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22 March 2011 @ 01:16 am
Fic: Upstream (Doctor Who/Firefly, PG-13)  

Title: Upstream.
Author: Prochytes.
Fandom: Doctor Who/Firefly
Rating: PG-13. Angst; dark themes; mind screw; (non-graphic) violence.
Characters/Pairing: Eleven (DW); River Tam (Firefly).
Disclaimer: The Beeb and Mutant Enemy share custody.
Summary: A plan falling apart is just a plan coming together played backwards.
Word Count: 2051.
A/N: Small spoilers for Firefly, down to and including Serenity. Written for [info]dark_fest .





There was a place other than the dojo and the operating theatre. They put River there, sometimes. They usually did this when she got confused, and thought that the operating theatre was the dojo.


(And, once, that the dojo was an operating theatre. Sparring partners are made from actual spars, if you snap them right.)


The furniture was fretted with bright flowers. The flowers were not real, but neither was River. So that was alright, then.


Time passed. The false flowers did not bloom.




“....positive this isn’t a honeymoon planet? Because if this is the honeymoon, I’d hate to see the divorce.”


 A new voice chattered outside the door. Fresh, amidst stale air and stale thoughts. River, who had been inspecting a brown stain on the floor, lifted her head.


“ Quite sure, Doctor.” The other voice was familiar. It belonged to the man who looked after River while she was here. Nurse? Warden? Gaoler? The titles rubbed against each other, and chafed. He had not been in to check on River for quite some time. “I take it you’ve come to see her?”


“Her? Ah, yes. Her. Good old her. That definitely sounds like someone I should see .”


“She’s through there, as before.”


“As before. Right.”






“I thought about what you said. I’ll be leaving, soon. I... I hope that you can help her, too.”


“Good man. I think. Through here, you say?”


“Yes. Usual time limit.”


“Thank you.”


The newcomer popped his head around the door. His eyes were kind. His hair was scary. River shuffled back a little.


“Hello,” he said, unspooling a long thin frame into the room. “I’m the Doctor, and I’m not meant to be here. Who are you?”


“I’m River,” she said.


“River. That’s a nice name. One of my favourites. Always spells trouble, which must make its course quite bendy. Have we met, River?”




“Ah. Oh dear. I was rather afraid of that. What’s your favourite food?”




“Good choice. I have to go now, River, but I’ll be back. There’s a hypothesis that needs testing.”




When he returned, the warden followed him. Jitters fouled the warden’s walk. The tea in the mug which he was clutching sloshed at the shaking of his hand.


“Just a quick visit today, River. You like strawberries, don’t you?”


River rolled her eyes at him. The warden swallowed.


“Good. I like fish-fingers. With custard.”


River wrinkled her nose.


“Remember that, please. You’ll be tested on it earlier.” He rose from the sofa. “Time for me to go.”


“Right,” said the warden. He ran his free hand through his hair. “Doctor....”




“What’s the question?”


The man who called himself the Doctor looked puzzled for a moment. Then he eyed the warden narrowly. His gaze rested on the mug in the other’s grip. He sighed.


“The question is: ‘what did you do at work today?’”


The tea-mug shattered on the floor.




The next time he let himself in, again.


“What do I like to eat, River?”


“Fish-fingers. With custard. And I know what’s going on.”


“Really?” The Doctor smiled. “What tipped you off?”


“The floor. See?” River stretched out a foot, and pointed with her toe.  “No stain.”


“Well done.”


“Is it happening to you, as well?”


“No. No, it isn’t.”


River blinked. “But how did you know about the strawberries?”


“Easy- peasy. I have a time-machine. It’s parked a few corridors away.”  


“A time-machine.” The Doctor winced as hope bloomed in her face. “Does that mean you could....”


“No; I’m afraid it doesn’t. I don’t fully understand what’s happening yet, River, but this I know: an awful lot of it is Fixed. I can’t just whisk you away from this place.”


River’s shoulders slumped. “Why are you still here, then?”


“Because I need to know who made you start remembering the future.”


The door slid open. The warden entered. The tea-mug steamed in his grasp.


“Time’s up again, Doctor.” His brows furrowed as his gaze rested on River. “How... how is she?”


“As well as can be expected.”


“I’m glad.” Fingers drummed on the mug. “Doctor....”




“What did you mean when you said I have eight years left?”


“I said that, did I? How very melodramatic of me. That’s approximately how long you have before the person who gave you that mug asks you the question.”


“What ques...”


“Well, that’s all we have time for today.” The Doctor leapt to his feet. “I’ll see you both again yesterday. Did I say ‘yesterday’? I meant ‘tomorrow’. Obviously.”




“Someone’s loaded your brain with psychic software. It’s repurposing the various changes your gaolers have made to your neural architecture. Normally, you would exhibit advanced pattern recognition, and some psychic abilities. But as long as the software is active, all those resources are slaved to precognition. That’s why you’re ‘remembering’ the near future.”


The Doctor scratched his head.


“The problem is that even a brain as remarkable as yours can’t really handle full-blown prophecy. While it’s in effect, you won’t form actual long-term memories. That explains why you didn’t recognize me the first time I showed up, even though the chap outside did. The net effect, from your current perspective...”


