Chin on hand, Romana watched with amusement as the Doctor peered at the console, the TARDIS's control manual opened up beside him.
"No, no this can't be right," he muttered, scowling at the console before calling over his shoulder. "K-9, have you been recalibrating the randomiser again?"
"Negative, Master," K-9 said, his motor purring softly as he powered his way into his room.
"Are you sure?"
"Positive, Master," K-9 said, and Romana's lips twitched. Technically, K-9 didn't have the circuitry to support an emotive response matrix, but he managed to sound affronted nonetheless.
"Face it, Doctor," she drawled. "You've obviously read the manual incorrectly."
"What? Oh, don't be silly," the Doctor said, frowning distractedly. "No, it must be the…oh, that doesn't look good."
Sighing, Romana got to her feet and joined him at the console. "What is it now?" she asked, exasperated. "Surely it can't be…oh, that isn't good."
"I've just said that, didn't I?"
"Well," Romana sniffed, "That doesn't really count, does it?"
He gave her the Look, the one he used when he couldn't think of something suitably quelling to say. She ignored it, like she usually did, and watched over his shoulder as he brought up the data on the anomaly. "It's an inter-dimensional rift hub," she concluded.
"That's not all it is," he said grimly. "We have to get out of here."
"Doctor, don't be ridiculous, we can't just leave a wild rift hub wander willy-nilly around the universe, it needs to be contained!"
"Romana, look at it! See the spikes in the gamma spectrum? The quantum fluctuations in its radiation field?"
"Let me see," Romana said, as she leaned in to have a closer look. "But that's not right. That would mean there are multiple timelines snarled in its matrix."
"Exactly!" the Doctor declared.
"But Doctor, don't you see? This means that we can't leave. Gallifrey needs to be informed, they'll need data, we need to find a way to dissipate the quantum fluctuations - if we don't, there'll be multiple timeline incursions. We could have stone aged civilisations being bombarded with new technologies, Daleks storming through the millennia, the consequences could be disastrous!"
The Doctor stared at the monitor, curiously silent.
"Doctor?" Romana ventured, after a few moments.
"You're right, of course," he said quietly. "But I can't help but feel we should leave now. I've got this feeling…"
Romana's hand tightened on the console. She had known the Doctor long enough to realise that the Doctor's 'feelings' usually had some basis in fact. He was a strange old coot, quite unlike any other Gallifreyan she'd met, but he did seem to have an instinct for danger.
But the Doctor never ran from danger. He fled from many things, rules and responsibilities, Gallifrey and commonsense, but never danger. A cold shiver ran up her back.
"We'll leave," she said, as she reached for the co-ordinate controls. "Right now."
"No!" the Doctor barked, snatching at her hand. "No," he repeated, in a gentler voice. "You're right, we can't leave."
"No, Romana, we need to follow this through," the Doctor said, as he crouched down beside K-9 and rested his hand upon its head. "K-9? I need you to do something for me."
"I need you to fix the current timeline co-ordinates in your databank, lock it into your core memory and feed it into the TARDIS's unreroutable library banks. Can you do that for me?"
"Doctor, that's against regulations," Romana said slowly. "Only the High Council is supposed to add data to a TARDIS's library mainframe. It's to stop information from conflicting timelines crossing over and…oh."
"Exactly," the Doctor said. "We're going in, and I think it's best if we leave a trail of breadcrumbs, don't you?"
Romana sighed; he had a point. "There'll be repercussions."
"Yes, well, there are always repercussions," he said. "Hold on, this might get a little bit bumpy - K-9, has the information transfer been actualised?"
"Affirmative, Master, all relevant data has been written into the library mainframe."
"Right, then," Romana said, taking a deep breath as she took her place beside him at the controls.
"Right," he said, his face suddenly lighting up with a wide, open grin. "Let's see what we'll find, eh?"
The Doctor took the randomiser offline …quot; a reasonable precaution considering the circumstances - and took control of the TARDIS's co-ordinate panel. Romana watched the data stream down the console and, on impulse, raised the shield on the TARDIS's view screen. "Oh my," she breathed, as she caught her first glimpse of the rift, threading its way through the vacuum of space.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" the Doctor observed. "But then, so many deadly things are."
"Do you think the TARDIS's shielding is up to this?" Romana asked.
