Part 1: Enlistment
Prologue: Down the Rabbit Hole
"You just don't get it, do you? An army's nothing. 'Cos those ordinary people - they're the key. The most ordinary person could change the world."
-The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who: The Age of Steel
"The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote."
- Kosh Naranek, Babylon 5: Believers
March 4th, 2005
The rumbling engine grew louder. Turning off of the highway and onto a smaller road, the bus hit a bump.
Inside, Justin Chapman bit back a curse, one hand gingerly rubbing the spot where he'd hit his head. He took a moment to look out the window, saw the vague glow on the horizon chased the shadows down the mountains, turning their peaks from black to a more visible blue. Here and there he could see the lights of houses on the outskirts of town and the twin specks of headlights on the distant freeway. And trees. Everywhere, trees as far as the eye could see. Justin thought he'd never seen so many bloody trees in his life before moving here.
As the ride smoothed out, the babble of the passengers' voices again rose. Justin picked up a book from where he'd dropped it on the seat and opened it. The book was small and despite the clear plastic jacket, the plain brown cover was worn with age. Fortunately, the bus had plenty of interior lights, so he could read easily if he wanted to. But, he barely noticed the words on the page as he listened to the conversations around him.
"I'm telling you, he's the better choice for linebacker…"
"…that time when…"
"Isn't it weird how, in some movies, the villain is a totally normal guy…except for that he's got an evil plot. Kinda makes you paranoid, right? Anyone could be evil..."
"Shoulda studied more…"
"You've said that for the last two tests…ever gonna do it?"
All and all, not exactly interesting. Still, knowledge was power. And enough 'useless knowledge' often yielded the unexpected. So he listened, cataloging anything that could be useful at some later date.
"So did you hear that news report on that one UNIT general? Whatshername, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart?"
"They'd have no choice but to attack them head-on. A full broadside from a Star Destroyer…"
Justin couldn't help but shake his head a little at that comment. Space did not work in just two dimensions, which made the concept of broadsides useless. Looking down at the book, his eyes came to rest on a particular sentence. He'd read the book so many times over the years that he knew almost by memory what the rest would be.
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Of course, having something memorized didn't necessarily mean that a person understood it. A fact that several of his classmates appeared to have trouble grasping.
But no, that wasn't quite fair, not to mention right. His grades weren't perfect either, so he didn't have too much room to talk. Justin rubbed his eyes, tired. Grades seemed so childish now, so unimportant in the face of what had happened, what he'd experienced.
"Hey, what ya reading?" someone said. Justin looked up, surprised at the intrusion. A fair-haired boy in the seat to the front of him was peering over the seat at him and eying the book Justin held curiously. He was one of the many students at Uni Justin had not bothered to get acquainted with.
"The Art of War." Justin tilted his head slightly, puzzled why someone he'd never met before was striking up a conversation with him.
"Oh neat. What's it about?"
Justin tried not to show his annoyance and wondered for a moment if this guy was just trying to pull a mickey on him. He'd have thought that the title spoke for itself. No, he decided. The question probably came from honest ignorance. Absently, Justin touched the gash-shaped scar that ran down the right side of his jaw.
"It's an ancient Chinese military essay that's credited to Sun Tzu. And it's probably one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. It teaches more a way of thinking than exact plans."
"But if it was written so long ago, how's it still any good? They were fighting with bows and arrows back then."
Justin smiled a little. Well, this was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It was a rare occasion that he found someone who was interested in the sort of thing he enjoyed.
"Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of positioning in the face of changing conditions. That planning, in the sense of having an established list of 'do this, advance here' doesn't work. The enemy is doing the same thing. So the situation constantly shifts, creating all sorts of unexpected situations. It's a part of warfare that's never truly changed."
"Maybe you'd like to read it when I'm done with it?" He'd never had much patience for people who were…well a bit daft, but perhaps it was time to make an exception or two.
The other boy hesitated and Justin watched his face, wondering why he was weighing his words. Sake of politeness perhaps?
