PG-13, Theta/Koschei. Theta Sigma and the end of all things.
The first surprise was in the morning. Ushas woke up early, unsettled; the
room was too bare, the air too thick with silence. She didn’t linger in bed.
Dressing quickly, finding her shoes, fingers brushing the closed bud in the vase
on the table, she didn’t quite comprehend. It was only as she was straightening
the sheets, turning to leave, that she realised it was all a collection of last
times, the last night she had spent in this room, the last morning, the last day
she would see it. It was a dispassionate thought. There was nothing left of her
in this room any more – all their things had been packed, cleared up and sent on
the day before – and there was nothing in it to remember. She left.
It was still too early to go down into the citadel. She paused only a moment in
the corridor, stepping quietly into the room next door. Like her own, it was
almost bare, but there was more life in it; the sun shone down through the open
window, falling into a pool of light on the bed and its single occupant. Theta
was asleep, alone; his body was curled, cat-like, into a ball at the extreme
edge of the bed. He was facing the wall, fretful curls obscuring his eyes. Ushas
brushed them back, and felt something deliberate in his stillness.
She leaned over him, looking carefully. There was still a clear imprint of
another form on the other side of the bed, sheets barely cool to the touch. She
nodded, stepping around the room. It had lost its familiarity; the mess and
colour that characterised it was boxed away, gone. The only thing to stand out
above the blankness of walls and floor was a tiny, fluttering scrap, pinned to
the notice board. Ushas glanced at it, reading only a single line of basic
algebra. Curious, she took it and slipped it into her pocket. It could be
Theta didn’t move as the door closed quietly behind her. People were stirring
down below, footsteps were getting more audible on marble staircases, voices
echoing off the stones. She started to hurry despite herself; by the time she
entered the Panopticon, she was running. And then she had to stop to think, to
catch her breath, because the citadel was thronged with people and the room
bisected by a wall of light. Unconsciously, her mind worked out the mechanics of
the holographic projection whilst her eyes scanned down the list of names drawn
in lights, ordered by marks received. They didn’t scan far.
“Congratulations, my lady,” said a soft voice from behind her. She turned to
find Lord Borusa peering down at her, bestowing a paternal smile. “It is quite
something, to graduate with first-class honours. I am proud, but cannot say I
“Thank you, my lord,” Ushas replied. Her name was at the top of the list,
revolving in small, hypnotic lights. She smiled.
“No,” Borusa murmured, “the surprise is lower down the list.”
Ushas frowned and continued scanning. Name after name, some familiar, some not,
she didn’t pause until she reached Koschei’s name under upper second-class. She
looked up at Borusa, who shook his head.
Name after name after name… one name under third-class degrees. “Theta Sigma,”
Borusa said. “Such an intractable child. And yet, he has reserved some honour
Ushas looked up, eyes wide. “It can’t be.”
“The numbers have it, my lady.” Borusa’s eyes twinkled. “He graduated with
fifty-one percent of the available marks. The pass mark is fifty. In days to
come, only the archivists will remember the figures. All that matters is he is a
“But it can’t be,” Ushas persisted. “He showed me his results yesterday. He had
seven of the eight papers back and he’d averaged forty-four percent. It’s not
Borusa smiled. “Think about it. Congratulations, once again.”
Ushas nodded as he left her, mingling seamlessly with the crowds of students.
She leaned against the wall, looking up at the sky through the vaulted glass.
The sounds of celebration were becoming dimly perceptible from the corridors
leading back upstairs. She thought about going to join in, but decided against
it. Despite the noise, she could still feel stillness in the air; the silence,
the ending of a timeline.
Hands in pockets, she slipped to the floor, and suddenly noticed the paper scrap
secreted away earlier. Idly, she opened it, skimmed the single line of algebra.
7x = 308. Her brain supplied the solution quicker than blinking. Too simple. She
looked up, thinking. The answer to the question was forty-four. The average
across the papers was fifty-one. Much too simple.
Her eyes swam back into focus. Theta Sigma was standing in the doorway, barefoot
with robes flapping. His skin was pale, eyes bright blue in the morning
sunshine. “You got a hundred percent in your final exam,” she whispered. “Time
“The only difficulty was deciding which one to do it in,” he said, and he looked
down at her with those sun-bright eyes, but he didn’t smile.
