Chapter Thirty Nine
: Wow, this is a way longer section than I thought it'd be.
One of the all time best I'm like cookies lines in the entire thing.
And the PTB explained.
It's long, so I'll let you start reading. Enjoy!
Buffy had been to the Axis before, but never to its Hub. Or at least, not when its Hub was anything like this.
It was a vast, empty whiteness, stretching into infinity. The air itself shimmering around them, like a cat surveying them with laughing eyes. Buffy squinted, and the more she looked, the more she thought… she could make out shapes. As if something were just beyond the horizon, and she couldn't quite see it clearly.
"It's empty," said Martha, approaching from behind, with Seo. She glanced over at the child. "You really grew up here?"
Seo stood still, at the top of the steps, her eyes fixed on the landscape around her. A battle evident in her countenance. She reached out, then tugged back her hand.
A part of her wanted, so badly, to go back to her home, back to her place of safety. To return to the realm she knew and understood. Another part, very clearly, never wanted to set foot there, again.
"Empty," Seo agreed, at long last. She looked off into the distance, her entire expression falling into sadness. "Very empty."
The Doctor put his hands into his pockets, rolled on his trainers. "Home isn't the same without the people," he said, very quietly. "Is it?"
Seo turned to him, their eyes locking. Seeing in the Doctor an understanding of what it meant to return to a home that had been invaded, a home devoid of the friendly faces and kind people that had made it home. A home with no family. A home destroyed.
"I never wanted to come back," Seo said. She stepped forward, picked something up from the ground. Something that Buffy hadn't noticed, before — that she saw plainly, now. A pair of stuffed child's dolls. One of her, vampire-stake in hand. One of the Doctor, holding his sonic.
The Buffy doll had been torn open, the stuffing tumbling out of its mid-section.
Buffy looked around, and suddenly, discovered that she could see. That the entire landscape was strewn with fallen and tumbled objects and items. Chairs tossed to the ground, a table with a missing leg, books and objects scattered across the floor. Broken shards of glass mixed into the carpet.
A ransacked house. Searched top to bottom.
"But you always knew you would," the Doctor pointed out. "If you succeeded in saving who you set out to save."
Seo didn't answer. Her fingers lingering over the torn stuffing, as if it were a gaping wound. Her hands shaking, as she gritted her teeth, her eyes focusing with a hard intensity.
"Not fair," she said. "It's just not fair!" She threw the dolls onto the ground, her entire body seized with anger, as she spun around to face the Doctor. "I had nothing. Nothing but my dad, and my hopes and wishes and dreams of freedom. And they took even that away from me!"
The Doctor gave her a look of empathy. A look that showed Buffy the echo of every painful encounter with the Daleks he'd ever gone through. Every encounter that had left him, as well, with nothing.
He opened his mouth, as if to promise he'd get Seo out of this, then hesitated. Scratched his head.
Well, if the Doctor wasn't going to say it.
"You're not getting trapped here, again," Buffy told Seo. "We're going to rescue your dad and fix what's wrong with you. All at once. You won't have to choose between saving him and living your life in a prison you don't deserve."
The Doctor glanced over at Buffy, raising an eyebrow. "You really think we stand a chance against omnipotent, omniscient entities, as old or possibly older than time itself, who wield powers that defy every universal law there is?"
Buffy gave a shrug. "No," she admitted. "But that's never stopped me before." She put an arm around Seo, protectively. "Not when my family's in danger."
A delighted grin lit up the Doctor's face. He spun on his trainers, and launched himself forwards, into the Axis. "Better get to it, then!" he cried back to them, as, with only two steps, he disappeared into the distance.
Martha, annoyed, raced after him, only to run into a wall with a loud SMACK!
She stumbled backwards, her hands over her face. Then stared at the area she'd just run into, which now had a wall where there hadn't been one, before. "What…?" she asked.
"Ah, yes, you'll want to look out for that," the Doctor said, reappearing. He grabbed Martha's hand. "Doors and walls flip around here. Depending on what you wanted. Or will want. Or might want."
"Don't tell me," Buffy said, reaching out with her hand, to make sure there were no walls in front of her. "This is some backwardsly causal time whatever freaky thing."
