in. Using the pulse cannons, they blasted one TARDIS after another to atoms. I felt their deaths, too.

"That's all of them. They're finished. Come on – you two go down that corridor. The rest of you, follow me to the weapons area, and lets raid their stockpile!"

There was a raucous yell, and they were off, to death and glory.

Shaking, holding each other inside my control room, the old man and the young girl watched everything on the scanner. The Doctor's face became intent.

"How- how come we're still alive?" Susan asked.

"I'm not sure. Wait here."

After a few seconds, he found the door switch and exited.

"Hmm. Susan, come and see."

She left also, and looked back. "Why, it's just a door leading to the next room."

"No, it isn't," he answered. "This time capsule engaged its chameleon circuit to form an exact replica of the wall. And very realistic, too."

She took his arm. "Come on grandfather. Lets get out of here. We-"

"No, Susan. We can't go back. The Castellan's office has become paranoid, and is convinced I've supplied the rebels with weapons. They tried to arrest me once already, and now I've been branded as a criminal simply because I ran when I could tell what fate they had in store for me. They won't give us a chance to explain. Can't you feel the psychic energy in the capital? It's appalling. It's like raw adrenaline flowing through the streets. No, Susan, it's no good. We've got to go."

"But go where?" She was sobbing.

"Where else? We can't go back, so we go forward." He suddenly gripped her shoulders and gazed deeply into her eyes. "But we will come back, Susan. We will. Believe in that. Always believe in that."

She nodded, and wiped away her tears.

"Now, quickly, into this TARDIS. If my theory is correct, she has repaid me in kind for what I did for her. There isn't a moment to lose."

Susan entered my doors cautiously, and I sent out a telepathic welcome, trying to ease her fears. The Doctor followed and closed the door.

"Now, my dear, go and find a suitable place to freshen up while I get ready for departure."

She nodded numbly, still shivering, and stumbled through the opposite doorway to start discovering her new home.

The Doctor watched her go, then ran around to the communications unit. He quickly keyed in a sequence and said, "Tell me what coordinates to set. We've no time to lose. The rebels are on their way."

A man's voice returned, quoting him a set of coordinates. "I'll also switch off the temporal shield momentarily," the stranger said. "Hurry."

The Doctor set the coordinates he'd been given. The navigation units had only been partially repaired, but I'm not sure he knew that. Not that he had a choice any more.

I slipped into the vortex and out again almost immediately. I was in another room in the same building. Sounds of firing were once again nearby.

To my surprise, the Doctor left me, locking the door behind him. He then closed his eyes and concentrated intently, facing a section of the wall. We were evidently in his offices, down the hall in weapons research.

A moment later, a panel in the wall slid open.

And to my utter astonishment, I could not tell what was in there! My recording sensors were somehow completely blocked. It was as if that area of space/time just didn't exist. But obviously it did.

The Doctor faced someone in the doorway. A voice said, "Take the Hand with you. It cannot stay here."

"And the validium? It's just as dangerous."

"That will be arranged later." The sounds of battle drew nearer. "You must go. Take the Hand of Omega. Hurry!"

A box floated out of the room. Without any farewell, the Doctor turned back to me and unlocked my doors. The box followed him in. Its circuitry was very familiar, but was silent. It evidently did not wish to talk with me yet.

On the scanner, the Doctor saw flashes of light and heard screams of death from the lobby outside his offices. He closed the doors and took us into the vortex.

We were gone.

He stood staring at the central column as it rose and fell. Then he said, "You did well. Yes, yes, you did very well, indeed, old girl."

It was a moment before I realized he was talking to me. I was so proud! And he had called me "old girl." No one had ever spoken to me like that before.

Yet, strangely, that's what I felt like. An old girl. Old before my time.

And I knew that he felt the same.

 

It was so difficult in those early days. He didn't know how to pilot me properly. He kept having to return to the key codes he'd received from Ramail when I'd come into his possession. Ramail had evidently been right about one thing – the Doctor knew his stuff, all right, but his practical experience at being out in the vortex was almost nil.

But the same was true for me. It may sound strange, but I have always looked back on those early days with nostalgia. There's something about bonding with others in a crisis, at being deprived of your freedom and your possessions that makes you appreciate what you have even more. And we were learning, together, he and I – learning about the vortex, and what happens when you try to materialize me inside a cliff (he tried four times, I swear, before realizing that he'd gotten the coordinates wrong), learning about temporal anomalies, always learning.

We were running scared, of course. We knew the revolt on Gallifrey wouldn't last long. They would come hunting for us. So we learned to keep a low profile.

We also learned how to get into a great deal of trouble. And when we learned how to do that, nothing ever seemed quite the same. We found we just couldn't stop.

We ended up spending a lot of time on Earth because it was the farthest point on the other side of the galaxy from Gallifrey. The Doctor didn't risk actually traveling to another galaxy for a while, and I couldn't blame him. When changing galaxies, the coordinates become a lot trickier.

We visited France for a while, but they had a revolution, too! It was uncanny how that happened. We left, of course, partially because it brought back so many bad memories, and partially because the technology the Doctor needed to repair me wasn't available.

