Revolutions never go backwards.
S’Randal is sixteen standard years old, one month, and fourteen days when she meets Zuri Keita. S’Randal is an Ambassador’s daughter, one of the many children of the Vulcan embassy members, and her mother decides it would be beneficial for her if she is assigned to a protector during their travels.
“We travel to a variety of planets,” T’Maire says. “A companion would ensure your safety, if you would ever be threatened by enemies, political or otherwise. This companion shall also attend to your needs -- overlooking your dietary nutrition, your presentation before guests, or whatever simple tasks that our helpers would usually perform back home.”
S’Randal’s mouth is set in a thin line when she replies, “I see. I suppose requiring me to attend to myself would not be adequate, will it not?”
“You will need extra assistance,” T’Maire responds, and thus, Zuri is hired without any hesitation.
Zuri is the same age as S’Randal, much to the latter’s bemusement. She is half-Orion, half-human, her dark brown skin tinged an olive green, her coffee-coloured hair warped in springy coils.
When S’Randal enquires the nature of Zuri’s position, coupled with her age and her experience, she receives a frank response.
“Mum wanted me to go into the business,” Zuri says. “But Dad wouldn’t have it. He’s the human parent, so it’s kind of obvious he would stick to Terran norms.”
The ‘business’, by S’Randal’s understanding, is prostitution, or perhaps, the organization of.
Zuri continues, “So they accommodated. I was a bouncer for a while, training under some pro-fighters; Mum has a lot of connections. ‘Course, a girl still picks up a few tricks along the way--” she winks cheekily at S’Randal, “--but, anyways, my instructors were quite fond of me. They recommended me to more influential people, and soon, it’s not clubs or bars any more: it’s fancy-nancy celebrations -- parties, wedding, all that. And look at me now. Politics!”
“I understand,” S’Randal says stiffly. “Yet I fail to comprehend why my mother believes me to be in need of your presence. I am perfectly capable of the duties you are hired to perform.”
“Oh?” Zuri says, eyebrows raised.
“Can you fight?”
S’Randal sticks her chin forward, straightening her posture. “No. But I can attain such knowledge myself.”
“Ah,” Zuri says, her mouth twisted in a cocky smile. “Well. Then you better get started. It’s always good to begin training early.”
And, as it is the most logical decision, Zuri takes on the role of her combat instructor. S’Randal has a tutor, of course -- a Vulcan by the name of A’Nokk -- but he is an elderly male, and not skilled in the physical arts. Thus, S’Randal delegates two hours of her time to learn under Zuri.
The first day, S’Randal says, “I would like to familiarise myself with the style of Orion fighting. Perhaps it would serve me well if you would deign to demonstrate your skills.”
Zuri easily agrees, and manages to convince one of the locals to act as her sparring partner. “You’ll learn better if you could see me one-on-one,” Zuri insists. “Watching me swing at mid-air isn’t very helpful.”
“Of course.” S’Randal sits on a small mat, legs crossed, as the proceedings start. She is anticipated: to find what she will soon observe, what she will perhaps be able to excel in one day.
The fight is fast. Zuri and her opponent lunge at each other, exchanging blows, ducking and rolling and kicking. S’Randal finds herself approving of Zuri’s choice of opponent, noting his adept moves. Yet Zuri is the more agile opponent, shifting in easy dexterity. Her muscles ripple with each movement; her body twists and turns at improbable angles.
Orion fighting is fluid. Orion fighting is choreographed in a way that relies on a female combatant’s grace and sexuality, poise and pheromones oozing from every little flick of the body, distracting and alluring the opponent.
S’Randal’s eyes darken as she mentally catalogues the fight, internally appraising or disapproving each participant’s maneuvers.
“Fascinating,” she says, as Zuri emerges, victorious, her fingers on her opponent’s neck, her hips resting on her opponent’s thighs. “Your skills seem to be quite superior. You shall be a most promising instructor.”
“Did you expect anything less, Randi?” Zuri grins. She untangles herself from her sparring partner, who, S’Randal has noticed, has a red flush on his cheeks. S’Randal does not comment on this affliction; she merely continues to gaze intently at Zuri.
“That is not my name.”
“S’Randal sounds kinda strange on my tongue,” Zuri says. “Wouldn’t it be best for me to call you something I can actually pronounce, instead of tripping over it every time?”
S’Randal shoots Zuri a probing look. “It will suffice,” she says, after a pause.
Zuri dismisses her opponent with a wave of her hand, and the man goes, a dissatisfied expression on his face. “I’m glad you like my fighting. You wanna give it a shot?”
S’Randal is a Vulcan, and Vulcans do not appreciate physical contact, being touch-telepaths. But she still allows Zuri to touch her arms, hands, hips, legs, arranging her into numerous combat positions.
She takes every opportunity to watch Zuri fight. It is most intriguing to observe Zuri’s techniques; S’Randal takes to calculating what actions Zuri might take to attack, defend, neutralise.
Of course, S’Randal only permits Zuri the use of the nickname. Anyone otherwise making use of it seem quite presumptive, too familiar. She is Zuri’s Randi; she is content for it to always be that way.
She had initial doubts about Zuri, in that she is partially Orion, a species prone to engaging in an excess of sexual activities. But Zuri does her job in a perfunctory manner, even if emotional (as constant with her humanity).
Zuri, S’Randal sees, takes on flirtatious behaviour in a way to deflect any unwanted attention from S’Randal onto herself. It is most gratifying when Zuri intervenes when some vulgar persons intend to make untoward advances.
S’Randal is a Vulcan.
Vulcans do not take part in such frivolous relations.
“You should cut your hair,” Zuri says, as she weaves the ribbons in S’Randal’s robes into bows. They are both in front of a full length mirror, clad in clothes appropriate for the approaching ceremony that S’Randal will attend with her mother. “It’s gotten longer.”