He felt the hum of the engine change through his seat.
"I don't know…you sure you want to lend me your book?"
Justin bit back an annoyed retort. Why did the other boy think he would make an offer if he wasn't planning to go through with it?
Instead he said, "Actually it's the library's. I lost my copy before I moved here." Growing up, the book had been one of the few items that'd belonged to Justin's father before he died. "But I've still got four days before I have to return it, as long as that happens I'm fine with letting you borrow it."
"Sure, I guess." he said, and Justin handed him the book.
As the bus bumped over a pothole, Justin saw the other boy's eyes widen for an instant as he made the connection. It was like watching a puzzle form. He could almost see the pieces-British accent, losing personal belongings and moving- coming together.
"Were you from London?"
Despite himself, Justin felt a flicker of irritation. He wasn't interested in anyone's pity and refused to let what happened at the fall of London define him. It's not as if he was that unique among the hundreds of people who'd survived the chaos.
Besides surviving by running away and being one of the few people who got out alive after the worst of the destruction happened. Justin thought with a pang. He'd never been good at lying to himself.
Honestly, he still didn't know how to feel about surviving the confusion and chaos. Certainly, there was relief and a pride for having lived through it. London had been one of the cities that had been hit the worst by the attack. Yet there was also uneasiness. So many people, including quite a few of his friends, hadn't made it.
"Yes I was. And no, I don't want to talk about it." Was all he said.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." The other boy said in what seemed to be genuine contrition.
"It's not an issue. Anyway, about the book?"
The other boy did something that surprised Justin a bit. He simply shrugged and said "Maybe. I'll think about reading it."
The engine made an angry, metallic screech as the bus decelerated, stopped. There was a loud hiss, a dull mechanical whir of the bus door folded back. The engine still spilled billowing clouds of exhaust into the chilly morning air.
Around him, handfuls of backpack-toting students dutifully got to their feet and began leaving the bus. Standing up, Justin slipped his backpack on and stepped out into the aisle to join them. From somewhere towards the front of the bus, the sound of music drifted from the speakers.
The houses on this street near the center of town were the oldest. Several looked like they dated back to the American Revolutionary War, when Lee's Providence was established.
Justin stepped out onto the brick pavement. As the bus pulled away from the street corner and the other students each went their separate ways, he looked about cautiously. Even though the curfew should have ended an hour ago, cops could be overzealous. A breath of wind touched his black hair.
Except for his fellow classmates, the streets were empty. Deciding to follow their example, Justin started home. He'd almost crossed the street when he stumbled and put his foot into a puddle. The unexpected feeling of cold water woke him up. Justin looked down at the puddle, trying to step around it. Brown-hazel eyes stared back at him. He caught sight of the jagged scar and his hand touched it, as if to confirm that it was there. Even almost a year after London, Justin still felt surprised by the sight of it.
He tried not to think of the dark, half-collapsed shop as London burned. Of a familiar coddled idiot shrieking thoughtless threats and waving the knife that gave him that scar. The same knife that'd killed his girlfriend. Something seemed to tighten in his chest at the thought.
Seeing motion in the water, he looked up. Justin saw a dot of light in the sky shooting overhead in an arc. Seconds later it disappeared into the west. Probably one of the new rocket planes, he thought to himself. Flying to some base in the Midwest, filled with posh scientists and UNIT officials.
Suspended high in the sky, the blanket of stars twinkled mischievously in all their fading glory. Justin watched them not with wonder, but a hint of suspicion. He paused for only a few seconds before returning to a leisurely pace, his shoe squishing with every step.
For almost two months, he'd been living here at Lee's Providence, with his mum and fifteen year-old sister. It hadn't been simple. Moving here with the help of a government refugee program, adjusting. But, he reflected, change was an inevitable and natural part of life. Growing up, it had been something of a belief of his. But only on an academic level, it'd taken the Fall of London to fully bring it home.
