It was over, it was meant to be over. The battles, the genocide, the breadth of an army. Ending in all the ways a soldier's life should, in shrapnel and bright flashes of pain. Life after life cut in sacrifice, or accident, or perhaps even suicide. Lives that were used, built upon the shudders of war. This war, terrible and cruel and infinite.
One such soldier, a speck in the debris, wipes the blood from the corner of her mouth. It drips between her shaking fingers. There is a defiant grin on her face.
"This is it," she rasps, a cough bubbling in her throat. There's some kind of gun dangling at her side. "This is my end, right? The war collapses in on itself, infinitely, but I stop here." Her smile is crooked and tears leave a trail through the dirt on her cheeks. She glances at the unmoving bodies littered around her, fallen comrades.
She rolls her eyes at the thought. As if they cared, as if any of them cared. This is what I get for defying orders, I get to die. Taking a tentative step forward, she realizes she can't feel her leg, her foot dragging uselessly behind her.
A being of metal, destructive and deadly, though she always felt they looked like glorified pepper pots, watches her. Bedazzled in gold with special crockery attachments and a single eye. The socket shines blue as it swivels back and forth. "I. Have. No. Response." It's voice, mechanical and haunting, slides across her spine like a razor.
Debris crunches beneath her boots. There's ash in her hair and in her lungs. Shards of metal and torn apart circuits cut into what used to be red grass, her fallen enemies. The white snow now masses of dirty sludge, slicking the battlefield in the wake of running soldiers.
Gallifrey has always been surprisingly cold, even with the second sun in the south.
She huffs. "Oh, you never do. Just exterminate this and exterminate that." She waves a singularly gloved hand flippantly, turning away from the creature. Two fingers, her pinky and ring finger, are missing and blood drips down her arm. "Your kind is dwindling, the same as mine. Tell me, Dalek, was there a point to this war? Who started it? When did it start? Because this fight is all I've known, even when I tried to run. I ran so far, and I always came back to this, this one moment. Maybe I've been chasing it, maybe we all have."
The Dalek's head turns, following her. It's power destructor, the whisk-like laser where the left arm should be, spins but doesn't settle on the soldier. "I. Do. Not. Understand. These. Questions." But it seems to be thinking, trying to find answers.
She shakes her head. "The Superior Race," she starts, mockingly. "You want for nothing but power. You think you're special. Oh yes, so special. Better than all the rest." Grunting as she crouches, the soldier drops her gun. She looks up at the sky, once so beautiful and orange in the light of two suns, now muddied with smoke and death.
In an attempt to run her fingers through her hair, to ease her headache, she tuts when they get caught and regrets the dreadlocks twisted down her back. What's left of her fingers come away gritty and sticky. The ribbon holding her locks back is too loose.
"Now here's the kicker," she laughs, the sound strangled by a cough. "Am I talking about the pledge of the Daleks? Or the Time Lords?"
Her hearts beat erratically in her chest, regardless of her outer calm. One is too slow, the rhythm is three instead of four. She can feel the movement as her world, or what's left of it, keeps turning.
The ground crackles as the Dalek slides up next to her. "Daleks. Are. Superior." It recites, a practiced phrase. It sounds so sure of itself, of the stance of its species.
Nodding, resigned, she leans back on her heals and struggles to stand. Her damn leg, limp and bloody and useless. She manages to balance anyway.
"Do you know who I am?" She asks, head tilted and eyes far away. Fingers interlaced at the base of her neck, she supports her head as she gazes at the sky, seeing every dwindling life in the universe spinning around every withering star.
"An. Enemy." It says, like that's all there is.
"Narrow it down a bit, if you would." There's amusement in her voice, in the crinkle of her eyes and the curl of her lips. Chapped and cracked, but smiling.
For some reason, it obliges. "A. Time. Lord."
"Narrower," she sings.
She scoffs, turning to face the Dalek, scowling. "Now you're just generalizing. All Time Lords are weapons, we're made that way. It's a rank, a title to be earned, should one be so lucky. No," she nearly growls, somehow intimidating in all her limp glory. "You know who I am, what I am, what I was made for. It's why you haven't killed me yet."
The Dalek twists back and forth, almost anxiously. "You. Are. Nothing. More. Than. A. Nuisance." It's a weak response.
She rolls her eyes, gold flakes flickering amongst the brown. Looking down at her scuffed arms and bruised wrists, she sighs. She's suddenly very tired. "I used to be tan, you know? Not in a previous body, in this one. I traveled to wonderful places, in a beauty of a ship, and I was tan. I dreadlocked my hair because I wanted to be wild, I wanted to protest. Now I'm pale and my hair gets in the way and I'm bleeding. That last one isn't new though."