S’Randal takes in her black hair, which extends several inches below her shoulders. “That is irrelevant,” she says. “I can function perfectly fine regardless of the length of my hair.”
“You’d look prettier,” says Zuri, a soft little smile on her face. “And, anyways, it’d be easier to fight if your hair didn’t get in the way.”
S’Randal performs a further examination of herself in the looking glass. She feels the touch of Zuri’s fingers as they creep lightly through the strands of her hair -- Zuri is constantly prone to bodily interaction, but it is always brief and gentle. There is never a time when Zuri’s emotions are high enough to truly affect S’Randal.
“Perhaps you are correct,” S’Randal relents. “It would be pleasing if there was a change in my wardrobe.”
Zuri smiles, widely, and she hugs S’Randal in a way that does not require physical contact -- just two hands clutching the deep blue sleeves of S’Randal’s robes. “Randi, you’ll look amazing, I promise. I’ll find you an excellent hair stylist to work on you.”
Later, when S’Randal’s hair is cut -- it is cropped short, an inch or two above her neck, as she had told the stylist -- she glances herself in the mirror. “I shall look prettier,” she repeats, slowly, before her own image, and she slips on a Terran dress, and lets Zuri call her beautiful.
S’Randal is twenty years old when she receives word that her betrothed -- Shervic -- is nearing his first Pon Farr.
“You must return to Vulcan immediately,” S’Vonti says.
S’Randal regards her father, cooly, and says, “I will be there.” It is required of her, after all, ever since she was bound to Shervic when she was seven years old.
T’Maire arranges for a shuttle to take them all back to Vulcan -- S’Randal, Zuri, the tutor A’Nokk, and herself. Zuri is confused about the proceedings, so S’Randal endeavours to explain.
“What’s the rush?” Zuri says.
“A ceremony, akin to what you call marriage,” S’Randal says. “Vulcan clans arrange for every male and female to be given a mate. There is a ritual that we must undergo to finalise this bond.”
“Wait. You have a fiance?” A strange expression is on Zuri’s face, something angry and bewildered.
“Do you want to get married? Do you even know this guy?”
“Choice is illogical,” S’Randal says. “This match would be the best possible option to gain honour for my clan. It is true that I am not well-acquainted to Shervic, due to the nature of my mother’s work, but we have met once.”
“Randi,” Zuri says, quietly. “Stop it. Stop giving me all this crap.”
“Zuri--” S’Randal begins.
“I’ve known you for four years. S’Randal, you don’t have to pretend to be an oh-so-superior-Vulcan. You’ve been all over the galaxy, and you know that your life could be different if you were easily born on another planet. Tell me what you really want.”
S’Randal bites her lips, sheds blood. “I do not wish to wed Shervic. I do not want to take part in a Pon Farr with a strange man, born and bred with Vulcan mores, with no true affection of me to speak of. I want--I want to marry you, Zuri. I know you.”
“See,” smiles Zuri. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for a very long time. Do you know how long I’ve stayed celibate for you?”
Zuri is always there for S’Randal. It is impossible, in any single opportunity, for the world to make it otherwise, to shove a stranger in her place. S’Randal wants a woman: a woman with green-black skin and fast reflexes and true companionship.
She wants Zuri.
“I will not take Shervic as my bondmate,” S’Randal says, before the clans.
“Daughter,” S’Vonti says. “You have been betrothed to him for years. Do you believe another male shall be worthy of what he could give us and give you?”
There is a murmuring among Shervic’s clan, a disapproved rumble. “Then who shall you choose?” says Shervic’s father, who is the clan head. “There are many other males among the clans. Choose your challenger.”
Shervic is in the heat; it is obvious that the blood is boiling within him, urging him to mate. He is close, and he will fight the plak tow with a rage like an animal.
“My protector, Zuri, is to be my mate.”
All heads whip round to watch the woman step out from behind S’Randal, that beautiful half-Orion, half-Terran girl with a taunting smile. Again, the murmuring begins -- there has not been a match like this since the Vulcan Sarek and the human Amanda Grayson.
This is S’Randal, daughter of the Ambassador T’Maire and clan head S’Vonti. This a half-breed of no noble blood or standing.
S’Randal cannot offer her clan offspring or land or wealth. But she cannot bring herself to be concerned with such matters.
“She will fight for you?” Shervic’s father asks, his composure obviously shaken.
“No,” S’Randal says. “This is my hand of marriage that I am defending. Therefore, I will fight.”
“S’Randal, do not be foolish--”
“No, Mother,” S’Randal says, shedding her outermost clothes until she is down to a simple undershirt and black shorts. “I am capable.”
She fights, and she fights like Zuri. Shervic is wild and blundering in his hunger -- yet he is also befuddled with the mixed instincts whether to mate or to battle. This, she uses to her advantage.
S’Randal flaunts her beauty, her prowess, simple seduction interwoven with her gyrating body. The last move she makes is the Vulcan nerve pinch, light fingers sinking into a neck, and Shervic crumples to the ground. He is not dead, as these fights usually end, and perhaps this is not a good thing -- he will be dishonoured now, his reputation tarnished: a male incapacitated by his former mate.
The clans are silent. To them, this outcome is unprecedented. Illogical.
“I am the victor,” S’Randal says, and Zuri reaches forward and closes her hand around S’Randal’s. “As it is my right, I claim myself free of any bond towards Shervic.”
After the wedding, she informs Zuri of the Pon Farr, what it is, what it entails. Zuri is deeply distraught -- if you’d lost, can you imagine what he would have done to you -- and S’Randal wraps her arms around Zuri, and starts to wish.
“This is how Vulcans kiss,” S’Randal says. She holds two fingers --index and middle -- out to Zuri. Zuri reciprocates the gesture, and their fingers rest against each other.
