The Lesser of Two Evils

By Morgan Davie

The man stumbled through the shifting sands. His hands were held in front of him, a token resistance to the searing wind.

Where am I? he thought frantically. He remembered nothing before the sands. There was no beginning. And even before he realised there was none, he knew that he was alone - alone and nowhere.

He stumbled on, seeing no end to the bone-white sand, no movement but the wind ripples on the dunes.

Behind him, the sand stirred. It seemed almost to collapse in upon itself, until finally the chitinous scales of something immense brushed the surface and were gone.

‘Sorry, Doctor, but this isn't New York. That is, unless it's buried under all this sand. The TARDIS has missed its mark... again.’

‘The TARDIS has taken us here for a reason, Ace. Be patient while I figure out our location,’ replied the Doctor with his rolling Scots accent. He leant over the console, reading screens and pressing buttons.

Ace sighed, and once again looked at the exterior monitor. It showed the same bleak expanse of sand as before; nothing had changed. There was no movement - no sign of life. She frowned, opened the doors, and exited the time machine.

The Doctor froze over a console readout. He swiftly entered a series of queries; in seconds the computer responded to each one. He looked up, brooding quietly.

She's here, he thought grimly. What havoc has she wreaked?

The man paused and rested, for the wind had died. He sat on a dune, resting his aching arms, and discovered he was thirsty. And he thought, how can I survive out here? With no food or water to sustain me?

He gently lifted his arm again, this time to shield the glare of the afternoon suns, and searched the horizon for anything that would indicate water. He found nothing but a rocky outcropping, miles distant. It looked barren.

Apart from that, there was nothing.

‘Doctor! Where are we going?’ asked Ace, hurrying to catch up with the figure who had set off behind her as she gazed at the afternoon sun.

‘Exploring, Ace.’

There was something in his voice - a taint of concern.

‘Exploring what? This place is a rock. Literally. But that sun - it's really weird, you can look at it and it doesn't even hurt you.’

‘There's a lot to see and do on this ‘rock’, Ace, you just have to know where the best parties are.’

Ace smiled. Another wild goose chase.

‘Look up, Ace.’

Ace looked.

The rocky crags had been a target in the wasteland. But now he had reached them, the man saw that they were nothing more than a few rocks protruding from the sand. He looked out in vain for a new target.

And around the crags, something circled.

It was a tower. Not a terribly large tower, nor very elaborate, but definitely a tower, rising defiantly from the sand.

‘That can't have been there all the time, Professor. I would have seen it,’ stated Ace, doubting her eyes.

‘Oh, yes, it was there all along - but hidden by a reflector shield.’

‘Professor. You knew it was there. Tell me, what are we getting into now?’

The Doctor gazed mysteriously at the tower. ‘Let's find out.’

The crags were small behind him now. He struggled on, throat dry, limbs sore. Then he saw it - a flicker of movement to his left. A speck of darkness, sinking beneath the sand.

Warily, he moved on.

‘No door, Professor.’

‘Au contraire. We simply cannot find it.’

The tower was indeed featureless, and much less impressive up close than it was further away.

With a sudden hiss a square of darkness appeared in a wall. A face peered from within - squat, almost neanderthal. ‘Enter,’ it said. ‘She will see you now.’

The Doctor, and a cautious Ace, followed him into the dark.

At last! she thought. The crucial moment! All my work these past months - all leading to this! Now will he react? Will he be destroyed?

‘Mistress - the visitors.’

Ah - I wondered when he would arrive.

She turned, and watched the pair enter the laboratory. ‘Hello, Doctor.’

The Doctor met her gaze evenly. ‘Greetings,’ he replied distastefully.

‘Who is she, Professor?’ Ace asked quietly.

‘A fellow Time Lord, Ace. She calls herself the Rani.’

