Episode 35 - A Good Man's War
I hate war.
Well, let's be honest, there aren't many who like it, and those that do only like it when they get to win. Ever see a Klingon on the losing side of a war? It can be pretty depressing. And don't get me started on the Mandalorians, half the time they mope for centuries when they lose a war.
The Kralnak actually impose a century of peace upon themselves whenever they lose a war, just to make sure enough time has passed that their war gods aren't mad at them anymore. Well, two centuries in one case. You've no idea how aggravating it is to pretend to be a Kralnak war god.
But yes, I hate war.
That might make me the Multiverse's biggest hypocrite, though, given how often I get mixed up with them.
Oh, it's not intentional all the time. I mean, when Katherine and I materialize in the Fableworlds and help some of them hold the line long enough to escape the Adversary's armies to Earth? That's just passing through. Might not even count. With the Reapers I just showed up at the end and tilted the odds against the Catalyst.
But more than enough times, it hasn't been innocent passing through. It's been me consciously jumping into a conflict because I thought I knew the best outcome to it. The Bajoran rebellion against the Cardassians comes to mind, obviously. And other bits. Like that whole mess between Mesa and Manticore. I mean, I like cats, I couldn't let all of those poor treecats get killed, could I? But that is still me openly joining one side in a war. Just as I did on Alderaan in the war between the Republic and the Sith Empire. Or when I secured the Voidstar for the Republic, helped them repulse the Empire on Denova and that one planet with the Gree ruins.... okay, I participated in quite a few of those fights, yes.
Especially when I was the Time Lord Triumphant.
I don't like talking about when I was the Time Lord Triumphant. I devastated fleets and armies. I broke war ministers and general staffs. I turned entire battles.
Oh, and, I started wars. Mustn't forget that bit. I hate war but I started some. To make things better of course.
Yes, I know, that's a rather hollow excuse. It's like opposing the principle of murder while you're shooting someone in the head.
Anyway, yes, I hate wars. I try to stop them when I find them. Or make them less nasty. I just... do what I can.
But this story is about the time that I, bereft of my Time Lord Triumphant insanity, still knowingly and willingly joined a war. No, not just joined it, but expanded it. Evened it out by calling in allies who agreed to fight even when they had no practical reason or need to. I intentionally drew people I liked, people I respected, even people I called friends, into a vicious, bloody war of a single night. I put their lives, and more, at risk to accomplish my objective.
I am a hypocrite.
And sometimes... I think I can be a right bastard. Even a bad man.
But I will say this.
If you're going to fight a war, it needs to be for the right reason.
And I would do this one again. Because I had that reason. It was a reason anyone with a heart would accept, even if their heads told them it was wrong. A reason I could never turn down. Not without tearing out a part of my own soul.
So why did I do this? Why did I go to war, for how much I hated it?
To save a little girl.
One precious, innocent life, seized by monsters not for anything she did, but simply for who she was.
You like that reason, don't you? Sounds noble. Sounds worthy.
Yeah, it does.
It's a nice, bright, lovely little lie, isn't it?
Because that's not the real reason I went to that war. It's not the reason I put the lives of Companions, friends, and allies at jeopardy. Oh, I told them it was for the little girl. I even wanted to believe it myself.
But I went for another reason.
And that led me to this moment. This point in my life. The screams and shouts and battle cries of those I had brought to the killing ground echoing around me. The shrieks and furious bellows of the monsters bearing down on them and intent on our deaths. The smell of death and blood assailing my nostrils.
The terrified whimper from the little girl huddled in my arms, frightened and cold.
The blood-stained altar I had just picked her up from. The obsidian knife, still stained with blood, that would have killed her and many, many others.
I had been looking at her until the shadow fell over me. I looked up at the figure who stood across from me.
I showed no fear as he focused on me. His expression was firm and resolute. He knew what had to happen now. The pain of necessity was written plainly on his scarred face.
His brown eyes, brimming with emotion, met mine.
