Fandom: Eighth Doctor Adventures novels
Warnings: Violence, spoilers for the EDAs up to the end of The Fall of Yquatine.
Prompt: 148) The worst walls are never the ones you find in your way. The worst walls are the ones you put there--you build yourself. Those are the high ones, the thick ones, the ones with no doors in. --Ursula K. LeGuin (born October 21, 1929), present-day American author, particularly well-known in the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Summary: Compassion has forgiven the Doctor, but forgiveness doesn't mean acceptance of what she has lost.
Author's Notes: This is set shortly after The Fall of Yquatine by Nick Walters and references it heavily. Many thanks to J. for the beta.
The vortex had spat Compassion out into the rain. She felt water drumming on her outer shell, though she would never really get wet again.
Lantern lights shivered in the haze. Her analysis of the air quality told her that it was curdled with smoke and the exhalations of industry. The Doctor danced ahead, eager to delve into this new place. Beads of water glittered in his long curls. The people they passed were human-shaped, so at least they wouldn't attract too much attention.
Behind her, Fitz swore as he slipped in a puddle. He was already soaked through, and looked like something that had been fished out of the bottom of a pond.
Compassion had come to a decision. She felt it resonate through her circuits, but she hadn't acted on it yet. Before, she would not have vacillated this way. Before, she had been stronger. She had been free.
The bitterness welled up in her again. She had not chosen to change, but her terror had been swept away by the glory of what she had become. That had been her compensation and her right, and the Doctor had robbed her of it. He had made the essence of her new being a thing of fear and pain.
It was for your own good, he'd said, when she'd found him again after those lost, desperate decades. I'm sorry, he'd said. He'd even meant it.
She didn't hate him; there was no use in that. The forgiveness she had granted him was a necessity. She had thought, at the time, that he was one as well.
She'd survived on hope for those long, frantic years, but, after all that, the Doctor hadn't shown her how to bypass the Randomiser circuit. Perhaps he knew how, but had chosen to keep the information from her. She had no way to tell. She could touch the surface of Fitz's thoughts easily--not that she had any interest in doing so--but the Doctor was another matter, despite her constant, whispering awareness of him: her Time Lord.
Acceptance had been part of her nature as one of the Remote. Now, she wasn't so sure.
Yet here she was, striding through a world the colour of frostbite and bruises with the two beings she reluctantly laid claim to, and, while the rain-struck street made a mosaic of her reflection, she still did nothing.
Cranes swung their heads high in the clotted clouds. Scaffolding and factory chimneys sketched a skyline behind the wall of rain.
"Industrialised society," the Doctor shouted over the hiss of traffic. "It looks like they've gone far beyond steam power and its equivalents, but I don't taste any electricity. I wonder what they use instead?"
Compassion rolled her eyes, but dutifully checked.
"No power grid," she said. "No centralised power supply."
A blocky little car shot past. The sheet of water it displaced missed the Doctor, slid off Compassion, and drenched Fitz.
"Perfect," he muttered.
The car stopped. The markings on it translated as 'taxi'.
"Need a ride?" the driver called. "You don't want to be caught out here after the crowds have gone home."
"Why not?" Fitz started to say, but the Doctor called back breezily, "We're fine, thanks." His eye had been caught by something across the road. "Ah! Here we are."
The driver shrugged, rolled up his window and drove off.
Fitz turned to Compassion. "What do you think he meant?"
"Over here!" The Doctor was waving to them.
"At this rate, we'll have the opportunity to find out," she said, stepping into the road.
Fitz followed her, grumbling something about, "It's all very well for you..."
The Doctor had found the elevated cab of one of the cranes. It glowed acid green in the lantern light. "Up here! Watch your step..."
They clambered up the rain-slick metal, using shallow handholds in the side of the cab. "Not exactly convenient," Fitz gasped as he slipped and grabbed hold of Compassion to keep from falling.
"I don't think that's a concern for them," Compassion said. She had reached the bar the Doctor was holding onto, beside the open door of the cab.
The crane operator peered out at them through a web of tubes and cables. "You be careful now," he said.
