You mustn’t die, Doctor…
Nyssa’s voice. Déjà vu for a time yet to come. Leaden feet, numb and stumbling, scraping the frozen ground. Snow-laden branches hung with shrouds. A body’s dead weight dragging at his arms. A dry-leaf rattle, metal foil wrapped around shoulders like a chrysalis, an inadequate skin against the cold of space, the cold of time.
Darkness. No TARDIS awaiting him, just a direction, a beacon, a nod towards tomorrow. Human tomorrows, terrifyingly unidirectional.
Between living and dying, there were so many shades of grey.
He could no longer recall the colour of Nyssa’s eyes, young or old.
A man’s shout, possibly his own. Mechanical and human sounds, clank-soft, clank-soft, clank-soft. A leg that smelled of machine oil looming out of the darkness by his ear. He tried to roll away, but the body draped across his chest was too heavy. Someone was stooping over him.
“Take Vanth first,” he heard himself saying. “The psychopomp. She goes before. Underworld’s custodian—”
His body shut down.
Time was a blur of darkness, moving shadows, voices.
A woman he half-remembered: “I’m not leaving you alone with him!”
Another voice, the man from beyond: “He’s harmless, and you’ve done harm enough.”
Harmless would be an entirely inappropriate epitaph for this incarnation, he protested, and went on dreaming. Heated wet sponges pressed against his eyelids, his nose, between fingers and toes, but he could barely feel them. There were tree-roots all around him, warm and leathery like elephant skin, a comforting wall to lean against. Soft pith fibres grew under and around him. He was freezing, then burning, as the soft chrysalis failed to keep out the cold. His hands and feet throbbed with intense tingling pain that reminded him of regeneration.
Not now, he told them. Be what you are. Regeneration’s a lot of bother, and I don’t have the time.
The Doctor sat up in a root cellar that was actually made of roots, or at least the walls and part of his bedframe were. The lighting came from natural phosphorescent panels, some in need of nutrients, to judge by their irregular grey blotches. The room’s decor was not very cheering: racks of clamps, test tubes and beakers, centrifuges, incubators, plate readers, wheeled tables, blocky computer terminals, a pair of gurneys, and what looked like an enzyme printer. Nor was his the only bed, although the two other bunks along the wall were empty.
The sight of the lab equipment brought him wide awake. But most of it lay under plastic sheeting. So he was not yet a test subject. Or was he? There was a sensor lead encircling his pillow. When he moved, an amber indicator began to blink on the wall over his head.
Hurriedly, he began to disentangle himself from a sandwich of blankets. He was encumbered by bandaged hands, still raw and painful as if the outer layers of skin had been scraped off and were in the process of regrowing. His swaddled feet were tender, too, although there the process seemed further along. He swung his legs around and winced when his heels touched the floor.
He had just spotted the room’s only door when a whine of Dalek hydraulics warned him that he was soon to have a visitor. Bracing himself for the worst, he crouched down behind a draped equipment rack and peered out. The door slid back to reveal a tall, gangly, but reassuringly humanoid figure. The light-panels in the ceiling brightened as the man entered.
The newcomer moved with the stiffness of age, or perhaps injury. He stepped out and looked towards the empty bed, frowning. “Doctor?” he said. “I mean you no harm. Please show yourself. I’m unarmed.”
The Doctor rose gingerly. “How do you do? The mysterious Toru, I presume.”
“Ah, Doctor, there you are. Yes.” The man limped over, right leg moving with a faint clank-slide, clank-slide. “Glad to see you up and about. I told the medics your physiology was different, but they assured me you were dead. How do you feel?”
“On the whole, I’ve had better days. The last time I felt this low, I’d lost an argument with a rather cantankerous spider.” The Doctor touched his swollen cheeks. “I haven’t… changed, have I?”
“Same face as when you came in, if that’s what you mean.” Toru pulled a chair out from under a table and slid it towards him as a sort of peace-offering. “Are you hungry? Thirsty? I’m afraid our hospitality has been rather lacking so far.”
“The accommodations are fine, thank you, but I strongly recommend using a different taxi service.” The Doctor took the chair and returned his host’s stare. Toru was old, nondescript, and somewhat shrunken inside the quilted tunic and trousers that seemed to be standard work clothes on this planet. Yet there was a suggestion of authority in his gaunt but erect frame. Salt-and-pepper fuzz clung to a brown scalp streaked with an old burn scar. A metal foot peeked from the hem of a pantsleg.
Toru smiled crookedly, pulling up another chair. “Not quite what you were expecting, I hope.”
“Not exactly, no.”
“Whereas you are.” There was an intense frankness about him that reminded the Doctor vaguely of Tegan with some of the points sanded down. “You could have left Vanth behind, you know.”
