Disclaimer: Doctor Who belongs to the Beeb, l all I have is my Microsoft Word and an overactive imagination...
“It should have collapsed in on itself within moments,” he rambled, as he tapped on the monitor. “It’s not as if I fed it a black hole, just a little dwarf star. Hardly be missed at all, actually, it was already on its way out, ‘bout to go supernova any day. If it wasn’t for that damned, pesky fungus, I would have left well enough alone.”
Romana’s ears perked up. “Fungus?”
“You know that fungus that sometimes grows underneath toenails?”
Romana wrinkled her nose. “Not personally, no.”
“Well, this fungus is a bit like that,” he said. “Well, kind of… well, sort of… well, okay, maybe it’s not like that at all, really. It’s a tad more aggressive than that, to tell the truth.”
“I see,” Romana drawled. “How aggressive are we talking about, Doctor?”
He made a face. “Airborne flesh eating spores that burrow into warm blooded mammals and eat them from the inside out.”
“Ah, ” Romana said mildly. “That is pretty aggressive.”
“Tell me about it,” the Doctor muttered. “The TARDIS has been filtering the stuff from the air conditioning all day.”
Romana blinked “It got into the TARDIS’s air conditioning?” she asked. “Well, that shouldn’t happen…have you been forgetting to prime the perception filters, again?”
“What do you mean, again?”
Romana sighed. “Well, you do tend to let these little maintenance tasks build up, Doctor,” she reminded him.
“I’ve been busy, ” he said defensively.
“Busy,” Romana said flatly. “How busy, exactly.”
“Well, I’ve been rebuilding the matrix circuitry from scratch, for one thing.”
“How on Gallifrey—”
“The Master, paradox machine,” The Doctor sighed. “It was a whole thing.”
The paper post-its, littered around the edges of the monitor, caught Romana’s eye, and she looked at them dubiously. Obviously, he was getting rather forgetful in his old age… Well, it was his tenth regeneration, she thought charitably, he was bound to be getting a wee bit doddery.
“What I can’t understand is, why you didn’t just leave,” Romana said aloud. “Isn’t blowing up a sun, just to get rid of a few spores from the air vents, a little disproportionate?”
“Yes, well, that’s where it gets a bit complicated,” the Doctor said ruefully. “See, when the spores got into the air vents, it got a bit stuffy in here, so Donna—”
“My companion,” the Doctor affirmed, “thought she’d pop outside for a moment to get a bit of fresh air and, well, she kind of got…infected.”
“Oh, Doctor, ” Romana sighed. “Let me guess…twentieth century Earth?
“Twenty first, actually,” the Doctor sniffed.
Romana looked at him knowingly as he suddenly started to stare at the ceiling.
“Well, early twenty first,” he said, his voice barely audible.
“Doctor, you really have to start choosing your companions more discriminately,” Romana said. “You can’t just keep picking up random companions from class five planets. One of them is going to get hurt, one of these days!”
“Yes, I know,” the Doctor sighed. “I never mean to do it, it just keeps…. happening. ”
Romana shook her head in bemusement; it seemed some habits died hard. “So, your companion became infected…?”
“Ooh, you wouldn’t believe how fast it took hold of her metabolism; absolutely brilliant!” he said, his eyes suddenly alight. “Hit her nasal passages and was in her blood stream and brain stem within minutes. Never seen anything like it!”
“Her brain stem,” Romana said flatly. “Doctor, are you telling me what I think you’re telling me?”
“I think it’s because the planet’s sun was about to go supernova,” the Doctor said distractedly. “Usually, they just sit in the digestive tract and chow down… who’d have thought that a mushroom would have a survival instinct?”
“The mushroom for one, apparently,” Romana said dryly. “Where is she now? She can hardly be still on the planet if its sun has gone supernova.”
“Well, she should be here,” he said. “Except she isn’t… “ He looked at her, contemplatively. “You are, though, isn’t that interesting? ”
“Absolutely fascinating,” Romana said. “Does this have any bearing on the problem?”
