HENRIK HAD BEEN feeding the cat for over a week.
They met during one of his sojourns down to the basement, where he usually went after work to eat the lunch he didn't have time to eat during the day.
The basement had ceased to become a place of menace. He liked the quiet. It was somewhere he could sit and remember Roxanna with fondness, and John with a complicated mix of emotions. He often wondered why he didn't hate him more, but somehow he couldn't. He missed them both with an ache in his heart that would never go away.
The cat had approached him, probably because he was eating sushi at the time. As cats went, it was rather unprepossessing, being a strange bluey shade of white and with an odd red pigment to its eyes. Its tail was skinny and wonky, as if it had been broken at some point.
He had looked down and there it was, tail gently swishing from side to side. It looked as if there would be no argument about the sushi. If Henrik didn't give it some, it would have just helped itself.
Since then, Henrik had fallen into a routine. At the end of the day he would go down to the basement with his Bento box and share a considerable portion of it with the cat.
"What's your name then," he asked on the second day. Until then, he had assumed it was a stray, although it looked well-fed.
"Meowrrrrrrrrp." The cat rubbed itself against his trousered leg, leaving a smattering of white hair.
It was very friendly. By the time Henrik decided he would take down some water and dry food, it was running up to him, rubbing around his legs and purring wildly. Henrik didn't understand the cause of this affection, apart from the sushi, but it rather pleased him.
However, when he suggested the cat come home with him, it ran away and hid. It seemed to be happy in the basement, living off a diet of small rodents and Henrik's lunch. In the end, he put a blanket down on the old mattress John had sometimes used when pulling all-nighters at the lab.
One strange thing though. He was sure the blanket was in a different place every morning, but that was his imagination, of course.
"ODIN, I HAVE YOUR supper," he called when he went down to the basement two weeks after their first meeting.
The cat didn't appear. Henrik looked around, hoping it hadn't trapped itself in one of the cupboards. Nothing.
Then he saw it, backed up against a corner, it's fur all puffed up, tail like a bottle-brush. A low growl rumbled continuously in its throat.
"Whatever is the matter? It's all right. I won't hurt you." He reached his hand out to comfort the animal.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
The voice made him spin round. It sounded familiar, a long-loved soft Liverpudlian drawl. His heart began to beat rapidly.
He couldn't see the speaker. He was hidden in the shadows.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?"
"Those questions have complicated answers. Who are you?"
Henrik drew himself up to his full height. "I'm Henrik Hanssen, CEO of this hospital, and you shouldn't be here."
"You're absolutely right. I shouldn't, but I am. What date is it?"
"Show yourself please. I do not care for talking to shadows."
"And yet you do it all the time." The stranger stepped forward.
Henrik gasped. The man was strangely dressed in a long frock coat, slim trousers and a cream waistcoat. He looked like a dandy, with a shock of long curly hair and a gold silk cravat. Other than the clothes and the hair, it could easily have been John twenty years before, right down to the startling blue eyes and heartbreaking smile.
"Who are you?"
"All in good time. When are we? What date? What year? I was asleep when the Tardis touched down. Sometimes it does that. It can be quite unnerving. Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost. Very pale. You should eat more iron-rich food."
Henrik held up his hands. "Stop ... talking. You shouldn't be down here. This is private property and you need to leave."
"Oh, I will, when I've found what I'm looking for. The date?"
"April 4th, 2019. Now please..."
"Have you been touching anything you shouldn't?"
A bright light, coupled with a high-pitched whine, shone in Henrik's eyes. He swatted it away. "Stop that. I insist you leave right now!"
"Masterful. I like it. Hmmm." The strange young man ran the strange torch over Henrik, up and down. It emitted a faintly disapproving beep. "Well, I'd say you've been touching something. You have alien contamination."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It means they're here." He trained the torch on the cat, who hissed in protest. "Just as I thought. Hello, old friend. Don't worry. I'm here to escort you to safety."
"He's been perfectly safe with me," Henrik said frostily. "I was going to take him to a vet to check for a microchip as soon as he was happy for me to pick him up."
"That's a terrible idea." The man hunkered down to look more closely at the cat. It sniffed warily at his hand. "What we have is the last known Var being, far from home and looking for sanctuary. Aren't you, friend?"
The cat stared at him. Henrik thought he probably had the same look on his face as well.
The man stood up again and smiled. "Definitely. You're incredibly honoured. I hope you realise that. This animal isn't an animal at all. It's a transmogrifier."
"What on earth are you talking about, man? It's a cat!"
"The Var people are shape shifters. Well, some of them are. Not all. It's a defence mechanism. Also a handy way to reconnoitre a strange planet. This Var obviously escaped when their planet was destroyed." He looked sympathetically at the cat. "By an asteroid, is that right?"