"Should be," the Doctor said. "Although, who knows what could happen if we get caught in the wrong dimensional shift…"
"You're not inspiring confidence, Doctor," Romana said dryly.
"My apologies," the Doctor said, his tone equally dry, as the rift grew larger on the screen. "It's as if…oh dear."
"Doctor?" Romana asked, as the Doctor suddenly clutched at his chest.
"It's nothing," the Doctor said, waving her away. "Just a little…indigestion?"
"Timelords don't get indigestion," Romana pointed out worriedly.
"Oh, really?" the Doctor said, his feet suddenly giving away. "Fancy that."
The TARDIS lurched, and Romana stumbled on her feet as she reached for the Doctor. They both fell, the Doctor cushioning their fall.
"Romana," the Doctor said, his voice shallow, as if he was breathless. "I don't feel so well."
Romana stared at the sudden pallor of his face and reached for his wrist. His pulses were dull and thready, not a good sign. "Doctor, I think you may be dying," she said.
"No," he said. "Not dying….just not feeling myself….it's as if…" he shuddered, and Romana pulled his head onto her lap, gingerly patting it as the shivers subsided.
"There, there," she said.
"There, where?" he mumbled.
Romana smiled. "It's an Earth phrase, remember?" she said. "You told me I should make an effort to pick up the lingo…so I did."
"How nice," he said. "But that's not what I meant. Where are-" He shuddered again, this time more violently, and Romana grabbed his shoulders, trying to anchor him as the TARDIS abruptly reeled around them.
"That can't be good," she said, under her breath.
"No, not good at all," the Doctor agreed weakly. "Romana, I fear I may have made a slight miscalculation…"
"Don't talk, Doctor," Romana said. "Save your strength. We need to get you to the infirmary, do a full body scan. Just give me a moment to pull the TARDIS away from its course."
"Too late," the Doctor said. "It's already begun, we've no option but to ride it out."
"Ride what out?" Romana asked, exasperated. "Listen, you're obviously in no condition to-"
"No, Romana, you must listen to me," the Doctor said, clutching at her hand. "It's the timeline, you see, I've crossed my own path. It's the only explanation for what's…oh, damn!"
Romana held on as the Doctor rode out another seizure, and bit her lip worriedly. "Doctor" she said, as it subsided. "I don't understand. A Timelord crossing his own timeline is inadvisable, but hardly this disruptive …quot; not unless something has gone seriously wrong with the timeline continuum and the High Council wouldn't allow that. There are safeguards put in place, guidelines to observe, it can't happen."
"Not now, maybe," he gasped. "But in the future? We've crossed the rift horizon, who knows what will happen."
"Don't be silly, Doctor," Romana said sternly. "The future, the past, it makes no difference. Gallifrey is always. "
"Then explain this! "
Romana watched in amazement as his face suddenly blurred, and then became strangely angular. His hair, under her hand, suddenly felt less coarse, and curiously straighter …quot; although still rather unruly, a wry voice in the back of her mind noted.
"Not much…time," the Doctor groaned. "My personality is being subsumed by the dominant Doctor in this timeline. Not…permanent, I think. But best not to linger too long."
The light in the TARDIS dimmed to an amber glow, and Romana frowned as the ceiling suddenly began to warp and rise, curving like a cathedral dome. The Doctor's body arched, as if in pain, and she held on as he transformed in front of her eyes, his frame becoming narrower, the bones underneath shifting, becoming sharper. If it weren't for the fact that his clothes also seemed to be going through the same process, she'd have sworn it was some sort of esoteric regeneration.
Of course, this was the Doctor, so she still couldn't quite rule that out yet.
"Doctor…Doctor?" she said.
"Ho…hmmm," the Doctor muttered under his breath, his eyes still closed.
"Who…what!" The Doctor sat bolt upright, hair all askew.
"Actually, I think the correct question is 'when'," Romana said mildly.
"Romana? What are you doing here?"
"I sometimes ask myself the same question," Romana sighed. "What is the last thing you remember?"
"Um, mushrooms?" Doctor said,
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not really, no," he said, as he rolled to his feet. "Where's Donna?"
"My companion …quot; red head, Londoner, kind of abrasive…"
"Sorry, doesn't ring a bell."
"That's… not good," the Doctor said quietly. "Romana?"
