Chapter Fourteen

 

Many’s the time he had chided Yad for employing terms regarding ladies that were, well, just not proper or acceptable.  Daniel Boone was slightly chagrinned that he found himself using them all now as concerned the two he was traveling with.  Both River Song and Amy Pond were bold and brassy, saucy, and just a ‘wee’ bit shameless as the Scot liked to remark.  While their behavior might have shocked other men – well, truth to tell he was a little bit shocked – mostly it put him in mind of his wife, Rebecca, and filled him with a powerful longing to be home.  He’d sent Israel off believing that Mingo would keep his family safe.  But what if Mingo had never made it to the cabin?  What if, instead, he had abandoned his wife and family just when they needed him most?

“Mr. Boone?”

Dan came out of his musing to find River Song standing before him.  “Ma’am?” he asked.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!  You make me feel old as your father’s mother’s sister’s maiden aunt.  River, please.”

He nodded.  “River.”

She waited a second to see if he had more to say before going on.  “We’re ready to begin.”

“Are we now?” he asked, leaning back.  Dan was seated on the ground near a broken tree trunk.  He and Amy had shared some cold victuals while River scouted ahead.  He’d offered to do it, but she told him she needed him to watch over Amy instead.  It was a lie, of course, but he’d let it stand.  “Was I in on that decision?”

River planted her hands on her hips in unconscious imitation of his Irish wife.  She tilted her head and let out a sigh.  “Mr. Boone –”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel.  We’ve been over this before.  While I know staying put as a woman marches ahead into danger goes against everything within that eighteenth century dogmatic six foot plus male frame of yours, you have to admit that I have proven myself rather more than capable of taking care of myself, and furthermore, you have to admit that I know what we are marching into and you do not.  While I have no doubt of your physical prowess and innate ability to take on an entire regiment of redcoats on top of a band of a dozen or so hostile natives, these men are different.”  She scowled.  “Think bears.  In fact, think grizzly bears.  And really big, really mean, rather rabid grizzly bears at that.”

“It’s no good, River,” Amy Pond said, coming up behind her.  “He ‘kil’t him a b’ar’ when he was only three.”  The redhead paused at his look and then added, snorting, “Sorry.  Wrong song.  That was Davy Crockett.  You look kind of like him, you know?  Oh, never mind….”

River rolled her eyes.  “As I told you on the way here, I came to Boonesborough in search of my…brother and twin sister.  Poor dear, she was taken in by the men’s promise of wealth and power.  Amy and I overcame her and left her tied up in the woods so I could take her place, which is what I intend to do if you will ever let me go.”

River’s ‘poor’ twin sister was the only one who had been ‘taken in’.  He certainly wasn’t by her story.  But Dan didn’t let on.  “So you’re going in, pretending to be her, to see if this here fellow you and just about everyone else in the Kentucky wilderness is hunting happens to be there.”

“Our brother, the…doctor,” she insisted.  After a pause, River added, “You said Stone told you he had been wounded and that the injury left him, confused?  That he didn’t know who he was?”

“That’s right.”

“River?” Amy began, her voice wary.  “How are you going to get the Doctor to listen?”

A look silenced her.  “Is that all, Mr. Boone?  Have you told me everything?”

No, he hadn’t, and he wasn’t about to.  “I figure that’s about it.”

The woman’s blue eyes pinned him like one of Mr. Franklin’s prized butterflies.  “Very well.  If I am not back in half an hour, I want you to lead Amy to the settlement and I want both of you to wait for me there.  Is that understood?”

“River!” the redhead protested.

“Amy, you know as well as I do what we face.”  Her eyes flicked to him and back.  Anything could be in there.  If I am taken someone has to be left on the outside.”

“To do what?”

The older woman smiled.  “Sorry, dear.  You’ll have to use your imagination.  Or get used to wearing stays and hauling wood.”  Dan had seen River stash some sort of pistol under her tattered vest.  She checked it now before continuing.  “Amy, you know what is at stake and you know who was with my…brother when he disappeared.  I was a fool.  I should have stopped him earlier.”  She sighed.  “I am afraid this is one time that Machiavelli was right – the ends must and will justify the means.”

The tall redhead was quiet for a moment.  “Promise me, River, you’ll take care of the Doctor when you find him.”

There was something in the blonde’s face, a sadness and a kind of certainty Dan had seen before – in war.  It was the look of a general forced to send one of his men to certain death.

