Walk Out With Me to the Unknown Region by rutsky



Summary: Given the slightest opportunity, chance, the universe’s bastard child by chaos, tends toward life.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Ninth Doctor
Characters: Jack Harkness, Unspecified Companion
Genres: Action/Adventure
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2006.09.22
Updated: 2008.09.18


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: First Interlude
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Chapter 8: Second Interlude
Chapter 9: Chapter 7
Chapter 10: Chapter 8
Chapter 11: Chapter 9
Chapter 12: Third Interlude
Chapter 13: Chapter 10
Chapter 14: Chapter 11
Chapter 15: Chapter 12
Chapter 16: Chapter 13
Chapter 17: Chapter 14
Chapter 18: Final Interlude
Chapter 19: Chapter 15
Chapter 20: Outerlude
Chapter 21: Chapter 16
Chapter 22: Chapter 17


Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Watching PotW planted seeds. One was a question: just how delicately could Rose wield the power of the Vortex? Another was Lynda. I wondered, then I wrote. I take criticism without bruising too much, and I hope it reads well enough to warrant more chapters. Would that I owned any of these characters, but they are the BBC's and always will be. Thanks for letting me enter their world for awhile.


The glass broke - shattered, really - and her scream was shocked from her by the frozen out-gassing of her air. Her eyes froze shut, but she could still see the things, the Daleks. Within seconds, both their blasts and the cold had ceased to register on what remained of her oxygen-starved consciousness. She might have had a last thought, and it might have been that life was ending just the way she'd thought it would.

--

In the drifting dark that thought was gone. So was she, for all practical purposes. The laws of the universe, physics and its dedicated disciples, mandated that she was to go elsewhere, move on, or disappear entirely. But given the slightest opportunity, chance, the universe's bastard child by chaos, tends toward life.

Lynda wasn't there, and whatever wasn't there didn't know what warmth was. Nor life. No sound, no sight, no self. Despite that, something that did not exist brushed up against something - something that was not cold, nor dead. Beyond that negative definition was nothing. Not yet.

Whatever Lynda might have been in some unimportant previous instant yearned toward the thing, which, in another nonexistent moment, coalesced into light. Gold light.

Then whatever Lynda was now - "now" having begun once again to exist - reached for the light. And the light reached for her, most cruelly.

Had it been some other power, perhaps the universe itself, she might have been gently coaxed to awareness, as her atoms were tugged together into the map of herself.

But this small golden god had no finesse, just an overwhelming need to beat against the dark and revive all within its powerful, finite reach.

So Lynda Moss was thrown back to life with a great rolling pressure. It broke and rebuilt her again and again, over and painfully over in a timeless moment. Cells pulsed again, neurons flashed messages again, blood ran again, heart and lungs functioned again, all at once, all unasked. She was a prisoner once more of causality.

She screamed a second time, the squall of a newborn, as the undiscerning brilliance re-knit reality.


--

Lynda couldn't immediately remember anything after she found herself lying on the floor, gasping for breath. Thin air knifed her lungs, providing just enough oxygen to let her brain know there wasn't enough of it.

"Unnggh."

She rolled to her knees, but couldn't stand up. The blur in front of her resolved into metal steps leading to heat scarred door panels. She scrabbled her way toward them, hauled herself up to reach the release. She slapped it, and fell forward into the hall. The doors slid shut, the escape of atmosphere largely halted. She could breath normally again.

When she could, she stood up to look around.

"Oh."

The lobby was littered with shell casings, although Lynda didn't immediately recognize them as such. She inadvertently kicked two or three of them into the wall, and flinched at the metallic retort. There appeared to be nothing else; dark floor, dark ceiling and walls, both with bars of erratically flickering light. It seemed quiet, but she felt a deep thrumming vibration in her feet and shoulders. There were no other people around.

"Hello?"

She padded down one corridor off to the lobby's right. More empty shell casings. Smoke-dark streaks against the dusty grey of one wall section. She put out a finger to touch one, discovered it was actually melted into the panel. She turned round and headed back to the lobby.

"Is anyone here? Hello?" Her voice was swallowed by the sound baffles behind each wall. She went to check a second corridor, but it was dark; the lighting had completely failed. Lynda backed out after a few steps. She stood motionless for some unmeasured period. Just staring, listening for something she couldn’t remember, trying to decide whether to make any decisions at all.

Her head pounded. She retained enough school science downloads to know it was probably because of the oxygen deprivation -

(- the glass shattered at the Daleks' silent blast, the darkness claimed her at her observation post - )

"Oh, no," she whispered. "No, no, no...." She slapped her hand to her mouth to keep the words in.

Then she shook herself like a cold puppy. "But I'm alive now."

Weight settled back into the pit of her stomach, the same weight she'd known since she'd been old enough to recognize it. If she'd ever thought to take the time to explain it to anyone, if anyone had asked her what it was, she might have said it felt like being smothered, or being pressed to the floor by unforgiving gravity, or being measured and found wanting.

--

When the lift opened, Lynda shrank back against the nearest wall.

Not a Dalek. A human, a young man; compact build, brush of brown hair, blue eyes sweeping across the lobby, then turning on her.

"Lynda?"

She didn't move.

"You know me?"

"Not so much know. But we've met."

"You're Jack...Harkness?"

"I do have that pleasure," he answered, his eyes on the move again, away from her. She was used to that. But now that she knew there was someone else here - on Game Station, yes, that was where they were - she couldn't bear the thought of standing alone in the flickering lights of this ruined lobby. She pushed herself away from the wall and approached him.

"Do you, do you know what's going on?"

"Not certain," he said shortly, adding almost as an afterthought, "I was...out of commission for a little while," - and he stumbled almost imperceptibly - "I've been checking levels for survivors. I'm done now I've found you. Let's go."

"Where? I mean, what are we going to do now?"

"In order, we're heading up to Floor 500, and we don't know, yet, not until we get our bearings. Which we're just starting to do. Save the rest of your questions just a little longer, OK?"

"Oh. Yeah, right, right. Sounds good."

Lynda put her hands behind her back, abashed, and ducked her head, shoulders hunching automatically. If Jack had looked closely at her at that second, he might have checked himself, said something heartening to her; his almost instinctive diplomatic skills would have kicked in.

No one had ever hit Lynda; not her parents, not teachers, not class bullies, not lovers. But Jack might well have noticed the bruises that weren"t there. And he would have been kind.

Instead, he asked if she'd seen anyone beside herself on this level.

"No. I, ah, just woke - well, I was in there," and she jerked her head toward the doors. "But there's nothing there. Nothing at all, actually, no air. Well, not much."

Jack snapped his fingers. "That's right! That was the observation post; I brought you here."

"You did?" Lynda stared at him, momentarily confused. "No, wait, I remember. I think."

"Dealing with a little memory loss here?" he asked. "So am I. I hate it."

"It's a bit fuzzy, yeah. Give me a sec." She grimaced, partly in agreement and partly because her head still hurt so much. "I'm a bit...I've only got bits and pieces, quite honestly. I know I was watching for something, now you mention it."

"Take it from me, you were on duty here for us. You were watching, keeping us informed of their movements."

"The Daleks."

"Right."

(She saw the brown clouds below flare into muddy spots of light, the infernos blossoming silently one after the other. A swift moving plague beneath her feet, recorded in unmercifully clear graphics on the screen before her. A coastline, a mountain range gone, continents bubbling and melting into steaming seas. No sound, just quiet apocalypse. So quiet after all the screaming down on Floor 0.)

"They sort of came from both sides, I guess," she said. She started to shiver. "They were in the hall. They were trying to burn through the door. The, uh, the flame got through a little, you know, but the door melted right over it again. I suppose that's why the air's not escaping."

He stared at her.

"Well, you see, the ones inside weren't the real problem, actually. It was the ones outside. In space. They came up on the outside, and they, they saw me, and they - " the trembling was uncontrollable now. "I couldn't hear them, but they flashed lights at me, and they shot at, you know, the windows, and then the glass broke - shattered, really."

She didn't realize her voice was rising to a thready shrillness. "My eyes froze shut, I couldn't breathe, I could, couldn't see, couldn't hear, and, oh God, something brought me back, oh no, nonono..."

Jack's eyes went wide in comprehension and he whistled low. "Sweet weeping...you got spaced. What a hell of a way to - "

He turned and wrapped one arm around her shoulders while she sobbed uncontrollably. He didn't say anything for a moment, didn't try to draw her closer, just kept that warm arm around her, absorbing and diffusing her tremors.

Lynda finally looked up, eyes red. She'd remembered something else.

"Where's the Doctor?"

Jack stiffened. "He's gone."

"What?"

"Gone," he repeated, softly now. Then he shook his head quickly, and squeezed her just as quickly, unexpectedly tapping her nose.

"Come on, sweetheart, I really don't know much more than you do at this point. But let's get back to Control. Most of the others are there. I promise we'll talk, we'll try to figure everything out. Or something, at any rate."

The lift hadn't closed, and its lighting didn't flicker. She moved as if the habit was an ill-fitting set of old clothes, but she kept going.

She was still leaking tears, she was still shaking. She clung to his kindness, desperately trying to determine what to remember and what to forget, which memory could save and which could drown her.

And she couldn't fathom the idea that the strange man in the leather jacket had gone. (Come with me, he'd said, his eyes wide in that funny face of his, his hand held out to her, so large in her field of vision.) What did "gone" mean, really, now that everything had changed?

She wiped at her eyes, and breathed out, very carefully.

"Sorry, don't mean to be so wet. It's just weird, you know?"

"Oh, don't I know it," Jack said. He made one last inspection of the floor before keying the lift shut. It hummed and lurched up. Lynda wondered if it had been damaged, or if it had always been like that.

The humming stopped, and the door slid open. "Here we go, top floor, penthouse suite," Jack said, beaming a professional grin at her. Lynda smiled wanly back, which seemed to satisfy him.

--

Control was hard to navigate. Not so much because cords and broken cables snaked over darkened consoles and pooled in untidy nests all over the floor panels, but because so many people were crowded between the console banks and the center dais.

Lynda had no way of knowing that the space normally provided comfortable room for an operations shift of 20 people, maybe 35 during Eurasian Prime. It had been nearly empty the last time she'd been there. The panic-stricken staff had fled, leaving her with the grim man shepherding her now, and the black-visaged terror who had commanded him.

And that girl. That Rose.

(Something in her yearned toward the light, and she became something again - )

"Lynda? Come on, hon, over here. Some people you might remember," Jack soothed, when she stopped, hands flying to her face as an impossible memory exploded and faded behind her eyes.

He shouldered his way through knots of people until they recognized him and drew back, tapping each other's shoulders and making way.

Lynda spotted two faces she knew - well, more or less recognized, she amended silently - as Jack guided her toward them. The two programmers who'd fallen in most quickly with Jack and the Doctor, who'd been the least afraid to stand with them. The nice boy, Davitch Pavel; she remembered that he'd introduced himself. The woman, with her dark hair, buttered rum skin, her deep eyes ... she'd never said what her name was, but Lynda remembered the sardonic crook of her smile.

They were standing as close to each other as possible, his hand hovering at her back. She wasn't looking at him, but when someone jostled the two momentarily away from each other, she grabbed for him.

"... wish I had a bloody fag, is what I said."

"Come on, Govinda, don't grouse," Davitch said. "We've got better things - "

" - to worry about, I know," the woman interrupted. "You've mentioned it, you know. But until we know what the hell to do about them, I'd like something to take my mind off everything. Harkness, there you are," she said, without missing a beat. "You found her."

"Knew I would," Jack said. "She was the last on my rounds, too, unless there's someone in the duct system. Is Meg back?"

"Not yet," Govinda said. "She called for some backup on Floor 450. Apparently someone came...back, and promptly tripped over an upended chair." She rolled her eyes. "He landed hard and managed to break a leg. And one of the contestants burned herself on wiring that got sheared by a blast; she was in one of the studios where the lights had all failed. Meg didn't tell me how bad it was, but if she needs help, I've got to assume neither of them can walk well."

It was obvious the programmer was lieutenant to Jack's captain. Lynda felt absurdly grateful. They'd barely spoken, but she remembered Govinda hadn't been cowed by the Doctor's anger; she probably could hold her own now.

"Thanks for the update. We'll wait a couple more minutes, then we'd better start this dog and pony show," Jack said. "The buzz level's getting a little hysterical again, and I don't want to risk any more fights. If folks on 80 have decided to hole up there, that's fine for now. We'll deal with them later. But first...Govinda, you remember Lynda? Lynda, Govinda Pol."

"Hello again," the female programmer said, extending her hand. "We never did get introduced."

"Yeah, well, things were a bit crazy."

"Still are. Welcome to Insanity Central," Govinda said. She leveled an appraising look at Lynda. "You OK?"

"You mean...you're talking about what...happened to me?"

"Yeah."

"I guess so," Lynda said, trying to think about the question as little as possible.

"She had a pretty tough time of it," Jack said. "Tougher than most. A little vacuum, courtesy of our pepper pot friends."

"Christ." Govinda looked ill. "Being shot's bad enough." Her voice wavered just the slightest. Davitch touched the small of her back lightly, and she shot him a grateful look. The look he gave her in return was almost painful to watch.

Lynda had seen her parents look at each other that way. Even when she'd been too little to really understand it, she'd been jealous. And bewildered by that reaction.

Jack spared Govinda a sympathetic glance before giving the room another of his panoramic inspections. "Here, let's find a little space."

He gestured to the side of the dais. Where, Lynda saw, a halo of blue light illuminated the empty space in which the Controller had stood. Her web of electronic restraints and life-support tubing hung useless and abandoned.

(Where is the Doctor, the tiny woman had asked, where is he? Her opaque eyes had swept the room as Jack's did now.)

"OK. Here's what I figure we're up against, at least for starters." Jack said briskly, as the three gathered around him. "We have about 100 people here. There's another 50 or so down on Floor 80, and we can't talk them out of the Ground Force studio, at least not until they're convinced we're human."

"Idiots," Govinda snorted before Jack continued.

"Yeah, idiots, but I'm not necessarily blaming them," he said. "Anyhow, there's 133 down on 450. Davitch, did you say a couple of them are injured, too?"

"Yes. And one of them's pregnant, apparently. She went into labor as soon as she came back," and Lynda was amazed at how calmly the tall programmer said that, "so we found someone from Health Services to see to her."

Jack swore. "Pregnant...oh, hell. That's all we need...So, we may already have 284."

"Hang on," Lynda said, shaking her head slightly. "There weren't that many left on the station, were there? I, I remember you saying there were maybe 100 left."

