As soon as his shuttle docked with Platform One, the Face of Boe heard the TARDIS singing in the back of his mind. He closed his great eyes briefly. He should have expected this. The Doctor had always been Earth's champion; of course he would be present for Earth Death.
But, the Face of Boe wondered, would it be the right Doctor?
Platform One was the luxury liner of space stations. Its skeleton might be metal and ceramics and wires, but the guests saw only rich wood, leather, silk and velvet: the best of everything. Fully mobile, its huge engines moved it around the galaxy from one historical event to another. It had witnessed everything from supernovae to planetary peace celebrations, gone from one end of the galaxy to another. Now, it was parked in geostationary orbit over the Earth, so that a crowd of very rich people could witness the destruction of the planet from whence had come all humanity. Earth Death. In thirty minutes.
The Face of Boe waited in the antechamber to the observation room, the other guests crowded around his transport tank. He remembered a time -- long ago -- when he could have blended into the crowd and gone unnoticed if he chose. No longer. Not since his transformation. It hadn't happened all at once; it wasn't like he'd gone to bed one night as a normal human and awakened the next as a huge flat head in a tank full of smoke. He couldn't even remember now how it had started. He did remember buying a ship and disappearing into the vast reaches of the universe until it was over.
The crowd thinned as each of the VIPs, announced by the blue-skinned Steward, entered the observation room. At last, only he and Cassandra O'Brien Dot Delta Seventeen -- the so-called Last Human -- and her attendants remained. He found himself mildy amused by Cassandra's ridiculous attempts to maintain her youth and beauty. Her DNA might still be human, but her body -- no more than a face stretched on a frame -- certainly wasn't. They had a great deal in common, he thought, though at least his transformation had happened honestly; he hadn't indulged in surgery after surgery after surgery until the only thing left was a bitchy trampoline.
He paused at the thought. Hadn't he heard that phrase somewhere before? After so many millenia, it was often difficult to call specific memories to mind. As it was his turn to enter the observation chamber, so he made a notation to check his data stores later. The Steward announced him and his transport trundled through the doorway, while his gaze swept the assembled guests. As sponsor of the event, he had invited the rich and famous, interesting people from interesting worlds, but all with some connection to the dying planet below.
His transport had barely crossed the threshhold when he saw them. He spotted her first and a tremor went through him. Even after so long, Rose Tyler remained vivid in his mind. While others might find her curves and full lips overly lush, to him, she was radiantly beautiful; he smiled at the memory of her feistiness. But there was something wrong; she seemed nervous, uncertain...almost afraid. She looked at the assembled guests with an expression akin to panic. As Cassandra's jukebox -- iPod, indeed; even his cluttered memory wasn't that bad -- began to play, she rushed from the room.
He remembered now. This was her first trip in the TARDIS; Platform One was the first place the Doctor had taken her. As if the thought had summoned him, there he was, in pursuit of his youthful companion. Nose and ears, cropped hair and leather coat. The Doctor.
Long ago, but not all that far away as these things went, he had once been asked what might have caused him to open a rift in time and space despite his sworn guardianship of it. "The right doctor," he'd responded. And now, before him, finally, after all this time.... But he checked his impulse to move toward the Time Lord before it even began. He was no longer someone the Doctor would recognize and besides, in the Doctor's timeline, they hadn't yet met. With a sinking feeling, the Face of Boe moved aside and let the events that Rose Tyler had recounted to him untold millenia ago, when they had both traveled with the Doctor, unfold as they already had.
In his long lost youth, the Face of Boe would never have believed that endless life -- with time to do and be and learn so many new things -- could be boring. There had come a time, though, when he'd seen and done it all: He'd crossed the universe thousands of times. He'd traveled in time, both legally and illegally. He'd had dear friends and bitter enemies. There was nothing new to him in the whole universe.
To alleviate his boundless boredom, the Face of Boe got involved in politics, and later, philanthropic endeavors. A great deal of the funding for opening New Earth to human settlement came from his coffers through his various corporations and foundations. Eventually, he took a residence on the planet. He liked being surrounded by the ebb and flow of humanity; it reminded him of days long gone.
Continuing his philanthropy, he contributed vast sums to the Sisters of Plenitude, endowing their new hospital. He watched from his balcony as, across the bay from New New York, the shimmering tower rose girder by girder into the sky. When it was completed and opened for business, he looked on it from time to time with a proprietary pride.
It seemed only a short time after that, though it was, in truth, decades, when his dreams began to be disturbed by voices calling out for solace and hands reaching out for comfort. The dreams disturbed his sleep for weeks, but it wasn't until he heard the voices during the day that he realized they were not merely products of his troubled mind. The Face of Boe went to his balcony and contemplated his hospital's shining tower. "Something," he said slowly, "is rotten in the state of Denmark."
