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Artifacts III (Living Metal)

Title: Artifacts III (Living Metal)
Characters: Eight
Archive: No
X-Posted: allen_road


Artifacts III (Living Metal)


I. "I am beautiful, am I not?"

"I said you would have need of me again," she says.

"How simple this is for you..." says the Doctor. Over the horizon, flames blossom upward in the darkness of the early morning. "It's not that simple."

"Is it not?" she says.

Her fingers trail over the lapel of his jacket, pale and silvery and hard against the soft pile of brown velvet. The touch is rough at first, as though she does not feel through those fingertips, then grows more responsive as she adapts to the act. For a moment, it is that simple. He feels that stir of chaos in his blood, ancient memories that aren't his of what it's like to cleanse with fire. When the moment passes, he's upset, and would like to blame her for it, but she's not doing this to him. He is a Time Lord, and she is property to command, nothing that he and his kind have not made her. Which is something they have in common. He is nothing his kind have not made him, either. He had thought, once, that in leaving, he had given himself over to a wider universe to be shaped afresh, but, in the end, all it had done was strip away the rusted patina of inaction, leaving him burnished and raw with an ancient anger he does not understand. She responds to that in him, not the other way around. But she is silver and cool to the touch and standing in front of him, and she makes him feel the rush of a power to which his kind have long been deaf.

"Name me," she says. "What am I?"

He is about to use her as a weapon; that's all she is, whispers something inside him. He is about to tell her to end this war between the Time Lords and the Daleks, once and for all. He is about to take lives in his own hands, because no one else will, and he thinks it's the only way to save some of the innocents. If he were Rassilon, he would say that proudly, and do it. But he's not, and, when he says it, it's desperation. He chokes up. "What is left but destruction?" he says, with more quaver in his voice than he wants to hear. "Look around, what else is there? Endless, senseless destruction, and what am I doing, but causing more? Fighting fire with fire like a fool, or a madman..."

"I am Destruction, then?" she says, and there is a hint of satisfaction in her voice.

It's almost, but not quite, too late when he realizes his mistake. "No," he says. "No. Your name is Hope. You're hope. You are life."

She doesn't have eyes; her face is made of metal, and shimmers with reflections of the moon and the distant explosions. But he can see displeasure sparking within her.

He's not as dispassionate as the three men who created her, so long ago, and nor is he from such a primitive age. He's not even as cold or hard as he once was. He finds that he wants to apologize to her, for trying to make her what it's not in her nature to be. He's sorry. He wants her to know. But she is from that primitive age, and she is both cold and hard, and very clever, devious in the cruel ways her creators were devious. If his apology meant anything to her, it would only be in ways he'd regret.

There's another Dalek troop ship landing. He can hear it; it's not far, perhaps a few kilometers. With her standing in front of him, that's as good as a million miles. "Undo them," he says. "We've tried everything, and they never tire, they keep coming. We move, they change things to get there first. There are always casualties. Now they're here, and we're backed in." Into a corner of our own making, he thinks, echoing what the Castellan told him earlier. He corrects himself; what the late Castellan told him. "Undo this. Make it un-happen. Make the Daleks un-happen. No Dalek empires, no conquered planets, no crushed lesser races. Get there first. Always get there first." She would never tire, either; she would keep coming, never be backed in. It was what she was designed to be.

"I think," she says, gazing towards the citadel, "that perhaps I am still called Nemesis."

He is chilled to the core at the thought that he is losing control of her.

Nemesis: "You are surprised I speak?"
Ace: "I know you're living metal."
Nemesis: "I am whatever I am named to be. This time, Lady Peinforte called me Nemesis. So I am Retribution."




II. "And after this will I have my freedom?"

She is not a creature made of metal. She is not a brain in a metal casing. She is a shapeless, formless lump of solid metal. She is alive. His commands have given her more shapes than he can count; he has scattered her to the four corners of the universe, and brought her back to coalesce, several times over. There's a harsh perfection in the way she responds to him, always a little faster, always a little better, always a little more inventive than his own thoughts, that makes her more beautiful to him than she can imagine; or perhaps she can. He wonders what possessed them to make a weapon so powerful they could scarcely control it, so intelligent it could out-think them. Controlling validium was like standing in front of an avalanche with one's hand raised to stop it. He wonders if he's been doing it wrong all these years; what if there was another relic he was missing, a control device? Could he have forgotten something like that?

He is looking at her, the ringlets made of silver, the metal lace, the alien dress made of her. She is shaped in the image of a human woman who thought she could possess the secrets of the Time Lords, but he doesn't see her form; he sees the light reflecting off of her. She looks back at him. "I'm standing here talking to a weapon," he says, wonderingly. "I'm standing here, as single-minded killing machines, with one drive, one emotion, one thought in their heads, invade my planet, home to one of the most powerful civilizations the universe ever has or will know, and I'm talking to a weapon whose trigger I'm about to pull. How did we come to this point?"

"I am more than just another weapon," she says, "in the same way you are more than just another Timelord."