"You. Are. Dying." The Dalek says matter-of-factly.
"Yeah," she nods, feeling the growing struggle in her breadth, "but you don't want me to die. The Daleks need me, or they think they do. I shouldn't even be here."
Her hands are shaking. Her gaze catches on the burning red fabric of another soldier's uniform. She closes her eyes.
"I was given an order," she whispers. The sound carries across the space between them. "I've been ordered to do such despicable things. Things I'm not proud of, but I did anyway. I was given an order, an order I refused with everything I had, and I don't even remember why. And now, I'm dying because of it. I wasn't supposed to be here."
"You. Will. Come. With. The. Daleks."
She shakes her head, anger in the stretch of her frown. "You're missing the point!" She yells, spinning around towards the Dalek. Her eyes are wild, unfocused. "Who am I, Dalek?! Tell me what it is your kind wants from me?! What, that my own kind hasn't already taken?!"
It hums, moving back a few paces. The most feared creature in the universe is weary. "You. Know."
"I know?! I know what?!"
"You. Know. All."
She pauses at that. And then she laughs, low and broken. "You're species will die here, and so will mine. And so, perhaps, will all the rest."
"Daleks. Will. Never. Die." It asserts, aggressive and sure. Its weapon eerily lines up with her chest.
"I can feel it," she taps the side of her head, "feel my people dying. I hear their screams, their gasping breaths, their prayers. Dying soldiers, dying officers, dying women and children. I hear the truth behind the Gallifreyan race, the fear. A race that never quite grows, never quite changes, because the very first were afraid to die."
The stars used to litter the sky, polka-dotting the swirls of burnt orange and deep reds. She remembers trying to count them. She'd lose count by morning. It's not that she didn't know the numbers, there's just not enough time in the night. The suns would crest the horizon, and then she only had to count to two.
Right now, she can count the stars peeking through the smoke on one deformed hand. And the two moons, silver and seeming much farther away than she remembered, cusp the clouds.
She taps each finger to her thumbs on each hand, counting and thinking of the children who liked to stargaze.
The glove she wears on her right hand, brown leather and two fingers down, sparks in her palm. The wires fry. It burns. It wakes her up.
The Dalek has been watching her, waiting. Time passed, though she's not quite sure how much.
"I've never known a patient Dalek," she muses, an eyebrow raised.
It doesn't respond, just swivels and refocuses its eye socket. She can't help but think her enemy, her confidant for the last few hours, seems lost. In thought, in memory, maybe in turmoil. Against her better judgement, she almost feels bad for the thing. It's a soldier, used for this war, just as she is.
"Dalek, do you have a name?" Her voice is quiet, hesitant.
The Dalek twists sharply towards her, sliding across the gravel quickly. Its weapon presses against her sternum. "Daleks. Do. Not. Have. Need. For. Names! Daleks. Do. Not. Accept. Pity!" Its eye flashes with each word.
"Well too bad!" She presses forward, allowing the metal to dig into her chest. "I pity you! I pity every victim of this war!"
"Daleks. Are. Not. Victims!"
"We are all victims," she says quietly, hesitantly raising a hand. She rests her fingers along the weapon connecting them. "Who am I, Dalek? Why were you given orders to take me? Alive, no less."
It jerks, uncharacteristically retreating from her reach. "You. Are. The. Asset."
"I haven't used that name in centuries, not since I could pick my own. Try again." She laces her fingers at the base of her skull again, supporting her head. It feels heavy; her shoulders ache.
"You. Know. All! You. Are. The. Executioner!" It's practically yelling, or yelling as much as a Dalek can. They always sound loud and angry.
Her eye twitches, and her spine hardens. She shrugs, blowing a breath between her teeth. She wonders if her teeth are as red as they feel. "A dramatic title, I didn't pick it. I didn't want it. I flinch when I hear it, like all the others! No! I want a straight answer, Dalek." She steps forward, dragging one leg behind her. As she limps, the Dalek retreats.
The soldier of many names and many titles. Only one, all her own.
The Dalek remains silent.
"Fine, I'll go first." She wants to circle the Dalek, to seem intimidating, but any movement now and her leg might just fall off all together. "You're a Dalek and no one else. You have no name, no identity. You're a colony of soldiers waiting for orders, and without those orders, you wait. You waste away, but you're not allowed to feel anything else. Not impatience. Not boredom or pain or curiosity. I understand that, oh I do. But the difference between you and me is that I chose to become something different."
It's silent, she waits, and then, "Course, I still ended up here, same as you."
"We. Are. Not. The. Same." It practically hisses. "Daleks. Are. Superior."