And for the first time ever, Harry Dresden and I looked into each others eyes, while around us our friends and allies fought for their lives in the chaos and horror that had gripped the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza.
Oh, what am I saying? I'm getting ahead of myself. Sorry. Couldn't help it. You need to know what I'm talking about. You need context to understand what was going on.
Alright. Fine. It began with a phone call from a desperate man.
I wasn't surprised at the call when I got it. It was one I knew I'd be getting eventually. One I dreaded.
"Doctor, I need your help," said Harry Dresden on the other end. There was no sign of the usual levity he might have had. "They've got my daughter."
I heard those words and involuntarily I made a sharp intake of breath.
"I figure you're not surprised. This is probably what you were trying to tell me about that night in Mac's a year or so back, isn't it?"
My voice was dry when I replied, "Yes. It was."
"Yeah, figured. Can't really be mad about it since I turned you down."
"You did the right thing," I assured him. "I wasn't in the right mind then, Harry."
For a moment there was no answer. "And if I'd let you tell me, my daughter wouldn't be in danger right now."
I bit into my lip. Arguing the point, pointing out that knowing about Maggie would have changed his decisions at some very crucial points - it certainly would have affected his judgement during the case of Aleron LaFortier's murder - and that it was better this way... that was not a winning argument. Not here. Not now.
"They're going to kill her," Harry said. "They're going to kill my little girl, Doctor. I've got to save her."
I wish it had been just as simple as that. But... it wasn't. I swallowed and rubbed at my eyes. "Harry," I began.
He didn't let me say anything else. As if I could have said anything else given the sick feeling in my stomach. "You've got to help me,", Harry pleaded. "If you've ever considered yourself my friend, you won't turn your back on me. Not now."
I swallowed. My mind raced. My old sins were coming back to haunt me again. Now I had to deal with them.
"Harry, listen to me. Things have to happen right now, things I can't interfere..."
"Don't you FUCKING DARE," he screamed over the line. "Don't you dare tell me my little girl has to die! That... that you have to let her die because of some Goddamned-."
"Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden!", I roared into the phone, carefully enunciating every syllable as if it had power. It didn't. I'm a Time Lord, not a bloody dragon. But it did get him to stop. I sighed and lowered my voice. I wanted to fall to the ground, but that wouldn't accomplish anything. Not when I had a terrified father on the phone. "Harry. I give you my word, on everything I hold dear, everything I believe in, that your daughter will survive this. If I must, I will blaze such a path of fury through the Red Court that the supernatural creatures of your world will speak of it for eternity. Maggie will live through this. Do you understand me?"
There was silence on the other end. "Yeah, I got you, Doc," he finally said. His voice was weary. He didn't even question how I knew his daughter's name.
"How much has happened so far?", I asked.
He filled me in. His office had been blown up, a certain little weasel of a police detective named Rudolph had gotten him arrested as a bombing suspect, he'd been shot at when the FBI cut him loose, the White Council had turned their back on him due to Cristos, and all he had going for him right now was Molly, Murphy, Mouse, and Maggie's mother Susan Rodriguez and her partner Martin in the Fellowship of St. Giles. For those of you unfamiliar with that Fellowship, they were half-vampires (Red Court-style ones) who were fighting their creators alongside the White Council and their other mortal allies. Good people. A bit scary, and that's not counting the curse of the bloodthirst from their vampiric side, but good people.
"I've talked to every spirit I've got pull with," Harry said. "All I got was an image from a fire sprite. I know she's still alive and that the Red Court's going to do something somewhere in Mexico. But I don't know where. Can you..."
"Harry, I'll get your daughter out, but there are other things that are going to happen. Things that... have to happen." I almost choked on that. I didn't want to say it. Deep down, I didn't want those things to happen, and I knew I could prevent them. But the cost... "As for where you'll find where they're going to have Maggie? I have one suggestion; get in touch with Ivy."
"She was my next call," Harry said.
"Good. Get working on your end. I have things to do on mine. I'll see you soon."
