"Now Jo, if you'll remember, the people of Heinlein's Circle of Ouborous recognize three types of adversaries. First, there are non-timeline travelers, mere world conquerors.
"Second, there are rival history changers, those who compete with the Circle to maintain their own history, or to change history for their own ends. The Circle code-name one such rival group 'Time Lords', in fact. They may be right.
"Third is the most powerful class of adversary, against whom even history changers are helpless."
"And you think ...?" Jo said, getting that deer-in-the-headlights look.
"I'm afraid so," said the Doctor. "We're up against an Author!"
Arriving in the next between-time-field circle, the Doctor and Jo found themselves in his U.N.I.T. lab; a calendar displayed a date within a year of Jo's assignment to U.N.I.T. (in the pre-time-differential timestream, of course). And the Master was climbing in through the window.
"What's he doing here?" Jo blurted as the Doctor moved between them.
"Relax, Miss Grant," said the Master. "For once I mean you no harm." He took his Tissue Compression Eliminator from a pocket - and threw it across the room to the Doctor.
"Well," said the Doctor, dropping the TCE in his garbage disintegrator, "you've convinced me - almost. Now what's going on?"
"I need your help," said the Master with his customary oily ease.
"With what?" asked Jo.
"To defeat an alien invasion of Earth."
"Right," said the Doctor, "such as the sort you usually ally with. How am I to believe in this tripe when you're the person in this room who wants Earth subjugated?"
"I want Earth subjugated by me," the Master admitted. "This particular enemy is one too powerful even for me to subdue, unless stopped now."
"Indeed," said the Doctor. "And where is this stupendous menace?"
The Master crooked a finger, led them into the hall, and into the observation room behind one-way glass over the U.N.I.T. radar room. The far wall of the observation room was this circle's interior interface. The Master pointed into the radar room - where a group of American children were getting a school tour. "The one with the spectacles."
"What - just him, an invasion?" said Jo.
The Master handed the Doctor a handheld Time Lord biometric sensor, which the Doctor focussed on the boy. "He is an extraterrestial, Jo," said the Doctor, "with a cell structure uniquely suited to absorbing and storing solar energy, at least from the type of star your sun is. By the time he's a full adult he'll be impervious to harm, superhumanly strong - there's no telling what other mental and physical side effects there may be."
"Which is why he must be stopped now," the Master insisted.
"What proof of his intent is there?" the Doctor asked.
"Obviously his intent is malicious!" said the Master, getting edgy. "He's hiding! Passing himself off as human, living here as one of them!"
"As the Doctor does," Jo said suddenly, "not at all the way you announce yourself as the 'master' of the universe wherever you go, is it?"
"You are afraid this boy will interfere with your schemes, aren't you?" said the Doctor. "Because you know he'll grow up defending Earth, not attacking it!"
"You fool!" the Master barked. As always, the Doctor had only a moment to wonder whether the Master was insulting him, or berating himself for the failure of another plan; before the Master pulled out another TCE. "I shall just have to find a way to destroy him without you! Goodbye, Doctor!"
But instead of firing the TCE he suddenly dropped it. It fell in a steaming puddle to the floor as the Master cursed and nursed his hand.
The Doctor looked at the radar room window. There were two close-set penny-sized holes, melted into the one-way glass, that hadn't been there before; and the Doctor could swear that the boy in the glasses was winking at him. When the Doctor turned around the Master was gone.
"Come along, Jo." The Doctor waved to the boy and led the way through the time-field.
"Let's see," said the Doctor, as he and Liz arrived in the next circle and found themselves back in his U.N.I.T. lab. "This will be the other circle encompassing the time I was entirely Earthbound during my exile. Last circle was an alien invasion, so this one -"
"Doctor!" Benton rushed into the lab. "There's a mad scientist trying to take over the world!"
Another retrogeneration - the bowl-haircut little fellow from the mind-bender screen. Looking his reflection over in the exterior interface of this circle, the Doctor remembered this incarnation as the one best able to present a disarming facade of frivolous harmlessness to others; including, considering the Third Zone and Black Hole incidents, himselves.
"What now, Doctor?" came Zoe's voice.
The Doctor barely had time to notice that they were behind the scenes at some sort of outdoor stage, and that Jamie was carrying his pipes, when a young man with waist-long hair in a T-shirt came up to them and said, "Come on, you're up."
