The Season of the Walrus
Set after End of Days

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.

A landscape of the mind: a harsh lunar plain of fractal knife blades and cloudscapes of deceitful softness. It is a place of hideous coldness: too bright and barren for the naked eye to gaze in comfort. Too frigid for touch or taste. It is both silent and deafening. The blizzards come and go, the ice remains.

The station lies half buried under a snow drift; the crystalline powder blowing gently in the wind creating graceful curves under the eaves. Seagull grey walls blend in with the dirty smears of the glacier. Even the door appears camouflaged against the glaring calculus of the ground; it lies at the end of a natural culvert, darkened by the overhanging roof. Warm air leaking from inside has kept it relatively free of obstructions. Projecting from the side of the frame a metal pipe steams wastefully into the thin air. It vibrates in the gusts, a deep and mournful lament. The cry of a frozen behemoth of long ago.

No footprints mar the stark virginity of the base. No spoor, no birdsong, no green blade of grass. All traces of habitation have been swept away by gales. This is a place devoid of presence. Instead of life there is merely the geometry of cruelty. A wilderness of terror and beauty and the utter absence of hope. Here all mistakes are fatal. Second chances freeze into the brittleness of stalactites.

To the dirge of the pipe and the harsh conspiratorial whispers of the winds another sound is blended in: ticking insistently like the death rattle of a whaling ship caught in crushing ice. Drowned out now by a rhythmic sound of breathing, rising and falling, rising and falling, becoming over time less a noise and more a physical solidity. During a lull in the gusts a blue door is flung open. A tall, gangly man steps purposefully into the maw of the drifts. A second figure, this time exhibiting a healthy hesitancy, follows him in the direction of the station’s entrance, hands thrust deep into pockets in a vain attempt to ward off frostbite.

"Where are we, Doc? Your Fortress of Solitude?" Footsteps crunched into compacted snow.

The Doctor looked mildly bewildered. "Man of Bronze?" He raised a white tennis shoe to kick at the door frame. A thin patina of ice flaked off. Rattled the door handle with bare fingers, wincing at the way his skin stuck to the metal.

"Superman… Y’know, DC Comics?" Jack followed him over the threshold, careful to avoid treading snow into the warm corridor beyond, his epaulettes glinting in the low sun.  Behind him the wind had already begun its brushwork on their trail.

"Oh. That." The door was shouldered closed behind them, ignoring the protesting creak of the wood. "And it’s Doctor. Not Doc, Prof, Professor or Mate." Hands rubbed briskly for warmth. "This is it: Research Station B – known unaffectionately by those privileged to have been posted here as ‘the Ice Box’."  

Without windows the electric lights cast a wan yellow glow over the hallway. The décor was spartan, utilitarian. A notice board announced the daily rota for that week: kitchen duty; boiler-stoking; the cataloguing of samples. The Doctor peered myopically into the rooms as they passed – mess hall (hardly larger than a ship’s galley), dormitory: male, dark room, dormitory: female, technical store – before finding a location that suited him. Jack followed him quietly, not quite sure of this new version of Time Lord.

It was a laboratory of sorts: all dark wooden benches and distemper-coloured walls. "November 23rd, 1952. 11:20am." The Doctor’s hand hovered over the dark wood. Oak he thought. Such endeavours undertaken to bring it here, thousands of miles from the forest of its birth. The weight carried here over the ice, the hidden crevasses, through leagues of danger to a place of its abandonment. The grains were well defined under his fingertips. Each whorl and knot carved in bas relief from years of use. He drummed a beat thoughtfully on the massy surface oblivious to the chemical stains of permanganate and aqua regia. Then an empty glass beaker was picked up, examined with an intense curiosity before being replaced almost as an afterthought. "Six people worked here. Six. In a space designed without recourse to personal privacy." In the background a clock ticked remorselessly away.

Jack was captivated by a glossy periodic table tacked to a wall with brass pins. Someone had crudely inked the last two elements onto the chart in red and black: Einsteinium and Fermium, bringing the total number to exactly one hundred. Beneath the square boxes a neat feminine script read 'from Los Alamos with love".  Despite the obvious care taken in transporting it uncreased a corner was ragged and curled as if burned.

The noise of the clock was distracting him. He wondered how anyone could concentrate under the relentless clockwork voice. Presumably when the laboratory was full the noise of the extractors in the fume cupboards and the gales outside drowned out the sound.

All this wood in a continent free from trees. He commented on this to the Doctor.