"It's really you, isn't it?"
Romana raised an eyebrow. "You were expecting me to be someone else?" she asked coolly.
"Yes, no, I don't know," His expression looked lost as he held out a tentative hand. Romana took it, and let him pull her up.
"You look like you've just seen a ghost," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Am I…" He laughed abruptly. "Yes, fine, brilliant, fantastic, even." But his voice sounded curiously dull.
Romana tried to pull her hand away, but he held onto it firmly, his thumb brushing against her wrist. "Doctor, I know this can be a bit disorientating, but you're acting a bit strange…."
"Oh, sorry!" he dropped her hand, as if it had suddenly become poisonous. "Two hearts," he mumbled.
Romana grinned. "One for casual, one for best," she quipped. It was an old Gallifreyan expression, taken from a children's nursery rhyme.
"Yes, you were always the best," he said, his eyes darting away guiltily.
Romana felt a brief spurt of irritation. She had known that this Doctor would not be her Doctor, but there was such a thing as good manners. "So," she said flatly. "Are you going to help me fix this, or are you just going to keep acting like a…a… primate!"
"Fix this?" he asked, puzzled.
"Well, I can hardly stay here, can I?" she said, exasperated. "We need to get back to our old timeline."
"You mean you're not…you're from the past?"
"But of course I am," Romana said impatiently. "It's obvious! Well, maybe not, but that's beside the point… listen, the Doctor - my Doctor - said that it had something to do with crossing your own timeline. Foolish, I know, because the factors involved for such a possibility to be realised are so incredibly unlikely. One would have to wipe out every High Council safeguard; every measure Gallifrey has taken, over the millennia, to prevent this sort of instability …quot;why, you'd practically have to wipe out Gallifre-"
The Doctor took a sharp, indrawn breath, and Romana stilled. "That's it, isn't it?" she said, as the silence drew on. "Something has happened to Gallifrey."
"I can't talk about it," he said automatically.
Romana raised an eyebrow. "It's never stopped you before," she reminded him.
"That was different. I was different," he said, his eyes becoming cold. "Things are not what they were."
"Yes, I think I'm beginning to realise that," Romana said stiffly. She was really, really beginning to dislike this Doctor; he was so rude. Not that her Doctor couldn't be rude on occasion but he, at least, was a little more genial about it. "Perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on the problem at hand. Namely, my presence here."
Guilt flashed across his face once more, but he nodded. "Yes, I think that's best," he said briskly. "You said that we crossed… wait a minute, we?"
Romana sighed. "You were subsumed," she explained. "By, well, you. One minute you were all scarves and teeth; and the next, you were… well, you're still all teeth, but at least your dress sense has improved."
The Doctor preened. "You like?" he asked, as he did a little half turn to show off his new body. "Quite svelte, don't you think? I'm not so sure about the hair, but the bone structure-" He slapped his cheeks. "Is quite good …quot; and look, I've got freckles!"
"Very fetching, I'm sure," Romana said dryly. Rassilon help her, the Doctor had added narcissism to his long list of personality traits.
His expression drooped. "You don't like it."
"Oh, for goodness sake," she said, with an impatient flick of her hair. "Yes, it's very nice, positively chic, nice freckles, good cheekbones-"
"You don't think I'm a bit on the skinny side?"
Romana bit back the retort on the tip of her tongue, and looked at him. Really looked at him. The hair, the suit, the dark, sad look in his eyes… What had happened to him? "You're beautiful, doctor," she said eventually. "Positively wonderful."
"Ah, well, I wouldn't say that," he said, but he grinned cheekily, giving her a good look at his bright, big teeth. The more things change, the more they stayed the same. Romana grinned back, despite herself. Perhaps he wasn't so bad, after all.
"I've missed that," he said, his grin faltering.
"You," he muttered. "Your smile."
"Really?" Romana asked, feeling strangely flattered.
"Your room is gone," he said, abruptly changing the subject. "I had to eject it a few centuries back."
"Centuries," Romana echoed. "If I may ask, which regeneration…?"
"My tenth," he said.
"It's been a while, then."
"Yes, been a while," he said, sticking his hands into pockets, as if he wasn't sure what he would do with them if he didn't.
"Well," she said.
"Well, " he said.