“No. Really I couldn’t.”
“Precisely. Which eliminates any doubt that you’re the real Doctor.”
“Oh? Was there some reason to doubt?” Before he could answer, the Doctor added, “How is Vanth, by the way?”
“Cracked head, cracked ribs, foul temper, but she’ll mend. She’s back in town, recuperating.” He met his guest’s eyes soberly. “I owe you a tremendous apology, Doctor. I had no idea my foster-daughter meant to keep you away from me. I should never have sent her to collect you.”
“Thank you. I was beginning to wonder why everyone I encountered here seemed prepared to exterminate me if I didn’t pass muster.” His phrasing was deliberate. Sure enough, he saw Toru tense at the word ‘exterminate.’ “However, this is all very much beside the point.” He straightened, whipping out the question like a knife. “Where’s Nyssa?”
“That’s a little difficult to expl—”
“Then show me.” The Doctor clenched a fist, although his half-healed fingers sang in protest. “I have come a very long way to find her, Toru, after you lured me here with an edited Dalek recording. Your temple custodian told me she’s dead. Or a monster. Or a vegetable. None of which I believe. In any case, you are going to take me directly to Nyssa, so I can see the truth for myself. At once.”
“Doctor, I would like nothing better.” Toru met his eyes levelly. “But are you recovered enough to travel? We’ll have to fly— and walk. Her cryogenic pod is in a Dalek storage facility hidden on the mountainside. I haven’t found a way to move it without disconnecting it.”
“Then we’d best get started.” The Doctor tested his footing and stood, wincing. “Your explanation will give us something to talk about on the way.” He gestured with exaggerated politeness. “After you.”
Submitting to Toru’s insistence that he dress in cold-weather gear, the Doctor was soon crammed into the pilot’s seat of an ancient two-person flyer. With a rueful smile, Toru had invited him to take the controls so that there would be no further mishaps. That might have been strategy as much as tact. It was difficult for the Doctor to ask too many probing questions while learning to fly an unfamiliar aircraft.
However, onboard navigation included an autopilot for preprogrammed destinations, and he soon mastered the controls needed for landing and takeoff. He eased down to skim the treetops. “So,” he said, “are all your vehicles Dalek manufacture?”
“Some. As a matter of fact, this is the transport Nyssa stole from their base when she went rogue.” There was a note of regret in Toru’s voice. “At my urging.”
One treetop thrusting above the rest caused him to pull up sharply, and there was a giddy moment of up-down, up-down before he eased back to level. These controls were too sensitive. “The Nyssa I know wouldn’t need anyone’s urging to defy the Daleks.”
“Doctor, I understand your doubts, but her memories of her former life were deeply submerged. They imprinted a new identity. She thought she was a bio weapons specialist. They kept her so busy, she seldom had time to think of anything else.”
“Chief Virologist Nyssa,” the Doctor recited glumly. She had a strong will, but he could not deceive himself. She would not have been able to hold out against Dalek conditioning forever. It had happened before, after all. He had never forgotten the blasphemous words grating in her throat: Exterminate, exterminate. “And you? What’s your connection with her? And just how did you come by that recording?”
“Years of covert research as a tech menial and data entry clerk. It took me six years to crack Dalek security archives, another year to uncover their secret files on the two of you. I studied your tactics for the resistance. Later, when intel reached me that Nyssa was on the verge of a breakthrough, I reached out to her. I gambled that the Daleks hadn’t removed her scientific curiosity. I was right. She was skeptical at first, but she was willing to consider my evidence. Once I showed her who she really was, she rebelled, recoded the virus to target Dalek DNA, and released it before they could stop her. The guerrilla war we had been fighting for years was won in a matter of hours.”
“That sounds like her, at least.” More than anything else he had heard so far on this wounded planet. Nyssa’s commitment to saving lives had sometimes surpassed even his own. Survivor’s guilt, he had diagnosed early on, and perhaps a sort of revenge of compassion, a response to the Master using her father’s body to unleash mass murder on the universe. If the Daleks had done something similar to her, forcing her to become what she abhorred, she must have been badly scarred by the experience. Why had she not told him? But perhaps she had, every time she put her life in harm’s way, right down to her last selfless act. Even so…
Something still didn’t add up. “You said she was the final casualty of the war. Yet Vanth said her mother was one of the last to die.”
“Lieutenant Falex, yes,” Toru said. “It was after her party was ambushed that I contacted Nyssa as a last resort.” An electronic chime sounded. “We’ve arrived. Down there, Doctor.”
They had climbed above the treeline. There was nothing especially distinctive about the knob of rock nestled in a barren cirque on the mountainside. However, as they swooped close, the Doctor caught a flicker out of the corner of his eye, probably their reflection passing over ports or windows camouflaged to look like stone. It was not standard Dalek architecture, usually an eyesore devoid of subtlety. Perhaps it predated the invasion.
