Characters: Fitz (plus Eight, Anji and assorted time travellers)
Word count: ~4,000
Summary: Fitz only wanted to nip outside for a cigarette ...
Notes: Written for mscongeniality in the EDA ficathon, who asked for "A story where Fitz is left to his own devices and, through no fault of his own, manages to not screw things up completely. Snarky, bemused surprise at this turn of events from Anji is a plus." Eternal gratitude to astrogirl2 and drox for very helpful beta-ing at very short notice.
The Trinity watched as the scene on the time scanner came into focus. The image was still dappled light and dark, the uncertainties of the probability currents like a reflection from a fast flowing river, but clearer than it had ever been before.
The target was sat with his two friends in some sort of entertainment/socialisation module. There had been such places on their planet, once. There would be again, if they were successful.
"There he is," the oldest of them said.
"The Destroyer," the middle one breathed.
"Y'know, somehow I always imagined he'd be taller," the youngest one chipped in.
"You know what you must do," the oldest said. It wasn't quite a question, wasn't quite a statement.
"Does it have to be me?" she asked.
"Yes!" the other two chorused. "The Destroyer's preference for young women is clearly indicated in all probability streams above the 5% confidence level," the oldest one elaborated.
"Very well," the youngest said. She reached out to the pulsing white crystal beneath the time scanner ... and vanished.
* * *
The Doctor, Fitz and Anji were sitting at a corner table in the bar with their drinks. Occasionally, people in the crowd -- a highly mixed group of humans and aliens of all shapes, colours and sizes -- would nod at them and raise their glass or make some other gesture of acknowledgement and appreciation. Fitz was rather enjoying it -- it certainly made a change from being arrested, accused and used as target practice -- though in this case the glory was very much of the reflected variety. It had been Anji who had saved the day.
Not that you'd think so to hear the Doctor's reaction.
"You know, Anji, I'm still not sure it was a good idea to introduce the Central Planning Computer to the idea of market forces," the Doctor said.
"Well, I was thinking on my feet, Doctor! If I hadn't, the rogue nanobots would have grey-gooed the entire planet because it's more efficient that way." Anji took another sip of her beer. "And besides, it's not like it knows they're market forces; the CPC just thinks it knows a nifty new resource allocation algorithm now."
"Well, I think you did really well, Anji," Fitz said. "After all, you've earned us enough social credit that -- as I understand it -- I can get as drunk as I like tonight and get away without any consequences." Anji rolled her eyes.
"Just another chapter in the long and inglorious history of state capitalism, then, I suppose," the Doctor sighed. "Such a pity. Proper communism gets so few chances to flourish in history."
"And why do you think that is, Doctor?" Anji said pointedly. "Oh, I'm sorry, you probably used to play bowls with Marx or something, didn't you?"
Fitz decided to excuse himself. "Well, one of the things I like about this society is that they haven't completely banned tobacco. So I'm going outside for a cigarette." He stretched as he stood, and did his best to ignore Anji's "they'll kill you, you know" look.
Once outside, he lit up and took a long, satisfying drag. The smoke filled his lungs, suffusing him. Breathing out again, he tapped a little bit of ash off the end onto the ground, and in the process noticed that his left shoe had come undone. He put the fag back in his mouth and, steadying himself with one hand on a white bit of rock embedded in the top step of the pub entrance, reached down to do it up.
When he straightened up again, there was an alien woman standing directly in front of him. She had dark red skin, bright red eyes and jet black shoulder length hair. Her figure needed neither hiding nor flattering, so her simple outfit did neither, just let her natural beauty shine through. "Hi there," she said. "I'm Jirina."
"Fitz," he managed eventually. Recovering slightly he added, "Nice to meet you."
"How'd you like to go somewhere more private?" Jirina asked.
Fitz was not a man to ignore his instincts. Given how loudly they were screaming "Yes" right now, it would have been difficult anyway. But he had other instincts, ones that had been honed by his long travels with the Doctor. Ones that said things like "If it's too good to be true, it probably is" and "there's definitely something going on here".
But then if there was something going on, he probably ought to investigate, oughtn't he?
Fitz dropped the cigarette to the floor and ground it beneath his heel, priding himself on his talent for uniting seeming opposites.
"Love to," he said.
* * *
The hotel room they'd booked into/commandeered/been offered by the gestalt will of the populace grateful for Anji's saving their planet (Fitz's grasp on the details of how the economy here was supposed to work was less than firm, and judging by the conversation they'd had on the way, Jirina's was even less so) was really quite huge, and very luxurious. Fitz particularly liked the bottle of champagne that was on the table when they arrived. Very classy touch, that. He offered a glass to Jirina, and she accepted it. She drained it very quickly and gave it back to him.