"What? Oh, yes, the rift!" he declared, as he bounded around the console. "Let me see…oh, that's not good!"
"You've already said that."
"Yes, you have… and you really can't remember any of this occurring, can you?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Well, it's been a while, and there was always something happening back then, wasn't there? Guardians, Daleks, E-Space…"
"Oh, that hasn't happened yet? Ah well, never mind, it all works out well in the end …quot; when were you, exactly, in your timeline?"
"We'd just left Paris," Romana said, joining him at the console.
"Ah, yes, good times," the Doctor said, with a nostalgic sigh. "Remember Duggan? With his gun, and his coat, that rather fortuitous tendency of his to punch anything that got in his way…"
"Seeing as it has been only hours since I've been there, I think I may be able to summon up the memories," Romana teased. The Doctor pouted, actually pouted. This new regeneration was really quite strange.
"The rift!" he exclaimed. "I remember! Well, at least I remember that I don't remember. I didn't retain my memories when I changed back, and you wouldn't tell me what happened. "
"Probably because I couldn't talk about it," she said ironically.
"Ah yes, rules," he murmured. "Although, I seem to remember…the library!"
"The information should still be in the mainframe," Romana agreed. "But maybe we should hold off accessing it until we've ascertained what's causing the temporal instability in the rift."
"Oh, I already know that," he said dismissively.
"You do?" Romana said, surprised. Temporal mechanics had never been the Doctor's strong suit. "Very well, amaze me with your theory."
"Not so much a theory as a fact, actually, " he said, a tad smugly.
Romana sighed. "Oh, go on, then, tell me what's causing the rift."
"Why, me, of course; who else?"
"Of course," Romana said flatly. "How silly of me, I should have realised."
"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 …quot; 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 …quot; 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 …quot; 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.
The glyphs streamed down the screen…in much more detail than there ought be, Romana thought weakly, as she read. She had been expecting a brief synopsis, with references to other texts in the library. She suspected the TARDIS was feeding her more than she should; for what reasons, she couldn't figure out.
Well, no wonder he's acting so strangely, she reflected. Who would have thought that the Daleks… But Romana, for once, was lost for words.
"I've got it!"
"Hmmm?" Romana said, her voice faint. "Oh, good for you, Doctor."
"Romana, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Doctor," she said, turning to look at his worried face. A pair of glasses was perched on his nose; yet another new affectation, she supposed.
"Are you sure?" he asked, putting the book down.
"Of course, I'm sure, Doctor, why wouldn't I be?" Romana quickly closed the file as he approached. Best if he didn't realise how much she knew; she wasn't sure how he would handle it.
The Doctor studied her face. "Really? You seem a little bit…off."
Romana sighed. "Doctor, I assure you, my mental state is perfectly adequate," she said briskly. "Now, what was that you were saying about finding the data?"
"Ah! Yes!" he said. "Should have realised, really, won't take much to fix it. I just need to boost the dimensional regulators, in order to help the TARDIS filter the appropriate DNA sequence; it's getting a bit confused; too many variations to pick from…"
"A Donna for every universe," Romana said dryly. "Including the one you created."
"Exactly!" he said, looking entirely too pleased with himself. "Come on."
He strutted out of the library, and Romana watched him go. She wondered how much was left of the Doctor she knew. Oh, she had seen glimpses of him; a gesture here, an expression there… but so much had changed, too. Oh Doctor, she thought, what happened to you after Gallifrey? I'm not sure I would have survived it.
"Romana?" His head popped back through the door. "Hurry up, we don't have much time. "
"Coming, Doctor," she said, switching the monitor off. No good worrying over what might have been, she told herself firmly. If that was her future, then so be it.
The Doctor had already disappeared from the doorway by the time she stood, and she made her way back, alone, to the control room, her eyes drifting down the side corridors as she walked. The TARDIS felt older, maybe even a little tired, and she wondered which one of them was influencing whom. When it came to the bond between a Timelord and his ship, emotions went both ways.
"Got lost?" the Doctor teased, as she stepped into the control room.
"You started without me, I see." She looked at the tangle of wiring he'd pulled from under the control grid.
"Sooner done, sooner mended," he said. "Catch!" He tossed her a sonic wrench and Romana caught it out of the air. "Start on the dimensional regulators, I'll try to stabilise the temporal buffers."