He touched the canopy release switch and swung his legs over the side, dropping out into a bleak wind he barely noticed. “So, here we are at last,” he said, helping Toru down and reflecting that neither of them would be able to outrun anything faster than a Melkor. “Lead on. I do hope it’s a better vintage than Amontillado.”
A few minutes later, they were out of the wind. The sense of walking blindly into a trap did not leave him as they trekked down a dark hallway. Toru stopped at the first door on the left, “Containment Store A,” and keyed in an access code. The chamber inside was vast, lit by dismal emergency lighting.
“This way,” Toru said, leading the way across the broken floor, stepping around the mangled remains of three or four Daleks. There were signs of a firefight or explosion. Walls, ceiling and floor were coated with traces of soot. Some overhead light panels were cracked or missing altogether. A sepulchral reek wafted from somewhere, so faint that the Doctor was not quite sure if it was organic or industrial. The visitors’ footsteps echoed loudly in that lonely chamber of death.
“I see there’s more than one cryostasis tube,” the Doctor said. Leaving Toru limping behind, he hurried towards the discoloured glass tubes set in alcoves around the walls. Sixteen, he counted, two destroyed, four open and empty. Of the remaining pods, perhaps a half-dozen had working status lights. “I’m very much looking forward to your explanation. Which one is hers?”
Toru moved without hesitation to the second functioning tube, placing a gnarled hand against the glass. “Here, Doctor.”
The Doctor hurried over. He started to reach for the keypad, its buttons half-melted by some past conflagration.
Toru caught his arm. “Wait.” The Doctor tensed. But all the old man said was, “If you open it now, you’ll kill her. There’s still traces of the virus in our atmosphere. A last layer of protection she left us, so that our enemies would leave us in peace.”
“Nyssa,” the Doctor said with icy emphasis, “is not a Dalek.”
He leaned close, wiping the glass with his sleeve. It was difficult to see through the black film carbonised onto the surface, and the tube was filled with a milky coolant. But it was enough. The ghostly grey form within the chamber was unmistakeable. Nyssa’s hair formed a shadowy backdrop framing a pale face which he had seen grow old, then young, then old once more.
“Hello, Nyssa,” he said quietly. “It’s… good to see you again.” It was a lie.
He rested his cheek against the glass, too numb to notice more frostbite. She was locked away in another universe, and yet she was here, too, cut off from him by a mere six inches of glass and cryo fluid. He had to get her out. And to do that, he needed answers. Abruptly, he moved to the first tube that Toru had bypassed.
He cut the man off with clipped, mild tones barely masking his rage. “Tell me, Toru, who put her in here? You? The Daleks? And more to the point, who or what else is trapped in these other stasis pods?”
Again, the grime baked onto the glass made it difficult to make out anything within. He could feel his hand beginning to bleed inside its bandages as he scraped away the tacky residue. Squinting, he saw another grey figure that was a head taller, fair-haired, with a lean athletic build that he recognised all too well. The face was his own.
He whirled on the old man. “Toru, that’s me in there.”
“A Dalek duplicate,” he said, the truth falling into place like a coffin-lid. “Of course. I should have guessed. You’ve lost some of them, have you? And now you need more? You dragged me all the way across time and space for a… a cheap copy of a dear friend, which your own friends think ought to be destroyed! It’s a shell, a soulless perversion, a—”
“That clone, or rather one just like it, saved my entire planet!”
The Doctor fell silent. Peripherally, he noted his hands were stinging again, gripping the front of the man’s tunic.
More calmly, Toru said, “They scanned your minds, not only your bioprints. She is Nyssa. With Dalek DNA, Dalek conditioning, Dalek memory suppression— but she is in there, Doctor. They needed her scientific mind intact.”
The Doctor released him and turned away. “How many, Toru?” he said tonelessly. “How many of them are there?”
“Two of her, four of you.” Toru exhaled. “I think. It’s difficult to tell which are truly dead, and which capsules are still operational.”
“You said… ‘our’ minds.” The Doctor gave his duplicate a sour glance. “You never mentioned anything about him.”
“I would’ve destroyed them, but they’re our only available test subjects,” Toru said. “Nyssa’s clone still had vestiges of her real self. His did not. Either they didn’t finish scanning you, or they had to jettison a great deal more of your engrams to ensure his loyalty. He was convincing enough to fool me, but Nyssa sensed something off about him, although she didn’t remember why. He was a Dalek, through and through.”