Seo grabbed Buffy's hand, forcing it down. "That won't help," she said. "You have to do it like this." Then walked forwards, with even more confidence than the Doctor — as if walking in the Hub of the Axis were as easy as taking a walk in the park.
Which it damn well wasn't
Unlike the Doctor, Seo didn't fade into the distance with two steps, but seemed to be walking completely in sync with the landscape around her. She turned, a short ways away. "See?"
Buffy tried it.
And hit about three walls, before she arrived where Seo was.
"Well, cause and effect," the Doctor said, making his way, with Martha, towards them. Picking his way across the floor with the care of one who was making complex mathematical computations in his head with every single step. "Bit wishy-washy, up in the higher dimensions. All squishes and squashes together until you can't tell what's what. Effects happening before their causes — or even without their causes — sometimes overriding their causes completely — commonplace up here, really."
He stopped, as he noticed Seo trying to smother her laughter.
"What?" the Doctor asked.
"Nothing," said Seo, schooling her features. But the next step the Doctor took proved too much, and she burst out laughing, again.
"Where are we going, anyways?" Buffy asked the Doctor, before he could get too affronted by Seo's laughter.
The Doctor gave a little shrug. "Back room," he said.
The entrance to the back room looked like the vault door to the most secure safe at Torchwood — except heavier, thicker, and made of a metal that Buffy had never seen before. A metal that shone from the inside with a slight luminosity, whose texture felt like glass, yet shimmered like water. Buffy gave an experimental shove against it, but — as she suspected — even under her Slayer strength, the door didn't give.
Well, yeah. The door had probably been designed to keep Seo out. And Seo was way stronger than Buffy.
"Sonic screwdriver?" Martha guessed, looking up at the Doctor.
"Nah," said the Doctor. "Wouldn't work."
Martha nodded, slowly, her mind racing through the possibilities. "Not wood," she said, her eyes on the door. "So… deadlock sealed?"
"Not a real lock," the Doctor corrected. He scratched the back of his neck. "Well. Not the way you or I would think of a lock, anyways." He turned to Seo. "Bet you have a way in."
Seo clasped her hands behind her back, and put on an entirely innocent face. "No. I'd never. It's a locked door."
The Doctor grinned a little wider, and then winked at Seo.
A little sheepishly, Seo dug down into a hole that hadn't been in the wall a few seconds ago, producing a small little device that looked… well, not completely unlike a sonic screwdriver. But almost.
She pressed it down, and with a buzzing sound, the mechanisms inside the door shuddered and clicked unlocked.
Martha turned to Seo, amused. "You didn't just break into this room once or twice," she guessed. "You broke into here a lot."
Seo twirled the not-sonic-screwdriver nervously in her hand. "Well… it was a locked door," she explained. "What else could I do?"
Buffy still had her hands pressed against the metallic door. Her heart pounding more and more rapidly, as the moment came closer. The moment when she'd have to see… what her future might have been. What might have happened in her life, without the Powers that Be.
The Doctor came over to her. Put a hand on her shoulder.
She looked back. Caught his eyes with her own. Saw the empathy and compassion therein, the sorrow he felt towards her over what had been done.
"We have to go in," he told her, in a soft voice. "See what happened. It's the only way." Eyes flicking over to Seo. "For her."
"I know," said Buffy, grabbing hold of the door handle. She tried to force a laugh, but it sounded thoroughly un-laugh-like. "I mean, it's not a big deal anyways, right? My happy futures for your freedom. That… makes sense. I guess… if someone had asked me, I'd probably have signed them away myself."
Remembering, back in 2004, how the Doctor had told her it was his life or hers, and she hadn't needed to think twice about it. And she knew. She'd probably make the same choice, now.
Because even though she told herself she'd moved on, even though she told herself the Doctor part of her life was over… a part of her had never gotten over it. Never gotten over him. Still loved him so deeply, it hurt.
"But… no one asked me!" Buffy said. "No one ever even asked."
The Doctor nodded, somberly. "I'll get to the bottom of this," he promised her. "I can't undo what's been done to you, but… I can make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."
Buffy's eyes fixed on the door. For a few seconds, she said nothing.
Then, with a great big heave, Buffy opened it.