Susan was incredible. She had the same fire as her grandfather. Whether it was his spirit, or simply the fact that she was young, she couldn't be kept down for long. She was constantly worried about her friends back on Gallifrey, and frightened of what might happen to her, but she still laughed and smiled and was so excited by everything she encountered. She, too, was a quick learner.

We traveled forward just a little bit (we couldn't risk staying in the vortex too long) and landed in London. The Doctor made forays out into the city, worked a few odd jobs to obtain some of the local currency, and set about learning how to repair me. Susan was to stay inside at all times, and she became increasingly ill-tempered because of it.

His first real clash with Susan happened when he came back to find her gone. When she arrived a few hours later, they had the worst row I ever saw them have. He was worried, he said, afraid something had happened. She was bored, she said, and would rather go back to Gallifrey and face death if the only alternative was to lie pent up in a cage of their own making, afraid to show themselves.

This struck a nerve within him, a very raw one, and he sent her to her room.

Afterwards, he had simply sat and stared at the column in the console, with a faraway look in his eyes. It was then I realized what the other thing was about him that seemed so like me when I'd first met him.

He wanted to be free.

He wanted everyone to be free.

I think the sympathy and guilt he felt about Susan was what led him to give his permission for her to attend a school on Earth. He certainly didn't approve of it, but he also knew he was in a no-win situation as far as she was concerned.

He also left one day and took that box with him. The box communicated to me only a little, and he never spoke of it until we retrieved it centuries later. I think he wanted to wait until he was certain he knew what to do with it, and was capable of carrying out whatever he decided.

Before landing, I had scanned the area, and my plasma shell was now a blue box. In the months I'd been there, I'd done much more recording and scanning, and I now realized that the form I'd chosen wasn't the best I could have done. But what could I do? The chameleon circuit was almost burned clean through.

I set about examining the problem, and made an interesting discovery. The words on my front door said, "Police Public Call Box. Free for use of public. Advice and assistance obtainable immediately."

Advice and assistance, I wondered. And it suddenly occurred to me that maybe it hadn't been an accident that I'd chosen that form. I'd noticed more and more often how my intuition had led me to make minor adjustments and decisions that later had immense meaning or practical use, as if a part of me were permanently linked to the very fabric of time and destiny in the universe.

On complete intuition, I burned out the chameleon circuit and kept the call box pattern. If the Doctor wanted it differently, then he could change it, and I wouldn't argue.

Then, of course, we met Ian and Barbara. That fateful meeting set off a chain of events which has yet to run its course after all this time.

The Doctor was very rude to them, of course, but deep inside, part of him wanted companions, and was, in fact, quite grateful they pushed their way in. He just couldn't let it show, couldn't let any vulnerability show, not with the weight he was carrying.

We left Earth and traveled some more. My guidance system had actually gotten worse instead of better. The Doctor didn't seem too upset over the form I'd taken, and only mentioned it from time to time. And if I thought my intuition was leading me before, now I was certain. Everywhere we went, we got into trouble. Lots of trouble. I tried not to, at first – tried to find some way to land somewhere peaceful and safe, but it never happened. Eventually I accepted it, and now I'm drawn to it, in much the same way that he is.

I was always aware of what he was doing, of course. My sensors picked up all activity, and I sat in fear and dread for many, many days, fearing for his safety, fearing he would be killed and I would be left alone. For we needed each other, you see. He needed a vehicle; I needed a pilot, someone to right the wrongs I'd seen. Only we could give to each other the freedom we both sought.

Several times, the Doctor's inexperience almost got us all killed.

Right after escaping from Skaro, he tried to force the guidance controls to do what he wanted rather than just fix them. The fast return switch became stuck, which meant we were headed straight for the Big Bang. The coordinate controls hadn't been repaired sufficiently to enable me to take control like I'd done from Westfall. My despair and fear grew until I couldn't stand it any more. I frantically contacted everyone on board, desperately trying to get them to see what was happening. At first they didn't understand. Finally the Doctor saw what was wrong, and corrected it.

He also opened my doors in flight once, and shrank us all. That was most undignified.

The only time I've ever gotten angry at him was when he gambled me away to Kublai Khan. I was so insulted.

He's gotten a lot better over the years. (He's certainly never pulled that stunt again.) And we've become quite a team. He has always defended me to disbelieving assistants. He has listened to every wheeze and every groan with the greatest of care. And I was touched when he became appalled at the hole Romana made in my console, although it didn't matter much to me.

I've always been there for him. I've helped him through every regeneration, even if only from a distance. Although I became accustomed as time went on to the danger he found himself in, I was still terrified I would lose him once and for all after he was dosed with radiation on Metebelis 3. He was dying, and it was up to me to bring him home.

There have been some other hairy moments, too, such as when Kronos pulled him into the vortex on the way to Atlantis. When the Master separated his TARDIS from me, I made off with all possible speed, determined not to lose him, and provided a telepathic link between him and Jo so he could tell her what to do. No other TARDIS would have done the same for her friend.