They worked quietly, silently handing each other the appropriate tools. If Romana closed her eyes, she could almost swear she was back in her time, but she wasn't. This was the future. A future with no Gallifrey, no High Council, and only one Timelord left standing….
How ironic it would be the Doctor, she mused. The one Gallifreyan who didn't have much time for the intricacies of Gallifreyan life, who had spent as much time as possible away from their home world as he deemed feasible.
Now, here he was, the last symbol of a dead race.
"Romana, are you sure you're all right?"
She heard the concern in his voice. "I'm quite fine, Doctor," she said lightly. "Although I wish I could say the same for the TARDIS's internal wiring. The poor girl really needs a complete overhauling."
"Yeah," he sighed. "I keep meaning to do it, but there never seems to be the time."
Or the facilities, Romana suddenly thought, staring at the circuit board in her hands. Oh dear, the poor thing; the last of her kind, and slowly degrading, no matter what the Doctor did to keep her running.
She bit her lip, if she remembered correctly, a group of alliance humanoid planets set up some sort of time policing organisation in the fiftieth century. Would they have the necessary technology? It wouldn't be as good as the Gallifreyan shipyards, of course, but beggars, couldn't be choosers…
"Done!" the Doctor declared. "How 'bout you? Need a hand?"
Romana raised an eyebrow at that. "I think I'm managing," she said dryly, as she made the last few touches to the circuit. "There, all done." They reassembled the panels, such as they were, and the Doctor pulled the monitor around and studied it carefully over the rim of his glasses.
"There she is," he said. He dashed around the console, his hands …quot; and feet, she noted, with amusement - becoming a blur as he pulled the TARDIS into the correct alignment. "Ready?" he asked.
"Ready," she affirmed, her hand hovering over the console.
She pulled the lever as the Doctor pushed several buttons, seemingly all at once. The TARDIS screeched into life, and the air in the control room began to cool. A glow appeared between them, as Donna's DNA began to combine into form.
"It's working!" the Doctor said, a wild grin on his face as he shouted over the din.
Romana nodded, with a smile of her own, as the particles coalesced, revealing a very startled looking redhead in a rather fetching peasant top.
"Perfect!" the Doctor said smugly. "Almost exactly as I planned it…" He grinned widely, and slapped a hand on the console.
It passed straight through.
"Um, Doctor?" Romana said, as he began to fade away. "I fear you may have made a slight miscalculation."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "The Buffers…."
Romana's stared as the Doctor's voice drifted off, along with his body, leaving nothing but a shift of air in the TARDIS. "Quickly, Donna!" she said, as she spun to the console, and pulled off a panel. "Pull the lever, over there, when I say so!"
Donna stood there, her mouth open in astonishment, but she quickly snapped it shut as her eyes narrowed. "Who the hell are you!" she said. "And what have you done to the Doctor?"
Romana sighed, frustrated. "My name is Romana," she said. "And, if you're his companion, then you already know that there is only one person who does anything to the Doctor, and that is himself! Now, quickly, do what I say, before this regeneration becomes his last!" She took out her screwdriver, and hastily realigned the settings.
"You're one of them, aren't you?" Donna said, her face blanching as she looked at the sonic screwdriver. "You're a Timelord."
"Yes!" she snapped, as she pulled out the circuit panel "And if we don't hurry, I'll be the only one left standing!"
Donna grasped the lever, but still seemed unsure. "How do I know this isn't a trick?" she asked. "I know about the Master, you know, he was Prime Minister…well, for a few days, anyway..."
"Really?" Romana said. "How strange-" She tossed her head; she couldn't afford distractions right now. "I'm nothing like the Master, Donna, trust me on this."
"You could be lying."
Romana tried not to lose her temper; after all, she did have a point. "I am …quot; I was …quot; his companion, once. You, of all people, should know what that means."
Donna gave her a long look. "You're from the past," she said.
"Yes," Romana said, seeing no point in denying it.
"And you're going back." Her voice was flat.
Romana tensed and looked up at her. "Donna," she said gently. "I know you mean well, but perhaps we should drop this subject."
"But you don't understand, he's so alone-"
"Donna!" she said sharply. "Please, don't."
"I'm just saying-"
"Let's just concentrate on the problem at hand, shall we?" Romana interrupted, as she grimly readjusted the circuitry. "We need to move fast - now!"