“Oh, no.” Fragments of the nightmare ride up the mountain suddenly made sense. “The Dalek agent that ambushed Vanth’s mother?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I see.” Circling back to Nyssa’s duplicate, the Doctor stumbled, the full weight of the past few days catching up with him again. He realised he was shaking with hunger and fatigue. He had risked his life and sent away his ship, agonising needlessly about Nyssa's captivity and corruption at the hands of their old enemies. But she was not here, only poor facsimiles of her and of himself that the Daleks had used as weapons. It felt like a sick joke. He should have brought Turlough along to provide acerbic commentary. “I might quibble with her methods, but Vanth was right to obstruct what you’re doing. Toru, we can’t bring back the friends we’ve lost. Certainly not as Dalek hybrids. Who else might die at their hands?”
“I don’t know. I only know that this Nyssa was my friend, and she deserved a second chance at life.” Sighing, Toru set a hand on his shoulder. “Doctor, you’re exhausted. Come back to my hearth. Rest. We can decide how to proceed tomorrow.”
“It’s not bad, this.” Toru raised his mug and settled back in his chair before the fire. “Never thought I’d have the real Doctor in my house, drinking his fabled tea.” He chuckled. “Or, for that matter, having my own house.”
The Doctor grimaced at the unpleasant reminder that there were bootleg copies of him lying about. “I’m afraid it’s not real tea. It’s a bit of a job trying to convince your food processor to convert roots into Orange Pekoe.”
“Well, I appreciate the novelty, at any rate. My boy Sarul used to cook, but with the children grown and gone, I usually stick to preprogrammed recipes. Real food’s for the young. They don’t remember nutrient pills.”
The Doctor nodded, looking around at the circular room which filled most of the upper storey. Shelf-beds around the walls showed that Toru’s home had once been a communal one, but the cushions were now cluttered with bits of electronic equipment, spare parts and buckets of tools. Toru had regaled him over dinner with stories about his foster-children, the offspring of deceased comrades-in-arms. “Mojox has come a long way since I was last here.”
“Indeed. Occupation, liberation, the civil war, rebuilding— I’m trying to record it all before I die, now that I’ve retired from public life.” He smiled. “As I should have done long ago. The children have plans for the future; we only dreamed of being free.”
“Yes. You have to let them go.” The Doctor stared into the crinkling embers, tinted blue and green by the salts in dried kelp.
“As you let Nyssa go?”
“Not quite.” He took a cautious sip. The taste was acceptable, if only one could avoid comparing it to the real thing. “She wasn’t a child by the time she left. But she found a role elsewhere, built a life for herself, a career.”
Toru tilted his head. “Something tells me that’s not the end of the story.”
“No. But I prefer not to dwell on the past.”
The Doctor frowned. He ought to quelch this line of questioning: one couldn’t move forward if one was always looking over one’s shoulder, which he had been doing too often of late. And yet this man had some claim on him and upon Nyssa, thanks to the legacy they had inadvertently left behind. “We— I and two other companions— encountered her later in her timeline. She traveled with us again for a while. But I… I lost her. She stayed behind to seal a breach between this universe and another. She saved billions of lives, but I don’t know if she survived.”
“No!” Toru sounded genuinely distressed. “But you’re a Time Lord. Can’t you just—?”
“No, I can’t. Whatever happens, happened.” He finished the drink in one swallow, set down the mug and closed his eyes. “I should have guessed what she intended.”
“So that’s why.” There was a metallic creak as Toru leaned forward earnestly. “Doctor, you have my sincerest apologies. I regretted having to trouble you, informing you of these clones. But I assure you, I didn’t realise—”
“That the only Nyssa left in our universe is a twisted Dalek imitation? After I left her to die?”
“No. She chose her own way.” Toru’s gruff voice softened. “But you’re wrong, Doctor. Thanks to misfortune, two universes could have the benefit of her care. Don’t squander it.”
“No, Toru. I won’t be a party to this.”
“You have absolutely no idea what you’re asking me to do!” the Doctor said, voice cracking as it rose to a near-shout. “Listen to me— no, don’t interrupt, because you’ve clearly learned nothing from that ambush. I’ve met Dalek duplicates. I’ve met regular humans programmed with Dalek implants. Both lived in torment, torn between their own personalities and Dalek control. They were like drowning victims, lashing out at those trying to save them. Two took their own lives. Have you any idea what a Nyssa duplicate would do, if she had Nyssa’s sensibilities and a Dalek’s impulse to kill?”
He shook his head. “But she wasn’t—”
“I’m sure she could find some cause worth dying for.” The Doctor struck his armrest and flinched. “I won’t allow that to happen. Not again.”
“And is that sufficient reason to kill her, Doctor?” Toru persisted. “Because that is precisely what you’re telling me to do.”
“I can’t answer that. But I can’t give her life, either.” He pushed away the footstool and stood abruptly. “And before you try again, I suggest you look up an ancient Earth book called Frankenstein.” So saying, he headed for the basement.