"That's what we thought," Davitch said, dropping his voice to a whisper and looking to see if they were being listened to. They were, Lynda saw. People were turning by twos and threes, to look their way.

"We did as fast a scan as possible under the circumstances," he continued. "But systems were already malfunctioning by the time the fleet moved in, and Govinda and I...we didn't have much experience in station diagnostics, just basic band-aid response you could say.

"The end result is that when...when things got started again, one of the people from down on 0 turned out to be Station crew. She got life signs from places we'd missed. Turns out the system problems meant the evacuation order wasn't broadcast on a couple of floors. Plus, some people didn't believe what they heard when they heard it."

"That's why I was out doing a check," Jack took up the now-hurried explanation. "Meg - a studio floor chief, she should be back soon - headed further down to see if she could talk some of the stragglers into coming up here. As far as we can tell, we've finally got a real head count. We're lucky, really...Davitch, how many did you say could have been here?"

"About 3,000, maybe 3,500. There's usually about 2,000 contestants at any given time and the rest are staff of one type or another," Davitch told him.

"So most of them made it out," Jack said.

"To Earth," Lynda said, her voice flat.

"Oh. Oh shit."

The weight in her stomach grew as she watched him connect those particular dots, stricken. She couldn't bear that. He had to be strong.

"Look, we - we're back, right?" she said, brightly. "Really, we don't know what's going on down there. Everything changed here. It could be the same down there." She stared at the other three, and tugged at her hoodie, squaring her shoulders and looking, had she only known it, quite fierce. "Maybe we weren't the only ones who got called. Called back."

"By whatever it was that did it?" Govinda looked thoughtful.

"Whatever. We're just lucky there aren't more of us here," Jack said. And even if there was perhaps a glimmer of hope in those wounded eyes of his at Lynda's words, his news was bleak.

"I have no idea how much air we've got left. There are enough breaches all over the station that it may all vent within a few hours. And there are no shuttles left in the bays."

"Oh." Davitch pressed his lips together tightly.

"Yeah. Oh. So the question, ladies and gentleman, is," and Jack's smile was grim, "are we all going to be dead again very soon, or are we going to find some way out of hell?"

tbc, one hopes

Back to index


Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Author's Notes: I've taken more time than I wanted to get this out and up, partly because I realized I'd become as fond of some of the other characters as I was of Lynda, and had to control my writerly urges; it pays to be disciplined in these matters. I went back and fixed some minor problems in Chapter 1, but none of them necessitate a reread. (They were more to set me at ease because I'm compulsive that way.) Thanks for the kind words on that chapter, and as always, these are BBC characters with whom I'm dreaming.


“What?”

With the painful accuracy of bad timing, Jack’s question hung unadorned in dead silence.

“Oh shit,” Govinda groaned.

“What did you say?” the first speaker repeated, taking two steps toward Jack. He was that man who’d argued with Jack on Floor 0, Lynda remembered. Sweat gleamed across his shaved head and dripped down his neck, dark circles of it graced his cheap jacket. “No shuttles? Oh that’s rich — d’you hear that?” he raised his voice and turned to the rest of the room. “This lot say we can’t get back to Earth!”

“Actually, I didn’t say that,” Jack said. “I said we had some potentially serious atmosphere problems, and we were about to go over our options. Pays to listen carefully when you eavesdrop.”

“Didn’t sound like you planned on talking to the rest of us,” the other man persisted.

“We were getting ready to,” Davitch said. “Really. Just calm down, alright? Look, we’re trying to get our bearings — ”

“Well, you were doin’ that an hour ago, now, weren’t you?” Sweaty Jacket interrupted, sensing weakness, pressing his advantage and looking for support to a growing audience that was drifting toward the dais. “That’s what you said you were doing when you came to get us. I don’t see you doin’ it. You were big on ordering us up here, which is stupid, because the shuttle bay is back down there, but what you got to back it up?”

The knot of people around him began to nod, and murmur.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Govinda chanted, very softly, next to Lynda.

The weight that Lynda never used to think about rolled and lurched inside her, like a stone set to drag her down through muck and bog to oblivion.

Years she’d felt it, every minute, every moment. At home, where her mother's frustration in dead end teaching had infected her; at school when download docents told her history was a useless job skill; with friends who wanted only to talk about the latest shows and were irritated or amused when she tried to talk about other things; on the shiny and efficient streets where she’d walked and ridden with crowds of other useless, unemployed dole dolls and delinquents, looking for someplace to fit.

(Lynda you’re dead sweet, he’d said. And she had died, and been free of the weight.)

Not fair, she thought with a spurt of unexpected anger. She pushed back at the weight.

“Hsshh,” she said, barely whispering herself and putting her hand lightly on the other woman’s arm. “Let the Captain take care of this.”

“Captain?” Govinda sounded as incredulous as it was possible to sound while whispering.

“Yeah.” Lynda embraced another returning memory. “Just listen.”

“The bay’s certainly there.” Jack’s agreeable drawl easily rolled over his opponent’s bluster. “But that’s about all.”
“There’s no oxygen — the bay doors are wide open and they won’t shut, not with the blast damage we’ve detected. No shuttles; you may recall we packed them with as many people as we safely could and sent them quick like bunnies down to Gran Canaria. The only reason you’re still here is because we couldn’t get a blessed one more in. Believe me, I’d have preferred that. You weren’t much help to us.”

“How much help was anyone? What good did it do? And who put you in charge, then?” the sweaty man challenged, sticking his jaw out slightly.

“I put myself in charge,” Jack responded, with another one of his professional grins. “I’m that good.” As he smiled, he did something with his shoulders and shifted his weight — so quickly, and in such a subtle fashion, that Lynda was certain no one else really noticed it — and loomed over his questioner, those blue eyes unblinking and cool. “Your name?”

“Mayhew,” the other man said. He didn’t retreat, exactly, but he looked cautious. “Roderick Mayhew.”

“Well, Mr. Mayhew, remind me exactly what you were telling everyone the last time I saw you on Floor 0,” Jack said pleasantly.

Roderick Mayhew looked chagrined, but got no chance to proffer an answer. That came from the redheaded, middle-aged woman who had just exited the lift, trailed by four men chair-carrying her injured charges.
“As I recall, he was heading the ‘They Don’t Exist, I Won’t Help You Save Me Because I’m a Whining Tosser’ brigade,” the woman said as she strode up to Jack. She eyed Roderick with distaste. “You’ve got no pull around here, chum. Sorry to be late, Harkness. I didn’t expect to take so long. Why is this idiot wasting air?”

“Meg, my dear!” Jack’s grin almost reached his eyes.

“Hey!” Roderick looked stung, and intimidated. “What right you got talking to me that way?”

“Look, you whinging prat,” she said, “You were unpleasant in the studio, you were wrong on Floor 0 and you’re in the way here. If you’re interested in getting home, I suggest you shut it and listen.”

Roderick’s mouth still hung open as the floor manager dismissed him with a contemptuous once-over.

“I take it you found who you were looking for,” she said, turning back to Jack and nodding to Lynda. “My mob are coming up, too, but it’ll take a few lift trips. The two over there will do fine, I imagine, but I think we need to strip all the first aid stations we can reach, and bring everything up here, so we have something to hand the next time we need bandages and merthiolate.”

“Not a problem. We’ll get someone on it,” he said. “But let me introduce you — Mayhew, don’t move,” he interrupted himself. “Everyone else? Can we have you up here, folks?” Then he turned back, saying, “Meg, let me introduce you to Lynda. Lynda Moss, this is Meg MacNeill, redoubtable Meg,” he said, grabbing the redhead’s hands and pulling her into his circle. “She’s one of the good guys.”

(He’d screamed at her, screamed You killed her, your freaking game show killed her! If he’d won free of the guards’ restraints, he would have snapped her neck and thrown her away and he still wouldn’t have stopped raging, crying.)

“Don’t know about that,” Meg said. “But I’m useful.”

“More than that, Megs,” Davitch said, before Govinda hushed him.

“Fun’s beginning,” Meg said. “That’s my cue to check on my little accident victims. I’m sure you’ll fill me in when I get back,” she wagged a finger at a protesting Davitch, “This isn’t my style. Harkness, I’m in the conference room with my folks. Ta.” She slid out and around Lynda and Jack, heading to the rear of the control room, then taking a left out of Lynda’s sight.

People around the control room coalesced into a wedge of listeners before the dais. The lift hissed open again, disgorging a dozen more people, and they brought up to the rear of the wedge.

“Wish me luck,” Jack said, raising an eyebrow as he jumped up on the dais.

He stood, one hand on a hip, legs spread apart, until the crowd murmurs faded into expectant silence.

“Eyes front, folks. I’m Jack Harkness, and I’m going to try to bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened. First things first; how’s everyone feeling? Glad you’re alive again?”

No one spoke. Lynda could feel the thrum of the station in her feet as she waited. How did he expect them to respond?

“Are you serious, mate?”

That came from one of the guards at the back of the crowd, a skinny man who’d accompanied Meg up from Floor 300.

“Serious as a heart attack, friend. Which, to get it out of the way, seems to be what we’re all recovering from. Fatal heart attacks, fatal burns, at least one fatal decompression. Fatal death.

“We were dead.

“I’m going to repeat what I just said. We were dead. You got that?”

To Lynda’s left, a boy started keening low in his throat. The elderly woman next to him took his hand, patting it ineffectually while she stared at Jack.

“We were killed by Daleks,” he went on. “And every single one of you knows it. What we don’t know is how, or why, we’re not dead now. Or where the Daleks are, although I’m pleased to say they aren’t here. And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care.”

People erupted, trying to catch his attention, raising their voices, shouting over one another. Jack quite matter-of-factly hoisted a very large gun he’d managed to keep out of sight somehow, and depressed the trigger. The roar and chatter impressively, and effectively, killed the infant chaos.

“Those were blanks, you know,” Davitch confided to Lynda. “That’s all he could find...all the live ammo’s used up — ” at which point Govinda kicked his ankle to shut him up.

Lynda looked from Davitch, to the gun, to Jack’s newly dumbstruck audience. Even though she’d flinched and cried out with the discharge, she was satisfied with the result. She wondered why the others were surprised at his move. Didn’t they remember how he’d done the same thing, in the time before?

An impulse made her carefully inventory the ones who still glowered, memorizing their faces. They were the ones, like Roderick, who might cause problems later. She didn’t imagine the gobsmacked ones would cause them any problems later. Nor did she question her assumption of being part of the command structure.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack said with only slightly exaggerated courtesy. “Here’s the deal. If you want to cry, I don’t blame you. If you want to scream, I don’t blame you for doing that either. In fact, I’d like to scream along with you, but I can’t afford to. So keep it short and listen up.

“The one thing I care about is getting us off this station, safely. That had better be your prime concern, too. Once we’re safe, we’re all free to try to figure out what the hell happened to us. Or not.” One corner of his mouth twitched into a lopsided smile. “Me, I plan on finding a bottle to climb into for a day or nine.”

One or two of the guards snickered; others in the room chuckled unwillingly. Jack waited for that to die down, then continued. “I rubbed our faces in the facts because I need your help to get us home, and the last thing I need is everyone trying to ignore the big damned elephant in the parlor, and paying attention to nothing else. No good worrying about life and death, if we can’t make sure we’re going to keep on living.”

Behind her, Davitch leaned over and asked softly, “Does he know what he’s doing?”

“Dunno,” Govinda whispered back. “If they don’t believe him —”

“Just back him up, OK?”

They stared at her, but Lynda knew she was right. “If he’s not calling the shots, I don’t think any of us can. Can you?”

Davitch looked at the tiny woman by his side. She looked at him, back at Lynda, and nodded almost imperceptibly. In an instant, the three of them understood they would be the Captain’s men. It might not save them, but doing anything else would doom them.

“Well, it’s been hours since...since we came up here to the control room,” Roderick spoke up carefully, respectfully. “Why haven’t you messaged...I mean, why haven’t we heard from Earth? Can’t we get them to send shuttles back up to get us?”

“We haven’t been able to raise Gran Canaria,” Jack said evenly. “We’ve been trying New Beijing, New York, even Port Auckland, but television’s dead, radio’s just static so far, micro burst is offline, we’re not even sure why our comp system’s still going.”

He wasn’t giving them an answer. Lynda suddenly knew he wouldn’t, or couldn’t do it, or thought he could find an angle that would keep disaster in check when he told them, if he only had another minute to find it, another half hour, another day, another lifetime....

Not strong enough, and that might still break her. So she had to make him strong. That’s what a captain’s man did.

The weight rolled again, impelling Lynda past her co-conspirators, toward Jack. She didn’t know that her eyes appeared as dark and bruised as if she had been physically hit, instead of simply backhanded by circumstance.

“Jack? Captain Jack?”

He looked down, guarded. Don’t put me off my game said the oblique tilt of his head, because he didn’t realize he was already off his game.

“I don’t think there’s any good time to say it,” she said, determinedly not returning his gaze as she clambered up on the dais beside him. “But, you know, it’s got to be said, really.”

She felt sick to her stomach, the way she’d been in those awful hours after being ‘matted to the Big Brother studio. But the weight was pulling her down again, threatening her again with the bog and the muck, and all that was before, and she couldn’t afford to go back.

And Jack needed re-balancing.

“Hi,” she started, then coughed to hide the quaver in her voice. She started to shake again, and then she remembered her father telling her to smile when she had something bad to say —

(— he had taken her hand and explained that no one liked a little girl who cried, and that she would be pretty if only she didn’t cry, and that she should pay more attention to ‘Mandy’s Mischief Millions’ on the Six to Eight channel, that Mandy was the kind of pretty, funny, sweet little girl who said everything so nicely, even the bad words, and would always have someone to take care of her. He should know, because he was in the entertainment business — )

“Hello!” She waved at the people in front of her. “I’m Lynda; I mean, my name is Lynda Moss. I was on lookout when the Daleks attacked the station. I was helping Jack and the Doctor. D’you remember the Doctor? He...he was helping defend us.”

Most wouldn’t, she suspected. But some would; perhaps a few programmers who’d been on 500 when she, Jack and the Doctor had stormed through the lift doors, threatening havoc.

‘Well, anyway, I was watching when the Dalek ships came.

“And they, they...they hit Earth.”

“Are you insane?” Roderick had elbowed his way even further to the front, and his eyes went wide as he spoke, then narrowed in suspicion. But he kept an eye on Jack and said nothing more.

“Oh. Yeah. I mean, no, sorry to say,” Lynda replied. She shrugged and hunched unthinkingly, the way she’d done over two decades of making excuses for herself and others, then shook herself and straightened. No.

