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The Inferno on the Horizon, Part Three: Vacuum

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“You gave them the transmat!”

“Call it a shortcut,” the Doctor said, mildly. “You took away almost a century. Those people needed time, and they no longer have it. Oron, she was smart, she can figure out how the transmat operates and incorporate it into their ship design. Few hops with that and they’re in another galaxy altogether, one that isn’t unexpectedly crashing into its neighbour.”

“Do you always do that?” The Witness sat straight up in her folding chair, fingertips pressed together. “Interfere, I mean. There’s no way they could have left their planet without your intervention. So a single planet dies. It’s a big universe. Why get involved?”

“Every single person on that planet has a life to live, and if you hadn’t come along they’d all have made it to the end of that life AND would have made sure the next generation could do the same. Now you saw them. They were working themselves every second they could just to spare themselves the sight of their children dying.”

“But you’ve stopped that,” there was a slight note of pleading in the Witness’s voice now. “You gave them the transmat.”

“For them, yes,” the Doctor stood in front of the Witness, framed by Afteos at one shoulder and the bulk of the Rueatric Spiral at the other. “Can you tell me how many other planets there are out there? All of them with people as scared and confused as the ones you met today. Some of them will escape, but not many. They’ll work themselves to the bone, and for nothing.”

“This is not my-”

“Or they’ll throw the rest of their short lives away trying to appease the inferno on the horizon. They’ll kill each other, looking to find the ones to blame. And that’s not the end of it. Those who escape this won’t escape your last little surprise, will they? As your TARDIS takes the universe with it into oblivion. There’s no distance far enough that can outrun that, is there?”

“There’s nothing I-”

“Can I have a coffee?” the Doctor’s sudden change of direction was so disorientating the Witness rocked back in her chair. “Sorry, it’s just I’ve been smelling it all this time and it’s so good. Lemb, right? The best.”

In silence, the Witness poured the Doctor a small cup of the precious coffee. She took it, breathing in the bitter steam. For a moment, there was total silence on the junkyard planet.

“I love those moments,” she said, quietly. “Little bits of quiet. Sometimes it’s even quiet enough that the inside of your head stops, just for a second, and you don’t have to think of anything. Only a second, but even in thousands of years of life those seconds stand out. Do you know what I mean?”

“Not in my head.”

“Didn’t think so,” the Doctor took a sip. “What are you thinking about right now?”


“Got to admit, I wasn’t expecting that answer.”

“You said it earlier – a vacuum in a vacuum,” the WItness said, jaw tight to hold back excitement. “That’s how you could stop it. Or… slow it down. No, no, you could stop the end of the, the end of this universe.”

“With a flask?” The Doctor looked baffled.

“With a TARDIS!” The WItness stood up, holding the flask in front of her face. “You’re clearly very clever, Doctor, and yes I get it, I’m a monster. I can’t do anything to help those people, not now. But I know things you’ve never even dreamed of trying to work out, and I can save… everyone else. I can save them from me. Get into your stupid blue box, I’ll show you what it can do.”


A vacuum inside a vacuum. Unlimited space inside unlimited space, a universe within a universe. The Doctor had seen other realities, once or twice, mostly accidentally, but the Witness lived them. She knew how to shift the TARDIS not just back and forth, but across, somehow. She sketched out, very briefly, a plan to push her exploding time machine into an empty plane of existence, to let the energy it was kicking out flash across the thinnest membrane of reality, harming no-one. It sounded impossibly difficult, but she looked confident and almost happy.

“No, that one,” she barked at the Doctor, who moved her hand to the lever on her right. “Ok, down on that. We need to push the Heart of the TARDIS into unphased synchronisation with the universal entropic outersphere.”

“I don’t know what that means! I always know what that sort of thing means, but I’ve got no clue and I love it!” shouted the Doctor as the TARDIS made groaning noises she had never before heard.

“We’re putting your TARDIS around mine, materialising it inside the Heart!”

The Doctor stopped what she was doing to stare across at the Witness, who was now galloping around the console with a wild look in her eye.