He had intended to take a few hours’ rest, but sleep proved elusive. Eventually, the relentless grind of mental millwheels drove him out of bed. He needed to occupy his mind with something, and quickly.
One of the bulky workstations proved to have power and, wonder of wonders, connectivity. The Doctor sifted through its cluttered memory banks until he found what he was looking for, squirrelled away in three levels of invisible partitions: the tools Toru had designed to break into the Daleks’ dataweb. They still worked. More importantly, some portions of the nearby base’s control centre appeared to be operational. So this was how Toru had accessed their communications relay.
Familiarising himself with the code to bypass Dalek sentinel subroutines took nearly an hour. He could not risk tripping an alarm and being shut out of the system. But at last, he was able to open a secure channel, camouflaging it with 5D encryption to ensure that it would look like static to any receiver besides the one he was targeting.
It took another twenty minutes for the TARDIS to reroute his incoming call to the hospital switchboard, and for a very bleary-eyed Turlough to appear on the ancient monitor. “Doctor. You’re all right!”
“More or less.”
“Have you any idea what time it is? And what about Nyssa?”
“She’s not here. Nor are the Daleks. They’ve been driven off by a synthetic virus she left for them.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I can see that. What happened to your nose?”
The Doctor reached for his face. The outer layers of skin were still tender and swollen, but healing. “Frostbite. This planet’s at the outer edge of its solar system’s habitable zone. Now, I want you to—” He checked himself. Turlough would have to use the Fast Return Switch, which meant the TARDIS would return to its last landing point on the next mountain over. That clearing was several miles away, with a river dividing it from Toru’s house. He would have to wait until morning to have any hope of reaching it. “—bring the TARDIS here in about sixteen hours. Can you do that?”
Turlough yawned ferociously. “Assuming I can borrow antigrav crutches, yes.”
“Ah. How is your ankle feeling? If you would rather wait until—”
“No, Doctor, I won’t deprive you of the hospital’s special blend for another day. I know how much you enjoy it.”
“Turlough,” he growled.
The young man began to laugh at his disgruntled expression.
“That’s not an effective test,” the Doctor said. “I’d scorn their poor excuse for tea even if the Daleks had lobotomised me.”
Turlough grinned. “I know it’s you. You go all chummy ‘Turlough-my-lad’ when something’s mucked with your head. And an impostor might have remembered to ask about my ankle. Anyway, if I have to eat hospital food, the least you can do is suffer in solidarity. Or, better still, rescue me with takeaway.” He yawned again. “Turlough out.” The grainy picture went dark.
An icon had been blinking on the corner of the screen while they were speaking. Now the Doctor examined the symbol more closely. It appeared that Toru had moved a stack of files into a directory on this workstation.
With a sense of foreboding, the Doctor clicked on the first item in the stack. Toru’s voice emerged from tinny speakers. “Interesting. On a subconscious level you know something’s wrong, don’t you? I’ve given you no evidence – not yet at least – but you’re willing to hear me out.”
The voice that followed was a ghost’s hand on the back of his neck. “I’m a scientist, Toru. Scientists believe in hearing all the evidence before arriving at a conclusion.” It was Nyssa, right down to her haughty bravado in the face of an unknown threat.
Just that, and no more. But it was enough. Toru had a knack for getting around security locks in networks, and apparently he was equally skilled at bypassing people’s better judgment. The Doctor could no more ignore the provocation than Nyssa had. (But it was not she; he could not lose sight of that fact.) Knowing full well he was being manipulated, he clicked the next file.
It was footage from a Dalek security camera, the very one he had disabled when he and the real Nyssa made their escape. That scene — more poignant in hindsight — replayed before his eyes. They could so easily have died there, together. Transfixed by memory after the recording ended, he started as Nyssa’s voice spoke over the static that followed. “He’s nothing like the Doctor. He looks the same, but his manner, his smile… the way he tried to say sorry… he seems… nice.”
It was not Nyssa, and yet she sounded exactly the same. It seemed that she still had some latent attachment to him, but inverted, like everything else in this nightmare scenario. What had his duplicate done, that she would find his clumsy kindness so foreign? It was a disturbing question he did not care to pursue.
One by one, he clicked through the remaining files, unable to shake the spell of the clone’s voice even when he knew its familiarity was an illusion. The last file was labelled ominously: “Her Final Transmission.” With a numb sense of the inevitable, he listened to her confrontation with the killer who possessed his face but not his soul. “You’re not real. Neither of us are. They made copies of the originals five years ago, and we’re the result. A pair of fakes.” Her defiance was Nyssa’s, and her bitterness too: she had awoken to who she was and what she had been doing. “Isn’t that what Daleks always do? One more death on my conscience. Whatever conscience a Dalek duplicate has.”
