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To All Intents and Purposes

A short story written by
Andy Weston

It was the strangest of days. The weather was fluctuating, the air was still and UNIT HQ was the quietest it had been in some time. The Brigadier was sitting in his office, idly thumbing though paperwork that had required his immediate attention several days ago.

The Doctor was fiddling with components he had taken from the TARDIS, attempting some complex procedure I was unsure of. He was always claiming that old police box was a time machine. Waste of time machine would be more appropriate, I thought. However, where the Doctor was concerned, anything was possible. It wouldn't have surprised me if it really could travel in time and space, but I'd believe it when I saw it.

Sergeant Benton was putting the privates through their paces in the grounds, something to keep them occupied on this non-eventful day.

No one seemed themselves, least of all me. I can never recall ever being so thoroughly disenchanted with the activities of a top secret organisation as I was on this day. So, being undeniably bored, and not wishing to infect anyone else with my own particularly ennui , I decided to take matters into my own hands.

The file had been sent to the Doctor, but he rarely gave a second glance to anything that the Brigadier placed on his desk. The pile more often than not would teeter over onto the floor, much to the Brigadier's consternation. The Doctor had started to place a waste paper bin underneath his workbench, thereby saving him the bother of having to retrieve the mess and file it away himself.

This one I took from the top of the pile, the Doctor far too engrossed with his tinkering with the TARDIS console to be even slightly aware of what I was doing. I passed him what looked like some kind of wrench, receiving a mumbled ‘thank you Liz' for the effort, then walked out of the lab, the Doctor completely oblivious.

I leafed through the notes, trying to decipher the scrawl of handwriting. The one thing that I could make out were rather thorough details of the location of whatever it was that had been reported. I had little clue as to what the event or occurance was, but since I was at least going to be able to find whatever it was, I thought it best just to head there and find out for myself exactly what had been reported.

I took a staff car, some rather basic vehicle that fulfilled its function adequately. It wasn't much to look at, but I was trying to keep somewhat of a low profile. The directions were fairly easy to read, though I did have to stop at least a couple of times to ascertain if I needed to take one particular road or a similarly named one very nearby. The roads were clear, everyone otherwise engaged, as unsure as I was as to what the weather was going to do next.

The end of the trail stopped at the edge of Stapler's Wood, some 15 miles away from UNIT HQ. There didn't appear to be anything outwardly unusual about the place, but I had that strange feeling again, the feeling that something wasn't as it ought to be. That in itself was an instinct I had learnt to hone in my short time working alongside the Doctor, and I knew when an event was that little bit more unusual than normal. Of course, this was UNIT's business, dealing with those occurances that were ‘unusual'. Yet this seemed more than that, precisely as I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, and no one was there to ward me off should I become ensnared in untoward activity.

Regardless, I pressed on, venturing a short distance into the wood where a small - presumably a park keeper's - wooden hut sat. Nothing marked it out as anything extraordinary, it was merely slats of wood fixed together, completely unremarkable. The light in this part of the forest was beginning to dim now, so the structure itself appeared as some sort of monolith, yet I knew that it was nothing of the sort. Nevertheless, I approached it with caution, my vision not completely sure of what was in front of my eyes anymore. My head began to feel heavy, a strange fuzziness pervading my senses, and I felt compelled to sit amongst the leaf litter on the ground.

I closed my eyes, my blinking seeming to slow as if time itself were grinding to a halt. The light around me appeared to fade and rise at intervals, the ‘hut' that I had seen beginning to shift and blur its shape and colour, as if refining itself to something I wanted to see. I could smell a faint metallic scent in the air, yet had no idea as to what caused it.

I forced my eyelids open and gazed around me. The wood looked very different, as if the world had been shaken by some tremendous force, throwing random elements together and placing them in this acre of land. Beside me was what seemed to be a small fortress, constructed of some kind of metal, the like of which I hadn't seen before. It looked smooth and cold, as metal usually does, but as I reached out towards it - my hand not quite touching it - I felt a strange warmth from it.

I picked myself up, and looked further around me, noticing that the metal structure was not the only feature which had not been there before. As I gazed upward, it seemed as if I were encased in a giant bell jar, the kind taxidermists used to show off their ‘prizes'. A vast glass dome stretched high up into the sky, upwards towards the seeming never-ending blackness.

I realised with some alarm that I wasn't in the same place I had been moments ago. To my left I was able to make out the cratered surface of what I knew to be the moon - Earth's moon - and past that, slightly further out, was the larger blue and green sphere of Earth itself.

The ground beneath my feet was transparent, and I saw with horror that I appeared to be standing in space itself, somehow not falling or dying. The look on my face must have been a sight to behold since the reaction from the person standing in front of me was an attempt to reassure me that everything was alright.

"An enclosed environment with a breathable atmosphere. You're quite safe." The speaker's face looked old, yet somehow I could see that he was of a similar age to me. He looked human, but my instinct told me that he couldn't have been.

I extended my arm in spite of myself. "Thank you. I'm Doctor..." but before I could finish, I was interrupted.

"I know. We've been expecting you Doctor." He paused, obviously waiting for a response. "I am Volnic."

I was puzzled, having no clue as to why this person should have known I was coming, when suddenly it clicked into place - he was expecting the Doctor. Since the Doctor was an alien, it made sense that he would have contact with other aliens, beyond those which we had dealt with at UNIT.

I decided to play along - he obviously had no idea as to what the Doctor looked like. Even if he had, the Brigadier has told me that he could change his appearance, so why shouldn't it have changed since he had met this person last?