“You have my word, Amy,” River Song said as she turned and headed for the cave.

“I’ll take care of him.”

 

***

 

He was back. 

Oh, it looked like he was still in Kentucky.  All around the Doctor were bare rock walls and he stood in the center of a great echoing chamber, but it wasn’t Earth.  This was New New Alpha Centauri in a far distant future Jemima Boone could not even dream of, and this was where it was going to happen – where he would save the universes once again – where he would make it safe for all little girls all over the myriad galaxies, taking away for one final time their fear of finding something dark and nasty under their beds.

The ones who survived, that was.

He’d considered using the Tardis, but fear for his current guests had caused him to bring the time machine here, to the future, to the place where all of this had started in order to end it.  Sontaran technology was on a parallel with the Daleks’.  Only their military scruples had kept them from becoming the most efficient killers in existence.  Their code of honor gave them a kind of balance, and was the greater part of why they were locked in an eternal battle with their ancient enemy, the Rutan Host.  The Rutans had no such scruples and should have been able to triumph.  But they were undisciplined, and so the war went on and on.  For over 50,000 years it had been waged.

50,000 years that ended today.

It would take him, at most, three minutes to rewire the Sontaran circuitry and to use it to order every single Sontaran war-wheel, battleship, and outpost to self-destruct on his command.  Another minute would instruct the drones manning them to escape when the countdown reached twenty, and send them to the Sontaran home-world and all of its colonies with orders to leave nothing standing – animate or inanimate.  At the same time, using the information contained in the Sontarans databanks, he would send new instructions to the Sontaran clones planted amidst the Rutan Host.  And even though Article 44 of the fifth convention of the Shadow Proclamation strictly forbade it, he would order the clones to introduce a chemical matrix into the atmosphere of the Rutan home-world that would nullify all electrical activity, thereby destroying their source of sustenance and assuring their destruction.  It would take many years lived forward and in reverse to hunt down and destroy all of the remaining agents on both sides, but he would do it.  He had to do it. 

He had no choice.

“Some say we court death in order to call ourselves brave, and hide like thieves from life,” a soft voice said from close behind him.  “Consider, my friend.  Is that what you are doing?”

The Doctor paused, his fingers hovering over a keypad set in the Sontaran control panel.  He glanced in the direction of the door through which he had entered the chamber and found a familiar figure occupying it.  “I can be so forgetful sometimes,” the Time Lord remarked.  “Always misplacing my key, losing my hat – neglecting to lock the door behind me.”

Mingo looked about as he moved into the chamber.  “What is this place?”

“Mingo, Mingo, where’s that classical education?  What…is…this…place?”  The Doctor threw his hands up into the air.  “By my proctor’s eye, it’s a cave!  You know a cavern, a shelter, or a kind of a grotto?  Big enough for humans and other bipedal species to enter.  Ecosystem to beat the band!  Just like Christmas with troglophiles and troglobites and trogloxenes galore!  Not to mention a few stygophiles, stygobites, and stygoxenes to boot.  No terra firma so no tooth spiders, but I wager one or two face spiders would dare to come out of the closet just to pothole the day away!”  He shook his head and, turning back to the console, started to work again.  “Oxford educated, bah!”

“No ‘terra firma’.  So you are saying that we are not on Earth?”

Glancing over his shoulder, he pressed a finger to his nose employing the inter-universal sign indicating ‘spot on’ – well, at least in universes where the inhabitants had noses.  When Mingo failed to respond, he turned to face him.  “You seem curiously unimpressed.”

The native had walked to the other side of the cave and stood listening.  “How long?” he asked as he swung back.

“Sontaran patrols are notoriously punctual – and deadly dull for that matter.  Takes all the fun out of it, don’t you think?”  He glanced at his gold wristwatch.  “We have eight point three four minutes in case you want to know.  Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to rerouting the circuitry.  Sword of Damocles and all that.”

Mingo indicated with a gesture that he should continue, and then strolled over to see what he was doing.  After a full minute of silence, the Doctor began to grow uncomfortable.  He finished a particularly complicated series of numbers, answering a query generated by the Sontaran war-wheels’ automated security system, ordering it – in effect – to jump ship, and then turned to face the native, careful to keep his long lean form between Mingo and the computer console.  He had no time to deal with a hysterical Cherokee.  Looking at his watch again, he said, “Look at that!  It’s four o’clock on the proverbial dot.  Time to take a stroll back to the Tardis for some tea and Jammie Dodgers.  Brave brave, brave Jemima Boone will be waiting.”  The Doctor planted a hand on Mingo’s back.  “You just go ahead.  I’ll follow in a ‘mo.  Oh.  I didn’t say that, did I?”  He laughed nervously.  “What was I thinking?  And by the way, we’re down to seven point six.  Minutes, that is.  Now off…you…go!”

