Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Holdarnak Spiral

Ok, story number 7, and the turn of the Third Doctor and Jo this time. Another very entertaining and well written tale, told this time by Nic Ford. Hope you all enjoy it, and please comment or vote (or both) back on gallifreybase and let Nic know what you particularly liked. Without any further ado, I present....
The Holdarnak Spiral
A Prologue to the Holdarnak Parallax Sequence

See, thing with me is, I'm getting almost used to it.
    What happens is, I wake up of a morning, and Nice Nurse Reepak, he comes in with me breakfast. Lovely soft boiled egg. Bit of toast, that sort of thing. "Mornin', Mrs Jones," he says to me. "This'll see you right for the day." Does, too. Binds me up good and proper. No unnecessary unpleasantness.
    Then it's morning in the day room. Well, I can't be doing with that, can I? Lots of old people just smelling of wee? No, I pops out for a walk round the grounds, usually. I've got a bottle of mild or two stashed away in one of the Rhododendrons. Lovely bush, your Rhododendron. Lots of space for hiding bottles.
    Then it's lunch. And then, if I'm lucky, the telly'll be on with that new soap. Neighbours or whatnot. Unless Horrible Sister Clarkson switches it off, of course. She's like that. Can't stand to see people enjoying themselves, even if they are Australian.
    Doesn't matter, though. I've seen it that many times now, I know it backwards. Mrs Mangel tells Joe off for something, then Bouncer bites Jim Robinson on the bum. Always the same. Lovely!
    Then it's another quick round of the gardens, bit of a snifter at the Rhododendron Arms, and back for tea. Chicken and chips, if we're lucky; ox-tail soup and a bread roll if chef's having one of his days. And after that they rounds us up and sticks us back in our beds.
    And then they kills me.
    But it don't worry me any. Like I says... I've gotten almost used to it.

Terror. That was the overriding emotion: blind, abject terror. Around her all was dark. Or light. Either way, she was unable to see. A rushing wind pushed at her limbs, making it almost impossible to move them of her own volition. Not that she would have been able to do anything, had she been able to move them: there seemed to be no surface against which to push, nothing to hold or touch or hit out at, in any direction. And all directions were the same, she now came to realise: there were suddenly too many words for 'up'.
    There was a noise, too: a remorseless, terrible, all-pervading noise that threatened to entirely engulf her mind, to drown out any and every thought she may herself try to form. She inwardly ranted against it, scream for scream, shriek for shriek – until suddenly she realised that it was, in fact, her own voice. Her own scream, helplessly pushing against... against... nothing?
    Against the void.
    The void through which she was falling. Falling, Falling...
    Falling forever!

