“Clara! Run! Run faster!” the Doctor shouted over his shoulder.
Clara was just behind him running equally fast.
Both of them sprung into the TARDIS and The Doctor hurriedly closed the door and then leaned against them while catching his breath. Clara sat down on the cold metal floor, her right hand clutching her stomach, panting. It took them about two minutes to calm down and start breathing normally.
The Doctor jumped back into action and went on towards the TARDIS console. He pressed a few buttons and then pulled the lever.
The sound of the TARDIS dematerializing filled the console room.
“Right then, where to next?” He asked Clara normally, as if just a few minutes earlier they hadn’t been running for their lives.
“ZARAN!” Clara shouted almost thunderously while simultaneously standing up and startling the Doctor.
“I didn’t kn-“
“Planet of the most beautiful desert in this galaxy! Planet of the most peace-loving people in this quadrant! Where when the sun sets in the crimson sky against the vast horizons of the desert sand, the people sing hymns of their ancients in the most melodious tunes ever created in all of time an-“
“Well basically all that’s true. I just miss-“
“-missed the bit that wearing RED is a crime on the planet and the guilty is chained and left in the middle of a blazing desert to starve to death or to be eaten alive by bloody sand-piranhas.”
“Well we could’ve easily gotten out of that mess if you didn’t have two jackets. Why have you got two jackets?” the Doctor retaliated.
“Shut up! Doctor, we wouldn’t have gotten into that mess in the first place if it hadn’t been for that ridiculous looking magician’s overcoat that you wear.”
“Ridiculous? How could I have known that red color was not allowed there? Last time I visited I wore a tweed Jacket and a bowtie-a blue one at that and maybe a Stetson.”
The Doctor and Clara frowned at each other intensely for several seconds before Clara broke down into giggles and the Doctor smiled in return.
“Oh Doctor you’re going to get us killed someday.” Clara said while smiling and fixing her hair.
“No, I won’t.”
“Yeah and how do you know that?”
“Well you know I have been doing this for 2000 years. I know what I am doing.” the Doctor replied with an air of superiority in his tone.
“Yeah well the Zaranians didn’t think so and sometimes neither do I.” Clara said still smiling.
“Fair enough.” The Doctor grinned. “You didn’t tell me though, where to next?”
“Well last time I checked I was going to go on a date before you came and lured me in here. So right now I’d like to go back and finish up on that please.”
“What? Who is this mystery person you seem to be going out a lot with? I thought we were just getting started. Wait. Is it the shelf-guy?”
“Started? Doctor that was two days ago. And shelf-guy? Really? His name is D-“
“Oh stop. Don’t bother. I don’t want the name. I’d probably delete it later anyway.”
Clara rolled her eyes. ”Well I am dirty and muddy all over. I’ve got to freshen up. Just shout for me when we get there. Okay.”
“Well now that you say it I think I might need to clean up a bit too. Change clothes.”
“Get a new coat.” Clara snickered, leaving the console room and going towards her room in the TARDIS.
“Why? I love this coat” The Doctor shouted at her as she disappeared into the corridor.
“As you say Mr. Magician.”
“Where am I? Doctor! Doctor!”
She found it quite difficult to comprehend what she was witnessing. She wasn’t in a room. Everything around her was pure white, no roof, no walls, no floor and most of all no doors. Just plain white infinities in all possible directions.
Her brain didn’t seem to working quite right, everything was fuzzy. She couldn’t recall what she was doing or where she was before…before any of this. All she was sure of was that the Doctor must be somewhere close nearby. He had to be. He always was.
In every direction she looked, up, down, left, right, front, back, it was all just never ending whiteness. She tried running in all directions and shouting for the Doctor but to no avail. Suddenly she was very very afraid. What was going to happen to her now? How was she going to get out of here when she couldn’t even understand where she was? And how did she get here?
Tears building up in her eyes, all her confidence washing away and no hope.
“DOCTOR! HELP! I don’t know where I am. DOCTOR! Anybody!”
She didn’t even know how much time had passed since she had arrived here, into nothingness. Probably hours or probably days. Did the Doctor even know she was here? Was he even trying to save her? She broke down into a heap, crying and shouting for help.
“Help! Somebody please help me!”
She continued to shout but in return she got nothing. No replies. All she could hear was her own terrified voice.
All the crying and shouting was starting to give her a throbbing headache. She felt tired and sleepy and before she knew it she was back to sleeping again.
“Clara! You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry. Don’t go about blaming me then.”