"I was just explaining that we're from out of town." The Doctor swung out casually from the bar, the sodden velvet of his coat smacking the side of the cab. "Mr Askeen here has given me directions to the nearest market where we can buy supplies."
The man smiled sadly at them. A large cable plunged into his spine. Glowing threads stitched his arms and throat. Wires hung in garlands between his skull and the control panel. His lower body was completely encased in the mechanisms that drove the crane.
"The prices are good. I used to shop there," he said softly. "Before."
Compassion heard Fitz choke on his own breath.
"Thank you for your time." The Doctor closed the door gently and motioned for his companions to climb down. As he followed, he gabbled on about the local technology.
"...interface allows the central nervous system to operate the machinery directly...I was right, they have no production of electricity, the equipment is actually powered directly by the operator's amplified neural impulses...life support means they never have to disconnect...it's a strange evolution, for a society to leap straight to biotechnology..."
Fitz was silent. Compassion knew he was remembering Mechta.
"While you were satisfying your curiosity," she said, "did you also happen to determine where we are and whether it's safe for us to stay here?"
"Yes, yes yes." The Doctor waved his sonic screwdriver around vaguely as he dodged through the crowd streaming out of the marketplace. "As safe as anywhere. We can take the time to pick up what we need. Fitz, why don't you go buy food while Compassion and I find some of the things I'm looking for?"
Fitz hunched down inside his coat, glancing warily around the murky arcade. "Um...money?"
"Oh, of course." The Doctor ran off to a booth nearby, where he spent some time rummaging in his pockets and exchanging bits and bobs with the woman on the other side of the counter. Her expression went from startled through suspicious to resigned. A standard reaction to the Doctor, then. He came back cupping something in his palm.
"This should do. Just mind their hybrid tetradecimals."
He started counting chips in a rainbow of colours into Fitz's hand while trying to explain the monetary system. Compassion suspected he was making most of it up. Finally he trailed off, looked at Fitz's expression, and sighed.
"Alright. I'll come with you. Compassion--"
"I'll stay here," she said firmly.
"I...yes. Well. We won't be long." The Doctor offered her a hesitant smile, then swept Fitz along with him into the maze of stalls. He was still on eggshells around her--when he remembered that he ought to be.
Compassion turned away from the market. It faded quickly into the smoke and rain. The Doctor would get caught up in bargaining for scientific and medical equipment and lose track of time, and Fitz would have no luck hurrying him along. She could always find him if she needed to.
She flipped up the hood of her cloak and headed for narrower, quieter streets, still thinking; still staying.
The evening mist had drunk most of the rain. Compassion's cloak slapped against her legs, heavy with water. The still drifts on the road mirrored it, a black flutter like a raven flapping past. The stacked cubes of houses closed and lit up as the day drained away.
She kept walking, but she wasn't going anywhere.
What did she need the Doctor and Fitz for, really? She had survived alone for decades. She had agreed that they were in this together, but how much would that companionship and support cost her?
Was a TARDIS bound by design to be inhabited and to care for her inhabitants? What about a TARDIS who had been human first? Who had never wanted to care?
She was forests and chasms and gears and corridors. She was rooms made for people, and the shape of her forced her to be a vessel and a home. But she was still Compassion, who understood not always wanting to be touched, who understood that responsibility was a choice.
She had always followed the signals, but she had never been without free will until the Doctor had cut the frequencies to one. She still wanted to follow, though, to chase the limitless song of the universe. The urge to dive into the vortex tugged at her, but she was tethered. The fear had soured everything. She was no longer free in the vortex, but lost.
She thought she might lose herself even more to the Doctor.
A Time Lord and his TARDIS...
Compassion stopped. Her cloak swirled around her ankles like foam sucking back into the sea. She would not be possessed. Not by anything smaller than infinity.
Focus. Engage. Artron...
Footsteps and heartbeats. She'd ignored them as they pulsed around her and as they thinned, but now, in an otherwise empty street, they pounded an alert. She transferred her attention from her systems to her surroundings in time to feel a stumbling contact and hear a snatch of apology. A young man strode past, hands shoved in his pockets, collar turned up. No threat.