Only he didn’t.  The native, who towered over him by a good two to three inches and outweighed him by at least two stone, refused to move.  Instead Mingo turned and faced him.  “You are coming with me,” he said.

“No.  Oh, no.  Got a job to do.”  The Doctor sniffed.  “Dirty one, but someone’s got to do it.  You go ahead.”

“I promised Jemima I would not return without you.  So either both or neither of us goes.”

“Promised, eh?  Well, I made a promise too.  A long time ago.  An oath to eliminate all threats.  Have to keep it, you know.  Swearing by Apollo and all that.”  He laid one hand on his heart and held the other high.  “’May I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot’ – the reverse being not enjoying it, of course.”  He frowned as he lowered his hand.  “Not really enjoying it all that much right now to tell the truth.  Good old Hippocrates.  Bit of a bore if you know what I mean.”

“Does the oath not also state that you will keep yourself from all intentional ill doing?”

“Oh, you’d know that, wouldn’t you?  Yes.”

“And is that not what you are doing here?” Mingo’s dark eyes held his.  “Deliberately planning intentional harm?”

“What do you know about it?”  He didn’t like to be contradicted.  “You just tell me what you know about it!” 

Mingo’s voice was sober.  “I know there is always another way.”  He paused and then added.  “Jemima fears you intend to harm yourself.”

“Harm myself?  What rubbish.”  He scowled.  “If that was all there was to it I’d happily chuck myself off the edge of the ninth ring of the second moon of New New Alpha Centauri and let the dancing commence – along with eating a healthy dose of JOE’S fried onion rings.  They are to die…for….  But seriously, all I meant was I might die if things didn’t go right.  They are progressing brilliantly – or were until you showed up.”  He looked at his watch again.  “Blimey!  Down to five minutes.  Got to go.”

“And do what?”

“You are simply not going to let me get on with it until I tell you, are you?” he declared.  “All right, you asked for it Mister Oxford-educated-English-school- of-nature-Cherokee-eighteenth century man!  For 50,000 of your years two powerful galactic enemies have waged war, devastating this and more than a dozen other universes, just so they can satisfy their petty need to come out on top.  They’ve chosen your planet as their latest battlefield, and I intend to make it their last!  In five minutes,” he glanced at his wristwatch, “no, four point five three five minutes, a group of brutal and, may I say, absolutely marvelously unattractive Sontaran storm troopers are going to march out of that opening and open fire, blasting us out of existence and assuring theirs.  With ray guns.  Lasers!  Do you hear me?”  He drew a breath, seeking to calm a rising anger.  He had noticed it before, but as he spoke, the urge to take a cricket bat and knock the native on the head grew to almost overwhelming.  “At the same time, their enemies – who by the way resemble a giant-size mass of quivering green gelatin lit by electric fire – are turning the heart of your world into a fully stocked intergalactic nursery complete with hundreds of thousands of ravenous baby goos who don’t care one fig whether or not mankind can continue to exist after they leave your planet a dry, empty husk!  And you, ‘I-am-on-the-moral-high-ground-and-can-quote-Hippocrates-when-it-suits’, you are stopping me from stopping them!”          

Mingo’s face was stone.  “You are mad.”

“You bet your Christmas crackers I am!  I have at least two more minutes of work before I can throw the switch and you are in my way.”  He heard the threat in his tone and it surprised him.

“So, you will kill me too?  Along with these thousands of millions?”

“Yes!”  The Doctor winced as an electric shock shot through him, almost like a prod.   “I….  Yes, I must.  I have to….  No.  I don’t….  I don’t believe in killing.  Not like this, not when there has to be…”  He had begun to shake.  The trembling started near the wound in his head and ran the length of his lean body to his toes.  It felt as if – should the vibration resonate in just the right way – he might explode.  “I can’t,” he whispered as he fell to his knees.  “Help…me….”

Mingo had turned.  Every muscle in his long frame was rigid.  “They are coming.  We must hide.”

“No.”  He shook his aching head.  “I have to stop them.  I must…millions will die….”