The sand in the man's path exploded as the demon emerged. It was long, and wide, like a worm and a crocodile combined. Its thick body wavered above the man as the dust clouds settled around it. Its fanged mouth gaped open, and it looked down at its prey with dull eyes.

‘You are just in time, Doctor. My experiment is bearing fruit. Look at this holoscreen - the faceless figure is a human's mindself, projected onto a forced mindscape of this planet. His judging time has come, Doctor, he faces death. How will he react?’

‘And the purpose of this experiment?’ inquired the Doctor coldly.

‘How ego and personality affect basic survival instincts. I am always intrigued at a creature's actions when reduced to its bare minimums. And, I am sure this specimen will prove my theories.’ She looked at Ace for the first time. ‘A human?’

‘Yes. Earth of 1985.’

‘A mere fifty years after my subject.’

‘Rani, free him. Return his mind to his body. Mindscape technology is dangerous and not fully understood, you must free him! Do as I say!’

‘How terribly naive. I have come to expect far better from you. Do you really think I would sacrifice all my work simply because you asked me to?’

‘That was a warning. Do it - or I will be forced to do it myself.’

‘Really, Doctor. Have you been taking lessons in etiquette from that Daak fellow?’

The Doctor lunged forward for the nearest console. The Rani smiled, and let her hand put pressure on the control it had been resting on. Abruptly, the Doctor stopped, his muscles frozen.

‘Professor!’ cried Ace, unsure of what to do. ‘What have you done?’

‘Naught that will harm him, my dear. I have merely deposited him in the mindscape. He will no longer disrupt my work, but instead become a part of it.’ She turned away, returning her attention to the console. ‘I think I shall pause my experiment for now... and construct something interesting for the Doctor.’

Her back is turned, thought Ace. I can take her, I know it. But then - how can I free the Doctor?

The wormsnake paused in mid-lunge, the man cowering before it.

Slowly the Doctor saw. Surroundings formed. An environment from the nothing. I am in the mindscape. My gamble paid off. I just hope this works.

He closed his eyes, and focussed.

It is an illusion. All I see is but a creation of the mind. Not my mind. We are in my mind but these thoughts are not my own. I must concentrate.

‘Doctor!’

His eyes opened into the reality he sought to escape.

For he knew that voice.

The Rani turned back to Ace, smiling genially. ‘Do you wish refreshments?’

Ace became aware of her hunger. Great hunger. But the Doctor was in trouble! The Rani was definitely bad news.

But she seemed to present no threat. The Doctor did not seem to be in pain.

‘If... if it wouldn't be any trouble,’ replied Ace meekly.

The Rani laughed lightly and smiled again. ‘Of course not. Do follow me...’

It was a war zone. Ruined husks of buildings, harsh bare terrain. Darkling thunder bellowed. ‘Doctor?’

It was a woman. An old creature; thin, weak, a single tear on her embittered face.

‘Yes. It is you. At last you have returned. But too late, this time.’

‘I don't understand... who are you? I know you, but I -’

‘Yes you know me! And for that I damn you! Damn you to this prison as you did me, all those years ago!’ The woman looked scornfully down at the Doctor.

It is only an illusion. Workings of another mind. Close your eyes, be calm, be free...

His eyes would not close.

‘But I will not kill you. I will not even let you die. For the blood I would so dearly love to spill flows also in my veins! The ties that bind me to you save you from death, the death I've endured time and time again!’

The Time Lord's voice was a whisper. ‘Susan..?’

‘Yes, Grandfather. Susan.’

It is all in the mind. Shadows of another consciousness. Be calm.

It all made perfect sense to Ace. The large, almost Victorian sitting room. The small silver trays of food, the neanderthal thing serving them - not a thing like Nimrod, Ace's mind noted carefully.

Event the polite conversation with the Rani about Perivale, about some of her adventures, it all made sense.

So why couldn't she shake the feeling that something was wrong?