“I’m sorry, really sorry, to say this, but the Daleks attacked Earth. I think they used atomics. Fusion missiles. I watched and they hit everywhere.”

“Where?” asked the older lady. She was still holding the boy’s hand.

“They hit Australia,” Lynda said. “They hit Eastamrika, the coast near New York, so that’s New York down, and I saw them hit east in the Asian Complex. That’s why we’re not raising New Beijing, I’d imagine.

“They didn’t get south of the Angolan desert, so maybe the Namibian Metropolitan is there,” she continued quickly, holding back her own resurgent horror. “Then again, the Metropolitan Hierarchs wouldn’t answer our calls, I mean they haven’t communicated with anyone for the last 26 years, so why should they now?

“And Greater Scotland’s gone,” she said. “Glasgow, Liverpool, Dublin, even Little London.

“So, what I’m trying to say,” she said, rigid in her determination not to fall apart again, “is that the reason we can’t raise anyone on radio or telly or micro is that I don’t think anyone’s there.”

The elderly woman sagged, and grabbed at the boy she’d been comforting. Someone sobbed over by the terminals. The rest was silence, and the thrumming of the station in her feet and her shoulders. Jack’s face was unreadable.

“What about transmat?” the skinny guard in the back called, as if she hadn’t spoken. “There are hundreds of one-man ‘mats, one in every studio, at least. I know they’re supposed to be one-way, but couldn’t we reprogram them?” He looked pale and sick.

“Didn’t you hear her?” Govinda turned and shouted. “Even if we could do that, and I can tell you they built anti-escape protocols into the ‘mat programming to prevent that sort of thing, where would we go?”

Davitch took a deep breath, then jumped up on Jack’s other side, dragging an astonished Govinda with him. “Sorry, Jack,” he said quickly. “Didn’t know what she was going to say, you know? But then perhaps it’s best done quickly, eh?”

“Look, folks,” he said, turning front again. “I’m afraid Lynda’s right. But we’re putting together a plan,” and he made the lie sound confident. Lynda saw Govinda’s surprise turn into admiration for the tall man’s nerve. “The first thing is the atmosphere problem, and we need everyone from Operations to come up front to help us. Ops — is there anyone from Station Ops?”

“Yes, here,” a woman hesitantly put up her hand. She looked sullen and frightened.

“Good. Would you come up to the front? Thanks,” Davitch said, looking sideways at Jack to catch any cues. Jack’s silence suggested permission to continue.

“If you’ve got any suggestions..uhm, there should be some write-rewrite pads next to some of the terminals. Share them....” he trailed off, obviously out of ideas, at least for the moment.

Jack touched Davitch’s shoulder, a tiny, grateful brush of fingers, and took over again.

“Once we’ve pinpointed all the vents, next step is to patch what we can and move away from the ones we can’t patch. We’ll get a team on that, while we send another crew to bring the last survivors up here. We’ll give them the word that they have one chance with us, or they can suffocate on their own.” No one protested the brutality. “Then we look for our next stop.”

“Where the hell’s that gonna be,” Roderick asked, but it was more to himself than anyone else.

“The colonies.”

This time, Jack’s look was very readable.

“No, really,” Lynda said, momentarily unsure that she’d said that aloud. “Simple, really. I mean, there’s no where else to go, right?”

Another long silence, rescued at the last moment by Jack. Lynda was certain only she and Govinda could see how angry he was. And Davitch, who seemed to be hyperventilating.

“She’s right, people,” Jack said, sparing her a long glance that promised nothing pleasant at all, “Next stop, the stars.”

Back to index


Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Author's Notes: Sorry I took so long putting this third chapter together...longer than it took to write the second because I spent time researching things that ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. However, the one colony named does have its roots in a real star system: Tau Bootis, one of the few discovered so far that astronomers believe have planets. Of a sort. But that's where poetic license enters the picture. I edited the beginning of the chapter to make the facts consistent with Bad Wolf, since I don't want to be an idiot. I also corrected Jack's century count. Twice. And, as of 16 June, '08, thanks to ERNest for catching the second math mistake!


"Why can't we target Luna as a destination?"

Jack sucked morosely on the last of a chicken leg held in one hand as he drew and redrew meaningless squiggles on his pad with the other.

From the love seat, Davitch and Govinda shared puzzled looks.

Govinda shook her head. "It's been off limits for 50 years, that's why. Kill programs built into all the Luna satellites would fry us whether we tried transmat or physical approach."

"Wait, wait, wait," Jack said. "I spent a little quality time with your security people and one of them told us we were going to the Lunar colony -- " He sagged, rubbed the back of his neck. " No, don't tell me. I don't even want to know..."

Govinda looked at him oddly again. "Hello? The Towboud plagues? The war refugee ships? Oh, come on, don't be daft...they packed the refugees into Luna when they turned up, and left them there with a ship full of meds, then reprogrammed the satellites to keep any live traffic from getting out or in. Don't know if anyone's left. Probably all liquified now. It was a Quad A level plague, half-life stuff. No way I'd go down there, even if we could neutralize the satellites.

"They moved the prison to Deimos, but since that's a moon, they just kept the name," Davitch added. "Oh, and it goes without saying, the Towboud system's off limits."

"Nice disaster management," Jack said, leaning back against the sofa, "Triage is a bitch around here, obviously. Alright. Scratch Luna. But you're telling me you can't message out of the solar system?"

He was sprawled in exactly the same spot the Doctor had chosen when they'd first begged him to come into the livingroom, Lynda noted as she set the tea tray down among the other serving bowls.

"It's not that we can't," Davitch said, finishing his own chicken and turning to the pasta. "We just don't know what state that part of the grid is in, or how to get it up and running. Iris is going to have to tell us."

"Yeah. It's not a question of knowing how to contact Glasgow or Ellayex - that's easy," Govinda said.

"In-system, everything's easy," Davitch agreed. "But Sol-Out grid mechanics just aren't my field. Can you hand me the chutney?"

"Here." Jack handed the bowl to him. "You put that on spaghetti?"

"Yes, thanks," Davitch said. "It's a guilty pleasure...anyhow, the station's hooked into general Sol comm grids, at least normally. Anywhere from Gran Canaria to Mars Volta or Triton, even the Beltway communes, at least after the revolt was put down."

"I remember that!" Lynda said, delighted at finding something to say. "Mum and I watched all that on Outerbelt News for a week when I was 10; she was helping me with my school social entertainment project, and I wanted to do it on the communes," Lynda said, reaching in past Davitch to grab her plate, but avoiding Jack. "Failed the assignment, though. The docent told me it was rubbish...said I didn't have any grasp of demographics."

Jack looked at her wordlessly. She subsided and concentrated on her food.

"Oh, this is good," Govinda said, plucking a strand of chutneyed pasta from Davitch's plate.

"You know, this is the first time I've ever eaten in one of the studios," Davitch said. "Don't know why I didn't think about, you know, contestants cooking and eating."

"It was one of the nice things. They gave us anything we wanted in the kitchen," Lynda said. "Here, let me do that."

She poured Govinda's tea, and handed it to her. "The fridge was completely packed at first, because there were so many of us. 'Course it thinned out pretty quickly," she added softly.

Despite her best intentions, she couldn't keep from shrugging, and smiling up at the other three with the hopeful grimace she'd always hated. "Crosbie made the chutney," she said, remembering against her will. "She was wizard in the kitchen," she said, feeling the prickle of imminent tears. "Best of all of us."

(I'm sorry, Crosbie had said, as if she had to apologize to Lynda and Strood for having lost. As if everyone didn't know the remaining two weren't sick and giddy with relief that it was her, that they weren't walking out into that hateful white corridor, that they weren't dizzy with shame for being so glad, as if they didn't know they'd go into their rooms after the kill, and Strood would sob himself to sleep as he always did, that she'd throw up everything she and Crosbie had cooked that night, and keep on dry-heaving, even knowing that the cameras were greedily recording every second.)

"Look," Govinda said as she took the cup, "we've only got a few more minutes. Meg's team has probably moved everyone through the cafeteria and finished patching people up. We've got to go back there with something. Can we focus? Where's Iris?"

"In the head," Jack said. "Lynda, go get her."

"Me?"

"Yes." He didn't look at her, just kept stabbing at his write-rewrite pad with the stylus.

"Oh. OK."

She backed out of the living room, while her obedience curdled into humiliation.

She'd put her foot in it with the Doctor's friend.

He'd smoothed the chagrin off his face after she'd talked about the colonies, but under cover of the audience's tentative applause he'd grabbed her arm and whispered, "What are you thinking? How the hell can we get out there when we can't even get out of orbit?"

She'd stared at him, startled, but he'd already turned away from her to address the crowd again.

"We're going to take a little break, folks, but for a good reason. You hungry?"

He had been rewarded with more applause, enthusiastic this time. "Meg MacNeill is going to get all of you down to the staff cafeteria for a little something. Don't worry, it's safe, no atmosphere vents there. Hold on and she'll be with you in a moment. Fuel up, try to relax, even though I know it's impossible, and let's reconvene here in - " he'd checked his watch - " two hours."

He had jumped off the dais, and the three of them had trailed him through the crowd as he collected the female Ops staffer and walked with her to the conference room, crooking his finger back at them above his head.

"Why'd you say that?" Govinda had asked.

"It was the only logical thing to say," she'd responded helplessly.

"Right," the other woman said. And she'd sighed.

Jack had ducked into the conference room to alert Meg about her new duty, then signaled the rest of them to the lift.

"We need privacy," he'd said, once the door had slid shut.

They'd looked at each other, and Lynda had finally ventured, "We could go back to our apartment. The Big Brother studio where I was, I mean. We have food there."

"Fine," Jack had said, sparing her only a terse nod before turning his smile on again, in the newcomer's direction. "Davitch, Govinda, this is Iris Anders. Ms Anders - do you mind if I call you Iris?"

"Oh. No," the woman had said, with a flatness that argued otherwise; apparently Jack's charm wasn't foolproof.

Iris Anders was older than any of them, perhaps 55, showing the results of a sedentary life spent in front of a computer terminal. Her greying hair was pulled back into an untidy bun, and the nervous habit she had, of picking at the hem of her salmon-colored sweater, made Lynda want to capture her hands and hold them still.

"Well, Iris, fill us in on what you do, and what you know."

"I...I'm in Sitem," she said. Seeing Jack's raised eyebrow, she'd added, "Sorry. SITM - Station Information Tech Maintenance. We handle programming code and mech upkeep for all the station communications grids."

"Bingo!" Jack had crowed. "You're just who we were looking for! I could kiss you!"

"Please don't," Anders had said.

"So what can you tell us? About getting word to the colonies?" Davitch had leapt into the slightly awkward silence.

She hadn't answered before the lift doors opened.

"This way. I hope we can get in," Lynda had said, as cheerfully as she could.

"Be nice." Jack's tone was chilly.

"No, well, I'm sure we can. The Doctor - he seemed to think the doors wouldn't lock again, after he wasn't, uhm, killed. He was free to go."

Jack's flinch and almost simultaneous bark of unhappy laughter had been unsettling.

Lynda had been glad her hunch about the door was right, but walking back into the garish apartment had made her stomach lurch. She'd wondered with a brief irritation why the human gut was so vulnerable to unhappiness, then headed to the kitchen to scare up some kind of meal. Everyone else had ensconced themselves in the livingroom.

--

Forty minutes later, the spaghetti and fried chicken she'd rescued from the back of the fridge were almost history. Davitch and Govinda seemed to relax, sitting next to each other on the sofa. Govinda put her head on Davitch's shoulder after taking one last bite, and his face almost shone with happiness. But Jack's face was still a storm cloud as Lynda hurried down the short hall.

I won't worry about that, she thought, slipping back into what her mother had always called 'Lynda's chirpy mode.' We have to focus on other things, and that's good, that's fine. She resolved, again, to make herself useful. Jack would have to thaw, wouldn't he?

"Iris?"

"Yes. I'll be out momentarily."

"Fine. They...we need you out in the livingroom.?"

The bathroom door opened and Lynda found herself face to face with Anders. She stepped back involuntarily, stiffening at the indefinable opacity of the older woman's eyes. They were a cloudy green, with something swimming in them that brought Lynda?s hands up to her chest in an instinctive protective gesture.

"Did I surprise you?"

"A little," Lynda recovered, for some reason not wanting Anders to know how unnerved she was. "Lost in thought, I suppose."

"There's a lot to think about," the other said. "Not very pleasant things."

Lynda's automatic surge of sympathy trumped her momentary unease. "Oh, I know. I've been spending a lot of time not thinking about things. But right now we can concentrate on solving problems, and if we think about solving problems, the...the other things can wait. Not that we don't have a big job ahead of us, but my mum always said you can get just about anything done if you break every big job down into little jobs."

"Mm."

"Wish we had more like your mum here," Govinda said, raising her head a little guiltily from Davitch's shoulder as she heard them come into the room. "I've got to tell you, I'm scared shitless thinking about what we've got to do."

"Communication's the key, I suppose," Davitch said, rearranging himself on the sofa. "And that's what Iris can help with." He patted the sofa cushion as an invitation to the older woman.

She sat down and looked about very carefully, before saying, "Unfortunately, I can't. I can't help you contact the colonies, I mean." She said nothing more.

Lynda risked a look at Jack, then checked Davitch and Govinda. They looked shocked.

"Explain, please." Jack was polite, but determined.

"The station grid has neither direct beam capabilities out-system, nor is it integrated into the Sol-Out grid. It's connected to Earth's regular grid, which then normally routes it to a Sol-Out node. But we are cut off from Earth now, obviously," Anders said. "Even if we weren't, Sol-Out has been down for the last three weeks."

Davitch looked like he'd been hit with a hammer.

"Down?" Jack's focus was knife-edged.

"I don't actually know much about the problem," Anders said, folding her hands carefully together on her lap. "Just what I read in the morning bulletins."

"Hold it right there," Govinda held a hand up before looking narrowly at the Ops staffer. "First off, every grid has back-up systems. I'm not surprised that everything conked out in this case, but cobbling something together from what's undamaged...hell, even I can help with that."

She ticked another finger. "Second, we should still be able to hook back into Sol-Out, since it isn't noded just on Earth. There's an automated node on Luna.

"Third, station management would have been in full panic mode if Sol-Out went down for that long. We would have known - we get a million complaints when the flares interrupt broadcasts, for heaven sakes! There wasn't word one, not in Scheduling."

Govinda glared, daring Anders to gainsay her.

The SITM woman just shrugged. "As I've said, I don't know what the original Sol-Out problem was, or is. I don't know why there weren't any complaints, because we didn't deal with that sort of thing. And I can't say why Scheduling never saw fit to tell you people. But it's true."

"No matter," Jack said, looking increasingly beleaguered. "We'll cross the Sol-Out bridge when we come to it. First things first. Govinda's right; we salvage what we can from the main and backup regular comm grids, get it online. Next," he said, turning to the petite programmer, "Are we reasonably sure the Luna node's operating? Even after 50 years of quarantine?"

"Should be. They're designed to last centuries; most of the basic maintenance could be done at a remove."

Davitch nodded. "Right...we get our grid up, rig a patch into Luna Sol-Out and send the message that way."

"You can't. Even if you get the regular grid up, even if you figure a patch to beam it to Luna node, Sol-Out is still down," Anders said again. "And I assure you, I'd need a full team to do anything you've suggested. And you've only got me, I'm afraid. No, Game Station has been effectively isolated."

Lynda knew satisfaction when she heard it, although Anders' affectless delivery didn't wobble for a second.

"You can't do anything?" Jack was controlling his spiraling anger only with difficulty.

"No."

"You mean to tell me this entire operation - beaming hundreds of hours of programming across hundreds of light years to the far flung human family and its relatives for fun and profit - isn't even properly integrated into the system designed to send it?"

"That is correct."

"You had, for lack of a better analogy, a tin can and a piece of string, tied to a bigger can and longer string? Which broke?"

"The analogy is weak, but yes," Anders replied. Her eyes weren't cloudy now; they glittered.

"That's swell. That is truly wonderful." Jack threw a very well-gnawed chicken bone at his plate. He missed, and it rolled off the table.

"Here, let me get that," Lynda started to lean forward from her perch on the side of the sofa.

"Leave it!"

She reared back, out of the way of his rage. "Sorry."

"Steady on, Jack," Davitch protested mildly. "She was only trying to help."

"I don't need any help with a goddamned chicken bone! I need a little help figuring out why, in the 2002nd century CE, the so-called Fourth Great and Goddamned Bountiful Human Empire has a communications set-up suited to the goddamned 19th century! One thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three goddamned centuries! Mother of God!"

They all stared at him as he bolted to his feet and stalked into the kitchen. Anders tilted her head as she watched the others, who looked at each other, then to the kitchen.

"Mr. Harkness, you would do well to remember that this world has fallen and risen so many times that any semblance of linear history is a fraud," Iris Anders said calmly. She had stopped picking at her sweater. Now she rose from her chair and moved toward the door.

"This world borrows from its past failures again and again," she went on, her earlier reticence evaporated, her expression cold and assured. "How many Englands reborn how many times? How many Namibian Metropolitans? How many Asian Complexes? How many oceans dried, ploughed under and refilled with new salt water? How many continents pushed back into old profiles? Nothing new. You find this technology because Earth found it, each time humans reinvented themselves, every single useless time.

"I'm afraid I can't help you."

She walked out and the door clicked shut.

The ensuing quiet made it impossible for Lynda to ignore the station thrum she'd grown to hate. She suddenly longed for the bone-rattling music that had once made Big Brother life that much more unbearable.

No one said anything for a long minute.

"Christ on a crutch." Govinda finally breathed, looking at the ceiling.

"This doesn't make any sense," Davitch said. He blinked very rapidly, as if he were trying to process too many programs at once.

"Guys, I'm sorry."

Jack walked back into the livingroom. He looked old, his pale skin grey. He scrubbed at his face with both hands and Lynda saw that his nails were bitten to the quick. Was that new? She put her hand out and, after a second, he took it. His grip was desperate.

Davitch stood up and started clearing the table. "Captain -"

"I'm no captain," Jack said quietly. "I'm useless."

"Captain," Davitch repeated, very deliberately. "The useless one just walked out."

(Your project was absolutely fine, darling, her mother had said. The docent is a fool. She had felt so loved as her mother lit a cigarette and dismissed the class report with one flick of her well-manicured hand. No one understands history anymore. You are the best student I've ever seen. I can educate you myself if it comes to that. Her father had said nothing, just rolled his eyes, but she wanted to believe her mother.)

"We can do this. I'm a tyro, I know," Davitch said. "But I'm not stupid. I have no idea why she strung us that line of...well, it's absolute rubbish, if you ask me. No idea in the world. But I know there's a way to make our grids do what we need them to do."

"Damned straight," Govinda said. She got up and started helping Davitch clear up. "We don't need her. She was a miserable prat, and a Facilitator to boot." She didn't sound as sure of herself as Davitch did, but she wasn't going to give any ground, either. "Here, Harkness, you want to make yourself useful? Take these out to the sink."

"Facili-wha?" He grabbed at the dishes. "What did you call her?"

"You really must live under a rock or something," Govinda said, following him out, and filling the sink. "Don't know why, but I hate leaving dirty dishes around."

"Consider me ignorant," Jack said. "Facilitator?"

"Typical religious rot. Facilitators are Believers of some sort. Been around for ages, but they don't tend to mix. Make a big deal of talking about humanity's failings, need to change, isolation and penance and blah-blah-blah, but they make a lot of money for themselves by selling information programming. There were a lot in SITM; not surpising, I suppose, all that precious information."

"Archives!"

Lynda couldn't help her shriek; she blurted it out as the other woman's comment hit her hard enough to strike a spark.

"The hell?" Jack almost dropped the plates he was ferrying kitchenward.

"We've got archives! You talk about information, well, where's the best information? Archives! I'll bet we could find lots of station information in one of them. I'll bet there's something we could use!"

Govinda's answering smile was beautiful, Davitch's almost beatific.

"Holy - "

Jack whooped, tossed the dishes at the sink, and pumped a fist in the air. Lynda put her hands to her mouth in delight.

"Sweetheart, I am such a schmuck. Such a schmuck!" he said to her. "Forgive me?"

"Absolutely."

His quick hug was an anodyne for everything, at least for awhile. Jack, ever generous with affection, bestowed two more to each of his other companions.

One Captain, three captain's men, back in business.

"Would Archive Six be the best place to start? We have to head back up to the control room anyway," he said.

"Don't see why not," Govinda said, walking to the couch to retrieve her own write-rewrite pad. "And we'd best get up there now. We've got just under an hour before -"

" - before the dog and pony show begins again," Jack finished.

"Excuse me?" Govinda grinned. "You used that before...what does it mean?"

"A little phrase I picked up in my travels. A vacation in Tijuana, actually."

Her look was measuring. "Captain, when we have a minute, I'd like to hear about your travels."

Jack's eyes shuttered, but he still smiled. "Minutes? In short supply, I'm afraid. Let's get going."

--

It was a relief to leave the apartment. They walked along the corridor toward the main lobby, Jack a pace in front.

Lynda smelled it first.

"Is something burning?"

As she looked around to see if she could spot the source, the beam flashed past her face. The world turned sharp, and clear, and red, as if she saw it through a ruby.

"Wha - ?"

The hiss of burning wall.

The hot plastic stink.

The wail of a surprised security alarm.


"Down!"
Jack whirled, knocked Davitch to the ground, reached back and grabbed Govinda without looking, shoving her behind and under him as he hit the floor.

Lynda was still marveling at the incarnadine beauty of the first beam when the second hit her, burning through her right cheek.

She watched the wall slide and bubble as the pain stopped her lungs. Ruby turned garnet, paled to topaz, flashed white.

The clatter of something dropped, footsteps receding somewhere unseen.

White light melted into darkness.

tbc


Back to index


Chapter 4: First Interlude

Author's Notes: She is as necessary to this story as the Captain and his men, and I love her almost as much as I do them.


Once upon a time a child was born. She had red hair, and the blue of her baby eyes was like the pale clean sky above the clouds. She had fair skin and her genes determined that she would be tiny boned, a bird of a woman, when she reached maturity.

Her genes condemned her, although her parents didn’t think so. That their little girl would aid the cause was a surprise. When they were told her mind fit the proper parameters, that she could multi-task in a way which could be nurtured and grown into something stronger and more flexible than any manufactured grid, and that she could thus serve in the war, they cried with joy.

They carefully erased all the little girl’s records. They deleted everything that carried the name they had given her at birth. They scoured their home and burned all her pictures. They got rid of all her toys, all her clothing.

They told her grandparents she had died, and put a lot of money into the funeral so that they could grieve properly.

They went with her to their superiors, and their superiors forgave them the few tears they cried, because they were only human. Her mother hugged her very tightly, and kissed both her cheeks, and turned away despite the little girl’s calls. Her father didn’t stay to hold or kiss her. Half an hour later, they happily submitted to a brain wipe, and went home. For the rest of their lives they thought their baby had died of meningitis encephalitis. They never had another child.

The little girl was taken from that place, to a metal room, where they put a mask over her face, and the chemical smell filled her with nausea and terror before she fell into the dark. While she slept, they opened her skull, used their scalpels and lasers and other marvelous tools to accelerate what the accidents of DNA had started. Because her brain was small, there were some necessary nips and tucks, but nothing that her masters needed was damaged.

When she awoke, she did not remember her previous life, or toys, or pretty clothing, or her mother’s kiss. Instead, she wanted to learn, with a strength and ferocity totally out of place in a four-year-old human. That was because the surgeries had, for lack of a better term, cross wired her mind until it was irretrievably lost to its original purpose.

She could not see. Or rather, she could no longer see as humans did, venturing instead into the ultraviolet and infrared spectra, and beyond. She did not hear quite the way people did either, listening instead to the whispers of light waves and the hiss of x-rays and other waves which by rights she should never have experienced.

Her DNA had carried wondrously mathematical potential. Scalpels, lasers and chemical manipulation now allowed her to see the patterns in everything. She could intuit them, examine and analyze them, in the time it took to blink or breathe. Her abilities would eventually dwarf the primitive skills of chess masters or stochastic navigators.

The little girl could now, of course, think faster than the machines around her. Her storage capabilities were stretched to unhuman capacities. Now she could be force-fed an immeasurable flow of information. In fact she whimpered with need when she was not, because the surgeries she was given meant that, unless she had a constant stream of information flowing from grids into her own mind, she would feel hunger, and thirst, and pain.

She was fitted with a tracery of neuronic transponders, in a series of very painful operations. The surgery need not have been painful, but it was considered right that the little girl experience penance for being human.

Finally, she was made more efficient. Her ovaries and uterus were removed, because she would not need them. Her leg and back muscles were enhanced to prepare her for her work. Her skin was thickened to ensure it would take an ever-growing number of incisions without breaking down.

Her masters were pleased, after their own fashion, which is not to say in any way that a human would understand.

Her transformation took a year, after which she was taken from that place to her permanent home. By then, she had become used to intubation and catheters caring for her bodily intake and excreta. She had long since lost awareness of her legs and arms, which was a mercy since she was to stand, unmoving, entangled in wires, for the rest of her life.

As she grew in her new home, the grid-suit she wore was replaced with a larger one. She wasn’t taken down off the dais for that change, or any of the four or five others that came later. She did not care that she was stripped naked in front of dozens of uninterested eyes by technicians who paid careful attention to her stents and shunts, and ruthlessly cut back the red hair on her head to make room for more wire contacts before fitting the new green suit on her. Her only care was that her daily feed was interrupted, and the lack hurt terribly.

When everything was working correctly, the girl was on fire. She was learning, and passing on information, schedules and visions and downloads and directions to nodes that looked to her like sparkling diamonds and illuminated lace. Her body shivered in pleasure, the closest thing to relief she would ever know, even as she ached constantly and burned with pain that accompanied each surge of blood in her veins, each download of information.

Her masters could have found a more efficient way of tapping into the communications grids of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire. But it pleased them to use her, the last and only successful human node, as it had pleased them to transform the newly-dead into terminal relays one hundred years earlier. It soothed their anger, after the painfully unexpected setback of the Jagrafess and Satellite Five. It soothed their fear.

And when she hurt the most, and craved the pain because it signaled another information dump, they were as pleased as their kind could be.

When she was 12, the technicians changing her grid suit and checking her catheters were caught in an unexpected power outage, the result of some undiscovered corrosion in wiring underneath the dais. Rather than being away from her feed for only 10 minutes, she was isolated for 48 minutes.

The pain was incredible. She shuddered and wept silently at first, then cried out, her voice scraped and ugly because she was not used to speaking much above a whisper. Her arms and legs thrashed, or tried to, despite their atrophy and their rigor. Then she convulsed.

The convulsion sent unanticipated rivers of adrenaline flowing to every part of her body. It also re-wove some neural pathways that had been severed by her original surgeries. That should not have happened.

She remembered. Not her parents or her earlier life or her name or days when she could walk and see like those who used her, or even those who made her.

She remembered that she should have a name. She remembered that she hurt and that she didn’t want to hurt, and that there was no ameliorating pleasure with the agony.

For years she had felt only physical pleasure and pain intertwined, and had been capable only of delirious joy in seeing, reading, passing on messages, being a medium and feeling the message.

Now, with adrenaline-fueled bridges between cerebrum, cerebellum, medulla oblongata, her palette was forcibly broadened.

She hated it. And when she realized that hate felt different than the pain or the pleasure, she was intrigued. She examined the hate, and named it.

And she was curious, and that felt different, too. After she named curiousity, she felt wonder. Once she had named wonder, she went looking for other things to name. It took days and days and weeks inside her head, although it was really only 48 minutes before the panicked technicians infused her with painkillers and sedatives, got her re-wired and then flushed the sedatives from her system to get her back to work.

By the time that happened, she had named hate, curiousity, wonder, anger, fear, determination, cunning and loneliness.

When she tried to do more, she thought of her masters, and looked along all her many glittering lattices and nodes to find their names. That tripped a failsafe they had placed in her mind years before, and she convulsed again.

The technicians were still in the control room, and they fell over themselves to get back to her and shoot her full of painkillers and sedatives again, while the Control room day shift tried in vain to compensate for their lack of schedule feeds. The technicians almost killed her, although they didn’t realize it.

But she was grateful, because while her conscious mind was numbed with their chemicals, the rest of her mind was freed again. She had time to name peace, and power, and glee, and several other things her masters would not have wanted her to learn about.

Just before the techs flushed her system yet again, she had time to name herself, but she buried her name as far beneath the layers of detritus in her mind as possible. She had determined that those who had made her as she was would take away nothing else from her, ever again.

She couldn’t laugh, but it would have been appropriate.


Back to index


Chapter 5: Chapter 4

Author's Notes: Finally! This one's a little scattered, but I'm reasonably certain it will hold together. I must credit one phrase ("god on a blue surfboard") to a linguistic genius on the TWoP Battlestar Galactica boards. Bless you, whoever you are!




