Rifts close and rifts open. It happens.
When the Doctor finds himself in the area of a rift opening, he usually re-directs the TARDIS over to see what's happened. With companion in tow, they find adventure, help out, and make an afternoon of it. He remembers sitting on a crystal mountain with Donna, watching the sky blaze orange as the rift over Grea Sentra closed. They'd just finished talking peace with rift-traveling aliens and the native creatures. It was a good day.
But he's alone now. When he gets the blip on the monitor of rift activity in the Gamma Quadrant, he hesitates. No matter what's out there, he is the only one who will see it.
Still, something to do. He's fallen into a rut of taking bits of the TARDIS engine apart, cleaning them, and putting them back together. One cannot live on engine maintenance alone. Certainly not the Doctor.
He twists the dials on the console and steers the TARDIS towards a desolate, broken world. Lifeless, or very nearly. Except for a sudden, strong blip of life. Human life. He tugs on a pair of oversized goggles and ventures out into the blasting winds of the dark world.
"Hello?" he calls over the roar of the wind. "Hello?"
There's no response at first, and he thinks that maybe no one was in the rift. Or if they were, they were too injured to survive. Then he hears it.
"Help---" It's a faint voice. A man's voice, somewhere in the rubble and wind, crying out for him. The Doctor stumbles out, towards the sound. The wind and the darkness make him difficult to find, but he's there, out in the darkness.
Under some rubble there's a man. An older man; a savage-looking wild man from a different universe. His body is blanketed in burns and he looks so weak that the Doctor isn't certain he'll survive. But there's no leaving him behind, and so he lifts him over his shoulder and back to the TARDIS.
He's not really a doctor, but he knows basic first aid. Once in the infirmary, he gives him a shot for pain, then one to help him sleep. The burns are bad, very bad, and he looks bruised to boot. A shipwreck? Worse? Who could tell?
New New Earth, that's where he'll take him. Good hospitals there, they've even put up a little shop. He turns from the burned man to head back to the console room, but a strong hand grabs his arm.
The Doctor spins around to see the wild man's eyes are open wide. Terrified, angry. He knows he gave him enough tranquilizer, but it clearly wasn't enough.
"Death---" His voice has a strange, thick accent that the Doctor does not recognize. The man coughs and blood splatters across the Doctor's face.
"You're not going to die," the Doctor promises, ignoring the blood as he tries to lay him back down on the bed.
"I'm going to help you. Get you somewhere where they can fix you right up. Just relax." The wild man relaxes after a moment, and the Doctor is able to push him down onto the table.
"It's all right. Looks like you were in a shipwreck, then a rift opened up, sucked you out, brought you here. Rifts happen like that. It'll be all right."
It takes the Doctor a moment to realize the wild man is addressing him.
"I'm not death. I'm the Doctor."
The wild man takes in a breath and nods, slowly. "Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity." He closes his eyes and sleeps.
The Doctor looks down at the blood stain on his arm from the man's hand. He knows he's going to have finger-shaped bruises across his forearm. He's never met a human that strong before. Perhaps it's the universal difference.
The wild man was also quoting Milton. What a thing to think of at a time like this.
The Doctor raps on the door to the wild man's room in the New New London's Royal Hope Hospital. The wild man's wounds have healed at a remarkable rate---the universal difference, the Doctor assures the nurses---and the scarring is minimal. Just a slash across his chest that doesn't seem to want to heal properly.
The wild man puts down the book in his hands---the TARDIS manual, he requested it when the Doctor told him of his ship---and grins at his visitor. "Ah, Death. There you are."
After visiting him so often in hospital and thus far being unable to convince him otherwise, the Doctor's got used to hearing this title. He grins back. "Hullo there! Looking better. You feeling all right?"
The wild man nods. "Never better. Your ship is fascinating, though, Death. I had no idea such technology existed. Not in my universe or any other. Even the most sophisticated of military vessels are not nearly so complicated, nor as fascinating."
"Weaeaeaell, your species has a ways to go before you get to that sort of travel. I'm surprised you're comprehending it though."