Still no answer.
“Probably sleeping. Humans. Always sleeping.” the Doctor mumbled.
He put down his gadget and pressed a few buttons on the TARDIS Console. Clara’s room came into view on the console screen.
The Doctor made a puzzled expression. The room was empty. No sign of Clara, none at all.
He brought out the sonic screwdriver from his coat and used it the screen.
ONLY ONE LIFE FORM ABOARD THIS TARDIS.
LOCATION : MAIN CONSOLE ROOM.
The words displayed on the console screen.
“Have you developed a fault? Of course there isn’t. Clara is still on board. She couldn’t have left without me noticing. I just materialized.”
He used the sonic again to check the procedures for a fault.
NO ERRORS FOUND.
“But..but that’s not possible.”
“She can’t just disappear into thin air. She has to be here somewhere.” He said worriedly.
He checked several times again changing the settings but ended up with no success. He then went to her house. She wasn’t there. The alarms started to ring in his mind. He returned to the console room perplexed. Where could she go? And how was he supposed to find her? His mind was filling in with a land-slide of questions but one stood out among all of them.
“WHERE IS CLARA OSWALD?”
Clara sprung out of her sleep in a jolt. It took her some time to understand where she was again. The white nothingness. She couldn’t properly remember how many times she had woken up to witness the same thing over and over again, but until now she had never heard a voice.
She stood up to look around her. She was sure she had heard something…..somebody.
“Hello! Is anybody here? Can you help me?”
The voice, it was not the Doctor. It was a woman’s voice. A voice she had heard before but was not quite able to place it. But there definitely was someone else here. Well maybe there was or maybe she was paranoid. Maybe she was going mad. Fear rising in her heart and an unbearable pain in her head. She probably was going to die here all alone. The thought scared her. She was properly afraid again.
AFRAID! That’s what this place did to her. Make her feel very very afraid and very very alone. All she wanted was to see her family again. Her family and the Doctor.
THE DOCTOR! Anger started to build up inside her. How could he leave her here? After all she had done for him. Is this what she deserved? She felt betrayed.
“Please somebody help me. Please. Please. Please.” She said in a very soft voice as if wishing to herself. Of course, nobody was here. She was all alone. No other. The nothingness had finally got to her. All her worries, all her fears starting to fade away. She wasn’t even sure if anything she knew was real or not. Maybe she wasn’t even Clara. Maybe all of it had been a dream. Maybe this was what was real. The never ending nothingness.
Slowly all emotions faded away from her. She felt absolutely numb. She felt nothing. She just stood, blank face, no thoughts, no memories. Just like a corpse, she was dying but it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. It just was what it was. And then she blinked.
“Nothing. She’s just gone. I’ve checked everywhere in the TARDIS. There is absolutely no sign of her anywhere.”
“But that’s not possible. It doesn’t make sense.” He said as if arguing with himself.
“It’s like something just plucked her out of the TARDIS but that’s just not possible.”
“C’mon you know that’s not true. It is entirely possible.”
“Yes, yes it is but only the Timelords could do it. The Shields are on, the dimensional barriers are up and working. Only the Timelords have the technology to do so. And-“
“And you think that’s not possible because there are no other Timelords. At least not in this universe. But…but what if there was someone still here? Or what if someone else had developed such a technology? Anything’s possible.”
“Well yes that’s possible but then the TARDIS would have revolted to the breach in some manner. She would have protested. She wouldn’t just let anything in here. She would have fought back. And the logs show no such activity in the past two hours Clara’s been missing. And why Clara? What could anybody want from her?”
“But if the TARDIS could be breached then the logs could be changed as well.”
“Yes, yes they can.” the Doctor said as if he had just had a grand realization.
The Doctor pulled out his screwdriver and pointed it at the TARDIS.
“Ok tell me one thing old girl. Has there been an override related to the safety protocols in the past two hours?”
The console screen blinked for a short amount of time before displaying the following words-
ONE EVENT FOUND - EXTERNAL DEACTIVATION OF SECURITY PROTOCOLS.
CLASSIFIED UNDER SCHEDULED MAINTAINENCE. NO PROBLEMS FOUND. THE PROTOCOLS WERE REACTIVATED AFTER 5 MINUTES.
The Doctor glared at the screen. He couldn’t believe it and then he snarled.
Clara couldn’t believe her eyes. There was an actual person in front of her. Talking to her. Seeing her. A moment of relief dawned on her. Tears emerged out of her eyes without her even knowing. The feeling of relief was too overwhelming. She was not alone. Oh thank god she was not alone.