I put my phone back on its receiver. And then I promptly walked over to the stairs leading from the controls to the upper ring and the halls out of the control room, where I plopped down into a sitting position. I ran a hand through my hair while my emotions roiled through me.
It had finally happened. I was finally here. At this point in time.
And I had a decision to make.
The door to the TARDIS opened. Liara and Katara walked in, looking a bit scuffed up. "I think I may have found something," Liara said. "There was burnt grass around blackened and dried out rock in the forest near a stream, about half a kilometer away. It could have been Bolin lavabending."
"Ah." I nodded.
"If you go over there, maybe we can get a scan and...."
"I'm afraid Bolin and Mister Varrick are going to have to wait. Something has come up," I said. I forced myself to stand. "Something very bad. Now I..."
The phone rang again.
I walked over to the comm console and checked the ID of the incoming call.
My blood nearly froze. It was a code that had never called in before. A temporal beacon I'd handed out a long time ago for one explicit purpose.
I sighed and picked the phone up. "I'm here."
"Everything is going according to schedule," the voice on the other end said. "Just as you said it would."
"I see." I swallowed. "Well, that's quite good news."
"Has Dresden contacted you yet?"
"He has. Just now. So I'm already on the clock."
"Understood. I left a drop package for you with the current location and information on a viable target for your proposal. It's a private post office store in Downtown Chicago, at..." He gave me the street address and the name of the business, as well as the name I'd have to assume to get a key.
"Right. I'll get there as soon as I can."
"We won't have a lot of time, so get this quick before the target gets underway. And be careful with him. He can be slippery."
"Thanks for the warning," I replied. "I'll see you later, Martin."
I hung up the phone and looked down at the controls for a moment.
"Who is Martin?", Liara asked. "What's going on?"
I took in a breath and forced myself to focus. It wasn't easy. I was torn. Torn on what the right thing to do was. The responsible thing would be to let things go as they were going to. Don't change anything. Just... let it happen as I knew it would.
But I couldn't just do it like that. I'm the Doctor. I save people. And I could save someone if I went through with this. A good person who deserved the happiness my success would bring.
More than that, if I did things a certain way.... I could save Harry too. I could save him from the horrible decision he was about to make.
But the ramifications of that decision. The things I might undo. The damage I could cause.
My head told me I shouldn't.
But my hearts told me I should. My hearts told me that a dear friend would be happier if I did... what I thought of doing. And that it was worth whatever cost had to be paid. That I would pay it, and gladly, to give Harry the happiness he'd been denied for so long.
"Doctor?" Katara stepped up to me. "Why are you crying?"
I was almost surprised to feel the hot tears pouring form my eyes. I was racked with indecision. Me, of all people. My head and my hearts were at odds and I felt... lost. I wanted to follow my hearts so much, but...
...but that was something Triumphant would have done, after all. Happily, Easily. Making things "better", even if they actually became worse.
"I may be about to do something very foolish," I informed them. "But that's not the important part."
"Then what is?"
I turned my head to face them. "Harry Dresden's daughter Maggie has been kidnapped by the Red Court of Vampires," I informed them.
They both stared in shock. "I... oh Goddess." Liara's voice almost cracked with horror. "I didn't even know he had a daughter."
"He didn't either," I remarked.
Katara was quick to say, "But you knew."
I nodded. "I did. Couldn't tell him. Not without changing things. Things that would have been dangerous to change." And just look at what that decision had wrought. Because of that, an eight year old child had been forced to watch her foster family be torn to shreds. Literally.
My thoughts flashed back to another eight year old girl, in her dirtied dress, crying beside the corpses of her brothers. An eight year old girl named Kira Nerys who had begged me to take her away from the violence and suffering of the Bajoran Occupation. And, to preserve the timeline, I had said "No".
And now, just like Nerys, Maggie Dresden was also suffering because of a decision I had made.
"They're going to kill her," I said. My voice was hoarse from the dueling emotions inside of me. "They're going to cut her open to fuel a bloodline curse against her family. They're after Harry and his grandfather. It'll make their hearts literally explode out of their chests if it goes off."