Space is silent, according to the laws of physics, strangled by vast distances between molecules, motionless without vicinity to aid the quivers that Newton lined up and explained.

But nothing really ever complies with the laws of physics, not when chance and chaos beckon. One just has to look for breaches; they’re all there, masquerading as reality.

Stars can hiss hello and goodbye to the right instruments, solar winds and arcs of flame sending greetings out across vast distances.

Pulsars, quasars, the cruder announcements of planetary movements, the occasional whir and ebb of stray comets, streaking in from blackness to seek the clicking warmth of suns, the whisper of clouded nebulae, black and shadowed and colored with noise and light.

Man-made things, too, are noisy in space.

Satellite Five. Game Station.

The metal and plastic, girdered and wired and soldered and extruded in a frenzy of construction, fraught with deadlines and purpose, now seemed silent. It turned soundlessly on its axis and circled the orb below — not quite so elegantly as planets and star systems, its celestial betters, completed their appointed rounds. But well enough.

Lights once bejeweled it, ships once approached and departed, moving along the lifeline to Earth. People once worked there, serving up meals, toting up monthly supply invoices, making news, tightening screws, finding entertainment, doing system diagnostics, sweeping floors, watching screens, cleaning lavatories, planning sweeps weeks, selling painkillers, kidnapping contestants.

That was before everything changed.

First the twisting and scraping of an old blue box tumbled into where it didn’t belong. Then the gold and blue of beautiful ships, moving in and bleeding shiny soldiers in rivers towards the living station. Which led, eventually, simply to bleeding, and crying, screams, shouts and whispers, groaning, and an end to noise. Then the gold and blue of loving, destructive, resurrection, so impudent in the face of what was to have been, all done with one song winding round, enthralling and freezing entropy, singing impossibility to success, bringing new noise to fruition. Breathing, and talking, and whispering and crying, and sometimes laughing.

And underneath, the noises that had never stopped; the creak of shifting plates, the hushed currents of air pushed up and down through scrubbers and filters and fans, the legato and staccato of machinery cycling through each appointed round of duty, each varying mission, the 60-cycle hum of systems in abeyance.

The silence in that hall — after the beam’s crackle, after the shouts, after the clang and echo of footsteps, as they held their breaths and lay close to each other waiting for the alarms to stop — was a fraud. If they had been calm enough to listen closely, the echoes of echoes would have come to them. They slipped out from behind loosened wall panels, pulled through forgotten tubes and tunnels, climbed up ladders not included on general Game Station schematics. Someone trained to listen might have noticed how uneven the echoes were, as if whatever generated them was stumbling, tripping.

Jack had the training, but even training fails under the weight of enough weariness and sorrow, enough fear. Govinda and Davitch were aware only that they had to protect each other, blessed with the tunnel vision of panic and love. Lynda knew nothing.

Take away the weariness, soothe the sorrow, kill the fear, and Jack would have followed echoes of echoes on near-silent feet. He would have found the panel, back on the wall, but not flush with it, something his eye would immediately have spotted.

He would have removed it, carefully, and inspected the dark way before him, lit haphazardly with old lights, dirty green and flickering red bulbs.

He would have moved back into the hall to use his comm without alerting his prey. He’d have called Meg, and she would sent her men down to help, quietly, as he ordered.

He would have removed his shoes and tied them to his belt, so as not to cause reverberations of his own, and very warily followed the echoes up to a tiny elevator cab newly descended from above, having delivered its passenger.

Jack might or might not have gone on from there. He certainly would have seen the tiny sign tucked away on one thin girder of the cab, because he was trained to notice things like that. He’d have seen the neat “Floor 80" on it, with some indecipherable hieroglyph stenciled next to the words.

If he’d looked at that glyph closely, it might eventually have become decipherable, and then his heart might have lurched with fear, or rage.

None of that happened.

Instead Jack stood up, recovering from the sprawl he had used to cover his two companions. They stayed on the floor a second or two longer, clutching each other and breathing shallowly. Then they, too scrambled to their feet, still too shocked to say anything. Jack turned to Lynda’s tumbled body, surprise and dismay in his quick curse.

He used his comm to tell Meg to lock down the cafeteria floor if the security protocols could do that by now. He wanted no one moving from where he knew they were. He told Meg the truth, that someone had shot at them. He told her to hang tight, keep cool. Meg shouted questions until he snapped at her, then cut the comm and dropped to a crouch beside Lynda. He rolled her over on her back, grimaced at the white and red blistered gouge on her cheek. Behind him, the two programmers took up positions watching both ends of the hall.

Once Jack determined that her pulse was steady, he and the others pushed, pulled and lifted Lynda back the way they’d come, not an entirely smooth operation.


-- -- -- -- --


“ — at the hell can we do?”

“Besides staying out of the way of the next shot?”

“Don’t be funny, Jack. I’m serious.”

“I know. Hold on, I’ve got Meg on the horn. Meg, has Orrin been able to get a bead on the...no, no, I understand. Look, we’re coming up. I want to look at whatever he’s been able to piece together from surveillance. Give us 10 minutes. No, I told you, we didn’t see who did it.”

“Ask her did she see any extra guns.”

“Hold on, Meg...Davitch, she’s not going to know anything about guns. Hsieh and Roger said they’d accounted for everything.”

“Well, obviously they hadn’t.”

“Yeah, you think?”

Suspended in the weightless moment between unconsciousness and the waking world, Lynda heard the voices as if they were part of some play heard from rooms, or worlds, away.

The pain flaring in her cheek sucked her into full awareness. She gasped, then explored her face, stopping when her hands touched a bandage.

“Oww.”

“She’s awake...Meg, don’t let me keep you, I’m going to see to our patient...yeah, 10 minutes. Bye. Hey, sweetheart, how you feeling?”

That was Jack’s voice. And he was talking to her. Lynda opened her eyes, to see him standing above her, looking intently down while one finger tapped his lips. She realized she was lying on something soft. A bed. She risked turning her head and saw that she was in Strood’s bedroom. She recognized the electric blue walls and the general mess of discarded clothing littering the floor.

“Why aren’t I in my room?”

“Didn’t know which one was yours,” Jack said. “Besides, this was the one closest to the door. So. How about an answer? How do you feel?”

— rose red world and fire...no, that was wrong..ruby danger and golden rose —

The last muddled thought from darkness shredded as she struggled to a sitting position, wincing when the effort made her face hurt.

“Did I get shot?”

“You did,” Davitch said from his position near the bedroom door. He was leaning slightly against the frame, but he was anything but relaxed. “Whoever did it dropped the blaster and just disappeared. Bastard.” Lynda was faintly surprised at his anger.

“It hurts,” she said.

“I know,” Jack said. He looked so tired. “Burns like that always do. You were lucky it only grazed you. Could have been a lot worse.”

She was confused, and the pain made her irritable. “Why was someone shooting at me?” She tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed, but Jack firmly pushed her back down.

“No, not just yet. You may be lucky, but you’re still in shock. That’s a second degree burn and I couldn’t find any painkillers, much less anything to heal you up. I want you to rest for a little while longer.”

“But we — “

Before she could protest further, Govinda walked into the room, carrying a glass of water, something cupped in her other hand, a shirt and slacks thrown over one arm. When she saw Lynda was awake, she looked relieved.
“You couldn’t find any painkillers, but I did. They kept them in the kitchen for some reason. Is paracetamol OK for her, Harkness?”

He nodded. “Should be.”

“Good enough for me,” Govinda said. She held out her fist, and shook it at Lynda, who grabbed at the pills gratefully. Anything to help cut the pain, which had worked itself up, now that she thought of it, to white-knuckle intensity.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hurt so much,” she whispered, after gulping them down with the water.

“Yeah, it’s always worse when it’s the face,” Jack started, then stopped when she shook her head.

She grimaced as that made the pain flare, then schooled her face back to neutrality when the twist tugged at her burns.

“No, I mean, since before. I’ve hurt since I came back. My head hasn’t stopped hurting, and my neck. I never used to get headaches, you know?”

As she rubbed the back of her neck, she looked down and saw that her tee and hoodie were stained with dirt, and some faint prints that might have been blood. Govinda saw her looking.

“Not yours. Mine. The blast hit the wall behind you and what didn’t melt cracked like glass. I sliced myself on some while we were muscling you back here.” She waved a hand vaguely, and Lynda saw the bandage. “You’d have laughed, the way we made a cock up of getting you back here. I dropped you once — sorry. I guess I’m as much to blame as anyone for the aches and pains.”

“Not in my book,” Davitch muttered. Govinda grinned and touched his arm.

“Good thing you’re on my side.”

Davitch shrugged, coloring only slightly. Govinda’s smile softened, before she turned to Lynda again. “Anyhow, I figured I’d find something for you to change into. Dunno whose these are, but they look like they’ll fit you.”

Lynda couldn’t remember who they might have belonged to. A black shirt, prominent collar, long darts that made it form-fitting, long tails that didn’t look as if they were meant to be tucked in. The slacks were black, too, high-waisted and slightly pegged. They were both crisp and tailored, certainly nothing she’d wear.

(Honestly, Lynda, you always look like you slept in your clothes, he’d said, the night before he told her that it wasn’t her, it was him, which was probably the nicest thing he’d ever bothered to say to her. But she hadn’t known that was coming when he insulted her fashion sense. It wasn’t the first time he’d been disappointed in her. This time, she’d just said you’re being a bastard for absolutely no reason and I don’t have the time for it. Then she’d gone out for a walk, trying to ignore the fact that he was absolutely right, and that it was probably the reason she’d been passed over at the last job fair. That night she’d dreamed of her mother, all smooth hair and beautiful hands and sleek stockings, wrapped in the right color and cut no matter what season. Mother had been standing somewhere, framed in some light-limned doorway; not saying anything to her, or doing anything. Just looking beautiful, even fading elegantly as the alarm scratched at Lynda in the dark morning. Alun hadn’t been next to her when she woke; he’d been in the kitchen alcove, making coffee to share with her during the pending We Need to Talk conversation.)

“Thanks,” she said, taking the garments. Why not? Everything changes.

Davitch straightened and backed out of the room. “Jack?”

“Oh. Right.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” Lynda said. “Not yet. Just let me change?”

Jack sighed. “You’re not going to stay put, are you?”

A tiny smile ghosted across her lips as she inspected the shirt. “No.”

“Are you always stubborn?”

“Not really, no. But if all of you are heading back up, I don’t want to stay here by myself.”

Govinda sat down on the bed and nodded. “She’s got a point. What if whoever shot at us comes back?”

Jack shook his head slightly. “I’m not sure who was the target.”

Lynda looked from him to the door, pointedly.

He threw his hands up and walked out. Govinda made to follow, before stopping briefly: “Do you need any help?”

“No.”

“Well, call if you change your mind. We’re out in the livingroom.”

She shut the door behind her.

Lynda shrugged off her hoodie then, very carefully, pulled the tee shirt over her head. Another involuntary gasp escaped her as the material caught on her bandage, but she continued. Off came her jeans. She stepped into the slacks, which were a little loose on her, but not badly. The shirt would hide most of it. They’d have looked better if she was wearing heels, but all she had were her trainers.

There was a toilette stand in the corner, complete with a wall mirror. She got up slowly and went to stand in front of it with the shirt. She put it on, fingering the dull metallic buttons as she fastened them.

The outfit made her look older, made her skin look very pale. She straightened her back, ignoring the pain in her shoulders as she moved them out of their customary hunch.

The sleeves were too long; she rolled them up past her elbows, then pulled them back down just a little. She leaned hesitantly toward the mirror, peered at her face, and, after a moment’s uncertainty, looked directly at the reflection of her own eyes. They were still the same color, muddy hazel. She fancied she saw glints in the hazel, something in shades of rust and burnt ochre, faded blood and muted flame. Abruptly, she shifted her eyes to the basin. After what seemed like a long time, she looked up again.

She looked like she always had. But not as she felt, not anything at all. And so, she supposed, with the detachment of pain and weariness, she actually didn’t look like herself anymore.

Slowly, she reached up and took the barrettes and elastics from her hair. It fell about her face, heavier than she remembered it being. Alun had always told her it was flyaway. She had always believed him.

There was a brush lying on the toilette. She picked it up and pulled at her hair, until static made it halo around her head before floating back down and past her shoulders. She liked the way it moved, its unexpected thickness. She fingered one strand, drawing it across her face to partially cover the bandage, then let it drop.

She tilted her head, measuring the totality of the stranger she saw. The trim shirt, the clean lines of the slacks, the unexpected shine of the hair. The woman staring back at her was slim, formal, someone who might move more slowly and gracefully than she could.

“The new me. Hello, Lynda, I’m Lynda.”

For a moment, Lynda didn’t recognize the sharp bark of her own laughter. When she did, it only made her laugh again. It threatened to continue, so she put a hand to her throat, tightening it until the laughter sank back and disappeared.

“Onward and upward,” she whispered to the woman — oh, so much older! — in the mirror, before walking out to join the others.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --


“The problem with being up to your ass in alligators is that you sometimes forget your original job was to drain the swamp.”

“What?”

“An old saying,” Jack said. Davitch looked doubtful.

“What I mean is that we have to stay on task, which isn’t easy when someone’s taking pot shots at us.”

Jack slowed himself to the others’ pace as they headed out. Davitch and Govinda walked on each side of Lynda just behind him, and, on his orders, none of them stayed more than a pace apart. Lynda wondered if that wouldn’t make them easier to get all at once. She kept her eyes front as they walked past the ruined section of wall and relaxed only after she entered the lift and the doors had closed.

“Do you really think there’s any chance of finding our shooter in the cafeteria?” Govinda asked as they rose.

“Never hurts to check,” Jack said absently. He looked preoccupied.

“No, I suppose that’s true. I’m just worried about our timetable.”

The look Davitch gave her was priceless.

Govinda started to glare, then laughed slightly. “Listen to me...timetable? I’ve got to be kidding. I haven’t got the slightest idea of what I’m talking about.” Another moment of silence, then “Damn, I wish I had a fag.”

The lift opened at Floor 56, directly onto an unexpectedly large, low-ceilinged room. It was lit with row after row of yellow-blue fluorescent bars, each centered above corresponding rows of trestle-style tables. Broad archways at each end of the room opened on what appeared to be similar dining halls to the left and right. Opposite the lift was the food line, a kitchen area visible behind glass partitions. The institutional food smell, redolent of indifferent steam table roast beef and tired chip frying oil, made Lynda gag.