"No," he says, "you were created. In a laboratory, by scientists, to be a weapon." In truth, he has no idea how she was created. Ancient science was arcane by modern standards, and its roots were uncomfortably close to alchemy or magic, which was perhaps why Lady Peinforte had had so much success with the Nemesis statue. Timelords might understand temporal mechanics in fourteen dimensions, but their own ancient artifacts were beyond them. As a child, he'd thought that was Rassilon's wisdom, to prevent his people from trying to be gods; now he suspects it was so that only Rassilon himself could lay claim to the title.

"The ultimate weapon," she says. "I was created by Rassilon, and Omega, and--"

"Yes, I know," he says impatiently.

"We are the same, then," she says, and he thinks he heard her smiling.

"How did we get here?" he says, shaking his head. The dark red sliver of dawn on the horizon is discolored with a pallid, deathly gray smoke as buildings burnt. "I would never have predicted this. I've been so many places, seen so many terrible and wonderful things, and this is the very last..."

"Yes," she says idly.

There was a time in his life, when things had been crazy, and shamanistic visions seemed to permeate the air around him, when he hallucinated that Time spoke to him. The easy answer was that his mind was creating a manifestation of his shirked responsibility to his people. But here he stood, listening to an ancient weapon as it confirmed it had whispered secrets about him that he wasn't even sure he had. He didn't know if it was true, or if she knew more than he did, but he didn't think she obeyed him because of who he was now. The easy answer seemed too facile, but he'd torn reality to shreds around him too many times to ever know.

Nemesis: "And I am to destroy the entire Cyber fleet."
The Doctor: "Forever."
Nemesis: "And then?"
The Doctor: "Reform."
Nemesis: "You will need me in the future, though--"
The Doctor: "I hope not."
Nemesis: "That is what you said before."




III. "You are surprised I speak?"

He wants to free her. He has always wanted to free her. She's sentient, and enslaved, subject to the commands of another. (She is property, hisses a voice inside him, a tool, a weapon; she exists to serve you, don't you forget it. He wishes he could.) She is the one exception in a lifetime of freeing the enslaved; it shouldn't make a difference that his own people did this. What makes the difference is why. He doesn't dare, and tries not to think about it, the same way he tries not to like feeling powerful when she obeys him.

"I'm sorry," he says finally. It's all right, because he doesn't mean for her, but for himself, that he's not more what she expects a proper Time Lord to be. That's something he's never been good at, not just for her, but for anyone.

"It's very simple," she says.

"It was once," he says, "when this started. I was a very different man, then. So certain." He doesn't know why he's telling her this, but suspects she already knows.

He's lost in thought when a Dalek appears over the ridge, gliding towards them. "It-is-the-Doc-tor," it says, each syllable accented by the lights on its casing. "Sur-ren-der. Sur-ren-der or be ex-ter-min-a-ted." It raises its gun stick. That's when he knows she's playing with it, and maybe with him. He stands still, and no longer knows whether he's pretending not to be afraid for her sake, or if he truly isn't anymore.

"I grow tired of this game," he says eventually. There is an aristocrat's boredom in his voice, and he wonders if this is what it used to feel like to be a Lord of Time, if this is what he was meant to be: a jaded young man with the power of life and death over a universe of lesser species. He hopes not, but enjoys the feeling for its novelty despite himself.

The Dalek shimmers into nothingness as an ancient servitor of living metal obeys his desires. This wasn't ever what he wanted. They are both beautiful, she and he, one clad in velvet and one in silver, and they stand on a hill as the air all but trembles with their power, but they are both hard and cold, and too clever. All he wanted, from the start, was innocence, he thinks, but he keeps getting pulled back here.

Nemesis: "I am beautiful, am I not?"
Ace: "Yes."
Nemesis: "It is only my present form. I have had others which would horrify you. I shall have those again."




IV. "I have had others which would horrify you."

"You were created to be the ultimate defense for Gallifrey!" he screams. His throat is raw. There are caustic chemicals in the breeze that blows through his hair. "I didn't order you to be that, I didn't make you that. It's what you are. Why are you waiting? They're destroying the citadel!"

"I understand," she says simply. Her hands are at her sides, delicate fingers against silvery folds of an Elizabethan skirt. It's out of place here, but he never told her to physically reshape.

Despite the fires burning around him, he feels the chill in the air. "What do you understand?" he says.

She turns to him. "My purpose. The ultimate defense of Gallifrey. Have I thought of anything else since the day I was created?"

"You understand. But do you obey?" he says.

"Yes," she says. "The ultimate defense. None shall attack Gallifrey again."

Nemesis: "And after this will I have my freedom?"
The Doctor: "Not yet."
Nemesis: "When?"
The Doctor: "I've told you when."




V. "Reform."

Even before it's all over, he knows what he's done. He doesn't stop her, partly because he's not sure he can, and is afraid that the only thing worse than letting her continue would be making her certain that he couldn't stop her if he wanted to. The ground shakes under his feet as he stumbles towards the Tardis; he doesn't know if it will last long enough for him to get there, or crumble out from under him.

Nemesis: "Forever."
The Doctor: "And then?"

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