The cat blinked.
"I've had enough of this. I'm calling security." Henrik reached for the red alarm button.
Before he was halfway there, something blue and glowing shot out from the cat's mouth and wrapped around his wrist. Henrik's eyes went wide. He couldn't even scream, or draw back, or run or do any of the things he knew he should be doing. Shock had rooted him to the ground. He watched in horror as the cat bit down on the soft part between thumb and forefinger. The pain was excruciating.
"Please..." Tears ran down his face. He had never been so scared in his life. "Who are you? What do you want?" He heard the hysteria in his voice as he stared at the cat, who was changing, growing bigger, sprouting more.... tentacle things. It grew taller, towering over Henrik, slim and glowing blue, the white fur replaced by iridescent scales, ruby eyes boring into his. "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?"
"Like I said, it's a transmogrifier. It's all right. You just need to keep calm. The Var don't respond well to negative energy." The man began talking in a strange, fluting language.
The alien paused, listening. Then it nodded. The tentacles disappeared back inside its fingers, releasing Henrik's injured hand. Now they had gone, the alien was humanoid in shape, with two arms, two legs and an elegantly shaped head. Henrik held his hand protectively against his body and stared at it in wonder and trepidation.
"What did you say to it?"
"That I'm the Doctor, and I want to help them if I can. This is Varco, originally from the planet Var. Non-binary, pro-nouns they/them. A peaceful species unless alarmed. They were known throughout the universe as the Healers."
The alien began to speak in the same language, then reached out for Henrik's hand again. When he resisted, they pulled it firmly towards them, making him groan with the flare of pain up his arm. Despite the discomfort, he was fascinated.
Each hand had six fingers with elliptical slit at the top of each one, and they glowed as if lit from within, the silver veins clearly visible. As he watched in horrid fascination, the being opened their slim lips and a long tongue appeared, at the tip of which was a small hole. A drop of golden fluid oozed out and dropped on Henrik's skin, to be massaged in with the alien's fingers.
Immediately, the pain disappeared. Where the liquid had landed on his hand, there was a silver scaled mark, but his hand felt completely normal.
"How did..." He flexed and wiggled his fingers, not believing what he was seeing or feeling.
"It's the Var's most precious commodity, vardanium."
The alien spoke again, and Henrik found he was captivated by the graceful way they moved their hands as part of their attempt to communicate.
"Oh what a shame," the Doctor said, his eyes full of sadness. "The only one left? Are you sure?" He listened again, then explained to Henrik. "Varco wants to find their people. They think more may have escaped but they've been searching the universe and can't find them. Now they're being pursued by Sontarans who want Varco's source of vardanium. If they get hold of it, they will be the most powerful beings in the universe, and that, before your inevitable question, is not a good thing."
Golden tears slid down the Var's face.
"Why did you come here?" Henrik asked gently. "How can we help you?"
The Var spoke, and the Doctor interpreted.
"They wanted to find a man with goodness in their heart. Who could be trusted with vardanium and to use it for healing, not for their own power. They chose you, Henrik."
"But ... I'm not a good man, Varco. I abandoned my son and as a consequence he did something terrible...."
"The Var recognise goodness. If they've decided you are up to the job, then there isn't much you can say to persuade them. It's an honour, Henrik. Apparently, they've been assessing you for the last two weeks."
Henrik made a despairing gesture. "It was a cat! I fed it fish and talked to it. That's all. Then it bit me!"
"To show you vardanium's capabilities. They don't make grand gestures without meaning. That is a uniquely human trait." The Doctor's voice and mannerisms were so much like John's, it was hard to look at him, and equally hard to tear his gaze away. "They need sanctuary. This commodity is so precious, the Sontarans are prepared to destroy planets in order to get their hands on it. We've no time to lose." The Doctor started off down the corridor, coat tails flying behind him.
"Wait, have we just become a target for world-destroying monsters?"
"It looks that way," the Doctor replied cheerfully. He paused, then opened a door into one of the storerooms, looking delighted. "Ah, there you are!"
The room was filled with an old-fashioned blue telephone box. As Henrik stared up at it, his mind was already blown with having a silver scar from his hand being bitten and healed again by an alien being, all in the space of five minutes. An old Police box didn't seem to be that surprising in comparison.
"Where the hell did that come from?"
"You asked how I managed to get in here. This is my Tardis." The Doctor slapped the old wood affectionately and opened the door. "Shall we?"
"What is it?"