There was a foreign signal. Compassion felt it like a tiny splinter in her side. She reached around and plucked a thread-like transmitter from the fabric of her cloak. She studied it for a moment. Then she crushed it between her fingers and started to run.
Water sheared around her feet. The young man glanced back, stiffened, jerked into motion. He fled towards the main road and Compassion ran through the spray thrown up in his wake, quickly gaining on him.
He shot out into the traffic. Amber light shattered around him in the mist. There was a taxi waiting on the opposite side of the road. He fought with the passenger door, looking back over his shoulder, his mouth open in panic. Compassion dodged between vehicles. He fell into the car and it pulled away just before she reached it.
Compassion stood in the middle of the road, traffic veering around her. She realised that, apart from those transporting goods, every car bore taxi markings. She stepped in front of one. Its braking system shrieked. It shuddered to a halt and Compassion pulled the driver's door open.
"Get out. I need your vehicle."
"W-what?" The woman inside gaped at her.
"Get out of the car. Now. I--" Compassion stopped.
Cords and cables bound the woman to her seat and to the vehicle controls.
"Damn." Compassion slammed the door, ran around to the passenger's side and got in.
"You see that car ahead? Follow it. Keep it in sight no matter what you have to do."
The woman blinked at her, her fingers twitching on the hemispherical controls. Compassion was just about to add a threat to her orders when the car started to move.
Compassion watched the road while she scanned the broken transmitter. It was not local technology, but she couldn't tell what world it had originated on.
Beside her, the combined vehicle controls and life support hummed and thumped at a pitch that told her the driver was in some distress.
"I--" The woman swallowed. "I'm supposed to make polite conversation if the passenger desires it."
The driver hesitated, then said, her voice trembling, "But what are you?"
Compassion took her eyes off the car in front long enough to look at the woman, who flinched.
"You--I have systems to monitor the general health of my passengers. Heart rate, breathing, body temperature...you don't have any. At all. It's like you're--"
The woman stared at her with scared-rabbit eyes. Compassion gave her a thin smile."Or maybe just...not alive."
"I don't understand. You're not like...me, are you?"
Compassion glanced at the crude biotech interface that imprisoned and sustained the woman.
"No," she said flatly.
The car in front seemed to have reached its top speed, if you could call it that, an exact match for their own. The gap between them remained constant. Not only did these vehicles lack power, they had limiters to enforce road safety. The man would do better to get out and run again if he wanted to escape her.
Had the Doctor been afraid of what she might do unless he imposed limits on her? Was nothing allowed to be wild except him?
"But you're...a machine, somehow?"
"No," Compassion said again, her fists closing tightly. "I'm much more than that."
The most boring chase in vehicular history continued in silence for a while. The life support had settled, but the driver kept looking over at Compassion.
"My name's Keska," she ventured at last.
Compassion sighed. The cars stopped at an intersection. The young man still didn't get out. Either he was very stupid or he was leading her into a trap.
"Oh." Keska thought about that for a moment, frowning. "You're not from here, are you? Our world, I mean."
"You've had contact with other worlds?" Compassion hadn't seen any sign of it, apart from the transmitter. Perhaps the woman could actually be useful.
"Only a little. Are there many people like you where you come from?"
"I'm unique," Compassion said, with some satisfaction.
"So what are you? Your function, that is."
"I'm not like you. I can do more than one thing."
Keska flushed. "Well, good for you," she said, with sudden, bitter force that surprised Compassion. "I didn't get a choice, you know. I can just count myself lucky that I got to be a taxi rather than something stuck in the depths of a factory."
"This isn't employment?"
"For some people it is. But really, who's going to volunteer for this? Sure, if you're homeless or destitute it might look like a good deal. Sign a contract, get trained and wired in and have no living expenses for a while. You even get a pension afterwards if you stay long enough. There'd never be enough workers to run all the tech in the world, though. That's where the headhunters come in."
"Headhunters?" Compassion's interest was no longer feigned.
"They're a myth." Her mouth twisted. "A story to keep children from straying from their mother's side, to get girls to come home before dark. Until it happens to you..."
Compassion held out the transmitter. "Do you recognise this?"
Keska took her eyes off the road briefly to study it. "No. What is it?"