“It’s very sweet,” Zuri says. “Simple. I like it.”
Then she drags S’Randal down to the bed, and kisses her the human way, and for a very long time, S’Randal is in bliss.
The planets are in a frenzy over S’Randal’s matrimony. She did not know that there would be such a reaction -- she did not expect the stir that such a pairing would generate.
Many PADD news columns or holo programs do not approve. Zuri is part-Orion, they say. Orions are not known for their fidelity. It is in their nature, they do not commit; this woman is merely trying to improve her status. Zuri is part-human: too emotional for a Vulcan, others say, and Zuri tells her that some do not like her for the dark shade of her skin, the blackness of it, even if the newspapers do not say that explicitly. Zuri is a woman, some others publish, and these claims are among the worst.
They say that S’Randal and Zuri are incompatible. Vulcan, an Ambassador’s daughter. Half-Orion, half-Terran, the daughter of a prostitute and a wine-seller, as well as a hired bodyguard.
S’Randal married Zuri on her own accord. There is nothing wrong or illogical about that.
S’Randal wishes to change many things. She visits Vulcan every few months, meets a boy with sad determined eyes who does not feel wanted because of his birth. She finds two middle-aged men on Terra -- one is Vulcan, the other Romulan. She meets an old woman who underwent kolinahr a long time ago.
(I felt, so long ago, the woman says. She was a close acquaintance who was to mate with my brother. She perished, and to escape losing control of myself, I sought training here. She waves her hand at the clear sky, the mountains all around, and if she would have emotions, S’Randal would think her lonely.)
It takes a while, but she finally acquaints herself with Amanda Grayson.
S’Randal is quite adverse to Amanda at first -- mainly because Amanda is more respected than Zuri. Amanda has political ties (thus earning the respect of much of the press and the people, and many of the Vulcan elders), has adopted some of the Vulcan traditions (and Zuri has no desire to, and that is perfectly fine with S’Randal), and has a son raised purely Vulcan (S’Randal and Zuri do not want children; any child of theirs would preferably be raised on Terra).
But Amanda Grayson is a good person. She understands S’Randal’s plight, sympathising with the public negativity surrounding the case.
“I want things to change on Vulcan,” S’Randal tells Amanda, repeating the words she has been saying for a long time. “I wish for my people to choose their own mate. I wish that the practice of arranged bonding shall be broken.”
“You ask for many things,” Amanda says. She adds, almost inaudibly, “I wish, too, for my son to find friends on the planet of his birth. His peers disapprove of me.”
“I grieve with thee,” S’Randal says, and she does, because she recognises the looks thrown her and Zuri’s direction every time they are sighted in public.
“You’re not alone, you know,” Amanda says. “The young people here, they see how the rest of the planets are, and I think they might wish, too. I am sure there are many your age who want a choice; that they would rather choose than fight. That they wish not to fear being cast out of their clan, or cheated out of inheritance, or treated with disgust because of their spouse.
“I married Sarek because I love him. He married me because he loves me. I wish that Vulcan would one day be so simple, so easy, because of that. Spock does not know of love or of choice. Not on this planet.” She stops, and studies S’Randal with a serious expression.
“S’Randal, wife of Zuri, daughter of T’Maire and S’Vonti. Tell me, what do you want?”
“The end to blindness,” S’Randal says. “I want Vulcan to see.”
S’Randal spends a long year on Vulcan, opting out of T’Maire’s diplomatic travels. Zuri stays on Orion, and they write to each other, sending long messages on their PADDs. Sometimes they use comm, but they both prefer the easy exchange of palmed out words.
S’Randal wanders around her planet. She looks for people like her -- the dissatisfied, the disheartened, and she talks.
The young whisper amongst themselves.
Zuri is working at a bouncer in her mother’s club when the blue box appears out of nowhere.
A head pokes out of the door -- white skin, Zuri sees, and not an Orion -- and a man springs up on his feet, looking around. “Hullo!” he calls to her, cheerfully.
Zuri takes in his appearance -- a skinny human with a long trailing brown coat and blue shoes. “We’re invitation only,” she says, moving to block the entrance.
The man stares at her and the building behind her. “You’re Orion, aren’t you? Green skin. Curly hair. I’m on Orion.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Yeah...”
“Well. Wasn’t expecting that.” The man scratches his chin, then his face lights up. “Oh, forgot to introduce myself! Where’s my manners? I’m the Doctor.”
“The Doctor? Just ‘the Doctor’?”
“Yep,” the Doctor says. “And who might you be?”
“My name’s Zuri,” she says, bemused. “And I’m doing my job now, thanks.”
“Zuri?” he says. “Do you happen to be Zuri Keita of S’Vonti?”
“Just Zuri Keita,” she corrects. “I don’t like using S’Randal’s clan name. They don’t like me much, anyways. I take it that you keep up with the press storm?”
The Doctor shrugs. “No, not really. But yeah. I know you.”
“I don’t know you, and neither does my mother,” Zuri says curtly. “And I mind very much when people decide to harass me because of those news columns. Also, that box of yours is blocking the club entrance.”
“Sorry,” the Doctor says, looking momentarily like a chastised child. “How ‘bout I come back later?”
“No. I don’t meet up with random guys. I’m married.”
A frown. “I’m not trying to pick you up, Zuri Keita. I think this might be important. Me meeting you here, that is. You of all people. Especially before--well.”
Zuri rolls her eyes. “And that explains everything. Are you trying to use the ‘we are destined to meet’ pick-up line? I’ve heard it all before, you know.”
The Doctor says persistently, “Look, it’s really important. I’m sorry I can’t explain further, because I’ll really mess up things if I say too much. But I think I’m supposed to be here and sort some things out. It’s about you and S’Randal.”
Zuri softens at the mention of S’Randal, inwardly curious about the seriousness of the Doctor’s attitude. “Fine. All right. My shift ends in two hours. I’ll talk, but that’s it. But if you do anything funny, expect a kick to your stomach.”