"All right, Doctor," the pretty girl said with a sigh. "Why are we here, again?"
    The yellow roadster had pulled up on the gravel drive of a Victorian country house. An iron and brick construction amply supplied with dark, forbidding leaded windows, it was five storeys of towers and turrets. The gardens that surrounded it were almost impossibly neat, well-tended flower beds meeting verdant lawns cut to what looked like military precision. Here and there, bath chairs containing elderly pyjamaed occupants dotted the lawns. One or two erstwhile such occupants wandered about, occasionally looking furtively in the Rhododendrons.
    "Something the Brigadier asked me to look into, Jo," replied the man sitting beside her. A craggy, lined face, coupled with an unruly shock of white hair and a piercingly sharp gaze, gave him an ageless quality. Sixty, Jo had thought when first she met him. Or six-hundred, it was hard to say. And his dress-sense... well, it belied his age. Or possibly confirmed it. Either way, it would shame Carnaby Street.
    As if he had just given her more than enough of an explanation, the man leapt out of the car and headed straight up the steps to the mansion's large oaken doors. Jo looked at his retreating back with an irritated frown. Had she had the room, she'd have put her hands on her hips, the better to demonstrate her frustration with his non-answer; but since she was still sitting in the roadster, this proved difficult. She climbed out too, and ran after him, adopting the hands-on-hips pose just behind him, ready for him to turn. This took a while – he was intently studying the brass plate on the door – and by the time he did turn Jo had added a stuck-out tongue to her cocky pose. She quickly pulled it in again.
    The Doctor stared at her, bemused – an endearing, aged uncle wondering just when his niece had been replaced by a woman. Jo sighed again, and gave up on irritation as a pointless nuance that would once again go over his head. What was she going to do with him? She giggled, and the Doctor's confusion became all the more palpable. Still dignified, Jo thought. Still frighteningly intelligent. Just... not understanding. Not quite getting it.
    "My dear girl, whatever are you dithering for?"
    His voice was pure chocolate on gravel. Jo rather liked it.
    "The Brigadier," she asked at length, "told us to come here?"
    "That's right," the Doctor said. "Well, he would have. If I'd had the chance to speak to him about it. But it was imperative we came straight away, of course."
    "Of course. And why is that, exactly?"
    "Well, you know me, Jo," the Doctor replied. "Never could turn down a good mystery."
    "Oh, Doctor, you're impossible!" the girl almost shouted. "Just tell me why we're here!"
    "Ripples," the man replied. "There are ripples in the fabric of space-time, ripples that could turn into rents. Inter-dimensional causeways, Jo! Free passage between dimensions! Think what that could mean!"
    "You could repair the Tardis at last? Leave Earth behind?"
    "Well, possibly," he replied, a little uncomfortably. "But that's not why I wanted to come. You see, it shouldn't be happening. They're coming come from here, these ripples, emanating from this very building; the Tardis's scanner picked them up. But mankind's technological abilities are not nearly advanced enough, and won't be for a few thousand years at least. So there's a question, isn't there?"
    "Of course!" Jo exclaimed. "We're here to find out why!"
    "Not why, Jo," the Doctor said. "Whom!"
Hunger. The hunger was becoming unbearable, so much so that it threatened to make the terror a mere memory. So hungry!
    The noise, the unbearable shriek that had taken control of her mind for so long, and become no less than a roar. Rage! Her own rage! At... what?
    And still she shrieked, roared, screamed. And still she battered at the merciless wind.
    And still she fell, fell, fell.
    Hungry. Always hungry. Always so very, very hungry.
    Falling towards... what is that? Something... almost discernible?
    At last! After millennia of fear, rage. Of hunger. There's... something?
    But... what could it be?!

So, I likes it here at the Institute, I really does. Except for when they kills me, obviously.
    It's just getting a bit boring, that's all. There only seems to be so many ways they can do it, you see. I'm an old lady, I can't put up much of a fight. Well, I could, but I can't be arsed, can I? So, they's got a limited repertoire available to 'em. Drowning seems to be favourite at the moment. Followed by smothering, that's another one they likes. Or overdoses. And occasionally they drops a piano on me.
    I reckon that Nice Nurse Reepak's been watching Wile E Coyote and Road Runner, the days they does that. Costs a bomb in ropes and pullies, he says. But worth it for the Comedic H'effect.
    They stabbed me, once. Nice Nurse Reepak was off, visiting his sister, so Horrible Sister Clarkson had to do me in. Got blood all over me best nightie, ruddy woman.
    I don't mind, really I don't. They're only doing their job, aren't they? And they's got to kill me, they says. Cos if they don't, if I sees midnight, well... the universe blows up. That's what they says. Me alive at midnight, and the universe blows up.
    Whatever next!

It's not a light; not exactly, anyway. It's a... differing. A subtle change in the all-pervading, piercingly bright gloom that surrounds. Some kind of... what is it again?
    It's a thing she has not encountered for aeons.
    A point of interest.
    A focus.
    A goal.