‘Haemovores, they were called,’ continued Ace. For some reason, the Rani was especially interested in the Fenric misadventure. But Fenric himself was a topic that seemed to leave the Rani cold. And judging by the look on her face, the vampires left her similarly unenthused.

What can I say to interest her? I so want to keep her happy.

‘You left me here, damn you! Here on this planet of half-wit ape primitives barely out of the primordial slime, with no TARDIS, no way of escape!’

‘But Campbell, you loved him...’

‘Campbell grew old and died, but I lived on! Time Lords can live forever!’

‘I didn't think... think that...’

‘Precisely, you didn't think! You imprisoned me here, ‘Grandfather’, and for that you will suffer!’

The Doctor swallowed. His hearts beat quickly in his chest. He tried to be calm. He tried to regain control.

And failed. ‘Susan... what happened... to the world?’

‘It died. Humanity died. I killed them.’ Susan smiled, a hollow grin. Her pale skin stretched taut across her bones. ‘And I killed them!’

The skin seemed to shrink, pull tight across her bones, and split wide. Ivory beneath. Susan's hands came up, tore at the parched flesh, shredding it gleefully. Grinning skull replaced grinning face.

The Doctor tore his eyes away, but they were drawn back to her. Her clothing was gone, the weathered skin beneath was attacked by bone talons. Flesh frayed.

Now only bone remained, strong bone, laughing, grinning, screaming...

It is only a dream an illusion it is not real it is of a mind alone not real no

‘GRANDFATHER! SAVE ME!’

IT IS NOT REAL BE CALM BE CALM CLOSE YOUR EYES OR YOU WILL NEVER BE

‘DAMN YOU!’

free

The world exploded into white. The Doctor closed his eyes.

of this nightmare...

‘All these people and all that suffering,’ said the Rani. ‘War is a terrible thing, is it not?’

Ace smiled cordially, nodding in agreement. The discussion of the terrors of the second Great War had pleased the Rani.

‘Excuse me milady. He has left the first mindscape.’

‘So soon? Then activate the secondary. We should be able to dredge something interesting up from his own past; it should be more effective.’

And suddenly, to Ace, it became clear once again.

Be calm.

Take control.

Relax.

This is all an illusion, the product of another mind forced upon my own.

No! How could another have known of Susan? There is no explanation for that.

Now Susan is gone in any case. The fears that will come will be the fears of another.

Not my own.

It is my task to free myself. To take control. I must shape the mindscape myself and reach the poor soul trapped in the Rani's experiment.

Be calm.

‘Doctor! Help me!’

No! You are of my past. No.

‘Doctor!’

The Doctor looked. Then he squeezed his eyes shut again, but they were drawn open once more to the fresh face of the scared youth.

Adric.

The Rani turned back to Ace, her large eyes kindly boring into Ace's mind. Instantly the old thoughts returned.

Please the Rani, she is your friend, they said.

Ace frowned, looked inward, and saw that those thoughts were false.

‘What did you do to me?’ She looked away from the Time Lady.

‘So young, and yet so strong. So full of surprises. I truly had not expected you to understand and evade the sense control from so small a distraction.’

‘Yeah, I'm full of surprises.’ Ace tried to inject venom into her voice, but failed.

The Rani sat unruffled in her chair, watching Ace intently, a bemused expression on her face.

Ace returned the gaze. For long minutes they sat in silence.

‘Come, Ace. I have something to show you.’

Ace followed her out of the room. It seemed all she could do.

Adric stood in the centre of the room. The bridge control room of a certain merchant ship.

Adric called out again to the Doctor. ‘Help me with the codes, Doctor!’

The Time Lord slowly shook his head. He was about to witness Adric's death.

And the Time Lord was afraid.

Adric turned back to the console, began playing wildly with figures and calculations. In the bridge display, Earth loomed close. ‘You must help me, Doctor! You must!’

‘I cannot, Adric. I must save Tegan and the others. They need me,’ said the Doctor slowly.