"Refill?" Fitz asked.
"No, I'm OK, thanks," Jirina said. Fitz put the glass down on the table next to the white rock from the step that Jirina had bizarrely insisted they pick up and take with them. That had definitely gone in the "something going on" file in Fitz's brain, although most of it had been occupied with surreptiously inspecting her arse while she was bending over to do so (verdict: highly acceptable). "I think the alcohol concentration of my bloodstream is now sufficiently high that I'm ready to have sexual congress with you now."
In some parallel plane of reality somewhere, Fitz knew, he was handling this in the impossibly suave manner of someone like James Bond. In this universe, though, he'd just covered her dress with champagne when he'd involuntarily spluttered in response to her statement. They certainly weren't backwards in coming forwards on this planet, he thought.
Suddenly, a woman appeared in the room by the table, holding on to the rock thing. She had the same deep red skin and deep black hair as Jirina, but looked a few years older.
Fitz couldn't decide whether this change in circumstances made things more embarrassing, or less so.
"Sister-daughter!" the new arrival said.
Jirina looked startled. "Mother-self!"
"Sister-daughter, something has gone terribly wrong. I come from a world still ravaged."
"But I have barely started the mission! How can it have failed?" Jirina asked, suddenly serious.
"It is worse, sister-daughter, even than that."
"Excuse me," Fitz said, "but can someone please fill me in on what the hell is going on?"
"Oh, Fitz, I'm sorry," Jirina said. "You really are very nice and I'm sure I would have enjoyed sexual congress with you for its own sake. But the truth is ... I was sent back in time to keep you distracted." She paused, but carried on when Fitz continued to look completely confused. "We don't know exactly how, but something you were to do tonight was destined to set in motion a sequence of events that would lead to the destruction of my planet."
"You mean, you were using me?"
The other woman coughed at this. "I am sorry, sister-daughter," she said. "But it has still come to pass. We did not understand. The probabilities told us that the Destroyer was ultimately responsible for the fall of our world--"
Fitz was determined to object, but only got as far as "Wait a--" before the woman gave him a withering glare. She continued, "--but we did not understand how. Now we do. It was when he put down that champagne glass. Perfectly natural microbes from your lips made contact with the residue of the champagne in this glass. This planet's grapes are hypermutagenic, and within days the microbial colonies had become the Unnameable Ones, who in a thousand years' time will destroy our planet."
"You're getting your tenses muddled," Fitz's time traveller's acumen compelled him to point out. "And that's the stupidest bad guy origin I've ever heard."
"Nevertheless, it is the case," the older woman said.
"Well, then, it's your fault as much as it is mine," Fitz said triumphantly. "Or the hotel people for not cleaning it properly. I think your probability machine or whatever was picking on me unfairly, there. In fact, if you'd never travelled back in time in the first place it would never have happened." Thoughts were tumbling over themselves inside Fitz's brain at a rather faster rate than he was accustomed to. "You know, that's probably bad, that your entire planet's history is a closed time loop."
"Very bad indeed," said a new voice. Fitz looked behind him to see yet another red-skinned woman had appeared while they were arguing. "And exactly according to my plan."
"Aunt-grandmother!" Jirina said. "Have you betrayed us?"
"I have, child. But it was for a higher purpose! All that has come to pass has happened according to my design ..."
Fitz decided to leave them to it. He sunk down onto the sofa and refilled his own champagne glass, then thought better of drinking from it again. You never knew when you might inadvertently spawn a race of killers these days.
Before he had time to really relax into the cushions, a squad of four men in the sort of natty uniforms that just screamed "fascist regime" appeared around the table, all clutching on to each other and the crystal. Fitz suspected the homoerotic effect was unintentional. "Oh, what now?" he said.
"We have come to establish the Prime Outpost of the Greater Kavanaxian Temporal Empire!" shouted the one with the slightly fancier bits on the uniform that tended to signify leadership in these sorts of situations. "The Eternal War with Simeraho will be over before it can even begin!"
"We have no quarrel with you, Great One!" the leader continued in the same shouty voice. "But we shall not be prevented in our goal!" To emphasise the point, he unclipped a stubby little blaster pistol from his hip.
"Glory to Kavanax!" the other three chanted, brandishing their own weapons.
Fitz was well versed in the art of ignoring threats. "Great One, huh? I like that better than Destroyer ..."
"You are the Great One!" the leader said. "You charged the Great Crystal with its temporal energy at the beginning of the True History."
"This night marks the first night on which history can be shaped, Great One! Everything that went before is fixed, immutable. But with the malleable history that begins tonight we shall establish the supremacy of Kavanax throughout time and space!"