Pulling on the bell-pull hanging beside the doors' brass plate – the distant echo of a bell rang dully through the oak – the Doctor indicated the brass plate. "The Holdarnak Institute," he said, pointing to the inscription. "An interesting name, don't you think?"
    "Is it?" Jo asked, fed up. "Does it mean something?"
    "My dear girl," the Doctor replied. "Everything means something! But this is very specific. Holdarnak. An old Norse word, if I remember my Fornaldarsögur correctly. The locusts that live on the other side of Hell."
    He pulled on the rusty iron handle again, and once more the muffled sound of the distant bell echoed slowly back. This time, however, it was accompanied by swift, purposeful footsteps, and within moments the doors were swung wide open by a severe looking young woman wearing a crisp, white uniform.
    "Yes?" she enquired brusquely. "Ah, it's you. You're late."
    "Good day," the Doctor replied, ignoring the non sequitur. "I am the Doctor, and this is my assistant, Miss Grant. We're from..."
    "UNIT," the woman replied. "Yes, we've been expecting you. And you're late. Almost..." she looked at her watch, "...a hundred and twenty years. This way. She's through here."
    The woman beckoned them to follow her, and without waiting to watch their reaction, turned and set off at a pace into the bowels of the mansion.    
    Jo looked up at the Doctor with astonishment. "What did she mean, a hundred and twenty years, Doctor?" the girl asked. "What on Earth is going on here?"
    "As to your first question, Jo," he replied, "I have no idea. And as to your second..."
    "I have no idea. Come on!"

So, one day it's all a bit different.
    What happens is, just after Neighbours – Bouncer bit Jim on the bum again, you'll be pleased to hear – I'm back in my little room. Having a rest. You know, a rest. With Mr Peterson from across the hall. Well, we're just getting into a little applied resting when, who'd have thought it, that there Horrible Sister Clarkson's footsteps start echoing down the hallway.
    Well, Mr Peterson nearly fell off, he was so surprised. She never comes into the East Wing of an afternoon. Only in the evenings. And then, only when she has to do me in. I'm telling you, we was all of a flurry. I only just had time to put me teeth back in.
    And it is! It is her! Coming into my room, the nerve of the ruddy woman! In she strides like butter wouldn't melt, and stands there, right in front of me as if she owns the place. Well, she does own the place, or nearly, but you know what I mean.
    "Come along, Mrs Jones," she says. "Pull your slip down a bit, there's a good girl. You've got visitors."
    And who'd have thought it? Two people come in! One's a lovely bit of crumpet, does my old heart good he does, all dashing white hair and craggy good looks. Nice bum. The other I shall only describe as a TART! The length of her skirt! I ask you, where's the mystery in that?
    Right into the room they both comes. The TART! looks a bit confused, a bit scared, like she's seen a ghost. But the man walks right up to me, takes my hand and kisses it! Honestly, if I hadn't been gesturing madly at Mr Peterson with me other hand to get out before he got seen, I'd have done a swoon. Right there and then, right at his feet. See what might have happened.
    "Have you come to kill me?" I asks, after Mr Peterson has finally pulled up his trousers and gone. "Only, a change is as good as a rest, you know!"
    "Certainly not, my good woman!" says Lovely Bum. "Why ever should we want to do such a thing?"
    Now, there's a turn up. I didn't expect that. Most people comes here, they wants to kill me. I sometimes wonder if Horrible Sister Clarkson has a little sideline going. Do The Old Bat In, £500 A Shot, that sort of thing. But this pair don't want to. Don't think that's happened in decades.
    Course, then I goes and recognises the crumpet. Suddenly, I wants to do me cardy up a bit more; it's all gone a bit inappropriate.
    And then, all of a sudden, I work out who the TART! reminds me of.
    No, not reminds me of. Sod that! Who she is!
    Well! Who'd have thought it?
    Bugger me!

Fury. The hunger and terror have been replaced by a new emotion. A single, violent purpose. A fury.
    The goal is in her sights. The differing. The... aperture? It's there, right beneath her. Whichever way she turns, it is beneath her; and as she falls towards it, as she accelerates exponentially, it grows.
    It's almost imperceptible at first; but as she approaches, its increasing size becomes more and more apparent.
    And as she approaches, as it grows, so grows her fury. What at, she's not sure. But there is an injustice, and it's on the other side of the differing. It is the differing! Yes! That's it! Injustice! Fury! The differing! For her to survive, for her to thrive, she must tear open the differing.
    And destroy all... all! contains.
    She pushes tendrils of thought out, through the differing, to the alien prize beyond. Probing. Exploring. And then… it's gone! The differing has… closed. Oh, the rage! The fury! Why has her prize been taken?
    But no. It's still there, just quieter. She waits, aeons-long moments… and it returns. It's back! Her tendrils of thought, they've kept what the differing hides alive. She waits, again, watching. She is furious, but she is canny. She will learn. And the differing beats strongly… before fading away once more. And once more she brings it back.
    This game continues, but she is patient. Many, many thousands of times; but these numbers are meaningless to her. She is so, so patient.
    And then, patient no more, she screams again. But no longer screams of terror, no longer the shrieks of a hunger-maddened Harpy. Instead, a call to arms.
    It is time.