Behind the door lay a vast, secured network, filled floor to ceiling with windows showing the different timelines playing out. And there was a feeling like the room wasn't just what Buffy could see in front of her — like there were other walls, just beyond her senses, other floors and other corners, other places where timelines were stashed.
In the center was a large computer-bank type thing.
The Doctor was already flitting around it, buzzing at it with his sonic screwdriver, trying to dissect its inner workings, a grave sort of intensity on his face that wasn't matched by the excitement and curiosity shining through his eyes.
"Dad never used that," Seo said, noticing the Doctor scurrying around the computer bank. "I thought it was supposed to manipulate the timelines, but it doesn't. Dad always did that kind of thing by hand — his own way."
"Figured as much," the Doctor muttered, inputting a few settings, and checking the output. He hissed through his teeth, then glanced up at Seo. "You made a bit of a mess of this thing, trying to hack past the isomorphic controls."
Seo's cheeks went red. "Maybe a little."
The Doctor dove beneath the device, and altered a few more circuits. "That should undo the damage," he announced, popping back to his feet, and checking the reading again. "Back to normal, now."
"But it's locked, when it's normal," Seo pointed out. "It doesn't work."
"Well, course it doesn't work for you," the Doctor replied, flipping switches and sifting through information, which whizzed past his eyes far too rapidly to process. "Isomorphics seem to be locked to me
Seo furrowed her brow, clearly trying to work this all out in her mind. "Dad was expecting you to come here."
"My thoughts, exactly!" the Doctor replied, continuing to fiddle. "In fact — funny thing. The Axis is impenetrable. Inside and out. Even the Powers that Be had to force their way in here, and that was no easy feat. But…" He gave a small shrug. "Axis opened up for me. Easy as that."
"Why?" asked Seo.
"Not sure," the Doctor said. He glanced over at her. "Could be… your dad hoped that, someday, I'd turn up and get you out of here."
Seo looked a little hopeful.
Buffy, in the meantime, couldn't take her eyes away from the timelines around her. The windows that showed different probabilities for her own life. She could see… just there, that was Benjy — as a much older man, still alive, still with her, the two of them together with a family and a house of their own. And there… that was Spike, helping a far older Buffy to combat evil, in her own future. The two of them close together, very obviously involved with one another.
And so many others.
Those who'd died, those who'd left her, those who'd bolted the moment they found out the truth about her. They were all here, in these many different futures. Still alive. Still around.
Buffy felt her legs give out from under her. Felt herself falling… but was caught. By Martha.
"Just sit down," Martha told her, looking her over with a medical eye, and helping her sit on the floor. "You're in shock, but it'll wear off."
"They're… happy endings," Buffy said, in a voice barely above a whisper. Endings where everyone survived, everything turned out all right, and the heartache and loneliness never crushed her spirit. "All gone. Written out of the universe. All my happy endings."
Martha glanced at the walls around her. A pensive look on her face. "Only if you're a 12th century medieval housewife," she muttered.
Buffy snapped her head over to Martha. "What?"
Martha pointed at the walls around them. "Well, they're not your 'happy endings', are they?" she said. "They're just the endings where you find love and have a child."
The Doctor perked up his head at this, interested.
Buffy stared back at the timelines. Not sure what to say.
"Oh, that's clever," the Doctor said, with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He strolled over to the timelines, examining them all in more detail. He whipped his brainy specs out of his pocket, and shoved them on his nose. "Brilliant, Martha Jones. Absolutely brilliant."
Seo bit her lower lip, but said nothing.
"But… but… everyone's still alive," Buffy insisted. "In all those timelines. The people I've lost, they're…" She stopped. Then realized… it wasn't the people she'd lost. Just the boyfriends
Particularly, the boyfriends she'd lost after the collapse of Sunnydale in 2003.
And there were others. Other guys she didn't know, hanging out with an older version of herself. Future boyfriends. Anyone Buffy could ever love, had ever loved, or would ever love. Their futures. All dashed to pieces.
She looked over at Seo, everything coming together in her mind. Why the Powers that Be wouldn't want her to contact the Doctor after the two of them had been intimate. The way that Benjy had died just before she and him were at the spending-the-night-together stage of their relationship. The way her boyfriends were always dying, or deciding they wanted nothing to do with her… right around the moment… they became intimate.
