Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Anime Man-counter - Part 1

The Anime Man-counter
A Youtuber Fanfic

Part 1

By Benjamin R Parker

                He woke up in an alley.  Al sat up and took in his surroundings.  The alley was short and mostly clean.  He was next to one of a couple dumpsters near the few back doors.  A couple others had trash cans, each container at various stages of fill.  The alley was narrow, barely big enough for a single car or service truck.  The buildings were tall, their shadows casting the alley into a twilight, even though bright sunlight flooded in from either end.  He guessed they were closer to five stories tall, but at least well over three, even though their walls were mostly featureless.
                “Where’d I end up, now?” He asked aloud while standing up.
                Al noted that one end opened up onto a cramped-looking back street.  The other end cast intermittent shadows when folks passed by while on whatever errand occupied them.  It was that direction toward which Al strolled once he had beat off as much dirt and filth as he could from his vest, shirt sleeves and trousers.
                Once his eyes adjusted to the light out in the open, and stopped dead in his tracks.  The plaza he found himself at seemed normal enough.  Shop and business signs lavishly or profusely decorated the buildings around the periphery.  Al instantly recognized Japanese kanji, though it had been so long since he had read any with proper understanding that many meanings currently escaped him.  But, what let Al really know he was in an exotic place were the people.
                Amidst the park-like decorations, he saw animal-folk.  The plaza was crowded with humans that had minor key physical traits of certain animals.  The way tails wagged, or ears twitched and perked, he knew they weren’t just costume pieces.  There were a variety of animals in the mix like dogs, squirrels, sheep, and birds.  However, those were rare compared to all the cat-folk that milled about. 
                Even more than the pointy or droopy ears, tails, and sometimes muzzle noses, were the hair colors.  Many of the cat-folk and some of the dogs had spotted or mottled hair colors typical of special breeds he was used to for pets back home.  The hair was limited to the top of the head, as on a normal human.  Everyone was dressed like a human, so he had no idea just how far the coloration went, but if they were like the different animal breeds he was used to, he didn’t have to imagine real hard.
                He heard a pair come to a stop a mere meter from him and wasn’t surprised when someone addressed him.  The voice was male, the language English, in some sort of British accent.  Al guessed the man was Aussie, though it would take a few more words to be sure. 
                “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
                Al turned to see a cute cat-folk couple.  Both were stylishly dressed in casual clothes fit for a stroll around town.  The tom was a tall white guy with white hair and ears, his white tail curled and waved around lazily behind him.  His partner, a pretty, curvy young maiden, was practically curled around his right arm.  She was Asian with glossy black hair and cat ears.  He didn’t see a tail on her, making Al wonder whether she was some sort of bobcat or manx breed.  Her black skirt was short enough that he couldn’t fathom it might hide a proportionate feline tail. 
                Both smiled at him.
                Returning the smile, Al answered, “That obvious?”
                “You were staring at everything like you were lost,” the cat-girl said.
                “Do you know where you are?” the tom asked.
                Al opted for honesty, though some details were unnecessary and he left them out.  Looking around at the plaza again, he said, “Actually, I just got here.  All I really know from the style of writing is that I’m in Japan.”
                The couple’s smiles turned strained.  Al caught a hint of confusion in their eyes.  Something he had said didn’t register.  Before Al could formulate an investigative question, the tom changed tack.
                “I’ve met many an ape visiting our country, but none with your kind of accent.  Where’re you from?”
                The cat-girl’s eyes brightened with sudden insight.  “Oooh.  He’s not from the states.”  She turned inquisitive.  “Are you?”
                “You mean the United States of America?” Al asked, trying to confirm what he hoped she meant.
                Again, he caught a minor surprised reaction from the two.  Their exchanged glances and raised eyebrows were not subtle, however.
                “She was talking the United States of South Aperica,” the tom replied.  “Most apes hale from that part of the Aperican continent.  But, most of them, if you’ll pardon me for being blunt, are generally dark complexioned.  You’re really pale for an ape.”
                Al’s smirk softened with humor as he caught on.  Apes from Africa.  So, this wasn’t Japan per se.  It went under a different name. 
                “All right,” he feigned surrender.  “I’m from a small place in the western hemisphere called Iowa.”
                The cat-girl perked up.  “Exotic.”
                The tom smiled, understanding.  “Well, whatever you call it where you’re from, here, we call this the city of Tokyeow, in the country of Nekon.”
                Al nodded, getting it now.  The term for cat in Japanese happened to be Neko.  So, Nekon was a country of cats.  If it was anything like regular Japan, it wasn’t just founded by a cat, the population was also mostly feline.  He recalled another world of sapient animals, prompting him to comment aloud.  “So, is Equestria more east or west from here?”
                Again, the Nekonese couple exchanged confused glances. 
                Humor dampened only lightly, Al added, “Okay.  So, no Manehattan or Canterlot.”
                “Are those restaurants where you’re from?” the cat-girl asked.
                Al’s renewed mirth was so strong he couldn’t help smiling again.  “Sure.”
                “If you’d like,” the tom said, “we can show you around.”
                And, there it was.  Providence made itself evident.  Al decided to take the sign for what it was.  “Why not?  It’s nice to run into folks who speak my language.  If I’m right, most Neko don’t speak foreign languages well, if at all.”  He took a stab at what he hoped was the right terminology.  “And, my Nekonese is a bit rusty.”
                No more confused looks.  A good sign.
                “Judging from our conversation, it might not be anything like they taught you in Iowa,” the tom said in what Al recognized as Japanese.
                “Hai,” Al replied, then continued in English.  “Won’t really know until I have more in-depth conversations.  For now, let’s keep it to English.  That’s what we call this language in Iowa.”
                “Leonish,” the tom corrected. 
                Made sense.  The British crown was symbolized by a lion.  Al doubted that the population was equally all cats.  Probably more sheep, goats, and pigeons.  But, he wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out the Leonish royalty were actual felinoids.  Probably meant the Russians were bears, maybe camels out of the Saharah.  Tigers from India and China? Or, Elephants?  And, what about the Americas?  His imagination ran wild with the possibilities, and he couldn’t wait to find out.
                “My name’s Joey,” the tom added.  “This is my Aki-dearest.”  He patted his cat-girlfriend’s arm with surprisingly open affection. 
                Alius Cadver - his first name pronounced like Elias - caught on quickly, offering up an alias he acquired from his many travels.  “I’m Hikaru.  Nishihara Hikaru.”  Japanese usually put surname before birth name.  Why would Nekonese be any different?  “My friends call me Hick.”
                The couple looked surprised again. 
                “An interesting name for a foreigner,” Joey commented, openly dubious.
                “Named after a favorite sci-fi character,” Hick explained.  He needed to start thinking of himself as Hikaru, now.  It was an old name he hadn’t used in a while, but it wouldn’t take long to get comfortable with it again.
                This seemed to make sense to Joey, who nodded.  Aki simply shrugged.
                “Well,” Joey said, “Aki and I were on our way to find some food.  We had a particular restaurant in mind, but we could show to some of our favorite spots.  How are you for money, bro?”
                “Honestly, what I have is all foreign.  I doubt the nearest exchange will convert what I got,” Al said.
                “Let me see,” Joey said.
                It was very much the truth.  So many things were different about this place, and Hick was absolutely certain now that the money from the places he’d been, especially his home in America, did not exist.  But, there was the faint possibility that some of it might pass off as local.  Reaching into one of his vest pockets, he fished out the cash and change he had collected in his travels.  Among coins from other countries, current and otherwise exotic, were a couple Japanese yen.  He quickly picked out the couple of cred sticks and a data-wafer before handing the paper and coinage over to Joey.
                The tom looked through the collection with growing indcredulity.  “Damn, boy,” he drawled.  “What kind of funny money is this?  I ain’t seen anything like this!  Is this some kind of joke?”
                Aki plucked the assemblage from Joey’s hands, rifling through it with what Hick felt was typical feline curiosity. 
                “A bad one,” Hick deadpanned.  “But, honestly, that’s all I got.”
                “No credit or charge cards?” Aki asked.
                Hick smirked.  “My home’s a little too backwards for that kind of fancy, new-fangled stuff.”  It was mostly true.  Iowa was slow to catch up with the bigger cities on the coasts.  But, that had more to do with infrastructure and an agrarian economy more than being technologically backward.  But, by the time he’d left, credit card readers were in practically every store, with only a few small businesses in small towns being the exceptions.
                “Oh, boy,” Joey continued to drawl in what Hick assumed was a style of slang.  “Ape boy is in a real tight bind.”
                “How do you plan to get back home?” Aki asked, genuinely concerned.
                Hick turned serious before saying, “I don’t.”
                This seemed to sober the couple up.
                “I’m gonna level with you.  Be honest.  Do you even have a place to stay?”
                “Not really.  As I said, I just got here.”
                “Wow.  Not often we run across one of those,” Aki said.
                “But, oddly enough it does happen,” Joey said.  He continued his voice tinted with a touch of long-suffering, or maybe derision.  Hick wasn’t quite sure which.  “A common enough tale.  Foreigner decides to come to Nekon, wanting to fulfill some dream, but with nothing more than the clothes on their back.  Well, best of luck.”
                Joey started to turn, but Aki smacked him on the shoulder.  “Joey!”
                He looked down at her in confusion.  “What?  He’s obviously a weeb. “
                She reached up and started whispering in Joey’s ear.  Hick barely made out what she said.  “Maybe we can introduce him to Tentacle-sama.”
                He looked at her directly and asked in a hushed tone, “Are you sure?”
                Aki nodded enthusiastically, staring at joey with pleading kitten eyes. 
                “Look,” Hikaru said.  “If you’re not one for charity cases, I’ll be fine.”
                “No!” both cats said in unison.  Aki’s reply was a protest, while Joey’s was a relenting sigh.
                “Okay, hon,” Joey said, patting Aki on the head. 
                She beamed.
                Turning to Hikaru, Joey said, “Change of plans.  We’ll take you on that tour we offered.  Meal will be our treat.  Then we’ll introduce you to some people who can help you start to find a job and a place to stay.  Until then, we’ll let you stay with us.”
                Hick couldn’t help raising his eyebrows at the sudden change in attitude.  He felt really humbled at their generosity.  “I don’t know if I can ever thank you enough.  If there’s anything I can do to repay you, let me know.”
                “I’m sure we can think of something,” Joey said with a quick mischievous smile.  “This way.”
                Joey continued walking the direction the pair had been going before running into Hick, deftly skirting around him.  Hikaru followed.  He wasn’t sure what a ‘weeb’ was.  The idea of meeting a human octopus or cuttlefish was intriguing.  Though, the notion that Tentacle-sama might be an eldritch horror did make Hick chuckle.
                “So, this Tentacle-sama.  Is he a cephalopod?” Hick asked.
                Aki looked back at him.  “You’ll see.”

