I- I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how I am or how I exist. I don’t remember. I just- oh god. I don’t remember how to breathe. I don’t remember how to breathe and there’s air in my throat, air not going in and not going out and I don’t know what to do with it or how but it’s not pain, it’s not, it’s just… It’s just empty.
I think I remember who I am. I must tell this story, I must, because that is who I am. I am here to tell the story. I am Zoe, I think, but I have lost the memories that are not relevant. I know that my role in the story must have ended, and I exist only to tell it. I think that is what I know, but my knowledge is not certain any more.
But I know what He wants.
Everything else is nothing but He is everything. I hate him and love him all at the same time and I don’t know how to-
Well, anyway. I know what he wants. That’s all that is clear right now. Before, there was more, but now, there is only Him, the Black Guardian, and what he wants. And what he wants most of all is revenge. And this is how he’s going to get it…
The Black Guardian, now reunited with his body, will immediately transport himself back to the library, where he has left Sarah Jane Smith strapped to an extremely deadly chair. She will remain there for the duration of the more cosmic aspects of his grand-scale revenge plot, because he is highly and acutely aware that sometimes, the more intimate aspects of a revenge can be the most effective, especially on the man he wanted revenge upon.
Dan still lay on the ground. The Black Guardian will stride over this motionless body, looking down upon it scornfully. “You could have been so much more, child,” he will say to the boy. But he will ignore him, as he moves over to the machine. Tears have dribbled down the face of Sarah Jane Smith as she has witnessed everything that has happened, and now, as she sees the man who had her beaten, she will quiver with fear. The Black Guardian, all-powerful and simply biding his time, will loosen the restraint upon her mouth, allowing her to speak.
“You let them go, you monster!” Sarah Jane will cry.
“Alas,” the Black Guardian will reply. “I was hoping for a more interesting conversation than this. You are, of course, the fabled Sarah Jane Smith, a woman who has seen off the might of the Trickster on no less than four occasions, and has twice endured the wrath of Davros himself.”
Sarah Jane will look at him with utter hatred at this, because she does not consider this to be a measure of her existence. She has always prided herself on her determination to save people, and it is her failure to achieve this today that will embitter her. She will not deign to respond to the provocations of her new almighty enemy.
“No matter,” he will continue. “I have a number of pressing matters at hand. The destruction of humanity is one of them, and the very specific death of yourself is another.”
He will pace around the room as he speaks, gleefully, on the subject of that which he has endured and his inevitable victory over his own great foe.
“He prevented me from stealing the Key to Time, he has overpowered me on too many occasions to recount, and I have spent many hundreds of years trapped in a tomb as a result of his efforts.”
Sarah Jane will at this point begin to speak, for she cannot resist conversation at the end of it all.
“I heard about the Key to Time. You were trying to take over the universe, you can’t be so surprised that he stopped you! And it was you who chased him as revenge!”
The Black Guardian will howl with laughter at this; humans have such petty minds, even the clever ones.
“I did not wish to take over the universe. I wish to overpower the White Guardian and become the dominant power! Some things cannot be balanced, and the entirety of the universe is simply one of those things that cannot be subjected to a weak democracy. Surely you, who has seen so much, must understand that?”
Sarah Jane will remain totally resolute and return to her silent treatment. There is no point in arguing with this man. She will simply hope that the Doctor does not arrive on Earth to save her or humanity, because it will be nothing more than a trap, a cruel lure to whatever it is that the Black Guardian will have been planning.
Her mind will wander back to Dan, still not awakening. The Black Guardian will notice her eye movement, and refer to the boy accordingly.
“He won’t awaken, you know. He won’t. He is weak, and his mind was not open to new ideas. Hence, his mind cannot open now. It is an interesting circle.”
The Black Guardian, resplendent in his battered cloak and intimidating raven skull-topped headwear, will, at this point, decide that he has had quite enough of talking to the bait that he has tied up. He will depart the building without another word and take a good, long look at the street outside. This is the street that he will save until last.
First, he will teleport to the heart of New York. It will be morning there, so the streets will be lined with people moving from one place to another, hurried and busy, not noticing a single strange-looking figure in the centre of the sidewalk in a town that never sleeps, a place without limit or judgement or oddity.