I let the shock and horror of that thought sink in. I had it in my head too. It wasn't pretty.
"We'll stop them," Katara said. Her tone was fierce. "We can't let that happen."
"We won't," I assured her. I looked to Liara.
There was no fooling Liara. "There's something else going on here," she said. "Something you're not telling us. Why are you looking so uncertain? That's not like you at all."
"Usually not," I agreed. "But it can't be helped."
"You're going to do something foolish, aren't you?", she asked.
I wasn't going to hide it. "Possibly."
"What?" Liara stepped up. "Doctor, you need to tell us."
"I will," I said. "But first, we need to get to work. Because we're tied to their timestream now, and little Maggie is running out of time." I went to the TARDIS controls. "I have a stop to make. Then I'll know our next move."
And which would, of course, bring me closer to the moment I had to choose.
My head? Or my hearts?
The package Martin had left for me was a dossier on one Antonio Monterro. He was, on paper, a business manager in San Salvador who oversaw the accounts for several companies operating in Latin America. He looked like a small, unassuming fellow with a small figure. Not at all dangerous.
Although he actually was quite dangerous.
In truth, Antonio Monterro was a half-vampire and follower of the Red Court. Like many others, he had been granted his vampiric half as a reward for service, and further service and displays of discipline in his bloodthirst would eventually merit him permission to become a full vampire. How, you might ask? Simple. He just had to kill someone while slaking his bloodthirst.
Yes, it's quite monstrous, isn't it?
Monterro was making preparations to leave. Martin's report, not to mention my own instinct for the situation, were attributing it to Chichen Itza. He'd been invited to attend the Red King's court there. In the same ceremonies when Maggie would be killed.
And he'd be there, all right. But I was changing his travel plans.
Monterro's office was in one of the best districts in San Salvador, a nice and built up place with high-rise buildings and everything. That would make what we were about to do a bit trickier, mind you.
"So, you're going to kidnap this man?", Liara asked me for the third time while we waited in ambush positions. "And with these?" She held up the submachine gun I'd handed her. "You hate guns."
"Well, I find them bloody annoying, but sometimes…" I held out my own. "This has to look good. I don't want the Red Court thinking there's something special about this fellow's kidnapping. This way we'll look like just another Latin American kidnapping ring snagging someone for ransom."
Liara looked skeptically at me, and on to Katara, who was still eyeing her weapon of the same make. She was evidently trying to understand how it worked. "Don't worry about it," I whispered. "Point the weapon's barrel ending toward the monster and hold the trigger.
"There's got to be another way of doing this," Liara insisted.
"If he just disappears, the Red Court may put two and two together. I need to establish a good why."
"Very well," Liara sighed. "But I…"
"Shhh." I pointed to the door. A trio of figures were stepping out. Two rather large men in dark suits, clearly bodyguards for Senor Monterro, with submachine guns of their own under their jackets if the remote sensors I'd laid were correct. "Remember, aim high," I said to both, after which I lowered the balaclava over my head.
Liara made a face and did the same. Katara seemed less uncomfortable, opting for a suit like that she'd worn in pursuing her mother's killer, with her hair free but her mouth and nose covered by an extension from the collar. Both readied their weapons.
I held up my fingers, counting down and waiting until Monterro and his bodyguards were about to climb into the nice four door car he owned. With the same hand I gripped the sonic screwdriver and activated it.
The car lit up with a bang, sending powerful blinding light into the eyes of the bodyguards and Monterro. We held up our weapons and opened fire into the air above their heads. No blanks of course, I couldn't afford the lack of rounds and spent casings tipping the Red Court off. But the bullets were the kind that mushroomed when they hit something and would not ricochet.