The second surprise was late at night. The day had passed quickly, blurred into
alcohol and sugar and the contents of the bottles beneath Theta and Koschei’s
bed; Ushas was quite pleasantly mellow, thinking soft, midnight thoughts about
the beauty of the stars and the sky and the worlds out there, waiting.
A cork popped, accompanied with soft fizzing. It was a real vintage, carried
across light years – people enjoying their new privileges, undoubtedly – and the
sound of liquid sloshing brought Ushas out of herself, made her notice she was
alone. They couldn’t have gone far, she thought; then realised that today, on
all days after today, they could.
But she found them on one of the jutting balconies, almost hidden by the dark,
sharp-edged shadows beneath the parapet. She could hear both of them breathing,
ragged and undercut with words cut-off and half-spoken, and she sighed to
herself. Theta had the exhibitionist streak; Koschei indulged him, and this was
their last night together like this, under Gallifrey’s sky. They had become
depressingly easy to read, Ushas thought; their years together had moulded all
three of them into each other, made them a part of each other, timelines
inextricably knotted. She made to go.
Ushas paused and turned, hidden beneath the curtains blocking off the window.
There was something strange about Koschei’s voice, something wrong about how it
shaped the liquid syllables of the name. He had jerked away from the shadows,
and Theta had rolled off him, standing up. In the dim light streaming out, Ushas
saw blood around Theta’s mouth, on his hands. There were marks on him she hadn’t
seen in the morning.
Koschei stood up, too. He was bleeding, too. “Theta,” he said again, and it was
still strange, still wrong.
From her hiding-place, Ushas realised. It had lost the affection.
Theta leaned on the parapet, staring out at the rolling landscape, up at the
sky, and Ushas studied the ease of his movements, his grace, and felt the depth
and breadth of the change. They had been hurting each other for years, but Theta
never drew blood.
“Don’t call me that.” Theta jerked his head, curls dipping behind his shoulders.
Ushas longed to push them back, but she was afraid of him now.
Koschei couldn’t stand still. Ushas ducked out of the way as he came back into
the room, striking out blindly into the party and disappearing into the crowd.
Ushas didn’t go after him. After a moment, she stepped out. “Theta Sigma?”
He looked around. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, tiredly, and something shifted back;
she saw him as she had always seen him, layabout, troublemaker, friend.
“What happened?” she asked. She liked direct answers, mostly; Theta’s grey
shades of melodrama never sat well in her mind.
“We fought.” Theta was still staring upwards.
“You’ll make up.”
“No.” Theta smiled, his lips smeared red. “Koschei and I are too much similar,
too much exactly the same. We want more than observation, we want more than to
watch from afar. I want to see, and interfere, and live and love and change
things. I am a Time Lord. I can make things better.”
There was power in him, Ushas realised all of a sudden; the forty-nine missing
percent never made it into the page but they were still there, there in front of
her, behind those eyes in that sharp, glittering broken-glass mind.
“And Koschei, he’s a Time Lord, but he’s never outgrown his toys.” Theta
laughed. “I see that now. He’ll have the universe as his toy. But he’s had me,
and lost me, and he’ll never have anyone to play with again.”
“You’re being melodramatic, Theta.”
“Don’t call me that.” He laughed, softly, and reached out to touch her cheek.
“Don’t call me Theta Sigma any more.”
To her own surprise, she didn’t shrink from the caress; she could feel the
affection in it, the friendship that undercut years of sniping. It had never
come so close to the surface before; she thought it never would again. She
thought of Koschei, suddenly – the missing apex of their triangle, the figure
vanishing into the crowd. He was gone, but the tension wasn’t; it manifested in
kisses and in blood, always. Time Lords had long memories.
“What am I to call you, then?” she asked.
Theta’s eyes were half-closed, long lashes flickering. He looked at her, then
out across the countryside rolling down to the citadel, the night silence below
Gallifrey’s endless sky.
He sighed, licked his lips. “I’ll think of something.”