“Wonderful!” the Doctor exclaims. He grins widely, and begins walking backwards towards his blue box. “Two hours it is, Zuri Keita not of S’Vonti!”
True to his word, the Doctor rambles into the club two hours later. She sits comfortably on a couch, and he takes the armchair across her, kicking away a suspiciously shaped wrapper from under his feet. Zuri hides a smirk behind her hand, noticing the panicked movement.
An awkward silence.
“Zuri Keita not of S’Vonti,” the Doctor says. “So. Where are you now?”
“On Orion,” she says. “I actually know where I am, unlike a certain someone. I’ll ship back to Vulcan soon, though, to visit the family, and then we’ll both go Terra afterwards.”
The family, of course, is limited to S’Randal’s political efforts, mostly consisting of Sarek’s clan. Spock -- who S’Randal has befriended since he was seventeen -- is currently a Starfleet commander, an Academy instructor.
“How’s S’Randal doing?”
“Fine,” Zuri says. “She didn’t want me to come with her in the first place, though -- didn’t want the Vulcans to gang up on me and out-logic me or whatever.” She scoffs, hating that she had agreed with S’Randal to stay on Orion, instead of ‘needlessly antagonising’ the Vulcans with her obviously unwelcome presence.
“It’s understandable,” the Doctor says, eyes old and sad. “I apologise for the ruckus. I’m what you might call a cousin to the Vulcan race -- telepathic powers, fancy robes, geometrical letters, the whole shebang. My people were kind of like them. Old fashioned. Distant. Stuck to ancient laws and didn’t budge -- had a stuffy council like Vulcan’s, now that I think of it. They didn’t like me at all. Played hell with my lives. And, well, my friends...”
The words trail off, left hanging. Past tense, Zuri thinks, filing the fact in her mind. She doesn’t ask.
“I grieve with thee,” Zuri says, borrowing a phrase she’d heard S’Randal use once.
“Very Vulcan of you!” the Doctor says approvingly. He seems brighter now, switching into that ridiculously upbeat personality. “If they had any sense, they’d like you.” He nods at the PADD on Zuri’s lap. “Whatcha doing? Hmm...it’d be holo vids in this era, right?”
“Not a holo. A letter, actually.” Zuri taps the screen with her fingers. “From Randi.”
The Doctor gives Zuri a knowing look. “Your Randi. She’s a very wonderful, formidable woman. You’re lucky to have her. Well, she’s lucky to have you.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
Another period of short silence.
“Look,” Zuri says. “You said you were looking for something. Because of me and Randi. What is it?”
“I already found it,” the Doctor says, casting a glance at her PADD. “It’s your letters. I know they’re very personal, but someone has to find them. Guess I’m the person who will.”
“You’re taking my PADD? Why the hell would you take--”
“I’m sorry.” The Doctor walks over to her. Bends down, picks up the device, and kisses her forehead. “I am so, so sorry, Zuri Keita not of S’Vonti wife of S’Randal. You’ll get it. Just not now. Not yet.”
And he’s fast. The Doctor runs like a man accustomed to running, and he’s gone just when Zuri reaches out to him, attempting to grab his coattails.
She looks for the Doctor’s planet on a library terminal.
It doesn’t exist.
The drill drops down.
S’Randal of the clan S’Vonti and her wife Zuri Keita are not evacuated in time.
Perhaps, in their last moments, they’d held on to each other tightly, and Zuri hurried through the tale of that strange and mysterious Doctor, and understood.
One year later, a PADD’s contents is published. It’s called The Randi & Zuri Letters, released to the public by a Doctor John Smith.
Here, for instance, is a student’s thesis on the subject:
S’Randal and Zuri Keita never succeeded in their plans for activism. Vulcan I fell to destruction from a rogue Romulan’s efforts to render the Vulcan race extinct. This single event prompted the remaining Vulcan Elders to push for purely Vulcan breeding and mating to enlarge the population. The Vulcan people conceded with the Elders, and the minute teachings of S’Randal and Zuri, designed to slowly introduce the young to the concept of interspecies marriage, same-sex marriage, and the annihilation of arranged marriages, were eventually forgotten over time.
The Doctor reads the paper, shaking his head back and forth. S’Randal and Zuri would be proud, he thinks, if they could have attended the binding of Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Spock of the clan T’Pau. It will occur so many years later, and it will still be looked down upon.
But they would have been so proud.
“You look quite pretty, this time ‘round,” the Doctor says, when he first sees the Rani.
The Time War is starting, and she looks like what humans call Indian -- warm dark skin, long straight black hair, which she has tied into a braid. But it fits her title -- Rani, Hindu and Urdu for queen -- and she carries herself with pride. “It was one regeneration, Doctor,” she replies. “I don’t go through bodies like you do.”
He’s a young man. Curly blond hair, silly Victorian costume, but he’s still the Doctor she knows, through and through.
He is not a man prepared for war, she thinks. But, she realises later on, neither is she.
When the battles simmer down (for they did, in the early days), the Rani and the Doctor stretch across the red grass, and reminisce. The Doctor tells long, winding tales about the planets he’s been to, the people he’s met.
The Rani takes to asking him questions -- just about scientific things, like the biology of an alien species, or the contents of the atmosphere, or the settings he used on his sonic screwdriver to solve a problem. Even though he’d told the surface tale of the story, the barebones of the recollection, he answers her. There is rarely at time where he blinks sadly, and says, “I forgot.”
In turn, she tells him about her experiments. He doesn’t approve of the moralistic, ethical dilemmas that her work poses, but he listens anyways, absorbing the knowledge with the clinical curiosity of a scientist -- a curiosity she knows he’s always had, seeing as he does know the things he stumbles upon in his gallivanting.