"A transmitting device. The man in that car planted it on me."
Keska had gone still and pale. She stared at the tail lights ahead.
"That's why you're following him?" Her voice sounded like it had been left out in the sun all day.
Compassion nodded. "I have some...questions for him."
"He's one of them," Keska whispered. "Isn't he?"
Compassion watched her for a minute. She was trembling, and it looked more like anger than fear.
"I think you'd better tell me about these headhunters," Compassion said.
Predators of all species know how to handle a herd: pick out the weak and the strays and cut them off from the crowd.
"They're just scouts," Keska said. "They find someone who's alone and mark them. I wouldn't have known if that tiny thing," she nodded to the transmitter, "was on me. I guess this is how they do it. I don't really remember if someone bumped me or brushed past me that night. Stupid, so stupid to walk home rather than get a taxi, but it was only a couple of blocks. I was only a little late. The roads were clogged and my children were waiting for me...I've made these excuses so many times, trying to convince myself I didn't know any better." Her face tightened in pain.
"You're a mother?"
"Was. I was." Her voice choked off. It was a while before she said, "I was nearly home when the van pulled up. Inventory transport. That's about right." She tried to laugh, but couldn't quite manage. "They darted me, like I was a wild animal or something. I woke up already wired into this car. That's it. The end."
"You think they were just trying to tag me, for the same reason?"
"Why else? It happens all the time. I'd always heard the stories, but you think that's all they are. No-one free talks to people like us, not really, not if they can help it. I guess it makes them uncomfortable. I know that's how I used to feel. But since...I've spoken to others, other taxis, other machines--I'm lucky, I get to move around--and most of us ended up like this the same way."
Compassion thought about the other predators who were hunting her, but just said, "Isn't it illegal? You haven't signed a contract, surely."
"There's no specific law against it. Of course you're not supposed to kidnap and sell people, but as long as they don't get caught at it, the administrators are happy to ignore it. How else would business and industry function? And there is a contract, good enough to pass an inspection. My life, my identity, belong to the taxi company until it expires."
"Three years gone. Twelve to go. Just short of the point where they'd owe me a pension. My children will be adults by then. Someone else will have raised them...My husband has found a new woman by now, I'm sure. He'll have been notified about the contract--it annuls our marriage, you see--and he's never been any good at taking care of himself."
Her voice was raw and strained, as if these words had been trapped inside her so long they'd grown too large and it hurt to push them out.
Compassion didn't know what to say. It was a strange feeling.
Keska struggled for control, blinking hard. The interface was flashing yellow.
"Sorry. Can't talk about it anymore. If I cry, the system will force me to pull over."
Compassion let her just breathe for a while, ragged and slow. In the light rising from the vehicle controls she could see the marks the last few years had left on the woman. One arm and one side of her face were tanned much darker than the rest of her skin, already spotting even though she couldn't have been too far into her thirties, assuming these people aged the same way humans did. The life support would do all it could to keep her healthy, but her body was softening, the muscle tone starting to fail. It couldn't be easy to return to any kind of normal life after a couple of decades of this.
"So." Keska changed lanes in the wake of the other car. "What will you do when you catch the headhunter?"
"Find out if that's really what he is."
"What else could he be?"
"I have enemies," Compassion said calmly. "Alien, like this transmitter. If they've found me, I have to know."
Keska cast her a worried look. "Would they follow you here? What do they want with you?"
"So you came to this world to hide from them?"
"Just to pick up supplies. We have to keep moving."
"Oh," Keska said quietly. "You have friends. Of course you do."
"Friends..." Compassion grimaced. "Yes, I suppose."
"Are they still with your starship? How did you land without anyone noticing?"
"You ask a lot of questions." Compassion focused on the navigational map on the control panel, trying to predict the man's destination. There was a residential area ahead and, beyond it, open ground.
She ignored Keska for a while, until the woman said, her voice hushed, "It's you, isn't it?"
Compassion withdrew a small part of her attention from the navigator.
"That's what you are. Isn't it? That's why you have the exterior you do, why you're not alive on the surface, why all of you is inside."
"You have no idea," Compassion said dryly.