Leaving the road, he stepped into a hard-packed dirt alleyway, a shortcut home. Broken shards of glass bottles crunched under his shoes in the darkness. The sound of an unfamiliar woman speaking, almost singing, reached his ears. The voice drifted from one of the houses in front of at the end of the alley. Justin stopped, listening.
"Ways of old to guide and guard, paths to bring and send, circles both in Light and Dark, from starting until end."
For a moment Justin strained his ears, listening, more out of curiosity's sake than anything else. Hearing nothing more, he shrugged and walked on. It'd probably just been a radio or som-
Something was wrong. Everything around him was oddly dim, like he was about to sneeze. He wondered if it was his eyes.
Without warning the darkened street rippled and distorted around him. Justin felt he was being yanked sideways, then backwards. But it was as if he was standing still at the same time.
Silvery dots danced in his darkening vision as a bitter cold sliced through him. His bones felt like they would shatter and his skin flayed away. He struggled, his body trying to breath, gasping for air that wasn't there. Rising animal panic drowned any attempt at rational thought. Blood thundered in his ears, a chaotic drumbeat.
For what seemed like an eternity, Justin thrashed, trying to yell, but couldn't. His struggles slowed, stopped.
A girl with black hair and deep blue eyes. She smiled at him, offering him her hand-
The next thing he was aware of was solid ground beneath him. For a moment Justin laid there, feeling drained. His ears rang and hummed. When he tried to open his eyes, his vision swam. His stomach lurched unpleasantly and he shut his eyes.
Justin pushed himself to his feet by the force of his will. Even if it only took him a moment to do, it felt like an eternity. He made himself ignore the lingering nausea as he hurriedly looked about the room. Wherever he was it wasn't the alleyway. Unfamiliar objects loomed here and there out of the darkness, but he couldn't make out many details. Justin guessed that he was in a storage room of some sort.
"What…the…hell…" he croaked. Justin shook his head. What had just happened? He had little doubt that what he'd seen were delusions. Rachel had died at London and he'd never put much stock in an afterlife. He only had a second to wonder about it. Than a horrible klaxon howl broke the silence and tore him out of his shock.
Justin had the sinking suspicion that the sound meant nothing good for him.
Stumbling about, trying to find some place to hide, Justin all but ran into a tall, domed shape. It looked like a large pepper-pot. Might've been made of bronze too, but he couldn't be certain. He could tell that a large chunk of it was missing. Obviously, it was some sort of novelty piece of modern artwork.
There was a soft stirring, a rumor of movement in the darkness. Justin turned, froze. Several tiny gleams of light had flared to life off to his side. Justin saw them, or thought he saw them, move in one gleaming patch. Like a constellation of stars far in the vastness of space. But then they slipped sideways and vanished.
Afraid that any sudden movements would attract attention, Justin took a slow, careful step back. Then another. Justin glanced towards the tall bronze object only a few steps away. All the while wondering what that thing had been. Or if it had even existed.
At that moment, his wet shoe caught on something. His foot slid out from under him and Justin fell flat on his back. Instantly, he tried to scramble to his feet. But it was too late.
A blur of orange light. Then a sudden weight was pressing down on his chest. Some thing invisible was firmly pinning him to the ground.
Gazing up in fear, Justin could see the lights over him. Now that he was closer to them, he realized that they didn't quite look like stars. The resemblance was closer to glowing crystals. A part of his mind noticed that they were curiously consistent in size. But he had no time to follow the thought into to anything solid.
The air above him thickened and darkened. An inhuman shape crouched over him, squat and spindly, darker than the surrounding gloom. But he could only make out the barest suggestion of it. The shadows seemed to cling to it as though the darkness itself was alive. The unseen shape that pinned him to the ground became visible. It was a long limb, like the leg of some man-sized crab or insect.
The specks of light shifted, descended through the darkness, stopping at his eye level. In that horrible moment his depth perception shifted. The glowing suns only a few feet from his face were not lights at all. They were eyes and they were looking down at him.