He paused the playback and sat back heavily. There it was. He could no longer pretend that these clones were merely Dalek drones. Some, at least, had a conscience. She had proved it by doubting it. Of course, had she lived, she might have turned out like Stein or Lysette, unable to break free of their programming. She had not survived long enough to grapple with her Jekyll and Hyde nature. But was that sufficient reason to condemn her and her siblings to death?
Over the centuries, he had tried to save a great many people who were hardly paragons of virtue: Brewster, Stein, and the Terileptils were just a few recent examples. Some, like Turlough, had become good friends. Others, like Leela and the Brigadier, had committed deplorable acts of murder and violence, yet he had not renounced their friendship. Was it just for the Doctor to expect Nyssa’s clones to meet a higher standard of ethics, simply because the original had been so nearly a saint?
What would the real Nyssa have done, had Toru called her to Mojax instead of him? The clones’ existence would distress her greatly. But if there was even a chance to save a life, Nyssa had always put her own comfort and safety aside to help.
She was irreplaceable. But these… these people… did, perhaps, deserve someone to fight for them, even if they had been modelled, imperfectly, on a precious soul he missed.
The question was: did they even have a soul, and if so, whose?
Toru’s arrival the next morning barely registered on the Doctor’s awareness. His host halted at the foot of the lift and stared.
“You’ve been hard at work, I see,” Toru said, setting down a tray of not-quite-tea and boiled roots. He limped over to help the Doctor wrestle a large centrifuge out from the tangle of stacked clamps, glass tubes, racks, and other equipment that had been pushed against the walls for storage. The plastic sheeting had been cleared away, and some of the equipment had already been cleaned and laid out for use.
“I don’t suppose you have a pure sample of the virus ready at hand,” the Doctor said.
“No, but I do have its complete specifications and gene map, if that would be useful.”
“It would speed up the process, yes.”
“Very well.” Toru moved to the workstation. Bending over it, he said, “So, you couldn’t ignore her last wish either.”
“I didn’t hear it,” the Doctor said. He both dreaded and yearned to know what Toru meant by that. “Whatever your friend may have wished for, there’s nothing I can do to bring her back. The question is whether the others deserve the same benefit of doubt.”
“So what changed your mind?”
“Her conscience,” the Doctor said. “And I’m still not convinced this is the right thing to do. I just hope we don’t live to regret this.”
“Better that than to die full of regrets, eh, Doctor?”
It was not a question he cared to answer.
“Nothing, Turlough! There is absolutely nothing wrong! I’ve simply decided to stay on for a while.”
On the grainy screen, Turlough raised both eyebrows. “Somehow your tone does not inspire confidence. You’re not trying to keep the TARDIS out of somebody’s hands, are you?”
“No.” Although, considering who else was in cryo storage, it might be a wise precaution. “The Mojoxalli need my help in defusing some unpleasant surprises the Daleks left behind.”
“And you don’t want me to come?”
“Not unless you’re up for mountain climbing in subzero temperatures.”
“I’ll pass, thanks.” Turlough shook his head. “I don’t like the sound of this. If your friend Toru wanted to consult you for bomb disposal, why didn’t he say so in the first place, instead of spinning some phony yarn about Nyssa?”
“He feared the Daleks would intercept his broadcast and identify its source if he was too explicit,” said the Doctor. “In fact, we should sign off. I’m using Gallifreyan encryption at my end, but that only allows secure communications as far as the TARDIS.”
“Which is relaying every word to a hospital’s public switchboard. Wonderful.” Turlough smiled sourly. “All right. Try not to get killed, will you? I don’t want to be stranded in the Empire of Polyfoam Cups.”
The Doctor terminated the transmission and hurried over to the enzyme printer to check its progress. Toru’s laboratory was a maddening hodgepodge of state-of-the-art and primitive equipment, some of it medical and some of it pressed into service from such unlikely technologies as engine parts and hydroponic feeders. The Doctor recognised certain parts from his previous brushes with the Daleks. Others seemed to be custom-built devices cobbled together with varying levels of skill and ingenuity. In fact, many resembled his own lash-ups aboard the TARDIS. Which raised a number of unsettling questions about who, exactly, was responsible for them.
He needed to put those questions to his host sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, the Doctor was soon too engrossed in a computer simulation of gene regression to notice the lift had decanted not one but two visitors.
“Well, well,” said a dry female voice. “Seems you’re even more reckless than the madman of the mountain. At least Toru put his proposal before the Ten Elders before ignoring our counsel.”
Toru, leading Matre through the maze of scientific equipment to the Doctor’s main workbench, smiled apologetically. “I’ve been bringing Matre up to speed on your progress. What’s the latest?”