Donna pulled the lever, and fell back as the TARDIS rolled under their feet. "Is it supposed to do that?" she asked anxiously.
"No, it isn't" Romana said. "Which means…ah, there it is…" she swivelled the tennis ball set into the console, shaking her head as she did so. "There is such a thing as taking eccentricity too far."
"Oh please, " Donna snorted. "You Timelords wouldn't know normal, if it clouted you across the head."
Romana looked at her. Whatever did she mean? She was the very epitome of normal. The TARDIS whined, and Romana let out a breath of relief as the Doctor began to slowly reappear.
"….are out of alignment again," he said, then looked around. "Ah" he patted himself down. "All here."
But Romana was still ruminating over what Donna had said. "What do you mean, I 'wouldn't know normal if it clouted me over the head'?" she asked.
"You can't be serious," Donna said. "I mean, come on, look at you!"
Romana looked down at her pleated navy skirt and blazer. "What's wrong with it?"
Donna gaped at her in disbelief. "You're dressed in a school uniform, for God's sake," she said.
Romana looked at her, puzzled. "And what's wrong with that?" she enquired. "I quite liked school."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Doctor, why don't you explain it to her?"
"Ah, yes," he said. "Well, you see, Romana…" he paused, looking momentarily stumped. "Well, actually, I've always quite liked that outfit," he admitted. "I think it's the socks."
"You would, you pervert," Donna snorted.
"Hey!" the Doctor said.
Romana ignored the affront in the Doctor's voice. She was still trying to figure out why a school uniform, a symbol of academia, would be deemed 'perverted'…Earth really was a very strange place. "I still don't understand," she said eventually.
Donna put her hands on her hips. "It isn't age appropriate," she said slowly, as if to a small child. "You're too old for it."
"Too old? But I'm only in my second century-"
"Your second what?" Donna took a breath. "Right, Timelord, live-for-bloody-ever… well, how can I put this?" she took another breath. "You see, a girl stops wearing a school uniform once they've finished school, usually sometime in their second decade, unless they're really thick…although there is the bedroom." She sniggered. "Had a boyfriend who liked that, once."
Romana frowned, her mind initially reeling at the thought of finishing one's education after a mere two decades. Then the implications of Donna's words sunk in. "Oh…" she said suddenly. "Oh! " She whirled on the Doctor. "Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded, embarrassed.
"I didn't know, honest!" he protested, taking a step back.
"Huh, likely story!" Donna said.
Romana felt her cheeks heat up; she was blushing, she was actually blushing. "Oh, this won't do," she muttered; then another thought struck her. "Oh Rassilon," she said, her eyes widening. "What must Duggan have thought?"
"Liked it, if I'm any judge," the Doctor said grumpily.
"Well, he never tried to punch you, did he?" he said defensively. "In fact, if I remember correctly, he followed you around like an eager little puppy!"
""I knew it," Donna said smugly. "Pervert."
"Oh, would you stop that, " the Doctor snapped, rounding on Donna. "For the millionth, and last time, I am not a sex mad Martian!"
Romana looked at the Doctor in astonishment. "A sex mad what? " she asked, wondering how on Gallifrey Donna could have confused the Doctor with a Martian. The Doctor didn't look even remotely reptilian, for starters.
"Oh, don't you start," the Doctor said. "She's bad enough."
Romana frowned. "She has a name, Doctor," she reminded him icily. "And I am not starting anything!" He tried the Look on her, with an extra dash of Glare, and Romana's expression darkened as she crossed her arms. "You want to say something?"
The Doctor's scowl slowly melted, to be replaced by a bashful face. "Sorry?" he said.
But Romana had had enough. "And Donna?" she pressed.
He eyes wandered to his shoes, and then to the ceiling. "Oh, all right," he mumbled reluctantly. "Sorry, Donna."
Romana considered asking him to repeat it in a louder voice, but the look of astonishment on his companion's face stopped her. The poor girl looked like she was about to suffer a fainting fit. "Are you all right, Donna?" she asked, concerned.
"Who? Me?" Donna spluttered. "I'm just fine, it's him I'm worried about… what have you done to him?"
