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Yadda yadda lobster bisque.



"You're sure the Normandy will be fine."

"Yes, Commander."

Shepard rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration. The Doctor had persuaded her to leave the chunk of Reaper in the hangar bay, because - according to him, at least - there was no guarantee his ship would return to the right spatial and temporal coordinates. Something like that, at least.

She sighed and walked up to the blue box. "After you," she said, gesturing at the doors. The Doctor gave an overdramatic bow (with a hand-gesture flourish that made her roll her eyes) and stepped into the box.

"Come on," he said, his voice echoing slightly - which should really have been her first clue, since it was a cathedral-echo and not a shower-stall-echo. Suppressing her disbelief, she stepped through the open door--

--and stepped right back out, leaning around to inspect the outsides. "What."

Across the vast interior of the box, the Doctor gave one of his insufferable grins. "I do so enjoy this part. Go on, say it." He stood there expectantly.

"What the shit is this."

The Doctor's face fell slightly. "That's... not the usual reaction, no."

Shepard walked back into the box and swept her gaze over the circular room, easily twice the width of the Normandy itself, with soft bronze and green paneling over the walls (giving it an almost organic, coral-like feeling), the central column attached to a six-panel console, stairs and metal railings, and also more doors. All inside a blue wooden box they loaded onto the ship with a handcart.

Either she had fallen and was having concussion-induced delusions, or the Doctor's claims had just gotten a whole lot more believeable.

"So, alternate universe, you say?" Shepard asked, clamping down on the quaver that threatened to enter her voice.

"I suppose it was a bit much to assume that you were taking it all rather well," admitted the Doctor sheepishly.

"I had thought you might be hitting the red sand a bit too much," Shepard said, walking uncertainly up to the central console and inspecting its rather unusual controls. Buttons and screens she understood, but there were also dials, levers, what looked like an old handbrake, and a rubber hammer attached to a bit of string.

"I know it's a bit much to take all in one go--"

"When do we leave?" Shepard asked, turning suddenly to face the Doctor. He took an unconscious step backwards to steady himself from the force of her gaze.

"--or perhaps not," he continued lamely. "What happened to hitting the red sand?"

"Two years ago, the most I had to worry about was protecting the ship from batarian pirates and slavers. Now I'm in a race to build an army against mythological battlecruiser-sized cyborgs from the dawn of time, and they've already killed me once before." She swept her bangs out of her eyes and spun around to take another look at the almost organic flow of the Doctor's ship. "If your ship is bigger on the inside, that's fine. Just give me a minute to stop freaking out about it and we'll be ready."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "'We', Commander?"

Shepard turned on him and shot him a Look. "You want us to go thousands of years into the past--"

"Millions, actually."

"--millions of years into the past to talk to a Reaper and get back home safely without getting killed, turned into anachronistic future zombies, or some combination of the above?"

"Well... yes," admitted the Doctor.

Shepard gave a lopsided grin. "Then you'll need the best people for the job." She turned to leave, but a thought struck her and she stopped walking. "Just do me a favor," she said.

"What's that?" the Doctor asked.

"Let me spoil your surprise about your ship." She turned around to meet his questioning look. "These are my people, and they're a bit trigger-happy. You want to surprise them, best make sure you can regenerate."

She left the box, but before the door shut behind her, she could have sworn she heard him muttering, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that."

* * *


"Grenades."

"Check."

"Extra heat sinks and emergency coolant systems."

"Got it, Shepard."

"Backup radio units and emergency beacons."

"In the pouch."

"Grenades."

"You already said grenades."

"More grenades."

Shepard made a full round of her squad inside the TARDIS's control room, double- and triple-checking their equipment. Over to the side, Garrus and Tali were assembling spare rifles, testing every system to make sure the weapons wouldn't jam or misfire at a crucial moment. Grunt was slowly spinning in place, watching the consoles pulse in a slow, mechanical heartbeat. Mordin was...

"Fascinating. Internal structure appears to be completely aesthetic. Functionality seems to be mutable depending on the situation. Completely unorthodox."