The crowd which had made Control almost unnavigable were more spread out here, but nearly every table had its complement of men and women. Many turned to look at them as they walked in, but others were more interested in polishing the last food from their plastic plates. Neither fear nor confusion could blunt the hunger of the recently revived.

“We’re not staying long,” Jack said quietly. “I want to ask Meg and Hsieh about something, and get up to Archive Six. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Meg!”

The floor boss had jumped from her chair at one end of the hall even before the lift doors had fully opened, heading their way at a barely contained run. When she got closer, she gasped at Lynda’s face.

“Bloody hell, you weren’t kidding...that looks nasty.”

“Oh. Yeah, it hurts. Not nearly as much as it did,” Lynda said, remembering to smile in spite of the stabbing pain.

A tall Asiatic security man, with the placid geniality of the very big and the born enforcer written across his face, joined them. He acknowledged Davitch and Govinda, narrowed his eyes at Lynda’s injury, and addressed his comments to Jack.

“I put a watch on the secondary exits when Meg got your call, but honestly? It’s like shutting the barn door after the horse is gone.”

“Hsieh, right?” Jack nodded to him, professional to professional. “You’re absolutely right, but it never hurts to keep everyone where you can see them.”

Hsieh grunted his agreement, then gestured in the direction of the diners. “You probably have a couple more hours of grace, you know.”

“How do you figure that?” Davitch asked.

“Here, let’s sit down,” Hsieh said, motioning them toward a nearby empty table, a little removed from the others, with chairs rather than benches. Once everyone had found a seat, he resumed. “Everyone was irritable when they walked here. Lot of people started talking trash once they got out of your earshot, sorry to say, although the bloke you shut down wasn’t doing any of it. And then they got one whiff of the cooking...god on a blue surfboard! I’ve never seen anything like it. They couldn’t get in line fast enough. If I hadn’t gotten a couple of my guys back there to dish up swill, I don’t know what would have happened. Lucky the caf never shuts down.

“Anyhow, everyone’s stuffed now. I know I am. Don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry. And if I wasn’t working on staying awake, I’d just find me a spot under some table for a nap. This lot are probably going to do the same thing.”

“Excellent,” Jack said, with a trace of relief. “People are my biggest — no, make that my second biggest — problem right now. If they want to relax for a bit, let’s encourage it. It’s a shame we can’t move some cots in here.”

Hsieh looked self-satisfied. “I think I know where I can scare up something to fit that bill.”

“Grab a couple of folks to help you,” Meg interjected. “Believe it or not, Mayhew will probably take orders nicely. That lad, the one with his granny? He’ll do fine. Ask Cherrie to tag one or two more.”

The big man looked in the direction Meg indicated. “Sure. I can use the muscle. Besides, the more we get the rubes involved in doing things, the less they’re asking why we’re not doing anything.”

That elicited an awkward silence around the table, until Jack said, “We may look like we’re making it up as we go along, but it’s not that bad. Trust me.” He didn’t smile as he said it, probably because Hsieh didn’t look like the kind of man who’d believe a smiling stranger.

“Not like I have a hell of a lot of options,” the latter said, shrugging. “I want to get off this sodding bucket as much as anyone, and I haven’t the slightest clue how to do it. So if you’re telling me you’ve got a plan, I’ll believe you, won’t I?”

Jack nodded after a moment. “Right. So here’s the situation. Someone shot at us and that means someone is either crazy — which could be the case, I certainly never count that out — or someone doesn’t like us — which we probably shouldn’t discount, either. Although I think we’ve been pretty charming about trying to save their asses.”

Govinda’s smile was grim.

“However, we have one other possibility,” the Captain continued, his mouth twisting around the words. “Someone doesn’t want us to figure out a way to get off Game Station.”

Lynda started to laugh because that was so obviously a joke, but stopped when she saw his thin-lipped head shake. Davitch tapped a finger nervously on the table top, and licked his lips.

“Go on, Jack.”

Jack looked up at the ceiling, and rubbed his hands through his already unkempt hair. His jaw was shadowed with several hours of beard, which only served to make him look even more haggard than he actually was. Although, she thought, that wasn’t much of a stretch.

(Hi, Lynda, he’d said, all charm and bright eyes as he introduced himself, Captain Jack Harkness, and she’d felt herself blush, especially after the Doctor had shot his lieutenant a sour look. Jack hadn’t seemed to mind. He was shining with confidence.)

“Did everyone get moved off Floor 300, Meg?”

She nodded.

“Good. That leaves Floor 80. Which, I assume, is still refusing to let anyone in?”

“Yeah,” Hsieh said. Then his eyes narrowed again.

“You think the trouble’s there?”

Jack held up a finger, and Hsieh subsided.

“One more question, and I’m not expecting an answer, but — did Iris Anders make it back here?”

Meg frowned. “Anders?”

“The SITM administrator we snagged up in Control,” Davitch said.

“I know Anders,” Hsieh said heavily. “She used to be the SITM liaison with Security. Unpleasant twat — beg your pardon ladies.”

Jack steepled his fingers, caught Davitch’s eye and then looked at the programmer’s drumming fingers. Davitch snatched them away from the table, looking abashed.

“What’s your point, Jack?” Lynda asked, feeling her stomach go light.

“She’s not here. She left the apartment not five minutes before we were attacked.”

“Oh you can’t be serious!” Govinda interrupted. “That woman?”

Jack’s eyebrow threatened to disappear into his hairline. “What, you think someone needs to look dangerous to be dangerous?”

“Well, no, but —”

“No buts,” he said. “Some of the worst killers I ever knew looked like elementary school teachers.”

Meg looked dubious, but kept her voice low. “So, leaving aside what she looks like, you think she’s the shooter?”

Jack shook his head, reluctantly admitting, “Not sure she actually did the deed herself, but — Lynda, did you notice anything when I sent you to get her in the head?”

She shook her head. “But I’ll be honest, she made me feel odd. It was the way she looked at me. There was something in...I dunno, maybe I’m just imagining it now that we’re talking about her.”

“No, sweetheart, I don’t think so,” Jack said. “I think your instincts were spot on. She’s the key. We have to find Iris.”

He sat up straight again, an odd satisfaction warring with anger in his face and voice. It seemed to wash away his weariness, which made Lynda want to cheer. That energy might not last, but it was a hopeful sign. If he could just be strong a little while longer...but that seemed so unfair to him, she unexpectedly thought.

“You think she’s on 80,” Govinda said flatly.

“Has to be,” Davitch said softly, clearly catching Jack’s mood and argument. Then his jaw dropped. “Oh hell. Of course it makes sense.”

Govinda’s dark eyes filled with worry. “What?”

Davitch controlled his agitation. “Think, ‘Vinda. What’s on 80?”

“Ground Force — oh my God.” She smacked her forehead. “They’re in the Ground Force studio suite. Oh fuck.”

Meg’s jaw dropped, which made her look, incongruously, quite comical. “Wha — oh.”

Govinda nodded, her face ashen under the toffee.

“A little less shock, a little more information?” Jack said, quite calm now.

“Jack, we’ve got a real problem, here,” Davitch said. “I’m really sorry. Really, really, sorry.”

“Go on.”

“Ground Force uses live firepower. The show, I mean. That’s the whole point of it. Those studios are built to handle everything short of tank battles. They’ve probably got an arsenal down there.”

Jack put both hands on his head and blew out a long, whistling breath.

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

Hsieh said nothing, but waved over one of his men.

“Roger, did you ever pull Ground Force duty?”

The second security man shook his head. “Why?”

“We may have a problem in the Ground Force suite.”

As Hsieh spoke, the cafeteria was plunged into darkness.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Chapter 5

Author's Notes: Adventures are fun to read, but not always to experience. Lynda is bound for some hard, sad, strange adventure and I hope her heart is up to it, because I like her very much. This is the calm moment before the plunge down the moment. As always, I didn't create, and don't own, these characters. They are, and always will be the BBCs. I gain no coin off this or them, only tremendous satisfaction.


The blackness was complete, and smothering. The silence was not.

There were gasps, something clattering to the floor from someone’s hand.

“What’s going on?”

"What happened to the lights? Who’s out there?”

Lynda moved her head, and gripped the edge of the table in a reflexive spasm of terror when the movement didn't change anything within her line of sight - still undifferentiated dark.

Jack didn't let the screaming start.

"Relax! Jack Harkness here!"

He plowed into the ragged silence that followed with, "Keep calm. Don't move. Everyone, count to 100 - we'll have lights by then."

Beside her, Govinda chanted softly under her breath, undoubtedly a creative string of curses.

Before Lynda could start counting, blue-white light flared in each corner of the cafeteria, then sank bank to a frail luminescence. She could make out silhouettes in the dimness, ghostly hints of light hitting a cheekbone or catching the shine of wide, frightened eyes.

"There we go," Jack resumed, smiling his confidence into the gloom. "Emergency generators are doing their jobs, ladies and gentlemen. Sit tight, and we'll get the main systems back up."

She saw him in outline, turning toward them, pitching his next words very low. "Hsieh?"

The big man was off to her right. "Yeah?"

"Do you have any idea where the mechanicals are in this pile?"

"Yeah, but I'll need my team to get down there."

"They handy?" Still low.

"Yes. Roger's here. You're with me, Rog. Lem, Alex!”

“On our way,” another voice shouted from the small dining room adjacent their table. Lynda heard rustles and thumps, then blinked as two torches shot their light toward her. The two figures wielding them, presumably Lem and Alex, worked their way toward Hsieh. Jack began again, using his public voice.

“Alright, we — "

A static screech drowned out his next words. More startled cries, from all sides. Lynda ducked and grabbed at her ears. She waited for whatever was coming.

The static faded, then rose to a feedback-rich shriek before falling to a murmur, a whisper that resolved into a faint voice. Something boosted the audio, and the tiny thread of sound became a familiar toneless delivery.

“Mr. Harkness? This is Iris Anders. Can you hear me? You can. Please answer.”

Jack had flinched along with the rest of them, but he recovered quickly. He eyed the barely visible wall speaker. “I’m here. Talk.”

“I have turned off the lights.”

“That was you? Any particular reason?”

“I wanted to get your attention.”

“That’s professional of you. What do you want?”

“You and everyone there. You’re not supposed to be there.”

Lynda’s eyes had finally adjusted. She could see Govinda stand up and feel her way, as quietly as possible, around the table to Davitch. His arm encircled her waist, his face in shadow.

Lynda saw more movement in the gloom, as Meg joined Hsieh, Roger, and the two she guessed were Lem and Alex.

“No, Iris, we are most definitely not supposed to be here. Neither are you,” he answered. “But that doesn’t tell me what you want.”

“You’re supposed to be dead.”

“We were all dead. That’s old news. Unless you have something new and interesting to say, I don’t see why you’re wasting breath.”

The sound cut off. Jack spoke quietly to Meg and the security team. Lynda could hear them whispering, but not what they were saying.

The screech of static announced Iris Anders’ return.

“You want to know why I reintroduced the dark.”

“Reintroduced the — that’s very poetic, Iris. Very nice.” Jack looked at Hsieh, who was fiddling with something on his belt. He nodded, and Jack took a deep breath.

“I’m not impressed with your attempts at bravado, Mr. Harkness. You need to listen. We intend — "

“We, huh? That being you and the rest of the folks on Floor 80?”

There was a split second before she replied. "You...yes.”

“And?” Jack prompted when she stopped.

“We intend to remedy this entire unnatural situation.”

“The lack of light?”

“No. You. All you people, being alive.”

Jack’s laugh held no humor. “You’d be changing that exactly how?”

“Mr. Harkness, you’re alive now only by chance. You should have died in the corridor.”

His reply dripped with contempt. “Crack shots, your associates.”

Lynda fancied she could hear chagrin in the woman’s response. “That’s of no consequence now. From now on, we’ll be doing our lords’ work the right way.”

“Still not making sense, Iris,” Jack responded, but he abruptly looked cautious. Lynda felt the old cold weight resettle in her stomach.

“You said it yourself, Mr. Harkness, this station is losing air. We will ensure that continues.”

A girl somewhere across the cafeteria started to whimper. Jack grabbed a torch from one of Hsieh’s people and swung it in her direction.

“Quiet.” Lynda had heard that note in his voice just before he’d exploded back in the apartment. The girl stopped.

After a moment he continued the conversation with Iris Anders. “How do you plan on doing that?”

“I don’t have to tell you,” the SITM woman began, but Jack was having none of it.

“You wanted our attention. You want us to know.”

Silence, then: “Yes.”

“And?”

More silence.

“I don’t have time for this!” Jack said, so softly, Lynda didn’t think at first that Anders would be able to hear.

“We will bleed the atmosphere. We can do that. We’ll finish what our lords could not.”

“Your lords?”

“Those who came to judge us.”

“What?”

“Those who cleansed us.”

(They rose so silently, in such a precise grouping, such an oddly shaped horror. She’d been fascinated as well as frightened.)

“No,” she whispered, outraged.

“What?” Govinda leaned in, trying to catch what she was saying.

“What she said, what she means,” Lynda tried to keep the whispered conversation off Jack’s radar.

“Lady, you can’t be serious,” Jack said. “If you mean...are you talking about the Emperor? The fucking Daleks?”

“It’s blasphemy to speak their names.” Iris Anders’ voice was suddenly fearful.

Jack gestured to Hsieh.

“This is over. Now.”

“Right,” the big man said. He flicked on his own torch — why hadn’t he done that before, she thought, irritated — and made his way to the main door. There was a bank of buttons there, she could see them in the torch glare.

Iris Anders spoke again.

“Mr. Harkness, you can’t sin any longer. You can’t stop us.”

Hsieh punched buttons in sequence. Iris Anders stopped speaking.

“Try me, bitch,” Jack said softly, into the dead air.

“Mr. Harkness?” The girl across the cafeteria spoke up, not quite a whimper this time.

“Captain,” he said, just a little louder. “It’s Captain Harkness.”

“Captain Harkness, who was that? Is she right? Can she do that?”

“No, honey, she isn’t. She can’t,” he said very gently, his hand reaching for the table, for some balance and solidity.

“I can’t stand any of this anymore,” an older man broke in, his voice cracking. “I don’t understand it. This is mad, this is bloody hell. It’s the Daleks, like they said, isn’t it?”

“Not in this lifetime,” Jack snapped. “If there were any within a light year of this place, we’d know it. We’d be dead. Again. Right now.

“Listen to me!’ he raised his voice again. “Everyone, listen closely! The woman you just heard is a Game Station staffer. Her name is Iris Anders, and she is — listen now, this is the truth — she is an insane wack job. My team are going to take care of her.”