After we had them on the ground Katara and I dashed across the street and seized the startled Monterro. I pressed a hypospray full of high-powered sedative into his neck and injected him with a high dose. More than enough to knock out even a half-vampire, not enough to actually damage him. By the time we were pulling him back across the street the blinded bodyguards were trying to stand up. They went for their guns of course, but they were too professional to simply fire willy-nilly into the street.
I hadn't had the time to acquire an actual van or vehicle, so I improvised. I triggered a sound system and attached holographic viewer just in case they should open their eyes. The sounds and visual would make them think a van had just pulled up and we had jumped in with Monterro. Like any other kidnapper would in the area. Actually, not too dissimilar to what the Red Court themselves had their mortal agents do.
In reality, however, we brought Monterro into the opposite alleyway and into the TARDIS. I had a specialized room set up inside for him. A nice, cozy prison cell. Liara helped me get him into wrist and ankle restraints. "He'll be out for several more hours," I noted. "But we'll want to keep an eye on him."
Once we had Monterro secured in the room, it was back to the control room for us. Once we were there, Liara pulled off the balaclava and threw it to the side. "Okay, you have him. Why?"
"Because he'll be vital to my plan succeeding," I answered.
"In what way?", Liara asked. "Do we need him for intelligence? I'm already scanning the remote drive he had in his jacket."
I shook my head. "No. That's not why we snatched him. I need him for something else. Something…" I shook my head. "It's important. I just need you to trust me."
"I do trust you," Liara said. "But I also know you're divided about this. There's something else going on here. Like this ‘Martin' person. And why haven't you told Harry about this part of the plan?"
"Because he doesn't need to know," I insisted. "Better to keep it to myself."
But Liara knew me too well. "You're doing something wrong, aren't you?"
"I'm helping to save a little girl."
"You admitted that you were up to something, Doctor, don't think we ignored that," Liara retorted.
"What is it, Doctor?", Katara asked. "You can tell us."
I frowned. I didn't want to. I knew that what I was doing could upset things. But all I could think about was the pain that was awaiting my friend. "I'm going to change history," I said. "I'm going to change what happens."
"In what way?", asked Liara.
I walked over and sat down on the steps. I put my hands on my head and briefly considered ripping some of my hair out. They followed and sat down near me. "Harry's life is going to change now," I said quietly. "Everything will. The Red Court, by doing this, has set in motion their own annihilation. In a couple of nights, at Chichen Itza, they will attempt the bloodline curse. They'll slaughter… dozens, maybe hundreds, of innocent people to power it."
Katara frowned. "Then why don't we stop them there? Why don't we save all of those people?"
"Because we'd be doing the same thing to this world that Xuandi nearly did to yours when he tried to kill Aang and the others," I answered. "An event like that? It's a Fixed Point in Time. I already investigated it back during my… darker times." I frowned. "It's why I contacted Martin."
"You said they'd cause their own annihilation," Liara pointed out.
"Yes. The curse is meant for Harry's bloodline. By murdering his daughter on the altar, the curse would transfer to all of her blood relations. Her parents, Harry's half-brother. and his maternal grandfather, the true target of this curse. Harry's just the… icing on the revenge cake for Duchess Arianna." My face became a stony mask. "But Harry will manage to save his daughter. At least, he will in normal history. But there is a cost. Maggie's mother Susan."
Their expressions bade me to continue, so I did. I laid out what Martin really was; a triple agent. Sent by the Red King to infiltrate and undermine the Fellowship of St. Giles as a double agent, but in secret harboring a desire to destroy the Red Court for their crimes. A desire he now found it possible to attain by sacrificing Susan and himself.
"Martin betrayed Maggie's existence and home to Arianna. He set this whole thing in motion as a bid to get at the Red Court and looks to take advantage of what they're ultimately doing." I held my head back and sighed. "At the critical moment, he'll reveal this to Susan Rodriguez. And she will lose her mind to rage and rip his throat out. By killing Martin, who is still a mortal, she will complete her transformation and become a vampire. The youngest vampire in the Red Court, linked by her new vampiric blood to the Red King and all the rest."