"Superior intellect. A product of Eugenics during the early 90's," the wild man says. "I have read that this world has had very little of this advancement. Early treaties and laws that prevented such actions. How fascinating, so see a human race that has not been consumed by scientific war."
Not yet, the Doctor thinks, remembering the future for his favorite planet. But that's a future for him to know and the rest of the universe to find out about. No real reason to spoil the wild man.
"Nothing you brilliant little people can't work out, I like to think."
The wild man nods. "You seem to admire humanity very much."
"Can't help it, you lot are the sort worthy of admiration."
"If only all species in the universe felt the same way." The wild man sighs, then places a hand on the TARDIS manual. "I should very much like to see your ship, Death, before you leave. As I know from the way you bounce on the balls of your feet you are hoping to do quite soon."
Had he been bouncing? The Doctor looks down at his feet. Apparently he had. And there's no real reason to deny the wild man a quick look around his ship.
"Oh, all right. Just for a minute or so. The TARDIS always loves being the center of attention."
The wild man's grin doesn't stop, even as he winces while he pulls himself from the bed. "From what I have read in your book, Death, I know that I will not be able to give it anything but my full attention."
The Doctor nods and leads the way down the hall. "Right, but remember, don't touch anything---"
"Gratitude bestows reverence, Death."
"Do you always quote Milton?"
The wild man's grin seems to widen. "Sometimes I quote Herman Melville."
"A classic tale of revenge. Of vision and glory and no second chances."
The Doctor shakes his head. "An overglamourized tale of revenge, if you ask me. Revenge destroys lives. Destroyed Ahab."
"I am certain he would've preferred death to living with the knowledge that his enemy was out there," the wild man says. From the tone of his voice, the Doctor doesn't doubt that the wild man knows the feeling.
"Yeaaaah, but spitting at your enemy with your last breath doesn't do anything but make you lose any chance of redemption."
The wild man tilts his head. "Do you honestly believe in redemption, Death?"
The Doctor looks away, towards where his blue police box is parked in front of the little shop. "Sometimes."
"In the times that you do not, would revenge not be a possible alternative to dying with your enemy laughing at you?"
He thinks of Jenny, and of his chance at revenge. "I never would," the Doctor says, firmly. "It's not worth losing yourself over. Killing infects you."
"Perhaps it is the eugenics that has taken away a piece of what natural breeding might've called a soul," the wild man says, his lip curling into a sneer. "But I would. I still would."
The sudden shift from the charming bloke back in the room to the sneering man at his side is enough to startle the Doctor. He didn't doubt the wild man had layers (all humans do), but this vicious secondary layer reminds the Doctor all-to-well of the Master. The TARDIS in his mind shudders at the memory.
He pulls his key from his pocket and unlocks the door. Quick look round. Maybe convince the wild man to go on a trip, somewhere that might renew his faith in people. Then he could leave him back on Earth (New New, that is). The wild man isn't his ideal companion, but it's far better than being alone, for both of them.
"Oh, it is magnificent," the wild man says, his grin back in place. "The quantum disturbance when we entered, that is from the trans-dimensional shift?"
"Exactly." The Doctor doesn't bother hiding how impressed he is. "How much of that book did you read?"
"I was on a second pass-over when you arrived." The wild man steps up to the console and runs his dark hands over the controls.
"Careful," the Doctor says, stepping up next to him. "That's the turbo-flux. Can't press that, it'll set the ship moving. Haven't even knocked her out of park yet."
The wild man extends a forefinger to a control and flips it.
"Which…you've just done." On second thought, giving a genius the manual to the TARDIS then allowing him access to the controls of his ship is probably not the best idea ever. "Shouldn't do that considering we're just having a quick look 'round, remember?"
The wild man points in the Doctor's direction. "I might've left you behind, Death, but the ship would burn any individual within without the main accessor with the symbiotic nuclei inside." He presses the steam vent and the engines begin to warm up.
"And I don't intend on burning up when this ship goes out of orbit."