"Oh no!" said the Doctor. He noticed belatedly that he had his recorder in his hand. "Oh dear!"
"I know you weren't supposed to be," said the stage manager, herding them, "but David's missing and Stephen and Graham are looking for him, and no one else is here." Before they could say anything he'd shoved them onstage.
The Doctor found himself staring out at the thousands of an afternoon crowd at the Woodstock music festival. "Oh my!" He turned to Zoe. "Quickly, Zoe - do you know the words to any folk songs?"
"Just 'The President and the Intern' by Ballard and Zweeb," Zoe said, referring to a popular singing duo of the 22nd century; "will that do?"
"Perfect!" said the Doctor. "Wonderful!" To Jamie he said, "Play 'Greensleeves'." He brandished his recorder and waved Zoe to the vocalist's mike, then just as she got there waved her off and addressed it himself.
"You'll have to excuse us," he told the audience. "We've never played in front of people before and ..."
Doctor Who looked around, it was now Victoria with he and Jamie, he didn't see anything else
"Their's nothing in this circle" Jamie almost screamed. Whats it's puzzle?" "Say that again said Teh Doctor."
"What's it's puzzle.
the doctor nodded. "This seems to be the circle of evil writing practices." He said.
Victoria almost screamed, "how do we escape!"
he shook his head, "You can move on. but you can never escape
The Doctor felt as if he'd walked into a wall of ice. It was biting cold and fiercely windy, and the Doctor was suddenly so disoriented he didn't remember where he was. He was ill! and he couldn't think why.
"Doctor!" Ben shouted over the wind. "We're back in Antarctica, aren't we?"
"Isn't that your old body?" Polly called.
It was all nonsense to the Doctor. He couldn't think, but he still knew he had to get out of the cold; and somehow he knew the TARDIS was just ahead. He stumbled on through the snow, ignoring the further cries of the young people following.
As he breached the TARDIS doors a wave of weakness passed over him and he fell to the floor of the console room. A flash of deja vu was overwhelmed by the sudden realization that his first body was finally giving out.
"No!" he moaned, barely conscious that Polly and Ben had arrived in the TARDIS. "I can't go through with it!"
"Are you fighting it?" Polly said, aghast, as if from a great distance.
"I can't," grunted the Doctor. He could feel the change trying to start. "I will not give in." There had never been a half-human Time Lord before. No one knew what a regeneration might do. Whether it would work at all.
He was afraid. He always had been.
"Doctor, it went fine!" He dimly heard Ben shout in his ear. "It'll be all right! Don't you remember?"
"You can't be meant to stop it this time, can you?" Polly asked.
Like a drawbridge falling open and slamming down onto the far bank of its moat, the Doctor's intellect grasped the realization that his companions had lived this event already. Through his malaise-ridden preceptions it took hold of the sense of deja vu from earlier, and a growing recollection that there was more to his surroundings than met the eye - a time-trap, he remembered now!
He had lived through this once already! He must stop fighting it, in order to live through it again. The Doctor surrendered the battle and won it. ("How Zen," he thought later.)
A wonderful fire shot from his hearts - no, heart, the single human heart of his first several hundred years - through every fibre of his being. He felt every cell in his body clench like a fist as his DNA collapsed and recombined. Energy poured into him from his symbiotic link with the TARDIS, energy without which his body couldn't have done this. In moments he felt better than he had for a long time (in the first-incarnation memories this circle had imposed on him) though he could tell that some of that was excess, residual energy from the TARDIS's contribution to the process. He really must contrive to regenerate inside the TARDIS more often.
He opened his eyes and snapped to a sitting position. As in his real-life first regeneration, the TARDIS had even materialized him new clothes. "You could have kept that up, you know," he called. She didn't respond. Well, this wasn't the real TARDIS.
"Are you all right?" Polly asked. The expressions on their faces were quite gratifying, considering the contrast with the event in real life.
"Yes, quite all right," said the Doctor, hopping to his feet. Entirely unnoticed until now, one wall of the console room was the next time interface. "Though I shan't enjoy retrogenerating again, after already resuming my first body for this circle just to regenerate back into this body. I might get quite dizzy ..."
The Doctor took a moment to orient himself. This retrogeneration back into the last days of his first body wasn't nearly as unpleasant as the last circle's retrogeneration into its last seconds. But the relative youth and the health of his second body contrasted mightily with the aches and pains of this one. That only showed why it was that he had been so out of sorts during the first years of his travels before the first regeneration.
Taking in his surroundings, the Doctor found himself, Steven and Dodo standing just outside the TARDIS, among a crowd of colorfully dressed humanoids so small the tallest only came up to his bottom waistcoat button, all of whom were cheering joyfully. The landscape was as brightly colored as the people's clothing. The Doctor noted the remarkable color of the brick in the road and with a sinking feeling of resignation looked behind himself at the TARDIS. Sure enough, sticking out from underneath it was a pair of feet in striped stockings and ruby slippers.
The Doctor plucked the slippers off and handed them to Dodo. "I think it would save time," he said to his friends, "if we set out to capture the broomstick directly, without detouring to the Emerald City first."
"Oh crums, another one?" said Vicki.
It was another featureless landscape. These clueless puzzles had been getting harder and harder to figure out. They'd done nudity, profanity, scatology, piety ... What was left?
The Doctor walked past Barbara, Ian and Vicki up to the interior interface, announced, "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow," and walked through.
"This is the final puzzle," said the Doctor, "to enter the center circle."
He, Susan, Ian and Barbara found themselves at Dealy Plaza. The motorcade was turning into view and the crowds on both sides of the street were beginning to cheer.
"Oh no," said Barbara. "Why this?"
The Doctor looked up, down and across the street, trying to determine their position relative to what was going to play out in front of them.
"What are we supposed to do?" Susan asked.
The book depository ... the grassy knoll ...
"Can we just stand by and let it happen?" Barbara agonized.
The car came into view behind the escort and the crowd erupted.
"If we do anything, what would happen to history and the web of time?" said Ian.
The Doctor finished his mental triangulation.
"But it's just an illusion anyway," said Susan. "Isn't it?"
The car would pass the time travelers three seconds before the first shot.
"What's the right thing to do?" said Susan. When she put it that way the answer was obvious.
The car pulled up even with them and the Doctor ran into the street. He shouted, "Sniper!" as he dodged the Secret Service men coming at him. He took a bullet through the heart as he shoved the President and the First Lady down out of harm's way.
For awhile space and time became a little muddled. When it cleared again he was stretched out on the trunk of the car, now halted on a sidestreet. Susan was there crying, and Barbara and Ian with shocked expressions on their faces, amid a sea of Secret Service suits. The Doctor felt no pain, just an overcoming weariness.
"Doctor," said Ian, "what if the puzzle was to preserve history?"
"Doesn't matter," said the Doctor weakly. Black spots were dancing in his vision. "Time Lord, teacher, student, doctor, journalist, bartender ... the solution to the puzzle of life is to do what you believe is right."
"But what if," Susan sobbed, "what if it's the wrong answer? Are you really going to die?"
The Doctor shut his eyes. "Stay tuned," he whispered.
And they were through the final interface. The Doctor held out his arms and looked - they were a young man's arms, in the sleeves of the velvet frock coat from 1999 in which everyone seemed to see a different color. He looked to his side, and there was Grace, who smiled back at him, wiping Susan's tears away.
He looked ahead. "You!" he exclaimed.
In the geometric center of the thirty-five circles, seated at a desk in front of a personal computer, was the author of this story.
"Surprised?" the author asked.
"No," said the Doctor. "Oh, I didn't realize right away. After all, I wouldn't have expected full-story length. Grace," said the Doctor, inclining his head to her without taking his eyes off the author, "do you remember the time you contracted something called 'the shortening' by touching an affected man who was dripping an orange fluid?"
"Yes, why?" said Grace.
"Do you remember the outcome of that adventure?"
"Neither do I. Neither does anyone. Because it was never written!" the Doctor snapped. "This - this hack works in story segments only! When he deigns to write the end of a story, he leaves off the beginning!"
"It's an appropriate device for satires of serial fiction," said the author, fast in the grip of his insanity. "You're wrong anyway - I've been writing full-length stories constantly since shortly after this dialog was first drafted."
"Crossovers! Because you're too lazy to write separate stories for alt.startrek.creative. They happen in an alternate universe than this, anyway - your This Time Round pieces established that."
"Satires?" said Grace. "Didn't you say you were an adventure hero?"
"Yes," said the Doctor. He pointed an accusing finger at the author. "This - this isn't my real author. I don't really have a single creator anyway. This is another breed entirely. This is a fanfiction author! Worse, a humorist! That's how I finally recognized it was your work," he added to the author. "My companions have spoken entirely in questions."
"You think that's easy?" the author snarled.
"You only fooled me for any length of time because you didn't misspell 'Abbot' again."
"'Fanfiction'?" said Grace, confused and horrified. "Like those stories Brian used to download from alt.sex.startrek.aliens.nonhumanoid?" She held closed the collar of her blouse.
"That explains some of the odder puzzles we've had to solve," the Doctor said to Grace. "The outhouse, the wedding chapel, George Carlin's seven words, the coat rack -" He glared again at the unrepentant author. "Hoops to jump through for no other reason than that they'd never happen in the source medium or lisenced stories.
"You and your lot manipulating my universe for your own ends! Pet continuity theories! Alternate possibilities! Romances! 'Adult romances'! Do you realize the wear and tear on my reality, my having to adjust to fit any little bit any one of you sees fit even to draft? If James T. Kirk, Fox Mulder or Xena were time-sensitives, they'd lose their sanity."
"If it weren't for us," sneered the author, leaning forward, "you wouldn't exist during broadcast hiatuses."
"I thought there were paperback novels?" Grace said.
"And how do you suppose it became apparent that there was a market for them, or that there were writers to write them?" snarled the author to her. The Doctor waved her silent. They wouldn't get any further until the author had vented his motivational exposition.
The author settled back into his chair. "The BBC screwed up its thirtieth anniverary Doctor team-up, this Dark Dimension thing. I don't know how they did, because I only saw sixteen different stories on radw about it, but they did. I won't count on them to make one for the thirty-fifth." He smiled with pride. "The retrogenerative time-field was an idea I'd had a long time. It didn't occur to me, until I'd been posting regularly to adwc for months, that I could use it for a fanfiction anniversary story. That was February 23, 1997, and I first drafted this scene that day. Yes, before Terrance's Eight Doctors!" the author snapped, looking away from the Doctor as if to address an audience the Doctor and Grace couldn't see.
Not bothering to inquie what "raddoo" or "addook" meant, the Doctor asked, "So how does it end?"
The author got an uncomfortable look.
"You don't know, do you?" The Doctor was smiling now.
"You can't thwart my will, Doctor!" the author barked.
"Listen to your dialog! You don't speak like this in your real life."
"Does anyone?" Grace wondered.
"You're the villain of this piece!"
"No!" shouted the author.
"And what always happens at the end is the villain is defeated!"
"Never!" The author rose to his feet in umbrage. He left his chair haltingly, as if it were rarely done.
"It's inevitable," said the Doctor righteously. "That's precisely what people like about the programme.
"Your whole brotherhood are doomed too. For every given fanfiction story, either a new screen story shall appear that contradicts it, or it'll have been written so innocuously to avoid this that its events might as well not have happened at all. Even of the paperback novels this is true."
"No," whispered the author, sinking back into his chair. "No, it can't be true. Maybe there won't be any more screen stories! The novels don't count, you know," he added, another defensive aside to unseen watchers.
"It is true and you know it," said the Doctor, turning the author's chair to face his keyboard. "Since you started writing your satire episodes, your 'concluding' episodes have all entirely unhappened the supposed rest of the nonexistent story. Degenerative time loops and whatnot. This one must be the same."
"My ingenious continuity fixes," the author sobbed, turning to his keyboard and starting to write. "My clever extrapolations. All gone. All gone ..."
"Type." The Doctor patted his shoulder. "Type."
"Doctor," Grace said quietly over the typing and sobbing, "will there be new screen stories?"
"He was right about one thing," said the Doctor. "There's definitely a market out there. Anything could happen."
"What?" Grace looked up from her book. She got up from the picnic blanket and joined the Doctor. "What anything could happen?"
"Any anything," said the Doctor brightly, "when you have a TARDIS." He patted the police box exterior, still sitting in the center of the Doctor's favorite picnic spot at the Eye of Orion. When Grace glowered at him he said just as brightly, "Actually, I've forgotten what I was talking about."
"Couldn't have been very important then, could it?" said Grace.
"Nothing is unimportant, Grace," said the Doctor. "Even the most transitory phenomenon can amuse or touch the heart in an unexpected way. Nothing that exists is useless - if you keep it in perspective." As he spoke he gathered the picnic basket and blanket and unlocked the TARDIS doors. "Well, I feel quite ready to get back to the Universe. I wonder what's going to happen next?"
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