"You recognise her, then?" Sister Clarkson asked, as the male nurse she'd summoned poured tea from a pot into bone china cups.
    They were sitting in Clarkson's study, Jo still shaking from the meeting with Mrs Jones. The shock that she had felt when Sister Clarkson – as they had been primly informed was her name – nonchalantly revealed she knew so much about them was as nothing to what Jo felt when she first set eyes on that old woman.
    There was something about her, something... wrong. That was all Jo could say: Mrs Jones was wrong. Too flirty, sure. Wearing purple and proud of it, absolutely – but Jo could forgive her that. There was something else, too. Something in her eyes, both familiar and alien at the same time. And Jo couldn't help but think that she'd met the old woman before. It itched at her brain, the familiarity – but stubbornly refused to resolve itself. Definitely something wrong.
    But for all that, the answer to Clarkson's question was 'no'. Jo didn't recognise her.
    "Not at all," she said. "Should we? Doctor?"
    "Actually, Jo, yes," he answered. "There's something somewhat familiar about her. But what it is..." He sipped his tea. "Could you tell us about her, Sister Clarkson?"
    "Her name's Josephine. Josephine Jones. She's been here almost a hundred and thirty years."
    "That's impossible!" exclaimed Jo. "She looks quite old, yes. About seventy, maybe. But not that!"
    "I can assure you she is," Sister Clarkson replied.
    "And how can you be so sure?" asked Jo, tiring of the nonsense.
    "Oh no!" the Doctor suddenly said. "I rather think I may have it!" He looked accusingly at the Sister. "You've been looking after her the entire time, haven't you?"
    "What?!" Jo's incredulity was moving closer to frustration by the moment. "What are you talking about, Doctor?" She indicated the sister with an accusing finger. "Why, she's not a day over thirty, that one!"
    Sister Clarkson looked from Jo to the Doctor, and back again. "He's right," she said. "The entire time. Myself, Reepak here..." and she indicated the nurse, "...and others that come and go across the aeons."
    Jo tried to ask what, what, what on Earth was she talking about? But her confusion was too great. The words just wouldn't come. Sister Clarkson took pity on her.
    "Some people," she said, "have difficulty ageing. All across the world, corporations are selling us ways to look younger, live longer – and the irony is, it's a curse. For one in a million, it's a curse. Well, we take them in, here at the Institute; have done for the past hundred years. These immortals, we look after them. Give them something to live for, when the alternative is... impossible."
    "And... and Josephine Jones," the girl stuttered, trying to make a semblance of understanding, "she's one of your... immortals?"
    "Not exactly" said Clarkson. "No, she's a bit different – she was the first. She's why we're here at all; you could say, the Holdarnak Institute is her idea."
    The Sister waited patiently for a response – but all she got was blank looks, so she continued. "Funny, she said you'd understand. About the onslaught. Look, it's not that she doesn't age, it's that, well... she just keeps coming back."
    The Doctor frowned. "It's that she keeps coming back," he repeated.
    Clarkson lowered her gaze again. She looked perturbed. Ashamed.
    "Coming back?" prompted Jo. "How?"
    "I think I understand," the Doctor said, accusingly. "You try to help her live a normal life. Which means, by the values in play in this hellish establishment, you try to help her die! Day in, day out, you kill her. Every day! That's why she expected it. Your way of managing her problem is to kill her."
    Sister Clarkson hung her head. "Yes. We kill her. Every day, we kill her."
    "That's horrible!" said Jo.
    "Horrible?" exclaimed the Doctor. "It's nonsensical!"
    "It's what happens," the Sister said. "It's like... it's like, for her, time slips back. Every day, she's back to where she was the morning before. A few more memories befuddling her brain, but everything else... back where it was. Trouble is, whatever we do..." – she looked once again between the two – "...nothing seems to stop her getting up in the morning."
    "But... why?" Jo demanded. "Why... murder?"
    Sister Clarkson shrugged. "She explained it, very clearly, when she arrived. She's forgotten most of it now, the poor love, but she was very persuasive at the time. It's the onslaught, you see. She has to die. Every day: it's the only way to stop the onslaught."
    Sister Clarkson looked again back and forth between Jo and the Doctor. "It's very simple," she said. "Don't you understand? She said you would! We kill her, because she asked us to!"