The Powers that Be wanted to destroy Seo.
Because they were trying, desperately, to prevent any possibility that Buffy might have a child.
"But… but I couldn't have a child with some of these guys!" Buffy said. She pointed at the timelines featuring Spike. "He's a vampire. You can't have kids with a vampire."
can," said Seo. "You could even have natural born kids with a Time Lord, and that's equally impossible."
That was when Buffy noticed the section of the room devoted to her meeting up with the Doctor, again. As she saw the possibilities for the two of them.
Her heart sunk.
The Doctor gave it only a quick glance, his face unreadable. Then turned back to the computer bank, again. "Hate seeing my own future," he muttered, as he soniced the device.
"Yeah, thanks, Mr. I-Got-My-Freedom," Buffy snapped at the Doctor. "That makes me feel way better."
The Doctor didn't answer.
"I mean, what is this?" Buffy demanded, jumping to her feet. She gestured at the room around her. "The Powers that Be are so paranoid that I'll have a kid, they kill off anyone who sleeps with me? If I'm like cookies, then what the hell
kind of cookies does that make me?!"
Martha mouthed the word, "Cookies?"
"Obviously, there's some reason you can have a child with anyone, even when doing so is biologically impossible," the Doctor said, turning back to the computer bank and messing around with it, again. "And there's some potential future that could be unleashed, if you were to have a child. Something they're trying to prevent."
," Seo corrected, looking down at the ground, and shuffling her feet. "Me."
"No, no, no," the Doctor dismissed. "You're where it wound up, but there's something else out there. Something they're worried about. Some power they've accidentally unleashed on the universe, and they're afraid it'll get out."
"But it's already gotten out," said Buffy. "You said it was in Seo."
"Well, yes, at the moment," the Doctor said. "But she's completely divorced from her reality. Like I said. Her existence doesn't rely on anything in our timeline. Which means she's an independent element."
"And that's good?" said Buffy.
"If it stays in Seo, then yes," said the Doctor. "But, well. Like I said before. Cause and effect isn't quite the same, up here in the higher dimensions. Any of these futures pop into actual existence, and this something the Powers that Be are so worried about might wind up having always been somewhere else. In which case… well, if whatever-it-is becomes real
— could be a lot worse." He flipped a switch. "That's what they're worried will happen."
Martha climbed to her feet, and wandered a little closer to the Doctor. Squinting at the display, but being able to understand none of it. "What's that?" Martha asked, pointing at it.
"A log of every action ever taken in the Axis," said the Doctor. "Since the day Seo's dad showed up to take command." He buzzed it with his sonic, and the display flickered, then stabilized again. "Should be hidden somewhere in here."
"What?" Martha asked. "You're not looking for Seo's…? I mean, Seo told you whatever timeline she came from contained things that'll happen in your own—"
"Future, yes, I know," the Doctor said, with the wave of his hand. "Not looking for that."
"Then… what?" asked Martha.
The Doctor flicked another switch, his eyes still on the scrolling data in front of him. "Twilight."
"I've read that," said Martha, Buffy, and Seo all at the same time.
The Doctor's lips twitched into a small smile, his eyes still on the scrolling data. "Stephenie Meyer. Thought of that. Decided it was probably not what Toby meant."
Buffy's entire body tensed at mention of the First. "Toby?"
"Yes — when he was trying to convince me to wipe you out of history," the Doctor replied, his voice far more cheerful than Buffy felt it should be. "He seemed terribly afraid of something. And he told me that 'Twilight' had been erased."
"Buffy's got 64 copies of the book Twilight
," Seo chimed in. "I always thought that was odd."
The Doctor stopped. Spun around to face Buffy. "Sorry, you have how many copies?"
Buffy crossed her arms. "Okay, for the record, I bought none of them," she said. "They were gifts."
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow at Buffy. "You're right," he told Seo. "That is
odd." He ran a hand through his hair, then turned to Seo. "Any other odd things you've noticed, while you were on Earth?"
Seo's eyes lit up. "Yes!" she said. "Lots! Like — there's this thing that humans do, every single morning. Called 'shaving'. And if they don't, then lots of hair grows all over their face."
