Phase Zero

“There’s just something I need to do on my own,” he’d told them. ”Won’t take long; back before you know it.”
The second half of that last promise he could actually keep, at least – that was one of the perks of a time machine. The first half, however, was slightly more problematic. Because he didn’t know how long it would take. He didn’t even know what he was actually going to do.
The Doctor twiddled something unidentifiable on the TARDIS console, and altered the resolution on the television screen hanging from the ceiling, which was prominently displaying a graphical depiction of some sort of signal. This was an uncomfortably risky procedure. He was, effectively, attempting to monitor a point in space and time from the exact same point in space two years later, the TARDIS’s scanning equipment boosted by being linked to itself across a temporal bond.
He adjusted a few more controls, took a breath, and pulled a lever. The TARDIS console groaned into life. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he hoped he was about to find out.
The moaning of the TARDIS reached a crescendo. The display became fuzzy. The Doctor frowned, and tried to adjust it.
“That doesn’t make much sense,” he muttered. “When even you can’t recognise things, there’s usually a problem.”
Then, all at once, the screen came back online and spiked suddenly. A higher-pitched, quieter roaring began, and a man faded slowly, fluctuatingly, into existence. On a chair to one side. A backpack clutched in his arms, which he then lowered to the floor.
The man looked around, drinking in the sight of his surroundings. His expression shifted from wary to amused to full-blown overjoyed. He unconsciously raised a hand to clear the greying hair from his eyes.
“Oh. My. Goodness,” the man sighed. The Doctor turned to him, sonic screwdriver out and activated… although if this was supposed to do anything effective, it didn't.
“Who are you?” the Doctor demanded. “And what if anything do you have to do with my passing out on the TARDIS floor two years ago?”
The man took a deep breath, as if he needed to compose himself, before speaking. “I figured you would remember that. In fact, I counted on it. Well, I sort of remembered it happening, actually, which helps… holy crud, sorry, you’ll have to give me a second, this takes me back…” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply again. “Sorry. My name is… well…” he stops, as if pained. “Call me the Sourceworlder.”
“Sourceworlder?” the Doctor repeated. “Interesting choice. Does it mean anything?”
“Does ‘Doctor’?” the Sourceworlder asked. The Doctor raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. The Sourceworlder took another breath. “This is gonna be pretty heavy, so you’re going to have to bear with me,” he admitted. “I’ll start with the basics. Your world… all worlds, almost…” he stopped again. “All remaining worlds,” he continued bitterly, “are fictional. As in, the entire universe was made up somewhere, by someone on a, sort of, higher plane of existence –”
“Sorry, what?” the Doctor stopped him. The Sourceworlder sighed and nodded.
“Yeah, sorry. It’s a good thing you’re, well, you, otherwise this would be even harder. Well, look, it doesn’t matter much – the relationships are so complex and unpredictable they might as well not be. But either way, there are as many universes out there as there are works of fiction in the multiverse. And I’m one of the few people in all of creation who have any idea how it all works.”
The Doctor didn’t lower the sonic screwdriver or move his position. “So why are you here?” he asked. The Sourceworlder took another breath.
“I… this is surreal, I’m looking into the business end of an actual sonic screwdriver. Gods. This is possibly the most awesome thing I’ve done in ages. Anyway… sorry. I need your help, Doctor. You see, where I’m from – you can disbelieve this if you want – where I’m from, your universe – this universe – is… was a work of fiction. A wonderful, beautiful work of fiction, where everything great you ever did was displayed with complimentary camera angles and music to really, really hammer home just how awesome – how brilliant you really are.
“But nowadays… I’m in trouble. Fiction isn’t fiction for me any more. Everything I ever read… everything I ever watched, or dreamt, or heard, or thought is real. Real and dangerous. And in danger. Like, a year or two ago, in terms of your own personal timeline, your universe had a sort of… freaky genetically-modified magic disease pumped into it from a completely different universe. One that affected everyone, even you, and sent them all into inexplicable comas. And then, not long afterwards, that universe was written out, and the disease never existed, and the history of your universe changed. But you, of course, have a ripple-effect-proof memory. So you knew this had happened to you and then un-happened, and that’s how I knew you’d try to find out why, and was able to think of a way to use that to get me in here with you.” He gestured at the TARDIS walls. The Doctor warily lowered the sonic screwdriver.
“An interesting philosophical concept,” he replied, “and a potentially-satisfying if somewhat unexpected explanation. But it does leave me with the important question of why you are in here with me.” The Sourceworlder nodded.
“I have a problem,” he admitted. “You see, for… complicated reasons, my original home… isn’t available any more. And the world I sort of adopted as a surrogate home… well, it has an interesting history. There was a man. An awful, awful man, the kind of man so terrifying that people like you get put into stories just to reassure the readers that people like him aren’t going to have everything easy. He died. Twice. And don’t get me wrong, I’m almost happy that he did and I wouldn’t change that fact if I could, but it caused… complications. In a weird sort of way, he might still be causing problems from beyond the grave, in a completely different universe that I can’t even get to.”
“And you think I can help?” the Doctor surmised. The Sourceworlder swallowed softly.
“Sort of… it might be better to say I think I can help you. You see… that’s not the only problem. There are other things going on out there that I have to stop, or uncover. Someone somewhere’s doing something big – probably more than one someone – and even though I can theoretically be in multiple places at once I just can’t do it all. I haven’t the time to get into one little closed-off universe and fix things in there, especially when I don’t even know what’s going on in there because it’s so well sealed-away. So I turned to the one drastic option that I knew had to work. I had to get you in there. Because the one thing that everyone knows about you is that you make stuff better.”
The Doctor regarded the Sourceworlder for a while before nodding in understanding and stepping back.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked. The Sourceworlder looked up subconsciously, as if remembering something carefully.
“For now, just remember, the next time you meet River, you need to take her… hang on… here.” After rooting around in a pocket for a while, he produces a grubby slip of paper with some co-ordinates scrawled on it. “You’ll be able to improvise the rest when she turns up.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” the Doctor asked seriously, giving an approximation of a suspicious look. “You seem to know everything about me, while I know next to nothing about you. Your home – why is it unavailable?”
The Sourceworlder closed his eyes and looked down, covering his mouth with his hand.
“It’s… gone. Somehow. There was a war. And everybody died. I ran. I didn’t even know where I was going for a lot of it; I was just running. And it took me a while to learn to stop. By the time I turned back… something was wrong. I couldn’t get back. My world was just… gone. Sealed or absent, I don’t know.”
He stopped. The Doctor reached out carefully, and put a hand on his shoulder.
“All right,” he said. “Leave it with me.”

“Did we get him?” asked an uneasy female voice before the Sourceworlder had even stopped manifesting.
“We got him,” he replied, stepping out into his familiar lab and removing the rucksack from his back. “Now, tell me we’ve had some miracle breakthrough with the sickness in the meantime?”
“No such luck,” the female replied from behind him as he sank into a chair. Then, quietly, she asked, “Are we sure this’ll work?”
“It will,” the Sourceworlder said, with immediate confidence. “The Doctor is involved now. He’ll win. It’s what he’s for."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License