"Yes. I believe you have." I hoped my confident tone had covered up my initial puzzlement. "I assume that there is something that I can do for you? Something I can assist with?" I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but decided to continue the charade all the same.

Volnic walked to the edifice standing over us, and opened a small concealed entrance, beckoning me forward. I watched him (I assumed it was a he) recede inside, and proceeded to follow him at speed, for fear of losing him. Part of me was concerned about my being somewhere above the Earth, but not once did I fear about returning to it. Somehow I assured myself that everything would be fine.

Inside the structure, the ceiling was vast, a purple crystalline network of fibres and strands interlocking like a maze of spiders' webs. I found myself staring in awe at the intricacy of the design, though had to remember that I was - to all intents and purposes - the Doctor, and that he would be probably be completely unfazed by it all (especially if he had been here before).

I continued onwards, catching sight once more of Volnic. The building seemed to be one vast chamber seemingly unending due to its vastness. However after not much longer I could discern the far end where a throne sat on a raised dais on which appeared to be an emaciated figure, clad in heavy robes.

The figure reached out a withered hand, gesturing for me to approach. Volnic nodded that I should. Despite being in no way knowledgeable about the customs of these people, there was a reverential air about the room and I felt compelled to bow before the figure, suddenly realising that this was a female. In her eyes I saw a deep sadness, as if some great tragedy had befallen her.

As I looked into them, I found myself unable to move, and what felt like fingers probing my mind, rooting through my thoughts and memories. At first it felt slightly intrusive, but without any real pain. It was strange, but at once beautiful and gentle, a feeling that I hadn't felt for some time. As I watched, transfixed, I noticed subtle differences in her face. Her skin was beginning to smooth, very slowly, but a definite change as if she were aging backwards.

Then the pain began to make itself felt, a sudden prickling sensation across my face coupled with a slight rising in my body temperature. My medical training enabled me to rationalise what was happening, causing me to realise that I needed to do something in order to prevent myself collapsing. Regulate breathing Elizabeth, I told myself. Try to ignore the pain, concentrate on the breathing. I began to theorise what might be happening, and the likelihood - though improbability - of my becoming as gaunt as the figure before me had originally been.

In spite of this struggle and my inability to avert the direction of my eyes, part of my brain become aware of other activity taking place in the room, hearing snatches of a conversation. It couldn't be, could it? Could the Doctor have followed me here somehow? Using as little of my mind as I could spare without giving up on the mental battle that was now taking place, I tried to listen in.

"You need a mind, don't you? Well you've got the wrong person. The wrong Doctor." It was him, wasn't it?

I heard the alien, Volnic reply. "We have the Doctor. Her mind is proving very useful to our illustrious Mother. All the knowledge she possesses, all the capability of renewal of body and mind, unlocking the mysterious of the boundless universe..."

Concentrate Liz. Don't let it defeat you, whatever it is, whatever it wants. DO NOT LET IT WIN. I began to wonder if these were my thoughts or the Doctor's. I was sure he was here, somehow aiding in this struggle.

A light cough in the distance then, "I'm sorry to disappoint old chap, but I am the Doctor."

The grip on my mind loosened, and I felt able to look away from the creature at last, watching as its skin began to lose the lustre that it had gained since it had attacked my mind. I felt the pain seeping away, and raised a hand to my own face. It felt aged, someway towards how the female had looked, but now smoothing back to my regular complexion.

I immediately turned my head around, looking in the direction of the Doctor, who was standing tall beside Volnic, whose face was now curled into a snarl. As he spoke, his words poured forth like venom at the Doctor.

"Our race is dead Doctor, you were to be our salvation - the means to restore our glorious empire."

The Doctor seemed faintly amused at first, but any hint of compassion or joy quickly evaporated from his face. "I've met your kind far too many times before, all across time and space, and nothing is ever any different. You all want the same thing - to live forever, to rule forever." He shook his head. "It has to end. Death, and rebirth. It's what creation thrives on - evolution."

Volnic shook with feeling, an almost pitiful figure now. "We survive Doctor, we must survive."

The Doctor parried verbally with speed. "But you're parasites, vampires. It's not survival, it's not existence. It's wrong." The Doctor looked in my direction. "Hello Liz. How are you feeling?"

I took a moment, daring to look briefly behind me, to the figure on the throne. Little remained of her now, the body looking desiccated, a husk with little or no life left in it. "A little shaken, but getting better Doctor."

He nodded, then turned back to Volnic. "Your queen," he indicated the figure behind me, "is gone. Nothing left but rags and ashes. You, you have a choice."

Volnic shook his head and walked slowly to the throne. "No Doctor," he whispered, "there is no choice left to me now."

A look of surprise crossed the Doctor's face, but he seemed to understand what was about to happen. "Liz," he called, "I hope you have enough strength left to run."

I needed no further encouragement. I didn't know why we needed to escape quickly, but when the Doctor implied something it was unwise to question it. Within moments we found ourselves outside of the building, back in the vast bell-jar like space I had arrived in.

The Doctor pulled a metallic object out of his jacket. "Simple teleportation system Liz. A little crude, but easy to operate if you know how. We'd better be quick, this ship is about to explode. Now hold on this might be a little..."

I closed my eyes...and opened them to find the wood once more.

"...bumpy."

I smiled, thankful he had arrived when he did. "Thank you."

"Well," the Doctor smiled back "let's say no more about it."

I never did find out how he knew where I was, and how he managed to reach me in time, but then as with most things were the Doctor is concerned, it was best not to ask.