“That’ll kill her!” the Doctor screamed. “You can’t..!”

“Trust me,” the Witness yelled back above the screams of the TARDIS. “Your box will be fine!” There was a very loud bang, and something fizzed in the distance. “Mostly fine!” 

The Doctor grabbed a monitor to check the readout “That was the casino!”

“You’re a gambler??” 

“I just like the ambience!”

“Look, It’s all about containment. We might lose a room or two but we’re trying to contain the explosion just long enough to pop it into the empty gap between universes”

“That’s impossible!”

“And you’ve never seen the impossible?” cried the Witness, bringing both hands down on the console and drawing the most distressing howl yet from the aching machine. The Doctor simply held on as the whole of reality rattled her teeth. The giant crystalline column in the console’s centre ground against itself, lit from inside with a painful intensity. There was an unnerving sensation of being inside out, and the Doctor’s memory of the very first trip through time she ever took, as a child on Gallifrey, lashed out into her seasick mind.

The TARDIS broke through the walls of everything, and into the void of nothing.


Across the star systems of the Afteos Galaxy, in the far arms of the Rumetric Spiral, there was a name spoken in awe and reverence. The saviour of civilisations, the bringer of hope. One woman, travelling in a curious box, who would turn up one day and nudge the right people in the right direction. Where the future had seemed bleak, she would come and give them light in the darkness. She seemed to know exactly how to help, to turn nascent spacefaring programmes into interstellar escape routes.

Over a century, there would be refugees turning up in far galaxies, talking of her. How she worked to make them safe, tireless and cheerful to the day she disappeared, as suddenly as she arrived. No one could really say how many people she saved from the collision of the two galaxies. No one was able to keep a count. Most of them called her “the Healer”.

On a distant rock, barely noticeable in the vastness of space, there was a blue box and a chair. The Doctor picked up the lunchbox that had been left by the chair, and the flask. The sandwiches seemed fresh, so she ate one.

“You’re going to leave the coffee for me, though?” said the Witness. Her TARDIS was small, grey, unadorned, a utility vehicle. They had picked it up on an abandoned Gallifrey in some far-distant universe; the Witness had refused to be drawn on what might have happened to the Time Lords there.

“I said it wouldn’t even be cold,” the Doctor replied, handing it over.

The Inferno on the Horizon, Part Two: Samesh

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The people of Samesh, on the planet Hyllt, were busy. While some watched the sky, others toiled over mechanical wonders, or delved into layers of physics that bordered on magic. They worked quickly, determinedly, but they had almost no time to reach their goal. They were, as a city, nation, planet, doomed.

In the central library, in a mostly-empty side room, a small disturbance blew some papers around, flipped open a carelessly dropped book, then stopped. In the silence that followed, a door swung open in the newly-arrived blue box in the stacks. Two women stepped out.

“This is a library,” said one, the taller of the two, gazing down at the other with hard, dark eyes. “I have seen many libraries.”

“Course you have,” said the other – smaller, blonde, with a wide open face and a chaotic energy bound tight inside her voice. “Not here to show you books. Although if you’d like to take a quick peek? They won’t exist in a few months, you’ll never get to read them or anything else ever again.”

“A cheap trick, I’ve read more than enough. I’m hardly likely to be swayed by additional literature. Or the loss of it.”

Tarres, assistant chief under-librarian, cleared his throat.

“Oh hello, didn’t see you there,” said the shorter woman, fixing Tarres with the most cheerful smile he’d ever encountered. Several lifetimes of cheer seemed to beam from it. “I’m The Doctor, this rather grumpy lady here is The Witness. Would you mind showing us the nearest window?”

“Uhhh,” Tarres, caught briefly between outrage and sheer bewilderment, decided it was easier simply to comply. Although he was technically the highest-ranking person in the library, following the conscription of the chief under-librarian for their four month enforced research opportunity, he suddenly felt outranked by this Doctor. He led the way to the Astrolabe Window. It wasn’t, he confessed in his mind, actually the nearest but it was the most impressive.

