The Doctor marched quickly and with determination up the stairs to Madden’s studio. He knocked loudly but didn’t wait for an answer.
“Madden” he bellowed in typical Doctor Bravado.
“Doctor?” Madden’s head appeared a few moments later from behind the black curtain.
“Just trying to fix the enlarger. Can I help you?” He wiped an old cloth over his greased hands and gestured towards an inviting chair.
Impatiently the Doctor sat, realising that all he had at the moment was conjecture and harassing the witness might be over-ruled, especially if Rose was here.
“Tea?” Bill poured two generous cups and settled down opposite the Time Lord.
“Thanks,” he accepted the cup hastily and sipped the liquid without ever removing his eyes from the man before him.
“Do you use Selenium toner in your darkroom?” he queried.
“Yeah, of course. Punches up the contrast nicely.” Bill looked confused by this line of questioning but replied amiably none the less.
“Hate that stuff. Stinks like ammonia and lingers with you for ages.”
“Yeah!” Bill laughed in agreement. “Stella always complained about that.”
The Doctor coughed suddenly and animatedly, mania apparent in all his actions. His chest felt tight as he set down the china and loosened his swirled blue tie.
“Can I get you some water?” Madden offered.
“Nope, fine. Thanks.” He coughed again, a deep chesty sputter that propelled his body forward by its sheer force.
With shock the Doctor realised he was sweating and his breathing was coming in short, sharp pants. Internally his blood seemed to thunder through his veins and spatter against his atriums like a percussive, burst water main.
He instinctively clutched his chest and groaned in anguish, sensitive, pain receptors firing like an automatic riffle with unlimited bullets. Agitated synapses transmitted electrifying twinges, speeding in rapid succession from his left heart up into his shoulder and down his arm like adrenalin junkied racing drivers negotiating hair pin corners with force and alacrity instead of precision. His expressive face contorted in agony and disbelief.
Meanwhile Madden calmly retrieved four photographs from a locked draw in a scruffy, utilitarian chest and laid them out wordlessly on the coffee table.
The first, Richard Roddenberry screaming silently in a dank, disserted alleyway, cold and damp from the putrid weather. The second, John Windsor lying prostrate in a halo of fallen leaves and patches of grass. Next that of Mrs. Maggie, her hand gripping knuckle white to the porcelain of a peeling basin, her eyes huge and sight blind and lastly an unknown gentlemen lying face down by a scattered pile of photographs, a clear liquid seeping into his tweed, woollen jacket.
In all the pictures a lurking shadow hovered like a vulture, barely discernable to the human eye but captured in posterity by clever, silver halides.
“Digitalis,” spat the ashen faced Doctor, the whites of his eyes becoming blood shot and standing out with unnatural prominence as his body, in spasm, kicked out at the rough, wooden leg of the table spilling his poisoned tea.
Madden smiled, impressed, “They were her favourites,” he sighed.
“Did you use the leaves of the foxgloves you laid on her cold grave?” he ground out with laboured speech, the heavy erratic breathing forcing saliva to shoot from his grimacing mouth and bleed from his nose.
“Virtually undetectable…” he panted; “Presents as heart attack,” he let out an agonising scream and clawed for purchase on anything within reach.
Madden ignored him and fetched his equipment accomplices, mounting the heavy duty camera on its tripod and slotting in the photographic plates. He paused seeming to consider, before approaching the Time Lord and fixing his eschewed tie with one hand and plastering down an errant hair spike with the other before returning to behind his trusty machine. He smiled, satisfied with his creative tableau as the Doctor struggled in disgust and desperation, looking so vulnerable and young beneath his hands.
“Smile,” he said as a click and puff of smoke added to the demented scene.
The Doctor complied unknowingly as he let out a mirthless, mocking chuckle at the irony and humiliation of the death of the last of the great keepers of Time. Pain and so much regret fading from his tired eyes as a cold acceptance and relieving freedom lulled and sang to him to stopping fighting.