“Nyssa did her work too well. But thanks to your surprisingly thorough notes, I may have a plan B. I’d be even further along without all these interruptions.”
“Just as well,” Matre said, pulling up a stool beside him and settling with a grunt. “You spoke sense when you arrived, Doctor. So explain to me why you’re risking the safety of Mojox for these mannikins. Who granted you such powers of life and death?”
He paused the simulation and turned to her soberly. “It might surprise you to know that I share your reservations. But the fact is, choosing not to act is still a choice, or at least an abdication of responsibility. They’re here. Something must be done about them. Toru’s recordings give me hope that Nyssa’s clones retain most of her core personality, if not her memories. I intend to rouse one and see what she has to say for herself.”
“And if she prove s a Dalek at heart?”
“Then I’ll remove her to an uninhabited planet and hope she takes up gardening.”
“Some hope.” She shook her head. “Very well. The Council isn’t going to like this, but I’ve no doubt you’ll do as you’ll do. I’d prefer not to use Vanth’s way to stop you. So just you be careful.”
“Brainwashed companions are an occupational hazard with which I have some experience. And now—”
“Doctor,” Toru said patiently. “Plan B?”
“Gene therapy. Rather than trying to counteract the virus, I restore the Trakenite genome to its natural state, removing Dalek DNA.”
“Then she will no longer be a Dalek,” Toru said, brightening.
“If only it were that simple,” the Doctor said. “But the body is just a shell. It’s the mind that matters.”
“The soul,” Matre corrected him.
“I defer theological questions to the experts,” he said irritably. “Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m rather busy.”
“Hmph.” She shook her head and rose. “Send word when it’s time.” The Doctor gave no further sign of hearing her until she paused before the lift and called over her shoulder, “You do understand that if you fail, we’ll have to kill her. And possibly you, if one of yours wakes up.”
“No pressure, eh?” he said lightly.
She snorted as the lift door closed behind her. The familiar whirr of the Dalek mechanism was an ominous coda.
Toru limped over to the workstation to peer over the Doctor’s shoulder. “She’s not happy, Doctor, but she won’t interfere. Vanth may be another matter. Can I assist?”
“Yes. There is one thing you can tell me.” The Doctor returned his attention to the simulation. “You said medicine on Mojox started almost from scratch after the occupation. Yet these experiments you’ve recorded are highly advanced, requiring a great deal of specialised knowledge. With respect, I don’t think you taught yourself genetic engineering by cribbing the Chief Virologist’s lab notes.” He scowled. “Some of which appear to postdate the Dalek occupation.”
“Yes.” Toru met his hard gaze frankly. “One of the clones I revived… lived a few months. It was winter, when I hoped the virus in the air might be dormant. I was able to transfer her back here under sterile conditions. This is her laboratory, Doctor.”
“Of course.” The Doctor passed a hand over his brow, vaguely aware of a dull ache. “How many other surprises are you keeping from me, Toru?” he said. “What happened?”
“We worked on the problem together. That—” he nodded at the terminal— “is how far her research had progressed before… it overtook her. I tried to isolate this room from the outside, as you see, but when the spring thaw came, it brought death on the air. She was so close. She told me so.”
Hearing the quiet agony in the man’s voice, the Doctor tempered his next question. “And the second empty cryogenic tube?”
“I tried one more time, working from the partial cure she devised. That one died almost immediately, but not before attempting to kill me. Madness is one of the symptoms of the virus.” He looked away. “She was my friend, Doctor. I… abandoned research after that.”
“They were your friends,” the Doctor corrected sternly.
“If the second had lived long enough, Doctor, she would have become her own person. But when they open their eyes… they start from the exact same point in their lives.”
“Like a branchpoint for alternate timelines,” the Doctor mused. Again, that quiet yearning in the old man’s voice made him uncomfortably aware of his own mixed motives for continuing this work. The guilt he understood all too well, but he was beginning to suspect something else. “Toru, did you love her?”
The man broke into a strained grin. “Didn’t you, at least a little? You traveled with her, didn’t you?”
“Nyssa was a colleague, and a good friend,” he said stiffly.
“Of course, of course.” Toru let the statement dangle insolently before continuing. “Well, I cannot answer that question any more than you can, and I knew her a shorter time.”
The Doctor turned back to the terminal. “Be a good chap and check on that enzyme synthesiser, would you? I’m afraid it’s stuck again.”
Everything was prepared. Even with the Nyssa-clone’s robust notes, it had taken the Doctor a week and a half to design and program a complex set of genetic substitutions to scrub out Dalek DNA and leave a healthy genome. The delivery system, at least, he could borrow from her own experiments. But he could test only so much in simulation. And there was absolutely no room for error.