This will be the perfect place to strike the first blow.
An almighty shadow will overtake the skyline, and, all over the state, people will begin to look up in terror. A huge, looming blackness will consume the busiest place in America, and all around, everyone will fall into a deep, deep coma, from which they will never, ever awake.
The Black Guardian will smile in glee, for the first time in so, so long, and turn to watch as humanity responds to its latest crisis.
“The entire population of New York appears to have fallen unconscious,” Trinity Wells will report on a nearby television screen. She will not appear in any way terrified; after all, she has dealt with far worse crises in her time. It will barely be worth an emergency news flash, except to advise civilians to avoid the area while troops are, once again, moved into it. And, of course, Trinity Wells is always kept on standby in case something like this happens.
This is not the response that the Black Guardian will have wanted. He will react in anger; he has been beaten to full-scale destruction by countless others- the Trickster, the Daleks, the Atraxi, to name but a few. Of course, his true goal is the destruction of humanity, not mass panic, but it is the exhilaration of the fear of others that makes it so worthwhile.
Nevertheless, he will find it immensely entertaining to enter into the minds of some of those who are knocked out and see what they have to say.
“Hello, mortal,” he will say, as he approaches the first one within a dream environment.
The plump man will look around for a moment in confusion, before exclaiming, “Huh?”.
There is much fun to be had with this one, the Black Guardian will think to himself.
“I am the Devil, and you have been sent to Hell.”
The man will simply stutter in reply. He will not remember having died, after all, and it is rather a large emotional blow for someone who was only heading out for a quick burger anyway.
In this fashion, the Black Guardian will kill a few minutes, as he lies in wait for his great enemy to turn up- but to no avail.
He will then begin Act Two.
Over in France, those in a large number of different areas will fall asleep similarly after being devoured by an all-encompassing shadow of darkness. The same odd occurrence will sweep into Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, affecting apparently unrelated mass areas. People will simply pass out, and the armies will come in (most of them feeling rather bemused, as this sort of thing usually only happens in Britain and America).
But the significance will be visible from a higher perspective, for, etched across Europe in a dark shadow, will be the single word “DOCTOR”.
And still, he will not come.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, something will be occurring that the Black Guardian has not yet anticipated. Forgotten by him as he grew to an all-powerful state is young Melody, hiding from it all with Beth. She will, by this point, have been in Beth’s house for several hours, but, given the lack of news about Sarah Jane and the others, will have been granted permission to stay for as long as she needs (although Beth’s mother already intends to have stern words with Melody’s adoptive mother). However, as the word “Doctor” descends across Europe, Laurel, Beth’s sister, will enter her room, where she will be playing Pokémon on her Nintendo with Melody.
“Beth,” she will exclaim. “You know what time it is, right?”
Beth will sigh; she knows exactly what happens at this time of the week. She can’t go against their long-standing arrangement; it is at this time, every year, as they had agreed years ago, that the two of them go to visit the grave of their father.
Melody will look at them in confusion, with her most inquisitive face on. “What’s going on?”
Beth will look upon Melody with sad eyes; to leave her shall be a hardship, but a necessary one. She can’t be allowed to intrude upon the one thing that was still sacred to Beth, the one thing that she still shares with her sister above everything else, despite all the chasms that have formed between them.
“I’m sorry, Mels. Me and Laurs have to go, but we’ll be back soon, I promise. Just stay here, and everything will be fine. Don’t leave this house, Play Monopoly or something. Mum’ll look after you.”
And just like that, the two will depart out the door, Laurel wondering why Melody needed to be there anyway, and Beth, carrying the flowers, feeling guilty.
But Melody will not remain in the house.
After such a long time with no news of Sarah Jane, she will take the only option that she still considers available: she will go to the library. She will take one look at the Monopoly box by her feet, and leave the house without Chrystal Petite noticing.