"It's a Tardis, Henrik. Come on. If you want to save the planet we have to eliminate the threat. Or at least, persuade the threat to leave us in peace. That's the preferred option. The Sontarans aren't a bad race but they only really know how to be warriors, and vardanium will definitely give them the edge. We have to appeal to their sense of honour, ergo persuade them that an unfair advantage is no better than cheating."
Henrik stared blankly at him. "What is a Tardis?"
The Doctor smiled. "It means Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It's a transportation device. It's a time machine." He stretched out his hand. "Come on. It doesn't bite."
"Meowwrrrrrrp?" The white cat stared up at him with ruby eyes, then walked into the police box, tail held high.
Henrik wondered if he were hallucinating. If so, he was about to go further down the rabbit hole.
"Where are we going?"
"To Sontar. I'll explain on the way. Once they realise Varco is here, they won't be far behind and they're not quite as easy to hide. Come on, Henrik. Live a little." The Doctor offered his hand again.
After a moment, Henrik took it, and allowed himself to be led into the time machine.
Henrik looked around, half expecting to see an ordinary police telephone box with a Bakerlite telephone and a faded list of numbers, but not that surprised either to see something totally different. Something with a central column lit up in strange blue lights, bristling with knobs, levers and wheels. Something with a wing backed armchair and a side table holding an antique book. Immediately he went to it, and found the works of Wordsworth. It was a first edition, worth thousands.
"How did you get this?"
The Doctor looked disappointed. It was obvious he was expecting Henrik to be in awe of his surroundings, but he was holding the book like a precious artefact, carefully leafing through the pages.
"We're about to travel through time, and you want to read poetry?"
Henrik looked up, and round at the machine. "It's bigger than it looks from the outside, isn't it?" Then he went back to reading the book.
He heard a fluting, warbling sound. Varco had changed again, back into their alien self. They were talking animatedly, the Doctor listening intently.
"Ah, I see. Well, that explains it."
"Explains what?" Henrik put the book down. "What did they say?"
"That some humans are steeped in academia and don't have the same reactions as most of the population. Apart from the initial hysteria, of course, but that was understandable.
Henrik scowled at Varco. "So you understand what I'm saying, but you can't speak our language? And I'm sorry, Doctor, but you are as human as I am!"
"Not quite, but we're wasting time." The young man rushed to the central console. "Hold on, Henrik. This could get bumpy." He pressed some buttons and pulled levers. The machine began to shake, and a strange noise, rather like a mechanical dinosaur, emanated from the middle of the central column. He watched the lights flash, the inner column start to move up and down, and he held on for dear life.
It seemed to last a lifetime, being on the worst fairground ride imaginable. He felt nauseous by the time the thing stopped, but his first thought was for the book, now lying on the floor, the pages open. He lunged for it and put it carefully on the chair. In the absence of a book shelf, it seemed the safest place.
"Good!" The Doctor left the central console at a run. He seemed to do everything fast, with the unlimited energy of a young retriever. "We're here, Henrik. You've just survived your first time travel experience. Behold, Sontar!" He flung open the Tardis door.
Henrik looked. Varco looked, and uttered a disconsolate coo.
"Is this some kind of joke?"
The Doctor's face fell. He looked outside. "I... don't understand."
They were in the basement of Holby City Hospital, where they had been less than five minutes earlier.
"That's it. Now I'm calling security." Henrik headed for the alarm button. The Doctor grabbed and pushed him against the wall, his finger to his lips.
Footsteps. Varco hid behind the door of the Tardis.
They could now hear voices. They were female, arguing. Henrik recognised one, but it was impossible. It couldn't be. The two women were by the lift door, talking about Jac Naylor.
The Doctor opened his mouth to speak, but Henrik hushed him. They huddled close in the corner, out of sight, and listened.
There was a thump, a bang, and a weak voice. "Fran... help me. Help...."
Instantly, Henrik knew what had happened. He pushed the Doctor away and lunged forward, but was slammed back against the wall.
"No! You can't mess with time, Henrik. What is done, is done."
"She's dying." Henrik said it through gritted teeth. "If you were a real doctor you'd understand." He shoved him away and ran down the corridor.
Jasmine Burrows lay in a crumpled heap by a metal shelving unit. Her Bambi eyes widened at the sight of Henrik, but she was too weak to move. The blood pool was spreading around her.
"Quickly!" Henrik motioned to Varco, who ran forward and knelt by the dying woman, stroking her hair back from her face.
Behind them, the Doctor wrung his hands. "This is bad. This is very bad. You don't know what you're doing, Henrik!"
"Saving this girl's life. How..."
Jasmine screamed, her body arching in agony. Varco had their hand on her bare skin, over a small wound. A scalpel lay on the floor nearby.
