The basket of the balloon is soft beneath your feet and it's probably a Christmas miracle that you haven't fallen through yet. And you're still not up yet, you're still not high enough. All the things you threw in there with you, they're weighing you down.
The dimension vault core. The infostamps. One is freedom, the other is death. You're such a benevolent hero, aren't you? You're always going to offer a choice for your enemies. Granted, there's no in between. Granted, you couldn't cut the line you walk between good and evil with a razor blade. Granted, you're still only a man, not a god. But you will always give them the choice.
Because no one else will.
Another sandbag, over the edge. Another weight gone. The chance of coming back down from the battle after it's done----and it will be done, one way or another----is gone, but that never matters. It never matters what happens to you when you're up there. Just that it ends. Just that you can stop it.
Jackson asked you if you had no reason to live.
"Ah, the Doctor. Yet another man come to assert himself against me in the night." Miss Hartigan's voice calls over the cold Christmas night, ringing mechanical and controlled in your ears.
She's grotesque. A crudely fashioned headpiece twisting her brain, her pupils rudicoriantrilationly dilated to cover her entire eye, her mouth twisted into a satisfied smile. She's somewhat less terrifying, now. Now, she's so much like them that it's almost easy to think of destroying her without a second thought. Like the Cyber control back on Pete's world. Killing them with their own humanity.
And you were just so sorry then, too.
"Miss Hartigan," you call out. "I'm offering you a choice. You may have the most remarkable mind this world has ever seen, strong enough to control the Cybermen themselves."
"I don't need you to sanction me."
"No, but such a mind deserves to live." And you give her your offer. A world where she can live out her disgusting mechanical life in peace. In freedom from oppression, away from the things that remind her of her hatred and her unfiltered revenge.
You do want to save her. You truly do. She's a human, after all. She is. Her humanity is there, somewhere. And you love humans. You love them all, you really do. They live things so slowly, so slowly time often repeats itself. Great souls repeat themselves.
You think about Rosita, all spitfire and instinct. Great name, Rosita. There's no real doubt in your mind that she's a lot like Rose. No A levels, but a lot of heart. She holds onto Jackson's arm because he needs her. It makes you think of Rose's arm, squeezed into yours as you crossed them tight across your chest. She'll make him better. She'll help him heal.
Miss Hartigan is like Martha. So influenced by the world around her. So hurt by the world below. Martha's a brilliant mind, too. One of the most brilliant you've ever met. Another time period, another step in another direction, they would've been the same woman. They both stood in the same position once before, the ability to destroy the world in the palm of their hand. Martha wanted to destroy it out of mercy. Miss Hartigan wants to destroy it out of revenge. You've seen what Martha is like without her conscience. You know what she can become.
But Martha has her family and her job and a million things holding her to good that Miss Hartigan doesn't have. Miss Hartigan deserves the choice.
Martha asked you once if you had a reason to live.
"I have the world below and it is abundant with so many minds ready to become extensions of me, why would I leave this place?"
You need to stop thinking of her as a human. Stop thinking of who she could've been if the world had moved a different way. The world moved in this way, right now. Right now, she's so much less than that.
Right now, it's time for the ultimatum. "Because if you don't, I'll have to stop you."
It's always that, isn't it? It's always that you have to stop them. You want to imagine as the words come out of your mouth (as they have so many times) that it doesn't mean death. That the alternative is just horrible, it's not so very final.
But all the wanting in the world won't bring a happy ending to this story. Father Christmas was never kind to you in your youth, and he's certainly not going to suddenly start now.
Even begging for a better answer from Miss Hartigan gets you nothing.
"What do you make of me, Sir? An idiot?"
But you didn't expect a better answer from her. That's why you offered her the choice long before the time vortex machine was powered up.
"No. The question is, what do you make of me?" You raise the infostamps like a gun strapped to your arm. The quintessential soldier, at the ready with your weapon. Sure, it's not really a gun. You wield knowledge, but in human mythos it was knowledge that forced the first two humans out of paradise. Humans, most of them, prefer ignorance. And you're about to give her a big taste of what learning is like.
She makes you into this.
She's so human and angry and vicious and mean and you know what it feels like to have those emotions ruling your actions. You've held guns to men's heads and you've screamed at the sky and grieved so many times. She's fallible and ambitious and foolish and creative. She is everything you hate and love about humans---everything you hate and love about yourself. Miss Hartigan is in you, she's coursing through your veins. Everything that is in her is in half of you.