"That's why they want you. You're advanced tech. I'm a little four-door car, but you...you're a starship!"
Compassion stared her down, but her enthusiasm didn't abate.
"That's jumping to conclusions."
"But I'm right, aren't I? It makes sense. We've seen two starships, but the aliens didn't share their technology with us, and we can't make our own. It just takes too many people to power one and the more people you have the bigger it has to be and the more power it needs...but your world has succeeded. You're...you're inside out! The tech is inside you somehow...I don't know how you take passengers, but..."
"You...you could go anywhere..." Keska was whispering now. "All those worlds...anywhere you please."
"No. I can't."
Keska turned to Compassion, silenced by her flat statement.
"But you're on the run?" she said hesitantly. "You can't be stuck on a set route like me. Is it to do with the way you're made?"
"Yes." Compassion stared impassively at the rain-spattered windscreen. "It...one of my companions was trying to help. But he has made it impossible for me to control where I travel. I can end up anywhere, whether I want to be there or not, and I have no way of getting somewhere I want to be."
Decades of exhausting, helpless dives in and out of the vortex, not knowing if she would ever find them again, or be condemned to wander alone and lost forever...
"It's...terrifying." The words slipped free, barely loud enough to hear.
Keska's fingers stroked the controls, guiding the car past the final row of bright cubes and into emptier night.
"I have been driving the same streets for three years," she said at last, her words considered. "My passengers see me as little more than a talking steering wheel. Having them in here with me, with me like this, and with their health signs feeding straight into my brain, feels almost like a violation. For the next twelve years I will know nothing but the inside of this car. I will not be able to turn down a new street or drive to the other side of the city. I have no choice in anything, no control over even my own body. I am safe, though, as long as I do as I'm told. I would hate to have to run and not be able to stop for fear of being found. I would hate to be the only one of my kind. Did you choose this?"
"No." The rain was making sidewinder trails down the glass.
"Were you free before?"
"Oh, yes. I was free."
"I can't pretend to know what it's like to be you. But...there must be some joy in what you are, what you're capable of, even if you aren't in control of it. The places you can go! Everywhere, anywhere, even if you never know what's coming next. None of us can have everything we want. You just value what you have." Her eyes glistened. "The thing is, you don't act like you...like you belong to anyone. You don't know what I would give to be that way again."
"So leave," Compassion said.
"I--what?" Keska looked at her with the same bewilderment Compassion's order to exit the car had created.
"It's a simple choice. Keep doing this until your contract expires and you can return to whatever is left of your family, or leave and make a new life for yourself. Whichever you prefer."
"It's--it's--not at all simple! I can't leave. I can't even get out of this car."
"Someone could help you do that. My friend, the Doctor, could. I could."
"No, you couldn't. If I violate my contract by refusing to perform my duties or by trying to escape, the company--my owners--are allowed to scrap me."
"Kill you, you mean?"
"They'd have to find you first. And from what you've said, they couldn't follow you off-world."
Keska stumbled at that suggestion, but recovered, shaking her head violently. "Without a passcode, the vehicle systems would do it for them the moment I tried to disconnect."
"I could fix that. It's possible. It's just a matter of whether you want it or not."
Keska stared into the darkness, every muscle drawn tight, for a long, bruised moment. She looked almost angry.
"Why?" she whispered. "Why would you do that for me? Why would you do this to me, offering me hope that I don't want and can't use?"
"If you prefer to stay," Compassion said indifferently. "It doesn't matter to me."
Why had she offered to help? Because of the Doctor? Was his connection to her mind, along with her inherited nature, changing her still, dragging her further from herself?
She remembered the surgeon on Beatrix. She could still taste his blood inside her at times. The Doctor hadn't made her care; he'd made her kill.
Keska was breathing hard, her whole body cramped up around the emotion she was trying to contain.
"Do you have space for one more passenger in whatever it is that you tow?" she said, more calmly than Compassion had expected.
"Don't crash." Mindful of the confines of the car, Compassion opened up.
Keska didn't crash. She even managed not to swerve too much.
"Oh!" she gasped as Compassion closed again. "Oh, that's...you're beautiful."
Compassion raised her eyebrows.