"Expediency. It's about the only material that can survive the extremes in temperature. Metal and plastic become too brittle."

He'd been in a sour mood ever since Jack had asked about Rose. Don't ask, don't tell seemed to be the order of the day. Well Jack wasn't one for telling but he was quite prepared to attack the subject laterally as it were. He missed the idiot-savant buffoon with spade teeth and a blistering smile. This new person was harder to fathom. Layers upon layers. Spirals within spirals. The charm was there, and the warmth, hidden just below the surface as if waiting for a chance to bite at the proffered rod-and-line. But it was the I-know-best attitude that grated. He was more used to giving that than receiving it, and it was damn well difficult to swallow it. Being told Ianto 'seemed a nice boy' was an insight-too-far. A slap in the face to his guilt in abandoning the Hub for a jaunt in the Tardis with someone who had turned out to no longer exist. The Spiv might grow on him but deep down he’d rather be locked away in the Antarctic with Big Ears. Better the Doctor you know.
"It's like the Marie Celeste here." There was something about the place which made Jack uneasy. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. "Have they gone out for a morning constitutional?"

"No. No daleks here," came the reply. It was obvious from his voice this answer was not going to be explained. "They've left of their own accord. Taken the sledges and started the long walk back to the waiting ship, and England. Never to return." He picked up the beaker again as if judging the temperature. "About forty minutes ago, I reckon." He ignored Jack's rather plaintive "Why?".

"One will die of a ruptured appendix during the voyage home. Five of them will reach home. One will die in a car accident. Two will kill themselves over the next couple of decades. One will die of a heart attack. The last will pass away from a stroke a few minutes into the next millennium. Fifty years from now there will be no evidence this place ever existed. No records, no memories." His eyes were full of sadness for their sacrifices.

"Doctor," said Jack suddenly. "What is that ticking noise?"

"Nothing to worry about. It’s just a time bomb." So nonchalant.

"Are you going to disarm it?"

The Doctor was horrified. "Disarm it? Disarm it! I’ve come here to ensure it goes off!" His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down with conviction.


And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.

The cast iron door of the furnace was ajar. The Doctor prodded it open with the end of a green fountain pen. Poked around in the cold grey ashes and uncovered fragments of bone. "Dog femur." There was the hint of pride in the voice at confirming the evidence. Feet stamped on the floor to pummel life into insensitive toes.

"They burned their dogs?" Jack asked with the sense of something pivotal being discovered. He pulled the sides of his coat closer. The temperature in the outhouse was only a few degrees above the outside environment. Most of the heat had dissipated through the thickly lagged pipes into the main building.

"Reason it out." A command honed to an order devoid of compromises. The regimen of parade ground callisthenics and salted porridge. A voice that took no prisoners.

Incinerated. Not poisoned. Not shot. Cell tissues destroyed. The ghost of a film plot drifted through his thoughts. Man is the warmest place to hide. "An infection? A parasite?"

The Doctor shook his head. "It's too cold for normal pathogens to thrive." He prodded the door shut. "Lets go back to the lab," and, heavy with irony he added, "I don’t want you freezing to death."

Not buried. Burned. Jack  remembered the tank of kelp they had found earlier, the contents reduced to component slime by acids. "They're destroying the DNA." But this was 1952, a year before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Watson and Crick for their unravelling of the double helix. "No, not the DNA. The cell nuclei. The chromosomes. Removing any chance of future examination."

A sudden hand slapped him admiringly on the shoulder making him stumble on the compacted ice. "Well done Captain. There's hope for you yet."

They had been conscientious from the start, he explained to Jack as they re-entered the station. With foresight a base had been built away from habitation, reducing the risks of contamination should anything go wrong. But the work they were engaged on was purely altruistic: to breed a variety of kelp which once dried would provide vitamins and minerals for the world's starving. A cheap source of nutrition from a humble seaweed. The experiments had been small-scale: chromosomal manipulation of genetic stock. Without full knowledge of the structure of DNA they had fallen back on theory and empiricism. Yet it had worked. A strain was developed which supplied the basic elements for life. But it was sickly, too weak to stand the relentless tides of the sea. So they went back to the microscope and the Petri dish and bred a new variety for toughness.

"What went wrong?"

"Nothing," the Doctor said sadly toying with the beaker again. "Nothing at all. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Humans are such an inventive species. There's nothing you can't do given perseverance and serendipity." He rested his elbows on the bench, cupping his chin in his hands, and looked expectantly at his fellow traveller.