The roaring of the wind is louder, more fierce, than she can ever remember it being. The piercingly bright darkness invades her, compromises her being totally. Her shriek, her furious scream, her call to arms, is louder now than it has ever been, too.
    And although she cannot see the perpetrators, she can sense that the screaming has been joined. Heeding her call to arms, hundreds of her fellows, her son-sisters, joining from all sides, adding their voices to the silent maelstrom of noise. Filling forever this nothingverse with a deafening intensity..
    And the fear... the hunger... the rage... is all, now, one. One all pervading emotion. One thought.

The Doctor, stroked his chin while pondering the revelations with which Clarkson had just furnished them. Jo, however, was less comfortable with silence and more eager for answers.
    "All right then, Sister Clarkson," she said. "If she's a hundred and thirty years old, when did she arrive? Was Victoria on the throne?"
    "Oh, it was long after that," the Sister replied. "She arrived in the late seventies – or maybe the early eighties, it's so hard to tell. But it was fairly recent." Taking in the girl's uncomprehending stare, she continued. "Time flows differently here, you see. I think it's her. She really is rather special."
    And the room returned to silence.
    "Let's start at the beginning," the Doctor said, at length. "What the devil is this 'onslaught' Mrs Jones seems so insistent about?"
    "To be honest, I'm not sure," Sister Clarkson replied. "All I know is, it's something to do with the Holdarnak trying to get... here. Whatever that – or they – may be. Again, she said you'd know; I'm a little concerned that you don't."
    "We know some," said Jo, excitedly. "Don't we, Doctor? The locusts..."
    "...from the other side of Hell," Sister Clarkson interrupted. "So, you've read the sagas then. But whether that really means anything, or it's just a useful analogy she picked up when she formed this place, I have no idea." She blew on her tea and took a sip, innocent as snow. "Or maybe it's just a word she'd heard somewhere," she said, darkly. "I don't suppose you've noticed the coincidence? In your names?"
    "Our names?" Jo asked. "Well, we're both called Josephine, I suppose. But that's not so strange. I should think there are plenty of girls called something like that."
    "I'm sure there are, Jo," the Doctor interrupted. "But there's more to it, isn't there Sister Clarkson?"
    Jo looked confused. "Doctor?"
    "Haven't you seen it, Jo?" he asked. "Isn't there something about that old woman that's just a little familiar?"
    The Sister again looked between the two, and, a little guiltily, took something from a drawer. She proffered it to the Doctor. A marriage certificate.
    "Josephine Jones," she said, "nee Grant."

And the differing, the focus of the rage... by every moment it creeps closer still. And calling back to her son-sisters – whose rage joins her own in screaming fury – she turns more directly to it. Aiming directly at the heart of the differing.
    Bringing its demise. Bringing the onslaught.

Well, today's been a rum'un, and no mistake.
    Just after I recognised the TART!... no, got to stop calling her that, considering. Though I don't ever remember dressing like a HUSSY!, really I don't! Just after I recognised that Jo, Horrible Sister Clarkson hustles 'em out, and leaves me thinking that's that. She thought she was £500 up for letting them kill me, they's not up for it, and back to the same-old, that's what I was thinking.
    But no! Half an our later, that girl Jo bursts in, screaming at me, right scary. In my face, she is, making the air blue with her shouting. "What are you..."