The Doctor has always loved his adventures.
The Rani remembers when Theta returned from his travels with Koschei. It’d been an impulsive thing -- stealing a TARDIS and taking off to all of Space and Time -- but Theta was happy. He is bursting with knowledge, picking up all the curses of different eras and universes, and eager to demonstrate: frak and fark and gorramit.
“It’s better than swearing with Rassilon’s name all the time,” Theta explains, when she’d asked. “They sound interesting.”
This had prompted the Rani to go digging around for an etymology book, and Theta and Koschei to erupt in a loud argument about which words to use before the High Council when they earned their regenerations.
“Why is it,” the Rani says, “that we are enlisted as lieutenants, when we could very well be the scientists working on the weapons?”
It should really be a rhetorical question.
“They don’t trust us,” the Doctor says. “They’d be mad to entrust us renegades with weapons of mass destruction.” (It’s funny how the emphasis on the word renegade is in a playful tone, like it’s a mark of comradeship. And well, it kind of is.)
The Rani heaves a long, exasperated sigh, and snatches his sonic screwdriver. She starts to build something of her own -- she is a scientist, after all. It starts with a device of the Daleks’ gun sticks; it evolves into something more.
The war goes on. It gets worse, almost unbearable.
Everything moves in an almost feverish pace -- firing sonic phasers at the hordes of Daleks, collecting the bodies, trying to stand in place when Time herself is slipping and sliding because Her people are screaming. Things shift in and out of place.
The Doctor and the Rani tells stories at night, and sometimes it’s the same story, because it’s difficult to keep track.
The Rani pushes herself. She picks parts out of the Daleks’ outer shells, tearing apart their weapons, and removing sections from her own phasers and grenades and armors. She finds pieces of broken TARDISes. She builds and builds and builds and tries not to worry about the collapsing world around her.
One night, the Doctor kisses her, a soft press of lips onto hers.
“I’m not one of your Earth girls,” she says, pushing him away. And she’s not Koschei, either, but she doesn’t dare say it to his face.
“Boy,” he says, his eyes clouding over, his mouth curving slightly. “Earth boy. His name was Fitz.”
The Rani doesn’t ask about that human, who is most likely one of his many abandoned friends. The Doctor doesn’t try to kiss her again.
“What are you going to do, when the war is finished?” the Rani questions the Doctor, as she wraps a piece of cloth around his bleeding arm, where it’d been hit by the burning sting of a phaser.
“The same thing I did before,” the Doctor says with a cheeky smile. “I don’t want to stick around when the High Council finally decides to pick me up. I’m Gallifrey’s most wanted.”
The Rani swats his cheek -- it’s scarred, she notices, long-healed, but it’ll never go away. “You’re going to keep getting into trouble again, aren’t you? And I’m going back to my research.”
The Doctor gives her a wry look. “And I think I’ll check up on you every few weeks, Rani.”
“Oh? So you’re my companion now.”
“You do need someone to stop you,” the Doctor agrees.
“Look who’s talking, you dolt,” the Rani says, and they both break down into hysterical laughter.
“A lot of us want to get out there,” the Rani tells the Doctor. “I’ve been talking with the others lately.”
The Doctor looks completely confused. “What?”
“We’re not the only ones who want to go off-planet,” the Rani says. “Did you really think that there’s only a handful of us who want to travel freely, or, Rassilon help us, interfere?”
“What are you trying to do?” the Doctor says, suspiciously.
“Change things,” the Rani says, clutching her little device in between her fingers. “Stop the war.”
“Is that what you’re telling them?”
“I’m not manipulating them, Doctor, they’re not my test subjects--”
“I don’t think so. Whatever you’re trying to do, just quit it.” The Doctor folds his arms behind his back. “Let the HIgh Council handle us. Let the war run its course. Don’t play with its soldiers.”
It is ironic, the Rani thinks, that the Doctor, of all people, does not understand. Because these other Gallifreyans do.
The Doctor is weary, too weary to work his miracles; she is exhausted, but she isn’t burnt out. She speaks to and for the people of Time.
The young whisper amongst themselves.
The High Council summon the Rani before them, demanding an experiment. Lord Rassilon sits in front of them all, hard grey eyes blazing.
“Lady Rani,” Rassilon says. “We are in need of your skills in the revival of an old friend of yours. Do you remember him? The Lord Master, that is.”
The Rani flinches. What in Omega’s name is this bastard trying to pull? “Fine,” she says, frostily. “I’ll bring back a dead man, if you want. Just get me to a laboratory, my Lord.” She channels her disgust in his title.
The dead do not come back right.
Everybody knows that.
But Rassilon is Gallifrey’s founder and leader and president. They all must obey his orders, and he has his secrets to life and death, Time and Space. The Rani bows her head, and goes to the laboratory, but she makes plans of her own. (Rassilon’s got a lot of useful technology, after all.)
Romana is waiting for her there, a startlingly pretty blond girl with large blue eyes. “Where’s the Doctor?” is the first thing that comes out of her mouth.
“Fighting,” the Rani answers curtly. “While you’re staying here, all cosy with Rassilon, he’s out there fighting your war.”
Her eyes grow wider. “No, I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. But Lord Rassilon made me stay. He--he removed the Doctor’s granddaughter from Earth. Susan.”
A heavy weight settles on the bottom of the Rani’s stomach. Susan’s here. Pretty little Susan, who called her Aunt Ran, and is in all probability the reason why the Doctor fights without question. “Is she okay?”
“Yes. I think so.” Romana chews the bottom of her lip. “She’s not in combat, which is the best we can hope for, for now. Lord Rassilon has confined her to her chambers, under the careful watch of some soldiers.”
“Rassilon,” the Rani curses angrily. “Fine. Let’s bring Koschei back. Let him take care of this mess, and get the Doctor finally up on his feet.”