Buffy felt a blush coming across her cheeks.
"Ah," said the Doctor. He scratched at the stubble across his own chin. "Not just humans, actually. Men. Fairly standard."
"Dad never had to—" Seo started. Then stopped. Seeming to work it out. "Non corporeal. Of course." She tilted her head, reflecting. "I'd never thought of that, before."
The Doctor turned back to the computer banks, resuming his perusal of the data stream.
"There is this other thing that humans do," Seo said, her voice eager to gain back the attention she'd lost. "And they do it all the time, even though I don't understand its biological function. I always thought it was odd. I thought maybe humans just liked doing it, but Buffy shivers every time she taps—"
"Seo," Buffy cut in, sharply. "This… 'thing' you've noticed. Does everyone
you've met on Earth do it?"
Seo hesitated. Then, a little sheepishly, nodded.
"Okay, for future record," said Buffy, "if everyone in the world is doing something, it's not weird. It's just what normal humans do. Got it?"
Seo glanced down at Buffy's fingers, her forehead creased into a pensive frown. Then, she nodded, seeming to accept this.
"Ha!" said the Doctor, a large grin spreading across his face. "Found it! One of the first entries archived in this database." He buzzed the computer bank with his sonic, and the display stopped. "Brilliant! Molto bene!"
Then the display hesitated, flickered, and changed. Appeared to be a video of something happening, something hazy and insubstantial, but still clear enough that Buffy could make it out easily.
She just… couldn't quite believe her eyes.
There was Giles, in the crater that had once been the Hellmouth at Sunnydale. And there was Angel, coming up to him. Angel, looking somehow… off. Either evil, or in some kind of trance. And in one motion, Angel snapped Giles' neck.
The breath caught in Buffy's throat.
"Oh, no," the Doctor said. But when Buffy glanced at him, she realized his response hadn't been to the events occurring in the timeline. But to some reading he was getting off the computer banks. His eyes shifted between the projected image in the air, and the readings on the computer banks. "No, no, no, no, no." He buzzed at the computer bank with his sonic, but whatever he read there didn't inspire any more confidence. He gritted his teeth. "Those thick-headed, self-obsessed, idiotic…" he hissed.
On the image, still playing in the air, Buffy could now see herself — Scythe in hand. Her face was furious with the pain of Giles' death. Her entire body overcome with sorrow and pain and anger. In a burst of speed, she raced over to a glowing red object that hovered just over a stone pedestal, and with a swing of the Scythe, broke it.
The moment the glow retreated from the object, Buffy realized she'd seen it before. Or at least, bits of it.
She wasn't the only one.
Martha's jaw dropped. She pointed at the image. "It's another one of those Seeds!" she cried. "Just like the Seed of Eternity."
"Exactly like," the Doctor agreed. He folded his arms, contemplating this. "Interesting."
"Seed of Eternity?" Buffy asked. "What…?"
Martha turned to Buffy, animated. "It's not really a 'seed'," she explained. "Or, at least, that's what the Doctor says. We've been running into them almost every planet we go to. They're always called the 'Seed of Something'. We've seen the Seed of Eternity. The Seed of Emergence. The Seed of Creation. The Seed of Infinity."
"Seed of Power," the Doctor added. "Seed of Origin. Seed of Essence. All these different Seeds, all throughout the universe, linked together in perfect equilibrium. Or would be, if they were functional. One located on every celestial body that ever would or could or had or is sustaining life."
"And, let me guess," said Buffy. "They all seemed like mythical magical objects on the outside, but inside they were filled with a bunch of electronic stuff?"
Martha nodded. "The Doctor said they're some sort of… control conduit," she said. "He said if they were ever activated, they could let someone take control of the entire planet. We've been destroying them whenever we find them."
The Doctor pointed his sonic at the image. "But that
Seed was active," the Doctor said. "Which is odd. Never seen one active before."
"That's the Seed of Wonder," said Seo. "On Earth. I've been collecting the fragments." She shook her head. "But… that didn't happen. In the real world… the Seed of Wonder was destroyed millions of years ago."
The Doctor frowned. He turned back to the computer bank, and buzzed it with his sonic. "We must have come in at the end of this timeline," he muttered. "Let's see if we can't rewind a bit."
