LAST EDITED ON May-07-10 AT 10:31 PM (EDT)
Saturday, May 8, 2410
"Stately Griffin Manor"
Nekomikoka, Tomodachi, Rigel sector
Don Griffin was working on his car and fencing with an old adversary when it all began.
"I'm telling you, Emma, you'd be disappointed," he said from underneath the antique Cord cabriolet. Ratcheting sounds accompanied his voice.
Emma Frost made a pout, though he couldn't see it from under the car, and kicked playfully at one of his protruding feet.
"Bosh," she said. "How can you have so little faith in yourself? You're a clever boy. You'd think of something."
Don slid his mechanic's creeper from under the car, put aside his oil filter wrench, and got to his feet.
"I'd let you watch, I would invite you, but the queens we use would not excite you," he told Emma dryly, then went to his workbench for a gallon jug of oil.
"... What?" Emma replied, looking deeply bemused.
Griffin shook his head sadly. "You never studied," he said, then started pouring fresh oil into the car's engine. Emma opened her mouth to protest, but before she could, another woman walked through the garage door - without opening it first - and said,
"Hey, Mr. Wizard, if you're done flirting with the riffraff, you've got a visitor from out of town." Then, turning a smile of mock sympathy to Emma, Kitty Griffin added sweetly, "I guess you'll hammer later."
Emma stared at her for a second, then made an annoyed growling noise and swept haughtily out.
Griffin screwed the oil filler cap back on the Cord's engine, shut the hood, and gave his wife a half-hearted pointing-at. "Be nice, you," he said. "It's not Emma's fault she's prone to unhealthy fixations."
"Yeah, well, why can't she fixate someplace else?" Kitty wanted to know.
Don chuckled and wiped his hands on a rag. "So... do we actually have a visitor, or did you just say that to get rid of Emma?"
"No, that's for real," said Kitty, her manner more subdued now that Emma had left.
"What is it? You look worried." Don went to the parts sink in the corner of the garage and started washing his hands. "Something up with the kids? Lensman stuff? What?"
Kitty shook her head. "It's the Doctor. He's in the library. But... I don't know. Something's wrong."
Don gave her a puzzled look as he shut off the taps and dried his hands. "Hm. Guess I better go see what's up."
The library of Stately Griffin Manor was one of Don's favorite rooms in the place; it had been the library when the building was a down-at-heel posh private school, too, and it looked more like the smoking room of a gentlemen's club, less the ash trays. Don liked it because there was a certain pleasant carelessness about the way it was decorated; the comfy chairs didn't match and the whole place was slightly threadbare and lived-in. The London police box standing in the corner added a certain je ne sais quoi, too, but it wasn't usually there.
The visitor was slumped in Don's favorite chair, a battered but blissfully comfortable old wingback upholstered in leather that was an odd sort of kelly green. He didn't look up when Don entered, walked across to the green chair, dragged over the matching ottoman the seated figure wasn't using, and sat down on it, elbows on knees, to take a good long thoughtful look at his visitor.
He was the same version who'd visited a mere three weeks ago - youngish, with a jagged head of dark hair and slightly sharp features - but to Don's eyes the Doctor seemed to have aged a hundred years since then. His face was haggard and pale, with heavy dark circles around red-rimmed eyes, his cheeks gaunt and in need of a shave. His brown pinstripe suit was crumpled as if he'd slept in it, but it was the only thing about his appearance to give any impression that he'd slept at all in the last month or so. He slumped in the chair, shoulders hunched, chin sunk on his chest, and stared into the middle distance, seeing nothing.
"You present the appearance of a man with a problem," said Don.
The Doctor chuckled mirthlessly, saying nothing.
"How can I help?" Don added.
The Doctor raised his head to look Don in the face and said nothing for a moment. Then he shook his head.
"That's not how it works," he said. "I'm the Doctor. People don't help me, I help them." He seemed to come back from some mental distance, his eyes focusing. "You always regenerate into yourself," he said, apparently apropos of nothing. "You come back as the same man you were when you left."
Don nodded. "That's the way it seems to've worked so far."
"Doesn't that get boring?" The Doctor shook his head, raking a hand through his thick brown hair. "I think I'd give almost anything to be someone else right now."