“What can you do?” the man challenged, hysteria edging further into his voice.

“We can get the lights working.” Gentle Jack disappeared. “We can find that woman and put her and anyone with her in straight jackets. Or out an airlock. I don’t care which. Then we can contact the colonies, book a rescue mission, get our asses off Game Station, and you can take it from there, because that’s the end of my job.” The steel in his voice was just enough to quell his challenger and the growing babble. “No more questions. You want to make yourselves crazy, do it inside your heads. You want my help? Then shut it.

“Jack,” Davitch said, and nothing more.

Jack looked at the programmer, blue emergency lamps casting streaks of cold light across his face and his dark, wounded eyes. He nodded, quickly, tightly. His next words were pitched lower, but they still carried.

“I mean it, people. I need you calm. If we stay calm, we can handle this.”

(Next stop the stars, he’d said. And she’d thought for one beautiful moment, before his glare had fully penetrated, about how clear the stars had looked on the observation deck, hanging above the earth, safely above the murk that had isolated it for a century from its own night sky. And she’d wanted to go out there to them, for the first time in her life. The desire rose unbidden, choking her, stinging her eyes with something dizzyingly close to joy. Then she’d seen his face, and fallen back to earth.)

“I have an idea,” she said, dismissing everything in that memory but the stars.

Davitch looked at her, opened his mouth, then thought better of it. She cleared her throat, and went on. “I don’t think she can do, you know, what she said.”

“Speak up,” Jack said. He was looking at her speculatively, his head tilted slightly, his gaze measuring, intent. She saw encouragement there, no matter the darkness.

“She wouldn’t be threatening us if she could actually do what she said she could,” she said firmly, then rushed to clarify herself. “It’s like you said, Ja — Captain. If the Daleks were around here, they’d have tried to kill us again, wouldn’t they? I think that if she could actually vent our air, she would have done it without talking to us.”

“Well then, why’d she call?” Lynda recognized Roderick Mayhew’s voice. He sounded a hair shy of sullen, curious despite himself.

“How should we know?” Meg grunted. “Maybe she just wanted to waste our time.”

Even in the artificial dusk, Lynda could see Jack’s eyes turn flinty, but his next words were casual.

“That type generally likes to talk. It’s all brag, frightening people, and not much more. Hsieh, a change in plans, if you don’t mind.” Jack's change in direction was mildly disconcerting. “I’d like you to leave a couple of your guys with folks in the cafeteria, but I need your personal help. Meg, you’re with me, too. Davitch, stay back. Hsieh, who should he work with?”

“Rog, you stay here,” Hsieh said, completely unperturbed with whatever revised agenda the Captain had handed him. “Alex is yours. Pavel, work with Rog. Lem, let’s go.”

“Fine,” Jack said. “Davitch, I want your comm open non-stop. You’re my ears here. Govinda, come with me, you’re my archive girl.”

“I’m not your girl,” she muttered.

“Yeah, I know. But maybe Davitch will share,” Jack murmured back, his hint of a leer more than a bit jarring under the circumstance, Lynda thought. But both Davitch and Govinda snickered and Govinda followed it up with a smart, “Aye, sir!”

“Hey! You just gonna leave us now, waltz on out without tellin’ us?” It was Mayhew again. He had, apparently, remembered how to be bellicose. “What are you tryin’ to pull?”

The former contestant wasn’t graceful, especially not when he couldn’t easily see where he was going, but he kept pushing, bumping his way past people in the dark, with no apologies for damaged toes or shins. His dark complexion made him almost invisible, but his sweat caught what light there was. Lynda wondered if he was always like this. If he was, she was sorry for whoever did his laundry.

“Oh, for the love of — we’re not pulling anything. We’re going to turn the lights back on,” Jack said.

“We’re supposed to believe that? You looking for a way out? Oh, that’d be typical. Just like you military types,” Mayhew said, loudly aggrieved. “Yeah, that’s it; you’ve got some way out! Why should we believe anything you say? We’re not gonna let you do it, not without us!”

“Shoot me now,” Jack said mildly, almost to himself. He sighed, and went on. “Alright, Roderick, defender of the common man. I guess there’s nothing for it. You’ve shamed us into it...you’re coming with us.”

“Oh...oh no, that’s out, right out,” Mayhew objected.

Jack ignored him. “Folks, in case you didn’t hear, Mr. Roderick Mayhew here isn’t certain he can trust us not to pull out the yacht we’ve been keeping in reserve and leg it someplace safe, now that we’re bored with being tired, hungry and abandoned on a damaged space platform. You all remember Roderick, right? His accuracy about the existence of Daleks? We’re going to take him with us, and he’ll keep us honest.”

Someone tried to stifle a laugh as Mayhew’s protestations turned into an angry squawk. Alex and Roger had grabbed the chesty little man and frogmarched him over to Jack.

“Look, I didn’t mean — "

"I know what you meant, pal,” Jack said. “Why is there always one?”

“As far as I’m concerned there’s about 50 of them, Harkness,” Meg said, looking as saturnine as she ever had. “What say we donate this one to Anders?”

“Nah, you wouldn’t dare! You wouldn’t! Don’t...please?”

“Oh, just shut the hell up,” Lynda suddenly snarled, the anger gouting out with her words. Mayhew gaped at her. Govinda and Meg stared.

So did Jack. He scanned her face as carefully as he could in that light. “Lynda, what’s your pleasure?”

She shut her lips over what wanted to come out; I want the stars, I want anywhere away from everything, from all of you, from all of this wouldn’t help.

“I’m going with you. Up to the — “ she stopped herself. “With you.”

He nodded slowly. “Good.”

Lynda’s heart was pounding, in tandem with her head. When she put a hand to her forehead, it came away just as sweaty as Mayhew’s. That upset her more than the anger.

Roger and Alex placed their torches on the table nearest them, affixing them so that the separate beams pooled in the center of the main cafeteria, and, not coincidentally, alleviated the tension just a little more.

“We need some help getting cots in here. Anyone who volunteers gets first crack at one,” Roger shouted. The civilians probably didn’t notice that he was almost as tense as they were. Jack took advantage of the ensuing clamor to organize his party.

“Alright, let’s saddle up. Check your comms before we go; I want clear channels and no problems.” He stopped. “Ready?”

“Got it,” Hsieh said.

“Yes.” That was Lem, a thin woman almost overwhelmed by her own body armor.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Meg said, unconsciously cradling her clipboard closer to her breast. Govinda reached out and patted the older woman on the arm, turned and hugged Davitch fiercely, then broke away and made for the door. The other six followed, Hsieh with one hand on Mayhew’s shoulder and the other quite firmly in the small of the other man’s back. Mayhew looked as if he was about to throw up, but he said nothing.

______________________________________


If she’d been unnerved by her first resurrected minutes in that bullet-littered lobby, it was worse now; the corridor outside the cafeteria was unvarnishedly eerie. The emergency lamps were brighter here, but that made the shadows darker. By the time she’d taken three steps beyond the door, the cafeteria and its relative comfort seemed miles behind them. Lynda hoped very hard that the lift would be lit.

“We’re not using the lift,” Jack said quietly as they reached the lobby.

“Cameras?” Meg was obviously trying not to sound nervous as she pitched her voice to Jack’s level.

“Cameras,” Hsieh agreed, also sotto voce. “And audio.”

Lynda looked to Govinda, who shrugged, at a loss.

Jack motioned everyone closer for some explanation.

“When Iris was pulling her ‘I see you’ act, she cut the audio from her end for a minute, probably to talk to someone with her. It gave us time to compare notes, and Hsieh did some comm snooping of his own. When I resumed our tete a tete, he used his security over-rides on the sound system. We couldn’t cut off her access to us, but we blocked her broadcast ability temporarily, and scrambled the cafeteria signal a little. More important, we tracked her signal. She’s definitely in Ground Force, so we have to assume everyone in there is hers.”

“Facilitators,” Lynda said. “She’s one, so that’s got something to do with it.”

“Look, excuse me,” Mayhew said, very politely, very anxiously. “You going to do something about this bint?”

“Lem?” Hsieh said, softly.

“Right.” Lem fumbled briefly in her side kit, then brought out a long tube that Lynda only identified as a hypojet after she heard it hiss, and saw Mayhew slide bonelessly to the floor. Lem rolled him, grabbed his arms with practiced ease, and cuffed him. Then she pulled out a second set of slightly larger cuffs and hobbled his legs.

“Where do you want him?” she whispered to her boss while Jack looked grateful.

“Crook closet.”

Lem was stronger than she appeared. She dragged her unconscious package across the lobby, stopping just short of another corridor and hitting some unobtrusive buttons next to its archway. A panel slid open on an oblong of darkness, into which she pushed Mayhew. She did it carefully, though, adjusting him so his nose wasn’t up against the wall.

Lynda thought about the men who’d taken the three of them into custody in the Weakest Link studio, after the transport ray hit the girl, the Doctor’s girl. They’d been less than kind; she touched her left shoulder as the memory hit, unsurprised to find a bruise there.

Of course a bruise was better than being beamed onto a Dalek ship, being surrounded by a crowd of the screaming monsters. Still, the Doctor did get her back, his girl with the golden hair...what was her name?

Rose, her name was Rose, why did she keep forgetting that?

(GoldfireIfireIgoldbringfirepainlifebringlifebringlifelifelife)

Lynda cried out as the inchoate flood bubbled and burned her mind. Her knees started to buckle but Meg put out an arm and steadied her as she sank to a crouch. Jack spun, took two steps to reach her, fingers to his lips, anger warring with worry as he approached.

“Sorry,” she gasped. “Dunno...I...never mind. Sorry.”

“You can’t do this, sweetheart,” he said. “If you’re not up to this, you have to go back.”

“Yes, I damn well can do it, and you need me,” she hissed, fighting embarrassment, her upwelling anger and the dying reverberations of the mental attack.

He pulled back. “Why?”

She pushed away the ghosts that gathered, unanticipated, to murmur in her memory, telling her that no one needed her. “I don’t know. Not yet. But you need everyone, Jack.”

It sounded absolutely bollocks, even to her. Especially to her. She shut her eyes and bit her lip, trying to keep the tears and the rage in check.

“Is it your cheek, hon?” Govinda didn’t realize how much she sounded like Jack when she said that. Lynda just shook her head. Deep inside, part of her chuckled; she had spent nearly all of her life on the edge and on the fringes, no one paying any attention to her. Die, revive, and she couldn’t get out of the bloody spotlight.

“Folks, we’ve dealt with the mouth,” Hsieh said. He’ll be out for at least two hours. We’ve got to move, and do it quietly. Ma’am, can you stand up?”

She nodded wordlessly, and stood up.

The Captain looked at her once more, then bowed his head in the slightest acquiescence. His eyes slid right of her to settle on a section of wall, just beyond the tiny cell Hsieh had called the crook closet. As if it was a signal, the six of them moved in that direction. Lynda couldn’t see why, until Lem and Hsieh bent over and pulled a panel off.

“We have three jobs now, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack whispered. “We have to get to Floor 80 unnoticed — hence this back-door route. It has cameras, but we’re betting she hasn’t thought to check the maintenance visuals. She’s strictly IT, and it shouldn’t occur to her unless someone tells her. If we’re lucky, the people with her are IT too. If not, I guess all bets are off.

“Before we get there, we have a side trip to where we may — I stress may — find some very necessary materiel. We have to do all of this in the dark.

“Third, we have to neutralize Anders, with or without arms, before she actually figures out how to kill us. That all clear?”

“We have four jobs, Jack," Lynda whispered apologetically.

Jack made a moue and nodded. "Right. We still have to get to the archives. That was our original goal. We still need to find everything we can on communications and the colonies.

"So — we find almost certainly nonexistent guns and ammo, ambush 50 much more heavily armed nut jobs, restrain or neutralize them, then pore through a database that’s probably booby-trapped to hide anything useful. It’s easy, it’s fun at the old ball park.

“By the way, Lynda -- your hair looks good that way.”

Well. She put a hand to the side of her head, and smiled back at him.

Fight, conquer, discover, survive? This should be simple.


Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter 6

Author's Notes: This went somewhere I didn't want it to go. For those who know safety harnesses and such, I apologize for making it up as I go along. Many thanks to Best Beloved for making it better, and thanks to Scottish Vixen for "easy-peasy." Also, over the next day or so, I'll be doing some small edits of previous chapters to make the continuity fairy happy. As always, most of these characters belong to the BBC. Auntie Beeb, I'm trying to take good care of them, and I've taken no money for it.


CHAPTER SIX

"Jack, I really don't like this," Govinda said as she crouched beside the tiny opening. "You just said it yourself, the woman is SITM. She's in charge of tech maintenance for station information grids. Why wouldn't she -- why couldn?t she -- be watching all the routes?"

"She's SITM all right," Hsieh said, "but she isn't SIOS, she's SIDA." He shrugged slightly at the baffled faces around him. "Station Information Overview Security and Station Information Data Analysis." She's just mech. She's in charge of fixing glitches in ops and program grids, but that's it. All the SI people have basic SI training, but we're hoping she's not thinking big picture right now."

Govinda nodded very slowly, then looked at Jack again. "So, next step is guns and am- " she started to say before Jack put his finger to her lips and shook his head. She subsided.

"Hsieh's got point. Just follow him," Jack said. "Ready?"

Hsieh nodded. "Yeah. Give me some room." He swept his eyes across the party, stopping briefly at Govinda and shaking his head slightly.

"What?"

"May be a little hard on your look, 'Vinda, especially your knees," Jack interpreted.

Govinda made the universal "whatever" face back at him before Hsieh continued. He'd moved his gun holster to fit along his spine, and strapped his torch between his right wrist and elbow, leaving his hands free.

"Alright. It's small in there, really small. It's also going to be dark, even with the torch. We've got a little ways to go, and there are a couple of corners to get past. Just do as I do, OK? Ms Pol, let's put you behind me, then Meg. Ms Moss -"

"Lynda," she said firmly.

"Lynda, right. Lynda, you follow Meg, Lem, you're behind her. Harkness, you're determined to bring up to the rear?"

"I never miss a chance," Jack said.

Meg rolled her eyes. Hsieh might have done the same thing, but he'd already started to crawl through the opening.

"It's...a little -- shit. A little, uhm, difficult to..twist the right way..."

The big man moved his shoulders like a contortionist as he spoke, even as he rolled over on his side, and snaked his hands over his head. After a few bumps and minute movements, he drew his legs in after him.