Check. Mordin was still frozen by the doorway, scanning everything with his omni-tool that was in range. From his running commentary, his brain had kicked into overdrive at the prospect of the Doctor's ship having extradimensional abilities.

"I think you broke him, Doc," Jack said from her perch on the upper railing. "He's been blabbering since we got here."

The Doctor's smarmy grin had returned. Despite Shepard's warnings, the reactions of her crew as they piled into the blue box had been a range of wonder to confusion and disbelief, and had apparently sated the Time Lord's nigh-inexhaustible need for attention. Though she had a distinct feeling it wouldn't last, he was at least satisfied for the moment and was focusing on whatever settings needed to be changed in his ship.

"Mm? Oh, yes. It'll pass." He looked up, his spectacles once again adorning his face. "Miss Jacqueline, was it?"

"It's Jack. Just Jack."

"Well, Just Jack, I must say I'm surprised you're coming with." The Doctor peered at her over his glasses. "I was under the impression you didn't like me very much."

Shepard smirked at this, trying not to look like she was eavesdropping. She kept her gaze firmly on Mordin, who was still scanning the room and going on about "extra-dimensional holding space, possible relationship to proposed Bag of Holding technology? Must inquire further."

"I don't like anyone very much," Jack was saying, putting up her best affectation of disinterest. Shepard had known her long enough to figure out this was a front, that she actually did want to be pushed just a bit farther, because the girl didn't know how to strike up conversation on her own.

"Oh, I can understand that," said the Doctor, turning back to the console and giving her a sly glance. "But that gets a bit boring, doesn't it? So tell me, Miss Jack, what changed your mind?"

"I can't figure out your angle," Jack admitted, dropping her gaze.

Shepard blinked, taken aback. Apparently the Doctor had Jack pegged from moment one, and knew exactly how to talk to deranged and socially-inept girls.

"What makes you think I've got an angle?" asked the Doctor.

"Everyone's got an angle if you look hard enough," responded Jack. "Most people are in it for sex, or money, or drugs. Or all three at once. Which are you?"

"Oh, certainly not drugs," said the Doctor. "Don't have a lot of use for money. I can usually find what I need, and the TARDIS keeps herself stocked whenever I get a bit peckish."

"And sex?"

"I'd imagine Susan would have a bit to say about that," said the Doctor, thrusting his hands in his pockets and leaning against the console.

Jack leered. "Who's that, your wife? I don't see her around."

"Granddaughter." At Jack's stunned silence, he pressed on. "The thing is, Jack, there's a lot more to the universe than cheap thrills and revenge. I know you've had a rough life so far, but that doesn't mean you have to settle. Look at Shepard over there." He nodded his head to where Shepard was unabashedly listening in. "Known her less than two days and already I know there's a lot more to her than she claims to be. You know what her 'angle' is?"

Jack shrugged. "Same reason she went and pulled Lawson and her ship out from under Cerberus. Save the cheerleader, save the world."

The Doctor raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "You'd be wrong about that, I'd suppose, but I can't speak for her any more than you can, any more than I can speak for you. What's your angle here?"

"Fun," Jack said automatically. "Blow up giant space bugs and party 'till I puke."

"Are you absolutely sure about that?" Without waiting for a response, the Doctor stepped away from the console and over to the wall Shepard was hunkered down. "Commander, will you be ready to go soon?"

Shepard took one last glance at Jack, who was still sitting on the railing and staring down at the metal floor. "Just about," she said. "Garrus, are the failsafes set?"

The lean turian snapped his mandibles in affirmation. "Ready, Shepard. The moment the guns register decreased alpha wave patterns, the safeties will lock. It won't prevent us from going haywire, but it'll give the rest of us a couple seconds to make sure whoever's being zombified is out of the game."

"And that'll work, will it?" Shepard asked.

"Who knows?" Garrus responded, shrugging his shoulders in a very human fashion. Shepard knew he did that mostly for her benefit, since turian gestures were more subtle. "I'll be happy if we don't all turn three seconds after arriving. Beyond that, I'll take what I can get."

Shepard nodded. "Looks like we're all set, then. If we're not back in six hours, Joker's going to head straight for Earth to report our deaths."