"Never!" came a gurgling cry from a new set of arrivals. The latest guys were floating balls about half a metre across -- no, wait, they were squiddy things inside the floating balls. They'd all had a tentacle extended through a flexible part of their water-balls to touch the crystal. "Simeraho will ensure that Kavanax does not distort the timeline for petty gain. We have come from your future to prevent it coming to pass!"
"Vile Simerahons!" the Kavanaxian leader shouted. "Men, attack!"
Hand-to-tentacle combat began. The Simerahons seemed very maneouvrable in their ball things, but the Kavanaxians seemed to have the edge in brute strength. The situation quickly settled into a stalemate.
"Right, just a minute," Fitz said to the brawling mob. "Excuse me!" he shouted.
The fighting subsided to glares and the occasional shove.
"So you guys are trying to get one over each other in some sort of minor time war," Fitz said. "But you've got nothing to do with this lot and all this Destroyer, Unnameable Ones, lipstick gubbins?"
"We simply used the Great Crystal's temporal properties," one of the Simerahons said. "We travelled back as far as we could; if these others arrived before us they must be from the deep past. The closer one is to the beginning of the crystal's existence, the closer it is possible to get to that beginning. The relationship is hyperexponential."
Fitz didn't have a clue what he'd just said, but surprisingly the Kavanaxian leader seemed to agree fully. "These women are so obscure to the True History I have never heard of them before! You, on the other hand, vile Simerahon, are attempting to trick us! You cannot be from the future of the True History, as in that future all Simerahons will be extinct! You must have come from the past, and not travelled back as far as you could!"
"Lies!" the Simerahon said, then fell silent.
"Right," said Fitz, when he realised they were all still looking at him. This Great One lark had its benefits. "Oh, you can go back to fighting if you like." They set to it with abandon. "Wait! Er, I mean, you should sit down and talk through your problems and find an amicable solution. Give peace a chance and all that ..." But it was quite clear they weren't listening any more.
Before Fitz had time to dwell on what the Doctor would have said about that little performance, a skinny blue chap appeared. "And what do you want?" he asked.
"Is he here? Is he here yet?" the alien asked.
"Only 'he's we've got at the moment are Kavanaxians. And maybe Simerahons, I'm not sure on the gender there. Who are you looking for?"
The blue guy looked behind himself. "Oh no, none of those. This man would look like me."
Suddenly, the room filled up with a crowd of over two dozen aliens of varying types, all touching one another's backs in a big circle round one particular alien who did indeed look similar to the guy who'd just appeared, just rather much portly.
"We've arrived," said the chubby one. He scanned the room, counting under his breath. "Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, excellent! Everyone made it." He adopted a declamatory tone. "And so, ladies and gentlemen, we find ourselves at the very dawn of time travel. Or at least as close to it as we can get, from our home time ... You!" he said, as his gaze fell on the skinnier member of his species.
"You!" came the reply.
"I know I'm going to regret asking this," Fitz said, "but what's going on?"
"That's my earlier self," the tour guide said. "I was a real stick in the mud when I first got the crystal. Thought it was my duty to police the time lines and prevent the collapse of reality or some such dull nonsense."
"What happened?" Fitz asked.
"This," smiled the tour guide. He turned around to his earlier self. "You do realise," the tour guide said to him, "that the very fact of our meeting like this proves that you will eventually become me. You may as well give up. I can assure you, it's very profitable." He patted his belly, as if to indicate a future lifetime of hearty meals and other fine living.
"The future is not yet written," the younger of them said. "You are an aberration, a freak low-probability future desperately trying to reify yourself--" Fitz couldn't help but think that he didn't sound desperately convinced.
"Oh, lighten up," his future self said. "You'll have much more fun this way, I promise."
"Do we get lots of girls?"
"Actually, we decide that we like guys better. But we do get lots of them."
The younger one shrugged. "Fair enough. See you when I'm me, then."
"Indeed, you just did!"
They grinned at each other and looked like they were about to shake hands when some dim memory told Fitz that wouldn't be a good idea. He darted in between them. "Glad that's all settled then," he said loudly. "Probably best if you head back now," he said to the just-retired time-cop version.
"Oh, you know I can't do that!" came the reply. Fitz gave him his best "explain it to me in small words" look, which was very good indeed after spending so long with the Doctor. "Sorry, I assumed you knew, what with you being the originator of crystal-mediated time travel and all. The Great Crystal only allows you into the past. You get back to your own time by going into stasis, and the booth I was planning to use is a good two solar systems away."