“No.  They will not.  I promise,” Mingo said as he came to his side.  “I promise I will help you find another way.”

“But how?”  The Doctor’s voice resonated in his own ears.  He sounded like a child begging its father to take it in his arms and make everything big and bad and scary go away.

The native took hold of his arm and began to haul him to his feet.  “There is no time to speak of it now!” 

“I have to know!”

Mingo glanced over his shoulder and then turned back with a scowl.  “A union, then, of two who have no wish to be one.  I live each day with two sides at war within me, but through my will I compel them to unite.  Use your will.  Make these men broker a peace.”

The strength had left him.  He felt completely lost and totally confused – like a program waiting for a signal that never came.  “But my reason is diseased, you said so yourself.  How can I do anything?”

The native pulled him to his feet.  He met his confusion with calm rationality.  A force as of madness in the hands of reason has done all that was ever done in the world.  You can make whatever this thing if you feel you have to do, without anyone dying.  Now, please, Doctor, we must move!”

“Without anyone dying...” he mumbled as Mingo let the way.  “Eliminate the Rutans and the Sontarans without anyone dying?  By uniting….”  As they reached a place of concealment, he pivoted sharply on his heel and began to laugh.  “Yes! I have it!  Yes.  Yes.  Yes! 

“No one dies today!”

 

*** 

    

The man was hopelessly mad; his laughter, the cackle of the lost souls of Bedlam Royal Hospital. 

Mingo had never forgotten the place.  As a young man living in England he had given in to curiosity and entered its locked gates along with a party of the social elite.  Their common Tuesday evening entertainment was to pay a penny and take in the ‘freak show’ so they could stare at the lunatics and laugh at their antics.  The guard told him when he asked, that each year nearly one hundred thousand people did the same, adding that it wasn’t wrong or a sin – after all, how else were they going to feed and clothe the madmen?  At the time Mingo had wondered, as young men were wont to do, if indeed it was not he who was mad.  After all, no one else seemed troubled at all by the spectacle.

He found himself in a similar place at this moment.  Either the Doctor was insane, or he was.  Either the man who stood before him – talking wildly to himself – was out of touch with reality, or reality had suddenly become something Mingo had no desire to touch.  Fortunately, as the steady tromp of the soldiers’ boots grew louder and ever closer to their position, he was forced to put such philosophical questions aside and take action.  Reaching out, he caught the Doctor in his arms.  Clamping a hand over the man’s mouth, Mingo hauled him back into the shadows and found shelter behind a clutter of rocks. 

“Be silent!” the Cherokee warrior commanded, his tone just above a whisper.  It was playing into the man’s madness, but he added, “If you die, millions more will die and for no purpose!”

The Doctor stiffened, fighting a second or two longer, and then he fell silent.  After a moment, he nodded his head.  Then he indicated he would like the hand removed.

“Say nothing,” Mingo warned.

He nodded again.

Hoping he would not regret it, the native removed his hand.  The Doctor licked his lips, and then gave him a shaky double ‘thumbs up’ before closing his eyes and leaning his head against one of the rocks.  Mingo glanced at him, making sure he was truly compliant, and then peered around the edge of the rock fall.  To his surprise most of the soldiers were redcoats, but there were two or three among them that wore uniforms that shone like the polished barrel of a gun. Strange bowls of a similar metal hid their faces from view. 

“What on Earth?” he breathed.

“Not on Earth,” the Doctor muttered.  “Said that.”

Mingo glanced at the man Jemima called ‘John Smith’.  The stranger’s eyes remained closed.  When he looked back he found that the soldiers had halted near the place where the Doctor had been working earlier.  The native drew a breath and held it.  For a moment, he feared the soldiers had discovered something, but a second later an order was shouted and they moved on.  As he released the breath, he turned to the Doctor and asked, “How long until they return?”

“Fourteen minutes.”  The Doctor had straightened his long, lean frame and his eyes were open now.  In them was a ray of hope.  “More than enough time.”

“For what?”

“Saving the Rutans and the Sontarans and the universes to boot!  Ha-ha!”  The stranger grinned broadly, and then his face fell like a little boy’s caught napping.  “Oh, dear.  You still think me mad, don’t you?”

“Well….”

“Don’t worry about me, my friend,” the Doctor said as he hopped to his feet.  “I don’t suffer from insanity.  I enjoy it immensely!”  With that he glanced at the gold band circling his wrist one more time and proclaimed, “Come on!  Thirteen point two minutes left.  Not quite enough time for a sledge ride, but more than enough time to save the world!”