“Who are you? Are you stuck here too?” She enquired while wiping the tears from her face.
“Stuck? Oh no no. I’m not stuck.” the woman said smiling.
“So you know a way out of here? Please help me. I need to get out of here.”
The woman’s big eyes tracked Clara from her head to her toes as if sizing her and then she smirked.
“Seriously? You don’t remember me?” the woman asked sounding a bit disappointed.
“Look I am sorry but I am really desperate right now. Desperate and confused. I am sorry if I can’t place you right now but I really need your help. I have to get to the Doctor.”
The woman brightened up at the mention of the Doctor. She moved closer to Clara.
“Oh yes yes it’s always the Doctor with you lot isn’t it? Oh Doctor save me, save me. Please Doctor save me. Really, I don’t understand why he even bothers with you worms. He could do so much better.” The woman said in mocking and condescending tone.
“Worms? Are you calling me a worm? Did you bring me here? Let me go!” Clara responded angrily.
The woman just kept on looking at her, smiling and saying nothing and then she turned as if to leave.
“Listen I think you don’t know who I am but what I definitely know is that you know the Doctor and if you have got any sense then you will release me from this place because if the Doctor finds out that I have been harmed in anyway then he will find you and make you pay and believe me, you don’t want to mess with him. He will-. He will-.” Clara stopped right in the middle of the sentence because the woman turned to face her again.
She was not smiling anymore. Her cat-like eyes flaring with intensity and anger. This time she moved so close to Clara that their faces were just an inch apart. Both of them looked right into each other’s eyes. Clara felt a tingle at the back of her neck. The woman’s face was manic, frightening. Clara stood still trying to show that she was not afraid when in fact she was.
“Finish your sentence.” the woman whispered slowly but coldly.
Words seemed to have betrayed Clara. She was extremely frightened. Her eyes filled in with tears again and her lips began to quiver. She couldn’t think straight. At this moment her heart was beating so fast that she could feel the blood pumping into her brain. There was something about this woman, she wasn’t ordinary.
“FINISH YOUR SENTENCE!” the woman shouted at Clara’s face.
Clara was completely taken aback. She noticed she was shivering. She closed her eyes. Tears still flowing out of her eyes like a river. She found herself completely paralyzed and confused.
“FINISH YOUR SENTENCE!!!” This time the woman was so loud that Clara just blurted out the words without even thinking.
“He will destroy you. HE WILL DESTROY YOU.”
This was it. Clara fell to the ground in a heap. She couldn’t take it anymore and she wanted it all to end. She was properly sobbing now and she could feel it. She was going to die now. This was it. She waited for the end. She longed for it.
When nothing happened for a long time, she opened her eyes.
The woman was standing just next to her. Her hands on her mouth shaking as if trying to stop laughter and then she let go.
“Ha Ha H…Oh so funny. Oh my god I think I just lost a kidney. Ha ha ha. Your face….Ha ha ha” the woman blurted out while laughing hysterically.
Clara was confused and irritated, the fear evaporating from her mind. What was going on? Who was this woman? Well she was completely insane for a start and her laughter was annoying. And the woman was humiliating her. Clara felt a sudden pang of anger rising up in her. What was she doing? If the Doctor would have seen her like this then he would have thought her pathetic. She was a fighter not a coward. The Doctor wouldn’t want to see her like this. She had to stand up for herself. If she was going to die then she would die fighting.
Clara wiped the tears from her face and stood up again. She tried her best to suppress her fear and then spoke with as much confidence as she could muster.
“Yes he will destroy you. You want to test it. Kill me. C’mon kill me. Go ahead. You want to see it for yourself. Go on then but believe me you. HE WILL DESTROY YOU.”
The woman stopped laughing but kept on gazing at Clara.
“Well that’s what I am counting on.” the woman said with a soft yet condescending voice. And then she smiled at Clara, a genuine smile for the first time.
Clara didn’t know what to make of this woman. For the first time in a long while she was curious. She felt like herself.
“How long have I been here?” Clara asked the woman.
“Oh we are back to being confident again? Don’t you want to cry for help some more? Probably shout DOCTOR a few more times. You know before I KILL you.”
“Oh I am not afraid anymore. Actually I am tired of being afraid. Kill me if you want to. I don’t care. An afterlife would be better than this hellhole.”
“Well sorry to pop your balloons dear. This is the afterlife. You are already dead. I am the Satan and this is your never-ending prison.” the woman said in a menacing tone and then laughed.
Clara let the words sink in deeply. That couldn’t be true. Was this really death? She closed her eyes and imagined what the Doctor would do in this situation. What would he say? How would he act? She took a deep breath and opened her eyes again.
“Okay. Then that means you can’t kill me.”
“Well you know there is always the after-afterlife s-”
“No, no I mean you can’t kill me because you need me for something. Why would you keep me imprisoned for so long? What would be the point? That doesn’t make sense. If I was disposable then why would you even bother putting me in a prison? Why not just kill me right away? Why even bother talking? After all we are worms to you isn’t it?”
The woman looked at her sharply and then turned around clapped. The white nothingness dissolved into a grey room, square with a big door and a large window covered with an equally large dark-grey curtain. In the middle of the room stood a long rectangular desk with two chairs facing each other just like in an office. Clara was surprised but chose to hide it. The woman on the other hand proceeded to sit in one of the chairs.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” The woman asked politely.
“No. I’m fine.”
The woman continued to make tea for herself.
Clara ran for the door. It was locked. She took a chair and threw it at the window. It didn’t break.
“Okay, tell me where am I? What do you want from me? Tell me or I swear I’ll hit you with this chair.”
“Now, now calm down. Let’s be civil about this. Sit and I’ll tell you everything.” the woman said casually.
Clara picked up the chair and sat down reluctantly.
“Okay tell me now.”
“A few months. You’ve been here for a few months.”
“Months? But that’s not possible. It feels like a few d-”
“Days, yes I know. Okay, tell me do you remember where you were before all this happened?”
Clara tried to remember but her memory was too foggy. She could remember bits but nothing more. She remembered the Doctor. She remembered her family. She remembered about her job but nothing more, nothing specific.
“No”. Clara answered flatly.
“Well then how can you measure time when you have no point of reference?”
Clara tried to remain calm. She tried to keep her anger in control. The woman continued.
“Well technically you’ve only been here for about 3 hours but that’s all in the real world, here time passes a little faster. That’s how we’ve calibrated it for now. We are going to sync it with a real-time clock later on.”
“Here? What do you mean here?”
“Well you didn’t believe that any of this is real did you, because it’s not. It’s more of a virtual world you see. A world I am in control of.” The woman smiled slyly and then continued “I like to call this place Nethersphere. A cool name don’t you think. We came up with it during a spitball.”
“Yes. Seb and Me. Hello, I’m Missy.” The woman moved her hand forward for a handshake. Clara didn’t reciprocate.
“No. Alright. I was just trying to be friendly. You know what? Us girls should do this more often. I like having a tea party. Seb is more of a coffee guy.” Missy said mockingly in that silly tone of hers.
Clara was getting frustrated with all of this.
“Why did you bring me here?”
“Ah that’s a tricky one you see. If I tell you that then you’ll probably go mad right here right now”.
“I demand to know.” Clara jumped up from her chair and shouted at Missy.
Missy calmly got up from her chair and walked toward the window and said “Seb I think she is ready now. You can start torturing her again”.
“Again? What torture? Why are you doing this?” Clara cried out not caring about how desperate she sounded.
She caught hold of Missy by her shoulders but before she could say or do anything. Missy was gone. She teleported right out of her hands. Clara wanted to shout but she knew no one would come so instead she decided to stop being afraid. She was going to be strong just as the Doctor was. Never give up. Never give in. Let them do what they wanted to with her but she won’t be afraid.
And then she noticed the walls starting to shrink. No not the walls, it was the room. The room was shrinking and faster by the second. So this was how she would die. Crushed in a shrinking room but she was no longer afraid, nothing mattered anymore. She wouldn’t give Missy the pleasure of seeing her cry and beg for her life but she also knew that she couldn’t do anything to stop her, so she just became still. If only the Doctor was with her but-
And then the first bone crushed and she screamed with pain.
“Clara!” He shouted while moving inside the house.
The interiors were just as haunting as the exterior. He used his sonic screwdriver to check for anything odd. He was still checking when he heard the scream. It was Clara. He was sure of it and it came from upstairs. He ran.
“Clara! Clara! Hold on. I’m coming.”
He reached the room upstairs and kicked open the door. There she was, still screaming hooked to a strange old computer via a sort of helmet.
“What is this?” He said to himself before scanning the room to check for anybody else.