"Oh, you're a cheerful one," said the Doctor. He got back to his feet and headed for the central console, flitting around it like a hummingbird to flip switches and turn dials all over its face. "Right then, let's get cracking. Allons-y!"

With a muffled thud and a metallic scraping noise, the blue box faded out of existance.

* * *


The TARDIS rematerialized with a thump, and the familiar vworp vworp vworp of its engine faded into nothingness.

"Is it always this noisy?" asked Garrus, affixing his eyepiece to his head.

The Doctor rolled his eyes as he locked down the console. "What, that? It's not so bad, just a bit of the time vortex rubbing against the fabric of reality and tearing a hole right through it. You know, everyday stuff."

"All I'm saying is, I could feel that in my teeth." The turian snapped open his assault rifle and chambered a heatsink.

"You don't have teeth," Shepard said absently, doing a final inspection on her own gear. "You've got those cutting mandible things.

"And I could feel it through them," said Garrus, his stance daring Shepard to comment further. It was wasted, though, since she was facing the complete opposite direction.

Shepard stood up and turned towards her - for lack of a better term - troops. Because that's what they were, the Doctor realized, regardless of being a mish-mash of cultures and loyalties and various levels of legality; Shepard had taken these people and turned them into her squad. As sarcastic as they got, the respect was palpable.

"Alright, listen up," she said, her voice not even raised but commanding attention all the same. "We've got one shot at this, so here's what I need. The Doctor, Miranda and I will be taking point, heading towards the Reaper's command cluster. Doctor, have you pulled up schematics yet?"

"I've got the ones you had from before," said the Doctor. His hands flew over the keyboards, trying to break into the positronic neural network of the Reaper. "This one's a bit... oh, no, there we go. Control cluster is deck 53, zone 6, section 3. Sending to your little hand-computer-device things."

Shepard nodded and called up the blueprints on her omni-tool. An orange holographic wireframe floated in the air, and she traced a passageway with her finger, highlighting the path in red.

"The first thing to do is keep this chamber secure," she said, zooming in on the boxy depression the blinking blue representation of the TARDIS had materialized in. "Samara, Grunt. You'll keep a perimeter, prevent anything from reaching the Tortoise."

"TARDIS," the Doctor interrupted. "It's the TARDIS, it stands for Time and Relative..." He trailed under the weight of Shepard's Glare. "Well, that's not important. Anyway, yes, it is absolutely vital you do not let anything inside. If all else fails, you can shut yourselves in; as long as I'm alive, the TARDIS will be protected against anything attacking it. Yes, Miss vas Normandy?"

Tali lowered her hand. "No offense, Doctor, but the outside of your ship is made of wood. How is that secure?"

The Doctor waved his hands dismissively. "It's not wood, it just looks like it. Not important how. That door could withstand assault by Attila the Hun and his combined armies."

Tali tilted her head and placed her hand on her hip. "I highly doubt it," she said, dryly.

"Don't see why, it happened twice," said the Doctor.

"But--"

Shepard gave a loud whistle, interrupting the impending tirade. "Tali, I know you want to know how many laws of physics the Doctor breaks on a daily basis, but now is not the time. On that note, I need you here in the TARDIS covering our exit. The Doctor will show you what you need to do."

Tali froze, her left hand twitching at the thought. "Objection withdrawn," she said, and the Doctor knew that if he could see her face, he'd be slightly worried right now.

"Garrus, Legion," Shepard continued, "I want you to find a foothold here and here--" she highlighted a pair of catwalks lining the path "--and cover the three of us. Even if you can't get clear shots, I need as much warning as possible if something's heading our way."

Garrus nodded. "Orders confirmed, Shepard-Commander," added Legion, loading his sniper rifle with an audible click.

"That leaves Jack, and Jacob," finished Shepard. "Rearguard. Follow behind us and cover our six."

Three brief nods answered the unspoken question, and Shepard clicked the safety off her sidearm. "Any last questions?"

The Doctor grimaced. "Just checking, are all the guns necessary? What if there are surviving victims aboard?"