‘Scott can save them! If you don't save me, I'll die!’

‘The others need me, Adric.’ The Doctor tried to think, to free his mind.

No, it hadn't been like this! It was different! The Cybermen made me leave, if I stay I can help Adric! Save his life!

‘I am sorry, Adric. You must save yourself. I must go.’

But I can help him! I know I can!

Earth filled the screen.

Adric bent over the console. ‘Go then. Go, traitor.’

The Doctor could not move.

And the end came. Red-white flame melted plastic and metal. Heat waves washed over with almost physical force. The Doctor remained still.

With terrible deliberacy, Adric turned. Screaming. Face blistered, clothes aflame, eyes replaced by tongues of fire. His burnt and blackened mouth slowly opened.

‘traitor... why didn't you

It was not like this, never like this. I am not at fault. I must be calm... control.

help

Be calm!

me! Traitor!!’

Adric's flesh became ash, and there was nothing. The Doctor closed his eyes.

Control.

‘This is the man in the mindscape, Ace. The man your precious Doctor has risked your life in an attempt to save.’

He was stretched out on a table. Probes connected with his head to give perfect mindscape control. Ace looked up, and saw the Doctor, lying similarly on the next table.

Ace looked back at the man. And she knew him.

Not personally, of course. But knew as millions upon millions of others did.

‘Yes, child. This one is known to you as Adolf Hitler.’

Control! At last, Control!

The Doctor smiled. Observed the whiteness about him. And formed of it a familiar home - the TARDIS interior.

He thought of the inner circuitry of the control room. Each wire, each valve, each circuit board had to be perfectly visualised.

He concentrated and slowly the console took shape.

I hope this works.

The Rani examined her third subject. Ace was now also stretched out on a table, her mind poised to enter the mindscape.

The original experiment is lost. Gladly will I sacrifice it to add the Doctor and his companion to the equation.

But still more elements must be added to make the experiment worthwhile. The Doctor and Ace shall be brought together with Hitler - and Hitler will be given a nerve impulse to kill the Doctor.

Ah, Doctor, I may thank you yet, for this shall truly test your mettle. For of the three, one must surely die!

The man looked up. The creature was gone, as though it never was. There was nothing now but the sand.

No - not nothing. Over there, a figure! A human! ‘Hello! Come closer!’ The figure was almost running towards him now. ‘Who are you - another lost in this cursed desert?’

It was a girl, he saw. A teenager.

‘Do not worry - we shall be free of this hell yet!’

No reply. She was almost upon him. Could she be a threat? Could she -

And all changed again.

The Doctor relaxed his mind and strode over to the console, examining his creation.

Suddenly a mental wrench disturbed his appraisal. His mind felt pain for an instant, and he winced, and then it was gone.

And there were two newcomers in the TARDIS. Ace, and the man he had come to save. Adolf Hitler! The Rani was bolder than he had thought.

Newcomers? No. The Doctor realised that it was he who had come to them, his reality overtaking theirs in the process. ‘Ace? How are you?’ he inquired cheerfully.

Hitler looked over at this strange man amazedly. He had greeted the girl as if they had met on the street!

Hitler looked back at the girl.

She lunged at him with a long, curved knife.

‘No!’ cried the Doctor, merriment gone.

Hitler fell back, swept out with a leg to knock the girl off balance. Her clumsy attack was well within his ability to counter.

And counter-attack.

‘Stop it, both of you!’

Hitler felt himself growing to intensely dislike this strange man.

‘We shall be free if you stop!’

I do not wish for freedom, man. Do you mock me and my ability? I seek your death!’

Hitler lunged for the Doctor. Ace interfered, a flying tackle halting the sudden assault.

The Doctor turned, pressed a button, moved a dial, and the TARDIS began to travel.

‘Where are they!?’

‘Milady, I know not. They have left the domain of our control.’

‘How?’

‘I know not.’

‘This I will not tolerate! I must have documented results!’