Don blinked, deeply startled by the statement and the bleak way it was delivered. Over the course of their long association, he'd come to see the Doctor as indomitable. It was one of the things that had brought them together, one of the bits of common ground that had eventually led the ancient Time Lord to adopt the young Earthman into his clan, as it were, and sponsor him for admission to the Prydonian Chapter Academy on Gallifrey. They shared many of what Don liked to think of as the basic precepts of the Xavier Institute. Never use a door when you can make one; don't get mad when you can get even; never let the bastards grind you down. He'd always seemed psychologically, if not physically, invincible. Unbreakable.
Well, if he's not broken now, he's damned close to it, Don thought. Hiking the ottoman forward a little, he reached out and put his hand on the Doctor's shoulder.
"What the hell happened to you?" he asked.
The Doctor looked for a moment as though he belatedly regretted coming. He might have brushed the query aside and retreated into his private funk, except that just as he was about to, Griffin realized what was missing and added,
The Doctor glanced at him sharply, as if shocked by the question; then his face relaxed into a look of pained understanding.
"Oh, that's right, you don't know," he said. "I haven't been here in a while."
"Three weeks, subjective," said Don. "But you seem to have put on a lot more mileage than that implies."
The Doctor looked slightly surprised. "Three weeks!" he murmured. "Are you sure?"
"Precisely three weeks," Don confirmed. "Today's May 8, 2410. You were last here on April 17. The Professor Enigma premiere. Big party. You and Rose, Romana and Cap'n Jack, the whole gang."
The Doctor rubbed a hand down his face. "Yeah. I remember." He smiled wanly. "That was a good day." He sat back in the chair, feet splayed out on the rug, and sighed hugely. "Three weeks, blimey, I was going for three years. That's about how long it's been for me." He shook his head. "Well, that's about how well things have been working for me lately."
After collecting his thoughts for a few seconds while Don sat waiting patiently, the Doctor raised his eyes and said, "I lost her."
Griffin watched him for a few seconds, his face thoughtful. Then he said, "Define 'lost'."
"She's trapped in a parallel dimension," the Doctor said. "Not one of the normal ones, that'd be trivial. A pocket universe. I burned a whole supernova just to transmit a holo and say goodbye... and then I didn't even get that right." He shook his head. "It's been all downhill from there, really. Did you ever have a day like that? Realize too late that you've left important things unsaid, move the heavens to give yourself another chance to say them, and then mess it up again?"
"Sort of," said Don. "Did you say pocket universe? As in a timestream that's become completely isolated from the cosmic mainline? A full disjunct?"
Don gave his cousin another thoughtful look, the very faintest ghost of a smile playing at his lips. "You may recall that I'm from one of those."
"Right. And now you can't get back in."
"Well... sort of." Don got up. "Come on, I want to show you something."
As he led the way through the house to the kitchen, Don explained, "See, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the problem of pocket universe access over the last few years. The usual thing would be to open up a CVE and jump across, but pockets are notoriously shaky things. Opening up a metastable two-way conduit is all but impossible. More likely you'd end up blowing a hole so big you collapse the whole timeline."
"I know. And you're not exactly helping by repeating the lecture," said the Doctor testily.
"Hear me out, I think you're going to like where I'm heading," Don replied. They entered the kitchen; Don went to the cabinets and removed a large roasting pan from one and a drinking glass from another, then went to the sink and started filling the roasting pan with water.
"Okay." He put the roasting pan on the butcher-block island in the middle of the kitchen. "The water in this pan represents a pocket universe. The surface tension stands in for the chronospatial stability. Now, if I turned a stream of compressed air on this water, what would happen?"
The Doctor eyed him dubiously, then seemed to resign himself to playing along. "You'd blow water all over the kitchen."
"Exactly. You can't connect a pocket to the mainline directly, because the 'pressure differential' is unmanageable, and the resulting cascade doesn't end well for the pocket. But!" Don turned to the counter, yanked open the drawer under the wall phone, and started rummaging inside it. "Where is it, where is it... aha, here we go." He turned around and held up a small plastic figure. "Say this army man is you."
"Doesn't seem that likely, he's got a gun," the Doctor objected.