They make you into this.
They play the game too well, your species would say. All cold metal and staunch rules and vicious intent. Oh, but the Cybermen are so like those of your dead world. They walk in a straight line and never diverge. They offer allegiances with dangerous enemies then declare war when the offer is denied. Their rules cover you like a protective shell. A protective shell of what is right and wrong and you know what you have to do next. Everything that is in them is in half of you.
You open the infostamps. The energy pours off of your arm, kicking back like a shotgun. You stand still, but your shoulder aches and your back burns and you have no choice but to let that energy flow. You have to stop her.
It's all about decisions. And you have to weigh the good versus the bad. You have to weigh what damage she'll do if you don't stop her and what damage you'll do if you do. You say she (they, all of the enemies you've faced) makes you what you are, but you make yourself this man. You make yourself into this man because you have to be. Because the universe needs you. Donna told you about a world where you gave up, and you can't let that happen.
You watch as the light from the stamps burns up the wires connecting Miss Hartigan to the cyber control. You watch as her eyes dilate, back to their normal, oh-so-human size. But you have to go further than that. Back, back into her mind where she's blocked off what parts of her are human. Back to where she's put up walls around the parts of her that feel.
Once it's finished---and she doesn't realize just how finished it is---you lower your arm. You lower your weapon and look at your red-clad victim in pity.
"Then I have made you a failure. Your weapons are useless, sir." She's still smiling so smugly, but it won't be long. Won't be long until she knows. Until she can see.
You wonder if Miss Hartigan has a reason to live.
"I wasn't trying to kill you," you say. "All I did was break the Cyber connection. Leaving your mind open. Open, I think, for the first time in far too many years. So you can see."
Her eyes break from yours. She starts thinking. She starts seeing what you've offered her. You're not a god giving humanity back to a wayward worshipper; you're a snake pulling the children from paradise.
"Look at yourself. Look at what you've done."
Those people dead. The damage to the timeline, the damage to the world below. That's her. That's her and she can finally look down and see it. Nothing has changed but how she views it. She knows, now. You've shown her.
You think about Davros.
You think about how he showed you your soul. How it felt to see Martha and Jack and Sarah Jane and Mickey and they were all just weapons to you. Ready to die and to kill just for you. You made them that as much as your enemies made you what you are. You only wanted to help, wanted to show them the stars and the universe that you love so dearly, but they became like you. Even Rose, all heart and instinct, even she became like you. Cruel and cold but always so sorry.
You're always so sorry.
"I'm sorry, Miss Hartigan, but look at what you've become."
And you are. You're so sorry. You know what it feels like to see what you've become, you still hold that beneath your skin, the guilt wrapped around your hearts like an octopus, choking the life out of you.
Choking the mercy out of you.
"I'm so sorry."
Miss Hartigan screams. She screams and the Cybermen begin to explode. She's consumed by her own self-hate. Consumed by what little she has left of her humanity. Consumed by what you've shown her. She tugs on the straps on her arms. A ruler and a prisoner. She's the woman she struggled not to be.
And, like you, she would rather die than be contained.
She self-destructs in a blast of cyber-energy. Pieces of her red dress fall from the Cyber King, the wind from the falling machine making them twist and dance in the air, mingling with the snow. All that's left of Miss Hartigan, falling.
You can never stop them falling.
There's a beep next to you and you pull out the dimension vault. Ready at last. But you'd really forgotten all about that choice you gave her. Forgot a long while ago. There was only one choice. No second chances. You've never been that sort of a man.
You aim the machine at the Cyber King and fire. The machine is absorbed in a blast of vortex energy and you try, you try with all of your might to imagine Miss Hartigan is still there. She's still there and you could stop her falling and stop her dying and just stop it all. Maybe if you had someone here to stop you.
But anyone who might've has forgotten you, now.
The dimension vault closes. The beast is gone. London is safe. Christmas can continue. A woman is dead for the good of the people of Earth. A woman who could've been so much more. A woman who could've been a scientist, she could've been your companion, she could've been you.
You wonder if you have a reason to live.
Somewhere below you, people are cheering. They're cheering for you.
You can't possibly imagine why.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,941