The streets will be darkening already; it is winter, and the efforts of the sun will be aided in no part by the glimmers of a shadow upon the horizon. Nevertheless, Melody will bravely flee from pavement to pavement, desperately attempting to reach the library before anything more could happen to Sarah Jane. In actuality, she has already been waiting for an opportunity to go and find out what’s going on in the library, ever since leaving in the first place, but she has up until now failed to pluck up the courage to do anything. So, it will be with great haste that she runs, until she reaches the building, with the door torn right open.
Within the large room, with the bookcases still at the side and a beanbag still crumpled upon the floor, now with a shattered teacup slain beside it, will still be Sarah Jane, bound to the machine, and Dan, on the floor. Melody will instinctively move over to Dan, attempting to revive him, and stirring him for several minutes. After some time, Sarah Jane will pipe up.
“There’s no point, Melody. He won’t wake up.”
Melody will jolt up in alarm at this, before seeing that Sarah Jane’s mouth is no longer clamped shut, as she had assumed.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Melody will ask, “Why did you just leave me there, trying to wake him?”
Sarah Jane will sigh, before coming clean.
“I wanted to test a theory. I wondered if- but no. He wouldn’t just wake up from the touch of another, that would be ridiculous. What kind of terror strategy would that be?”
Melody will continue to stare, forlorn, into Dan’s face. His eyes flicker open occasionally, but it will be clear that he has no control over this; he is lost.
At this very same moment, Laurel and Beth will be arriving in the graveyard containing the coffin and gravestone of their father. Sombre, they will traipse through the mud, past the newer graves, fresh and white and adorned with flowers, and past the forgotten graves, the graves eroded by time, the graves of those who no longer live on in the hearts and minds of those who loved them. It always makes Beth shiver slightly to take all this in; after fighting to protect people and save them and keep the flames burning of those who are lost, there are still so many who will never be remembered…
The grave of their father will loom ahead of them. They will approach will the same level of respect as always, Beth doing so despite the danger that the world will be in even at that very moment, even as a shadow looms on overhead over mainland Europe. As she reaches down to deposit the flowers of the dirt, however, her phone will ring suddenly.
Will she answer it?
Or will she simply continue her annual ritual with her sister?
Will she choose Laurel, and her father, and her family?
Or will she choose Sarah Jane, and Melody, and her adventures?
Which will she choose?
The answer is, of course, that I simply do not know. I know what will happen if she chooses to answer, and I know what will happen if she does not. I know that one way, Sarah Jane will be saved and the Black Guardian will be destroyed, but so will Beth’s relationship with her family. I know that the other way, Sarah Jane will be destroyed, the Black Guardian will gain his revenge, and then he will leave the Earth to become the dominant power of the universe, and Beth will remain close to her sister. I know exactly what the two paths look like, and how things pan out either way.
But I do not know which she will choose.
Where do your loyalties lie, Beth?
WHAT WILL YOU CHOOSE?
If Beth chooses to ignore her phone and remain at the graveyard with her sister, events will run their natural course.
Beth will simply wait, tense, until her phone stops ringing, fearful of what will occur if she ignores the call, wondering what it is. But reality will return, intruding upon her thoughts. The emptiness of the graveyard will tug at her, Laurel staring, cold, distant, almost daring her to answer the phone and give out on her. But Beth will move forward to the grave and lay down her flowers as though nothing had happened at all. It will be at this moment that Laurel realises the truth. Despite her long-standing suspicions about Beth’s interactions with Sarah Jane Smith, it will become, in a single moment, clear that in her heart, she is loyal to her sister and her family. They will remain at the graveyard to pay their respects, before heading home to Melody.
At the library, Melody will drop the phone to the ground, distraught. They will need Beth for Sarah Jane’s plan to defeat the Black Guardian, and it will not seem that there was any possibility of contacting her if she refused to pick up her phone. Can she abandoning them now, after everything, when they needed her most? And, perhaps more urgently, what will they do without her, when she is necessary to the plan?
Sarah Jane will, as always, keep a level head. She has experienced setbacks and abandonments in the past, and they must be endured. Instead, she will take the difficult decision that two birds can be killed with one stone.
“Melody. I need you to do something for me. I need you to go to Zoe’s house, and see if you can find her brother Finn. Bring him here. I need to talk to him. Oh, and see if you can get his uncle, Eric, while you’re at it. And on your way, you need to stop by the attic and pick something up for me...”