"I've dealt with Reapers before, Doctor. Anything that's onboard hasn't been sentient for a while, and anything that still is deserves peace." Shepard offered him a spare pistol, which he once again declined. "Stay close to us, don't run off without me and I won't run off without you. Clear?"

"Crystal," said the Doctor, slipping on his favorite jacket. A quick perusal of the pockets confirmed the presence of his screwdriver, a few leftover ornaments from last Christmas, and the remote that went along with it. "I'm ready when you are."

At Shepard's nod, he swung open the door and stepped out into the darkened underbelly of a Reaper.

* * *


The first thing that Shepard noticed was the stench. She had her atmospheric-combat helmet on, as the Doctor hadn't even put on a pressure suit (let alone armor of any kind), and the cloyingly sweet scent of decay assaulted her nose the moment she stepped out into the Reaper. A hint of rotting meat, mixed with mechanical lubricants and the tang of ozone, which reminded her (as if she could forget) that she was inside a biomechanical monstrosity.

The second thing she noticed was the damage. Bulkheads shattered and stressed, the floor and cieling covered in carbon scoring and ash. A quick sweep of the chamber with her flashlight confirmed that it was the same all over, at least all that she could see.

"You said we were coming back to when this thing was alive?" she asked, edging forward cautiously.

"I double-checked the coordinates six times," said the Doctor. "The TARDIS comes out wrong when I don't pay too much attention, but she always listens to me when I'm being careful in controlling her."

He spun around slowly, illuminating the crevices of the chamber as he turned. "What are you trying to show me, my girl?" he said, in almost a whisper. "What is it I'm missing?"

As the rest of her squad filed out of the box - and what a sight that was; she'd laugh at the absurdity of it if she wasn't so on edge - Shepard gave the signal to spread out. Legion and Garrus hastened to opposite sides of the doorway, ready to disappear into whatever catwalks or ductwork they could find.

Miranda dropped into Shepard's shadow. "Do you know what year it is, Doctor? Assuming we dropped into the wrong one."

The Doctor shook his head and pulled out his silver multi-tool thing. "No," he said. "Sometime after it was attacked, but not long after. It's still alive, but it's weak." He turned the tool on and waved it about - its high-pitched whirring noise causing Legion to stop in his tracks and stare at it - before turning it off again. "Weak, but not defenseless. We'd best get a move on, Commander."

Shepard nodded, and the three of them made their way down the hallway. Every so often, they would pause at something; a gargantuan creaking noise as the Reaper settled into orbit, or a rather tense moment when Garrus accidentally knocked loose a panel and they froze, listening to it clatter down a near-bottomless pit ("Easy there, Pippin," the Doctor had muttered as they anxiously awaited a response).

It wasn't until they came to the doorway to the control room that the Doctor himself signaled for a halt. He was staring in horror at the symbols on the door, all color draining from his face. "No, it can't be. It can't possibly be."

Shepard leaned in to get a closer look. "'Control Room, Unit 5363, Tertiary Adjucator'. This is where you wanted to be, right?"

Miranda leaned in, her eyes locked on the entryway they just went through, keeping her gun in position to cover their rear arc. "What, is it written in English?"

"Looks like..." Shepard started to say, before frowning and taking a closer look. "I can't tell."

"You can't tell?" Miranda asked, her voice reaching upper octaves in mocking disbelief. "Either it's English or it's not, and I highly doubt it would be written in English millions of years in the past."

Shepard squinted, trying to make sense of the writing on the door. "I can understand it, and I'm seeing it in English, but now that I'm looking at it, it's some sort of... circles?"

"High Gallifreyan," said the Doctor. His voice was faint, as if coming from far away. "The language of my people."

"How can I understand High Gallifreyan?" asked Shepard.

"That's a good question," said the Doctor, giving her an appraising look. "The TARDIS shouldn't... ah well."

Shepard gave him a Look. "The TARDIS shouldn't what?"

"Translate it for you," said the Doctor, almost automatically. "Gets in your head, helps you understand where and when you are. Normal procedure. The more important question is, what's High Gallifreyan doing on... no. No, no no no."