"They're timelines," said Buffy. "Like, with real people inside. You can't just… rewind them, or pause them, or whatever!"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at her. "This one isn't," he replied. He looked back down at the computer bank, flicking a few switches. "This is just a recording. An imprint. The original timeline is gone. For good. That's what Toby meant." He ran a hand through his hair. "I thought they'd just erased a being or entity or even a creature from time. Turns out — they erased the entire timeline!"
"I thought you weren't supposed to do that," Buffy said.
"You aren't," the Doctor confirmed, as he managed to find the rewind setting on the computer bank. The image blinked off. "You're supposed to lock them away. Even the most dangerous ones. This sort of thing — it's playing with fire. No, worse. Fission. Like playing with fission."
"Why?" asked Martha. "What could happen?"
"All sorts of things!" the Doctor said. "The universe has a great big bunch of potential temporal energy, and with the timeline erased, there's nowhere for that energy to go. So it isn't destroyed. Quite the opposite! The energy spreads out. Across everything. Every possibility, every potential time-stream, every situation that even comes close." He glanced at the room around them. "Explains the need for this. An effort to contain the spillage, at a guess."
"But Dad wouldn't do something dangerous like that," Seo insisted. "He was the one who taught me about timelines. He taught me I couldn't erase them."
"Well, yes, course he knows better, now," the Doctor said. "But this all happened long ago. Long, long, long ago. One of the first things your dad did, after Rose created him."
Buffy shook her head. "Wait, wait, wait!" she said. She pointed at the spot where the timeline image had once been. "If this was one of the first things Mr. Doctor-Protecting Super Entity did, why's the Scythe around? He's the one who made it, and he only did that recently. I mean, how…?" She stopped. Then realized. "Weird higher-dimensional causality things. Right. Yeah. Forgot."
"Precisely," the Doctor agreed. The timeline recording flicked back on, again — this time at the beginning. With a group of Watchers in the 1680's, all gathered around, discussing things. "You're getting the idea." The Doctor buzzed at the display with his sonic, and the image sped up, playing through in fast forward. He hissed through his teeth, as he watched the timeline play through. "Worse than I thought. Not just a small temporal edit. This 'Twilight' has roots stretching all the way back through history."
Seo's eyes were fixed on the display, her face blank as it played through.
"But I don't understand," said Martha, as she tried to work out what was happening as the timeline played through on super-mega-fast-forward. "What is 'Twilight'? And if the Powers that Be are so powerful, why did they do something this drastic and stupid to get rid of it? Why didn't they… I don't know… snap their fingers and wish it away? That would have been more effective, anyways."
"Good question," the Doctor said. He studied the timeline, as it raced through to the end.
So did Buffy. Watching this potential for her future. Watching what might have happened, if it hadn't been erased from the universe. Seeing all the things that had kept bugging her, back in the real world — as if she should remember them, but didn't — playing out, here, the way they should. Rowena, Satsu, and Leah — her students, training closely with her in that castle in Scotland. The public attacks against the new Slayers. The love and the loss that Buffy should have experienced, along this erased timeline.
And… was that vampire the Master?!
Well, that was one thing to be thankful for, Buffy guessed. Yes, her life had been completely messed around with by higher-dimensional entities, and her happy endings had all been quarantined, but… at least the Master wasn't resurrected and holding the fate of the world in his hands!
That would suck.
The Doctor's face settled into a worried frown, as the timeline continued on towards the end. "Ah."
"What?" asked Buffy.
"Twilight," said the Doctor. "A time traveling, insanely powerful sentient dimension. Who created himself using a predestination paradox. And had enough power to wipe out the current universe, replacing it with a brand new one." He glanced over at Buffy. "A sentient dimension who also happens to be your child."
Buffy felt her entire body go numb.
"So when that timeline got erased," Martha realized, "the Twilight creature was destroyed. But the temporal potential for what it was going to do stuck around. And went into any child that Buffy might have had. The Powers that Be knew that if Buffy had a kid, that kid would destroy the universe. So they made sure she'd never have one."
"Exactly!" the Doctor agreed. Then paused, and thought it over. "Well, if we're lucky."