Melody will swiftly obey, leaving the library to hurry along the streets to the house, leaving Sarah Jane alone with the squirming Dan.
“I just hope that it won’t be too much…”
Melody will tear down the streets, which will continue to darken as she does so. She will not know what is going on, or what the Black Guardian is up to even as she runs; she will simply know that Sarah Jane has a plan, and that is all she needs to cling onto. Eventually, after passing closed shopfronts, shut curtains and shutters that are pulled down in a routine during alien incursions, she will reach the house she is aiming for, and knock hard on the door until Finn Smith opens it.
Finn will not be expecting this visit at all. He knows, of course, who Melody is, having seen her around, and having seen his sister with her, but they have not, until now, spoken.
“Melody? What are you doing here? Are you looking for Zoe?” He will stick his head needlessly into the house, as though looking for her. “She’s not here. I don’t know-”
“You’ve gotta come with me!” Melody will gurgle incoherently, grabbing his arm. “And I need your uncle, too!”
This will further bemuse Finn.
“Uncle Eric? He’s down in Oxford, visiting James and May-”
“His kids!” Finn will exclaim, pulling his arm free. “Leave me alone! I don’t know you!”
As he attempts to close the door, Melody will stick her foot into its path, causing it to become trapped painfully. Finn, despite himself, will open it again without a second thought with a cry of, “Are you okay?”
Melody will waste no time in persuading him to come with her. “It’s about Zoe! And Sarah Jane needs you! And- I think- she wants to tell you the truth!”
This will stop Finn in his tracks quite completely. He has long suspected something strange going on with Zoe and Sarah Jane and her friends, and had been intending to find the right moment to broach the subject. He will go with her immediately.
By the time they reach the library again, the sky will be totally dark, and not because it is night; the great Shadow generated by the Black Guardian will have spread its tendrils to such a mighty extent that half of the Northern Hemisphere is covered completely.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re here! I don’t think he can hold on much longer!”
It will be very clear to Melody that Sarah Jane is referring to the still-thrashing Dan on the ground before them. However, Finn will not find this so obvious. Having stepped into a library with bookcases shoved aside to make way, apparently, for a beanbag, his eye will be caught by both the ghastly sight of Dan on the floor and Sarah Jane strapped to a machine with an enormous needle pointing at her face. Needless to say, this will hardly be what he expects, despite his belief that there is something odd about these people. Sarah Jane will beckon him over simply by the look in her eyes, and he will go to her.
“Finn. I need you to sit down. I have a great deal to tell you, and I’m not entirely sure how. We need your help, and you need the truth.”
The truth. Ah, here is comes, he will think to himself. What a blessed relief it will be…
“All the rumours you may have heard about aliens invading Earth and walking among us are true. Everything you have ever feared is the truth. And right now, one of the most deadly extra-terrestrials, perhaps even extra-dimensionals, ever created is threatening the entire world.”
This will not be what Finn expected. Not at all. This is-
“And I’m sorry, Finn. I’m so, so sorry. But Zoe- Oh God- I think he’s k-k- I think that he’s taken Zoe.”
Understanding will wash over Finn like a raging ocean, swallowing him up. It can’t be true. This can’t be true. Zoe can’t be dead, he will think to himself, she can’t, this is all a sick joke and it can’t be true and why did she never tell him, why and what is this madness and how can this be- But no. Surely not. This is not true, this is not, this is-
Finn will collapse onto the ground, knees buckling as he realises, sees from the grave expression on Sarah Jane Smith’s face, the one expression that cannot be faked, that it’s true. That Zoe might really be-
And the truth will eat him up, it will, he will just want to drown in it and never see the sun again because how can there be a sun when-
Finn will stagger towards the door of the library, disbelieving, agonised, as Melody charges after him.