Shepard whirled about as the Doctor grabbed tufts of his unruly hair. "Doctor, if you're going to have a freakout, this is not the time."

He spun in place, his eyes wild and deranged. "But of course, it all makes sense, it makes perfect sense, why wouldn't they be the biggest and the baddest thing in the universe? They always were before."

"He's losing it," said Miranda, her voice icy. "Reaper must be affecting him. We should send him back and go on alone."

Shepard shook her head. "No. We came this way for him, we can keep going. Doctor, are you together?"

"Unfortunately not, Commander," said the Doctor, with a manic grin twisting his features into a grisly rictus of questionable sanity. "But I'm still with you, and I have even more important questions to answer." He forced his features into something resembling grim determination, and reached for the door controls.

The door slid open, and the three of them came face to face with a mass of unfolding figures, blue and red lights winking into existence as a horde of cybernetic zombies came online. As one, the mob turned towards the door, opened their mouths (mandibles, mouthparts, many variations on the same) and began to howl.

Shepard hit the door control and slammed it shut. She turned to the Doctor and Miranda. "We're leaving."

* * *


The sound of gunfire snapped Tali to full attention, the shock sending her heart racing and the diagnostics on her suit screaming in distress. She silenced the alert and grabbed her shotgun. "We've got company!" she shouted, peeking out the doors of the Doctor's miraculous ship. It astonished her, the size of it, crammed into a tiny wooden box, but as much as she had wanted to explore and scan and catalogue and tinker, she had been strong and kept watch.

"I know!" yelled Grunt gleefully. "I was wondering when this was going to happen."

"Only a child looks forward to a fight," Samara responded, calmly gathering biotic energy into her hands.

"Only an Asari treats combat as a sacred duty," Grunt countered. "I came along for one reason, and it wasn't to debate with you."

Tali expertly flicked the safety off her weapon and set the output for incendiary. "Cool it," she hissed, turning on her suit's motion detectors. "If there's gunfire, there's trouble, and I'd rather be out safely."

Grunt glared his best beady-eyed krogan glare, but kept his mouth shut and trained his own weapon on the entrance.

It wasn't long until the forward teams came rushing back to the ship, running sideways and firing wildly down the corridor. The Doctor was in the lead, practically diving through the TARDIS doors and ushering everyone else inside. He ran for the center console as soon as Shepard was through the doors, keeping a steady stream of suppressing fire as the Doctor screamed at her to shut the doors.

Quick as a flash, Tali was at the console too, helping the Doctor start up the TARDIS's systems. He gave her a calculating gaze but said nothing as she figured out the sequences for shielding, engine startup, and fumbled through a connection to what the computer had listed as the "Time Vortex". She wasn't exactly sure what it was, but it sounded right, and the Doctor glanced at her screen and nodded so she must have chosen the right thing.

Shepard slammed the door and pressed her back to it. "Sorry about the mission, Doc, but we need to get moving!"

At those words, the TARDIS went dark, the thrumming of its engines fading to nothingness.

"No, no no no no," wailed the Doctor, pressing buttons and throwing switches furiously. "Not now, don't do this to me now! Come on, love, you've always been there for me."

The TARDIS gave a coughing wheeze, and fell silent once more. The only sounds were the frenzied thumping of fists on the walls outside.

One by one, the team's floodlights flickered on, illuminating the darkened interior. "Now would be a very good time to leave," said Garrus, turning his rifle to the doors.

The thumping ceased. The central consoles flickered, and a projector lens flared to life. A holographic wireframe of a twitching, multi-limbed beast materialized inside the TARDIS, its sickly green light confirming the worst of Tali's fears.

She used to have nightmares about singular optics and metal hands, of marching mechanical armies overtaking the Flotilla and ejecting everyone into the cold darkness of space. The geth had been her personal bogeymen for years, until she went on her Pilgrimage... and found out just what true terror was. Ever since then, her nightmares centered around wireframe crustaceans, of gargantuan creatures with glowing eyes and impenatrable shells. Every night, there was a reverberating distorted voice that sized her up and declared her unworthy of existence.

