And The Clocks Struck Thirteen
The TARDIS was screaming and it was not very hard for Dr Taryn Fischer, formerly of the Terran Colony Alliance, to see why. The ship was being torn apart. Corridors twisted and groaned, walls bowed inwards and space folded in on itself. It was as if the TARDIS was just so much paper being scrunched up into a ball by an unseen hand. Putting a hand out to a roundelled wall as the normally steady-as-a-rock floor bucked beneath her feet, Taryn began to make her way to the console room in search of more answers.
She was greeted by more confusion.
'This is getting to be something of a habit, Doctor,' Taryn announced as she barged into the nerve centre of the time ship. 'Is this another gravitic disturbance that you've managed to pilot us straight into?'
'I wish it was that simple, Dr Fischer,' the Doctor replied, bounding from one panel of the six-sided console to another, nearly knocking Grae over in his frenetic dance. 'And, for the record, the last time was not my fault. I believe that was due to a certain member of the crew fiddling with the randomiser.'
He fixed Taryn with a pointed stare, but she refused to rise to the bait. Instead, she turned to Grae.
'What's going on?'
'I don't know,' the Time Lady admitted. 'None of the diagnostic subroutines are working.'
'That, my dear Grae,' said the Doctor, flicking a switch here and twisting a dial there, 'is because there's no power to run them.' A section of the console exploded in a panel of sparks and the Doctor hopped back, sucking on his burnt fingertips. 'Well, that shouldn't have happened.'
'But that's impossible, Doctor,' Grae said.
'No, no,' the Doctor mused. 'Probably just some faulty wiring behind that panel. I've been meaning to have it overhauled for centuries.'
'I meant that it's impossible for the TARDIS to run out of power.' Grae looked at Taryn as she continued her explanation. 'The TARDIS draws its power directly from the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey. Even if we were to run out of all the other fuel sources the ship needs, there would still be enough to run the emergency systems from that connection alone.'
'Unless the connection was cut off somehow,' Taryn suggested.
'But that's not possible.'
'I do wish you'd stop saying that,' the Doctor commented. 'Nothing's impossible. Ask Alice.' He glanced at Taryn. 'Where's Tamara?'
'How should I know?' Taryn retorted. 'I assumed she'd be on her way here just like I was.'
'Yes, that would be in character.' The Doctor ran a finger over his beard. 'I wonder...'
'Doctor,' Grae offered, 'do you want me to go and look for her?'
'No!' he snapped, causing Grae to take a step back. 'It's too dangerous out there.'
'Dangerous?' Taryn asked. 'Dangerous how?'
The Doctor cast his eyes heavenward. 'I don't have time for all of these questions.'
Taryn was not to be cowed. 'Then save some time by answering them rather than complaining about them.'
'Oh very well. The TARDIS is actually a very complicated mathematical construction held together by Block Transfer Computations that no one really understands anymore. Well, no one since the Logopolitans… but that's another story. The point is that without the power from the Eye to support the mathematics, the TARDIS's internal structure will begin to break up.'
'You mean this ship could fall apart.'
'Then why didn't you just say so?'
The Doctor looked to Grae for help. 'I did, didn't I?'
But Grae's attention was elsewhere. 'Doctor, look!'
A crack had started to form in the wall of the console room. Grae watched in mounting horror as the crack widened and she could see the inhospitable winds of the time vortex trying to force their way inside.
'Taryn, watch out!' the Doctor yelled as the TARDIS lurched, but it was too late. Taryn was knocked off of her feet and fell towards the gaping wound in the side of the TARDIS. As she passed through it, she lashed out with her right arm and managed to gain purchase on a shattered roundel.
'Hold on, Taryn,' the Doctor called over the roar of the vortex. 'I'm coming.'
'What do you think I'm doing?' Taryn yelled back, but she could feel the vortex dragging on her, feel her fingertips slipping on the smooth surface of the roundel.
The Doctor was crawling across the floor towards her, fighting not to be lifted up and carried out into the vortex himself.
'Hurry it up, Doctor!' Taryn's fingers slipped some more.
'Nearly there,' the Doctor assured her.
A purple ribbon of energy lashed out from the vortex and caught the Doctor on the side of the head, turning a section of his dark mane grey. Despite the pain, he fought on.
'Nearly there. Grab my hand.'
The Doctor reached out for Taryn, but he was just moments too late. Unable to maintain her grip any longer, Taryn was sucked out into the vortex and was lost to him.
'Taryn!' he yelled, but she was no longer in sight, let alone in earshot. Gritting his teeth determinedly, he crawled back over to the console and stuck his head beneath the cap of the mushroom. A hatch swung open and the Doctor started tugging out wires, examining connections and rearranging circuits at furious speed.
'Doctor,' Grae asked, hanging onto the top of the console for dear life as the TARDIS rolled like a ship in a storm. 'What are we going to do about Taryn?'
The Doctor grunted. More cracks had appeared in the TARDIS's shell and Grae caught herself wondering just how much of the ship was left.
'There's nothing we can do.' The Doctor pushed himself out and away from the section he had been working on and sprang to his feet. 'Taryn fell into the vortex. You know what the time winds will do to unprotected human tissue.'
'But there must be something we can do?' Grae insisted. Taryn had not exactly been her friend, but she was one of the TARDIS crew and deserved some loyalty for that at least.
'We can hope it was over quickly,' the Doctor replied, 'for her sake.'
The Doctor's words stung. 'How can you be so cold?'
'Look.' The Doctor twisted a control and the monitor screen flicked slowly into life. 'What do you see?'
The screen was dark. 'I don't see anything.'
'That's Gallifrey,' the Doctor said. 'Or, at least, that's where Gallifrey used to be. The reason we have lost contact with the Eye of Harmony is because both it and Gallifrey itself have ceased to exist.'
'All those people... Isn't there anything we can do?'
The Doctor turned his attention to what remained of the TARDIS.
'We can hope it's over quickly,' he said, 'for our sakes.'
* * *
To find out what happens next, visit The Doctor Who Project and get hold of a copy of Season 32 (available to pre-order now!) featuring not just this story, but many more by some of fandom's best writers.