"There's nothing I can do. Everyone's going to die." The Doctor said softly, with a wounded look upon his suddenly ancient face.
Having powered down the TARDIS to keep things from overloading, the Doctor and Donna stood in the dimmed light of the main control room, waiting for the inevitable. He turned from her, looking down at his trainers, not wanting Donna to see the tear forming in his eye.
"There's not much time left, Donna. A few moments, and everything will be gone." He sighed. "I just want say, how very happy I am to have met you. You've been...amazing. Thank you for finding me again."
So overwrought with emotion, that she didn't even feel the tears rolling down her cheeks, Donna went to him. Leaning her head against the Doctor's shoulder, she whispered, "Traveling with you...I wouldn't have given this up if my very life depended upon it. And, I'm glad I'm here with you, in the end. I wouldn't want you to die alone. That would be awful."
"Oh my God." She exclaimed, pulling away from him with a horrified look. "I've only just realized. My granddad and my mum. All my friends. They'll cease to exist too, won't they?"
"Donna, I..." He took a shuddering breath.
That's when he noticed a yellow blip flashing on the monitor screen.
"Here it comes!" The Doctor shouted grimly. "Donna! Get away from the console! She's gonna' blow!"
The Doctor physically dragged Donna back, putting protective arms around her. Donna cowered, as the Doctor did his best to shelter her from the pending implosion. There was a huge crash. The two of them were thrown together, as the TARDIS tilted crazily.
A heartbeat later, the ship righted herself again. The central column lit up and resumed it's regular pumping action, the TARDIS groaning along, as the ship began flying normally. The lights automatically came back on, as well. In fact, the TARDIS was reacting as if nothing untoward had happened at all.
Tensely watching the central console, the Doctor waited for it to explode. There was one brief, quiet fizzle. He raised an eyebrow, as he watched a tiny puff of smoke drift up towards the ceiling.
"Eh?" The Doctor said, looking askance at his TARDIS. "Is that it?"
Opening her eyes, Donna peered around the Doctor. Open-mouthed, in turns, she silently glared at the Doctor and then at the perfectly functioning controls. A half a minute later, Donna hauled off and punched the Doctor in the arm.
"What was that for?" He whinged at her indignantly, gingerly rubbing the sore spot.
"Were you just having me on? Or was this like, some sort of fire drill or something? Only, you could have told me! You scared me half to death!" She huffed at him.
"Trust me, Donna. No one's more surprised than I am." The Doctor told her with a shake of his head. His face lit up with a smile. "Isn't that brilliant? I love it when that happens."
"Brilliant isn't quite the same adjective I'd use, Doctor, no." A less than agreeable Donna replied. "Only that one's a bit too rude for me to say out loud."
"Alright, Donna. Sorry. But, focus on this: we're alive! So's the rest of the world. I can take you home for a visit, if you're worried about your family. After I've taken care of things down on Earth. Time may still be on its proper course now, but if every human on the planet is converted..."
Leaving that last statement hanging in the air, the Doctor turned to the business of finding Pharaoh's ship. Donna watched him for a moment, then tapped the Doctor on the shoulder.
"What is it, Donna?" The Doctor asked tersely, as he concentrated on piloting his ship.
"Erm—sorry, Doctor. About what I said. I mean, that stuff about scaring me. It wasn't your fault." She apologized.
"Yeah." Was all he said, not looking at her.
The Doctor's head was down, focusing on getting a stuck lever to work. He reached over and grabbed a mallet hanging off the console. Taking a big swing, he whacked the mallet against the lever. It moved fractionally. The wheezing of the TARDIS got louder, and the central column churned up and down slightly faster than before. After watching it for a moment, the Doctor gave a nod of satisfaction. He went on with the task of pushing buttons and twisting dials.
Donna was beginning to feel a bit like a spare part, with nothing to do. To make conversation, she asked, "There was a pyramid back there. Near Pharaoh's temple. Did Cybermen help build it?"