He closed his eyes and reached out. What he found sent his mind reeling. The Sisters would dare to do that? With his money? That made him responsible...and he had to end it. By the time he had turned his transport tank, though, he knew he could not do it. Politics and his own web of corporations hemmed him in. There was no way for him to withdraw his support from the hospital.
It did not happen often, but there were times when he wished for the simplicity of his two hands and a gun. He still had the gun, though it hadn't been fired in thousands of years. He sighed. Right, then. He couldn't go in there, guns blazing. He needed help. He needed...well, he needed a Doctor.
The Face of Boe seldom made public appearances, anymore; when he did, a media frenzy generally resulted. After all, he was well-known throughout several galaxies. Aside from being devastatingly handsome, he was obscenely rich -- the richest single being known. Of course, he'd had a long time to amass his fortune. The celebrity rags consistently named him their most eligible bachelor, which amused him endlessly. Fortunately, few of the eager starlets and socialites he met were willing to contemplate spending their lives with a big head in a jar, no matter how mentally talented he might be -- and he could say without boasting that he was very talented, indeed. His highly developed mental abilities compensated for his lack of other physical amenities.
But no matter how well-known he might be, very little was actually known about him. Though reporters constantly asked, he rarely answered personal questions. As a result, all manner of ridiculous rumors and legends had followed him through the ages. Only one of them was important, and that one, he had started himself.
So when he checked himself into the hospital of New New York, it caused a media fury that lasted for days. But eventually, the reporters got tired -- helped along, no doubt, by Matron Casp's frosty "None of your business" whenever anyone asked about the Face of Boe's condition -- and one by one, they wandered off for more interesting stories. Meanwhile, whispers circulated among the hospital's staff that the Face of Boe was, at long last, dying of old age.
He was not dying, however -- at least, not yet. Certainly he looked like he was dying: he floated in his smoke, asleep most of the time. His nurse, Novice Hame, reported that he was rarely conscious, though she could often hear his voice in her mind, singing ancient songs. Matron Casp was not sure she approved of Hame's attachment to her patient; she would need to learn to be more objective in order to properly serve the Sisters' purpose. Still, she was young and idealistic; she'd learn in time.
The Face of Boe, however, was neither dying nor sleeping. There was one thing that he had known for millenia, one hope to which, in latter centuries, he had clung: he knew how he would die. There had been a time when such knowledge would have frightened him witless, but with millenia of life had come a vast weariness. He was more than ready to stay forever in the comforting darkness.
He had checked into the hospital to take advantage of the Sisters' devotion to their patients; he knew he would be well cared for while he wrought their destruction. While his body rested in their care, his mind ranged free, sending a telepathic call throughout time and space. If the Doctor did not hear him, then certainly the living TARDIS would. In either case, it was only a matter of time; he only hoped he could maintain the call long enough: he did not want the Sisters to become aware of his...condition.
Days passed. He screened his activity from any of the Sisters' medical scans by filling his surface thoughts with music. Hymns, opera, rock and roll that he hadn't heard in millenia, lullabies that his mother had crooned to him on the Beoshane Peninsula, anything that occurred to him. Hame, apparently somewhat psychic herself, was entranced by the songs. He was not above ruthlessly exploiting her devotion.
At last, when he was beginning to despair, with exhaustion clawing at him, and darkness waiting to claim him, he heard the TARDIS' answering song. He felt it when the time capsule solidified out of the vortex; with a final crack, the engines of the TARDIS shut down. The door opened and figures appeared. He could see them with his inner eye and he followed them as they explored the ground where the TARDIS had materialized. The Doctor had changed, regenerated. This was the Doctor as he had last known him so many millenia ago. Rose, too, had become a seasoned traveler of time and space and fairly bounced with glee at setting foot on a new planet. One last message, then, to draw the pair to the hospital, and he could rest for a while.
On the slightly psychic paper which the Doctor carried in his pocket, a message appeared: Ward 26. Please come. He held his thought and will focused on that little rectangle of white until the Doctor had read it and shown it to Rose. Then, exhausted, he allowed the message and his consciousness alike to fade.
When next he woke, his mind was clear and the Doctor was walking toward him, smiling. "You were supposed to be dying."
What passed for a heart in his body hammered briefly in the light of the Doctor's smile. There are better things to do today. Dying can wait.
Behind the Doctor, Rose rolled her eyes. "Oh, I hate telepathy," she muttered. "Just what I need, a head full of big face." The voice was Rose's, but the thought was not; Cassandra still possessed her. But Cassandra was not his problem.
I have grown tired with the universe, Doctor, but you have taught me to look at it anew.
The Doctor knelt before his tank. "There are legends, you know, saying that you're millions of years old."