His hands scrabbled along the floor, searching for something, anything to use as a weapon. Everything was forgotten in a fog of self- preservation. In unthinking desperation, he drew a fist back.
There was a flash as if lightening had struck. Then all was silent and Justin knew nothing more.
From her position in the darkness, a woman's golden eyes rested on where Justin Chapman had been standing. She let out a long slow breath, one that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. The last nagging uncertainty was gone, replaced with almost giddy happiness. There was always a danger crossing timelines- for her, even more so now.
What she'd done would unleash merry hell in her own universe, but at least it would make things interesting. But from where she stood, it already had. With that she walked away, disappearing in a swirl of vortex light, her reason for being there complete.
Meanwhile, a few universes over and a little to the left, if a person wanted to pay attention to detail, Rose Tyler had been having a pretty normal day. Woke up. Bolted down the stairs for a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Had a shower. Got dressed. Jumped on the bus to work. Spent hours of putting up with customers going on about stupid things (The hanger on this top claimed it was a size 6 but the tag clearly said it was an 8. So they'd blamed her for it). Crossed the street to have a quick lunch with Mickey. Came back to deal with more pestering from the customers and managers. Heard that blessed announcement that the store was closing in five minutes. Nothing new to experience.
She'd been halfway out the door, talking with her mates, when the security guard had stopped her, handing her the lottery numbers. She'd groaned in irritation. Resolved to make this quick, hurried to the lift, stepped in. Did her best to ignore the squeaks and squeals as the lift had begun its slow decent into the basement.
The door opened and she looked about, trying to remember where Wilson's office was. Rose had forgotten how cluttered and dark in was down here. A long empty service corridor stretched out in front of her, lined with pipes and crumbing cardboard boxes.
"Wilson? I've got the lottery money." Nothing to hear but the quiet rumble of the boilers as she made her way down the corridor.
Reaching Wilson's office, she rapped her hand against the bright blue door, then pulled at it. It naturally refused to budge. "Wilson, you there?"
Nothing. She tried again. "I can't hang about, they're closing the shop, Wilson?"
Still nothing. "Ohh come on." She muttered to herself.
She stepped through into darkness. Her hand felt its way along the wall, found the light switch and flicked it on. Pools of light flickered into being, but they only showed so much. She was in a storage space, surrounded by boxes and clusters of shop window dummies. Some were still dressed in last year's fashions, their faces staring blankly at nothingness.
Thinking that he might be further in, Rose crossed the room to the door at the other side of the room. But found it was locked. From behind her came a slamming sound, the door she'd entered through was shut.
Oh no. Please, please, please don't be locked…
She ran back, pushed the door but it wouldn't open. Locked.
"Oh you're kidding me," Rose groaned in despair.
A noise behind her, a clattering. Rose whirled around and saw…nothing but absolute stillness.
"Is that someone mucking about?" She tried to hide how unnerved she was. Another noise. "Who is it?" She called out, her voice quiet but defiant.
Long seconds of stillness ticked away and then, at the back of the room, motion. Rose didn't know what she'd expected. A robber, mice, the big bad wolf. But not this. She watched, still scared but also captivated as a dummy's head turned to look at her. She stared at it in surprise, her mind racing. She wasn't sure what to think.
"Okay. You got me, very funny…" Rose's voice trailed off. Around her, more dummies were jerking to life, taking slow clumsy steps towards her.
Rose's normal day had well and truly ended. Being threatened by shop dummies in the store basement was a new experience for her. Having a stranger coming out of nowhere, grabbing her hand and telling her to run was a new experience. Watching said stranger pull the arm off a dummy as it tried to attack them in the lift was a new experience. Having that stranger joke that one of her co-workers was dead was a new experience.
"That's just not funny, that's sick!" She sputtered.
Rose was getting really tired of new experiences.
"Hold on!" the stranger yelled, ignoring her as the doors swung open. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her to the side. He pulled something silver and tube-shaped from his leather coat and pointed it at the lift controls. "Mind your eyes."