“I’m living this part of my life backwards.”


“Not moment-by-moment, of course. But episode-by-episode, yes. You’ll remember this conversation yesterday, but not tomorrow.”


“Is this one of the things that...  that they’ve done to me?”


“No. It isn’t. This place is responsible for a lot of things, River. One day I’ll see it’s held to account for every one of them – unless you beat me to it, of course. I hate Academies. Always crammed to the rafters with people too busy knowing best to get around to knowing anything else. But it isn’t responsible for what’s happening to you right now.”


“How can you tell?”


“The psychic software isn’t human. It’s way beyond anything you lot have managed. When we first met, three days in the future, it was in the last stages of deleting itself. Which suggests...”


“That it had already done what it was meant to do.”


“Exactly. That’s why I’m retracing your time-line. Following you upstream. Trying to find the point at which you upload the software. ”


“Are there other clues?”


“Not really. You can’t read minds while the software’s working. That’s giving you a lucidity right now which... which you may find it hard to recapture for a while when it’s gone. But you will, River. I have no doubt of that.”


“When... when the software was uploaded... would it have hurt?” River almost kept the tremor from her voice.


The Doctor’s face darkened. “The pain must have been indescribable. Be thankful that you don’t remember.”


The sound of the door opening broke their silence.


“Time’s up, Doctor. Sorry I can’t give you any longer. Higher Up’s been jumpy since we had that emergency reboot of system security last night. Bloody viruses. Are you two done?”


“Pretty much.” The Doctor forced a grin. “I suppose we all run out of time, eventually. You’ve only got eight years left, for example. Give or take.”


The warden frowned. “I’m sorry?”


“I’ll explain. Later.”




“Why are you dancing, River?”


“Because I’m happy.”


“Fair enough. And why are you happy?”


“Because this morning they let me play on the computers.”


“They did? Oh dear. How very careless of them.”


“Not really.” River sidled up to him, conspiratorial. “There’s no way I could sneak a message out they wouldn’t detect with standard scans. Unless they're obliged to do a system reboot in the next few hours. And how could anyone predict that?”


“I see. Very clever.”


“With the data I’ve sent, it won’t be long before Simon comes to rescue me.” She looked at his expression, and cocked her head on one side. “You don’t seem as happy about that as I expected.”


“I am, River. I really am.” The Doctor averted his eyes. “It’s just that something unpleasant has now become very clear.”


“What’s that?”


“For one thing: why our friend outside keeps staring at my nose.”


River raised an interrogative eyebrow. The Doctor shook his head, and rose to leave. “You’ll work out what I mean soon enough.”




The kick to his face was carefully calibrated. Not hard enough to knock him out. But hard enough to knock him down, and to hurt (River hoped) like several Hells.


“Thank you,” he said, as he sat on the floor, and dabbed at his nose. “I’m definitely going to deserve that.”


“When did you know?” she asked. “When did you see that the monster would make you do it?”


The Doctor’s eyes were sad. “I’m not going to do it for a monster, River.”


“You are. She’s a twisted, broken freak. How could she experiment on me? This makes her worse than them. Worse than any of them.”




“Get out. Now. The next Doctor I want to see is a real one.”


He bowed his bloodied head, and left in silence.




“It’s really not as painful as it looks. Besides: I’m taking a new treatment. Mark my words: pretty soon the swelling will start coming and going. In a day or two, it’ll disappear for good.”


A new voice chattered outside the door. Fresh, amidst stale air and stale thoughts. River, who had been inspecting the unmarred expanse of the floor, lifted her head.


“The miracles of science.” The other voice was familiar. It belonged to the man who looked after River while she was here. Nurse? Warden? Gaoler? The titles rubbed against each other, and chafed. “You do realize that you’ll only be allowed to stay with her for a couple of minutes at a time? The rules for interacting with Riv... with the subject are very clear.”


“I understand. Nice mug, by the way. BEST DAD IN THE ’VERSE. Love it. Did your daughter give it to you?”


“Yes. She’s coming up eight. They grow so fast.”


“That they do. I’ll be back at the same time all this week. Through there?”




The newcomer slipped round the door. His hair was scary. His nose was broken. River shuffled back a little.


“Hello, River. I’m the Doctor.”


River’s brow wrinkled. “We’ve met?”


“No. And yes. But mostly no.”


“How did they let you in to see me?”


“I have credentials.” He handed over a wallet, which she flipped open.


“This is blank.” She tossed it back. “But you... you’re not blank. No whitespace in you at all. Confusing.”


She crept over, and peered up at him. Her eyes widened.


“I see you, now. The man of ice and fire.  But you don’t have a place inside this story.”


Small white teeth flashed in an instant’s smile.


“Not unless I write you in.”


The Doctor continued to hold her gaze, expressionless.


“Backwards and forwards, as you please. The whole show in reverse, if the fancy takes you. Watch super-novas scrunch up into stars. See Earth-That-Was shake free from her brown cocoon, and fly away on blue-green wings. Anything.”


The Doctor cleared his throat. “What do you want from me, River?”