 

***

 

River Song entered the Rutan stronghold, somewhat put off by the fact that the force field had been deactivated and she was able to walk in unchallenged.  Her concern grew and changed into puzzlement as she traversed the long corridors and saw neither sight nor sound of any Rutan, Rutan clone, or piece of machinery.  The walls were bare of lighting fixtures, and when she raised up on tiptoe to check one of the spots where she knew a light had been, there was no evidence that any had ever been anchored into the unforgiving Kentucky rock.  As she continued to make progress, backtracking on the path she and the clone of Amy Pond had taken to freedom, a cold hand gripped her heart and began to squeeze.  It was as if the Rutan invasion had never happened. 

It was almost as if the Rutans had never existed.

Then, as she reached the great chamber River saw a flicker of green light and, for a moment, it was as if all she had known winked back into existence.  The Rutan Ranee was there, breathing hate and hurt, screaming for the children that would never be born.  But only for a second – for the time it took her heart to beat one incredibly long and painful beat.  River was a bit of an anomaly herself.  She had moved back and forth through the centuries enough to recognize what was happening.  Time itself was in flux.  What had been no longer existed, but what was to come had not yet quite been formed.  Wherever the Tardis had taken him the Doctor was facing the moment of crisis.

And she wasn’t there.

 

***

 

The Doctor’s head pounded like it had when he had first awakened on the Kentucky soil as he finished his work rewiring the panel.  He was nauseous and shook like a wibbly-wobbly reed in a hurricane.  But, like that tenacious reed he held on, bending with the wind but not breaking, refusing to be uprooted and blown away.

Something in him wanted so desperately to kill.  At the back of his mind the monster prowled, seeking escape, eager to find satiation in blood.  It promised him relief if he obeyed and punishment if he did not, though what further punishment it could inflict he could not imagine – nothing could be worse than this growing, unending, unstoppable desire for the destruction of two entire races. 

Well, nearly unstoppable, he thought with mild relief.  He had a plan – as Shakespeare once said to him in a particularly tight spot involving Good Queen Bess and a boar’s head – ‘past that which is desperate’, but was running out of steam.  His knees were ‘wibbly wobbly’ too.  He wanted nothing more than to sink to the floor for a good long lie-down.  But he couldn’t.  Not yet.  He wasn’t finished.  The program was in place, but he still had to alter the protocols.  Instead of ordering the Sontaran drones to destroy and then desert their masters, he would send them to seed the skies of the Sontaran home-world and to introduce a variation of the original chemical mixture into the air recycling systems on their battleships.  In the same way he would instruct the Rutan clones not to kill their masters, but to drug them into compliance.  And then, using the Tardis and the science of the Time Lords to which he alone was heir, he would bring the two together in such a way that they could never, ever fight again. 

“And the two shall become one,” he sighed.

By his hand the wars that had devastated several universes for 5000 centuries would end and there would be peace.

Peace.  It had been so long since he had known peace that he longed for it like an addict.  But was he truly willing to do anything for his next hit?

“Doctor?”

It took a second, but he responded.  “Mingo?  Yes.  Blimey, Mingo.  What is it?”

“I have done as you asked.”  The native looked shaken by what he had seen as he scouted the corridors.  “What manner of device is this?”

“Not one of sorcery or of devilry, but of science.”  He glanced at the native as he went back to work.  “You’ve seen Mr. Watts’ engine and the Mechanical Turk.  Think about it.  What would your Cherokee ancestors of, say, one hundred years ago have thought of them?”

Mingo laughed nervously.  “The same thing my uncle would think today.  That it is witchcraft.”

“And is it?  Am I?” the Doctor asked. 

The native considered it long enough that the Time Lord began to grow uneasy.  “No,” he said at last.  “You are a man.  And not a madman, but a good one.”

“Not sure there’s any difference in the end,” he replied.  We’re wanting a few good madmen, you know?  Look where the sane ones have got us.”  He cast a glance at the control panel.  A minute, maybe less remained.  Sontaran patrols were notoriously punctual.  If he guessed right, they had about twelve minutes before the soldiers reappeared. 

“Time enough…” he breathed as his fingers began to fly over the keypad.