“What, uh, what kind of Doctor, anyway?” he asked as they walked. “Physics, chemistry, astronomy?”

“Oh yes,” The Doctor affirmed, unhelpfully.

“I expect you’ll have been conscripted already, then,” Tarres chattered. “Thank you for your service, Doctor! All our greatest minds working for the cause!”

“What cau-” the taller woman, the Witness, started to ask, but then they stepped in front of the Astrolabe Window.

It was vast, occupying the entire wall of the cathedral-like library. A wheel within a wheel, stars and planets picked out in coloured glass against an ink-blue sky. This was the work, Tarres explained, of one hand. Centuries ago, the greatest librarian of the age, Gorian Helm, used every star map and astronomical text available to create a precise visual description of the heavens. Sadly, since the trouble started it has been almost useless. “But,” he added. “Of course, it’s not that the Astrolabe Window is wrong. The sky is wrong.”

“Show me a real window,” there was a flat urgency in the Doctor’s voice now. “Show me the sky.”


Two years ago, the skies ignited. The government of Samesh was quick to act – other nations dragged their feet, decided it would all be over soon, that it was important to show the sky that they would not be cowed by a mere celestial conflagration. But not Samesh. They put their best minds to it, finding it necessary to conscript them to the great state research departments. As a nation they were proud of their scientific endeavours. It was expected, before the trouble started, that they would be the first to send one of their cosmonauts out into deep space.

The Doctor listened to Tarres explaining this as she stared at the maelstrom. It was distant, much less extravagant than on The Witness’s viewing planetoid. But it transmitted an unmistakable threat. It was, and everyone in Samesh knew it, the end of everything they knew.

“It’s the end of everything anyone knows,” breathed the Doctor. The Witness looked unimpressed.

“Do you expect me to see people and have a change of heart, Doctor?” she asked. “I fear you’ve underestimated me. I know what I’m doing, what I have done.”

“These people were on the verge of interstellar flight, do you understand that?” the Doctor was angry now. “Given another hundred years, they would have been capable of intergalactic travel. They would have had the technology to escape this.”

“It honestly doesn’t matter to me. Is this really what you brought me here to see?”

“No,” said the Doctor, turning to Tarres. “Tarres, wasn’t it? Tarres, can you help me out here? Where do you keep your boffins?”


The Institute of Neo-Astrological Phenomenology was housed in a large building in the capital city of Lilden, repurposed from an old tyre factory. No one used tyres any more; maglev was the standard way to move around Samesh so the large building, with its high ceilings and tall windows, was perfect. It was where one would spends one’s four month enforced research opportunity, but some of the scientists, mechanics and engineers would stay for longer. Some had been there from the start, since the Institute opened its slightly rubber-smelling doors in response to the change in the night sky.

Oron was once a lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Samesh (formerly Lilden Technical College). She gave up her tenured position the moment The INAP was established, and had quickly become seen as a great authority. It was she who had first realised it was an intergalactic collision, and her theory that it was going to consume the planet in less than three years was almost universally accepted. This had pushed those at work in the Institute harder than they could have imagined. It had changed the way they lived, thought, worked. The brooding menace on the edge of the world never gave them peace.

The man Tarres, whom she recognised vaguely as an adjunct to one of her researchers, apologised for disturbing her, but there were some… very odd, very knowledgeable ladies who were very keen to talk to her about the.. the trouble. “They pretty much frog-marched me here from the library,” he said, apologetically. “But I really do think they might be able to help you, in your research.”

“Oh, fine, fine, fine, good, yes, send them in,” Oron said on the outbreath of her sigh. Tarres turned but the door was already open and a woman unknown to her was halfway across the room.

“Love this! Old tyre factory? Still whiffs a bit, doesn’t it? Can’t get that smell out. Hello, I’m the Doctor, that’s The Witness,” she pointed over to a dark-haired, reserved woman dressed like an archive, who folded her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “She probably won’t say anything but that’s ok, I’ll say too much so it all balances out. I’m the Doctor, by the way, no, said that already.”