“More than I’d like, I think,” he said. “I was trying to create a dimensional bubble and—”
Romana stared at him, horrified. “Doctor,” she said. “You didn’t.”
“I didn’t mean for it become temporally disruptive,” he said defensively. “I just wanted to create a small bubble; a tiny one, practically invisible to naked eye – well, that was the plan, anyway.”
“But that contravenes one of the primary laws of Rassilon, Doctor!” she exclaimed. “The repercussions are enormous. ”
“Well, I couldn’t just let her die, could I?” he said. “Not if I could find a way of removing the spores from her system, and it should have worked. It was a brilliant plan, absolute genius, if I say so myself … which I do.”
Romana rolled her eyes. “Doctor. ”
“Oh, come on,” the Doctor said, throwing his hands into the air. “You have to recognise the sheer poetry of it. One miniature alternate dimension, with an inherent aversion to fungus; one fungus infected human. Put them together for oh…two, three minutes. Pop the timer, and hey presto, fungus free human. Probably cleaned up her digestive tract a treat, too.”
“One problem, Doctor.”
The Doctor slumped, and leaned against the console. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “No Donna.”
For a moment, silence reigned in the TARDIS.
“Like what you did with the place,” Romana said eventually.
“Really?” the Doctor said, surprised. “Not a little bit too ostentatious?”
Romana gave it some thought. “No,” she decided. “It’s strangely homey, very bijou… maybe I’ll give it a try when I get back. We could do with a change.”
The Doctor snorted. “Good luck with that,” he said. “I was very attached to that white theme. Don’t know why, it just showed up all the clutter I used to hoard back then.”
Romana eyed the scattered tools, the cooling pot of tea on the console, and the random items of clothing strewn over the railings. Her lips twitched. “Glad to see you’ve kicked the habit,” she said.
The Doctor eyed her suspiciously, but didn’t comment.
“You know,” Romana said thoughtfully. “If the TARDIS’s control matrix had to be rebuilt from scratch, chances are, a lot of the temporal baselines have defaulted to factory settings…”
“Already thought of that,” he said. “I had a back up crystal with all the code adjustments. Loaded it the moment I booted up.”
“Nah,” he said. “Oh, wait a minute…”
“Had a bit of a run in with my fifth regeneration just after the boot up, caused a bit of a temporal disturbance…and then I got holed by the Titanic.”
“What? A coal powered steel ocean liner holed the TARDIS?” Romana asked, puzzled.
“The other one.”
“Oooh,” Romana said. “Still a bit iffy, though.”
The Doctor shrugged. “Reckoned it had something to do with the continuum overlap,” he admitted, patting the TARDIS’s console. “Had a bit of an existential moment, I think. ‘Do I exist, or am I a dream?” That sort of thing.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Romana said. “If any TARDIS could get a complex, it would be the this one.”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows and gave her the Look. It still didn’t work. Romana smiled at him. “You think it’s the TARDIS, don’t you?” she said. “All those accidents, those little mishaps. You think she’s trying to tell you something.”
“She’s been a bit temperamental, lately,” he muttered.
“Well, you can always look on the bright side. If it’s the TARDIS, she’s still alive. She’d never hurt a companion.”
“I still don’t know how she pulled it off,” he muttered. “It should be impossible. Opening a temporally disruptive inter-dimensional rift hub is one thing; making sure that Donna comes out the other end in one piece, is another. The Data she’d need is phenomenal. She’d need to get her hands on an exact copy of all the necessary dimensional and temporal shifts of the rift before it actually came into existence…”
They looked at each other.
“Doctor,” she said. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“The library mainframe,” he said, and groaned. “Of course! I should have realised sooner! I’ve been letting myself get distracted by, well….” He waved a hand at her.
“You’re welcome,” she said dryly, as he leaped over the railing and darted towards the inner doors. “Well, come on,” he said, over his shoulder. “Time is a wasting, Allons-y!”
Romana sighed, but followed him nonetheless. “It’s smaller than it was,” she observed, as they hurried down the hall.
“Your room wasn’t the only thing that had to go,” he said. “Mind you, I might rebuild some of it eventually, if I get the spare time.” He led the way into the library, and Romana came to a halt as she searched the room.