A message had been duly dispatched down the mountain, and the priestess of the Temple of Worthies had wished them grudging luck. Now they stood once more in the sombre storehouse hidden on the mountainside. Toru waited tensely beside him with a robe and blankets while he made a final inspection of the cryogenic chamber they had chosen for their test subject.
“Stand ready,” the Doctor said. “But wait for me to deploy the serum. It’s going to be a race between the genetic catalyst fanning out through her blood, and the airborne virus entering her lungs. Every second will count.”
“Ready when you are, Doctor,” Toru said.
“Initiating revival process now.” He stepped over to the control console at the end of the row to set the process in motion, then hurried back. His gaze fixed on the blinking indicator light on the side of the tank. The milky substrate inside began to clear. There was a soft hiss of thermogas being pumped into the chamber.
“Two minutes,” the Doctor said. His hearts were beginning to hammer. Some part of his mind was still reacting to this as a nightmare, at once unsettling and yet so exhilarating that he had no wish to awaken.
“Doctor?” Toru said, lowering his voice.
“Whatever happens, I’m deeply in your debt. It broke my heart to think of having to destroy these before I died.”
“Let’s just concentrate on the job at hand, shall we?” He glanced down at the injector he was holding. One minute. He removed the cap and waited. Time ticked down. Thirty seconds. Twenty. The fluid inside the tank was draining away. Ten. He readied himself to pounce as the seals popped and crackled. Five. Four. Three—
“Doctor!” Toru said, alarmed. “It’s not opening!”
Leaping into action, he capped the injector and shoved it into his pocket, grasped the edges of the lid and heaved. “Help me!” he panted. The cold bit into his hands. “It’s stuck!”
Toru flung down the blankets and joined him, adding feeble strength to the Doctor’s frantic efforts. At last the suction yielded. The curved lid slid around and behind the tank with a solid-sounding chunk. A puff of moist air and thermogen gas blasted their faces. They peered in. The clone’s body had sunk into the padded anterior, looking exposed and frail and far too much like a corpse. At least there was a pink flush to the cheeks. It was painful to see her, but he was too preoccupied to worry about that now.
The Doctor ripped off the sterile gloves he had just contaminated and drew out the injector again, uncapping it. There was no time to re-prep. He could see the shuddering rise and fall of the clone’s chest as she took her first breaths in forty-three years.
Grey eyes opened and fixed on him. “D-Doctor?” Her dazed, uncertain smile did not match the wariness in her tone.
“Nyssa,” he said, throat tightening around the name. There would be time for hard truths later. “It’s going to be all right, but I need you to be brave and hold quite still.” Even as he spoke, he leaned in, fingers gently probing her neck for the carotid.
She flinched and tried to pull away, but her movements were sluggish.
“Shh. Easy, easy.” He pressed the injector lightly against the fluttering pulse. A protein sealant followed the metagen packet in, instantly sealing the puncture before another heartbeat could put any pressure on the violated artery. “It’s the only way to save your life. I’m sorry, there wasn’t time to ask.”
Panic flooded her eyes. “What did you—?”
“There’s an airborne pathogen that could kill you. You were exposed the moment you left cryostasis. I had to counter it at once.” He released her shoulder and patted it. “Now you should make a full recovery.”
“Th-thanks.” She sounded unconvinced. Then something behind her gaze snapped into focus. “The pathogen. Yes, of course. But what business is that of yours, Doctor? And why was I in stasis? Where are the Daleks?”
He tensed. “That’s rather a long story, I’m afraid. Toru, blankets, if you please.”
The old man had retrieved his bundle and now leaned forward to drape a puffy thermal blanket around her, tucking it in at the sides with tender care. “Here we are. It’s good to see you again, Nyssa.”
“Chief Virologist Nyssa,” she said coolly. “And I cannot say the same. Why is he here, Doctor? Have you betrayed us to the rebels?”
Groaning inwardly, the Doctor held out his hands. “I’ll explain everything, but we need to get you out of here. Please. Trust me.”
Anger, uncertainty, and confusion knitted her forehead. But her lips spoke a different language, unless that raw, fleeting smile had been only his imagination. “You may be my friend, Doctor, but do you really think me so naive as to—” Her voice changed suddenly. “Duck!”
The Doctor’s reflexes were barely adequate, but he managed to pull her down and shield her head with the thermal blanket just in time. A blue bolt of plasma struck the top of the tank and exploded. Spatters of sizzling cryo fluid, sparks and bits of casing shot everywhere. He could feel searing splats of melted polymer striking his shoulders and bonding with the quilted fabric of his coat. Toru yelped in pain.
“Get away from there, old man!” Vanth’s voice boomed out across the chamber. “So, you’ve really done it. Move away from the tank, both of you. Doctor, you’ve saved my life, and I’d rather not take yours. But that Dalek abomination must die.”