The Doctor turned away from the console once again.

His two companions were engaged in what appeared to be a deadly serious scuffle. Ace's knife lay in a corner, unheeded. The Doctor was glad - they can't hurt each other too much, he thought. ‘Alright, Ace. Stop it. Now!’

Ace hesitated at the Doctor's command, and Hitler kicked out sharply, knocking Ace away, and sprang up. He turned to face the Doctor.

‘Good, now that our hormones have settled down,’ began the Doctor. But he stopped, as Hitler scooped up the knife and turned once again towards the Time Lord.

‘It seems I'm mistaken. Adolf, put the knife down.’

‘I shall put it in your chest!’ replied the German, and began to thrust.

But Ace was there. Her arms encircled the German, pinning him tight. Hitler yelled, and tried to squirm free. But Ace's hold was firm and unyielding.

‘Hold him there, Ace. We can be free of the mindscape once and for all if we calm down.’ He fixed the angry Hitler with an hypnotic gaze. ‘If we calm down.’

Slowly, everything stopped.

‘Now concentrate. Look inside your minds. Look deep and see yourself inside it - for we are in our own minds. See yourself - and pull your consciousness free. Feel it grow. Feel the mindscape snap, feel yourself become free...’

The Doctor shut his eyes, and tried to free himself. But something was wrong.

He opened them again. Ace was relaxing, following instructions.

And Hitler wrenched free.

The Doctor stumbled back, away from the knife.

And stopped.

This is my only chance.

The knife buried itself in the Doctor's chest.

Hitler yelled in triumph.

Ace cried out in terror.

And the Doctor awoke.

And the Doctor awoke. He sat up, brushing the electrodes free from his head. He struggled to clear his thoughts.

I'm back - back in my real body. The shock of death pulled me out, and unless I had control I would have died in reality as well.

He looked about the room. On either side of him, Hitler and Ace lay asleep, their chest rising and falling.

The Doctor looked behind him and examined the circuitry panel.

He balled his fist and smashed it.

‘Doctor!’ cried Ace.

Hitler stumbled backward. He had killed the man, and banished him from this reality. Why? The man said he could have freed them! And he had killed him!

‘Another murder to your name, you bastard,’ said the girl. Hitler turned to her, backing away. He dropped the knife.

‘No - I didn't - I wasn't in control -’

Ace picked it up.

‘But your murders end here!’

She lunged with the knife and was torn into reality.

‘Doctor! What have you done?’

‘Rani, I've saved the lives of Ace and Hitler, destroyed your machine, broken your mental hold on Ace, and saved Earth's reality in the process. Or did you mean that in the rhetorical sense?’

The Rani smiled coldly. ‘Doctor, I am willing to let you take the man and leave - you are far more trouble than you are worth.’

‘You are too kind.’

‘On one condition. You relate to me every detail of what occurred after you escaped my section of the mindscape. I must have results, or the whole experiment is a waste.’

‘Agreed.’

‘Good. Come, let your companions wake up in their own time.’

The Doctor left the room with the Rani.

Ace woke. She sat up, pulling free the wires on her head. She felt both tired and rested at once - as if having just woken from a deep sleep.

She looked about.

Next to her lay Hitler: Hitler, the most evil man in the history of the human race. The man personally responsible for the deaths of millions of people. The man responsible for World War Two, and all its horrors...

The Rani said he was from 1935. That's four years before the war. If I kill him now, the war will never happen.

If I kill him now, millions will live.

Hitler lay asleep, silent as a babe.

‘Ingenious, Doctor. A mind TARDIS.’

‘Rassilon had always insisted the Time Vortex was like a mind. I merely reversed the theory.’

‘Travelling the thoughtwaves like we travel the timestream. Still, I have come to expect no less from you.’

The Doctor nodded at the compliment. Of all his adversaries, the Rani was the most unusual.

‘And so, the experiment ends. There is only the final conflict to be resolved.’