“But it’s all books,” she exclaimed.
“Part of this theme’s little touches, I’m afraid,” he said. “Apparently, data crystals clashed with the décor.”
“Well, I really hope you have a very good index filing system, that’s all I’ll say,” she said. “I know I have eleven regenerations left, but I don’t want to spend them all here!” The Doctor stopped mid-stride, his face giving away the struggle going on underneath, and a cold feeling settled in the pit of Romana’s stomach. “Don’t say anything,” she said. “I don’t want to know.”
He nodded, abruptly. “The index files are over here,” he said, as he rolled back a sliding door.
Romana scowled at the rows of little drawers. “Did you have to use post-its to mark the drawers, Doctor?” she asked.
“But they’re so handy, ” he protested.
“Handy?” she said, as she pulled a yellow one off the nearest drawer. “Note to self,” she read. “The design and blueprints index, for the mark two screwdriver, is not in this drawer, but it might be on the top row, in one of the drawers to the left…” she squinted to make out the miniscule glyphs scrawled at the bottom of the page. “Or possibly in one of the spare tea caddies in the kitchen.”
“Ooh, tea,” the Doctor said, his face brightening. “I could murder a cup!”
“Oh, Doctor,” she sighed, as she pulled out her screwdriver and adjusted the settings. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Romana,” the Doctor said, a touch nervously. “What are you doing?”
“Rearranging your filing system, what does it look like I’m doing?” she said, “Really, I don’t know how you ever find anything, Doctor.”
“But I’ve just got it the way I like it,” he protested. “It took me ages to work this system out.”
“Or possibly make a nice cup of tea,” Romana snorted, as she aimed the screwdriver and altered the filing system’s perception filter. The drawers blurred and then reconstituted. “That’s better!” she said, smiling with satisfaction at the clean lines of the monitor and keyboard.
“But I can’t have that!” the Doctor protested. “Why, anyone might wander in here and look things up! What if one of my companions discovers a book they shouldn’t – or requests a translation of one of the Gallifreyan texts?”
“Put a password on it!” she said, as she tapped at the console. “That should keep them out.”
“Doubt it,” the Doctor said, with a shade of pride. “Some of my companions are quite clever, you know.”
“But your diabolical post-it system has them completely stumped,” she said, with a touch of sarcasm.
“Ah well, it’s psychological, you see,” he said, with a shrug. “Put a shiny new database in front of them and they’ll just have to take a look – but post-its? They’re just things you write your shopping list on.”
Romana looked up from the keyboard. “You know,” she said. “That is really quite clever. ”
“I thought so,” he said solemnly, before breaking into a grin. “Of course, some of them really are shopping lists!”
Romana smirked. “You’re impossible.”
“Three times before breakfast,” he said, his grin becoming wider.
Romana laughed, and resumed her search. “Ah, here we are,” she said. “Thankfully, K-9 is a lot better at cross filing than you …shelf gamma six, top row, under the title ‘Martian Fairytales’…well, really, Doctor.”
“Just in case the post-its don’t work,” he said, not a bit contrite, as he bounded towards the back shelves.
“Hmmm.” She tapped at the monitor once more.
“Romana?” he called. “What are you up to?”
“Just brushing up on my multi-temporal anomalies,” she said. “I don’t want any accidents happening, when you send me back.” Silence greeted her from the other end of the room. “Doctor?”
“You could stick around for a while,” he said, abruptly. “It’s not as if you have anything important to get back to.”
Romana raised an eyebrow at that, the Doctor asking her to disrupt temporal protocols? “I think its best if I leave as soon as possible, Doctor, don’t you? We wouldn’t want to disrupt the timeline more than we already have.”
“Ah, yes, protocols,” he said softly, as he turned his back to her. “Mustn’t forget those.”
Romana looked at him, and then at the monitor. It was against all the rules, and if there was one thing the Doctor had taught her; rules were meant to be bent, but never broken… Romana adjusted her search, instinct leading to the information she needed.
Gallifrey, last known records, time date….oh.
She read on.
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