There was a buzzing sound and a glow of blue light. Rose gave a yelp of surprise as a spray of sparks shot from panel. Now spots of light danced and flickered as she blinked, trying to get of them.
"I've had enough of this now!" she shouted at his back as he hurried off, putting the silver whatever-it-was away.
She followed him down the back hallway, dodging around a rack of clothing. "Who are you, then? Who's that lot down there?"
The man hurried on, still ignoring her.
"I said, who are they?" Rose demanded. Who was this git anyway?
"They're made of plastic. Living plastic creatures," the stranger explained, bounding up a small stairway. Rose followed, bewildered. He must be joking around... He had to be, right?
Except the dummies hadn't moved like there was someone in them. And there weren't any obvious joints that would allow movement in the plastic arm she held. Before she could carry that idea further, her thoughts were interrupted. "And they're being controlled by a relay device on the roof. Which would be a great big problem if I didn't have this."
With that he yanked out a box covered in a mess of wires and electronic parts from his coat pocket. Didn't look like any bomb she'd seen on news reports. It was even beeping, like it came out of a cartoon. "So!" he said, his voice growing scornful as he pulled open the fire exit for her, "I'm going to go upstairs and blow it up, and I might well die in the process. But don't worry about me, no. Go home, go on! Go and have your lovely beans on toast."
Rose stared at him with wide, shocked eyes, baffled and wondering if he was mad as a hatter, while he gently shepherded her through the service door. The sound of traffic echoed down the side street.
"Don't tell anyone about this, because if you do, you'll get them killed," the stranger finished.
With that the door shut. Rose turned away, not sure what to think at all. A second later, the door clicked open once more. She turned back, found herself face to face with the stranger again.
"I'm the Doctor, by the way, what's your name?" he asked.
"Rose." She replied unthinkingly.
"Nice to meet you, Rose." said the stranger. Holding up the… thing? bomb? whatever-it-was? in one hand, he advised, "Run for your life!"
He vanished, the door swinging shut behind him a final time. For a moment Rose stood there. She was too baffled and disturbed to do anything, her thoughts a whirlwind as she tried to understand what had just happened. Rose felt dazed and didn't notice she was still holding the dummies' arm that the stranger-the doctor- had thrown to her in the lift.
Rose's first slow, stumbling steps quickly morphed into something else. She tore out of the side street and past display windows containing shop dummies dressed in the latest fashions.
Reaching a street corner, she slowed to an uneasy stop. The normality of people going about their everyday business made running feel daft.
Rose leaned back to the side of Hendricks, her heart hammering. People walked by, oblivious. She felt lost and out of place. At any moment she felt, someone would look at her and realize that something was up, and question her. She felt trapped; her eyes darted around, trying to find a way out. But she could do nothing but wait for a break in the traffic.
Gradually, she slowed to a stop at a street corner. The normality of people going about their everyday business made running feel daft.
When one finally came she darted across the street. She almost didn't notice the angry shout of a lorry driver.
Rose stopped, looking back at where she worked. Nothing. Relief started to fill her. Of course it had all been a joke. Rose felt embarrassed and more foolish than before. She felt especially silly for believing him. Now that she'd calmed down, Rose realized how ridiculous it all sounded.
A dull rumble filled her ears, like a train coming into a tube station. Rose turned back, saw an explosion burst from the roof of Hendricks in a ball of fire as she stood frozen. Around her people scrambled away, cars screeched to a halt. Cries of fear and panic filled the air.
Rose sprinted away, not noticing or seeing the tall blue shape of a Police Public Callbox in the darkness of an alleyway.
Author's Note: This story takes place in the universes of Doctor Who and Babylon 5, which are owned by the BBC and Warner Brothers respectively. Also, fair warning here, this story will contain multiple original characters, a handful of which will be central characters to the story.
Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcomed. Which means I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong/dumb" without some explanation about how it is wrong/dumb, and suggesting how it can be made right.
That said, since I speak and write in American English I'd greatly appreciate it if any errors I made with British English are pointed out to me.