The kelp. The dogs. The boiler room. The alkali residues. Jack tried to puzzle it out. You'd exceeded expectations. What next? Celebrations? Or would you continue, trying to push back the boundaries of possibility. "They moved on from plants, didn't they? But the only other thing to hand were their dogs. They repeated the experiments on their dogs…!"

It had to be something so terrible that they would destroy their work to hide it. If it wasn’t contagious it had to be something else. Had it driven their animals insane? No. There was no sign of violence in any of the deserted rooms. If anything they were neat and tidy. Evidence of the meticulous nature of the scientists. It had to be something else. Something that touched the Doctor personally. A firecracker exploded in his mind as the facts coalesced violently into a single thought.


"I'm right, aren't I?" It made a kind of sense. A world where injury would heal spontaneously, where diseases could be kept at bay. However this was the Fifties – the Cold War was at its height. The scientists could easily have seen their discovery turned to military use. Perpetually self-healing soldiers set against an eternal enemy. This was why the Doctor had brought him here. As a warning. As an example for the man who couldn't die.

It had the ring of plausibility about it, his tale. But what was the old spies' adage about always suspecting topicality in reports? He wouldn't have put it past this Doctor to have whisked up the story in a fit of Machiavellian pique. He was certainly capable of spinning a yarn on the run. Extemporising sermons and lessons on snow bourn sorrow. Ultima Thule: beyond known borders. This was the Doctor's territory.

The bomb was real enough. They could still hear the relentlessness of the clockwork. Packed tight with cordite used mundanely for clearing ice floes, punching passages through the heart of the glacier. Makeshift, but it would do. There was more than enough explosive power to blow the base apart, obliterating the contents. If the blast itself didn't do enough damage the chain reaction from the oil drums in the outhouse would set the remains alight. All eventualities covered.

Was he supposed to remain within the blast radius, test his invulnerability with a experiment reminiscent of the witch trials of history? Only innocent if killed. Guilty if left standing. Even this new Doctor couldn't be so brutal. Could he? "There's a difference," he started. "The people here had a choice. They pushed. They broke through. What happened to me was a side-effect."

"Still the same old Jack Harkness. Always thinking the world revolves around him." He'd had the sermon. Now came the morality lesson.

Regeneration. Ah. Of course.

"It's the hand, isn't it? You're frightened we'll discover something we're not ready for."

"Actually." said the Doctor, his face black with anger. "It's far, far more personal than that." He swept the flask off the table and watched it smash onto the floor. "The hero worship was bad enough. Flattering for a time, even for an old lag like me. But to hang onto a severed limb goes beyond admiration. You've entered a whole new universe of freakiness. Do you have any idea of how absolutely cold that leaves me? I mean people have been locked up for stealing underwear. How long is the sentence for coveting body parts?"

Jack closed his eyes. Swallowed hard. If only the ticking would stop so he could think clearly. "It's not like that—"

"Isn't it? I save your pathetic little hides time and again and all you do is set up an organisation to stop me. You're a hypocrite, Captain. A fake. You work for a body who considers me part of the problem then given the first opportunity you jump aboard my ship with a misplaced idea that you mean something to me. And if that wasn't bad enough you've also formed an emotional attachment to a disembodied limb purely because it used to be joined to the rest of me."

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. All he wanted was to dance under alien stars and listen to the music of the Tardis. Relax out of his armour, away from the pressures of his castle. Now the Doctor’s treatment of him was even colder than the air outside. For a moment he wished he could click his heels and be back in the Hub with the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch and the Friend of Dorothy.

"I… I…" Focus Jack, focus. "I was keeping it for you."

"Oh so it’s lost property now? ‘Hello officer, I’ve misplaced a limb.’ ‘Thank you sir, can you tell me the last time you had it?’" Lips pursed. "Tell me one thing Jack Harkness. Just one little thing."

Jack stared at the cracked glass of the fume cupboard as if looking for an exit. "What now?"

"What in the name of Davros am I supposed to do with it?" The lips twitched slightly. "It’s not as if I can leave it lying around my ship as an ornament. ‘Come in, this is my Tardis. Make yourself at home. Put your feet up. Don’t mind the severed hand in the glass jar.’"

Jack’s head snapped around just fast enough to see a smirk hidden behind a hand. "You. Complete. Bastard."

"Got you thinking though." The Doctor grinned. "There are always consequences to what we do. Never forget that."

They stood in the silence for a few seconds staring at each other.

Silence. Oh shit, thought Jack.



AUTHOR'S NOTE: All quote are from Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass.