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FIC: The Atheist in Your Foxhole

Title: The Atheist in Your Foxhole
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Eighth Doctor
Date Written: 2006
Summary: People have many reasons for fighting the fight, and sometimes the best reasons come from the most unexpected sources. Better not to question them. Time War, on the eve of the Big Bad.
Rating/Warnings: G. No swearing, no violence, nothing objectionable. Some righteous indignation, but that’s it.
Notes: A thought on the Time War, the Doctor’s motivations for being there, and how generally untrusted he was among the Timelords.
Spoilers: If you don’t know how the Time War ends, I can’t help you.



“Four-seven-two-alpha,” demands the tall and stony-faced Commander of the 407th Special Operations Unit of Gallifrey, stopping in front of the line of armed and uniformed combatants where they sit strapped to the long seat of the transport. So many of these moments, lately, as if lifted from the history books of a less civilized species - inserted where they don’t belong, strung together by improbability and necessity. Painfully wrong, for a culture of peace, and it’s all a sham, when it comes down to it. The designations are meaningless – there isn’t even a 406th – and the ranking officer is dressed simply by their standards, with no military trim and pomp. This is a force hastily assembled, a hierarchy come up with on the fly. These people are many things; Scholars, scientists, politicians, artists, bureaucrats, administrators, teachers. But they are not soldiers.

Doesn’t mean they aren’t expected to act like it, under the circumstances.

The man being addressed is oblivious, protective headgear removed and in his hands, being examined contemplatively. His stazer is propped haphazardly up against his knee. He is the one inconsistency in the uniform line of perfectly poised suddenly-soldiers – can’t even be bothered to do up his uniform properly, though if the Commander is truthful with himself, he’d expected no better from this one – the infamous Prydonian renegade, Gallifrey’s wandering son come back to pitch in. No one expected that, and no one knows why he is here, or quite what to do with him.

He is nudged in the arm by the fellow next to him, and starts, looking up from his contemplations, pale eyes all distance and freedom and wildness. Unnerving, to the Commander, his own head filled with dust and stasis. “Oh, is that me?” The renegade grins facetiously, and his excessively long hair bobs around his face as he ducks to sort through his pockets, coming up with a folded and battered ID card. Studies it, squinting in the poor light. “Ah, yes, it is. Sorry about that. Never much one for numbers.”

“I’m not interested in a moral dissertation on the depersonalization of the rank and file.” The Commander knows enough to not let this one even start to ramble. “Do you believe in what we’re doing here, soldier?”

That same smile, though a bit more subdued now. Still infuriating. “That’s an odd sort of question. Why do you ask?”

The fact that the Commander deigns to answer shows up how unfamiliar he is with being in this position. “Valid question before an operation of this... scope.”

“Ah,” says the younger-looking man, leaning back against the inner wall of the transport, running long fingers through his hair. “I suppose I should have been more specific. Why are you asking me, in particular?”

The commander stands his ground, staring down into those foreign, dangerous eyes – is this man even one of their own, anymore? It’s impossible to tell, just looking at him. “You’re a known renegade, defector, and troublemaker. A convicted criminal, to boot. I think I have fair reason to single you out.”

The others sitting nearby studiously ignore the exchange; the man being addressed glances off thoughtfully, fingers rubbing at his chin. “’Defector’ is a bit strong, I think. The rest, because I swanned off to see the universe while you lot hid in your libraries sniffing at old bookbindings?”

“I ask again. Do you believe in our purpose here?”

“No.”

Silence.

Sensing eyes on him now beyond just those of the Commander, the long-haired soldier leans forward and continues, an intensity in his gaze that startles the man looming over him. “I do not believe any race has the right to arbitrarily wipe out an entire other race.” A blink, inscrutable, head canting lightly to the side. “That said, that is all the Daleks want to do, a thousand times over, so. Lesser of evils, as a wise man once said.”

The transport bucks momentarily, and the soldiers on the bench grasp at their seats, at their weapons. The commander takes hold of a railing. The renegade stares steadily ahead, needing no stabilization. He is the rock and the anomaly and the dead space; he has his own gravity field, it seems sometimes. “I am here,” he says, over the rumble of engines, the ride smoothing out. “As we all are, because we must be. Because the stakes are just a bit beyond petty politics. Tell me what the stakes are, Commander.”

The Commander straightens up, clears his throat. “All of reality,” he recites, a speech practiced and regurgitated a hundred times. “All of time as we know it, every sentient and non-sentient species in the universe.”

“All of which you’ve read about in books and reports, I’m sure. Very good.” Condescension again, and smugness. “Let me tell you something. I’ve been out there.” Head nods toward the roof of the transport. Up and out, into the open. “I’ve seen those sentient and non-sentient species. Stood on their worlds, watched their suns set over their oceans. Seen their beauty and their curiosity and their potential.”

“You and your precious Earthlings.” And it’s a slur, obvious in the tone, in the Commander’s knowing smirk. The troublemaker hasn’t been that specific, but his proclivities are well known.

Unfazed, unblinking. “Yes. Them, and thousands of races like them. They are who we are doing this for, correct?” Silence meets the question - an uncomfortable, shifting, glancing silence that spreads from person to person. “This isn’t to save ourselves. Because we aren’t likely going to survive.”

The transport. The regiment. The renegade and the Commander. Gallifrey. All of it.

The man dips his head slightly, face coming into shadow, eyes still visibly burning as they hold contact with the ranking officer. “We who hold the bridge.”

The Commander does not respond with his voice, but his expression – and his silence - speak volumes.

“I do not believe the jingoistic claptrap from the top, no,” the younger-looking man continues, gaze intense. “I do not believe that we are the stewards of the universe, stewards to these peoples and races that I’m sure you think of as slightly clever little animals. I do not believe the dogma. Beliefs are dangerous, Commander. I am simply doing what I can, when I can, to protect that which I care for. And if you, you who have never stepped out into it, dare accuse me of not caring for this universe, sir,” And it is as much a slur right back, disdain for authority clear in the tone, in the renegade’s eyes, in his posture and bearing, “Then you are a bigger fool than ever I’ve had the chance to meet.”

A long silence, punctuated by turbulence and the metallic stutter of the engines. A soft cough from the other side of the transport. A held breath.

The Commander closes his eyes for a moment. Opens them. Stares straight into those wild, untamed depths, into the passion and fire and righteousness and pain. Remembers, for a moment, what it is to care that deeply. Wonders idly how long it’s been. “Fair enough,” he finally says, and starts to turn away. Pauses, conflicted, then gives a short nod. “…Doctor.”

And crammed in among a hundred numbered and serialized brethren, skimming along the surface of a familiar world that has not yet been named and now probably never will, the Doctor leans back against the transport’s inner wall. His eyes follow the Commander as he wanders off to make the final preparations for landfall. Around him, the universe breathes.

It will not breathe its last, this day. There is too much out there, too much joy and life and too many things to be seen – not by him, perhaps, but by someone, by the people they may have to lay down the continuity of their existence for.

The bridge will be held.

*




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