My horrified Companions were smart. They completed the logic chain without prodding. "She's the one sacrificed," Liara murmured.
I nodded. "Harry figures it out. She lets him use the knife. To save her daughter, of course." I felt tears rolling down my face. "Harry will have to kill the woman he loved, who he still loves, the mother of his child, to save Maggie's life. And that night, the Red Court dies."
"Oh Goddess," Liara repeated. Her voice was thick with horror. "You're… that is what you're going to change."
I nodded. "Half-vampires don't directly die of the curse. But their bodies shift to what their human age should be. Those who are beyond normal human lifespan will die from the rapid aging. So Martin's a dead man no matter which new vampire is on the altar. This is why I proposed to him that he be the one on it. I told him I would provide him with a half-vampire like himself, an agent of the Red Court, who would also die regardless. When we're at Chichen Itza, at the critical moment near the end, I will arrange for Monterro to be brought to Martin. He'll kill Monterro, begin transforming, and then I will put him on the altar and make him the sacrifice. The Red Court will die, as is required for history, and Susan Rodriguez will live. She will get to be with her daughter and be free of the vampire curse."
As I laid out that plan, I thought about the other temptation dangling before me. Harry's fate, specifically. What he would do out of desperation to save Maggie. If I could be there to prevent him from needing to make that deal…
"Could you do that, Doctor?", Katara asked. "Could you kill that man? Like that?"
"I…" I swallowed. "Yes," I finally said. "If I had to."
They could hear how I forced the answer out. Katara and Liara shared glances of doubt. I didn't blame them. "And that's it?", Liara asked. "There's nothing else going on?"
"No," I lied, even as I contemplated all the things I might mess up by changing Harry's fate too. Could I adjust things to account for the difference I would create if I did what I had in mind?
Was it right for me to take that chance with this world and its future?
My mind wandered. It imagined destruction and chaos. It imagined mad gods and beings freed from their prisons to wreak havoc upon the world. Mad spirits overwhelming Chicago.
It also imagined Harry and Susan at that Burger King Harry always went to with little Maggie on her father's tall shoulders laughing away wearing a cardboard crown on her brow. It imagined swing sets and playgrounds, school plays and recitals, happy laughter as wrapping paper was torn away in the shadow of a Christmas tree…. perhaps even snowball fights masquerading as magic practice and Harry having to cover Maggie's ears when Bob gets particularly lecherous during a magic lesson.
Well, okay, that last bit is unlikely, Bob being a top secret part of Harry's life and all. But imagination is imagination.
I could give Harry Dresden, the man I had come to call a friend, the thing he had always wanted. That he had always longed for, that had evaded him his whole life.
And all I had to do was endanger his entire timeline. And the world.
I remember a part of me rebelling from that sentiment. Thinking about how little it'd mean if they all died in a year after Demonreach - that creepy island in Lake Michigan where Harry had rescued the Archive from Nicodemus - exploded with the force of a naquadah-enhanced nuclear warhead. Or if the Corpsetaker's plans weren't stopped by Harry during those intervening months. How much damage might that cause?
What good would it do to change Harry's fate just to deprive him of the power he needed to save everything and everyone he loved?
You can make the difference, a part of me urged. Do it! Make that difference! Give him the life he deserves!
Which was just egotistical, when you get down to it. I mean, yes, I'm a Time Lord. I can do all sorts of wonderful, even nearly magical things with the technology I can employ. But.... you need different tools for different tasks, you know? I'm not a wizard. Harry can do things I can't.
I tried to get the thoughts out of my head. But it wasn't happening. The thought of making sure Harry got to have a family. How could I just throw that away? Knowing what it meant to him?
"I need to talk to him", I muttered.
"To who?", asked Liara.
"Harry." I swallowed. "I... I need to give him the choice. It's not mine to make. It's..." I swallowed. "I need to lay things out to him. It's Harry's life. He has to decide."
My Companions looked at each other. Understanding dawned. They knew I'd lied earlier. That I had something else in mind.