"R-RUN AWAY YOU C-C-CANNOT AWAY YOU RUN CANNOTOTOTOT. DEATH IS DEATH WHAT WE DEATH BRING TO DEATH."

Shepard lowered her rifle and took her helmet off. "It's fractured. Whatever destroyed it must have scrambled its mind. It's insane."

"WE ARE DESTRUCTION THE CLEANSING ARMIES DEATH YOU WILL DIE."

The Doctor's face, awash in the green glow of the Reaper's avatar, twisted into a snarl. "Even in death, it's strong enough to hijack my ship. What are you?"

"WE ARE BEGINNING THE END OF BEGINNING ALL THINGS. FINALITY ALL THINGS MUST END DESTRUCTION BUT WE ARE ETERNAL. WHAT YET LIVES MAY NEVER DIE DIE DIE DIEDIEDIEDIE--"

"Shut it," snapped the Doctor. "I don't care what you think of yourself. I want to know what you are. How you could have fallen so far."

Tali blinked. "Doctor? What are you talking about?"

"All throughout the multiverse, there has been one constant," the Doctor continued, ignoring Tali. "One race that existed at the very beginning, that found the greatest power of the cosmos and evolved around it. And that's what you've done, haven't you? You found something and evolved into these...these things, and you think it's right, don't you?"

"ALL THINGS EXIST TO SERVICE US. WE ARE YOUR BEGINNING END IS YOUR BEGINNING DEATH DESTRUCTION IS WHAT WE BRING."

Shepard glanced between the Doctor and the Reaper. "The writing on the wall. Doctor, the Reapers didn't conquer the Time Lords..."

"The Reapers are the Time Lords," finished the Doctor. "Without the Time Vortex, they found some other power, and used it."

The Reaper seemed to hesitate. "YOU ARE FAMILIAR."

The Doctor's fury, Tali discovered, was a terrible thing to behold. His face could normally be called handsome, but now it was poisoned with hatred and rage. "I am nothing like you. I am a Time Lord, from the planet of Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborous. I have acted as a beacon of life, of wonder, of knowledge. But you, you were the Reaper that was felled by your own harvest! Instead of learning, you devoured. Instead of teaching, you destroyed. What you had wasn't enough, so you had to take it all!"

He twisted back to the console and started pounding furiously at a keyboard. "Your time has run out. You're dying, you're already dead, and you won't take us with you."

"DOING ARE WHAT YOU ARE YOU DOING? IT WILL NOT WORK DEATH IS YOUR ONLY FUTURE DEATH."

The pounding on the walls of the TARDIS picked back up. Tali could feel the ship trembling. "Doctor..."

"You've trapped me in here, I'll give you that," said the Doctor, not looking at the wireframe Reaper. "And you've somehow tapped into my computers, but that link goes both ways! I know how you've gotten in, which means..."

He flipped a switch with a flourish, and the TARDIS lit up with its own soft yellow glow.

The Reaper screamed in... pain? "DEATH PAIN YOU WILL DIE DESTRUCTION IS YOUR ONLY--"

The Doctor looked almost gleeful, and Tali wasn't sure if that was less frighting than the cold fury. "You've been trapped, my friend," said the Doctor. "You extended your consciousness - we~ell, what's left of it - and I shut the doors behind you. You exist at my mercy now!"

"MERCY DEATH PAIN KILL ME IF YOU MUST BUT YOU WILL DIE SCREAMING"

"I don't think so." As quickly as it had appeared, the grin was gone from the Doctor's face, leaving only stone. "You deserve no mercy! No justice! I've destroyed you once before, and I can do it again! You don't deserve an execution, only... only extermination!"

"Doctor."

"What." The Doctor whirled around to face Shepard, who had stepped directly into his personal space. She didn't step backwards when confronted with the full force of his fury. She didn't even flinch. She just calmly stared into his eyes and waited.

Tali could see the fire draining from him. "You're right," he said, eventually, slumping his shoulders. He flicked a switch, and the hologram shattered into a million fragments, disappearing without a trace.

Not even Jack had a comment to make. The control room was silent as the grave as the Doctor fired up the engines and plotted a course back to the Normandy.
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