The dead do not come back right, but the Rani tries, anyway. She uploads the Master’s consciousness from the Matrix, tries to spin it into something real, and finds a body to mold and shape. From a TARDIS’ core, she reaches into the Vortex and directs energy into the Master, mixing it with atron.
The Master comes back, eventually.
Rassilon makes him fight -- a wild creature, with wrong wrong wrong eyes, madder than ever -- and he is the Time War’s perfect soldier until he disappears.
Rassilon blames her, and the Rani tries to do something that’s the Doctor’s job: she runs. Which, of course, results in getting drained of almost all her regenerations, until she’s down to her fatal thirteenth. Romana stops Rassilon before he finishes her off, and, because she’s had practise running with the Doctor before, they escape.
They escape, wading through a sea of red grass and corpses, the Rani’s life flickering golden at her fingertips, and her doomsday machine tucked in the folds of her robes.
The Rani barely has time to register the attack as the phaser flashes green, twice, in front of her eyes, and Romana falls to the ground, hit before she could fully regenerate. It’s one of the Gallifreyan soldiers who fired, and the Rani takes the pleasure of shooting him back.
“Find the Doctor,” Romana whispers, as the gold dust weakly clusters around her body. The Rani clenches a trembling fist around Romana’s. “Find Susan. Find the Master. I know you’ve got a trick up your sleeves, Rani. I know you.”
She lets out a weak laugh. “Even the Master, Romana? Didn’t know you were that sentimental.”
Romana makes a rasping chuckle. “Win the war for us, Rani. Win the war -- go back to your work, let the Doctor go back to his. Let him thwart Koschei daily. Let Susan be the Doctor’s companion again. Let this all go back to normal--”
Her grasp on the Rani’s fades, and the Rani -- who is not the Doctor, who isn’t supposed to care so fucking much -- decides to make a move.
She’d planned it all perfectly before: going up before the High Council and the Cult of Skaros, and holding up that silver cube, and telling them to stop.
But it’s too risky. The War is getting too out of hand. Time is unbalancing.
The Rani takes Romana’s soft cheeks between her hands, and kisses the poor silly pretty girl’s lips. “There is no perfect victory,” she whispers.
She tries to go back for Susan, but when she gets there, all she finds is the limp body of a young woman. Rassilon killed her, she thinks dully. Rassilon saw to it that she was killed because Romana and I ran.
The Rani chokes back a yell, an angry growl gnawing at the bottom of her throat. She does not cry. But she lets out a strangled sob, tearing at her now-red hair, pulling her arms around that young woman who looks so much like Theta.
She finds the Doctor, falling before his feet in exhaustion. She hasn’t eaten. Hasn’t drank. Hasn’t slept in a long, long time.
“They’re gone,” the Rani whispers. She offers the device from her pocket. “Koschei, Romana, Susan, and now your stupid Ushas. You don’t have anything to lose any more. Use it.”
Like Romana, she fades.
The Doctor takes his TARDIS, and flies over Gallifrey, fully expecting to die. His hand opens: the machine falls down down down, passes his planet’s atmosphere, streaking down to the red fields.
It blooms white, like a ballooning cloud.
The explosion spreads, and the TARDIS shields shake, feeling the rebound of the blast. One life gets knocked out of the Doctor.
He wakes, bitter and angry and Northern and big-eared, and slips on an old leather jacket of Fitz’s.
Adoración Jimenez is fifteen years old when her mother decides to settle down on a new colony.
“It would be wonderful to have a fresh start, Adora,” Mama says. “It’ll be amazing. Just a small population of people, no noisy cities. We’ll grow our own food! And they have a school there, too.”
This is the chance Adora knows her mother’s been looking for. Ever since Papa passed away, Mama’s been restless. Lo siento, Señora, everyone says to her, and Mama hunches her shoulders down, each and every time, shying away from their pity.
Lo siento, Señorita, they’d said to Adora. So Adora also knows, and she would like to go, too. She’s never been out in space before, never anywhere beyond the soil underneath her feet, the blue sky above her head.
She does not think that she is young. She has already entered womanhood, and turned that pivotal number fifteen.
She has danced that first waltz without her father: it is her mother, of course, in his stead.
The soil on the colony is a rogue red, and soft underneath Adora’s fingertips. She plants a garden in front of the makeshift house that she and Mama share, parting gravel and encouraging her dahlia flowers to take root in this strange land. The dahlias are pinkish purple and peach, and once had a home in the ceramic pots that once rested on a Terran window sill.
Between her fingertips, she rolls the seeds of dahlia juarezii back and forth.
Adora thinks she likes this place: it’s slow, and simple, and new. She spends lazy days tending to her flowers and talking to her mother, who works part-time as a doctor. On busier days, she goes to school with the other children, pursuing her studies with a quiet diligence.
During nights, she prays for her father.
Thinks about him in that white room. Thinks about her mother sobbing, who tries to find treatment after treatment for Papa, despite the fact that there’s nothing in her medical knowledge -- however boundless -- that she can give him.
Adora slides her fingers down one prayer bead, rosary slipping downwards, and begins another Hail Mary.
Rogue red and rampant red.
This soil is not a good soil of earth. A fungus makes its way through the colony -- lot 513, lot 246, field 102, everywhere and every time. The crops are failing.
Adora knees to the ground, sifting soil and examining her dahlias. The wilted petals crumble at her touch, and the roots hang limp.
Dahlia juarezii is cactus dahlia is le etoile de Diable, which is French for star of the devil. Petals rolled backwards instead of forward, you could always tell what flower it was because it is so distinct.
...and, well, so what? It’s just a dead plant now.
She picks up the remaining flowers and drops them into the waste chute.
This is not a good home, this Tarsus IV.
Day by day, the amount of food on the table lessens. The rations they receive is the bare minimum, and there’s not an hour that goes by that Adora wishes for more food. It’s difficult to sleep on a growling stomach, and she wakes up in the middle of the night, restless and wanting.
When she is at school, Adora is summoned along with several other children to a large building that is used as the city hall.
There are four thousand people present, half of the colony’s population, and Adora cannot find her mother among them. Instead, she finds herself among a cluster of children, many whom she recognises from school, and they don’t understand what’s going on.
Governor Kodos speaks, and the soldiers around him begin to fire.
“No!” Adora cries, burying her face in her hands, peeking through her fingers at the little window that they make. Thomas Leighton is screaming, left half of his face burned off by the phaser blast, and Kevin Riley is shaking and shaking.
She lunges to catch Thomas, tearing her thin sweater off her arms and pressing it to the injury, desperately trying to recall the medical procedures her mother had taught her.
“We have to go,” Jim Kirk says, herding out as many children as he can. “Kevin, we have to get out of here!”
Adora runs with them, guiding Thomas through the screaming hordes of people. “Mama,” she wonders under her breath, “where are you?”
Like the hide-in-seek of a lost child: ¿Dónde? ¿Dónde esta mi madre?
Some days, she lies in the shifting sands with that thirteen-year-old boy named James Tiberius Kirk, and they wonder at what life might be like with a father.
Jim Kirk is like a storm waiting to happen -- he is a legend from his birth, he is an almost-legend about to burst into action, but Adora sees that right now that he’s a reckless boy jumping into danger, disobeying rules, and generally being a brat. Yet he genuinely cares for the other children as they make their way across the settlements, stealing and sharing the food of the chosen, just trying to get by.
They are still hungry. There’s never a time when they’re well fed.
But mostly, the children run. Adora knows that Mama is among the chosen; she does not go to her, in fear that they both will be slain. They look for a place beyond the colony lands, where there might be food growing aplenty and perhaps perhaps perhaps Jim’s PADD will able to find communication free of the ionic cloud covering the planet.
She misses her mother all the time. Maria Jimenez is a doctor -- she is valued, and therefore, safe. And that’s the most that matters, in the scheme of things, and Adora holds her rosary, and her dahlia seeds to her heart, and keeps wishing.
Of course, Jim has other wishes. He ropes in the chosen children to join their rag-tag band; he knows that they, unlike the adults, the enemy, will be more fearless, will want to be free. Most of the chosen children, after all, have had parents or siblings slaughtered mercilessly by Kodos.
“They’re too smart,” Jim says, brushing dead fungi-affected grass from his thighs, as he stands and stretches. “The adults, that is. They know how shit like this goes down -- from history, from the news. So they shut up. They don’t dare try and fight back against Kodos ‘cause they know they’re supposed to be afraid.”
“So we’re stupid enough to escape?” says Thomas, voice muffled. He has taken to slinging a black scarf to veil his damaged face. Kevin looks affronted at being called stupid, opening his mouth to protest.
“Apparently,” Adora says, wryly. “Now go to sleep, boys; we’re going to go raiding bright and early in the morning!”
Jim and Kevin groan, and Thomas rolls his one visible eye. But they listen to her -- Adora is currently their de facto guardian, as one of the oldest in their group and as someone who’s capable of ordering Jim Kirk around.
And she hasn’t lost as much as most of the children -- she hasn’t had her family torn from her, her heart broken into pieces. Mama is chosen and alive. Adora has something more than the others do, and she hasn’t stopped feeling guilty every single day.
She tells the little ones not stray away at night. She tells them of la llorona, the weeping woman, looking for her children. “Always stay close,” she says to the wide eyes of her audience. “She comes out from the rivers and the oceans, and when she screams, you know that she’s coming for you.”
Adora looks at the growing mass of children, who they keep picking up from place to place, and looks at what their small but somehow ample store of food.
They will find the wild. They will find a home beyond the fungus, beyond the starvation. They will stay together.
“The revolution is successful,” Governor Kudos had said before, to the four thousand unchosen before his eyes.
Jim Kirk, that stupid blazing boy, makes rousing, swaggering speeches in front of the children, telling them walk a little further, walk a little further.
The young whisper amongst themselves.
When they think they’re almost there, Kodos’ soldiers find them -- this group of starving children, with bony ribs jutting out from their chests, skin so pale, and eyes sunken. Thirst. Hunger. Press your fingers to any stomach and you will find the emptiness there.
Nine are taken in the struggle, including Jim and Thomas and Kevin, and everyone is heavier for the loss of them.
They trudge forward. Adora carries the tired kids, the emancipated belly of a child pressed against her back as they walk. She resorts to violence when they raid the chosens’ homes -- so what if that man screamed, so what if that woman sobbed, so what if they cringed and were terrified?
She has children to take care of. Lea, whose black-hair is slowly falling out. Emil, who immigrated from Germany with his baby sister -- an unchosen infant. Sem, who barely speaks English, and keeps attempting to talk in his thick Dutch accent. Mia, who wonders where she left her toy doll.
Adora closes her eyes, and tries to believe in God.
The Starfleet officers finally come, carrying with them an early shipment of goods.
By then, Adora has lost a quarter of her children -- the younger ones, for the most part, who weaken and tire so easily no matter how much of her share she gives them. She has buried bodies in the land that they thought would be fruitful: it has barely sustained them, it isn’t enough.
She is the one who finds the first officer, as she goes out scavenging for food.
“It’s okay,” the man says, as she reaches for a wooden stick at her side. “I’m a Starfleet officer. We’re here to help.”
“Mis hijos,” she whispers to him, softly; she is like la llorona, for she is the one who took the children here, who has them here to suffer, who can’t stop them from suffering. “Mis hijos. My children.”
And Adora leads him back to the place they have set camp, and finally, for the first time in forever, they are safe.