* * *

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Doctor Who Never Tale: Hunting Dragons

Doctor Who:
Hunting Dragons

by Ben Parker

Early twenty-first century houses were all aglow with a flickering fiery yellow light.  One house was burning, its blaze rendering the night sky completely black, overpowering the stars.  The neighborhood had gathered and the echoes of sirens could be heard in the distance.  A woman was on her knees on the sidewalk nearest the inferno, tears staining her cheeks.  The Doctor was close enough to hear the hollow sound of loss in her voice.
“He’s gone.”
“Who?” the Doctor asked.
“Wha?” She looked up at him blankly.
“You said someone’s gone.  Who?”
“I don’t know what you mean," she said, confused.  She started to look around.  “I don’t know who might be gone-.”  She turned her head from side to side, straining to find someone, her confusion turned to growing panic.  “Ben?”  Her worry turned to horror.  “Ben!  Oh my god!  Ben, where are you?”  Her eyes turned to the fire.  “He’s still in there!  Someone help him!”
The Doctor looked to the house.  The door was busted open, laying to one side.  Inside, he could see nothing through the thick smoke other than the glow of hungry flames.  Before he could act, a shadow blocked the light through the doorway.  Out staggered a man shrouded in a smoking blanket.  He dropped to the lawn, still dangerously close to the house.
The Doctor and a couple spectators rushed over to drag him toward the street.
On her feet now, the woman rushed over to the burnt man’s side.  She dropped to her knees, her jeans touching his.
“Oh, god.  Ben.  You’re okay,” she said, relieved.
Ben groaned.
In spite of his burns, the Doctor could see the man’s face.  He frowned.  It was not what he expected.  Brow furled, it was obvious he was not satisfied with the current events.  Turning away, he surveyed the scene.
“Something’s missing,” he mused.
He stepped away, heading into the night.  Three paces, and he stopped in sudden shock.  Memories flooded through his mind, images of a different chain of events he didn’t recall transpiring.

“Is there anyone in there?” the Doctor asked a spectator as he came onto the scene of the fire. 
Before the person could reply, the door kicked open.  A man appeared, supporting a woman.  They ran out, chased by billowing smoke back-lit by a much weaker internal fire.  Out in the street, the man dropped the woman gently to the ground.  She coughed from her seated position.
“Is she all right?” the Doctor inquired after coming over.
“Hi, doc,” the man said in quick greeting.  His accent was distinctly American.  “She should be.”
The doctor tore his eyes away from the woman to study the man. 
“He’s still in there,” the American continued, looking back into the glowing, smoking house.  “I have to go back for him.”
“No!” the woman cried. “Eli, no!”
She grabbed for the American’s military cut pants.  Her eyes were wide with a pleading sadness, as if she expected to lose him.
“I have to,” the American, Eli, practically whispered. 
He effortlessly pulled out of her grasp and rushed back inside, heedless to her agonized calls to wait.
The Doctor started to rush after him when he heard a sudden roar.  He was feet away from the front stoop when the house exploded.  Fiery shrapnel flew from the windows and doors, followed by giant fireballs.  The inferno consumed the interior of the house and started to eat at exterior features. The night was suddenly brighter.
The Doctor kept his feet, driven back by the sudden wave of unbearable heat as much as the blast.  He was close enough to the woman to hear the hollow sound of loss in her voice.

“He’s gone,” the Doctor echoed her words.
With these newfound memories, he looked back to the woman.
“If I forgot, then did she forget, too?”
He walked back her way, resolved to find out.
He paused.  Suddenly, he couldn’t remember why he was going back.  Confused, he struggled to recall what he had momentarily remembered with such clarity.  Putting a hand to his head, the Doctor turned away, yet again, and started to walk.  Again, the memories flashed through his mind, returning with crystal clarity, and he stopped.
His eyes to the ground, he pulled his hand away from his head.  The Doctor noticed something under his shoe.  Stepping off it, he reached down and picked it up.  Holding it gingerly, it was still warm, having been flung from the house in the explosion.  He examined the item.  An olive-drab polyester patch, it was only burned black in a couple places.  On it, in precision English script was the label ‘Prototype 2’.
Gripping the patch tightly, the Doctor resurveyed the house and the street in front.
His recent conversation with the woman came to mind.

“He’s gone.”
“Who?” the Doctor asked.
“Wha?” She looked up at him blankly.
“You said someone’s gone.  Who?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, confused.  She started to look around.  “I don’t know who might be gone-.” 

The Doctor stood up, his gaze bright and fierce.
“Something is missing.  But, the question is, ‘why did everyone forget’?”  He looked at the label.  “And, how do you let me remember?”
Whipping out his sonic screwdriver, he waved it over the patch.
“I see.  You’re resonating.”
He waved the driver around, looking first at the burning house, passing over the newly arrived ambulance and assembled people, and homing back onto the burned, unconscious Ben.
“He’s resonating the same way.”
The ambulance doors closed on Ben and girl.  Sirens wailing, it drove away.
“A dead end,” he concluded.
Looking into the blaze one more time, the haunting sound of the roar before the explosion echoed back at the Doctor.  Snapping his fingers in epiphany, he said, "Of course!"
Turning, he rushed to his TARDIS

Inside, at the console, the Doctor pulled up a screen and started manipulating devices.
“Come on,” he muttered to himself.
The screen started to fritz, and he jiggled it.  The image solidified, showing the house, belching smoke in the night.  He barked a laugh of triumph, then, as much to the TARDIS as to himself and the phantom he sought, he said, “I know you’re there.  Show yourself.”
The picture played and he heard the roar when the house erupted from the internal explosion.  He stopped the playback, rewound it, fiddled with some controls, and played it again.  This time, the roar was different, more animalistic.
One more time, he played it back after messing with a couple more controls.  Now, the roar was distinctly throaty and reptilian.
The Doctor quickly paused the video.  On the screen, barely distinguishable from the flames shooting out a side window was the fiery silhouette of a dragon.
“Beautiful,” the Doctor drawled in appreciation.  His brow curled in concern.  “But, I thought you were extinct.  What are you doing here?”
The Doctor pulled the burnt patch from his pocket.
“Maybe you had good reason.  Let’s see what Ben can tell me about Eli.”

In the local hospital, Ben rested in a bed, all dressed up in customary patient garb, with an IV hooked to one arm.  Sensor nodes connected machines to various parts of his body via wire, some exposed, some hidden.  Ben’s pulse sounded strong, his breathing steady.
His eyes opened, looking up at the Doctor when the Timelord stepped up to the side of his bed.
“Hello, Ben,” the Doctor said, friendly.
“Who are you?”  Ben’s voice is raspy and week.
“I’m the Doctor.”
“I already have Doctor Martin looking after me.”
“I have a few questions I wanted to ask about before the fire.  Specifically, what can you tell me about Eli?”
Ben stared at him a moment, mistrust evident on his face.
“You’re that kind of doctor.”  The mistrust vanished as he inhaled deeply and sighed.  “If you’re here to try to convince me he was some construct of my imagination, you don’t have to.  I don’t know how I came up with him.  He did seem to drop into our lives out of nowhere.  But, I swear that the time he was with me and Jeanie, it seemed so real.  I can still remember it clear as day.  But, I have the other memories.  The normal memories.  The ones without him.  Jeanie doesn’t remember him at all.  So he can’t be real.”
The Doctor leaned over and pulled out the label.
“Oh, Ben, but he was real.  And, I’m not that kind of Doctor.”
Ben stared at the label.
“But, if he’s real, then why do I have memories of that time without him?”
“He was ripped from the time stream, his entire presence erased.  The memories you have of him happened.  But, in reality, and, according to time, they didn’t.”
“Ripped from time?  Wait.  Are you a scientist?”
“In a manner of speaking.  And, he was erased, if that makes it easier.”  The Doctor pocketed the patch.  “I have an idea what did it.  But, to stop it, I need to know more about him.  This patch is resonating with the echoes of his removed life.  You do too.  What happened in your house?  Why was Eli there?”
“What happened?”  Ben stared at a distant object as he began to recollect.  “Nothing, really. Most of the time, he just watched the tele.  Couldn’t get enough of some of the more fancier fantasy, science-fictiony shows.  Otherwise, he helped with chores, slept in our spare room, and went to work.”
“Work?  What kind of work?  Would it have anything to do with Prototype 2?”  The Doctor waved the name badge again.
“Oh, that?  I don’t know about that.  I asked once, and he claimed he got it from a specialty shop.  Kept it as a joke.  As for work, he worked with me.  I run pizzas for a small shop.  He came in looking for work one day.  If anything was weird, it was how he didn’t have a place to stay.  Took a couple days for me to notice, but I followed him to a shelter.  We had a spare bedroom.  After talking it out with Jeanie, we offered to rent it to him.”
“The room,” the Doctor said.  “Did he hide away a lot?”
“Hardly,” Ben said.  “When I say he had no place to stay, I mean he had no place to stay, and only the clothes on his back.  When Eli stayed with us, he was usually out with us.  He wasn’t very secretive.  Always left the door wide open.  I never saw anything out of the ordinary.  Jeanie kept the place clean.  If she found anything, she would have told me.  She didn’t trust him at first.  But, after a couple of days, they were decent.”  Ben looked at the Doctor in earnest.  “He was a good friend.  Helpful.  Kind.  If anyone deserved to be erased from time, it shouldn’t have been him.”
The Doctor nodded, understanding.  “Did he ever mention where he came from, what he did before finding you?”
Ben turned reflective.  “Not really.  I got the impression he was more of a vagabond.  A rover-type.  He mentioned he’s from the States, and that he’s been traveling a while.”  Ben smiled in quiet amusement.  “He may not have said much about himself, but he could tell some real whoppers.  He made it sound like he had participated in some of the shows he watched.  Quite the imagination.  I think he might be a writer.”
“That’s it?”
“Yeah.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be much more help.”
“It was enough,” the Doctor said.
The Doctor turned to leave, but Ben asked one more question.
“Can you save him?  Can you bring him back?”
Before turning to answer, the Doctor’s face went blank.  Then, he put on a confident smile and reassured Ben.  “Anything’s possible. I’m the Doctor.”

At the burned ruins of Ben’s and Jeanie’s house, the Doctor scanned the remains with his sonic screwdriver.
“Normal first floor,” he muttered to himself.  “Standard masonry basement.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  It’s just a house.  And, Eli, whoever he was, was an innocent.  I can’t let it hunt here. It looks like Saint George is going to have to hunt one more dragon.  A shame, really.  You’re the last of your kind.”

In a section of urban London, the Doctor walked along the street. Barely fitting in one hand, he waved around a clumsy, clunky device that beeped and cooed electronic noises.  It was something he whipped up out of spare parts, capable of homing in on the time dragon’s resonance.
“Oh! You are a clever one,” the Doctor said to the dot on the devices screen.  “You’re definitely the real deal, and not one of the continuity ones.  Only a year ahead.  I don’t know how I didn’t notice you before, but this is your first, and last, mistake.”
People were giving him odd looks as he passed by.  He happily waved at them, and they turned away, hastening about their business.
He paused at an intersection.
“Awe, whoa.  No way!”  An American guy drawled in pleased surprise, coming to a stop next to the Doctor.  “It’s you.”
The Doctor, intent on his scanner, didn’t bother to look.  “I’m sorry.  Do I know you?”
“You’re Matt Smith, right?”
“Matt Smith,” the Doctor exclaimed, confused.
He looked over, recognition already on his face as he laid eyes on Eli.
Eli looked exactly as the Doctor remembered, dressed in his para-military styled garb.
“You-!” the Doctor started.  “But, that’s-!  Your name wouldn’t happen to be Eli, by chance, would it?”
Eli was taken aback.  “Yeah.  Some people call me that.”
“That’s impossible!  You should have been completely removed from the time line.  How are you here?”
“No.  Way.”  Eli delivered the line flatly, at first stunned.  Then he adopted an amused smirk.
The Doctor continued, unabated.  “When a particular breed of Time Dragon feeds, the effects are completely permanent.”  He whipped out his sonic screwdriver and waved it over Eli.  “But, it is you.  You’re resonating.”
“You’re the real deal,” Eli muttered to himself.
“The what?” the Doctor asked, finally taking notice.
“I always dreamed as a kid about meeting you.  I never thought it’d actually happen.  But, here you are.  You’re the Doctor.”
“You know of me?  We didn’t have a chance to meet properly last time.”
“Dude!  There’s a T.V. show about you.”
“I... have a T.V. show?  On the tele?”
“Yeah.  Matt Smith’s the guy who plays your most recent incarnation.”
“Matt Smith.  How closely does he resemble me?  Because, the tele shows never seem to quite get things right.”
“The resemblance is uncanny.  Spitting image.”
“You called me Doc.”
Eli’s brow quirked at the sudden change in topic.
“When we first met, you said, ‘Hi, Doc’,” he said in admiration before he turned serious. “Then, you were consumed by the Time Dragon.”
“Time Dragon?  What’s a Time Dragon?”
“It’s a very dangerous species.  Their eating habits disrupt the time line.  They consume a prey’s entire existence, eliminating them completely.  Many old races were lost to them.  Like the Unicorn.  The Time Lords hunted them to extinction eons ago.  But, it seems we missed one.”
“So, that’s how that works,” Eli muttered.
The Doctor continued, talking over Eli.  “What I don’t understand is why you’re here.  When you went back into the burning house to save your friend, it attacked.  What do you remember?”
Eli closed his eyes, a sad smile creasing his lips.  He answered when he opened them.
“It was by fire.  I heard a roar and I was engulfed in flames.  A brief moment of searing pain, and poof!  Here I am.”
“A year later,” the Doctor clarified.  “With nothing in between?”
“Nope.”  Eli smirked momentarily.  “Maybe he’s taking his time with his meal.”
“Or, just nibbling to avoid detection,” the Doctor said.  “A year here.  A day or month there.  As long as nobody is completely erased.”  He looked to his scanner.  “Oh, you’re very clever.”  His eyes shot up the street.  “But, I aim to put a stop to it.”
“Sounds like it’s the last of its kind,” Eli mused.  “Stopping means it’ll starve.  Is that lethal to a Time Dragon?”
The Doctor turned to stare at Eli for a moment before answering.  “Make no mistake, the time it steals is precious.  It matters to those who lost it.  And, that lost time still destabilizes all of time.  It has to be stopped.  Which means we have to kill it.”
He studied his scanner one more time, and took a step up the street, but stopped.
“You’re here because of it.  What do you say, Eli?  Will you help me slay a dragon?”
Eli stared blankly to one side for a moment.  Then, he shrugged with his eyebrows.  A mischievous glint in his eye and a hint of a smile, he replied, “An adventure with the Doctor?  How can I pass that up?”
“He’s close,” the Doctor said, looking back at the contraption in his hand.  “This way.”
They quickly walked the block.
Eyes still on his device, the Doctor started talking.  He was curious about some of the details.  “So, Eli.  That’s not your real name, is it?”
Eli smiled.  “That obvious?”
“Only some people call you that, you said.  Why Eli?  Why not your regular name?”
“That’s a long story.”
The Doctor stopped, wheeling on Eli.  “Ah!  You presumably know a lot about me.  TV show.  But, I know very little about you.  Want to be part of the team?  Humor me.”
Eli nodded, and they resumed walking.  They reached a corner and the Doctor pointed a new direction, which they followed.  Eli explained his name.
“Well, a while back, I met a man who had lost his son.  He had never given up hope that he would one day find his boy.  Then he met me.  Practically adopted me as his own.  That was what he called me.  I like the sentiment.  So, my friends call me Eli.”
“Eli.  Eli what?  What is your-?”
Eli suddenly perked up, craning his head around, looking for something.
By this time, they had reached a square with a round-about at its center.  The day’s traffic was light.
“Already?” Eli asked, as if to himself.  “But, why so soon?”
“What?  What is it?” the Doctor asked, concerned.
“You didn’t hear...?”  Eli shook his head, as if remembering something obvious.  “Of course you wouldn’t.  Why should you?”  The look he shot the Doctor turned into a stare of epiphany.  “I see.”
“What!  What do you see?”  The Doctor was exasperated, blind to whatever was troubling his new companion.  “What do you hear?”
“It’s time,” Eli in sad explanation.
Eli turned, looking at a spot on the far side of the square.  The Doctor looked to see a small restaurant.  Smoke poured out of the door along with coughing, sputtering patrons.
“He’s here,” Eli finished.
Suddenly, Eli whirled around, grabbed the Doctor’s arm, and pulled him close, staring him square in the eyes.
The Doctor tried to struggle, but his arm wouldn’t move in Eli’s stony grip.
“Whatever you do,” Eli said, calm but firm, “do not follow me.  I cannot help them and guarantee your safety at the same time.”  He lightened up.  “Actually, I can’t really guarantee anything.”  Releasing the Doctor, he reached into a vest pocket, pulling out a small notepad.  All the while he said, “When I’m gone-”
“Wait.  Gone?” the Doctor said.
Eli didn’t falter at the Doctor’s attempted interruption, continuing his hurried instruction.  He pulled out a pen and scribbled on the pad.
“- there will still be people who will need help.  Your help.”
“What do you mean, ‘when you’re gone’?”
“It’s my time, Doc.”  Eli slapped the pad into the Doctor’s palm.  “He always calls to me when it’s time.”
“It’s time for what?” the Doctor said, incredulous
“For me to slay a dragon,” Eli said as he turned away.
Across the court came a scream.  A distraught woman was barely coherent, asking someone, anyone, to rescue her trapped husband.  The light traffic had mostly come to a halt or cleared out.  Eli ran quickly across the round-about.  Pausing for a word with the woman, he then dove into the thick smoke.
The Doctor finally started to move about the same time flame erupted form the storefront, shattering glass windows with a loud roar.  In the echo, the Doctor barely made out the wail of the Dragon.  Looking at his scanner, he saw the signal had disappeared.
“No,” he breathed, dumbfounded.
A second passed before the Doctor’s attention was caught by the wailing woman.  She still pleaded for someone to save her husband.  She sounded oblivious to Eli’s danger, or his passing.
The Doctor looked at the pad in his hand.  On it, in legible script, it read, ‘Nice to’ve met you, Doc’.
The Doctor straightened up as he realized-
“He’s done this before.  He’s been through this before!”
He rushed across the street.
“How could I have been so stupid," he said along the way.  “Why didn’t you come out and tell me?”
At the sidewalk, he paused in his run and his rant. “But, you did.”
Turning to the woman, he said, “Madam.  Where is your husband?”
“He’s the cook.  He was in the kitchen when the fire started.”
The Doctor looked into the inferno.  It had practically consumed the diner.
“The kitchen,” he echoed, then deadpanned, “Of course.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for the fire brigade?” a bystander asked.  Distant sirens punctuated the statement.
“There’s no time,” the Doctor said.  Under his breath, he muttered, “Two hearts.  Regeneration.  I can do this.”
He started to dive forward but recoiled from the searing heat.
“So hot!  How did he-?”
“Sir!  Here.”  A woman handed him her scarf.
“And, this,” a man said, handing him a long overcoat and hat.
The Doctor took the proffered items, looked at them, and said, “Right.  I can do this.”

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor stormed up to the console.  Out loud, he talked to nobody in particular.  It could have been easily to himself as any hidden bystander.  But, it was Eli who was on his mind.
“You practically screamed it in my face.  But I wasn’t paying attention!  How many times- How many times! - has this creature been nibbling away at you, Eli?  Why did you face it alone?  Why didn’t you let me help you?  You didn’t even know how to kill it!  I never told you.”
While he ranted, the Doctor worked the console, bringing up the monitor and messing with controls.
“Maybe I’m not too late.  Please, tell me I’m not too late.  Where are you? A month?” He looked at the monitor, but saw nothing to indicate the dragon’s whereabouts, and hopefully Eli.   “No.  A year!”  Again, “Nothing?  A decade.  Nothing.  A century?  How could that possibly-?  Nothing! Where are you!”
He slammed the screen in frustration, then dropped his head.  Turning, he plopped down on a stair, stunned.
“I’m too late.”
The Doctor raised his head, grim fire in his eyes.
“Never again.”
He got to his feet, resuming his activity at the console.  This time, he directed his words at the enigmatic time dragon.  “I might have spared you.  But you took a life.  No more.”  The Doctor spoke now with near murderous zeal.  “Where are you?  There.  I got you now.  It’s time to end this!”
Pulling out the missive Eli had written, he said, “Don’t worry.  You may not have been the first.  But, I will see to it you were the last.  And, I won’t forget you.”
With that, he laid the paper on the console.
He perked up when he saw the specifics.
“Fifty thousand years from now, during the rise of the Galactic Lizardman Empire.  Clever.  Spread out your feedings like that and you won’t get caught.”
Working the levers and controls to set up the new coordinates, the Doctor activated the console.  As the mechanism began to undulate and roar, he stood back.  It was then that he noticed the paper on the console.  Confused, he moved closer to inspect it.
“Odd.  I don’t remember putting that there,” he mused.
He picked it up to read it.  It was from Eli, but how did he get it?  He had never met Eli but in passing, so how could the victim of the Time Dragon have given it to him?  Then memories of a lost timeline flooded the Doctor’s mind, and he recalled running into Eli a second time, before he was eaten again by the Time Dragon.
“Huh,” the Doctor muttered.  Pulling out the ‘Prototype 2’ tag, he held the two together.  “So the effect is cumulative.  Better not take any chances,” he muttered, pocketing the two items together.  

“Fifty.  Thousand!  You must be ravenous,” were Doctor’s first words on exiting the TARDIS.
He observed a rocky, barren landscape against a sky specked with stars and colored by a vast nebula.
“New Avalon,” the Doctor mused.  “The planet at the heart of the rebellion.  Certainly a long ways from home.”
The ground started to tremble in short, even bursts.  Suddenly, a giant walking metal titan, many stories tall, strode casually into view, its feet hidden by hills and distance.  Stride uninterrupted, its serpentine head turned to stare right at him for long seconds.  Then it turned away.  The cannons that made up its lower arms took aim at a target obscured by the horizon, and ruby beams flashed into existence for a long second.
“I should get going,” the Doctor mused, a hint of worry in his voice.
As the walker vanished over the horizon, the Doctor rushed into the countryside.  Only when he no longer saw it did he slow to consult his bulky scanner.  The blip had returned.
It had barely been a minute since the titan vanished when the Doctor was intercepted by a man in an orange jumpsuit and pale gray body armor.  His face inscrutable behind a visored helmet, the soldier leveled his gun at the Doctor and activated a mic.
“Found him.”
“Are you a rebel?” the Doctor asked, inquisitive.
Three more men similarly dressed and armed appeared to either side and behind the Doctor, surrounding him.
“Do these look like rebel uniforms?” one of them replied condescendingly.
The Doctor feigned relief.  “Oh!  Thank heavens!  Y’know, one can never really tell.  I’m so glad I found you.  I think I’ve gotten turned around.”
As he talked, yet four more soldiers joined the group.  One, clearly a commander by his markings, approached the Doctor fearlessly.  Touching the visor, it vanished into the sides of his helm.  Behind it was a middle-aged human male.
“This is a war zone, citizen,” the commander said, authoritatively.  “It’ snot safe out here.  Your creds.”
“My what?  Oh!  You mean my credentials,” the Doctor replied.  He reached into his coat with his free hand and whipped out his wallet, revealing the psychic paper.  With confidence, he stated, “I’m the Doctor.  I’m out here on a survey mission.  I’m hunting for a very elusive prey.”  He waved the scanner to emphasize.  “Very official.”
“Damn lizards,” a soldier quipped.  “Always wanting to try the local cuisine.”
This drew out a couple chuckles.
The commander, though visibly amused, snatched the wallet from the Doctor’s hand.  He studied it a moment, then eyed the Doctor with a smug smirk.
“Psychic paper?  You actually expect to get around using a child’s toy?  Where’s your real ID?”
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said, carefully choosing each word. “I don’t... have... it with me.”
“Think he’s a rebel?” A different soldier asked.
“As the good doctor said,” the commander replied, “you never really can tell.  Seize his gear.  We’ll let our esteemed officer decide.”
With a touch, the commander’s visor reassembled in front of his face.
One solder yanked the scanner from the Doctor’s grip.  A second reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the sonic screwdriver.  The first reached into the Doctor’s inside pocket and pulled out a key and a mobile phone.
“Uh, what do I do with this?”  The soldier held up the key.
The commander looked.
“Is that what they sent you out to hunt with?” the third soldier asked, mockingly.
“I’ll take it,” said a fourth soldier, one with a hauntingly familiar voice.
“Don’t lose it,” the commander said.  “It may be important.  Move out.”
Without another word, two soldiers leveled their guns at the Doctor and backed away behind him.  The remaining six spread out into a circle.  Then, the formation headed off.

They arrived at a small command outpost, not far from a major offensive.  As they made their way among more soldiers, crates and other militaristic technical devices, the sounds of futuristic combat were distantly audible.
“The front lines,” the Doctor mused aloud.  “Explosions.  Fires.  Death, mayhem, and destruction.  What a better place to hunt?”
Just as he finished, the group halted and he was greeted by a deep voice with a reptilian lisp.
One of the soldiers standing under the main tent turned, revealing a scaled face with a muzzle. A tongue flicked between sharp fangs.  Yellow, slitted eyes observe the Doctor coldly.
“What better place to find a meal!”
“The straggler, m’lord,” the human commander said, visor still in place.  “He’s not human.”
“What?” the Doctor blurted, surprised.  “How can you tell?”
The commander never faltered at the Doctor’s outburst, seamlessly, flawlessly continuing his delivery. “- Calls himself ‘the Doctor’.”
“You think we wear this stuff just for our protection?” the soldier with the familiar voice asked quietly of the Doctor.  He pointed two fingers at the Doctor’s chest.  “Two hearts.”
“Ah, yes.  Computerized helmet display,” the Doctor said, bemused.  “Will technological wonders never cease?”
“A Time Lord,” the Lizardman concluded.  “The Doctor.  We know of you.  Our studies of history have taught us to be wary of your return.  But!  To have you now, here, before me?  The Emperor will reward me handsomely.”
“Oh!  You know of me?”  The Doctor brightened.  “Then you know I'm extremely dangerous.  Even without my implements, you should know not to trifle with me.”
The Lizard roared with laughter.  “Too true!  You have been deemed too dangerous to be brought before the Emperor alive.  All really I need as proof is your head.”  Reptillian tongue flicked and he hissed, “If anything, I will be the first to have tasted a Time Lord.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the familiar voiced soldier said.  “I can’t let you.”
The lizard observed him and hissed again, sounding like a sigh.  “Of course.  That pleasure should be the Emperor’s.  But, maybe nobody will notice a missing finger-”  The lizard eyed the Doctor’s hands, which twitch under their slitted gaze.
“You misunderstand.”
“You’re right.  The Emperor will reward me for selflessly deferring to his judgment.  It will reflect well on you -,” the Lizardman said.
“I can’t let you take him,” the soldier explained.
The lizard turned to stare at the soldier.  If at all possible, a smile formed on its lips.
“Oh?  You mean to stop me?”
“I do.”
“And, just how do you plan to stop me, meat?” the lizard asked, condescending.  He pressed a button on a wrist strap decked with mechanical devices.  “Your weapons are now powerless.” The lizard cocked its head.  “You’re too precious to just throw away.  But, now that you’ve given me the opportunity, I intend to make an example of you.  I’ll feast on your flesh, removing a thorn from my side, and still claim my reward.”
“No!” the Doctor shouted. “Wait!”
All other soldiers stepped back or turned to watch.  One pulled the Doctor with him. Meanwhile, there was no waiting.  The lizard bulked up along the shoulders, then launched at the soldier.  In a blink, it was on him.  Equally as fast, it had a gun shoved lengthwise into its gaping maw. Caught by surprise, the lizard spat the gun from its mouth.
In a few deft moves, the soldier struck.  The lizard was able to deflect a couple, but the rapid-fire blows landed before the gun hit the ground.  The lizard dropped limply, shortly afterward.
Other than breathing, it didn’t move.
The Doctor was agape.  “How-?  It takes concentrated weapons fire to bring a Lizardman down.  A single warrior can wade into a crowd of you humans and slaughter a hundred before getting tired, and your best blows would barely bruise it!”
“Flying colors,” the human commander said.  “They made him Champion for a reason.”
The Doctor looked around and noticed none of the other human slave-soldiers attempting to fight or capture the ‘Champion’.
“A human champion?” the Doctor asked.  “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Probably because, -” the soldier said.  He paused to completely remove his helmet.  Eli’s blue eyes looked at the Doctor with recognition. “- I never existed.”  He smiled.  “Hi, Doc.  Welcome to the Devil’s army.”
“I take it you’ll finally be taking your leave?” the human commander asked.  He addressed another soldier.  “Haddley.  His kit.  And, the Doctor’s gear, too.”  He looked at Eli.  “We’ll take care of the lizard, Al.  You best hurry before an elite shows.”
“It was fun, guys,” Eli said, turning to take in the assembled platoon.
“It was an honor.”  The commander’s sentiment was echoed by a few others.  “Now, run!  You traitor!”
“Doc,” Eli said with a nod.
A soldier tossed a cloth bag to Eli as they left the outpost.

A fair distance away, they stopped, and Eli went through the bag.  With a smirk, he held up the psychic paper before tossing it to the Doctor.
“Republic credits will not do, here,” he quipped.
The Doctor frowned, and looked at what had been on the paper with Eli’s touch.  “Wait. What? What’s a Jedee Knight?”
Eli paused his rummaging, shot the Doctor a brief, bemused glance, and resumed handing the Doctor his stuff.  Once done, Eli began pulling out a familiar set of clothes and changed.  All the while, they talked.
“Would it kill you to watch a movie or TV show, once in a while?” Eli asked.  “There are so many great lines and jokes that you’re missing which are perfectly relevant to the moment.”
“I suppose that’s what you did with what little time you had,” the Doctor said, not too impressed.
“Well, yeah.  I don’t get to do it often.  And, I like to think of it as preparation.”
“Preparation?” the Doctor asked, confused.
“For this.”  Eli gestured at the futuristic battlefield, reminding the Doctor that they were on another planet far from Earth.  “Or something like it.”
“You’ve done this before,” the Doctor said.  “But, how?  And, how are you even here, at all, let alone this far in the future?  You should have been erased from the time stream.  The Time Dragon got you.”
“That’s what you said the first time I met you.”
“No.  I didn’t say anything to you the first time-” the Doctor slowed as epiphany hit, “-I met you.  The first time I met you is the second time you met me.”
“That’s right.  Where and when I go isn’t done in any particular order,” Eli added.
“But, that doesn’t make any sense!  A Time Dragon is still bound by time.”
“Did you ever consider that he might not be what you think he is?  You’re still hunting him, aren’t you?”
“It’s still out there.  Close.  And, you protected him.  It.  He?  How do you know it’s a ‘He’?”
“You’re right.  I did protect him.  I think you’re wrong about what he is, because I’ve met him.”
“Yes!” the Doctor exclaimed with excitement.  “You know him, know when he’s close, when he’s about to strike.  And, you’re going to lead me to him.”
“Absolutely,” Eli agreed.
The Doctor was taken aback.  “You’re not going to try to mislead me and steer me away?”
“I can’t.  When my time comes, he’ll come for me, and I’ll go to him.  It’s inevitable.  You follow me, you’ll find him.”
“You’re sure he won’t get clever and go for someone else instead?”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Eli said.  Finishing the last touches on his garments, he was fully dressed.
“You’re certain,” the Doctor said.  “How many times have you done this, anyway?”
Eli turned reflective.  “Oh!  I’ve lost track, actually.  Trying to tally each transition from memory would take quite a while.  I don’t have that much time.”
The Doctor gaped.  That implied a lot of times.  “Can you give me an estimate?”
“Well into the thousands,” Eli said with certainty.
“That can’t be.”
“How would you know?” Eli asked in a manner similar to opening a lecture.  “Come on, Doc!  I figured you’d have pieced it all together by now.”  He gave the Doctor a more considered look.  “You have.  But you refuse to believe it.  Or, maybe you don’t like what it implies.”  Eli chuckled.  “The truth is staring you in the face.  All the facts are present.  But you, of all people, want to stick your head in the sand?”
“How would I know, indeed,” the Doctor replied, distant, taking Eli’s comment to heart.  He started to think, voicing deductions aloud.  “How would I know to know?  Not all the facts are present.  The patch was how I first discovered you.  The patch that, the second time I met you, was still on your vest.  A fact I chose to ignore.  But, it’s missing now.  Proof that you were sent through time out of order.
“You were erased from the time stream, but the patch remained, and that’s how I remembered what never was.”  The Doctor brought a hand up to his chin as he continued.  “The next time I met you, before you were erased again, you gave me a pad.  Without that pad, I don’t remember our second encounter.  I know, I set it aside for a moment, and didn’t remember even forgetting until I picked it up out of curiosity.
“I’ve kept both very close to me ever since.”  He paused and gave Eli a pointed look, then he raised a hand and a finger.
“But!  If you were truly erased from the time stream, then even these items should not exist.  The events that led to your having them should never have happened at all.  Yet, they are, and by holding them, I remember the events that transpired around you.”
The Doctor resumed a comfortable pose, staring into the distance.  He said, “The only way they can’t be erased is if they weren’t part of the time stream to begin with.  The patch and pad resonate with energy, the same that comes from you.  You’re from outside the time stream.”
Eli nodded slowly. “I’m an inter-dimensional wanderer.”
“You travel between universes,” the Doctor said.   “Alternate realities, not bound by time or space.  Reality must warp to accept your presence, which is why anyone is cognizant of you at all. What I don’t understand is why you have to be erased at all.”
“It depends,” Eli said.
“Depends?” the Doctor asked, curious.
“On if your reality was created, or merely set into motion.  I may have simply gotten too close to messing up the grand design.”
“Or, the laws governing the time stream are too strict to allow your memory when you are gone,” the Doctor explained aloud.  “But, I’ve seen time repair itself.”
“Have you?”
“Yes.  Certain events are fixed and can’t happen any other way.  To try to change them unravels the universe.”
“So, because things happened a certain way means alternate realities are impossible?  Really, Doc?  Impossible?  Then, how do you explain me?”
“I... I don’t have to.  When I saw time repairing itself, it wasn’t time that was damaged, but two different time lines, realities, merging dangerously.  The after effects were their extricating themselves and resuming their normal shape.”  The Doctor trailed off as he finally understood.
Eli filled the silence.  “You had effectively crossed into another reality.  That explains something that’s been bugging me.”  He started walking away from the military camp and the front lines.  “You and I specifically crossed paths three times.”
“How’s that significant?” the Doctor asked, moving to catch up.
“Well, I’ve never revisited a universe more than once.  Well, there was one time, a bunch of times really, but the situation was rather unique, and had nothing to do with my gift.  Not directly, anyway.  Oh, but there was one.  A unique case of collaboration between creators.  So, unless there’s a creator guiding your time line, your universe-”
“You mean, a god?” the Doctor prompted.
Eli hesitated.  “That depends.”
“So, unless our meeting is divine providence, then each time we’ve met has been an alternate continuity.”
“Right.  Something happened between the time you first met me to change the course you would have taken, and again after you met me your second time.  Want to know what I think it is?”
“You.  You’re your own alternate reality generator.  You change things wherever you go.  Or, you run into something that has already made alterations.  Like the great fifth human empire that had to recover from bad TV programming.”
“You talk about my life as if you know it intimately.  That show you keep telling me about?  Is that real?  In this time line, I mean?”
“Uh, actually, I don’t know.  But, it’s out there.  I’ve watched your adventures on T.V.  In places without television, you’re a radio broadcast; a bard’s epic at a tavern or for a traveling act, in places without electricity; books and comics.  I’ve even seen cave art.  But!”  Eli held up a finger momentarily to punctuate.  “All of the events that you think are gone, that you avoided or changed?  They’re still there.  Every time you’ve made a decision, a different you made a different choice.  Just because you only perceive the consequences for this reality doesn’t mean the others didn’t happen.  Some of the people you’ve had to leave behind?  I can imagine wanting to remain blind to the truth.”
Eli went silent for a moment.  “Anyway, you’re here, and I’m here.  That means this is yet another turning point where you’ll be making some sort of change.”
“This is the turning point in the war,” the Doctor said.  “The Rebellion wins a big victory here.”
“Rebellion?” Eli looked confused.  “What rebellion?  I hope you’re not talking about the locals’ meager attempt at resistance.  The Elites have been mopping the floor with them.  They’re on the verge of being wiped out.”
“What about the soldiers in your outfit?  None of them raised a hand when you took the Lizardman down.”
“Oh. Our little silent rebellion?” Eli smirked.  “I don’t know how much can come from that.  It’s one thing to lose a commander in the heat of battle once in a while.  But to openly rebel would take drastic measures.  The Lizzies can simply shut off our gear.”
“But, by this time, the Imperial army is so saturated with slave soldiers the Lizards can’t have a commander everywhere at once,” the Doctor reasoned.
“Like Rome before the fall.”
“Sounds like they need a doctor to point them in the right direction.”
“And not a Champion, Prototype 2?  You’ve been physically modified somehow.  That would explain the speed and strength to take on a lone lizard.  But, it doesn’t explain everything.  How is it you haven’t aged?”
Eli finally turned sad.  “I wish I could tell you everything.”
The Doctor heard a faint, reptilian roar.  His scanner came to life and beeped.
“But, time’s up,” Eli finished.
Fishing out a pen from his pocket, Eli handed it to the Doctor.  At the same time, the ground started shaking rhythmically.
“Might as well complete the set,” Eli said.  “You need to run.  You don’t want to be here.”
“Elite’s are killers.  They don’t hesitate to shoot.  A walker has a powerful self destruct.  When I take it down, there’ll be a big explosion.  Fire.  And, the Rebellion needs a hero.  Go!”
At that moment, a lizard titan strode into view from around a distant hill.  It was very close and immediately spotted the two men.
“Oh, crap,” Eli drawled.  “That’s Kazz.  He likes his hell whips.”
“Hell whips?”
“Lasers, Doc.”  Eli stepped up close to the Doctor and grabbed his shoulders.  With a wry look, he offered, “Care to dance?”
When the Doctor hesitated, Eli turned serious.
“Don’t flatter yourself.  This is the only way I can protect you.”  Eli’s eyes drifted over the Doctor’s shoulder, watching the approaching walker intently.  “Hang on.”
Eli pressed close, one arm wrapped around the Doctor. Without any visual or audio cue, Eli spun them, whipping the Doctor off his feet.  The spin ended in a very deep dip, where Eli was practically crouched, and the Doctor stretched out.  With a super-human lunge, they flew dozens of yards closer to the steadily marching walker.
All of this happened inside a heartbeat.  The Doctor’s heightened time senses made him fully aware of all that happened, like watching in slow motion.  At the same time they moved, a ruby beam from the walker’s right cannon arm lanced into the air which they had once occupied.  It tried to follow them, but never caught up.
Their leap ended in a spin, Eli pulling the Doctor upright.  They stopped, and Eli resumed his position with a view of the walker over the Doctor’s shoulder.  Barely a second passed before Eli was quickly walking them toward the titan in a crude tango.  He managed a couple of steps before dipping and crouching and launching ever closer to their attacker.
This time, the laser from the other arm started wide and tried to sweep across them, but missed them in the crouch.  It failed to correct properly during Eli’s quick leap.
No fancy landing this time, Eli pitched the Doctor over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and ran.  His speed was unnaturally fast.  He swerved and weaved, avoiding ruby darts the walker spat from its mouth like machine gun bullets.  Each tried to spear them, but landed wide by mere inches.
In seconds, they were between the walker’s feet, then behind.
Eli stopped and brought the Doctor down to his feet in a pirouetting spin.  With strong hands on the Doctor’s arms, he steadied the Time Lord before letting go.  The Doctor was breathless with exhilaration.
“Did we-?” He tried to talk while catching his breath.  “Did we just dodge lasers?”
“No.  We dodged Kazz’s lousy aim,” Eli said.
The walker halted to turn around.  Eli took off toward it.  Before he launched up to the nearest calf like a grasshopper, he called, “Kazz likes to prove his superiority, even over his own battle computers.”
Like a bug, Eli hopped up the machine from thigh to chest to shoulder to head.  The walker took notice and looked confounded with a curious twist of its head.  Static filled the air and the Doctor shuddered.
“Electric anti-personnel screen doesn’t seem to be working,” he observed.
The Doctor whipped out his sonic screwdriver and waved it over the walker.
“Self destruct, self destruct, self destruct,” he continued muttering.
Up above, Eli steadily rolled back heavy armor plate on the walker’s head as if playing with tin foil.  In spite of physical motions, Kazz was unable to shake him off or bring the walker’s mouth laser to bear.
“Sonic shielding?” the Doctor spat, disbelieving.