‘The final conflict?’ asked the Doctor suspiciously.

‘Why, yes. Ace's hatred of Hitler is more than my suggestion. She believes that if she kills him, she will prevent the Second World War.’

The Doctor rose and ran from the room. Ace, don't do it... I pray I'm in time.

The Rani activated the monitors and prepared to watch the final drama.

Ace decided. She gently placed her hands around Hitler's neck and began to apply pressure.

The door hissed open. Ace didn't, couldn't look. Hitler had to die.

‘Ace! Stop! You don't know what you are doing!’

The Doctor appeared, grabbed her arms, tried to pull them free. Ace looked up, her eyes met the Doctor's. His brow was furrowed. He was openly concerned.

Ace released the pressure, let the Doctor pull her hands free.

‘We mustn't change history, Ace. That is what we came here to prevent.’

‘We travel in time - what is History to us?’

‘Ace, I do not change history.’

Ace looked down again.

‘I become a part of it.’

Her face darkened, her eyes betraying sadness.

‘I could kill him. Save millions. If he died.’

‘Those lives are lost, Ace.’ He placed a consoling arm on her shoulders. ‘But it is not the millions that fuels your hatred, is it, Ace? It is the few.’

Ace silently nodded, finally beginning to understand.

‘Sorin.’

‘I could save him, Doctor.’

‘What has been must be.’

‘Why? Why must evil exist with good?’

‘Evil is a part of life, Ace. Without evil there is no good. Without darkness, what is light?’

‘I don't understand, Professor. I just don't understand.’

‘Nor do I Ace.’

The Doctor's thoughts drifted away. He thought of all the evil he had fought, all the deaths he had caused. The Cybermen. The Sontarans. The Movellans. The Rutans. The Daleks - the Daleks, for whom he was infinitely worse than Hitler was to humans. And more - the Ice Warriors, the Zygons, on and on into infinity.

‘What we did today would be considered by some to be evil. But if we had killed Hitler, we would be guiltier of an even greater evil. You see, like darkness and light, good and evil have many shades. They have to meet somewhere.’

The Rani laughed. Her experiment had given her much to ponder. With that, she dematerialised her TARDIS.

The walls around the Doctor and Ace disappeared as she left, leaving the pair with only the sand for companionship.

And Ace's quiet tears the only sound.

‘The TARDIS tipped me off to the Rani's presence when we landed. Mindscape technology is very obvious to TARDIS sensors. Of course, it could have been a legitimate set-up, but I doubted it, out here in the desert. A secondary scan located the Rani's TARDIS, and a coded signal told me it was her. I had a feeling there was foul play involved.’

‘Why didn't you tell me?’

‘I couldn't take that risk. The TARDIS gamble relied on the Rani not suspecting that I expected mindscape technology - she would have blocked it otherwise. And mindscape tech usually indicates mind control tech as well. I couldn't tell you in case you told her.’

‘I suppose you were right - I did fall under her control. Hypnosis or something.’

‘Do you realise that when you thought you broke the control, you were playing right into her hands? She had set up a deeper, secondary control that was firmly established when she allowed you to break the primary. I expect that's the only way she got you into the ‘scape. But that broke when I smashed the mindscape controls anyway.’

Ace nodded, reflecting on the many-layered plans of the two Time Lords. Games within games within games...

‘Ah - we're here.’ The TARDIS landed, and the Doctor opened the door. Together they carried Hitler's sleeping form out of the time machine and let him fall onto a grassy knoll. The Doctor turned to leave.

‘Doctor... wait a minute.’ Ace turned away, and said a quiet prayer to the memory of a living man.

Behind her, the Doctor nodded, sadly.

Then Ace turned to the Doctor. He took her arm in his, and they returned to the TARDIS.

Somewhere there was evil to be fought.

This item appeared in Timestreams 4 (April 1992).

Index nodes: Fiction