Surprised, Romana glanced at the Doctor, who had meandered to the other side of the console. "Who, the Doctor? Oh, he's all right, he just needed to be reminded of his manners," she said, adding, "you have to do that, every once in a while, he tends to forget them."
"I'll remember that," Donna said, her mouth slowly curving into an evil little smile. Romana smiled back. Yes, she'll do nicely, she thought, satisfied.
"If you two are done talking about me, we still have a few things to sort out," the Doctor said sulkily, and Romana rolled her eyes.
"The buffers," she called out, over her shoulder. "They shouldn't have done that."
"Temporal entropy," the Doctor said. "Got to be."
"I agree," she sighed. "It doesn't look good."
"You'll have to go back, or it'll just keep happening."
"Yes," she said. "But we'd already agreed on that, hadn't we?"
"You mean, you agreed," he said, almost too quietly to hear.
Romana felt her annoyance soften. Poor, dear, Doctor; it was all so unfair. He had never liked being alone, and now he was, in the truest sense. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I'd stay if I could, but you know it isn't possible, just wishful thinking."
The Doctor looked at her sharply. "Romana-"
"Hold on!" Donna said suddenly. "What's this about temporal ent- ent-"
"Entropy," the Doctor and Romana said, as one.
Romana took a deep breath. "Temporal entropy is what happens when a temporally unstable, multi-dimensional, wild rift hub-"
"Oy! Stop right there!!" Donna said, with a sweep of her hand. "In English, please, without all the Timelord techno-babble." Romana blinked, then looked at the Doctor, who smirked and dug his hands into his pockets.
"Want to have a go at it, Romana?" he teased, dreadful man. Romana threw her hands up in surrender.
"Fine, fine, " she said. "You go ahead."
With more than a touch of asperity, the doctor took off his glasses, slipped them into his jacket, and cleared his throat. Romana rolled her eyes, but managed to bite her tongue.
"Well, It's really quite simple, Donna," The Doctor said, his voice smug, as he took a step forward. "It's sort of…it's kind of… it's…it's…like when a body catches a virus."
"Except not really," Romana added, not able to help herself. "But it's a good analogy," she added swiftly, as she saw the look on his face. "Sorry, Doctor, do carry on."
"Thank you, well, as I was saying, the universe has a cold-"
"Well, more like a flu," Romana offered. She was only trying to be helpful. Mind you, at least he wasn't spouting that 'timey wimey' drivel again; good to know he had broken at last one bad habit, over the regenerations.
"Oh, all right, a flu, then," the Doctor sighed, giving her a pointed look. "Happy now?"
Romana grinned, she'd always rather enjoyed winding the Doctor up; it was so very entertaining. "But of course, Doctor." Donna sniggered, and Romana winked at her.
"Yes, well, fine," he muttered. "As I was saying, the universe has a flu, and it's trying to expel the foreign material in the only way it knows how, causing shivers-"
"That would be when the TARDIS started to shake," Romana piped up.
"A high temperature," the Doctor said, daring her to interrupt him with a glare, "and a runny nose-"
"That would be when the Doctor disappeared down the buffers," Romana said with aplomb, grinning at his scowl.
"Stop, stop, I can't take this!" Donna said suddenly, as she broke into laughter. "You're like a matching pair …quot; two know-it-alls, for the price of one!" The Doctor and Romana looked at each other.
"Well, don't look at me," she said. "I'm the same as I ever was."
The Doctor smirked. "I wouldn't bet on it," he said. "I remember your first personality, remember?"
"I don't know what you mean, I'm sure," Romana sniffed. "Just because I made a few…minor adjustments."
"I see," he drawled. "Well, if that's what you wish to call it…"
"If you two are finished trying to out Timelord each other," Donna huffed, as she got her breath under control. "Maybe you could actually do something, like fix this temporal ent…ent… thing-gummy before the Doctor turns into a pumpkin, or a snot, or wherever this bloody analogy is going!"
"She's right," Romana observed.
The Doctor pulled a face. "It happens," he said, as he turned to the console. "Right, Romana, if you will…?"
"Inputting data," she said. She studied the console and pulled the appropriate lever.
"Buffers online," the Doctor affirmed, as he reached over the monitor and adjusted the co-ordinates controls. "Setting the re-alignment sequence…now!"
"Well, that is a bit disappointing," the Doctor said.
"Give it a few moments," Romana suggested. "She's not as young as she used to be, you know."