She spends a long time in a hospital ward. Adora knows that she will be here for months, maybe a year, because she saw herself in the mirror and saw those hips and eyes and stomach.
“Where’s my mother?” she asks a Starfleet officer.
He reaches for her file, shuffling through the papers. “Hmm...Adoración Jimenez, is that right? Daughter of Doctor Maria Jimenez.”
“It says here that you’re to be placed in the custody of your aunt in Mexico. Your mother has been arrested for aiding and abetting Governor Kodos in the executions. She allowed him access to the colony’s medical records, which he used to determine who to choose and not to choose.” The expression on his face is one of distaste.
“I’m sorry, Miss Jimenez,” the officer says hastily, when he notices her reaction. “But you know, the other children in the rooms over there are asking for you. A Mr. Kirk has been particularly insistent.”
“Jim,” she says, squeezing the fabric of her hospital gown. “Okay. Thank you.”
The nurses wheel her over to the ward next door, gliding her silver wheelchair down the smooth stainless floor. Jim and Thomas and Kevin are there, Lea and Emil and Sem and Mia are there, and they’re all alive, blessedly alive. She runs to embrace each and every one of them, proclaiming, “Aquí están mis hijos.”
Here are my children.
She is la llorona wishing for the pearly gates of Heaven. She places her bony fingers on their shoulders and this time, this time, she doesn’t take.
Later they tell her that Jim saw Kodos’ face.
To her shame, Adora is glad that this is one less burden she does not carry.
It’s night time when she hears him: the vworp-vworp echoes clearly in her ears, and it doesn’t wake her, because she’s always having trouble sleeping.
“It’s you,” Adora says, as the man steps out of the doorway. “I remember you. Two years ago, there was an alien disease that spread like wildfire. My father was among the first casualty, but you were able to obtain the antidote from his body.”
She pauses, takes a long look at him. “But you look different now.”
He is young, dressed in a green coat and wearing a red bow tie at his throat. Last time, he was older. Brown coat. Pinstripe pants. A tie. But he is the same man.
“You’re that little girl at the hospital!” he says, his face lighting up. “Adán’s daughter. Your father was a brilliant man -- almost came up with the cure himself! Nice to see you again; glad you remember me, I’m the Doctor!”
Yes. The Doctor. That’s what he’s called.
“I wasn’t looking to see you, actually,” he says, glancing around, and seeing only her in her bed. “Do you know what room James Kirk is in?”
“Next door,” Adora says, indicating the room on her left with a nudge of her chin. “But don’t go.”
He smiles at her sadly, as if he anticipates already her words, and waits for her her to speak.
“You came to stop a disease of the body,” she whispers, remembering her father’s agonised screams. “Why didn’t you stop a disease of those plants? Why didn’t you stop Kodos?”
“Fixed points in time, my girl,” he replies, sliding to sit on the railing of her bed. “Something like this--this changes people. Changes history. I can’t take that away.”
“You came to see Jim.”
“I did,” the Doctor acknowledges. “See, it’s a long story, but some events in this timeline got kind of messed up. Another one crossed over and affected it. I’m just checking to make sure that some pivotal points in James Kirk’s life are kept constant.”
Adora wants to glare at him, wants to hate him. He’d told her -- when she was thirteen years old and innocent -- that he was a time and space traveler. Kind of like a Starfleet officer out in the black, but he could do more things, could help more people.
But he has that look in his eyes that are just like hers, so tired, and maybe it’s even worse. She’s not the only one who’s seen death. He’s waiting for death, she realises. He knows he’s going to die.
“What’s your name again?” the Doctor says, examining her curiously, like she’s some lab specimen.
“Adoración Jimenez. Adora.”
“Adoración,” he repeats, relishing the syllables on his tongue. “Good name. It fits you and your family -- your father was named after Adam; your mother after Mary. And you after the Adoration of the Magi. Bible-themed.”
Mama. Papa. Adora’s throat closes up; it feels tight, squeezing the breath out of her. She hasn’t cried after Tarsus, even though nearly everyone else has wept. Except her. Except Jim.
The Doctor eyes are soft when they focus on her. “For what it’s worth...I’m sorry, Adora.”
Lo siento, Señorita.
Adora finally exhales. He’s waiting for death. “I’m sorry, too,” she says, and he nods goodbye, and goes to Jim.
The prison does not allow Adora to send messages to her mother.
But slowly, she figures it out. She pinpoints the time where Mama might’ve gotten mad, might’ve stopped keeping to the Hippocratic Oath. When Papa died, maybe.
She becomes a doctor, too, in the future.
“Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death,” she recites, fingering her rosary in her pocket. “Above all, I must not play at God.”
James Tiberius Kirk is a starship captain. Kevin Riley is a Starfleet lieutenant. Thomas Leighton is a research scientist. Lea Teoh is a interplanetary biologist. Emil Färber is a professor at Heidelberg University. Sem Van Vliet is running for Senator in the United States; Adora sees him on the news, and his accent is still there, lingering.
Mia committed suicide several years ago. Adora thinks it had something to do with Tarsus; she knows that Mia witnessed her parents’ death.
She waits for the day when Tarsus IV becomes a figment of the her past, but it still hasn’t left her yet, and she doesn’t think it ever will.
The Doctor’s lounging in a bar, where he overhears a conversation from the two aliens next to him. They are part of an uprising movement on their planet -- young and hot-blooded and eager -- and they’re boasting and bragging about the possibility of success, of overthrowing the government.
“There’s a Terran quote I heard,” the first says, raising his glass, “that says that revolutions never go backwards.”
The second lets out a hearty whoop in agreement. “I’ll toast to that! Hear, hear!” he exclaims, slapping his companion on the back.
“You’re quite wrong, gents,” the Doctor says, good-naturedly, raising his voice. “I can name you three.”
And he reaches for a bottle of alcohol, and drinks.