"You humans!" He threw up his hands and gave her a look. "You'll believe in a fictional religion from Star Wars, but refuse to believe that a giant pyramid could be constructed without the aid of alien technology. As it happens, it was already there by the time the Cybermen came along. Trust me. The ancient Egyptians were no more clever or stupid than their present day counterparts."
"Alright, alright! No pyramids built by aliens. Got it, Doctor." Donna shrugged. "That'll be a blow to all the tin-foil hat people."
"I didn't say that. One of them was alien-built, Donna. Amenhotep's chief architect was a Rosicrucian. They come from a small planet near the Àgötaras Nebula. Narrow, pointy heads. Big blobby bodies. They had a thing for that sort of design. Thought that art should imitate the body. Best strippers and pole dancers in the universe." The Doctor hesitated and actually blushed. "Erm—or so I've been...ah...told."
Before Donna could question him about that, the central column stopped moving. The TARDIS ceased its wheezing as it thumped to a halt. The Doctor breathed a silent sigh of relief. Grabbing his long coat and shrugging it on, his trainers fairly skipped towards the door. He flung it open. As he did, a shaft of late afternoon sunlight flooded the TARDIS interior. Squinting their eyes against it, Donna and the Doctor stepped through the doorway and took in their surroundings.
The were in a woodland surrounded by rolling hills. The sun was only just beginning to set. About a quarter mile behind the TARDIS, through the tops of the trees, they glimpsed the slate-shingled roof and tall white, metal-capped silo of an American style barn.
From the woods, a mockingbird sang out merrily, and a squirrel scolded them from a low-hanging branch. Crickets chirped their mating song in the tall grass. Far away on the wind, came the faint sound of a cockerel's crow. If mankind was alarmed at the sudden crash of an alien spaceship, nature seemed to be taking it all in stride.
In front of them, was the still smoking hole, in which Pharaoh's ship lay half buried in the dirt and leaves. Of Pharaoh, there was no sign.
"Do you think he's still in there?" Donna whispered.
"I don't know."
Donna began to creep towards the edge of the hole. The heat from the ship had turned the red clay to mud, and she nearly slipped and fell.
"Careful!" The Doctor said, grabbing her by the elbow and pulling Donna back towards him. "Better let me go first."
All of the sudden, the Doctor's highly-tuned ears could just about make out the shouts of men. He knew that they were just the first wave. Curious farmers and their sons,mainly, coming to check out the crash site. A loud hooter blew somewhere in the distance. It slowly cranked down, rose in it's single hoarse note again, and then kept on repeating.
"Is there going to be an air raid or something?" Donna asked, confused by the noise.
"No, Donna. That would be the town fire department. It's calling out the volunteers to man the apparatus. Which means, we've not got much time. They're just the locals right now. Probably think it's a downed plane. But, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that American military won't be very far behind. They've been tracking this ship for quite a while. Whatever's to be done, I'll have to do it in a hurry."
"What's the most they can they do, if they catch us here?" Donna scoffed. "Boss us about. Make us go home. 'Tell it to the marines?' Pfft. I'd tell those boys a thing or two."
"Oh, I bet you would! I'd almost feel sorry for any general who got on the wrong side of you. You'd make Stalin himself turn tail and run."
The Doctor's eyes glinted with humour. Then, the look faded.
"Unfortunately, It's nineteen sixty-five."
"Yeah, I know that Doctor." Donna rolled her eyes. "What about it?"
"America's in the throes of a nuclear weapons psychosis. Schools hold atomic bomb drills and show young children safety films with titles like, 'Duck and Cover'. They're deep in the cold war, and there's an unidentified aircraft flying over their airspace. I imagine the U.S. military is rather cross right now. Not to mention scared. And take it from me, you cannot reason with paranoid people, Donna. Two alien ships landing in the same place, at the same time? I'd say we'd all definitely be in a spot of trouble if they catch us here."
All of the sudden, a sickly, glowing green gas began seeping though open door of the ship. It was jammed open against the side of the hole.
"Stay back! It's javron gas. The crash must've caused a leak somewhere inside the ship. Highly toxic to humans. A concentrated amount like that would kill you in less than a second." The Doctor warned Donna.
