“Progress report, Odyssey.”
Ninety-five percent and counting. Status is normal.
“Heh. ‘Normal’. Good one.”
What I’m current endeavouring to achieve could be described as impossible, unthinkable and morally wrong. I myself would argue against the first two because, as far as I can tell, it’s working. The third point, however, is more a matter of perspective. Morals are a funny thing. They exist in liquid form with no definitive knowledge as to how they were decided, giving a more dramatic title to choosing between right and wrong. Morals share a strange relationship with hypocrisy, each able to counteract the other depending on the intention. I’ll admit that what I’m currently doing goes against logic, against decency and against basic human rights.
As usual, the alternative is far worse. Life is full of difficult decisions and whichever choice you make can define you, though not nearly as much as how you emerge on the other side. I plan to finish this a free man once again, living in a universe minus one extra danger. I’ll be doing Life a favour. No doubt he will think otherwise.
Time to see my true character then, on this side beyond the point of no return. “Thank you, Odyssey. Vital signs read out, please.”
Status is active. Respiration has started without obstruction of airways and brainwaves patterns are forming. Blood flow is acceptable but weak, as heartbeat is below average.
Just the one.
“There’s your answer then. You’re used to counting two heartbeats.” As if confirming Odssey’s report, the life support’s heart monitor switches on, indenting the silence with a rhythmic digital beep. In comparison to my own binary vascular system, it’s a rarer occurrence for me to hear a lesser and weaker beat like this. It’s like I’m already listening to him die.
“Can I remove this, now?”
A spark of electronic discharges flares across my eyes in a blue flash, as I remove my side of the Link. What was suspiciously more than just a headache dissipates and I feel as if an emptiness collapsed in on itself and was suddenly filled again by something else. I realise that sort of analogy makes me into some kind of airhead, and while I’ve had my moments of humiliating stupidity, this time it’s a little different. I have just removed several centuries of memories and an entirely separate personality. Hard drives must feel like this after a factory reset. I honestly feel several pounds lighter.
My Link Harness rests in my hand. A strange piece of equipment and like most things in my possession, the original invention isn’t mine but I’ve developed over it. It resembles a crash helmet mixed with a colander, with several hundred rows of blunt points on the inside. They’re not sharp enough to pierce the skin but rest heavily enough to capture all thought traffic, as well as make your scalp itch for several hours. The exterior shell used to be trim and neat; now festooned with haphazard arrays of wires, leads and LED lights. You’d think they add something to the apparatus and you’d be wrong. I just like it when things look the part. If I’m going to dabble in the dangerous world of mind-melding, I need to do it right.
My other half, meanwhile, looks ready for an admission into hospital. Still wearing his side of the Link, Guardian in his new SHELL™ lifts a weary head and constructs its first Look of contempt. “I’ve never seen myself look so pleased.” A grim smirk lines the bottom half of his face and his head droops again, swivelling from side to side as he inspects the body I’ve given him; an emaciated and skeletal frame displaying as little muscle mass as is possible, the net result of wrapping bones in a thin, colourless sheet. When he looks back at me the smirk is all but gone, no longer halving a jaw I can see in almost perfect detail. His eyes widen and he shudders, against the chair and against his restraints, as if suffering execution by electricity.
“One heart? You gave me one heartbeat? Is that all I am to you, like some stinking human?”
In the time before my answer the heart rate monitor continues to beep, now at a slightly elevated rate either in mockery or truly proving his point. I don’t laugh, nor grin nor even smile at him. This would be the time to gloat, an opportunity unlike any other, but gloating is meant to convey a sense of pride, even if poorly justified. I am in no way proud of what I have done to my past self, but this is necessary. “This is what you’ve reduced me to, Guardian,” in as calm and level a voice I can manage.
He stops inspecting the manacles shackling him to the chair and glares at me. “Reduced you? In what possible way is this a last resort? You could kill me here and now, which I thoroughly recommend you do because fuck knows what I’ll do to you if I ever get out. Spare me from being your pet or experiment. Give me a soldiers burial, I’m owed that much.”
A soldiers burial? On Silent Plains that’s just putrefying into the air until something else smothers or destroys you. Before I left, it became harder and harder to see where the ground stopped and the corpses started. None of this is said out loud, though. There’s no point in arguing over the wrong thing. “I’m not a killer anymore.”
“How very noble. Forgive me if I don’t share the same philosophy.”
“But I’m not letting you share my head, either. I won’t allow on this universe yet another Timelord who believes himself above the rest of existence. I left Gallifrey behind and now I need to do the same to you.”
“I have a say in that decision. I have as much right to that body as you do.”