More clattering, and another voice, getting closer. "Out of my way! Jasmine! What are you doing to her?" Jac ran towards them, only to be caught in the Doctor's arms. She screamed, fighting like a Valkerie.
"That's my sister!" She chomped down on the Doctor's hand, forcing him to let go.
Jasmine was feeling the effects of the vardanium. She was breathing more normally and the blood flow had stopped. She reached for Jac's hand and held it tightly.
"She needs more," the Doctor said to Varco in English. "Vardanium cannot make new blood."
Two porters had arrived with a bed trolley. They lifted Jasmine onto it and ran back down the corridor. Jac followed them, but paused, looking back.
"Don't think I won't be asking questions about this."
They disappeared into the elevator. Henrik turned his attention to the Doctor, slumped on the floor, nursing his injured hand.
"She bit me."
Varco tended the wound. As they did so, The Doctor glared at Henrik. "You see what you've done? You've altered the passage of time. This can't be undone now. Because of your actions, the whole planet is now in danger of destruction."
Henrik couldn't help laughing a little. "That's a little over-dramatic, don't you think?"
The Doctor leapt to his feet. "Over-dramatic? All right, let's try this. Jasmine Burrows is alive. Wonderful! We can all go home, satisfied we've done a good day's work. But consider this. She and that... hellcat..."
"Jac Naylor. She's an acquired taste but a brilliant surgeon."
"Jac Naylor and Jasmine are sisters. A formidable team. In the future, Jac will suggest to you that Jasmine is the prime candidate for Registrar up on Keller. That is the position you would have given Frederik Johanssen in a few months time. Jasmine is brilliant at her job. No Frederik, because he stays on in Sweden, continuing his work there, eventually causing the biggest scandal in pharmaceutical history when it comes to light that the trial for his newly developed drug has been rigged, causing thousands of deaths. If he had come here, that wouldn't have happened!"
"Then he won't kill my colleagues in a shooting spree? That doesn't happen?"
"Didn't you hear what I just said?"
"But I could stop him from fixing the trial, now you've told me. I could do that."
"How? The only way you could stop him from doing damage is by shooting him yourself. Are you prepared to do that, Henrik? Time, destiny, the universe will conspire to reassert the pattern that was meant to be. It always will. And remember the butterfly affect, Henrik. Saving Jasmine is all well and good, but you don't know the repercussions echoing further down the line."
"You do, though. You can tell me."
"Oh, of course! Because I have my finger on the pulse of every human on this godforsaken planet! Do you know how many universes there are, Henrik? How many civilisations? How many star systems? I've only scratched the surface. Your arrogance astounds me. I'm ... speechless."
"Finally," Henrik muttered. He massaged the stress away from his temples. "What about the Son... Sontaran things? Where do they come in?"
The Doctor gestured dramatically. "Oh, don't worry about them! They're childs play to deal with compared to humans! Now we have to sort out the mess you've created. And don't get me started on the rift in time probably opening up above our heads right now! All this is irrelevant if the earth gets sucked into the Eternal Void."
The lift door opened again, and Jac came marching out of it. "Henrik? Where are you?"
"Here." Henrik wearily climbed to his feet.
"Right, what's going on? Who is that and why is he dressed like Adam Ant?"
"Has the Eternal Void begun to open yet?"
She glared at him. "What? The only void about to open up here is the one I'm about to tear into your arse if you don't tell me what the hell is going on down here. And where's that blue thing?" She looked around and saw the cat, slinking off down the corridor. "Hey! Come back here." She set off after the cat and rugby-tackled it just as it broke into a run. Varco shifted into their alien form, struggling.
"Stop it," Jac said firmly, wrapping her arms around the wriggling alien. "Can I have some help here please?"
Henrik's bleeper went off just as Jac's did the same. Jac let the alien go and looked at her pager. "No, no, no! Don't die on me now." She set off at a run.
Henrik looked at the Doctor. "Miss Burrows has had a relapse."
"It's inevitable, I'm afraid. Probably better to be like this than be hit by a bus next week. Miss Naylor won't remember a thing. She'll be too cut up with grief."
Henrik regarded him with disgust. "Diplomacy isn't your strong point, is it?"
"We need to press on." The Doctor's coat tails swirled as he turned. "Come on!"
"So that's it? I can't stop what is to happen? I have a chance but I have to think of the greater good? I've lost everything! But you wouldn't know about that, would you? I doubt you've lost a single thing in your life."
The Doctor approached him once more. "Henrik, I've seen whole civilisations be burned to a cinder. People have died in my arms. People I care about. I'm 900 years old and have seen more death and destruction than you will ever face, so don't you dare lecture me on loss! Now you can either stay here, and risk even more damage than that which is to come, or you can do something wonderful that could save trillions in every civilisation. Which is it to be?" Their eyes locked.