"And that's why they wrote out all my happy endings?!" Buffy shouted. "Killed off all my boyfriends? Tried to murder Seo? Because she just has the potential
to destroy the universe?!"
Seo's face remained blank.
The Doctor contemplated this, his face bent in confusion, as he seemed to be running through the possibilities in his mind. "No," he decided. "No, there's something else going on, here. Something wrong with all of this. Something wrong with the Powers that Be."
"No kidding," said Martha, watching Buffy fume, in the middle of a room filled with every moment she might have settled down with a bloke.
The Doctor stepped forward, running a hand through his hair. "Names," he muttered. "The Powers that Be… have names. Individuality. All of them. Why?"
"They're not supposed to?" asked Martha.
"Not usually," the Doctor confirmed. "Pan-dimensional entities standing in for the concept of good? Never seen them with individuality, before." He blew a breath out of his cheeks, then turned to Buffy and Seo. "Right. Due to this… 'contract' of theirs… I'm out of the loop in terms of the Powers that Be. So! Let's pool our resources. Figure out who they are, where they came from, and what they want."
Buffy sighed, and crossed her arms. "Yeah, well, basically everything I have are just legends and stories and myths and things."
"What sorts of myths?" the Doctor asked.
Buffy thought back — way back, all the way to those boring Giles lectures, in high school. Dredged up as much of a memory as she could.
"Okay, so… we think of our world as being all human-containing and normal and civilized," said Buffy. "But that wasn't always the case. The world before ours was ruled by Great Beings, with lots of powers."
The Doctor raised up his hand, and cut in. "Just… one thing," he said. "This… 'legend'… was taken from a medieval text?"
"It was taken from Giles," said Buffy.
"Who took it from a medieval text?"
"I think, yeah," said Buffy. She shrugged. "Why? Is it important?"
"Ah, well, yes, a bit," the Doctor said, lowering his hand. "See, medieval mindset didn't quite understand the concept of 'universe'. Often used the word 'world' to signify 'universe', particularly when they transcribed legends that explained histories they didn't quite understand."
"So the world… universe… whatever," said Buffy, "before ours was ruled by Great Beings with lots of powers. Some of the Great Beings were good, and some were evil. But that was okay, because the good and evil balanced each other out, so the world was basically fine. Then evil overtook good—"
"Why?" the Doctor asked. "What happened to change the balance?"
"No idea," said Buffy. "I just know that the forces of evil soon way overpowered the forces of light, and the world became a realm of demons and monsters. So the forces of light united, and they got into this great big war against the forces of evil. And that war's still going on today."
Martha digested this, a pensive frown on her face. "So the terms 'Good' and 'Evil' don't have anything to do with morality," she observed. "They're just… arbitrary names, representing both side of a war."
Uh… Buffy had no idea.
"But how did the old world… sorry, universe… turn into our current one?" Martha continued.
Buffy shrugged. "Yeah, the myth never explained that," she said. "Just great big war between good and evil. Then the forces of light ascended to become the Powers that Be, and that war is still… going…"
Buffy trailed off. Her mouth falling open, as she realized what she just said. And what it meant.
She looked over at the Doctor, but she could tell that he'd caught it, too. What the Powers that Be had done to turn from the powerful but mortal Great Beings who ruled their universe, into the all-powerful, pan-dimensional beings that they now were, in this one.
"They Ascended," Buffy repeated.
And that was why they had names. Individuality. Why they had such a belligerent view of the universe. Why the concept of mortality still frightened them.
They had been like the Time Lords. Governing the universe in a state of peace and balance, until they wound up fighting a battle against an army of pure evil. An army led by the being that Buffy would know as the First.
But, unlike the Time Lords, they'd won their war. By Ascending.
"So I told you about that," the Doctor muttered. Catching the horror on Buffy's face.
"They ended the universe?!" Buffy cried. "The Powers that Be… actually ended their own universe?!" She shook her head. "But… but why are we following them? Why have I been fighting for them all this time?"
"You didn't know," said Martha.
Fighting blind. Fighting in a battle where Buffy couldn't see the sides. A piece on a chess board, when she couldn't see the players making the moves.
The Doctor took off his brainy specs, and thrust his hands into his pockets. "Just because the Powers that Be are bad doesn't mean their enemies are any better," he reminded her. "You've seen that before."