“Tarres said you may know something about…?” Oron came to the point.

“Ah. Yes, that’s true,” the Doctor looked at the walls. “I see you’ve figured out it’s an intergalactic collision. No one ever thinks about the planets involved with one of those, do they? So many lives, and here you are, working away to stop it. But you can’t stop it can you?”

“Can you?”

“Can’t stop it, no. Might be able to give you a bit of advice for how to outrun it, though.”

“You can’t outrun the collapse of every star system in a fifty-thousand light year radius,” Oron told her, tears of frustration and fury standing out in her eyes. “Are you here to talk nonsense or help with the project?”

“I never miss the opportunity to do both,” the Doctor said. She found a photo of a small boy in a frame on a near shelf. “Your son? He looks very happy.”

“He is,” Oron said, reaching for the frame. “He barely knows what’s going on, thankfully.” Before she could take the picture from her hands, the Doctor handed it casually to the Witness. Not expecting this, she fumbled the frame and managed to push a small button on the side of the glass. The image rippled, then seemed to animate. The boy peered at the unfamiliar face of the Witness.

“Mummy?” the voice from the frame sounded sleepy and confused. The Witness had a look of panic in her eyes as she thrust it towards Oron. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing sweetie,” soothed Oron, snatching the frame. “Sorry, called you by mistake. Were you asleep?”

“Just having my nap,” mumbled the boy. “Daddy says you’re coming home next week, will you bring me a present?”

“Of course. Now get back to sleep.”

“I’m going to have breakfast. We’ve got fruit! Bye, Mummy! Love you!”

“Love you too, sweetie,” said Oron, gazing fondly as the screen melted back to a still photograph. 

“A present!” The Doctor exclaimed as she sat down and put her feet on the desk. “Kids never understand when you’re working, do they? So… what’s the project, what are you going to do?”

“We’re trying to escape,” said Oron quietly. “We were so close to full space travel. We might just be able to build, I don’t know, a generation  ship. Get our children safely away from here.”

“And how far do you think they could go, these children?”

“I don’t know,” Oron said, sitting down heavily in her leather chair. “Far enough. Far enough that they could outlive us, at least. Far enough that they wouldn’t have to watch us die.” She noticed the Doctor look over to the Witness, who did not return her gaze.

“And you don’t have to watch them.”

“You’re developing that ship here?” scoffed the Witness in the silence that followed. “In less than three years from almost a standing start?”

“What else could we do? You can’t stop two galaxies in their tracks! Who knows, if we had more time, we could have done more. But we don’t.”

“No,” the Doctor stood up. “I’m sorry. I wish you did. Oh!” she suddenly brightened up, reaching into one of the inner pockets of her coat. “Tell you what, have this. Might help, might not. Anyway, I’ve just remembered that we’ve got to go, come on Witness, back to my TARDIS.”

“But that’s…” protested the Witness.

“I know, but you don’t need it any more!” the Doctor called from the corridor. And with that, they were gone, and Oron was in the quiet of her office once again. She turned the small disc the Doctor had given her over in her hands. It was brass, or something like brass, and pulsed with energy. Lights moved across it in unfamiliar patterns, heading to a spot near the rim. Tentatively, she put a finger on the spot and-

Part three here

The Inferno on the Horizon, Part One: An Uncomfortable Chair


The world was fresh, but the scene in the skies ancient, cosmically so. The only inhabitant of this new planet carefully flipped open a canvas chair and sat in it. It was structured to recline slightly, and she stared at the night sky. Not that night meant anything here on this world without a sun.

Above her, two galaxies were smashing in to each other. Their vast arms, each one filled with uncountable numbers of stars, were folding over themselves like mating octopuses. Even in the short time she had been here, building this nothing-planet, this globe of ash and debris, she had noticed flares as stars collided and died in gouts of boiling hydrogen. Nebulae grew from the stardust, puffed and billowed into shapes she could briefly nickname (“The Whale”, “The Ice Cream”, “The Deformed Rabbit”) before they blew themselves out in the unstoppable momentum of the galactic crash.