Henrik made an agonised sound, burying his face in his hands. "May god forgive me," he whispered finally, and followed the Doctor back into the Tardis.
He was quiet throughout the journey, holding on whilst the machine rattled and shook. Varco sensed his mood and sat by him, their six-fingered hand covering his. They warbled at him, sounding disconsolate.
"That's because of the disparity of time. Jasmine was always destined to die. Nothing could have saved her," The Doctor explained to them.
"And Fredrik? Was he destined to die too?" Henrik's voice was bitter.
"Yes." The Doctor replied gently. "Vardanium will only work in the present or the future."
"But..."Henrik was thinking. "That makes no sense. How many light years away is the planet of Var, where Varco came from?"
"About twelve thousand, I believe."
"So it would take another twelve thousand years to travel there, which means we're twelve thousand years in their past, doesn't it? Vardanium worked on me but why, if I'm in their past?" He ran to the Doctor and grabbed his arms. "Please, Doctor, take us back to last April. Something terrible is about to happen but I can stop it. Please!"
"it's a waste of time," the Doctor muttered.
"Not to me it isn't!" Henrik's voice was loud in the strange machine. Varco leapt to his side and put their long thin arms around him. They warbled at the Doctor, vehemently and at length.
"This is a mistake, Henrik. Whatever you want to do, make it quick. The Eternal Void is inescapable. If you tarry too long..."
"I understand, but a wonderful friend of mine will be saved so she can go on to do brilliant things, and a very special man will be prevented from taking a course of action which will destroy him. Do it!"
"All right!" The Doctor muttered to himself as he gave the Tardis a new direction. "Why are humans so much trouble?"
Varco and the Doctor were talking in the Var's warbling language, with many gesticulations and angry facial expressions.
"Shout at him, not me," the Doctor said finally.
"What's the matter?" Henrik eyed the alien, thinking somehow he was at fault.
"I've just had to explain to them we're taking a detour, because your personal life is more important than keeping Varco safe."
"Now just wait a minute..."
"It's true, isn't it? You seemed to have forgotten they sought you out for a purpose. Now you've gone all time machine happy and want to save two people everyone else has forgotten about."
"That is not true! I think about John and Roxanna every day!"
"You do, but when did you hear anyone else mention their names? They are footnotes in the history of a tiny community in an insignificant city on a small island, which believe it or not, isn't the centre of the universe!" The Doctor gestured carelessly. "No matter. We're on our way now. Maybe the Sontarans won't find Varco if we're time hopping. They don't have the same travel capabilities as I do. In fact, it's a brilliant idea. It's a stroke of genius, actually. I'm glad I thought of it."
Henrik seethed at him. "You're... impossible!"
The Doctor flashed a dazzling smile. "Oh yes. I hear that a lot."
Henrik felt a tap on his shoulder. The alien was holding the book of Wordsworth poems out to him. They touched their lips and motioned to Henrik.
"You want me to read it?"
Relieved at having something to do, Henrik sat in the wingback chair. Before his eyes, Varco transformed back into their feline form. Then they jumped onto his lap.
"Oh... er.... that's....nice." Henrik watched helplessly as the cat circled on his thighs, its sharp claws dangerously close to his groin, before curling up and staring up at him with eyes like garnets.
"Cosy," the Doctor muttered. He sounded almost jealous.
Henrik ignored him and opened the book.
"I'm not very practiced at reading poetry out loud," he said apologetically. He cleared his throat and began to read.
After about ten minutes, the cat yawned, stretched, and transformed. Henrik found himself with a tall, skinny alien on his lap. Varco leapt off, looking somewhat embarrassed, and went to the bookshelf. There they chose another book and gave it to Henrik.
"Ah, Romeo and Juliet. Again, not a subject matter I'm familiar with sadly, but ..."
Varco tapped the book, then their lips. The message was clear. Read.
So Henrik read, and the alien listened intently, watching his lips, looking at the words. At times they pointed at a particular word for meaning, which Henrik explained. Then Varco took the book to a corner and began looking through it, the same intent look on their face.
"They love the books," the Doctor said. "I believe they are learning how to speak English."
"So why haven't they said anything yet?"
A warble from the corner answered him.
"They say, they are embarrassed in front of a man who speaks the language so beautifully."
Henrik felt his cheeks go red. "Oh, well, the benefits of a good education, of course. Please don't be embarrassed, Varco. The best way to learn is to speak the language and make mistakes. We all had to learn once, you know."
Varco closed the book and stood up. They approached Henrik and stared into his eyes. "Why doth thou feel melancholy when thou hast such fecundity around thee?" The alien spoke in a musical voice, its incredible eyes boring into Henrik's. A skeletal hand cupped his cheek.
"Er ...." Henrik glanced at the Doctor, who looked amused. "Yes, I forgot to mention. They've only been reading Shakespeare and the Romantic Poets."
"Ah! I see." It took a moment for Henrik to unravel what Varco had said. "I'm not melancholy, Varco, and I think you meant fortune, not fecundity. That means.... never mind."
He gently removed the alien's hand from his face, and tried to stand up. The close contact was making him feel very uncomfortable.
"Thou sadness hangs above thee like a funereal pall. Dost thou fret for a love lost?"
Henrik looked desperately at the Doctor, who shrugged. "I think the Shakespeare has rubbed off."
An almighty jolt nearly threw them off their feet.
"What was that?" Henrik gasped, holding on to the central console.
"Oh, we've landed. Let's see where we are, shall we?"
The Doctor ran to the door. He seemed to do everything at a run, but Henrik was getting used to the chaotic aura that seemed to surround him. He opened the door of the Tardis and peered out.
"We seem to be in the same place, but it's hard to tell. We need to be cautious."
"What if I meet myself? I hadn't thought of that."
"The Eternal Void, remember? You must on no account meet your past self. Find your friends and do whatever it is you have to do. You have five minutes."
"Right." Henrik ran past him into the Holby basement. He listened, then went towards the wet lab where John had been most of the time. As he approached the door, it opened.
He flung himself against the wall, be it was too late. John Gaskell did a double-take, then frowned at him.
"Henrik? What are you doing?"
"Ah, John. No time, I'm afraid. I need to tell you something."
"But... I was talking to you on the phone just now. Why didn't you just come into the lab?"
"Is Roxanna all right?" Henrik was desperate to know.
"She's fine. Henrik, are you feeling all right? And weren't you wearing a different suit ten minutes ago?"
"Er..." Henrik was stuck for a sane explanation. "It's complicated."
The Doctor strode into the room. "What's he's trying to say is that he wants to stop you from killing someone. Well, a few people, actually. And at the same time, we need to protect our friend from mercenary Sontarans who may well follow us into this time zone." He aimed the sonic screwdriver at John. "Hmm, an inconclusive result."
John was staring at him, his eyes wide. "That's impossible!"
"I'm afraid not. As of now we are looking at imminent alien invasion," the Doctor said serious.
"I don't mean that, I mean you! You look.... like me!"
Henrik looked from one man to the other. "The resemblance is indeed extraordinary. I thought I was just imagining it but..."
Frowning, the Doctor stepped up and gave John's face close inspection. "Yes, I suppose you're right, but he's a LOT older. It's like looking at a picture of Dorian Gray. Just as well I regenerate, although I suppose I should be careful what I wish for."
"I resent that!" John bristled with indignation. "What the hell is going on, Henrik? Who is this irritating man?"
"I'm the Doctor," came the lofty reply.
John's smile was supercilious. "Really? Well, I'm the Professor, so now that's out the way you can tell me what this is all about."
"We need to find Roxanna immediately," Henrik said forcefully. "This is a matter of life and death,"
"What on earth are you talking about? It isn't like you to be over-dramatic."
"It isn't?" The Doctor raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "We're wasting time. We need to plan a course of action before hordes of alien forces come bearing down on us."
"Is he on drugs?" John looked askance at the man in the strange clothes.
Henrik knew it would be impossible to convince him. "Wait here." He looked outside the lab. "Varco? Puss, puss!"
After a moment, the cat slunk towards him. Henrik crouched down and held out his hand. The cat bunted against it, purring.
"A cat? Is this some kind of joke? Henrik...!" John's protest stalled as Varco stood up on their hind legs, then transformed into the shimmering Var being.
"Oh thou endearing smol one!" Varco clenched their fists and held them to their heart. "Thou art not evil, yet misunderstood for all ye grandiose posturing!"
There was a loud crash.
"Oh dear." The Doctor stood over John's prone body. "I believe he fainted." He put a gentle hand on Varco's arm. "Maybe tone down the Shakespeare a bit. Humans do have a tendency to feel threatened by it."
"My apologies for my indiscretion." Varco bowed their head.
Henrik poured a glass of water and knelt down beside John, giving his shoulder a shake. John blinked and groaned, then struggled to sit up.
"It's all right, old chap, take it easy." Henrik handed him the water. "This is Varco. They ... come in peace."
"Wha..." John's eyes rolled again and he collapsed into Henrik's arms.
"Is this going to be a running theme in this hospital?" The Doctor asked tersely. "What's wrong with a simple, 'hello, how are you?' Why does everyone have to be so bloody dramatic?"
"What about you and your Eternal Void?" Henrik propped John up against the wall and reached for his phone. Fortunately, Roxanna answered straightaway.
"You're alive!" He was ecstatic to hear her voice. "Roxanna, you don't..." He saw the Doctor frantically making slicing motions across his throat. "Er ... I meant there's a situation in the wet lab. Could you come down here please?"
"Are you all right Henrik? How did you get down to the lab so quickly?"
"Come down here now please, Roxanna. Immediately."
The Doctor shook his head in disapproval. "Is that wise? I'm getting fed up of people either biting me, screaming or falling on their faces. And we have less than two minutes before the rift in time begins to open up. Whatever you want to do, do it now!"
"Roxanna is one of the most sensible people I know. She will be fine."
The elevator pinged and the door opened.
"What's happened?" Roxanna looked anxious, her brow furrowed. "John! What happened to him?" She was on her knees in an instant, feeling John's pulse. "It feels strong enough. What..."
"Thou fair maiden with crown of spun gold, do not be afraid."
She looked round, and saw the blue-white cat.
"Forsooth you are the chosen damsel to rescue these poor knaves."
Roxanna's eyes went wider than Henrik had ever seen them. "Henrik, that cat's talking to me," she whispered.
"Well, um, it's no ordinary cat, you see. It's ... please promise you won't faint." He made a rising motion to the cat with his hand. Taking the hint, Varco transformed into their alien self.
"Oh!" Roxanna's face was a picture of wonder. "Oh how wonderful!" She clasped her hands together. "You're beautiful!"
"As are you, fair maiden." The alien bowed low, taking her hand and kissing it.
"Finally, someone with a bit of sense," the Doctor huffed. "Yes, I'm the Doctor, by the way."
"Doctor who?" Roxanna noticed him for the first time.
"He's just the Doctor." Henrik reached down to help John, who had begun groaning.
"Gosh, don't you two look alike? That's quite uncanny." Roxanna looked from one man to the other.
"Help." John tugged at Henrik's hand. He lifted him to his feet.
The Doctor looked at the assembled group. "Great. We have three doctors, a professor and an alien cat. Can we please get on with it now."
"Get on with what?"
As Roxanna asked the question, there was a percussive thud from above. In the distance, people started screaming.
"It's happening. The Eternal Void is tearing open!" The Doctor set off at a run down the corridor.
As they neared the top of the stairs, they could hear the screaming. People ran around. Panic reigned. The Doctor slipped out of the door, telling them to wait where they were.
Henrik peered cautiously out of the door, towards the entrance. It looked as if they were in the midst of a hurricane. Papers were flying around outside and the trees were being whipped from side to side. The security men were doing an admirable job inside the building, keeping everyone from going out, holding the doors shut by spreading themselves against them.
Within a few seconds, the Doctor was back, looking dishevelled. "It's worse than I thought."
"The Sontarans?" Henrik asked anxiously.
"Much, much worse than that. The Eternal Void has opened up above the roof. If that doesn't let in all manner of alien creatures then everything here will get sucked into nothingness. The world will end just because you insisted we come back here!"
"An eternal what? What's he talking about?" John looked at Henrik for clarification.
"I... have no idea. Please explain," Henrik said to the Doctor.
"I ... right. Your presence here has caused a rift in time, because now the equilibrium has been confused. This causes a void, a maelstrom, call it what you will. The longer we are here, the bigger the void will become, so we need to get back to the Tardis right now!" He began running down the stairs.
"Wait..." Henrik hesitated, looking at John and Roxanna. "We have to go."
"But..." From John.
"Fine! Let's go." Roxanna grabbed John's arm and they ran down the stairs after the Doctor.
Down in the basement, they arrived at the Tardis. John looked up at it.
"What the hell is that?"
"Never mind. It's been nice knowing you. Henrik?" The Doctor opened the door. Varco went in first and ran to the controls to start them up.
"You have to come too," Henrik said to Roxanna and John.
"Wait, what? No, they're not coming!" The Doctor looked distraught.
"They have to! You'll die if you don't. Both of you." There was no time to explain. He took both their hands and tugged them towards the Tardis. When they resisted, he fixed each of them with a look. "Come with me if you want to live."
"Wait. I die? When?" Roxanna was distraught.
"Imminently. And he kills you. Then he dies."
"You're telling us this now?" John's eyes were wide.
"COME ON, HENRIK!" The Doctor was wild with panic.
Henrik hustled John and Roxanna towards the door.