“Superfluous query. You already know. It’s in your head.”


His stare was stone. “Humour me.”


“Turn me around. Everyone walks backwards. We see the past. That’s our burden. I can get out. Fly away. Fly far away, if I can just see where I’m going.”


“That’s true.” He sighed. “But there are so many other ways you could have done this, River. Better ways. You only have to....”


“Wait? Endure? Be patient? ‘Brave heart, River?’” Her mouth twisted. “No.”


“You’ll hate yourself, for this. Believe me: I know.”


“Then we’ll be the same, won’t we? You wear guilt, now. Guilt is cool.”


His mouth tightened. “Remember who you’re talking to, little girl.”


“Lord of Time? Lord of nothing. We both know you can’t back out now. You change your own past if you do. Unacceptable. The dance ends. Silence falls.”


She took his hands, and raised them in her own.


“Dance for me, Time Lord.”


He bit his lip.“This will hurt worse than anything you’ve ever known. Do you understand?”


“I’ll survive. And then, forget.” She brought their hands up to her forehead. “Allons-y.”


He sighed again. The strong fingers tightened on her temples.




Omorka: Firefly Goddessesomorka on March 22nd, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
Intriguing! Very nice River-voice in the last segment, too.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 09:16 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was making a deliberate effort to have River sound most like she does in the series in the last section, as opposed to the (temporary) lucidity imposed by what is going on earlier/later in the fic.
smirnoffmule on March 22nd, 2011 03:06 am (UTC)
There is not a line here that doesn't pack a punch. Both voices - River an the Doctor - are absolutely perfect. I've read this three times right through now and it is not getting old. This is excellent.

ETA: God, I've just read it again. *Flails*

Edited at 2011-03-22 03:18 am (UTC)
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 09:21 am (UTC)
Many thanks! I am very pleased that you enjoyed the fic.
daystarsearcher: 10roseloveyousomuchdaystarsearcher on March 22nd, 2011 04:49 am (UTC)
I have absolutely no head for temporal mechanics. But the voices were gorgeous and amazingly spot-on for both of them, so I still enjoyed it a great deal.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 09:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! I tried to make it quite dialogue-driven, so that the timey-wimey element was not the only thing going on.
Silver M: spaztenmaldeluxx on March 22nd, 2011 07:55 am (UTC)
Damn, I need to watch Firefly + Serenity again *sighs* XD
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
I am very glad you liked it! Always a good thing to rewatch some Firefly.
Anne Hedonia: doctor who - eleven boyish and cuteahedonia on March 22nd, 2011 10:09 am (UTC)
I know this is brilliant, I just don't understand it yet.

I know because the voices are perfect (such good Eleven) and it has that perfect balance of the Doctor being kind and flippant and yet having to do something ironically and wearyingly horrible along the way.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)
Many thanks! I am glad you liked the conjunction of the Doctor's personality and the things he sometimes has to do.
(Deleted comment)
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you for commenting!
(Deleted comment)
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)
Many thanks! I am particularly glad that you liked the business with the mug. I wanted it to be like watching someone very slowly and methodically load a gun.
plutoplutokitty on March 22nd, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed this, the way it twisted and looped on itself, the elaborate dance of the dialogue. You've definitely got the Doctor and River down and I loved the timey-wimey-ness of it.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 22nd, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I am pleased that you liked the timey-wimey.
(Deleted comment)
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 23rd, 2011 12:42 am (UTC)
Many thanks! I would be delighted and flattered for you to rec it.
rodlox: advicerodlox on March 23rd, 2011 05:04 am (UTC)
It felt linear to read it...but it was a while before it hit me: forwards or backwards? and the answer is "yes."

very enjoyable story.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 23rd, 2011 09:46 am (UTC)
Thank you. It is very pleasing that you enjoyed it.
Lisa: firefly: crew and textmeridian_rose on March 24th, 2011 10:11 am (UTC)
It's fascinating, in a non-linear timeline that screws with your brain sort of way. The voices feel right and the ending is surprising; I feel it raises more questions than it ever answers, but that's the point of it. The fic benefits from/requires multiple readings :D
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 24th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
Many thanks! I am glad that you liked the narrative screwiness.
K.kelseyg on March 28th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC)
THIS IS AMAZING. Really good. I especially liked the part about the mug. I had to read it once in each direction.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on March 28th, 2011 08:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I am very pleased that you liked the treatment of the mug. I was trying to use it to lend structure to the narrative.
samjohnsson: rainbow flagsamjohnsson on August 20th, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
This is fascinating, and your River voice is spot-on! Bookmarked and passed on.

(was rec'ed at http://fancake.dreamwidth.org/514513.html)

Edited at 2012-08-20 12:24 am (UTC)
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on August 20th, 2012 10:44 am (UTC)
Many thanks! Very glad that you liked the River voice.
illereyn: sleepyillereyn on August 20th, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
Wonderful story! It was very clear about what was happening, and flowed beautifully, despite the playing around with time.
prochytes: Lukeprochytes on August 20th, 2012 11:33 am (UTC)
Thank you! I am pleased that the timey-wimey aspect worked OK.