And Mrs Hunt was quite right, they do. The problem is where does it begin?
How much do you need to know before the inevitable middle makes sense?
For instance, right now, I’m sat here in this dustbowl and I’m pretty sure I’m near the end of the story. But do I start with how we got here, what I’m doing with this button or do I go further back?
Does my constant and mostly imaginary reader need to know, or perhaps be reminded that the creature known as the HOST is a being composed of indefinable extradimensional matter and that’s its invading our universe. Is there a point in reminding them of the deaths of my first love and my friend at the things, well not exactly hands. You know what I mean.
Cos if I need to mention that then I have to go back over three years of near misses and coincidental events that the thing may have been responsible for. Or not.
More recently it became proactive. It ambushed the TARDIS. Broke through and blasted Lily and me with its powers. Took lily over and created an avatar to do its bidding as it prepared to take a planet sized being as its new body.
I tried to stop it. But I failed. Lily’s practically a relative.
Would you be able to pull the trigger?
Doesn’t matter now anyway.
Like I said. It’s coming to the end.
Part of me was sure the HOST was only interested in torturing me. When I couldn’t get close enough to knock the Avatar down it dragged me into orbit, to the reality-defying moon its master so coveted.
I recognised it of course. That’s the problem with time travel – once in a while you happen across your own future. The planet makes it – though the creature itself, I’m not sure. The woodlice like inhabitants were already underground. Their descendants will make it, unless I change history.
But we both know that won’t be happening will it.
The moment I crashed into the dust here I knew why it had brought me. Because I was always going to come here. The sky, with its planet and twin moons, vanished in a sea of broiling orange fire. The entire moon had been drawn into the HOST itself.
Susan, the geologist, had provided the key as to why.
In its dormancy the creature had developed a thick mantle. If the HOST was going to take it over, it had to get to it first.
As I watched, the Avatar began channelling energies at a weak point in the ground.
The ground shook. What else did you expect it to do? But then, taking over a teenager was never your greatest move was it. I still had my shotgun and the backpack I’d collected. Neither of these things were an accident. I’m sure they were a plan of someone’s, on some level.
I put them both to one side and shrugged off what was left of my jacket. Across the plain the Avatar stood up and prepared to strike again. I fingered the torn fabric in my hands. It had been a symbol for long; I had been married in this jacket.
My darling Xantist now forever lost to me. I couldn’t even be sure the TARDIS had survived the Avatar’s last attack. If it had then no doubt the Doctor was concocting some brilliantly simple plan to save the day. Probably involving talking the thing to death.
I knew I couldn’t stop the host. But I could thwart it. I could still ensure that the creature deep beneath the surface stayed dormant. And that’s what the backpack was for.
All a matter of timing.
But I guess the HOST knew that. Or maybe playing with realities always blurs the boundaries between them. I looked up from the jacket to glimpse, just for an instant, the dancing form of Lily. Not the avatar, but the smiling, singing Lily I knew so well.
Trick of the light maybe, hallucination, and memory. I don’t know.
I walked towards the avatar, my fists bunched in the jacket fabric making it taut. I could feel the cold again and recognised it for what it was. It was the same need, the burning desire for justice that I had felt when Faro was killed, when Xan was beaten near to death. And thanks to urban legend and the horror movie industry I had been immortalised for that. What I had done to avenge Xan’s injuries became the Mckowitch – immortal terror from beyond time.
It was almost like watching myself in third person. The cold separated me from the events my body played out. I saw myself walk up to the avatar. Loop the jacket over its head and then club her to the ground with my elbow.
It had no right to work. Yet somehow it did.
There was rope in the rucksack that held her well. But from here on the hallucinations became worse. I glimpsed shadows of Faro and Miko, diving at the trussed avatar alongside the smiling Lily.
I so wanted to reach out to them, and I suppose that was the point. If the HOST was sending these forms, it was obviously trying to distract me.
I unpacked the rest of the backpack. The explosives and the detonator parts. I watched myself calmly placing the explosives in the area around the Avatar’s blast point, unspool the primer cord, sit next to the avatar and steadily, methodically set the detonator.
Around me, other hallucinations worked at similar ideas. My head swam with the images that tried to jostle for a place in my reality. It was only as I identified them that the Mckowitch finally took over completely.
I was not alone in my plan. Ghosts had similar ideas. Some of them I knew.
Captain Kowarth, my counterpart in a Federated universe bustled about placing quantum torpedoes in the same strike pattern.
Fitz Kreiner, my counterpoint in an alternate TARDIS crew had strange, home made devices and an old fashioned wire fuse that I somehow knew he would start with the end of his cigarette.
Malachi Charming, my doppelganger from a planet of magic, had mapped out a complex hex in the dust that made our efforts shimmer.
There were others I didn’t know, fevered imaginings perhaps: a man made of fire setting oil drums over the wound, a cybernised outlaw with planet cracking explosives stolen from its masters, a knight or maybe two, one with a wolf at his heels.
You started whispering then. Perhaps this was the middle of the story, when everything one expects to come next doesn’t quite.
The avatar had never spoken with your voice. It preferred mad booming and distorted vocals – like a German heavy metal band.