Oh, bad doesn't even begin to cover it. "You're not taking this ship out of orbit."
"A time and space ship. Something I have that my enemy does not. He will feel my wrath when I use her against him---"
Now the Doctor's moved to anger. "You are not using the ship as a weapon!"
"How dare you tell me what to do!" The wild man shouts and pulls the dematerialization lever. The ship rattles and shakes as she begins to move.
The TARDIS in his mind is reeling. Terrified. Where are they going? Why is he doing this?
But the Doctor has to give him a chance. "Listen to me, you don't have to do this! There's a hundred billion worlds you can live on---"
"And you would leave me just as he did! I am not some thing to be left!" The wild man straightens, and in his pride appears to grow in height. A prince at his height. A Napoleon in skins. Power seems to radiate from him.
"I am Khan Noonien Singh!"
The Doctor blinks. "Never heard of you."
Kahn deflates, but only slightly. "Your universe is petulant and tiny. I must go back to mine. I must defeat him. If I escaped, he might have as well. Admiral Kirk---"
"You don't have to fight him. Listen to me. Kahn, right?" The Doctor puts a hand up. "Kahn, listen. The rift you went through, it might take you home. But you can't take the TARDIS."
"I will have the TARDIS."
"You might rip her apart! Kill us all!"
"A price that is worth it to destroy my enemy." Kahn grins. "'The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.'"
"You can quote famous soldiers all you want; I won't let you have the TARDIS!"
"I have read your manuals, Death. This is the fast return switch. I press it, and back to the rift I go, and you with me. And from this monitor, I see that the rift is re-opening. Just in time." He presses the button, and the ship lurches, hurtling back through the vortex towards the planet where the rift opened.
And, really, there are a lot of places that the Doctor would like to go, but he's rather fond of his own universe. He's also rather fond of being in once piece.
The Doctor dives forward, grappling with Kahn's hands, trying to pull them from the controls. He digs his nails into Kahn's healing arms, and the wild man cries out in pain. Kahn shoves the
With a growl, Kahn's wrist snaps backwards and the Doctor flies towards the wall, hitting it with a sickening smack.
"Your Gallifreyan biology is impressive, but I have the strength of four of you. You will not overcome me."
The TARDIS spins down towards the planet and the monitor shows the glimmering yellow light of an opening rift. The Doctor struggles to his feet and Kahn grips the console, his grin wide and manic.
"We will go back! Back to my world! Back to destroy Kirk! Then the Federation! Then the universe! Your pathetic words of redemption mean nothing. Your ship is at my command!"
The TARDIS's fast spin slows just before it hits the rift, and Kahn's manic grin vanishes immediately.
"What? Why is it---"
"She," the Doctor corrects. "And that manual doesn't take into account a TARDIS with 900 years of control over herself."
Kahn's grip on the console stays tight, as if prepared for the ship to spin inwards, but she doesn't. The look of confusion on his face feels fitting.
"The manual doesn't say it because on my world it's always known." He steps calmly over to Kahn. "This ship is alive. And if you think she's going to willingly die, well…"
The doors to the console open, and there's a sudden rush of the gravity from the rift. Kahn cries out over the roaring winds and grips the console to try to stop from being pulled back. The Doctor stands next to him, not affected by the gravity or the wind.
"I would've helped you, Kahn. But there is one thing we have in common."
"No! Don't! I won't go back! Not without this machine!" Kahn's grip begins to slip, one finger at a time falling from where it holds.
The Doctor leans over. "No second chances."
His grip is gone, and Kahn tumbles from the TARDIS and back into the rift. The vaccum of space drowns out his cries, and there's a terrible snap as the rift reseals. The TARDIS's doors close and the Doctor slides down to the grated floor.
It doesn't feel like a victory. Ha, victory.
What sort of a man does that make the Doctor, to believe in victory and no second chances, but to deny a man revenge?
Death, Kahn called him.
Maybe he was right.
The stars, that nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps with everlasting oil, give due light to the misled and lonely traveller.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 2,569