Fifty seconds later, his work was completed.  He had altered the program and set a delay to allow them time to return to the Tardis so they would not be caught in any sudden shift of reality.  The Doctor pressed one last button and then placed his hand on the lever that would trigger the countdown.  And then he hesitated.  Something was not…quite…right.  In top form he would have put a finger on it in two tics, but it seemed he had been tick-tocking like clockwork caught in molasses ever since he had awakened in Kentucky.  He closed his eyes to shut out everything but his own thoughts and considered his options.  One, he left things as they were and the Sontarans and Rutans continued to behave like two bad boys with sticks who failed to hit each other but broke everything about them, or two, he could act as judge and jury and destroy them. 

Or three, he could do just what he was about to do. 

“Not much of a decision really, when it comes down to it,” he muttered, “like being offered a choice between Jammie Dodgers, pig’s feet, or faggots with mushy peas.”

“Well?” Mingo’s resonant voice broke into his reverie.  “What are you waiting for?”

Nothing really, he had to admit.  He was just waiting for waiting’s sake.  With a glance at the native, he ordered his hand to pull the lever down.  It wouldn’t obey.   Even more surprisingly, nothing would obey.  He might as well have been a paralytic.  “I can’t.  And I…don’t know…why.”            

“That would be me.”  Aubrey Blundell’s black-swathed form disengaged itself from the shadows that lined the chamber wall.  The clone was carrying a flintlock rifle and had it pointed directly at them.

Mingo looked from Blundell to him, and then moved to plant himself between them.  “Aubrey, what is this about?” he called, even as the Doctor watched the native’s fingers slide toward the knife anchored on his belt.

“No…violence,” the Doctor said in a stage whisper.  “I…abhor violence.”

The native shot him an incredulous look.  “And just what was it you expected to happen before if you had you pulled that switch?” Mingo asked.  “Fireworks?”

“This is different!” he countered.  “You can’t just chuck a knife at a man and kill him in cold blood.”

“Different?”  Mingo was angry.  “So the death of one is a tragedy, but the death of millions is merely an enumeration?”

For once, the Doctor had nothing to say.

Blundell’s clone spoke as he approached.  “If you two are quite through, we have something less than eight minutes before the Sontaran patrol makes its appearance, and I for one would like to vacate the area before they do.”  He stopped ten or so feet away.  “All I need to do is verify, Doctor, that you’ve done as you were ordered.”

“Ordered?” the Time Lord bristled.  “No one orders me –”

The clone raised his free hand.  In it was the little black box.  This says otherwise.  All covered with lovely colorful buttons.  Would you like to see what happens if I press this one?”  His index finger hovered over one that glowed red.  “Bye, bye, Time Lord.  You might regenerate, but it would be into a vegetable.”

“You are not Aubrey Blundell,” Mingo announced.

“Well, there you go,” the clone snorted, “you did go to Oxford.”

The native took a step forward.  His fingers now clutched the handle of the blade.  “What have you done to Aubrey?” he asked.

Blundell shrugged.  “Me?  Nothing.  He’s here somewhere, with the rest of the redcoats the Sontarans abducted.”  The aim of the clone’s rifle shifted ominously from ‘vaguely in their direction’ to directly at Mingo.  “Now get out of my way, Kerr, before you force me to do something your old friend Aubrey would regret.”

Mingo tensed as if he intended to fight, but then relaxed.  With a shake of his head that seemed to acknowledge he knew he was outgunned, he stepped to the side.  It was a feint, of course.  At the same instant the Cherokee warrior dropped and drew the knife out of its sheath with the intention of putting it through Aubrey’s heart.

The move saved Mingo’s life.  Being a clone, Aubrey was able to fire faster than would have been humanly possible.  Instead of taking him in the chest as it would have done had he remained standing, the ball from the rifle grazed Mingo’s temple, spun him around, and dropped him senseless to the ground.

Aubrey looked at the fallen man with a mixture of regret and satisfaction.  Then he raised the rifle, cocked it once and pointed it directly at the Doctor.  In response to his look, he said, “Repeating flintlock.  So, I like to tinker.  Five minutes now, Time Lord.  More than enough time to do what has to be….”  As he spoke, he had come closer and was staring at the Doctor’s work.  “What is this?  This won’t do what I ordered you to make it do.  It’s not my program.”

“It’s a better one.”

“How?” he roared.

The Doctor waggled his eyebrows.  “Can’t point it out.  Need my hands.  Release me, and I’ll show you.”