"...doing, you old crone?" Jo screamed in the face of the obviously terrified Mrs Jones. "Give me my life back! Give me..." But she collapsed at the woman's feet in sobs, unable to continue. The Doctor, Nurse Reepak and Sister Clarkson, having followed Jo at a pace, ran into the room after her. The Doctor put what he hoped would be a comforting arm around Jo's shoulders.
    "There, there Jo," the Doctor said. "It was bound to be a bit of a shock. I should have prepared you a little better, I can see that now."
    "P-prepared me?" the girl choked. "For what? For a mad old biddy stealing my identity? How do you prepare someone for that?!"
    "Hush, Jo, hush," the Doctor replied, before turning to Mrs Jones, cowering on her bed. "Don't worry, Jo. It's all all right," he said – but he was no longer talking to his companion.
    "What's going on?" Jo sobbed. "How can she...?"
    "I'm not sure," the Doctor replied. "I can only assume that someone's being playing with the timelines."
    "The... the timelines?"
    "Of course the timelines!" Mrs Jones snapped, before forcibly pulling Jo away from the Doctor's arms, and slapping her across the face. Jo gasped at the sudden pain.
    "Pull yourself together, girl," the old lady sniped. "It's not the first time you've had to deal with the ramifications of time travel," she continued, "and if memory serves, it won't be the last. So get yourself in order!"
    "Oh!" Jo said, admonished. "Yes! All right, I'll try!"
    "About bloody time," the old lady said. "And when you've done that, how's about finding yourself a skirt that hides your knick..."
    "That's enough!" the Doctor snapped.
    "Well, honestly!" the woman said, before sitting herself down on the bed again.
    "I think," the Doctor said, "that you'd better tell us what's going on, Mrs Jones."

So I tells 'em. Tells 'em everything, leastways, best as I can remember it. There's a few blank patches, I admit. Like, when I arrives. I don't remember that bit no good, it's too long ago. One hunnerd and twenny-eight years, so Nurse Reepak tells me, but I doesn't like to think in years. Me, I thinks in days. Or, more correctly, deaths. All forty-seven thousand and forty-five of them.
    47,045. It looks small, don't it? When it's written as a number? But it still, you know. Hurts.
    And for all I put a brave face on... well, all of them hurt. That's all I'm saying. You can't die without hurting; believe me, I've tried. And I keeps coming back, for more hurt. Something won't let me go, something creeping round my head won't let me leave. Me, I've died enough.
    But the Doctor, he don't care. Well, he does, I think, but only in the abstract. You can't see too much death without getting a bit inured, and my memory, poor as it is, says he seen death time and time again. It's sad, but it don't really register with him no more. Fair enough, I say. You focus on what's important to you, lovely bum. We don't do enough of that in this life. Lives.
    Anyway, he's concentrating on something, and I reckon it's important, so I tells him what he wants. "There's something in this place," I tells him. "Don't know how I knows; I just does. Reckon I must have heard someone talking." And as I says that, something falls into place in my head, and I looks at that girl Jo. She's still weeping a bit. But she's listening to me. Really intent, like. Yes, I thinks. Now I remember where I heard this.
    "It's here," I tell her, beckoning her towards me. She comes over, and not knowing why, all anger gone, cradles me in her arms.
    "It's here," I says again. "And it's focussed on you. Me. It'll follow us, wherever we go."
    "What?" the Doctor demands. "What is it? What's following you?"
    "I don't know," I says. "But it's called Holdarnak. It's a she, or a them, or an it; it don't translate proper. But it's from... elsewhere. An' what it wants is here."
    The Doctor, he's beginning to get it, I think. "Of course!" he says. "It's extra-dimensional, isn't it? It's a being or race outside of this universe. And it's trying to get through to this dimension. To get something?"
    "I don't understand," says Jo. "If it wants something that's here, why don't we just give it whatever it wants?"
    "You're right, lovey," I says. "You don't understand. What it wants isn't here: what it wants is here!"
    The here. The now. The... everything.

The everything! So close! She and her son-sisters approach the differing. Their ire raised, their fury scorching. Ready to pass through.
    To claim the everything!