She had been travelling for a long time. Centuries, millennia. Across time and space, and all relative dimensions. She had seen so much, and it was only occasionally as grand and beautiful as this. Usually galactic collisions took place over millions of years, but this one – when the Afteos Galaxy smashed into the Rumetric Spiral – took just 67 months and two days. She’d been meaning to catch it for so long.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, slipped on a pair of sunglasses and picked up a flask she’d placed by the camp chair a few minutes earlier, having fished it out of the console of her ship. 67 months. She might have brought a more comfortable chair but, oh well.

There was very little sound, that was the interesting thing. You might reasonably expect a howling multi-solar wind even at this distance, but it happened mostly in silence, except for that grinding, rushing noise like a key being dragged up a piano wire. Oh no, hang on, that was here. She almost recognised it. It sounded a little like the time she’d tried to take off in the middle of a gravity well. As it faded into a blarting whoosh, she looked around, pushing her sunglasses up into her hair.

Behind her was a blue box. Deeply incongruous on this ball of snaggled rock. She recognised it as a TARDIS, of course, you don’t mistake that sort of thing. The door opened and out stumbled a woman in a long, flowing dove-grey coat that almost but didn’t quite get tangled around her legs as she placed her boots on the uncertain surface of the moon.

“Hello!” called the woman. “Is this …. “ she took in the absurd, ramshackle planetoid. “Well, clearly it isn’t. Look at this place, it’s amazing, looks like it’s made of old tin cans!” she looked at her with sudden directness “Did you make this? It’s very impressive. I’m a bit of a tinkerer myself.” She finished with a broad smile, the seriousness vanished in a breathless instant.

“Yes, I did, thank y-” she started, flattered, then recomposed herself. “How did you even know it was here? It doesn’t show up on any charts.”

The strange woman was on one knee now, patting the ground. She had produced a jeweller’s glass from nowhere and was examining a small chunk she had pulled from the surface. “Oh, you know. Time and space and… stuff. Got a bit of a talent for finding odd things in the universe. You’d know about that.”

She shrugged, a barely noticeable motion. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. She wasn’t committing to anything.

“I’m The Doctor,” she said and paused, as if expecting a reaction. When none was forthcoming, she turned her back and pulled out a bashed up lump of metal that made the familiar wheedling trill of a sonic screwdriver. “So your TARDIS is around here somewhere, then. Good chameleon circuit! Never really went for that myself but always nice when it works. So!” The Doctor grinned as if she was about to suggest getting a takeaway. “Who are you, and how did you manage to escape from Gallifrey?”


She had big plans, when she was younger. When she was a different woman. She wanted to see the world – no, bigger plans. The worlds. As many as possible. She took a TARDIS on what was ostensibly a routine patrol around the borders of Gallifrey (it was a time of peace, a time when Daleks were little more than an occasional irritant) and simply never returned.

There was an aspect of the TARDIS technology that was underexplored; the ability to traverse relative dimensions. Time Lords spent all their energy on time, which was right there in the name of course, but there was so much more out there. She spent her next lifetimes shifting between realities. Sometimes finding herself in claustrophobic pocket universes – a realm of endless fire criss-crossed by black cabs and shambling scarecrows was a low point – sometimes in parallel worlds that resembled her own so precisely it made her question why she would even bother coming. In one universe the only difference she ever found was that pigeons didn’t appear to exist, which made it ever so slightly better than her home reality.

Eventually indifferent to the trivial differences between realites, she sought out spectacle. Events that were unique or of cosmic significance. From the birth of the universe to its quiet, unassuming, frankly slightly dull death, she had seen more than any being alive. 

Her name, now, was The Witness.


“Oh right,” said the Doctor. “You came, you saw, you left, got it. So you’re here to watch the Afteos-Rumetric Event. Can’t blame you – spectacular stuff up there right now.” On cue, one star drew close to another and for a brief moment the two circled each other before colliding and exploding with what, at this distance, sounded a little like a pop.