“Look at the sky, Finn! This is him. This is all him, the Black Guardian, he’s cast a shadow over the whole world or something like that, and if we don’t do something it won’t just be Zoe. It will -be everyone. We don’t know what he’s planning, but it can’t be good, and we can’t let anyone else share Zoe’s fate, we can’t! And we can’t let her have died for nothing. We-”
But even then, in the centre of the darkened library, the fact will hit Melody like a rock. Zoe really is dead, then. Not just a theory. Dead. Actually, actually, and there’s nothing to do now but just end. Zoe is dead and Beth has abandoned her, and Sarah Jane is helpless, and the whole world will be swallowed up in a big mouthful. There is nothing else any more…
But Finn will not give up. Finn will make a decision, the only decision he can; he will make the right decision, and he will make the decision that will allow him to sleep again.
He will turn back to Sarah Jane, and ask her the question, “What is it you need me to do?”
When the Black Guardian enters the fray, so, so much later, having taken out his rage upon the Earth and summoned the Doctor as entirely as he can, he will be face to face with Finn, who will be anxiously clutching the mysterious artefact Melody will have given him to hold. Finn will be ready. And so will the Black Guardian. And so they will stare at each other, each waiting for the other to make the first move. But it will be the tall, arrogant man who grasps the opportunity to reshape the game, to hold all the cards.
“And who are you, then?” he will ask, not truly caring, desperate simply for the information, the power.
Finn will stand tall, imposing himself in the face of everything. Puffs of white smoke waft around him. He will answer with all his might.
“I am your worst nightmare.”
As this unfolds, Beth will have all but forgotten about her phone call. She will be aware of Melody having left, but assume that this means everything is sorted out, that she made the right decision. So, instead, it will be with Laurel that she plays the game on Monopoly. It will be with Laurel that she whiles away the afternoon, and, for the first time in far too long, they will both be happy. Happy. In each other’s company, they will simply be happy, and that will be the most glorious thing in the world.
The world that is about to end.
Because Sarah Jane’s plan will not work with the grief-ridden Finn, despite his determination to make his sister’s loss worth something.
The Black Guardian is not, despite everything else, a fool. And I know. Because I am he and he is I.
Nevertheless, he will stagger backwards slightly at the weight of the lie.
“You- you cannot possibly- No. I do not believe it. You are a mere human. You must be lying to me. This is a trick. Yes. Your emotion gives you away! Your emotions are not those of- You have darkness in your heart. You cannot be he. You are pathetic. I spit upon you.”
And the Black Guardian will spit upon him, and spit upon Dan. It will cross Finn’s mind to retaliate, to do what Zoe would have done, but the thought of Zoe will simply cause him to collapse, in the pain of his loss. All of the times he should have spent with Zoe, learned from Zoe, been with Zoe, just been with her…
But the Black Guardian will have already forgotten him. His mind will have entirely focused upon a breath of wind tickling the back of his neck.
And he will turn around, and he will see, behind him, tall and majestic, a blue monument, come to him. The TARDIS.
And as the man within steps out of the box, the Black Guardian will activate his machine. He will laugh scornfully.
“You thought I would destroy you for revenge, Doctor! You thought that your life was all that I counted! But no. You come because I threaten the Earth. Less than that. You come not to save the Earth. You come to save a life. A life that you cannot prevent me from taking, a life that I would never have taken without you to see it!”
And right there, in the middle of the library, the sanctuary, the Black Guardian will activate his impossible machine. It will direct itself at Sarah Jane.
If Beth answers her phone and leaves her sister in the graveyard, events will turn a different way.
Beth will pull the phone from her pocket, and see the caller: Melody. She will lose reality, tugged at by the prospect of the meaning behind the call, oblivious to her sister, Laurel, staring, cold, distant, almost daring her to answer the phone and give out on her, but fearful, truly fearful that she will. Fearful that Sarah Jane and the things Beth didn’t realise she knew about would take priority over her, and her family. And Beth will answer the phone, and hear Sarah Jane’s frantic voice on the other side, but still not notice her sister, stepping back in shock.
“It’s Sarah Jane and your gang, isn’t it?” Laurel would demand. Beth’s silence will all but confirm it. Despite her long-standing suspicions about Beth’s interactions with Sarah Jane Smith, it will become clear, in a single moment, that in her heart, she is totally loyal to her, and not to her sister and her family. Beth will sprint off, to return to Melody and Sarah Jane, while Laurel simply remains at the grave, paying her respects, tears pouring down her face.
The moment that Beth reaches the library, Sarah Jane will reveal the plan to her. “We haven’t got any time at all,” she will stress, and will whisper it all into her ear. And Beth will smile. Because this is what life's all about; the excitement and the adrenaline and the adventure. It will give her a rush like nothing else, because it is the most glorious thing in the world.
Laurel will walk home, alone. Nobody to share it with. Nothing to do but cry and cry into her pillow. Because Beth has abandoned her commitment, completely and totally. They only go to the grave once a year, and she had been talking about it for days, all the while Beth seeming distant, as she did every year they went nowadays. As children, they had been close. Visiting the grave once in a year was not a hardship; indeed, they sometimes just went there, impromptu, together, and laid down some flowers. For their father. For them. But as they grew up, it became more like a duty than a choice, and, besides their mutual desire to keep to the annual arrangement, they would never have a purpose to go to the grave. But they would always go together, once a year. Nothing would stop that. Nothing could break that cycle, because it was a commitment. A commitment for life that neither of them could break.
Because Beth has broken it.
Over at the library, Beth will be ready for the inevitable.
The Black Guardian will enter the fray, and he will see Beth, shrouded in white smoke and holding a long metallic object, and, desperate for the upper hand, desperate for information that will give him power, he will ask, “And who are you, then?”
Beth will reply quite simply.
“I am your worst nightmare.”
Zoe will not have come home. Finn will be beginning to wonder if she is with Sarah Jane again. He knows that something is going on with her and that woman and that gang, if not what. It concerns him, and he will be particularly anguished today, after he sees a news report about shadows spreading over entire continents. Was she safe out there? Could he help her? He will call her, in fear and in hope.
And there will be no answer.
“I do not have nightmares. I am the Black Guardian. I am your nightmare, human.”
“I am no human. I am the embodiment of the White Guardian, the one who balances you, your mighty foe. The yin to your yang. And as you have grown in power, so too have I.”
The Black Guardian will stagger back at this revelation, looking as if he has seen a ghost.
“You- the audacity! You cannot possibly- No. I do not believe it. You are lying to me. But- no. There is strength in you. You are everything I am not. I see hope. Innocence. Wonder. My perfect opposite. Are- is it true?”
This will be the first time that Sarah Jane, Melody and Beth see the Black Guardian truly fearful, terror in his eyes at this revelation. Beth will step forward to address him once again.
“Release this Earth from your grip, my brother, and release its people. Release. And leave this place, so that I might leave you.”
Of course, the Black Guardian has suspected that the White Guardian could attempt to stop him, but will not have expected him to still be a threat after he had gained so much power for so long. Indeed, he will not be certain that the White Guardian even wields the power to defeat him, but he will not risk everything to find out.
He will leave, and go far, far away.
The shadows over the Earth will evaporate.
Dan will awaken, as will all the others upon the ground in endless sleep.
Sarah Jane will be set free.
The TARDIS will not come.
And Laurel will not forgive Beth.
The Black Guardian has never wanted to destroy the Earth. That has not been his motivation. He wanted, before, to become the dominant being in the universe, to overpower the White Guardian, and to gain the ultimate power delivered by the Key to Time. His might has always been great; such things as Daleks would be nothing to him, and even the Eternals are child’s play to gain control of. Yet, after attempting to gain the Key to Time and finally gain what he believed to be rightfully his, he discovered a new purpose. His new purpose was to exact a complete and final revenge upon the man who had stopped him from achieving his heart’s single desire.
Originally, he had tried simply to kill the Doctor, but this was not a successful revenge for two reasons. The first is that the Doctor is impossible to kill. The second is that the Doctor was not truly afraid of death anyway, or so it seemed.
He concocted a far greater plan. The key to the hearts of this man was his compassion, his friendships. So great was the Doctor’s friendship with Sarah Jane Smith that he was willing to seal the Black Guardian in a tomb that she, and she alone, was capable of opening, in the faith that she would never do so. Of course, opening the tomb would never have been difficult, but this friend was worth more. The Doctor, the man who could stand and watch as civilisations burn as long as it was for the greater good, could not possibly accept the death of so great a companion.