The Doctor used his sonic screwdriver on the computer.
“Hmm…an old computer with fairly advanced technology for this time. And no external link.” the Doctor said curiously. “And a neural connection with Clara. Whatever is happening to her in there it’s causing her a lot of pain, so if you can hear me oldy, stop. Stop, right now or.”
The computer did not respond.
Clara was still screaming as if in agonizing pain. He moved forward to unhook her from the machine.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” A strange squeaky voice spoke out from within the computer.
The Doctor stopped and looked at the machine calculatedly. He was getting more and more furious by the second but he decided to stay calm and replied “Yeah why not?”
“Well she is basically connected to a virtual world and her brain is still processing information of the virtual world. If you unhook her now then her brain won’t be able to cope with two contradictory sets of information. There would be an information overload and she would crash like a computer or go brain-dead in human terms”.
“Who are you? Why are you doing this to her? And how did you get her out of my TARDIS?” the Doctor demanded.
“I am Seb and sorry but I don’t have any other information for you.”
The Doctor was curious. He needed more information but Clara was still screaming. He had to choose.
“Okay then answer this oldy, do you know who I am?”
“You are the Doctor.”
“That is correct, good job oldy. Second question. Do you think I am angry right now?”
A small beam of light emerged from the monitor and traced the Doctor’s face.
“Oh you are doing marvelously here. Third question. Do you know what happens when I get angry?”
The computer buzzed and groaned for a moment.
“Well oldy then you are about to find out.” The Doctor pointed the sonic-screwdriver at the computer.
“Stop. If you disable me then she will die too.” The computer said in an effort to stop the Doctor.
“Yes she will die but only if she remembers whatever happened to her in the past 3 hours and I am a Timelord. I have certain special abilities you see. And let me tell you I can be very very mean.” the Doctor growled and pushed the button.
The computer started groaning and buzzing again, louder by the second until sparks started flying out of it and then it exploded.
“Doctor, Why are looking at me like that? And why do I have this headache?” Clara said drowsily burying her face into the pillow.
“Er…You slipped and hit your head. You’ve been sleeping ever since. I think you had a concussion but you’re alright now. I checked.”
“Hmm….It all feels so heavy and empty like I am missing something. Like I’ve forgotten something.” Clara muttered, her head still buried under the pillow.
“Oh it’s probably that boring date you were going to go to.”
“Hmm…date….date……DATE!!!!” Clara jumped out of the bed startling the Doctor.
“You can’t go on a date in this condition. You should get some rest.” The Doctor protested.
“Shut up! Shut up! This is the sixth time I am late. If I don’t go-“
“Clara you’re not fine. You hit your head and now you want to go on a date. Can you see the problem?”
Clara stopped to look at him, tears filling her eyes.
“Oh again with the inflated eyes, what? What happened now?”
“I don’t know. I just felt like crying, just felt very sad.”
“Okay okay go on the date, but please stop it with the eyes. I can’t stand them.”
Clara started to laugh. “Oh thank you Doctor. You’re a pal. Now get me there and be fast.”
She moved forward to hug him but he stopped her.
“Oh no no. Eyes and hug on the same day. I’ll explode.” Clara hugged him anyways.
“Oh how am I going to explain this tan to him?”
“What tan?” said the Doctor cluelessly.
“My my Seb, you’re a wonderful actor. For a second there I thought you really were dying”
“Oh stop it Ma’am. That was just version 1.0. You know I’ve learned it all from you.”
“Ooh someone fiddled with the flattery setting didn’t he? Anyway, did we get the data?”
“But may I ask, how did you know that she would be a good candidate? I mean why did you choose her?”
“Oh Seb why do you think the Doctor travels with her? Why doesn’t he take any odd person?”
“Because you set her up with him. You gave her the Doctor’s number.”
“The Doctor doesn’t just take anybody for a companion. No. He chooses his companions very well. They are strong, stronger than you might think and if you can break them then you can break almost anybody.”
Seb thought about it.
“Well the good news is that the tests were a success. We can now delete emotions from most of our test subjects. Clara proved to be of much help. This calls for a celebration. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
Missy rolled her eyes. “Oh and we have to do something about the Doctor. I don’t want him getting too suspicious, not yet. We don’t want his gift spoiled beforehand. Seb you need to do something to distract him.”
“Any suggestions Ma’am?”
“Yeah use that Skovox thing that’s been lying around my TARDIS and those 2-D creatures that I’d been working on. They’ll keep him busy for now.”