He looked on the walker with grim determination, before focusing on his scanner.  He hadn’t dropped it in all the commotion.  On the screen, the dot was smack center.  The Doctor started playing with controls, and the machine started making new noises.
Above, Eli ripped the lizard pilot from his restraints and hurled him over the back.
The Doctor watched with eager concentration.
Then he heard a loud reptilian roar from a throat far bigger than the Lizardman’s.  The walker exploded violently, rocketing Eli into the air.  At that moment, the Doctor hit a switch.
Time came to a near stand still.
“Now that I have you,” the Doctor muttered, “let’s have a look at you.”
Messing with some more controls, a form began to flicker into existence.  Large, it clung to the front of the walker and extending out onto the ground for many feet past the Doctor.  With a few more flicks and turns on his device, the image solidified into the crystalline form of a dragon.
It was a beautiful, majestic creature, its hide thickly plated with scales of red-lacquered steel, polished to a mirror finish.  Spikes and breast and belly plates were a bright, polished gold.  Its wings, like huge furled sails, were a dark maroon.   Its talons and fangs were dark, metallic black.
Tail stretching out past the Doctor, it sat on powerful hind legs.  Its upper body hung on the disintegrating chest of the lizard walker, talons embedded deep into the machine’s armored carapace.  Its mouth was agape pointed directly at the suspended Eli, like it was waiting to gobble him whole.
However, its slit-pupiled, brass colored eye was staring directly at the Doctor.
It blinked.
“Uh oh,” the Doctor breathed.
The silence of slowed time started to gain sound.  A roar, seemingly distant, gained in intensity.  The Dragon started to move, getting faster as the roar grew.  In a matter of seconds, as observed by the Doctor, the Dragon’s head swung around toward him at ever increasing speed.  Its body curled around, dislodging from its immobilized perch.
By the time it reached him, the roar had changed, growing from a distant echo.  It changed from a throaty reptilian into a deep resonating human bass.  As the roar changed, so too did the dragon.
The large bestial form was absorbed into the silhouette of a human figure, which resolved itself into an ornately decorated knight in full plate.  His bucket helm was stylized to look like the face of a snarling dragon, its eyes as his eyes, its toothy mouth covering his own nose and chin.  His suit was the same lacquered red with gold trimming as the beast.
The armored man stopped just a couple feet short of the Doctor.  Leaning down, it brought face-plate inches from the Doctor’s nose.  Brass-colored, slit-pupiled eyes stared out at him from the eye slots.  Surrounded by darkness inside the helmet, they seemed to glow.
The bass roar came to a sudden stop.
“How dare you meddle in the affairs of the Most High,” it practically shouted in the human voice.
“The ‘Most High’?  But that’s just a myth,” the Doctor said, recovering from his momentary indecision.
The knight straightened.  Slowly, but deliberately, it extended a gauntleted hand out to its side and snapped its fingers.  Up and behind, Eli moved again, flying up a few more feet before tumbling back to the ground.
Like a cat Eli twisted in the air to land feet first, dropping into a roll to bleed momentum.  His maneuver ended with him on his feet.  He looked around, taking in the paused explosion.
“What the-?”
Simultaneously, the Dragon Knight spoke, his voice carrying.  The eyes were inscrutable, but the knight sounded amused.
“Two heart beats.  A Time Lord.  Which explains the temporal distortion field.  And, the time net.”
“That’s right,” the Doctor said, impressed.  “And, if you want to be free again, I want some answers, Time Dragon.  You are a Time Dragon?”
The Dragon Knight took up a relaxed stance.  “That you are questioning what you think you know is a good sign.”
“What are you?”
“Headmaster,” Eli said, approaching the pair.  “What’s going on?”
“We are in a time bubble,” the Dragon Knight answered.  “I freed you, which is why you can move and speak with us.  This Time Lord-”
“The Doctor,” Eli corrected.
“That one?” the Knight sounded amused.  “Well, the Doctor has snared me in a temporal net.  I can’t touch it because of the webbing.”
“So, even you can be caught?” Eli quipped.
“As powerful as I am, I am not God.”
“Some have been called that for less,” Eli said, still amused.
“You’re a telekinetic,” the Doctor said in epiphany, “able to move objects with your mind.”
“And telepathic,” Eli added, “able to read and project thoughts.  He’s a full-on psychic.”
“Headmaster?” the Doctor asked.  “Headmaster of what?”
“I take it he’s never heard of the Universal University,” Eli said to the Dragon Knight.
“The Universal University?”  The Doctor was puzzled.
“The University at the heart of all universes, at the nexus where they all meet,” the Dragon Knight answered.  “For all their greatness and brilliance, the Time Lord race is prone to a sort of... linear thinking.  Only one was able to think outside the bounds of the time line and was admitted.”
The Knight studied the Doctor a moment.  “He does not stand before me now...” He trailed off, sounding like he wanted to say more, but said nothing.
On a hunch, the Doctor asked, “The people your kind consumed, the ones erased from the time line, what happened to them?”
“Consumed?” the Knight sounded surprised.
“Like Eli.  We assumed that when they were erased, you were eating them, absorbing their temporal essence for sustenance.  But, if you move them from universe to universe, the same way you do Eli, where are they?”
“They were taken to the University, trained for the key event that would steer their life and your universe, and reinserted at the time and place of departure.”
“Did you ever discover any of our ‘victims’s’ identities?”
“No.  That’s impossible,” the Doctor explained.  “They were erased completely.  The only way we knew was based on the detected temporal disturbance and the change in the time line.”
“When you discovered the first of my kind,” the Knight said, “it was that kind of disturbance that led you to her.  Your race had concluded that a decision had not been made, one which would lead to the proper events, because of the absence of a deciding factor.  Only after witnessing the aftermath of her mission did your theories pile up on the nature of my kind.”
“And, once we knew what to look for, we hunted you down with prejudice,” the Doctor added.
“Your race’s linear thinking kept you from the truth.  The reality was that the decision had been made at that point in time due to the influence of an outside factor, their education at the University.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Some tried, but we cannot bring proof, and none are allowed onto campus that aren’t accepted and enrolled.  Those of you who would listen eventually fell prey to their nature.  Most of the rest of my kind died in silence, knowing the hearts of their captors were closed, bound hard by their dogma of knowledge.”
As they talked, images and sensations flooded his mind.  All through a dragon’s eyes, he witnessed some key events as if he had actually been there.  He watched as a handful of beings were approached, plucked from time, taught, then put back.  He watched as Time Lords started hunting such draconic messengers, catching them in time-nets and brutally murdering them.  He watched as two different ones pleaded with captors, only to be denied, tried and executed.
The memory montage ended and the Doctor had to reorient himself to the present.  He blinked a few times.
“Then you - your kind – isn’t what we thought,” The Doctor said.  “We hunted your kind to extinction.  Well, mostly.  Or, did we?”
“Your race did a lot of damage to my people, but you weren’t our ultimate downfall.  That story lies outside your domain.”
“We must have seemed like monsters.”
“Only the bravest volunteered once we knew the stakes.”
“But, what about Eli?  Isn’t he proof?  I could take him back.”
“And, would they believe?” the Knight asked.  “Even if they did, all we would make is another universe where my kind doesn’t need fear go.  My kind is outside the bounds of space-time.  The damage you and others cause is permanent.”
“Then, you are the last.”
“I am.”
“Why Eli?  Why are you transporting him across all these realities?”
The Knight looked at Eli.  “You’re using that name again?”
“Actually no.  That’s the name I went by when he first met me.”
“When I first met you?” the Doctor asked.  “What were you going by when you first met me?”
“The same one I used here.”
“That’s right,” the Doctor said with a spark of realization.  “The legionnaire called you Al.”
“Shorthand for a name I chose at the outset of my adventures.”
“So, ‘Al’.  Are there any other names you go by?”
“Sometimes someone gives me a name, or I’m inspired by circumstances.  Otherwise, it’s usually ‘Al’ or ‘Eli’.”
“So, that man looking for his son.  Was he your father?”
Eli smiled, sad.  “He bore an uncanny resemblance.”
“Were you his son?”
“Another uncanny likeness.  The problem is the timing was wrong.  I met him a little more than a thousand years after I should have been born.”
“And, why not your name?  What’s so wrong with it?”
Eli smiled.  “And why only ‘the Doctor’?  Why not your real name?”  He then turned grim, continuing as if he didn’t expect an answer.  “That person died a long time ago.  New name seemed appropriate.”
Eli’s disposition turned cheery. “As for ‘why me’.  You know that burning desire to get out and see it all?  Look at where you are now.  I had that desire.  But, my time ended prematurely.  Well, where I’m from, each of us was chosen, born, for a purpose.  The desires that drive my kind are by design.  My creator hadn’t fulfilled that desire for me.”
He looked to the knight.  “Or, that’s what I had concluded when I first started.  Now, I’m thinking this whole mess was by design, too.”
“Your time was cut short?” the Doctor asked.  “Meaning?”
“I died.  In a fire, trying to rescue a phantom.”
“A process that is repeated at each moment of your transition,” the Doctor added, remembering the two different fiery demises he had witnessed.  He shot a quick look at the exploding titan.  “More or less.  Which explains why you don’t age.”
“The cleansing flame has a restorative effect,” the Knight said.  Eli looked at him questioningly, to which the knight added, “You did die.  But, you live again.  He restored you, and your body was enhanced.”
“Well, yeah,” Eli concluded.
“Enhanced.  Why?” the Doctor asked.
“Some places I go, I have to face down gods, Doc.  That requires a resilience, a physical make-up, above and beyond normal.  You have your supreme intellect and two hearts.  I don’t, and have to fall back on my modifications sometimes.  When they even fail, I have my protectors.”
Eli and the Doctor both looked at the knight.
“He’s one,” the Doctor observed, but trailed off, fishing for an answer.
“You don’t think my creator doesn’t have a hand in what happens to me?  How do you think I got here, of all places and times?  You think it’s coincidence that we’ve crossed paths precisely three times?”
“You work at the bidding of a higher power,” the Doctor said to the Dragon Knight.
“Indeed.  Sometimes more than one.”  He looked at Eli.  “It’s time.”
Eli quirked a brow, glancing at the titan still stuck in its frozen catastrophe.
“By design,” he mused before turning to look knowingly on the Doctor.  “My travels may seem random, but I’ve been deliberately placed.  The events around me, and my interaction, invariably lead me to an unavoidable outcome.
“You were meant to find me and follow me here.  And, now it’s time for me to move on, and us to part ways.”
“Me.  Why me?” the Doctor asked.
“Someone has to remember,” Eli replied with a shrug.  Turning serious, he reached out and grabbed hold of the scanner.  “This looks unique and irreplaceable.  Please, don’t make me destroy it.”
“But, the explosion-” the Doctor started to protest.
“All that needs deactivating is the time net,” the Dragon Knight said.
The Doctor looked at his device.  It was then he noticed a detail he had missed.  In awe, he looked at the Knight said, “That’s all that’s left to deactivate.  But, then-”
I am maintaining the temporal distortion fields,” the Knight confirmed.  “You will have plenty of time to escape the coming destruction.”
“All right,” the Doctor conceded.  He wagged a finger at the knight.  “But!  If I ever see you again, and he’s not around, we’ll have words.”
“If I see you again, it probably won’t be as you are now, Doc,” Eli said.  “Something tells me this is the last time we cross paths.” Eli shrugged.  “Although, I could be wrong.”
The Doctor nodded.  With a flick of a switch, he deactivated the time net.  The scanner device made an indicative sound to reflect its activity.
“Well,” Eli said as the Knight turned to face him.  “Guess you’ll have to do this directly.”
“Haven’t I always?” The Dragon Knight turned its head to the Doctor.  “You better get moving.”
The Doctor turned and ran.  As he gained ground, he looked back.  The majestic giant dragon had returned, the Knight nowhere to be seen.  The beast inhaled deeply, then heaved a giant belch of flame.
Looking away, the Doctor quickened his pace, diving for cover in a shallow ravine.  Just as he landed, the walker’s destruction climaxed at full speed in a bright flash.