Fitz decided that all in all, this was shaping up to be a very bad night. The entire future seemed to be holding an impromptu reunion in the hotel room, which had been very spacious for two but was beginning to feel a little cramped at fifty-odd, and goodness knew how many more would be turning up as the amount of future that could reach back this far increased hyperexponentially, whatever that meant. And now it turned out that they couldn't just all disappear home again, so he'd be stuck with them until morning at the very least. Worse still, the ones who seemed to like him best were a bunch of Space Nazis. And just to top it all off, the girl had only ever been using him, really, and they'd been interrupted before she'd even had the chance.
Fitz looked into the mirror, as though to ask his reflection what he should do. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw himself wearing a strange suit of armour with a chest piece constructed from giant spiky bones. He blinked and the vision was gone.
Now what on Earth did that mean? Other than that being surrounded by crazy time travellers was driving him round the twist.
The time for thinking, Fitz thought, was over. It was time to take action.
"Mind if I borrow this?" he said to the nearest Kavanaxian, grabbing his stubby blaster thing from its holster. Before the soldier could react, he darted off through the crowd of confused time tourists back to the crystal and slammed one hand down onto it ...
... to find himself in the alleyway where the whole thing all started, hand right next to his own hand from earlier. He looked up into his own eyes and, more importantly, the lit cigarette still in his own mouth, then down to see that his shoe was still untied. He grinned with relief -- it had worked! -- and then realised that his earlier self was giving him a deeply suspicious look.
"One question," the other Fitz said. "Are you a future version of me or some sort of evil alien duplicate?"
"The first one," he said.
"Ah, but that proves nothing. You'd say that even if you were a duplicate."
Fitz smiled. "Not much gets past us, does it?"
"What do you want, anyway?"
"I have to destroy that crystal you've just touched before an alien woman uses it to travel back in time and try to sleep with you."
They looked at each other.
"Definitely a duplicate."
"No, listen, now that you've touched it this little bit of rock's become all charged with time travel stuff and ... oh, it's too complicated, that's the whole problem. The thing is, because I'm from very near in the future I can come back here and destroy it before anyone else can use it." So saying, he picked up the crystal and pointed the Kavanaxian weapon at it at point blank range.
"What's going to happen?" his earlier self asked.
"Don't know," Fitz said. "But it can't be worse than what I've just been through." He pulled the trigger; the crystal shattered, sparks flying everywhere. He had to admit to being quite relieved when his earlier self disappeared in a swirl of golden sparkles. Two of him running around would have been confusing for everyone.
He threw the gun into the gutter and headed back inside.
* * *
Anji knocked back a good swig of her pint. She knew that the Doctor couldn't help his stupid idealism but she also knew that he was very clever and surely he could see that reality didn't work that way just because he wished it did. She was saved from saying something she might really have regretted, though, by Fitz coming back in. He looked frayed -- shirt untucked, hair messier than normal, and she wasn't entirely sure his shoes were on the right way round.
"That must have been a very good cigarette," she said.
"Oh, don't start," Fitz said.
Anji realised he was being serious and gave him a sympathetic look. "What happened?"
"You're really not going to believe me," he said.
"Try us," the Doctor said with a smile.
Fitz told his story. He needed a lot of prompting from the Doctor, and it wasn't in anything resembling a sensible order, but then if he was telling the truth then such a thing probably didn't exist.
"It all seems a bit far-fetched to me," Anji said when he'd finally finished. "Especially the parts about the beautiful alien woman who was all over you and you figuring out how to fix it."
"Hey!" Fitz said.
"I don't know," the Doctor said. "There might be something to it."
"Well, I can easily believe that the crystal siphoned off some of Fitz's excess artron energy ..."
"But all that other stuff seems very improbable," Anji said. "Time tourists?"
"Did you ever meet Stephen Hawking?" he asked, in that casual way of his. "Fascinating chap. Demon at poker." Anji just looked blank. "He was always asking me where the time tourists were. But the main thing is, he had this thing called the Chronology Protection Conjecture, which basically boiled down to the idea that time travel would never happen because it was all just too silly."
"Right!" Fitz said. "Anyone who creates time travel the way I just did--" he gave Anji a significant look "--ends up being the only person who can get rid of it, and they have to because otherwise they'd just go bonkers. Makes sense to me."
"Obviously," said the Doctor, "we know Hawking was wrong, but perhaps there was something to it after all. Maybe certain unstable forms of time travel are susceptible to the sort of shenanigans that Fitz just experienced."
"Or maybe the sequence of events that wipes the TARDIS out of the timeline is just really complicated, so it hasn't been completed yet," Anji said. "After all, you don't really know where it came from, do you? So you've got no idea what sequence of events could lead to its destruction. Or uncreation. Or whatever."
Belatedly, Anji realised quite how horrified the Doctor's expression had become during her little speech. "So, communism," she said, rather too loudly. "You know all Communist regimes inevitably become massively corrupt, don't you?"