Sister Clarkson turned to the old woman, sitting on her bed.
    "It's time," she said.
    "What?" asked Jo. "Time for what?"
    "Oh, the same old," replied Mrs Jones. "Time she done me in."
    "I can't allow it," the Doctor said. "It's inhuman!"
    Sister Clarkson sighed. "Haven't you got it yet?" she asked. "It has to happen. Or the Holdarnak will break through." She pointed at the old woman. "She's the key. Yes? Her. She's the key! And if she's alive when they get here... they'll be able to get through!"
    Jo started forward. "She's the key? But she's me. Why am I so special?"
    Clarkson frowned. "We don't know. We never have. But for some reason she is – you are, I mean – special. Time... winds round you. Creates a weakness in the vortex. A weakness the Holdarnak can exploit." Suddenly, the Sister's face fell, transformed into pure terror. "Oh, my God," she said. "There's... there's two of you. Oh, holy mother!"
    "Of course!" the Doctor cried. "Oh, this is all my fault! If only I'd been a little more disciplined! If only I'd kept you from the Tardis, Jo...!"
    "But why?" the girl asked. "Why shouldn't I...?"
    "We Time Lords," the Doctor said, "are almost immune. It's in our make up: time... slips back, off, around us. We're like oil in water. But you humans..."
    "You... leave traces. And you're so much more susceptible to influence. You're not as ancient as we, not so able to avoid distorting the time lines. I'm afraid, Jo, that since you've travelled in the Tardis, you've been weakening the barriers between the dimensions, wherever and whenever you've gone! Jo... you could be the gateway to an inter-dimensional invasion!"
    "Oh my God," repeated Sister Clarkson. "And tonight, there's two of you!"

And screaming, they descend towards the differing. So close to breaking through. There is no way they cannot feed the hunger now. The differing... the curative for the endless hunger... it's just ahead! Just there! They're about to break through, to slake their thirst on the everything...
    So close...

Sister Clarkson was sobbing. A look of revulsion on her face, she tremulously pointed. "You should never have brought that here!" The Doctor turned to face what Sister Clarkson was gesturing at.
    Jo was standing in front of Mrs Jones's bed, stock still and as pale as a ghost. Her eyes were closed, and her arms hanging loosely by her sides. She was serene. No, not just serene: unconscious.
    At her feet there was... a disturbance. The air was turning, a whirlpool hovering above the ground, a vortex of colour and wind.
    A differing.
    The Doctor jumped up, and started to search through the pockets of his velvet jacket. "Where is that blessed screwdriver?" he asked no-one in particular. "Never where you need it..."
    Sister Clarkson pulled Mrs Jones back and towards the door, a look of horror on her face. "It's too late!" she cried. "They're here! The Holdarnak are here!"
    The tornado whirling at Jo's feet began to grow upwards, stretching to completely envelope the girl. And slowly, it started to pull apart, it's central column becoming, slowly but surely, an opening, revealing beyond it... nothingness.
    No, not nothingness. To the Doctor's horror, around the edges of the aperture, something emerged. A leg,
    An evil, black, chitinous construction, seven or eight foot-long sections in length, covered with sparse, coarse hairs. Moving, exploring, as if independently alive. And terminated with a spike, a shard of silvered hate.
    And then another. And another.
    Nurse Reepak screamed.

Course, there's another thing about me you ought to know. I haven't mentioned it before, because I don't like to crow. It's unbecoming. But, well, it's this:
    When I'm on my own, I'm nowt. Oh yes, I can hide a bottle of mild in the Rhododendrons. And I can give Mr Peterson something... well, something he's not had since his fifties. If I leave me teeth out. But apart from that, I'm just a little old lady who dies slightly more often than is healthy.
    When I'm in certain company, however... when I'm with that girl who I thought was a TART! The girl who turned out to be crocheted from memories I'd forgotten I'd even had... when I'm with that Jo...!
    Well, I can do a lot more.