On his way back to the TARDIS, the Doctor was stopped by a different kind of trooper.  This one was in a big powered suit.  Looking like a giant ten-foot tall knight in full plate, the stylized 21st Century lines gave it a futuristic look, and emphasized the heavy thickness of the armor.  Leveling a gun at the Doctor, the trooper called out in a voice that he recognized, even though it was obscured by the fuzz of a microphone.  Hearing Eli’s voice again, so soon after his removal, caused a touch of elation.  However, there was one detail that bugged the Doctor.  Eli’s accent was very British, sounding mostly posh with a touch of cockney.
“It’s not safe to be out here,” the Posh Eli said.  “What is a civie doin’ on the front lines?”
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor called.  “You sound familiar, do I know you from somewhere?”
The trooper’s helmet didn’t show any kind of reaction, nor did his motion, a testament to his professionalism.  After a second’s silent hesitation, he reached up and activated a switch under his ear.  The armored faceplate split in two, visor going up and mouth cover sliding down.  As the Doctor suspected, Eli’s face stared out from inside.
Trooper Eli looked the Doctor over, but showed no signs of recognition.  That little detail caused the Doctor’s heart to sink.  Eli had mentioned wanting to meet the Doctor as a child.  If this was the universal traveler that was Eli, he suspected there would have been some recognition.
“Can’t say that we’ve met,” Trooper Eli said.
“Sorry,” the Doctor said.  “Case of mistaken identity.  It happens.  Judging by your armor, you must be part of the New Avalon resistance.  The Lizzies aren’t the kind to hand out gear like that to slaves, last I recall.  And, every human in the Lizardman Empire is a slave.”
Trooper Eli’s eyes flitted around the horizon for a moment before focusing on the Doctor again.  “You’re not dressed like any slave I’ve seen, either.  What does that make you?”
“Not from around here.  I’m glad to’ve found you.  I’m on the run from the Lizzies.  They don’t like me.  After all, I’m the Doctor.”
Again, there was no recognition in Trooper Eli’s eyes at the name.  “Doctor of what, exactly?”
“All kinds of things.  I seek asylum.  If you would be so kind as to take me behind your lines, I might even be able to help the resistance.”
“Hang on,” Eli said.  He tapped the face-plate switch again, and the mask reassembled.  The Doctor heard some muffled muttering, but couldn’t make out the words.  After a few seconds of muttering and long silence, Eli activated his mic again.  “There’s a legend about a Doctor.  Command is interested in meeting you.  My squad will escort you.  This way.”
The armored trooper turned and started sauntering away from the front lines.  The Doctor followed.  Now that he knew Eli wasn’t Eli, he became curious as to who this genetically similar person was.
“So, Trooper, what should I call you?  What’s your name?”
“Parjebron,” the trooper stated.

The TARDIS door opened, and dirty, but jubilant Doctor stumbled into the grand enclosure.  He started to regain composure as he climbed up to the console.  Looking at a monitor, he smiled.
“I have a T.V. show.  Wonder if they included that adventure.”
He started up the time drive.  As the mechanism began to undulate and roar, he stood back.

        “Now that New Avalon has successfully countered the ‘Lizimperial’ invasion,” he smiled at the phrase coined by the locals, “where to next?”  He brightened as something came back to him.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the pencil Eli had just given him.  Wagging the utensil, he mused, “Yet, another closed timeline, one more universe.  A university at the heart of all universes.  Universal University.  Never did well in school.  Maybe it’s time I went back.”

A New Adventure Begins

Eli woke sharply.  Sitting up, he looked around at his surroundings.  Open countryside, green with grass, weeds, and leafy trees lay in all directions.  The sky was blue with the sun high overhead.  Nobody was around.  As he stood, he spotted a small dirt road in the distance, and beyond that, what looked like an old cottage farm.
Getting to his feet, he started walking in the direction of the farm, a hint of a smile on his face.

Never The End