I, meanwhile, was putting in the coordinates to his home. "He had to lower his wards when the FBI came to take him in for questioning," I said to the others. "So his home is vulnerable. Be careful."
They nodded as I pulled the TARDIS lever. I waited until we finished the spatial transition before going to the door and opening it.
I was greeted by the crackle of roaring flames.
Harry's home was on fire.
Between me and the boarding house Harry had called home for over a decade were first responders, busily rushing to keep the fire from spreading to the other homes in the area. There were police already on the scene as well. I saw them as I rushed closer, calling out, "Harry! Harry! Molly!"
I met neither, and the police quickly intercepted me and pushed me away. Only then did an elderly voice call out to me, and I turned to find Harry's landlady sitting in an ambulance. I walked over to Mrs. Spunkelcrief. I called her by name. She knew of me, although she thought I was Harry's English cousin.
"Oh, I'm so sorry for you," she said. "Your cousin, he's... Harry's been badly hurt."
My mouth went dry. "How badly?", I said, keeping my voice as audible as I could without screaming so that the deaf old lady could understand me.
"They carried him out on a board," she answered. "Poor brave boy. He was trying to rescue the Willoughbys. And then there was an explosion and... and he was knocked from the ladder. I think he hurt his back." She took my arm. "I'm sure he'll want to see you. I don't know which hospital they took him to..."
I drew in a breath. "I... have an idea where he'll be, Mrs. Spunkelcrief. I'm just happy to see you're okay."
"God bless you," she answered in that sort of squeaky voice the very old could sometimes manage.
The EMTs were returning, so I stepped away. The smoke was still rising into the night sky, framed by flames licking skyward while the fire crews continued to douse them with water. I started my way back to the TARDIS. Katara met me halfway. "I could help," she said. "It might..."
"It's too late," I murmured. "Too late. I can't..." I stepped back into the TARDIS and looked at the controls. "You didn't trust me," I said accusingly. "Why didn't you trust me?"
My TARDIS didn't answer.
I don't know what hurt worse. That my TARDIS didn't trust me to do the right thing... or that I might not have done the right thing if she had.
"Where's Harry?", Liara asked.
"On his way to St. Mary of the Angels," I replied. I walked over to the stairs and plopped down into them. "I was too late. They got to him. The vampires."
"Then we should go there," Katara said. "I can use my waterbending to heal whatever..."
"How quickly could you heal a broken back, Katara?", I asked pointedly. I already knew the answer, of course. As I knew there were limits to how waterbending healing worked.
They both paled. For what seemed like the umpteenth time since this had begun, Liara whispered "Goddess". Katara shook her head. "I... I can help with the pain. But a broken back..."
"...even a wizard like Harry will take decades to recover under natural healing," I answered. "And since we're locked into the timestream now, I can't take him away for the weeks he would need for spinal replacement or whatever other treatment would hasten the healing."
"But you said he is meant to rescue Maggie," Liara insisted. "How can he do that now?"
I swallowed. "By making a deal."
"What do you..."
"He's going to make a deal with Mab," I finished with some heat. "To save his daughter, Harry's going to give Queen Mab what she's wanted for years. He's going to become the Winter Knight, her enforcer and assassin in the mortal world."
Well, there was more to it than that, but that was all that needed to be said.
"So... you can't stop this," Katara said. "That was what you wanted to prevent, wasn't it?"
"I'd been tempted to, yes," I admitted. "But it's for the best. Harry... will need that power, frankly. Another burden for him to bear."
"We can still save Susan," Liara pointed out. "Knowing she's Human again and able to raise their daughter might help him deal with it."
"Will it?" I sighed. "What if saving her also causes unforeseen consequences?" I closed my eyes and tried to imagine them. But the possibilities. So many of them. And there were so many external forces at play that there was no way to know how the march of history would go. Even for a Time Lord.
"What if I'm making the same mistake again?", I wondered aloud. "I'm meddling. Like when I was Triumphant."
"That was different," Liara insisted.