Yes. Buffy had seen that. She'd seen it many times.
The Doctor clapped his hands, a beaming smile on his face. "Right, then!" he said. "Seems that clarifies rather a lot. Combine that with the information I got from Krop Tor, and I've got a working theory about who the Powers that Be are, where they came from, and what it has to do with these 'Seeds'."
"I'm all ears," said Buffy.
"Powers that Be," the Doctor explained. "Once known as the Disciples of Light. Big, stuffy lot, bureaucratic overseers of the universe before ours. Then, somehow, along comes… well, the Devil. The Beast. The Undying Prince. Whatever he was calling himself, back then."
"Whom you call… Toby," Buffy checked.
"Whom I call Toby," the Doctor confirmed. "He sprung up. Balance changed. Great big war. Disciples of Light are losing. They manage to imprison Toby on Krop Tor — using technology that, to be honest, is truly baffling. Even to me, and, well, I'm a genius."
"Like the technology used in the Seeds?" Martha asked.
The Doctor frowned, his face looking troubled. "Yes," he muttered. "Very like. There's a point." Then he shook his head. "Any rate. Disciples of Light imprison Toby in Krop Tor, get rid of the leader of the opposite army. But it's not enough. Toby's already drained too many of their resources, killed too many of their people. Even leaderless, Toby's armies are still too much for the Disciples of Light to defeat."
"So they decide to get rid of the forces of evil," said Buffy, "by Ascending. And taking down the rest of the universe, with them."
The Doctor nodded. "Krop Tor would have survived — well, course it would, it being the ultimate prison and all," he said. "Powers that Be would have wound up in our universe as pan-dimensional beings. And they must have gotten on quite well, at first. What with all the Guardians and Elder Gods and various other pan-dimensional and higher-dimensional beings wandering about, fighting amongst themselves. Even after the Dark Times ended, they still had the White and Black Guardians around to keep them occupied."
"But… I thought those Universal Guardian guys were all gone, now," Buffy said.
"Oh, yes!" the Doctor agreed, spinning on her. "After the Time War. All the pan-dimensional and higher-dimensional sorts fled. Well, all except the Powers that Be, turns out. Not sure why. They had nothing to do, now that everyone else was gone. So they got bored. And created the Seeds."
"They alleviated boredom by ruling planets?" Martha asked.
"In a nutshell, yes," the Doctor agreed. "Seed acts as a control conduit of some sort. Making the old compatible with the new. The Powers that Be have the same problem as Toby — they don't belong to this physical universe. Aren't restrained by its laws, but also aren't able to reach in and muck about with it as much as they'd like. The Seed is like a… software patch. Both for Toby and the Powers that Be. Making them and their old, more supernatural energies compatible with this new universe."
"But you said the Seeds weren't active," Buffy pointed out. "And the one on Earth's been destroyed for basically forever, now. That doesn't seem to have stopped them from messing around with my life."
"Maybe they found a way around it," Martha proposed. "Or… a better software patch. A compatibility upgrade."
"Of course they did," said Seo. She gave a bitter laugh. "You don't think they went through all this trouble just to save your tiny little universe, did you? The Seed of Wonder was destroyed. The Universal Seed network became unstable. And so they found another way."
Buffy turned to Seo. To the girl who looked so much like her, now looking out on them with a small smile on her lips, and all traces of fear gone from her body. A twinkle in her eye.
The room around them blew away, as if in the wind, replaced by a stone prison cell and a heavy, closed and locked door at one end.
"How…?" Buffy started.
"I've lived in the Axis for 98 years," said Seo, with a cool disinterestedness. "Do you really think I wouldn't know how to manipulate it?"
She flicked an eyebrow at the wall behind Buffy and the Doctor, and Buffy felt the sudden tug of chains and manacles wrapping around her wrists and ankles, pulling her tight against the wall. The Doctor, beside her, gave a shout of annoyance, as he was likewise restrained.
Martha, who'd been standing a short ways away from them, wound up chained to the wall across from Buffy and the Doctor. Tugging at her chains, but finding them unbreakable.
"I wouldn't bother," said Seo. "You see, this is my little trap. And you've all walked right into it."