She nods, ignoring the white spots in her vision, ignoring the dizziness that hits from the motion. "As you've said. Let's just agree to disagree."
"No. No. Daleks. Do. Not. Compromise!"
Looking down as the blood soaks through her pants, staining the red of her uniform a deep maroon color, spreading from several slashes and burns in her thigh, she blinks. Her eyes close and open again, slow and challenging. The reds blur.
"I went first, it's your turn," she sings, slightly delirious. "We've been talking in circles, Dalek. For hours, we've been chatting without really saying anything at all. Granted, I get sidetracked. I'm easily distracted, always have been. But here I am, dying, and there you are, waiting. Waiting for what?"
It stops moving, seeming to weigh its options. There's something very…amusing about an unsure Dalek.
"Reinforcements," it says, finally, and she laughs.
She looks across the horizon, the desolate wasteland of bodies and parts and smoke. Once so beautiful, almost magical and surreal in its form. Tall glittering towers and red grass capped with white snow as far as the eye could see. Silver trees reflecting the oranges of the sky. At the very center, elegant and bold, the city of Arcadia.
The planet – her home, to a degree – is now decimated, skeletal in the same way a tree loosing its leaves may seem.
She sees no life, she feels no life. "There are no reinforcements coming."
"They. Are. Coming." It seems so sure, she almost feels bad for shattering the odd hope sparking in the child of a hopeless race.
"But why?" She wonders aloud. "Why, when a single Dalek can wipe out an entire planet in an afternoon, do you need reinforcements for little ol' me? I'm already wounded, I'm hardly worth the trouble." She grins wryly, fresh tears gathering at the corners of her eyes.
"You. Know. All." The Dalek repeated earnestly, or as earnest as a Dalek can be. "You. Are. The. Archivist."
She'd roll her eyes again if she didn't think she'd lose her balance altogether from the action. "So, you do know my name! How exciting." She leans forward the slightest bit, as if she's about to share a secret. "Tell me, Dalek, do you want to know what I know?"
"The. Archivist. Will. Tell." The Dalek's eye swivels again, showing excitement and authority all in one motion.
She smiles, almost sadly. She licks her dry lips, they taste salty. Her cheeks feel wet. "You are the last Dalek, and I am the last Time Lord here." It's a whisper that echoes across the desolate expanse of war. It collapses broken towers and sweeps dust from the rubble. It travels through the cracks of Gallifrey and burns her hearts.
The Dalek shakes, backing away from her and her treacherous words. "You! Lie!" It screeches, sliding away. Turning around, searching for others of its kind. "YOU! LIE!" It repeats, over and over and over.
She almost wishes she was lying.
"It ends here, with us." Her throat constricts, she swallows something metallic.
"The. Daleks. Will. Not. Die." It stops moving, as if preparing for something. Her eyes widen, she moves to follow even as she starts to lose feeling in her entire right side. She can't let it escape, this has to be the end.
"Emergency. Temporal. Shift!" She latches onto its control arm, a rather plunger-like appendage, just as it begins to shift.
She screams as her atoms separate. The two soldiers hurtle through the time vortex. Her broken body is unprotected from the consuming nature of time and space colliding in a tunnel of spinning cosmos. Her vision blackens. Her lungs collapse without air. Her bones shatter and her hearts burst. Everything is pain, agonizing, liberating pain. It's pain until it's warmth.
Starting at the arch of her spine, the warmth grows. It spreads and soothes and grapples with the pieces left behind. A golden light envelops her body before shooting out from her limbs. She's changing again, stretching to a new height, thinning and thickening. Her head feels lighter.
She loses consciousness somewhere between the feeling of two freshly beating hearts and colliding with hard, sandy ground.
Before anything else, she notices the texture of the air. Like gravel, the different atoms coat her tongue in a thick, rough residue. It's somehow both sterile and disgustingly chaotic as it fills her new lungs. She revels in it for a moment. She likes these lungs better than her last ones. They breathe easier, fresh as they are.
She's laying on something too cold and metal to be the ground, if the heat and bounce of their initial landing is anything to go by. Plus, her limbs are all bound, which definitely doesn't make any sense.
While she knows she should open her eyes, figure out where she is, the orange glow of her eyelids promises bright lights. Migraine inducing lights, no thank you.
Then she realizes she's naked, bare as the day she was born, and her eyes fly open. They burn from the lights but she's more distracted by her surroundings.
Her body is mostly covered by a sheet, her arms and legs latched down by cushioned leather bindings at her wrists, knees, and ankles. Another strap keeps her head against the table, extra support beneath her neck. Her glove is gone. She has five fingers again.
She wants to struggle, but her limbs are numb. She can't move. Her breaths filter quickly, chest rising and falling as she tries to get a foothold on her location. Based on the smell and taste of the air, she's surrounded by metal and concrete. The chemicals sting her throat.
The lights are too artificially bright, chasing away any possible shadows and soaking into her skin like acid. There's metal equipment on a table to her left, glinting and menacing. Swallowing, she tries to control her breathing. The four beats of her hearts sing through the chamber, echoing from some monitor behind her that she can't see.
"400, 493, 486, 479, 472," she counts backwards by sevens, always starting at a random number. She breathes through the counting, calmed by the rhythm. "374, 367, 36 –" She stops when she hears footsteps approaching.
They're relatively light footsteps, all things considered. So, she's definitely not in some secret Dalek infantry, ready to be torn apart and forced into an oversized tin can. That's…oddly not as assuring as she would have liked. At least she'd know what she's dealing with.
They're feet squeak across the floor in a distinctly plastic fashion. Maybe the Nestene Consciousness? No, too heavy-footed for that.
She hears voices, low and rough. Probably male, if she dares to be so bold and generalize. And they're speaking, hold on, English? Earth, probably early 2000's. She wants to groan or scoff, maybe laugh. Humans.
Not just any humans, but humans before they've really touched space, before they know what's out there.
Lucky her. Inexperienced, curious humans. Her predicament suddenly feels that much more dire.
The door, thick metal and obviously heavy by the sound of it, strains to open and screeches. It's behind her, she can't see it. She doesn't like not being able to see.
"Oh! She wakes," a voice laced with excitement prattles from her left. He claps his hands together, bounces on his heals. "And, she seems to be stable." Great, they're also American.
Wait, stable? How…How long was I out? Her chest tightens at the thought, the monitor spiking behind them.
"Now, now, please," the same voice begs. "Calm down, no need for another episode." His hand lands on her arm, trying to calm her. Her heart rate spikes again.
Her vision tunnels, her back arches off the table. Everything is fuzzy and white. She chokes as her throat seizes, her body shakes. She feels misplaced, like not all of her is there. She's fading in and out. Not just her consciousness, no. She's literally fading in and out. Her limbs disappear and reappear, glitching out like some kind of bad coding. A migraine presses behind her eyes as her head shifts in and out of focus, turning back and forth beneath the binding.
That's why they numbed her body, so she can't somehow shift through the bindings. She wants to roll her eyes at their stupidity, if she wasn't currently in a state of displacement, seizing between realities. If she isn't shifting through the table, she's not going to shift through the binds either.
Maybe those are for whatever they plan to do next. The cart next to her feels threatening.
It feels like hours pass before she stabilizes again, settling into the now welcoming metal table, gulping breadths of starved air.
"Once again, a minute and seventeen seconds exactly," the man notes. She hears a pen slide across some paper. She doesn't want to open her eyes. "Still with us? You passed out the last couple of times." Begrudgingly, she cracks an eye open to look at the man.
He's surprisingly young, with curly brown hair and matching eyes. He has glasses. He's wearing a lab coat, with a pocket square and his name is sewn into the fabric. Dr. Carlton James. He looks kind, but she doesn't think he'll stay kind. Curiosity and excitement shine in his eyes.
The other man has just been watching, somewhere to her right. She strains her eyes to get a glimpse.
An expensive suit, a bad mustache, and a receding hairline. He must be the money behind whatever this place it. There's a strange, predatorial gleam in his eye when he looks at her. She almost shivers when their gazes meet, but she refuses to give him the satisfaction.
"So, what are you?" He asks, casually striding up to the table. He leans on it, one palm by her cheek, the other by her hip. She just stares at him. "Two hearts, I mean that's…that's not human. And with the buddy you came here with, well, even with one heart, I'd say calling you human is a far stretch."
She can smell his breath, a burnt coffee kind of stink.
She wonders what he did with the Dalek.
"Why do you look human?" Resisting the urge to say they look Time Lord, she remains impassive. Unmovable, unbreakable…hopefully. "At first glance, I'd say you're human. But then my gaze lingers, and there's something just not quite right. Not to mention that little party trick you got going on there."
She scrunches her nose when he leans down, pulling away as much as she can.
"Welcome to my museum, you're the new attraction." He grins, teeth too white to be natural. "I'm going to figure you out. You want to know why?" His fingers caress the curve of her cheek. "Because my name is Henry van Statten, it's 2007, and I'm moving up in the world. You're my new accessory."
With anger curling her lip into a snarl, she spits, saliva dripping down the bridge of his nose.
Pulling a handkerchief from his coat, he wipes off his face. "Right then," and he delivers a swift slap to her cheek. "Let's get started."