It could be a trick of course, so I daren’t untie you. But I took the jacket from your head. It was nice to see your eyes again, even if only briefly as they cycled through from brilliant blue to pitch black to green to burning orange.
Of course the orange was still the avatar. You were quiet then.
But when you spoke, you only had one word to say, over and over.
I had no reason to trust you of course. You could have wanted me to wait simply so that the host could succeed.
Then I heard it, that faint screech of unearthly engines. Captain Kowarth heard it too. I saw him turn towards the same point as I, saw his reaction to the fleeting ghost of the Police public call Box.
Someone was till trying to do something then. Even if it weren’t my Doctor, someone out there would still be able to take care of events after I was gone.
Was that what you wanted me to wait for? The sound continued to rise and fall as the ghost vessel travelled from one hallucination to another. Odd that I seemed to be the only one to hear it all the time.
But then that was probably the result of the HOST taunting me.
The sky was growing dark and I worked faster to ensure the detonator was complete.
As the final wire screwed in place it struck me that I’d made a mistake. I’d assumed the darkening sky was night falling.
But this was the HOSTs realm – there was no night here. The dark was the natural void. Which meant the HOST was moving.
The ground swelled and rocked. The Host was taking over the creature inside the planet. If I didn’t act soon, there would be no second chances.
The tremor through the ground erupted in a fault line across the plain. I had to scrabble to retina hold of the detonator wires as the explosives slipped further down.
The air became foetid and sulphurous. Shards of burning rock were thrown in the air.
One must have struck me, for what remains seems more like a dream than a final act.
You were screaming then, your own voice, I think the rocks too must have hit you.
I stepped forward, blocking you from the impending fireworks. And I raised the switch.
It was a world of noise and fire. The ground swelled and spilt, the very earth shaking as though rocked from below. Burning rock littered the plain. A blue police box tried desperately to fade into reality with a roar of eternal engines.
A girl lay tied on the ground.
Over her stood a man, not yet old but with grey streaks at his temple and tingeing his goatee. His shirt was covered in dust and spatters of blood from a concealed wound. In one hand he held a shotgun, loose at his side. In the other a switch ready to detonate the explosives he’d planted. His face was shadowed, even in the hell that moved around him.
It showed purpose. A blank cold purpose that spoke of death and revenge and years of anger finally released.
It spoke to the sobbing girl without taking its eyes from the control it held.
“If there’s any of Lily still in there, you’ll be fighting. You’re stronger than the HOST, I know you are. Lily has a soul you see, that’s why the HOST loses. It wanted to control you to do its work for it. But lily fights it cos she has a life of her own. She’s not angry at fate like faro was. She’s not a driven warrior like Karisma. Lily’s strength is that she has her own mind, a life of her own. So if you’re in there. Fight it. Live whatever life that’s left to you.” Finally his head turned. Either side of him stretched a circle of figures that looked similar. All holding something ready that would achieve the same job. The noise of the TARDIS grew louder as the other figures around him grew more solid. The sky continued to darken.
"You know, I’d just begun to believe that maybe, I could settle down. The woman I love, the friends I needed, maybe even a good job" despite the passion of his words the face remained impassive. "Then you show up again. Well, I’m going to put a stop to this." he raised the switch, his thumb over contact. "I may not have saved you Lily. But somewhere the Dr and Xan are safe, and so will the rest of the universe be. With luck this final act will save or destroy everything. If I believed in it perhaps it has always been my destiny.” He glanced at the others around him. All saying their own inaudible last words. “Whoever I am. I realise that not all of these phantoms will survive. But hen, I’m resigned to his death. It comes to us all. And if it’s the price I have to pay to stop you from hurting my friends any more. Then so be it.”
The Thump of the TARDIS finally landing coincided with the orange light draining from the sky. Other noises are lost to the subterranean roar of the waking moon. Max’s finger closed on the button.
Somewhere a crump of explosives, somewhere a whoosh of lit fuses somewhere a whine of charged energy weapon. And on they go, like a domino rally around the circle of phantoms. The gap in the ground glows with powers and explosions. The force of the blast throws the circle back. Some fall. Others merely stagger.
Figures rush toward them. A girl lifted up and a cry of a feminine voice. Then the moon blinks.
In the void the circle of revenger's stares around them. Max stays still as the others move, wending their way whereever it is they go. Fitz Kreiner tips his hat walks away. Malachi Charming breaks down and cries. Cyber max lays forgotten in the dust, a knight at his side. Captain Kowarth slumps to the ground, unmoving.
Max peers up as the other knight, wolf still in tow, lays a hand on his shoulder.
“You are Maxwell Kowarth. A boy named Kamali insisted that were we to meet, I should tell you.” He paused and glanced at the wolf. “Where I’m from she is alive. Happy, safe and loved. She will remember you.” He stood back and turned away. The wolf licked Max’s cheek and scampered after her knight.
Max watched the figures vanish into the depth of the void. He released a breath that he never even knew he’d been holding.
“I hope it bought you all the time you needed.”
As his body shut down he thought he felt hands on his arms, dragging him backward.
So much for the tales of running toward the light…