Just then, two glowing blue tentacles shot out, curled around John and Roxanna's waists and yanked them into the time machine. The door slammed shut and immediately, the machine burst into life.
Roxanna screamed and clutched at John.
John screamed and clutched at Roxanna.
"You're fine! Just stop that horrible noise!" The Doctor shouted above the noise of the Tardis.
Varco let them go.
"This is dreadful!" Henrik had his head in his hands. "Those poor people. I should be down there!"
"You are down there," the Doctor said impatiently.
"Yes, but what about us? Won't we cause a rift in time too?" John asked. He clutched onto the central console of the Tardis as if his life depended on it.
"I know you attach an extreme amount of importance to your existence but no, you won't." The Doctor pressed buttons and pulled levers. Lights flashed.
"Why the hell not? I've been working on the Lazlo project for the last fifteen years! I'm on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough that will revolutionise the medical profession!"
"Er... about that," Roxanna chipped in. "I was going to tell you..."
"Can we please stop this thing spinning? I'm about to be sick," Henrik groaned. As he said it, the Tardis stopped its hectic tumbling through space and just floated, gently bobbing up and down.
The Doctor stepped back and drew a breath.
"All right. Let's get a few things clear. The people we just left will be fine. It will be a freak weather event, blamed on global warming. No one is going to die."
"Well, that's good," Henrik said, trying to sound cheerful and failing.
"You two," the Doctor motioned to John and Roxanna, "are excess baggage but never mind. Your time on earth was limited anyway, and frankly, within a weeks everyone will have forgotten you. I'd rather not have two extra passengers cluttering up the Tardis but Henrik seems to have an unhealthy attachment, especially to one of you." He fixed John with a look.
John glanced at Henrik, who looked away.
The Doctor regarded them all and rubbed his hands together. "Well, this is going to be fun. I think you need to have a little chat. Sort a few things out. Meanwhile, I'm going to get back to the important business of getting Varco to safety."
"Where are we going?" From Roxanna. "Will we ever see Earth again?"
"Not in this universe, the Doctor replied shortly. "If we can work out how to open the void enough to deposit you all in an alternative universe, that would be preferable."
"I don't want to be in an alternative universe!" John clenched his fists. He looked as if he were about to have an epic tantrum. "If you expect me to walk away from my work, I want to know why!"
The Doctor stared at him. "Did... you just stamp your foot at me? Maybe you should be asking Henrik how you die in this universe! Perhaps then you might change your mind!"
John looked at Henrik.
"Er... you drown yourself. In a lake. It isn't as romantic as it sounds. Very green and stank of duck shit," Henrik muttered, not looking at him.
"Did you at least try to save me?"
"I... of course! From the jetty. It was cold." Henrik was defensive. "And you were being a bastard so ..."
"I nearly froze my nuts off saving your sorry arse, you ungrateful bastard!"
"What about me? Didn't you say John killed me?" Roxanna joined in. "Surely that's more important than..."
"What, me drowning myself? I need to know why!"
Henrik, what did he do to me?"
"That's irrelevant! I'm not going to do it now, am I?"
"There must be a reason..."
"Probably because you're so bloody annoying! And you make lousy coffee."
"There's nothing wrong with my coffee! Why didn't you say something if you felt that way about it!"
"Why is that more relevant than me drowning in a lake?"
"He drowned himself in a lake because I tried to several years ago. I think he did it out of empathy," Henrik said helpfully.
"He has no idea what that word even means!" Roxanna stormed. "Nothing but the work, remember that, John? You don't care who you ride roughshod over in order to get your way!"
"I had more empathy with Oliver Valentine than you did! He couldn't stand the sight of you. He didn't even say goodbye!" John shot back at her.
"He didn't with you either," Roxanna countered.
"Well, he said goodbye to me," Henrik said. "Even though I was rather unkind to him..."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
They were stunned into silence. The Doctor was glaring at them.
"If you don't want to be hurled out into space then please, for the love of Gallifrey. Just. Be. Quiet." He said the last three words slowly and pressed a finger to his shapely lips. "Now Henrik, you bring John and Roxanna up to speed on what's been happening at Holby. You two, not one word until he's finished. Questions afterwards. Do I make myself clear?"
Henrik, John and Roxanna exchanged looks, then nodded silently.
John tentatively raised his hand. "I have just one question for you, Doctor."
"When are we going to talk about the blue glowing cat thing?"
Varco was quivering in the corner, disturbed by all the negative energy coming off the two new occupants of the Tardis. Henrik went over and stroked it, then picked it up and fussed it.
"If you're good and prove you can talk in a civilised, calm and sensible way, then we'll talk about the glowing blue cat thing," the Doctor said evenly. "Off you go."