“And why are you here?”

“I didn’t have anything better to do, I suppose,” the Doctor jammed her hands into her coat pockets. “Thought I might try to stop it.”

“You can’t,” the Witness sat forward. “It’s a fixed point in time!”

“Yeah. Well. I’ve dealt with a lot of them.”

The Witness and the Doctor exchanged a very long look, ended when the Doctor spotted an object by the camp chair.

“A Thermos! Brilliant!” she picked up the small tartan flask. “You don’t get enough Thermos flasks in space, you know. Which is a real shame, in my opinion, because they’re vacuum sealed and what’s better in a vacuum than another, smaller vacuum?”

She unscrewed the lid and poured a small quantity of the contents into the lid. “Look at that! Fresh coffee! It’s like magic, isn’t it?”

The Witness jumped up from her chair and snatched the flask back from the Doctor’s hands. “My fresh coffee, thank you.” In the sky, a flare brighter than most suns put the artificial planet into the sunniest of summer days before abruptly fading into darkness. The Doctor pulled down a pair of smoked goggles and stared upwards.

“Lots of people are dying right now,” said The Doctor, quietly. “Millions. Billions. A planet, a solar system at a time. And you’re just watching that?”

“I’ve seen a lot of death,” The Witness replied. “So much. First hand, up close. I’ve seen it remotely. I once saw Gallifrey, my own home – our own home – razed to the ground by Cybermen and every single person I knew and loved converted. A different Gallifrey,” she added, holding up a hand at the Doctor’s expression. “A different universe. But those faces were the same, I knew them all. Maybe I was out there, behind a metal face. Upgraded.”

They both stood in silence for a moment, deep in their own memories, staring upwards. Fire trailed from one edge of the sky to the other, something enormous but so distant it barely lit their upturned faces.

“Never used to take 67 months,” said the Doctor. “The collision, I mean. I have records of it taking well over a hundred years. Reliable records. I even saw it happen, once. Which leads me to wonder how you consider this a fixed point in time when it is quite obviously broken?”

The Witness shrugged, lightly, and sat back down.

“You know what I’m also wondering about? How come my sonic couldn’t locate your TARDIS at all. Even a good chameleon circuit should turn up a trace, and all I’m getting is a transmat signature,” she waved the odd sonic lump around again and looked at the readout. “Dalek tech, so I’m guessing you stole it, but I’m not here to judge. Let she who is without sin, etc etc.”

“I’ve abandoned my TARDIS,” The Witness didn’t meet the Doctor’s eye as she said it. “I’ve given up travelling.”

“Abandoned it?” The Doctor looked genuinely shocked. “It’s not… a junk automobile! A TARDIS isn’t a piece of equipment to drop on some planet, it’s a… wait, you’ve given up travelling to live here? On this? With a camp chair, a Thermos of coffee and a box of sandwiches? No. That’s not it, is it? You’re here-”

“-to die, yes.”

“Last regeneration?” The Witness nodded. “Sick?” She shook her head, no. “Just too old? Seen too much? Oh, tell me about it. I’ve been there. I got to the end, ran out of road and somehow I just kept going. More road appeared, don’t ask me how. The great benevolence of the Time Lord Council!”

“You’re trying to tell me you were gifted further regenerations?” The Doctor nodded, eyes bright. The Witness  thought about it, then turned away. “I don’t care. I’ve seen enough to last twelve more lives. I just want it over.”

“So here we are. I suppose you might want a bit of company?” Silence. “No, suppose not. Fair enough. And I did say I was going to stop the collision, didn’t I? Tell you what, it’d be really useful to have a second TARDIS, is there any chance I … could…”

The Doctor followed her gaze to the brightest star in the sky, right in the centre of the colliding galaxies. Finally, The Witness realised, The Doctor had figured it out. Horror and panic met on the other Time Lord’s face, crashing together in a mirror of the spectacle above them.

“You can’t be serious! You’re forcing it to tear itself apart to pull those two galaxies together!”