"Who is?" he said, distractedly, as he patted the console.
"Well, me, for one," she observed lightly.
He let out a surprised laugh. "You made a joke!" he said, half accusingly. "Quite funny, too."
"It has been known, Doctor," she said dryly.
His face fell. "Right, sorry, I didn't mean to… well… you know."
The funny thing was, she did. "That's all right Doctor, you never were the smoothest of conversationalists."
"Hey!" he said, before a strange expression crossed his face. "Oh, I. remember this feeling…not pleasant…positively horrid, actually." His legs buckled, and he leaned against the console.
"It's starting," Romana said.
"Think so," he said. "No, scratch that, it's definitely happening…Romana?"
"You know, don't you?" The TARDIS trembled.
"Know what, Doctor?" she asked softly. He gave her the Look and, for this once, she actually felt it. For the first time, she saw the Doctor she knew so well in his eyes. The sheer belief in himself, along with his belief in others; his unswerving conviction that the universe could be a better place, if only it was given a little push…by him, of course.
"The database," he said harshly. "You looked."
Romana considered denying it for an instant, but it was rather foolish of her to consider it. What the TARDIS knew, he knew. "Yes, I read it," she said eventually; the ship grumbled, like an echo to her words.
For a moment, he said nothing. "I am so sorry, Romana."
Romana blinked; what could she say to that? It seemed too simple a phrase, compared to what she read in his face, and sensed through the now uneven shielding of his mind. "You had no choice, Doctor."
"Didn't I?" he asked softly. "Then why do I have so many regrets?" He held onto the console as the convulsions took hold, and Romana couldn't help herself, she winced. He looked in so much pain "Good-bye, Romana," he said, as his face began to blur.
"Good bye, Doctor." The TARDIS shuddered and began to contract, the light brightening as the ceiling descended to it's more familiar dimensions. The Doctor fell to the grating, and Donna stepped forward, Romana put out a restraining hand. "Leave him," she said quietly. "You don't want to become tangled up in the timelines again."
"But what's the matter with him? Is it supposed to hurt like this?"
Romana closed her eyes. "I think so, yes."
And then Donna began to fade, like the last vestiges of the future TARDIS, and Romana found herself standing in a white, bright room…. her home.
"Romana?" the Doctor whispered.
She hurried forward, grabbing his reaching arm. "Doctor? Do you feel all right?"
"Yes," he said. "I think so; what happened?"
"Temporal anomaly, all fixed now," she said.
"Indeed," he said. "Splendid, but why is it I can't remember anything?"
"Conflicting timelines, I think, Doctor," Romana said. "Can't have your present self having a peek at your future self, it would seem." Although she now suspected there might be more to it than that.
"Really? How strange," he murmured, as he patted himself down. "Well, I seem to have survived the experience intact."
Romana smiled up at him, as she studied his craggy face. The bright, inquisitive eyes, and the deeply etched smile lines, were still all there, just as they should be. He may be a little rough around the edges, and have a tendency to get easily distracted - although that didn't ever seem to change …quot; but he was still her Doctor; the one she intended to remember, and never forget.
Her mind flitted back to the eyes she had left behind, only a few seconds before, and she wondered why she felt that there was more she should have done for him. She had this uncomfortable feeling there was something she had missed, something she should have finished, or said…
"Doctor?" She caught his hand, and he looked at her, startled.
She hesitated. "You do know that I care for you, Doctor? That you're my dearest friend?"
His face gentled into a smile. "But of course, Romana, and you're mine," he said, squeezing her hand.
"Well, that's all right then," she said. "But could you do me a favour, Doctor?"
"Why anything, Romana," he said, his face becoming puzzled once more.
"Don't forget that…" She struggled to come up with the right phrasing. It was a fine line: too much, and she'd upset the timeline; too little, and… Again, she saw his dark, sad eyes in her mind. "Just don't forget that I'm your friend, Doctor, and…always will be. That there is nothing to forgive."
"Romana, is something wrong?"
"Just promise me, Doctor."
The Doctor tilted his head, and looked at her intently, but still smiled. "But of course, Romana, I promise."
Romana nodded, satisfied. Perhaps she couldn't help the Doctor, when the time came, but at least he'd remember she'd cared.
It was the best that she could do.