"How did they do that? No, don't bother, I won't understand." She laughed, sounding almost intoxicated. "You really could do it, couldn't you? You really could take me away..."
"If you like."
"I..." Her smile faded. Her children coming to mind, Compassion supposed. But then she said, "He's pulling over."
The car in front stopped at the edge of a rock-strewn waste. The man leapt out and ran, stumbling on the uneven ground.
Compassion started to open her door.
"Wait," Keska said. "That taxi's route doesn't continue past this point, but mine does."
She took the road next to the wasteland, her headlights sweeping over the running man.
"I'm faster than him. I don't need your help."
"But then you'll have to deal with him alone."
"That doesn't concern me."
"Well, it concerns me," Keska said through her teeth. "If he's one of them, I can't just..."
Compassion tipped her head towards the other woman. "What will you do if he is?"
Keska struggled with her reply.
"I'm...not sure. All I know is that I'm sick of living like this, and someone like him did this to me, and if I drive away now...And it's not like you're going to find me again afterwards, is it?"
Compassion didn't answer her question. "I could use you, actually. Can you cut him off?"
Keska had obviously tested the limits of what she could get away with in the car. She stayed just on the right side of tripping any safety measures, but when the man reached the edge of the wasteland and tried to dart across the road, her car swerved to a stop across his path. He retreated, expecting Compassion to spring out at him. Instead, he found her standing behind him. She advanced and backed him against an angular boulder.
"What do you want?" he panted, his voice shrill.
"This is yours," Compassion said, holding out the crushed transmitter. Keska had aimed her headlights at them, making a stark theatre scene of their confrontation. The rock shone darkly and water dripped like sparks through the glare.
"Never seen it before."
She wrapped her hand around his throat, letting him feel a measure of her unnatural strength. He squeaked.
"Who would have received the signal from this device?"
His skin was translucent in the light. She could see every hair, every vein. His throat convulsed in her grip as he swallowed. She shook him.
"My--my bosses. Look, I just do what they pay me to do!"
"Destroy innocent people's lives?" Keska was close enough to lean out of her window and shout at him. "Steal them from their families?"
More quietly, Compassion said to him, "Is that what you do? Or were you paid to find me?"
"What?" His eyes rolled, looking from her to Keska and back. "I don't know what you're talking about. No, wait," he gasped as Compassion's grip tightened. "I'm sorry, alright? You were alone, there wouldn't be any witnesses, that was all. Everyone's got to make a living somehow."
"You thought I would be a good candidate for working in a factory or a crane or a car?"
"You were alone. Young and healthy-looking. That was all, it's not like it's personal or anything." He choked and clawed at her hand.
"Where did your bosses get this transmitter?"
"I don't know! One of the alien ships, I think. That's what the others said, anyway, the older scouts. We've been using these things for years."
Compassion studied him while he hyperventilated and tried to prise her fingers from his throat. Stones rattled under his shoes.
"Choosing me was random, then."
"Yes! That's what I've been telling you."
Compassion released him. He fell against the boulder, coughing. She walked away.
"What are you doing?" Keska yelled at her. "You can't just leave him! Who are his bosses?"
"Not my enemies," Compassion said.
"We have to expose this! If we could force him to talk, to tell the whole world what they do...If we did it right, the administrators would have to listen. They couldn't just keep pretending it doesn't happen and they don't know about it."
"Not my problem."
"I felt sorry for you!" Keska screamed.
Compassion stopped. She looked back at the car.
"I didn't ask for your pity," she said coldly. "If you want to escape this life, I will free you. But it isn't my job to change the way your world works."
The systems in the car were flashing red, switching her view of Keska's face on and off in the night.
"Then I'll do it myself."
Keska slammed the car into reverse, aiming for the headhunter. Compassion should have walked on. She shouldn't have hesitated.
Something struck her outer shell and bounced off. Before she had identified it, before she had turned to see the weapon in the headhunter's hand, she heard the second shot.
Keska had gone too far. Her car had locked down, stranding her half on the road and half on the rocks. The interior of the vehicle glowed crimson.
As Compassion began to move, the headhunter fired a third time, directly into the car.