“We’re both going out together,” said The Witness with some satisfaction. “We agreed. Me, and my oldest, my only friend.”

“No, no, no,” the Doctor stammered. “You don’t understand. You don’t get it. No. This isn’t just a big explosion! Trust me, I know. A TARDIS being destroyed is too much for the fabric of the universe, you’re going to tear reality apart – you’re going to extinguish everything!”

The Witness smiled, and sipped some coffee. “I’ve seen so much.”

“Well. I can tell you one thing you haven’t seen before. In all these universes, in all this time. I can tell. In the way you’ve spoken, by the events you’ve stood by and watched happen. One thing you’ve never witnessed, Witness.”

“And what is that?”



Back in her TARDIS, The Doctor ran in a loop around the console, flipping switched, pulling levers, winding gears. Her hands flat on the vibrating machinery, she stared at a screen. A crack was spreading across it – a strange new shape, but the way it spilled light was horribly familiar. Small now. Maybe she could stop it. How did it go last time?

“Oh yeah, I had to reboot the universe. Not really keen on doing that again. Who knows what happens if you keep doing it? Probably void the warranty.”

She spun on her heel and went to open the door. Beyond was a slow-motion explosion in space. A TARDIS dying. Well.

“Been there, done that. Now, if this were my TARDIS, I wouldn’t have let it happen in the first place,” she paused and listened to her own words. “Not helping.” She spun a dial. The great pulsing crystals in the centre of the console made a grinding noise, like two planes of existence rubbing together. Or, more prosaically, two giant balloons. “Right, can’t go back to before it started, didn’t think so, worth a try, eh?”


The Witness settled down in her chair again. Poured out a cup of coffee. The Doctor was right, it was nothing short of miraculous, the way it retained its heat. It tasted sensational still, but then she’d used the very best beans, the ones from the high plains of Lemb, where the sun shines only for three months every three hundred years and creates the most perfect crop of coffee beans. Enough for one flask. This would be the last one anyone would taste.

“Why though?” said The Doctor from just behind her. The Witness was so startled she jumped slightly, spilling the coffee. “Why here, why now? Why choose this universe?”

“Does it matter?” she shrugged, dabbing at her jacket with a handkerchief. “ I was here. I don’t have a connection to this reality. I just let my TARDIS take me to the nearest one.” 

“You know, I’ve known evil people,” said the Doctor, walking beneath the flaming sky. “I’ve known real monsters. I’ve seen the Dalek civilisation, all of it, bread rolls to coffee. Watched mad dictators declare death to whole worlds, doomsday devices and everything. But here you are, with your neatly packed lunch and your hot coffee – which smells delicious by the way – and your folding chair and your sensible trousers and you’re the most evil of the lot. You’re condemning an entire universe to oblivion because you’re bored. Because you’re tired. Because you want to see what happens. Well, let me tell you about tired. I may only have one universe, but I’ve seen more than you’ll ever know. I’ve seen what’s really important, I’ve seen the best in this universe and the worst. The spectacular and the depraved, I’ve seen what you cannot from your viewpoint.”

“I’ve seen everything, Doctor,” The Witness sighed. “You can’t appeal to my sense of adventure here, it’s exhausted.”

“You’re wrong,” The Doctor started smiling, a wild look gaining her eyes. “You are so wrong – you’ve seen a grain of sand and thought it was the beach. You’ve looked all your life through the wrong end of the telescope.”

The Witness sat impassive. Pushed her sunglasses higher up her nose. Looked back to the sky.

“Right.” The Doctor walked away, back to her distant TARDIS.

“Are you sure I can’t show you something, while I’m here?” she said, lightness returning to her tone as she reappeared by the folding chair. The Witness sighed.

“Will you leave me alone if I say yes?” she asked. The Doctor nodded. “And you’ll bring me back here when you’ve shown me this… marvel?”

“Oh, the very spot, to the very second. Your coffee won’t even be cold. You know I can.”

“One last trip couldn’t hurt.”

“Exactly! Couldn’t hurt. Come on, then.”

Part two here