"There's people coming." She told him, casting a backwards glance. Firetruck and ambulance sirens had begun to wail from the direction of the town. Though she couldn't make out any words, Donna could now hear men shouting, coming ever closer. "What about them?"
"It's safe enough once the gas dissipates into the air. But, that could take a few minutes, and we haven't got that much time. I need to see if Pharaoh is still alive."
"Can he survive poison gas? She queried him.
"How should I know? It's not exactly like I've met many Cybermen with a god complex before, have I?"
"What about you? Won't you be poisoned, too?" Donna worried, staring now at the billowing, glowing cloud of gas, still oozing out of the ship.
The Doctor said nothing. His face was sober, set with a determined, fatalistic expression. Without him saying a word, Donna knew exactly what that meant.
"No! You can't!" She cried out, tearing at his sleeve, trying to stop him. "Doctor, please. I'm begging you. Don't."
"I have to, Donna." He said quietly.
"But...you could die."
Giving her a lop-sided smile, he shrugged.
"Meh. There's worse things than death."
She boggled at that. "What could be worse than dying?"
His smile faded. "When you've lived through your worst nightmares, Donna, death doesn't loom so large anymore. It doesn't give the same size and scope to your life, as it once did. And sometimes, neither does living."
"But, you do go on living, Doctor. That's the whole point, isn't it?"
The Doctor heaved a heavy sigh and suddenly looked immeasurably sad.
"Yes, you do, Donna. But sometimes, carrying on with living can feel like a life sentence. When those things which always anchored your feet to the ground and made you what you are, are suddenly taken away, there's this temptation hanging before you. It's the desire not to care anymore."
"You care. I know you care." Donna said encouragingly.
"Yes, I do." His lips compressed into a thin smile, but it didn't quite reach the Doctor's eyes. "Because not caring is a trap. It's taking the easy way out. Because if you stop caring, if you shut out the world, then you've already stopped living. I suppose, that's why I need to have someone with me when I travel. Like you, Donna. To keep me focused on what's really important. I need a friend, not just to stop me...but to give me a reason to go on. To keep regenerating."
"Regene-what?" A baffled Donna asked. "I dunno', Doctor. Sometimes I think you just like making up words."
"Donna. I'm nine hundred years old, because I don't die. I regenerate. Same mind, same memories, different body. Every time I change though, it's like a death. The old me dies, a new man takes over. Yet, ever since I watched my planet and her people burn...for one brief moment last time, I was tempted to stop the regeneration process. To close the book and just let it end there. If it hadn't been for Rose..."
He abruptly ceased talking, almost shaking himself like a dog. He broke into a broad smile and winked at Donna.
"But then, that would mean never meeting humans like you. Be a shame to miss out on that."
"I don't know." Donna shook her head sadly. "That must be an awful way to live, sometimes."
"I'm a Time Lord. I go with the flow. It's both my curse and my good fortune. As an old mate of mine once wrote, 'He whom the gods love dies young.' Which I suppose means that the gods must really hate Time Lords...and Mick Jagger."
"You're going to give him a chance, aren't you? Pharaoh, I mean. You're going to ask him to make a better choice. Do you really think he'll accept? Has anyone ever changed their mind, Doctor?"
After a long pause the Doctor admitted, "No, not really."
Now Donna gave the Doctor a sad smile. "Still, you're gonna' try, aren't you? Only, I think I understand why, now."
Blinking in surprise, the Doctor looked at Donna as if seeing her for the first time. On impulse, he bent down and kissed her on the forehead. Standing back, gave her a warm smile.
"Yeah, Donna. I really think you do."
"OK, Doctor. Enough with the touchy-feely stuff. Next thing you know, we'll be havin' group hugs and singin' songs around the campfire. Alright, then. Go on, spaceman." Smiling, she gestured with her head towards Pharaoh's ship. "Better shake a leg before the military starts mucking in. You know what that lot are like. Especially the Americans. Drop bombs and ask questions later. Oh, and Doctor...Good luck."
With nothing more to be said, the Doctor gave her one last, fleeting smile. Then he turned and clambered down into the hole, which was now filled with the poisonous gas.