She reached him in two strides and twisted the weapon from his grasp.
Some primitive projectile weapon, her sensors told her, even as she faced the car.
Keska lay across her controls, the life support screeching faintly as it fought the inevitable. Blood drowned the controls and spattered the windscreen. Compassion pulled the door open.
She saw at a glance that it was too late for any help she could have provided. Keska gaped at her, blood bubbling from her mouth.
"Stupid," she whispered. "That's the second time I should have known better..."
"You tried to do what you could to make things right," Compassion said. "There's no need to regret that."
"My children--" Her breath hitched and her body spasmed. "I...should never have been tempted to leave with you..."
The life support was wailing an alarm, transmitting coordinates back to its owners. Compassion switched the sound off.
"Thank you," Keska murmured. Her eyes closed.
"Don't thank me. I brought you here."
"I know." Her lips were barely moving now. "We all make choices. At least...I had the chance to do that again."
The last of her breath left her in a sigh. "Tell me...what the stars are like..."
Compassion didn't have the chance.
She straightened up as the life support went dark. Her eyes needed no time to adjust to the diminished light. She saw the headhunter scrambling away over the rocks and she raised the weapon in her hand.
A figure came charging out of the darkness and tackled the headhunter to the ground just before her shot reached its target.
"Compassion!" The Doctor sprang to his feet, staring at her in shock. Behind him, the headhunter took the opportunity to crawl away.
Compassion lowered the weapon and started towards the Doctor. They met in the beam of the dead car's headlights.
"What--?" The Doctor swung his head from her to the darkness into which the headhunter had escaped.
Compassion met his accusing eyes.
"I was aiming for his leg," she said, her voice level.
It was true. Killing him wouldn't have served any purpose. There was anger boiling inside her, though, the kind that ground bodies between gears and stopped oxygen. The kind that felt like the uncontrollable pull of the vortex.
We all make choices.
Compassion lifted her face to the stars. A thousand, a million of them, lights left burning by dead suns and the beating hearts of solar systems. She could calculate so much about them even from here: temperature, chemistry, gravity...So many more lights that even she couldn't see through the veil of atmosphere and distance. All the suns that had once been, would one day burn, had never come to be. A forever of stars.
She would tell the Doctor about this world. She would tell him about Keska and what she had died for. It wasn't Compassion's fight, but if the Doctor wanted to make it his, that was his right. She wouldn't take the choice away from him. She wouldn't try to change him as he had her.
The headlights were dimming as their power reserves ran down. She and the Doctor faded into shadows. Soon, the only light left was a sky of distant promises.
The cranes swung into life, black fingers scratching at the dawn. Taxis streamed by on their unchanging routes. People came in pairs and small crowds to open the offices and shops, clinging together in a way that had passed beyond fear into blind habit.
Fitz waited beside Compassion. He was uncomfortable in her presence. She'd always unnerved him, but she could see him struggling with how to speak to her, how to be around her, since she'd changed.
"What are you thinking about?" he ventured after what must have felt to him like a long silence.
Compassion tuned him out. The Doctor would be back soon, and Fitz could talk to him instead of bothering her. She had better things to think about--like the difference between being free and being lost.
Maybe sometimes the only difference was which side you looked at it from.
She thought about living to a set pattern, day after day, helplessly. She thought about what it meant to be a machine and a possession, the way the Time Lords saw her, the way she wasn't.
Her human self lived on, but only as a tiny part of what and who she was now. That self feared the loss of independence and control that it saw in the Randomiser. Her new self resented the loss of function and potential. Were those feelings what made travel through the vortex so frightening? Was she clinging to pain and conflict she didn't need? Had she built her own limits for herself out of them?
She was a child of space and time, a creature of the vortex. Why should it frighten her? Why should she need to control it? In the Remote, she had used the signals in ways that suited her, but she had never shaped them or judged them. She could rage over what she had lost, but she still had most of what she had gained.
She liked being a TARDIS.
We all make choices.
Compassion made hers. And this time, she knew it was a choice of strength, because she was choosing herself, as she was at this minute, without reservation and without fear.
Fitz looked at her strangely. She knew he couldn't understand why she was smiling.