Mrs Jones pulled herself from the grip of Sister Clarkson, and drew herself up to her full height.
    "Well, I've had just about enough of this," she said. "Doctor, it's been lovely meeting you again, but this really is too much. Inter-dimensional invasions? Can't say as I approve!"
    Hoisting her skirts – which she had to admit, in the circumstances, were proving slightly too long to be practical – she strode over to the probing legs emerging from the maelstrom that enveloped Jo,
    And slapped one. Immediately, it withdrew.
    "Ha!" she said, turning to the Doctor. "New that'd do it! They don't know what they're dealing..."
    Before she could continue, one of the other legs grabbed at her, and pulled her back. She fought, oh she fought! But with the aid of its brothers, the leg wrapped itself around her and started to pull her into the void beyond.
    The Doctor jumped in and started to try to pull the legs away from the woman, to loosen their grip. But try as he might, they were too strong. Inexorably, they pulled her in...
    The woman looked up, met the Doctor's gaze – their faces were as close as they'd ever been – and smiled. A sad, sweet smile, a memory of many times gone by. The Doctor found himself, for the first time in many centuries, meeting eyes almost as old as his own.
    "Goodbye, Doctor," Mrs Jones said. "It's been... lovely. Even those deaths were worth it. Lovely. And travelling with you, that was the best. One thing though..."
    A leg almost managed to pull her back through; but the Doctor caught it, and pulled back, allowing the woman room to breathe again.    
    "One thing though," she continued, coughing. "When it's the time with the maggots? You're not there yet, but you'll know when. Well, you've to let me go. That's all. Let me go."
    "You... you'll die?" the Doctor asked, his voice trembling. "I have to let you die? Jo, I can't! Not you!"
    Mrs Jones giggled, sounding uncannily familiar to the Doctor. "Course I won't die, you lovely old pillock," she said. "Just let me go, so that I can go on to do this."
    With that, looking down at the legs holding her, she raised a fist. And slammed it, with more force than a woman nearly a hundred and fifty years old had a right to, down. Hard down.
    Directly into the Doctor's nose.

Now, I'd been wanting to do that for years. He was lovely – and I meant what I said about his bum; thought that since I was a mere slip – but he was bloody infuriating most of the time, really he was.
    This new place, where I got dragged to... well. Not nice. All terror and fury and hunger, palpable it was. Not my sort of place at all. Not a bloody Rhododendron in sight. And you never know when you may want a tipple, so I'll miss them. Other things too, of course: Nice Nurse Reepak, Mr Peterson of a Tuesday. And Bouncer: I love that dog. So funny, how he keeps biting Jim Robinson on the bum.
    I know what to expect, of course. I can feel her already, pushing tendrils of whatever into my brain, probing my mind. Well, she's been doing it for years, already. 'S'what's been keeping me coming back, is my guess. But I know what's coming up: this ain't going to be fun, the next forever. She's going to bleed me dry.
    But, see, I worked it out. I knew it'd come, ever since that day I visited me with the Doctor, in that institute. Ever since all this started. I knew. If I could just forget enough, there'd only be so much left. Just enough for her to glean from me – and enough to make a mistake with. So that, if and when she tries it again, the Doctor'll be able to deal with her proper.
    Hope I forgot enough.
Stars whirling around his head, the Doctor regained consciousness. The maelstrom had receded, and Sister Clarkson was helping a dazed Jo up from where she had collapsed on the floor.
    Mrs Jones was nowhere to be seen.
    "Jo?" the Doctor called, going over to her. "Jo? Are you all right?"
    "I... I think so," the girl replied.
    "Don't worry," he said, taking her hands in his. "I will never, ever allow that to happen to you."
    The girl looked up at him, a steely determination on her face. "Whatever else happens," she said, "I think that it must."    

Closing! It is closing! The differing is lost! So close to victory – and it's gone!
    She has a prize, oh yes. This thing... this creature from outwith. It has information, oh so much information, about the everything. Information that can be used. But it is hardly enough.
    The rage... grows. The hunger... grows. The terror...
    She keens to her son-sisters – but they are already leaving, the taste for the hunt diminishing.
    No matter. There will be other differings. Armed with information from the creature, she will be able to plan. There is an inhabitant of the everything, she can sense it in the creatures mind, a focus within the focus of which she can make use. Around which she can plan. It has a name, an alien name: the Doctor.
    She sets off in a new direction, searching for a way out. Probing the membrane that separates the This from the That for a weakness. A weakness near the Doctor.
    When she finds it, she will succeed in breaching the void. Until then she will wait.
    She can be so, so patient.

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