I can feel my resolve weakening under anger, a bedrock of calm slowly crumbling into magma below. I sit there and glare back at the soldier in the coward’s body, intent on maintaining at least one peaceful mind between us and slowly succumbing to the easier alternative. Silently I lean forward, hands linked and arms resting on my knees, ready to deliver a final blow.
“The Timelord known as the Guardian is registered as dead. And none cares about the opinions or the rights of a dead man.”
Guardian tries and fails to suppress his reaction; I register several twitches behind the eyes, but am taken aback when he considers me with surprise, if not amazement. I wait for a retort which takes several moments to arrive. All the while he scrutinises me as if he’s no longer face to face with someone superior, but his equal.
“I think there’s still some more of me left in there,” he says, pointing a stick of a finger at me. “Or. Maybe that’s just you.”
I find myself unable to meet his gaze, nor respond in turn; instead I vacate my chair and whirl round to the console behind me. That’s always been something Guardian holds over me; a determination (or stubbornness) never to admit defeat. I did, he didn’t. Now we get to see how that decision ends.
Without checking I can sense Guardian’s glare on me as I make the necessary adjustments; like feeling the heat of a burning sunset prickling against the skin. His steady heartbeat beeps the same rhythm and I imagine he doesn’t even blink as the chair he occupies starts to split apart and open different panels, revealing rows of syringes, needles and scanning implements. Each fold out into place, securing him where he sits. Needles, three for each, pierce his forearms, biceps, neck, chest, stomach, back and upper and lower legs. The Link helmet remains where it is, but secures itself against the headrest, all rendering him completely immobile.
And still not one iota of reaction from him.
I pretend to read something which isn’t displayed in front of me, still unable to see eye-to-eye. “All this will monitor your vitals and brainwave functions, as well as maintain them. Even death isn’t an escape from this prison.”
“Suspended animation, then. I’m my own prisoner of war. Joy.”
A new panel behind his right shoulder slides apart and a breathing mask swings out, clamping itself down over his lower face. A moment’s hesitation, before a slight hiss indicates the respirator coming to life. There’s a high possibility it impedes him from speech – what a tragedy.
“And just so you know, I’ve managed to isolate my remaining regeneration energy for myself and shall reimburse Chompy’s poison which you so generously donated.” Right on schedule, the syringes embedded into his chest and forearms fill with a thick, crimson concoction and drop by drop, the weapon returns to its maker. All the veins in the surrounding areas slowly become darker, as if they’ve been invaded by thin, black leeches. Take it from me, it’s a hundred times more painful than it sounds.
A door behind him splits vertically down the middle and slides noiselessly open. Guardian’s chair glides back on its rail, into the white-wall cell. Its size is barely a few square feet and only just able to house his chair – Guardian’s footrest is mere centimetres from the door line.
“Nexus-class Entillium casing. One of the rarest and toughest materials in the universe and you, lucky thing, get a whole cell made out of it! They say it can survive pretty much anything, including,” I say, pulling the last lever, “the unimaginable crushing gravities of a black hole.”
The cell doors make the return trip, ready to seal Guardian in. I grant him one last moment of compassion and finally meet his gaze; which feels startling similar to peering into the Darkness stone Womble extracted from me. A muffled harrumphing noise suggests Guardian making some form of final words, or insults. A moment later and the cell closes on the monster within.
Not counting the monster standing outside and watching, of course.
Womble once said, upon my landing the TARDIS, that we Timelords truly invest in secure parking. He should see our prisons. I watch as the white cube of a cell detaches itself from the doorway and falls backwards, into the gaping maw of Eternity – once a proud and captive power source, now a slightly tarnished storage space. Eternity’s heart is a perpetual explosion restrained by Odyssey from being free, consistently collapsing in on herself. Guardian’s cell bucks and rolls through the gravity pockets, dancing across the event horizon of light, heat and long-lasting destruction, orbiting without ever falling in. Guardian will be seconds from obliteration, until the end of Time.
It’s near impossible for Guardian to die just from his imprisonment. It’s also near impossible for him to escape from his imprisonment. In either scenario, it’s very possible the other will then also occur.
I turn on my heel and stride off without a backwards glance, preoccupied by ticking a sizeable chore off an internal list. Deal with Guardian, x. Now to move onto the next big and hopefully manic thing.
Guardian left you a message.
“I assumed as much. Save it for another time, Odyssey. I’ve only just gotten rid of the real deal. I don’t need a reminder so soon in the proceedings.”
As you wish, it shall be saved to my database. Where to now?
“Somewhere I can celebrate, my friend.” It’s been a long time coming.
With no further imprisonments planned, I exit the Prison Deck and lock the door on my way out. A quick pause, and I go for the full deadlock seal instead. You can never be too safe, after all.
It’s where my demons hide.*
*Demons by Imagine Dragons, a song I wish I’d found sooner and the inspiration for this particular post.