Thanks to dark_aegis for helping the Doctor decide what to say. :-)
It was only dawn. They’d jumped forward a few hours, but it was still too early to expect the Master to be on board.
They needed to find somewhere to wait. Quietly, perception filters on, they explored the area they’d arrived in.
“This will do,” the Doctor decided, and pulled his human companions into a small storage room.
Settling themselves amongst the cleaning supplies, they sat down on the floor. Staring blankly at one wall, the Doctor listened with half an ear as Martha and Jack chatted softly. Like typical humans, they felt the need to fill the empty time with nervous conversation.
To the Doctor, there was no such thing as empty time.
Potential timelines swirled around him dizzyingly. As he stared through the wall in front of him, he stared into the nearly infinite possibilities of the universe.
The Doctor had never been particularly adept at sorting through the intricacies of the timelines, and so to keep from driving himself mad he usually kept his awareness to just the broadest outline of possible events. But, sitting in a cramped storage room in this particular moment, the possibilities confronting him were too tempting to ignore.
He wanted to know. He needed to know that everything was going to be all right. There were just the two of them left, of all the Time Lords there had once been, and it was all his responsibility. He needed the reassurance of knowing.
But something was clouding his senses, turning the bright strands of time into fuzzy, tangled knots. At first, he thought it was Jack. What else could make his perception of time go all fuzzy but being squashed into a tiny cupboard beside an impossible fixed point? Like a gravity well bending space around it, Jack’s mere existence bent time. Shattered it, even.
But no. He was slowly beginning to become desensitized to Jack’s oddly wrong presence. He was learning to compensate for Jack’s distortion, to perceive time clearly around him.
Something else was going on.
Throwing caution to the wind, the Doctor tried to follow that vague notion through the fuzzy timelines. He tried to pin it down in either the past, the present, or the future, so he could track it to its source and understand it.
But he really never had been very good at sorting through the timelines. He found himself falling deeper and deeper into the potential realities, unable to untangle their respective threads cleanly enough to fully grasp each line’s possibilities and probabilities. There were just too many, and he was almost sure that it was their sheer weight that caused everything to suddenly look so fuzzy.
There would be a massive paradox, tearing its way through the fabric of the universe. There would be no paradox, just the machinations of the Master. There had been frightening metal balls, mysteriously named after a traditional Gallifreyan nightmare and yet containing a much worse nightmare all their own. There had been silly mechanical toys, built by the Master for the sole purpose of luring the Doctor into a trap which would devastate him and his companions. The Master was alive, hiding away, waiting to return. The Master was dead, long dead and gone.
The Master was alive. The Master had died years ago. The Master would be alive in the future. He would die. Had died. Could live. Wouldn’t…
“Doctor? Are you all right?”
Martha would save the world. Martha had been murdered. Martha was leaving him…
“Doctor! Doctor, answer me!”
Jack had died for him. Jack had lived for Rose. Jack would die. Jack would live. Jack was dying. Jack was alive. Jack was everywhere. He had to listen to Jack…
The Doctor’s awareness snapped back into functional reality with a sickening feeling of looking too closely at something that wasn’t meant to exist. Jack backed away when pushed, a hurt and worried look on his face, and the Doctor’s vision cleared.
“Sorry,” the Doctor gasped. “Sorry, sorry.”
“What happened?” Martha asked him, so much concern in her voice.
“I was looking where I should know better than to look. Got a bit turned around,” the Doctor admitted, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand. “Sorry I frightened you.”
“The timelines?” Jack surmised.
The Doctor nodded carefully. A headache he probably deserved was beginning to make itself known.
“What?” Martha asked, confused. “You were looking at timelines? What does that mean?”
“I can see potential in time, different realities shifting and falling into place. But if I look too closely, if I’m not careful enough, I can get lost,” the Doctor explained.
“Then be careful, would you? You looked like you were having a seizure!” Martha scolded him, trying to sound annoyed but unable to remove most of the worry from her tone.
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor repeated, looking down at the floor.
“What did you see?” Jack asked him gently.
“Too much,” the Doctor sighed. He waved his hands through the air, as if to help him articulate his thoughts.“Too many conflicting timelines, all fuzzy and balled up together and…”
“Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey?” Martha said, filling in the words for him when he trailed off and dropped his hands into his lap.
The Doctor nodded. “Something like that.”
Jack peeked at his vortex manipulator.
“It’s 7:30. Half an hour until the broadcast,” he reported.
“So we’re stuck here for another half hour,” Martha said, sighing and shifting her position in search of a more comfortable seat on the metal floor.
The Doctor silently sympathized with her, shifting his own position and wincing as the motion set off his budding headache. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the shelf behind him.
“A bit less, actually. We’ll have to look around to figure out where the press conference is,” Jack pointed out. “I get the impression this is not a small ship.”
“I get the impression that air craft carriers usually aren’t,” Martha agreed, matching his sarcasm. “It is brilliant, though, an air craft carrier in the sky. I had no idea we had that kind of technology!”
“Welcome to the new millennium,” Jack answered, smiling at her. “Hey, Doc, you’re being awful quiet. You aren’t nosing around in the timelines again, are you?”
His tone was light, but the Doctor knew that Jack was serious. Geared up for a mission as he was, the ex Time Agent and current Torchwood leader would not take kindly to a distracted ally.
“No,” the Doctor replied. He had been thinking about trying again, but there was no need to admit that to Jack.
He did know that it would be safer not to look again. He tried to find a way to remove the temptation, or at least fill up their remaining wait with something else to think about.
“So…” he began, clapping his hands enthusiastically despite his headache. Trying not to sound like he was nervously making conversation, he asked, “Well, what should we talk about for the next twenty minutes? I know! Movies! Have either of you ever seen the Wizard of Oz?”