Don gave him a look. "Try to focus, Doctor," he said. He plunked the army man into the drinking glass, then opened another drawer and rattled through things for a moment, emerging with a dough blade. Inverting the glass, he set it on the blade and said, "Creating a direct link is a recipe for disaster. But imagine if you did it this way."
So saying, he lowered the assembly into the water, then withdrew the dough blade and set it aside, holding the rim of the glass against the bottom of the pan with his finger on the glass's base. Then, when he was sure the Doctor was paying full attention, he withdrew the glass. The water rushed into the void, rippled, and then settled, the surface becoming glassy smooth again. Having come to rest on his back, the little army man looked up serenely from the bottom.
The Doctor looked initially unimpressed; then he blinked, stepped closer, pulled a pair of eyeglasses from an inside pocket, popped them on, and looked more closely.
Then he grinned, instantly looking years younger. "That's brilliant," he said.
Don smiled. "Thank you," he said.
The kitchen door opened and Rachel entered, dusty and rumpled from having spent the morning doing Don-wasn't-really-sure-he-wanted-to-know-what about the greater Nekomikoka area with her posse. Now, seeing the Doctor, she lit up with a broad grin and hugged him before he could've stopped her, even if he'd wanted to.
"Hey! Long time no see," she said. "Come for Professor Enigma? It's the one with you in it this week." She looked around. "Where's Rose?"
"We're just working on that, actually," said Don.
"Oh. Anything I can help with?"
"Probably not, but we'll holler if we need you," Don told her.
"'Kay." Rachel opened the fridge, had a look around, and came out with a bottle of Dr. Pepper. "I'm going over to the Prydes' for lunch," she reported, "and then Kitty 'n I have to hit the library. Book reports. You know how it goes. Can she come over for dinner?"
"Sure," Don said.
"Great. Back around five! Bye Doctor! See you later!" she declared as she breezed out again.
"She's settled in nicely," the Doctor remarked with a wry smile.
"Like she owns the place," Don replied cheerfully. "I'm kind of amazed at how... you know... not-awkward we are. But then why would she be awkward? She hasn't forgotten the life we used to have, she never lived it in the first place." He sighed. "Hard to get used to sometimes... but I'm just happy she's alive."
"You're going to have to deal with Tobernel one of these days," the Doctor cautioned him. "He's dangerous. You know that. He won't let this lie forever just because you won't play along."
Don nodded. "I know. But I think we'll be ready for him. In a way it helps that she hasn't manifested any of her old powers. It's not like he can play the 'dangerous Phoenix avatar is dangerous' card again. And the Time Scoop's involvement is mutual assured destruction. He rats her out to the CIA, he rats himself out too. It's not perfect and it's sure not resolved, but it'll do for right now." He clapped his hands briskly together. "Anyway. We're not here to talk about Tobernel; I believe you were telling me I'm brilliant."
"Actually, I was saying that your theory was brilliant," the Doctor qualified. Then, with something like his twinkly old smile, he added, "You'll be brilliant if the next thing you tell me is that you know how to make it work."
Don grinned. "I do."
The Doctor beamed. "Oh, brilliant."
"I originally developed it with the idea that one or more of the people who were displaced with me would want to go home," Don explained as he whipped a dusty tarp off a thing in his basement workshop that the Doctor could, with justice, only think of as a contraption. "But I didn't have any takers, and there didn't seem to be any other practical use for it, so it's just been gathering dust ever since."
"What do you call it?"
Don shrugged. "Never gave it a proper name. It'd just be some kind of technical jabber anyway, unless I decided to be all Time Lord about it and called it The Settee of Trokhaimartolgriffin."
The Doctor blinked. "It is a settee," he declared. Turning to Griffin, he asked, "Why is it a settee?"
"More comfortable than a park bench? The part you sit on isn't really important, it's all this crap that actually does stuff," Don went on, pointing at the ominous-looking electrodes and high-energy fittings that surrounded the brown leather couch.
"If nobody ever used it, how do you know it works?" the Doctor asked.
"Well, that's one of three small problems," Griffin admitted. "Technically speaking, I, uh, don't. All the math works out and the simulations went just fine, but if you want to be really technical about it, I have to admit that I don't have any way of knowing that for sure. Hell, I wouldn't even if I'd used it at some point. It's not like it's got an intercom. It's just a one-way trapdoor shunt."
"All right, that's one problem. What are the other two?"
"The second one is power. This thing needs a lot of it. So much that I was never entirely confident that I could get it to work - but what the hell, you've already burned one supernova on this problem, I'm sure we can find another." Don flicked a couple of switches, powering up diagnostic systems, and the room filled with a low hum. "Or maybe a quasar. If we could set up a metaprism around a quasar we could pull down beaucoup photons before it disintegrated. Dunno that anybody's ever tried that, but I'm up for it."
"And the third?"
"Like I said, it's a one-way trip. I mean, this is a very brute-force rig. You might even call it a... a dimensional cannon. All it does is poke a hole in the Veil, shove something through, and close the hole after it. It's no more subtle or elegant than a CVE; it just lasts for a much shorter time and isn't anywhere near as 'wide'. There's no retrieving anything with it."
"Which means that even if I knew Rose's precise location, you couldn't get her back." The Doctor slumped a little. "And I'm right back where I started."
"Sort of. We can't get her back with this... but if you've got the planar coordinates, I can send you through." Don looked up from the console. "You'd be in the right universe, anyway. Finding her from there would be up to you."
The Doctor looked skeptical. "What, on foot? Even a pocket universe is still a pretty big place, you know."
Don smiled. "When my home dimension split off from the mainline and cut my TARDIS off from the Eye of Harmony, she still had plenty of power in the reserve bus for space hops and basic functions. It's traveling in time that really eats energy. That's not the problem. The problem is... like I said. It's a one-way trip. You could build another of these machines, but I'm not sure how you'd power it. So if I sent you across with this, well... chances are you'd be stuck there."
The Doctor considered this gravely for a few minutes, walking slowly around the machine and examining it from various angles.
"But I'd be stuck there with her," he said at length, from the far side of the machine.
Don nodded. "That's true."
The Doctor walked the rest of the way around the machine and stood in front of Don, silent, sunk deep in thought. Then he shook his head, shoulders sagging.
"I can't," he said. "I've got responsibilities here. Too many things I have to take care of. People are depending on me that I don't even know about yet."
To the Doctor's surprise, Don made a dismissive snort at that. "Oh, get over yourself," he said. "We're not all bumbling amateurs around here, you know. The universe can get along without you if it absolutely has to. It's not like there's nobody else around to pick up the slack."
The Doctor eyed him. "You think it's that simple? I just have to 'get over myself'."
"Pretty much, yeah," Don replied. "Loosen your grip a little. We'll be fine. We'll miss you, but you're not the only name in the savior-of-the-universe business. Besides, I'm sure there are wrongs to right wherever we're talking about. Even a pocket universe is still a pretty big place, you know," he added with a grin.
The Doctor regarded him for a few more moments, then grinned back.
"Worth a try," he said.
"Now that's what I'm talking about," said Don, switching off the diagnostic systems. "Let's get this beast broken down. Can't go running a quasar trap into my basement."
Rachel and Kitty Pryde arrived at 5:15 to find cables and random-looking technological equipment scattered all over the front lawn, the Doctor's TARDIS at one side and Don's at the other, doors standing open to let a couple of the biggest cables pass. The Doctor and Don were rushing hither and thither, connecting stuff together, checking readings, tripping over cables, and generally appearing to have a terrific time. Kitty Griffin stood off to one side, leaning against a tree and watching with an expression of fond bemusement.
"What's going on?" Rachel asked.
"Oh, the Time Lords are doing Time Lordy stuff," said Kitty the Elder. "You know what they're like when they get into this kind of mood, I can't get a word out of either one. For all I know they're getting ready to make a prank phone call to the Dalek Emperor," she added with a wry grin.
"What's all the junk?" asked Kitty the Younger.
"It was a machine Don built in case anybody in our little group wanted to go home," Kitty G told her. "Not sure what they're doing with it now. I mean, I'm guessing the Doctor doesn't plan to take a one-way trip to Earth-616."
At one console, Don checked a couple of further readings, then cursed as a cable sparked and came unhooked.
"This'd be easier if I hadn't lost my laser screwdriver," he grumbled.
The Doctor rummaged in an inside pocket and proffered a roughly cylindrical brass-and-chrome device. "Did it look like this?"
Don snatched it from his hand. "Where did you get that? I've been looking everywhere for this thing." He flipped it into position, thumbed the activator, then scowled at it as nothing happened. "Who's been screwing with my isomorphic controls?"
"The Master," the Doctor replied casually.
Don looked up from his work. "Seriously? Well, that's typical. Stole my laser screwdriver and didn't even bother to say hello. Jerk." He held out his hand. "Sonic."
The Doctor handed over his screwdriver without comment, waited while Don used it to recalibrate his own, then accepted it back and said offhandedly, "You know that can be used as a weapon?"
"Don't you start," Don replied, bending to laser up the failed cable connection. "Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right."
"I said don't start." Don finished his work, retried the setting that had caused the connection to fail, and nodded with satisfaction. "Well, the containment field seems stable enough. How are you coming on the quasar trap?"
"One second," the Doctor replied, dashing to another console; then, "Primed and ready. It'll only last about a nanosecond once triggered, but that should be enough to give us a charge. I'm linking it to the master controls now." He checked a couple of settings, tightened a cable fitting, then turned to Don. "I think we're ready."
"Let's get your TARDIS into position, then. Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?"
"Two hours ago you were talking me into it," the Doctor protested.
"Yeah, and I still think you should go," Don replied. "I'm just making sure you're good with it."
The Doctor grinned. "Been a while since I flung myself headfirst into a genuine unknown," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
"That's the spirit," said Don. Angling his eyes toward their audience, he said, "Better go say your goodbyes. You might not be coming back. Kitty would never forgive you if you just left."
His cousin's bald declaration sobered the Doctor, but only slightly, such was his delight at the thought of what he was about to attempt. He nodded, and the two crossed the lawn to the little gathering under the tree.
"Now are you going to tell me what you guys are up to?" Kitty G asked.
"Oh, you know, the usual," the Doctor said offhandedly. "Trapping the entire energy output of a quasi-stellar object for a tiny fragment of time, using it to blast me through the interdimensional barrier like a cannonball... one-way trip to a disjuncted pocket universe. That kind of thing."
Kitty blinked. "Not our pocket universe," she said, glancing at Don. "What could possibly be worth something like that over there?"
"No. No, not yours. More like this one. It used to be closer on the divergence tree, before it got disjuncted. Nothing really all that remarkable about it, actually, only... Rose is there."
"I'd ask how that happened, but I imagine it's the kind of long story I used to end up with a lot back in the old days," said Kitty wryly. "So I guess I'll just say... " She hugged him. "Good luck."
"Thank you," the Doctor said quietly.
"Wait, wait, wait, hold on. You're leaving? Like, forever?" Rachel demanded.
"Probably," the Doctor told her over Kitty's shoulder.
"Oh. Well, that bites. Can't we just go get Rose?"
"I wish it was that simple," said the Doctor sadly. "But it doesn't work that way, I'm afraid. I've tried every option I could think of. None of them has worked. Don's machine," he added, gesturing back over his shoulder, "is my last hope."
- the sky turned a vibrant green and the air was filled with a deafening freight-train roar -
- and as suddenly as they had happened, both phenomena ceased, the sky reverting to its pristine springtime fluffy-clouds blue, the suburban stillness reasserting itself like the slamming of a door. Birdsong resumed hesitantly. Both TARDISes' Cloister Bells bonged once, then fell silent, as if the machines were a bit confused by what had just happened.
In the middle of the front lawn, a dozen yards or so from the machinehenge of Don's apparatus, steam rose gently from a huddled shape in the center of a circular patch of scorched grass. As Don, the Doctor, the Kittys and Rachel stared in astonishment, this figure stirred, then raised itself up, resolving into the shape of a human female in a long grey coat. She got unsteadily to her feet, raking her hands back through dark, disordered hair, before looking around to get her bearings. Her eyes lit on the little group standing under the tree, then went wide with amazement as she recognized them.
"... Or we could just wait until she builds one herself," said Don blandly.
The Doctor stared in blank astonishment at the new arrival; then his face broke into the biggest smile anyone there had ever seen on it.
"Ohhhh, that's my girl," he said in a low voice full of pride and wonder, and then broke into a dead run across the lawn toward her. She met him halfway, crashing into him at full speed and nearly bowling him over.
"Wow," said Kitty the Younger. "I knew they were close, but you'd think they hadn't seen each other in years."
"They haven't," Don told her.
"They were just here three weeks ago."
Don grinned. "Wibbly wobbly... " he said.
"Timey wimey!" Rachel and Kitty the Elder finished.
Don gave his wife a high-five, then trotted over to the embracing couple at a more sedate pace, stopping at a discreet distance and waiting for them to notice him. This took a couple of minutes, but under the circumstances, he couldn't say he minded being ignored.
When he no longer was, he demanded delightedly, "Rose Tyler. Did you just build a dimension cannon and shoot yourself into my front yard with it?"
Rose beamed and grabbed him up in a hug of his own. "I sure did," she said. "Sorry about the grass."
"Pssh," Don replied. "It'll grow back. How'd you power it? I mean, I'm guessing you didn't have a TARDIS handy to set up a quasar trap with."
"Getter rays," Rose replied.
Don blinked. "Getter rays?" Then he blinked again, with dawning amazement, and declared, "Getter rays! That's brilliant!" He hugged her again. "That is absolutely brilliant!"
The Doctor looked puzzled. "What rays? I've never heard of that." He squinted skeptically at Don. "Are you making that up?"
Don turned Rose loose and shook his head mock-sadly at his cousin. "You never studied," he said. "Getter rays! Rarest form of energy in the universe. They react to sapient emotions. The more you want it, the more power you get."
"Oh, 'ello, you sound like me now," the Doctor mock-protested.
"I know a guy who powers giant robots with them," Don said. He turned back to Rose. "I bet you were plenty motivated," he added, grinning.
"You could say that, ten years of my bloody life it took to learn the engineering to build the bloody thing," Rose replied with a wry smile.
"Ten years!" the Doctor blurted. And yes, now that he looked more closely, now that he wasn't caught up in the moment, he could see that she did look a little older. Only a little - ten years from their last meeting meant she was still only about thirty, which was barely out of high school in this day and age - but still. Like him, she'd picked up some mileage. Not that it mattered to him in the slightest; his regard for her had never been based on her appearance.
"Why, did I overshoot?" she asked.
"Hell, no," Don said. "You know when you were last here at this house? Three weeks ago exactly."
Rose's eyebrows shot up. "You're kidding."
"Nope." Don looked at his watch. "In about 20 minutes we can all watch your fourth episode of Professor Enigma."
Rose laughed. "That is completely surreal. And it sounds perfect." Together with the two Time Lords, she set off toward the house, then hesitated, scowling at her right leg. "Ow. Note to self: In future, don't traverse cosmic rifts standing up, because you'll fall down and hurt your knee."
"Mine has a settee!" Don said, pointing.
"Why didn't I think of that?" Rose wondered. Then, pausing and catching his arm, she asked, "Hang on, why were you just building a dimension cannon on your lawn?"
"The Doctor got tired of waiting around for you to learn interdimensional ultracalculus and master hyperspatial engineering so you could build your own," said Don casually. "You know how impatient he gets."
"Well, be fair, I didn't know she'd had ten years on her end," the Doctor added.
As Rachel, Kitty, and Kitty crossed to welcome her back and they all headed into the house, Rose couldn't stop smiling. Not just because she'd pulled it off; not just because she had achieved something she had once, in the depths of her despair, thought would be impossible; not just because a decade of incredibly hard work was done and done well. Not even just because she'd found the Doctor again.
That was all part of it, of course, but above it all arched a single golden thread, a unifying sentiment to which she only gave voice a few minutes later - after Don had phoned up the Peking Palace for a vast quantity of Chinese food, after all of Rachel's friends (and most of Don and Kitty's) had converged on the big living room at Stately Griffin Manor. She sat nestled in the corner chesterfield with her foot up on an ottoman, an ice pack on her knee, and the Doctor by her side, as the opening titles of Professor Enigma flowed by on the holoscreen. There was her name in giant white letters; there was her ten-years-ago self in a film she'd shot six months ago.
Rose hugged the Doctor a little tighter.
"It's good to be home," she said softly.
The Doctor's wide, slightly goofy grin got a little wider and a little goofier.
"Yeah," he said.
"The Way to Go Home" - A Project Phoenix Aside by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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