“Tell me what you’ve done and I might,” the clone growled as he placed the barrel of the rifle against his chest.

The Time Lord grinned.  “Kill me, and you’ll never know.” 

Blundell glared at him and then laughed as he lowered the rifle.  “Checkmate, Doctor.”  He depressed a glowing yellow button on the black box and then secured it inside his coat.  “But I still have the gun.”

“And aren’t you the lucky one?” the Gallifreyan snapped as his freedom of motion returned.  “Humanity, bah!  Well, duplicated humanity.  What am I going to do with you?  How long will it take you to learn that the mere possession of a gun is in itself an urge to kill, not only by design but by accident, by madness, by fright, and by bravado?”

“Shut up and show me what you’ve got.”

“Oooh, you do that so well,” the Doctor cooed as he shoved his sleeves back dramatically.  “Pretty soon, duplicate Aubrey Blundell, no one will be able to tell that you’re not human.  You’re violent, self-interested, and entirely rude.  E for Excellent.”

“Listen, Doctor.  You make a good pretense of being an idiot, but I don’t buy it.  And neither will those Sontarans when they come marching in here in about four minutes.  I don’t want to die and I don’t think you do either.  Otherwise you would have let Stonn take you back in the Boone’s cabin.  If you prove to me now that you have done what you were sent to do, we can throw the switch, gather up your native friend, and get back to your time machine.”  Blundell patted his coat.  “I’ll destroy this little device and then you and I can go our separate ways.”

The Time Lord said nothing.  While he disliked the fact that Blundell’s clone held the upper hand, he was entirely comfortable with what he had accomplished.  In fact, Blundell had probably done the universes a favor by forcing his hand.  There would be no more Rutan-Sontaran conflict.  Like Mingo – he glanced at the native who was still unconscious – the two would learn to live as one and maybe, just maybe, history would be the better for it.  This was the sort of thing he knew he should have done many times before.  It was why he had ‘borrowed’ the Tardis in the first place in defiance of the Time Lords non-interference directive – because he felt that there were times when someone simply had to do something.

Sometimes the universe just needed a leg up.

He drew a long breath.  “Very well,” he said at last.  Crooking one long finger, the Doctor invited the clone to come closer.  “You’ll have to move in a bit, I’m afraid.  Lighting’s rubbish in here and there’s this little dial you are going to need to see.  Not here,” he indicated the console, “where I’ve been working, but in the panel above.”

Aubrey frowned.  “What dial?”

“In there,” the Doctor opened the panel directly above the one he had been fidgeting with.  “You are familiar with Sontaran technology.  This holds the master controls.  The dial is toward the back and up under the edge.”  The Doctor took a step back.  “You’ll have to sort of lean over a bit and crook your head up like this.”  He illustrated by raising his chin and stretching out his neck.  “I could hold the rifle if it would help….”

The clone shot him a look.

“Never hurts to try, that’s my motto.”

Blundell glanced at the chronometer he wore, borrowed no doubt from the Tardis’ stores, and frowned.  “We’re past time.  The patrol is late.  They’re never late.”

“Well, you know, JOE’S is quite nearby.  Perhaps they’ve developed a sudden liking for onion rings?  If the lines are long they might be a while.”  He tilted his head toward the upper panel.  “I say, are you ever going to take a look?” 

Shifting the rifle to his other hand, Blundell leaned in and stuck out his chin.

‘Oh, this is Christmas!’ the Doctor thought as he clenched his fingers, formed a fist, and struck the gullible clone on the chin so hard it forced Aubrey’s head up and against the panel with a sickening thud.  As Blundell crumpled to the floor, the Time Lord shook his head.  “Bad bad Doctor.  Violence is not the answer, never the answer, never ever ever.”  He frowned as expected for a moment and then, with a laugh, gave himself a ‘thumbs up’.  “Unless, of course, the fate of several universes is hanging in the balance and then it doesn’t need to be the answer.  It is the question –

“And the answer is ‘yes’.”

Before turning back to the task at hand he took a moment to bind Blundell, using a bit of pilfered wire, and to make certain Mingo was not in danger.  The bullet had struck the native hard enough to cause quite a concussion, but otherwise he would be all right.  Rising, the Time Lord closed the upper panel and then reached for the lever he had held before.  With a madcap grin, he took hold of it and pulled, engaging the countdown, which he had set at 120 seconds. 

“Bye-bye bad guys,” he breathed.