In this way, reasoned the Black Guardian, during his long years of exile, she would be his greatest weakness; through her, he could achieve a death so powerful that it would split even a soul as hollow as the Doctor’s straight into two. It would prove to be the ultimate revenge possible.
He had never been trapped in the tomb. He could, through his voice, leave anytime he wanted, and play with any of the humans foolish enough to come near.
He had merely been waiting, patiently, the whole time.
Waiting for Sarah Jane.
Waiting for victory.
As such, the Earth was never at stake. That is merely a tool to summon the Doctor, who would come when his favourite planet was threatened. After all, the Black Guardian has seen the future, seen that Earth still stands, and knows that to destroy the Earth would be to give the Doctor hope that he could use some sort of trickery through his time machine. The victory would be to remove all hope, to leave the Doctor utterly alone, without his most precious of allies.
It is for this reason that whatever Beth chooses, the Earth will not be destroyed.
But Beth might be.
I can see two realities, beyond the departure of the Black Guardian, be it in victory or defeat.
In one reality, most potent, is Beth and Laurel. They will be bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. They will visit each other often, even as they progress into their later years, and they will remain close. They will live in the same town, even, and a day will not pass without at least a telephone call. In essence, they will prove to be the ultimate siblings, with a strong relationship, forged through mutual necessity, forged through Laurel’s determination and Beth’s grief, initially, at losing Sarah Jane, but soon powered simply by a strengthening love for her sister. Both will go on to have successful careers, leaving behind the split between them through adolescence, Beth even leaving behind, and beginning to forget about, the adventures she used to have, with Sarah Jane and the gang, and the fun of her youth, as she gains veterinary qualifications, becoming a leader within vets, as Laurel becomes a leader among doctors, and the two remain close, closer than close, all the while.
But I see more in this reality.
I see the heartbreak of Dan, released from his torment in the library to face a more real torment in reality.
I see Sentinel, scanning and scanning, waiting until Sarah Jane returns from wherever she is, outside of his range.
I see Sarah Jane, fighting an impossible opponent.
I do not see me. It is too cloudy when I look to see me.
But I can see my past.
Every story has a beginning, middle and end. In both realities, our stories started the moment we stepped into that ship, the moment I heard my mother’s voice and the moment the creatures trapped us in that awful room. Whatever happened next was hazy, like a plot point yet to be completed. I can only see flashes: the machine, the syringes, the woman- Kovarian, asking about the results of her experiment. This occurred in both realities.
Also cloudy is the other reality.
I can see Laurel, very clearly. Laurel, wondering what went wrong, confused by her hypothetical actions, confused by Beth's actual actions. I do not think that it ends well. I do not think that Laurel will be happy. In fact, I do not think, somehow, that she will be happy for a while. And I can see something in the distance, a fight. Irrational and loud and short, like most fights, but it is on the cusp of...something.
But most other things are cloudy.
Sarah Jane would survive, I can see that, and the Black Guardian would leave without the intention of returning in the near future, kept at bay by the threat of the White Guardian being ready for him.
But where are Dan, Melody, Beth and I? Free, somehow, and I can see the immediate aftermath, the dinner we eat together in Sarah Jane’s house as we discuss events, but beyond that and the fight it is uncertain, unclear. I don’t know what paths are taken next; too much seems to be in flux, even now.
But I know one thing.
Beth’s decision here is critical. Critical.
Will she pick up the phone? Or will she leave it to ring?
Will she choose Laurel? Or will she choose Sarah Jane?
Will the Black Guardian claim his revenge? Or will he fail?
Will Beth and Laurel lead long and happy lives together, or will they be split apart?
Beth holds the cards within her hand and she does not know it.
I feel it. Now. Right now. They are at the graveyard at this very moment, and I can feel the enormity of the decision that Beth does not realise that she is making, it runs through my blood, it is the key to the future.
And it cannot be left to chance. It cannot be left to Beth. She does not understand the responsibility that she holds, and she is not capable of holding it. A greater force than her must intervene, it must, because some things cannot be left to the people who do not know what is good for them!