He laughed. There are? That would be impossible. He cast his mind outward, assessing the condition of the hospital and was pleased by what he found. Yes, the Doctor had worked his magic. The Flesh were cured of their induced disease and isolation. He would have to see what else his resources could do for them in the little time they had. He could find no trace of Matron Casp, however, and wondered what had happened to her; she, like the rest of the Sisterhood, should be punished for their crimes. Hame, he discovered, was in custody below. At least he knew where she was; he would need her later.
The Doctor laughed. "Wouldn't it just? I got the impression there was something you wanted to tell me."
A great secret.
"So the legend says."
It can wait. He almost laughed again as frustration flashed across the Doctor's face.
"Oh, does it have to?"
He smiled slightly and made a couple of adjustments to his transport. We shall meet again, Doctor, for the third time, for the last time, and the truth shall be told. Until that day.... His gaze slid briefly to Rose's face -- the last time he would see her, and it wasn't even Rose. Still...he reached out, and let Cassandra taste his great weariness and boredom. This, Cassandra, is eternal life. Is this what you want? For Rose's spirit, trapped under Cassandra's domination, he spared a caress, a mental hand on the cheek. All this, in the instant before he initiated his teleport and the hospital ward faded away to be replaced by the familiar sight of his home.
He sighed, his breath whiffling the smoke of his transport tank. He hadn't quite told the Doctor the truth just now. He was tired of the universe, more tired than even the Doctor could possibly imagine. But he had one more great task to perform and beyond that, an ending was at last in sight. For someone who had lived so long, seen so many things, outlasted everyone he'd ever cared for, it was hardly more than seconds away.
But history, it seemed, had other plans. In the seven minutes it took for the airborne virus to sweep the planet, the Face of Boe had acted. He teleported Novice Hame into his transport tank and thickened the atmosphere, shrouding them both in the medicinal smoke as he trundled into the outer rooms where he could access the city's power supply. Thick cables seemed to fly through the air with no guidance as he attached himself to the power supply and closed off the lower city and the Motorway, saving those people he could by isolating them from the virus. If anyone in the trapped cars died from the virus, no one ever knew about it; their cars remained powered up and on auto-pilot, endlessly circling with the others when he discovered that while he had enough power to maintain the system, by endlessly feeding his own life energy into it, he was unable to generate enough power to restart a stalled system.
"What do we do now?" Novice Hame asked. She stood outside his transport, surveying the dead in the Senate chamber, her feline face unreadable.
"We keep the lower city alive," he answered, "and we wait. The Doctor will come."
"You know this?"
He looked unflinching into his acolyte's face. "Twenty-four years." She closed her eyes briefly, struggling with the knowledge, then nodded.
"A long time to wait."
He would have shrugged, if he could. He could already feel the strain of maintaining the systems. "I will need your help to stabilize these systems and keep things going for that long."
"Of course. It is why I am here."
"You may also want to see what other survivors you can find."
She nodded. "Of course. Do you believe there are others?"
He was silent a moment. He knew there were not. Where before, the sounds of a teeming world had filled his mind, now, there was only silence. But it would keep Hame occupied. "There may be. We must check."
"Of course," she said again. She moved to his hastily-rigged connections. "Let me take a look at these." She set to work.
His transport tank sat in the same spot it had occupied for the last twenty-four years. Thick cables carried power to the machines that kept the under-city alive, kept the trapped drivers safe. He knew about the Macras, of course, how could he not? He had known when the infestation started, but with the over-city dead and only himself and Hame between the under-city and death, there was nothing he could do. He ached for the dead.
But soon, there would come an ending. He could hear the TARDIS' unending song, but he had no energy to spare, this time, in summoning the Doctor via the psychic paper. Instead, he sent Hame to fetch the Time Lord. Both he and Martha would be found in the Motorway -- trust them both to get into trouble almost the instant the TARDIS doors closed behind them.
That Hame would succeed, he did not doubt. He knew the future. And he had one more message to impart to his old friend.
The noise in the outer chamber continued. If there was one thing the Doctor excelled at, he reflected, it was noise. Hame's voice rose as she attempted to calm him, to explain the predicament that they all found themselves in. He felt the Doctor's distress as the Time Lord at last understood.
The Doctor recognized his mental voice at once. "The Face of Boe!" He dashed toward the transport tank and knelt in front of it, one hand on the glass.
I knew you would come. His aeons-deep fatigue colored his voice.
Concern crossed the Doctor's mobile face. "Old friend, what happened to you?"
Failing. For a moment, he lapsed into unconsciousness; when he came to, Hame was explaining to the Doctor what they had done, how they had managed to save those in the under-city from the virus that had devastated the over-city and the world. Save them, Doctor. Save them.