And in the Death Zone, when he was being pulled into the vortex by the work of Borusa, he actually faded away, and I lost contact! I felt so helpless. But it all turned out all right, and in the end, his promise to Susan was fulfilled.

Of course, I dreaded the worst when the Time Lords caught up with us. It still burns me that Jamie and Zoe are not allowed to remember all the times we shared, all the dangers, all the laughs. But all things considered, I guess we were lucky.

And when he threatened to time ram the Master's TARDIS, I knew he wasn't bluffing. He was ready to die. And so was I. I would do anything he would do, go anywhere he was willing to go, make any sacrifice he was willing to make. His missions are mine.

And mine are his.

Shortly after he regenerated the first time, I took him to Aren IV. I created another anomaly, for this time I registered two other TARDISes – one was an asteroid, another was a communications satellite.

And the third time was charm. 'Advice and assistance obtainable,' indeed.

He quickly read the situation, sent the message assuring both sides of peace in languages they could understand, and then we went down to join the festivities. Every few years we visit a good friend of ours, a scientist on Aren IV, who is an absolute delight to be with.

And the terrible carnage recorded in my files never happened.

Through the years, I've been beaten up quite a bit, just like he has. I've jumped time tracks, been drawn off course, trapped in a web in space, found myself in the land of fiction (twice), slammed into the wall between realities, converted into anti-matter by Omega, miniaturized again in a viewing scope, drained of all my power (extremely horrific – I never thought it was possible), invaded by the Mandragora Helix, used to block a space-folding planet, was almost crushed by the gravity of a neutron star, gone through a CVE lots of times, had part of me ejected into the vortex to lose weight and gain momentum (twice in a row), broken up into smaller pieces, trapped in a time corridor, invaded by a Time Wyrm, manifested as a cat, blown up into a city, called "piece of junk" by the Master more times than I care to remember, and pulled like a puppet on a string by the Time Lords far too many times.

In a way, I've been his longest companion, and I'm damned proud to be with him. And I've done it all without the slightest complaint. I've taken every hit, every blow, every strain, and kept coming back for more. We're a lot alike in so many ways, he and I. I wouldn't have missed any of it, for anything. For what, indeed, could anyone offer me when I have the universe?

The Brigadier once commented that people's appearances weren't supposed to change, and the fact that the Doctor's did but his TARDIS didn't meant that we were completely backwards, which was probably why we were so successful.

It's mostly been loads of fun. K-9 was wonderful to talk to. And I'll always remember the tingling sensation of having several of me suddenly in the same place, in the dark tower on Gallifrey. I'm still not sure how Rassilon did that.

The oddest sensations, however, have come from the times I've talked to myself. It happened the first time, briefly, in Spain. Since then, I've had two discussions with other versions of myself from alternate realities. One, while meeting the Silurians on a parallel Earth, was deeply disturbing. I got a good look at what I would become if the Doctor ever died on me. And I felt her death. The other, in Cheldon Bonniface while Bernice was preparing for her wedding, was much more light-hearted and fascinating. Like Time Lords, I'm not supposed to meet myself, but we've broken almost every other rule, so what's a few more?

I'm being facetious, of course. That's the attitude of someone like the Master. What a despicable fellow! And I don't care at all for his TARDIS. It's always sneering and cynical. It's not power-mad like he is, but really amoral. I don't think those two have the bond that we do – they wouldn't know what to do with an emotional bond if it fell in their laps.

I couldn't even contain the Master when he was pulled into my power source, although I got a little of my own revenge by pulling out some of his life force and giving it to Grace and Chang Lee, mixed in with the time field. I tried to contain him, but he fought me, and between his power and my disgust, I had to eject him into the vortex. (Indigestion, indeed. He didn't know the half of it.)

There's also been times of incredible sadness. I'll never forget the time when Adric died. Never before or since has the Doctor spoken to me like he did that night. Oh, he's always communed with me, or shown off to friends how my mood affected what I did, but never before or since has he just talked to me like he did then. He just wandered up and down the corridors for hours, not just talking out loud, but talking to me, about friendship, and love, and decisions, and responsibility, and loneliness, and death. I think I was the only one he could talk to. Nyssa and Tegan would have berated him again for not going back in time to save him, and any other Time Lord except Romana would have triumphantly lectured him out of self-righteousness about getting involved. And Romana was gone, too – to a place where only Adric could have taken us.

Looking back, I think Adric's death was the catalyst that started the change within him. He slowly stopped being the eccentric traveler, and actually became someone menacing, going out of his way to lead invading armies into traps instead of just reacting to them when they occurred. Maybe that just means it took him longer to accept what I'd accepted years before, that that was our destiny, and our gift – to seek out trouble. And to fix it.

To tell people they were free.

As the years have gone by, we've established a pretty cut and dried routine. I let my intuition set us down somewhere, and it turns out to be exactly where we needed to be, even if neither of us can really see why. I wait, occasionally worrying, doing whatever he calls upon me to do and more, and then we're on our way. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's not.

It is definitely, however, always something new.

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