"Was it?", I asked pointedly. "Good intentions can still have evil outcomes. I have a responsibility to protect history. To protect time."
"But you're also the Doctor," Katara said. "You're supposed to save people. So you have to try and save Susan."
I went silent as I thought about it.
There was a beeping noise. Liara brought up her right forearm and her omnitool appeared. Data showed up on the screen. "Doctor? You might want to see this."
"What?", I asked.
"It's from Monterro's flash drive," Liara said. "It's.... it's about the Red Court's defenses at Chichen Itza."
I blinked and looked up. And then I walked over to look it over. "That's not right," I murmured. "Look."
"I'm going through the memos on the drive now." Several entries lit up on the hard-light display. Liara let out a breath. "I think I can see why."
I followed her eyes. It was a memo from Duchess Arianna to Monterro and others with managerial positions in the Red Court's financial affairs.
Below the text was Arianna Ortega's official signature and what looked like a ducal seal.We must expect that Dresden will not be alone. Many of his allies are not to be concerned with. But he will certainly call for the aid of the Time Lord. Interference from the Doctor must be considered in handling the security arrangements for the ceremony. As such, you are instructed to set aside additional funds to hire the personnel needed to triple the planned security force and to ensure more of our people can make the trip to Chichen Itza. I want to make sure that even the Doctor cannot overcome us.
As soon as I read that, my mind flashed back to a memory.
Some time ago, I had touched the mind of a being who could see the future. Somehow my telepathy and the future vision of a fused gem-based being named Garnet had interacted, giving me glimpses of potential futures.
And now my mind came to one of those images. A grieving Harry, freezing tears flowing from his reddened eyes, as he cradled a little body.
I focused on the image as I had not before. I realized what I was seeing.
Maggie's body. With a hole in her forehead.
And now that vision became clear.
This extra force, it meant that even with all of the firepower and allies Harry could bring to bear... it might not be enough. Oh, he might actually beat the Reds, but that was no guarantee the mercenaries wouldn't keep fighting. All it would take was a sniper or a gunman in the wrong place, firing at just the wrong time, and it would all be for nothing.
I swallowed and started to think. They were going to have more half-vampires there. More full vamps. And a lot more mercenaries. Even with all of the forces Harry would have coming to his aid, even if I showed up with Liara and Katara... it might not be enough.
Maggie might still die. And Murphy, and Molly, even my plan to save Susan might be for nothing.
And it would be because of me. Because, by my existence, I had altered the correlation of forces in this world. Harry's enemies had to take my potential presence into account. It was something of a vicious cycle; every time I ended up working with Harry to redress the imbalances my own existence caused, it in turn caused other forces to take more notice of me and to create further imbalance.
This time, it was an imbalance even I wasn't sure I could safely negate.
At least, not without doing something I was rather loathe to do.
Liara's breath was slow as she read further memos. "Doctor, I..." She shook her head. "...even all three of us, and with Harry and the others... I don't think we can win this by ourselves."
I nodded. "We can't."
"Then, what are we going to do?", Liara asked. "Maybe if we slip in..."
"That place is the stronghold of the Lords of Outer Night," I remarked. "Vampiric demi-gods. Even with the stealth circuit, we would be caught easily. And remember, its a Fixed Point. I can't do anything that would jeopardize that outcome." I drew in a breath and forced myself to stand. I didn't have much time due to the TARDIS being locked onto the local timestream. That lock would eventually fade, true, but by then it would be too late.
I went to the TARDIS controls and started twisting knobs and setting switches. "Doctor, what are you doing?", Liara asked.
"There's only one way to make this right," I said. "One way to make sure that we save Maggie without ruining history."
Katara and Liara looked at each other in some confusion. "And that is...?", Katara asked.
I looked up to them. My face was locked in a grim expression. "We go to war," I answered. "A war with the Red Court. And to fight that war..." I put my hand on the activation lever. "...I'm going to need some soldiers."
And with that said, I pulled the lever to shift the TARDIS away.