He almost smiled as the Doctor practically exploded into action, whipping out the sonic screwdriver as he went.
"Who looks at a screwdriver and says, 'Gee, this could be a bit more sonic'?" he heard in his memory. Other images chased that first one, and he knew himself to be dying. Again. But it was different this time. At long, long last, a true end approached. He had once been brought back to life by the energy of the time vortex itself, but even time comes to an end eventually -- he would know, after all.
In his mind, he saw once more Rose's excitement as she finally managed to name the planet Raxacoricofallipatorious without tripping over her tongue. He remembered kissing her goodbye -- and the Doctor, too -- before that first death. He'd been in love with both of them. He still remembered the deep pain he'd felt upon reading her name on the list of the missing after the Battle of Canary Wharf. She was long dead now, stranded in her alternate universe after the Doctor sent the Cybermen and Daleks back through that rift.
Not the Rift, of course, not his Rift. That Rift hadn't been in London, but Cardiff, right through the center of the city. His to guard. He had been a guardian most of his life, he realized. Not a bad way to live, after all.
His attention was drawn back to his companions by the Doctor's rising cry of denial. "The transformers are blocked! The signal can't get through!"
Doctor.... I give you my last.... A tendril of thought opened a floodgate of energy, the last of his life-energy, pouring out through the cables to release those trapped so far below. Martha, he thought. Fiery Martha, so proud of her medical knowledge, so pleased with her job with UNIT. But that was yet in her future -- his so distant past. He could feel the exultation from below, the rising tide, as the motorway roof opened and the trapped vehicles rose triumphantly into the sky.
Infectious as the Doctor's elation was, he could not share it. Though he wanted to dance with joy, whirl Novice Hame about and kiss her feline face, he was long past such displays. And he was dying. At long last.
The last surge of energy had disrupted the systems of his transport. The glass began to crack, the smoky atmosphere -- there mostly for show; he had never been able to resist the theatrical -- leaking out. Novice Hame, who had been doing her best to cycle transport's systems manually, made a small noise of distress. He reached out with a mental caress. She had done so well these past years. She had more than earned the forgivenes she sought.
"Doctor?" A new voice. An old voice. Martha Jones had arrived.
"Over here," the Doctor called, his attention mostly on the dying being before him. Martha entered the room, looking exactly as he remembered her, though his form clearly bothered her more than a little judging by her exclamation of "What's that?"
"This is the Face of Boe," the Doctor replied. "It's all right. Come and say hello. And this is Hame. She's a cat. Don't worry. He's the one that saved you, not me."
"My lord gave his life to save the city," Hame said, as Martha knelt beside her. "And now he is dying."
"No, don't say that," the Doctor said, false cheer in his voice, "not old Boe. Plenty of life left."
He had been in that transport chamber so long that he'd almost forgotten what air smelled like. It smelled musty. Still, "It's good the breathe the air once more," he said aloud.
"Who is he?" Martha asked the Doctor.
"I don't even know," the Time Lord replied.
The Face of Boe found that despite his vast age and his greatly changed state, that pricked his vanity. But the Doctor was still speaking. "Legend says the Face of Boe has lived for billions of years. Isn't that right? And you're not about to give up now."
"Everything has its time. You know that, old friend, better than most."
"The legend says more," Novice Hame said unexpectedly.
The Doctor shook his head. "Don't. There's no need for that."
Hame continued inexorably, like the darkness that Jack could feel creeping over him. "It says that the Face of Boe will speak his final secret to a traveller."
"Yeah, but not yet. Who needs secrets, eh?" The Doctor was still desperately trying to prevent the inevitable. For a moment, Jack felt sorry for his old friend. There had been a time when he had been a child in comparison to the Time Lord, but now, it was the Doctor who was like a small child desperately trying to prevent bedtime from approaching. But there was no preventing what was to come. What had already come.
"I have seen so much," he mused. "Perhaps too much. I am the last of my kind — as you are the last of yours, Doctor."
"That's why we have to survive. Both of us. Don't go," the Time Lord pleaded, tears in his eyes.
"I must," he said firmly. "But know this, Time Lord. You are not alone."
Shock reverberated through the Doctor's mind and closed it to his touch as the Time Lord jumped up and away, removing his physical presence as well. Jack closed his eyes. Very well. Everyone dies alone in the end. Had someone said that to him?
The darkness was very close now, and he welcomed it. He sensed Martha's puzzlement at the Doctor's reaction, as well as her unrequited love for the Time Lord. She did not yet know the Time Lord's secret.
He sent one final pulse of love and respect to Novice Hame, felt her weeping, and then darkness rolled over him, and broke, and there was, at the last, light, and a voice teasing him.
"Well, you took your time," Rose said.