But no higher power will come. The Black Guardian, even now, is elsewhere.
The Black Guardian could control a person. He could enter a person’s thoughts and control the decision they make. He calls it “revealing the soul”, and the whole point is that a person is capable of either decision, and he simply pushes them in the right direction.
He is disinterested, though. He will not come. He will not push Beth in the right direction because he does not know which way is right and he does not know that this moment is significant.
But I am he and he is I.
So I can.
I can take control of Beth, from here, right now.
And I do.
I am in Beth. I am part of Beth.
I control her.
No; I do not control her.
I help her.
I don’t know if she can see me, if she can feel me.
Her phone is ringing. It’s ringing right now.
Act or don’t act.
Make a choice.
It’s as though I whisper to her.
I tell her which choice to make.
Not what will happen when she does.
But I make the choice.
I make the choice for her.
I take control of the narrative.
And she’s picking up the phone.
She will defeat the Black Guardian.
Sarah Jane will be safe.
Everyone will be safe.
And it is right.
And yet it is wrong.
She has just damaged her ties with her sister.
I have damaged her ties with her sister.
Me, alone, myself, answerable to no-one.
I have broken one of the strongest, longest-standing relationship she has, a process not dissimilar to a writer and their subject.
This is my story. My creation.
My God, it’s the best feeling in the whole entire world.
There's something else. A voice. A smooth, gentle voice that has the capabilities of washing away all worries. It washes away my worries.
It appears to be a female- I'm not quite sure, she has long snaking tendrils of hair and- and her body shines. The glow is as bright as a summer sky. Sky. The name feels fitting, in some way. Her presence is radiant. She floods the room with warmth, like a light bulb.
I was never one to believe in angels, but this one feels...safe. Tangible. Familiar. She is outside my range. How did she enter my reality? Was this even my reality?
So many questions.
My head is hurting.
The angel appears to understand. I don't know how, but she does. She outstretches her arm and whispers, "Let me take you home."
The stone that shrouded Zoe crumbled away, leaving the girl behind. She was still, rigid, motionless.
And then, she was falling.
Right into waiting arms. Her eyes flitted over the strange faces. They were all varied. Young, younger still and old. No, they weren’t strange. They were something else. Something more intimate.
Familiar. They were familiar. They were her friends, the wise old woman and her three young compatriots, uttering a single verb over and over again.
Zoe suddenly realised her breathing was stifled, and rushed to inhale and exhale as quickly as possible. Her hammering heart in her ribcage slowly calmed as she breathed at a healthier pace. Eventually, she could breathe normally and settled in the arms of her friends as Sarah Jane scanned her.
“It’s not picking up any abnormalities,” said Sarah Jane with a thoughtful expression.
“I concur,” Sentinel piped up after finishing up his own scan.
"What happened?" Zoe slurred, her senses somewhat numbed.
"Your body was taken by the Black Guardian," Sarah Jane explained in a nurturing voice, "but we had this. A Duimian Mirror. It sensed the Black Guardian's essence, everything he stood for, all the darkness - and reversed it. And that inverse image was projected right back at him, making him think that he was standing face to face with the White Guardian, his enemy and his opposite. All projected through Beth."
Zoe looked over at Beth, who smiled weakly.
"The perfect host," Sarah Jane continued. "She too is the complete opposite of the Black Guardian. He knows only hate, she knows only love. And that's why she was key to this plan. She saved you, Zoe."
Trying to smile, Zoe suddenly felt a pounding in her head. She clutched her skull. "Ugh, my head."
“You should be fine,” Sarah Jane assured her before turning to Melody and helping her to her feet with a smile. They would have scars from this outing, but they would learn to deal and heal from them. “Come on, let’s go home.”
With that, Dan and Beth hauled Zoe to her feet, waiting patiently for her to steady herself before easing her towards the door.
“You okay?” Beth asked her. Zoe pondered on the question for a second. Was she okay? She could scarcely remember what had happened after the smoke. Was that a good thing? Maybe.
She smiled. “Not really. I'm exhausted, but you know what? I've just had a really awesome idea for my story.”