“Bill have you seen the Doctor?” Rose rushed in the doorway looking exasperated and annoyed.
Quickly Madden ran to a chest behind him and drew out a revolver levelling it at a anguished gapping Rose who was staring fearfully at the struggling Time Lord.
“Rose…” he croaked barely above a whisper. “Get out of here!”
“She’s not going anywhere. Don’t worry my dear he’ll be dead soon and you will briskly follow.”
Rose turned, jumping as she stared down the barrel of a gun. She stilled, regaining her composure and with venom spat out one word, “Why?”
“That thing took my wife and when it comes for me I’m going to be ready. It’s the basis of science that repetition proves fact. That thing is real. Look at the pictures!” he bolstered.
Rose glanced at the four terrified faces and then at the pasty skin of the man she valued more than anything, more that the fantastic sights of the universe, more than her own life. He was always pale but now the sickly grey-blue of overworked, throbbing veins mapped his face like a Picasso charcoal drawing and each breath rasped eerily in his wheezing throat.
“If I can capture it on camera then it has substantial form and I can capture it in a prison. If death can’t touch me then it will never take me.”
“Immortality?” she scoffed with incongruous candour, with an added eye-roll at the familiar dementia of a crazed maniac. “That what this is about? Haven’t you seen ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’? It’s not the length of your life that matters but the quality of it. You could live to be a thousand and never truly have lived.” She edged closer, Madden gripping the gun tighter at her approach.
“You miss her don’t you? Your Stella?” A silent tear leaked down Bill’s flustered face.
“What’s an eternity if you’re living it alone? What’s life without love, when all you love dies and decays and you carry on until you can’t face loving anything or anyone in your so called life?”
The Doctor was convulsing and hammering his left breast as he fought to neutralise the toxin in his blood. His brilliant amazing Rose was lecturing a mad man with a gun and he could do nothing but watch and pray and try to ignore the equal accusation that her word could level upon him
“Would the man Stella knew ever murder anyone? Sure you can use the excuse that the end justifies the means for your little experiment but what excuse can you use for me, eh? Can hardly point and shot while firing a gun? And look you’re missing the Doctor last breath!”
Madden turned to inspect the broken man kicking and thrusting at the air around him and Rose saw her chance. She lunged forward with a speed and valour born of basic survival and vengeance for her misdirection. She managed to knock the gun out of his hand and it went clattering and scraping across the hard wood floor.
Madden made to grab her but she used his surprise to her advantage and ducked with a well executed pouched to the ribs. He thudded to the floor wheezing as she ran to the Doctor’s side.
“Get out,” he repeated as she smoothed back his hair and cradled his face.
“Never! Doctor stay with me. Please. Fight, fight for me?” Her wide, leaking eyes shone with belief and affection.
“Goodbye, Miss Tyler.” Madden had shuffled back and reached the pistol which was now targeted again at the despairing blonde. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled as she looked on the face of her lonely angel, “Whatever. I’m ok,” she reassured, “I wouldn’t have missed this, wouldn’t have missed you for a hundred lives. You made this one matter. Regenerate Doctor, LIVE, for me.” She stood and serenely breathed a deep sigh that left her lips and eddied through the air until it kissed the loaded barrel of the gun.
Madden released the safety and squinted.
“Did you know Stella was pregnant when she died?” the Doctor shouted as time slowed, aching in its protracted pace.
With wide horrified eyes, the trigger was pulled and the projectile released.
The Doctor gripped Rose in his arms, holding her like a vice to his palpitating chest as thick flowing blood oozed and pooled a gory trail towards the spattered portraits of the dead.
The soft thump of the released pistol reverberating against the floor as silent tears of crimson blood trickled down Madden’s face, in sympathetic sorrow, from his shattered, ruptured temple.
“Doctor?” Rose sobbed with shaky breath.
“Hush love, it’s over,” he rocked her automatically in gentle, comforting arms.