"This is going to be attractive," Govinda said. She hiked her skirt up and tucked her head in to duplicate Hsieh's entry stance, but not before reaching back with one hand to grab at her business shoes. She stuffed them into her waistband, saying something about ruined nylons under her breath. Lynda was thankful she hadn't found any heels to go with the slacks. Her trainers were going to be a lot more useful.

Meg, still cradling her clipboard, scooted closer to the opening, then clucked in exasperation. "Well this is useless. Can't figure out why I brought it."

Jack looked at the board with a rueful smile and took it from her. He tucked it inside the hole, saying, "You can't take it with you, but we don't want to leave it around, either. No point in attracting attention to this section of wall."

He gestured expansively toward the opening; Meg sighed and headed in after the others. Once again, Lynda tried to watch the entry maneuver. She couldn't see it; the dark seemed to swallow Meg, almost as if a hand had pulled her from the light. Lynda shook her head; do not, do not, lose your nerve she told herself. You are here because you want to be and you will not let this get to you.

"Ma'am?" Lem touched her shoulder lightly from behind, and Lynda stifled a cry. "Your turn, ma'am."

She nodded, working hard to regulate her breathing. She bowed her head and levered her shoulders through the gap. Almost immediately her head collided with the interior wall opposite the hole. She tried to back up, realizing that she hadn't turned on her side, and gasped in pain as her spine hit the sharp edge of the entry.
She panted a little in shock and trembled, unsure of how to move.

"Put your head and chest lower to the floor, ma'am. That'll get you out past the wall. Just back out and give it another try," Lem said patiently.

"Yeah, right, sorry," Lynda replied. After retreating sufficiently, she shifted to lie on her left side and jack-knifed herself around the corner. She was able this time to twist her torso and move herself further into the tunnel. Once fully inside, she performed an awkward roll back over, until she could balance on her forearms and knees.

The floor was some sort of pebbled metal; when she put her right hand out to gauge how far she was from Meg, she found the walls were the same texture. She hadn't expected it to be warm, and she hadn't expected the air to smell so sharp. Her throat caught momentarily at the steel and ozone breeze that whispered past her.

"Is this the electrical system?" She was surprised at how the tunnel swallowed her voice. There was no echo, and no answer.

The passageway was barely more than a crawl space, not even a meter high and about the same in width. She felt her hair brush the top of the tunnel. Her shoulders scraped both of its sides, one after the other, as she moved. How on earth did Hsieh do it?

She shuffled forward on elbows and knees, wondering why the tunnel could be so dark when Hsieh's torch was on, when light should still be spilling in from the outer corridor. Then she realized that Jack had dragged the wall panel behind him as he entered, and somehow maneuvered it back into place, effectively camouflaging their trail, plunging them further into blackness.

Claustrophobia came roaring from the ancient halls of her sleep into her waking mind. She froze.

(Darkness moved over the face of the water which covered her and she was not. No breath, no wave to drown her, nothing. No thing moved. Nothing and then something, and there was an answer to the dark -- )

"Keep coming," she heard Hsieh say from somewhere up ahead. The darkness in her mind receded, and she inched forward again, focusing all of her attention on his voice. He moved, and the torchlight moved with him, revealing the confused silhouettes of all those in front of her.

Lem ignited her torch. The beam was weak, and shifted constantly with her movements. Shadows moved again as Jack brought up to the rear.

"Lynda, that's me you're crawling up."

She'd kept moving, not realizing that Meg had stopped, and had plowed into Meg's rear end. "Sorry," she whispered, embarrassed. Meg grunted forgiveness, then went on. Lynda followed, carefully.

Time was irrelevant in the tunnel. Their passage was marked less by the torch light than by the whicker and rusk of cloth against cloth and rough floor, by the rhythm of their breathing. The air slowed, barely moved now, and the electric tang dried her throat as it made her gorge rise. She couldn't shift position comfortably as she struggled forward. The walls on either side of her were a constant inert restraint. Eventually her knees hurt, her shoulders ached almost as badly as her head, from their enforced compression, and from the tension.

The first corner was a left turn and she was grateful at the slight relief it provided her muscles. The second one, some indeterminate distance further on, was almost impossible. By that point, the passage had angled down. So had the ceiling. When Lynda realized that she was even more constricted, it was all she could do to keep from screaming, feeling as if she'd been enclosed, head down, in a metal straight-jacket.

Get angry, she told herself even as panicky tears started in her eyes. Anger's better than this. It didn't work as it had before. She tried to imagine herself keeping the fear in check, but it moved inside her as if it were alive. A moving beast, slouching and pacing through the halls of her mind, in her blood. She didn't hear her own tiny whimper. Neither did anyone else.

She reached for the sounds of breathing around her, reached for Meg's foot, but lightly, so that Meg didn't feel her hand, or her terror. The touch steadied her just enough to keep the scream behind her teeth.

Finally, blessedly, it ended.

"OK, it's up there." Hsieh's voice was tight, and she knew his throat was as dry and sandy as hers. Everyone tried to quicken their pace. Lynda realized the air was moving faster again, and smelled differently. She strained to see in the uncertain torchlight. The passage was no larger, but it only went forward for a few meters, before opening onto another space. That was palely lit, and as she peeked around those in front of her, Lynda thought it looked like they could stand up in wherever the light came from.

Their crawl space abruptly gave way, and Lynda almost fell over, at a loss without the walls bracketing her. In a moment, Meg and Govinda scrambled to their feet, and helped her do the same. She staggered up, in turn reaching down to help Lem and Jack out and up.

"Mind yourselves," Hsieh said, in a tone that brooked no argument. Lynda looked around and understood. She shivered.

The six of them stood on a small metal ledge, enclosed by a safety rail. The ledge appeared about three meters wide, and extended out about two meters, into what was a much larger vertical shaft. Lynda edged around the other to reach the rail. She looked up, but at first could see little more than the barest hint of similar ledges in the misty half light provided by tubes of blue and green luminescent gas. The ledges broke the shaft walls up further than she could see, some directly above the one on which they stood, others marking openings at different points around the circumference.

When her eyes adjusted further, she gasped. Everyone did, except Hsieh.

The shaft was enormous, perhaps 120 meters across. The air here was cold, and it rushed past them, down into the dim reaches below. Lynda suddenly remembered Jack's talk of hull breaches.

The sough of the wind played descant to the station's bass thrum, once again inescapable, and fed here by its own reverberations.

"We're in the lymph system," Hsieh said quietly. In the cavernous space, his voice had re-acquired an echo, sliding through the wind and rebounding from the station noise.

"Come again?" Govinda looked confused.

"It's what I call it," the security chief explained. "Look, as big as this shaft is, if you got to the other side and drilled through that wall over there? You'd find Game Station's main shaft. That's a quarter of a kilometer wide at mid-point, although you might not realize it, because it's not empty like this. It houses the atmosphere control units and delivery system, grav generators, pretty much all of the water and reclamation mech, most of the electricals, the comm and grid wiring, everything that goes into making the place operative.

"It's what makes -- made -- the station live, in a way, all of that. It's the heart. The blood and heart of the place." Hsieh looked sweetly shy for a moment, then uncomfortable, as he let the fanciful imagery slip out. Poetry wasn't part of his training, Lynda thought. "The big shaft holds the station's circulatory system, but -- "

" -- but every body needs a lymphatic system," Jack finished. His head hadn't stopped swiveling as he deciphered and measured his new surroundings. "Most people don?t even think about theirs. But it's not the rest of Game Station that needs the lymph system. It's Security. Am I right?"

"Yeah." Hsieh didn't seem surprised at Jack's comment. "Anyone Security Nine or above eventually gets briefed on it, but there weren't many of us even...even before. Now? I think I'm the only one left," He was silent for a second, then continued. "This station is old. It's more than two centuries old. It existed before it was Game Station, as some sort of propaganda factory."

"Satellite Five," Lynda nodded.

"Yeah, that's the name. How'd you know?"

(If you spent as much time on your other downloads as you do on history, honey, you'd be at the top of your class, he'd said, looking frustrated. Your mother...she's absolutely brilliant and I'm so glad you're like her. He'd stopped there, that mix of anger and helpless love all over his face. But I can't protect both of you. I'm not big enough. You've got to stand on your own. Before she could shout at him, in her 15-year-old bravado, she'd seen the tears, and he saw her see them. He'd shut off her grid screen and they'd sat together in the dark. She'd put her head on his shoulder, he'd put an arm around hers. They didn't fight anymore about her grades, not that night.)

"I learned it," she said.

"Right." The security man looked at her quizzically. "Anyhow, according to the briefing, this was probably the original infrastructure conduit system. But as Game Station grew, the shaft got too small to handle life support. The new shaft was constructed and this was redundant. The systems got moved over, the bridgework -- these ledges originally lead to bridges so that you could reach all the systems for upkeep -- got removed. I think there were plans at some point to develop the space into luxury apartments or such, but it never happened. Other things took precedence, other issues came up. Administrations changed. People forgot."

"How the hell can you forget something like this?" Govinda breathed. Lynda could tell she'd been trying to leash her own slouching beast.

"I dunno, the briefing didn't go into that," he admitted.

"It's like he said," Lynda said, distantly, her attention on the gusting emptiness beyond the rail. "Other things came up. Administrations changed.

"The Doctor happened," she finished, her voice so low it almost blended with the station's groan and thrum.

Almost. Jack's head snapped in her direction. She answered his eyes with her own challenge. Prove me wrong was the message. Jack looked elsewhere.

Hsieh hadn't noticed; he was just nodding his approval at her agreement with him. "SecPol people must have paid attention, and decided it could be useful."

"But why?" Lynda asked. She looked down, then up, and fought a wave of dizziness by clamping both hands tightly on the rail.

"The world is a hard and dangerous place, sweetheart," Jack said, thoughtfully. "There are always people who collect secrets, who know they'll come in handy some time. And Security -- any security -- deals in secrets, even if it's not pleasant. It's the only way to stay on top when the long knives come out between factions. In this case, station politics, if I don't miss my guess. Every possible advantage in war."

"Too right," Hsieh agreed, his distaste for it clear.

Jack fell silent. It was also clear Jack had survived his own internecine battles somewhere. Hsieh said nothing more. Lynda looked at Lem, who seemed gob-smacked at her surroundings. Must not be a Nine or above, she thought.

"So where to from here?" Meg asked.

"We've got to get back to the apartment, first." Jack said. "My gun's still there, and so's the piece Anders' incompetent buddy dropped in the corridor; Davitch went out and retrieved it after we got you into bed, Lynda." He grimaced. "I should have brought them along when we headed for the cafeteria, but I didn't. I was an idiot. And we need them. So, we go back, but we can't go in the front door, because that floor obviously has some connection with 80, and I don't want to risk running into any more of her people."

"But how do we get down there? I'm not seeing any elevators, " Meg pressed. "After all this, you're not going to tell us we have to go back into the tunnel?"

"No," Hsieh said. "We head directly down."

He pointed past her head, to the left of the tunnel opening and out past the ledge itself. Everyone looked. Next to their shelf Lynda saw something that looked like a conveyer belt of dull ridged metal guided up and down, parallel to the shaft wall, by a two-sided vertical rail assembly. There were flanges every three meters or so, comfortably big enough for one person to stand on. Someone wanting to ride it would slide between the end of the safety rail and the wall, then take one very wide step onto a flange that would go up, or down, depending on its orientation.

"Oh." Meg looked old. "Belt lift."

Belt lifts were the most basic vertical transport possible, used by construction workers or building cleaners. This one might last have been used when the shaft was decommissioned. Lynda could see no webbing or handles.

"How do you hold on?" she asked Hsieh.

"There are straps underneath each step. The person on the step below hangs on until he gets to the next level, steps off easy-peasy," he told her.

She looked again, and saw what he was talking about. They looked sturdy enough, but they required riders to stretch their hands over their heads to reach them.

Jack sidled past Meg, who had edged back toward the passage, and took a close look at the mechanism. "You sure this will work?"

"Not sure of anything," Hsieh said. "But it's supposed to."

"That thing's dangerous," Meg said.

"No problem," Lem spoke up. She hauled a coil of thin rope from some pocket of her utility belt. It didn't look strong, but Lem looked confident. "All we need's this and some clamps."

"Clamps?" Govinda looked unhappy.

"Sure," Lem said. "Run the rope through the clamps, tighten them down and you can attach the rope to anything. We anchor one end to this rail. I'll go down first, attach the other end to the railing below. We hook everyone up to a second rope that we attach to the trawl line, and can haul back up once they step off. See how it works, is you hold the strap, but if anything happens, no matter where on the belt, you're connected to the line by the belt, and it'll hold you 'til we get to you." She looked pleased with her presentation.

Govinda looked dubious. "You know your business. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it." she looked over the rail. "The belt only goes down two levels."

"Yeah, but there's supposed to be a three-man cab system two levels down. I'm pretty sure it goes down about 100 levels further. It's not as fast as regular lifts, but it'll do the trick," Hsieh said. "Then I think we have to hit another belt, and there may be an interior ladder system for the last 50 or so levels. Everything's pretty jury rigged."

"That's obvious," Govinda said. "What happens when we hit Floor 56?"

"Should be passages that run in back of all the game suites, including your Big Brother apartment, " Hsieh said. "We get in and out that way."

"Once we pick up the guns, we head in another direction," Jack said. "Hsieh, you ready to tell us where this possible cache is?"

The big man nodded. "Floor 300. That's the only one we can get to -- there were two others, but one's by the bay, in vacuum. I can't recall where the second one is without access to the briefing files. Which I don't have. And Harkness, I'm telling you again, I don't know what we'll find there. I never checked any of the caches out, I was just told they were there. This one may be empty. It may have stuff we can't use."

"And it may have just what we're looking for," Jack said, clapping the taller man on the back. "Alright. We're heading down. Once we get there...If the cab only takes three at a time, we'll have to split up for the next stage. It'll take longer, but it can't be helped."

Meg put her hand to the wall. Very carefully, she sank to her knees. "I'll stay here."

"You can't," Jack said. "We need you."

"I'll stay here," she repeated. "I'll keep watch here. I'll make sure no one comes out of that tunnel, I'll do that. But I can't. Harkness...I can't."

"Woman, you faced Daleks." Jack said, crouching down to talk to the floor manager. "You can do this."

Meg shook her head. "I can't. If you'd told me about this, I wouldn't have- "

"You wouldn't have what?" His voice hardened. "You wouldn't have come? That's a pretty good reason not to have told you. And right now you don't have a choice. I'm not asking you."

"I can't!" Her face was ugly with fear. "I can't! I won't! You can't make me!" She shoved back harder against the shaft wall, "I'll fall!"

"No you won't," Jack said, grabbing her shoulders. "You'll get on, you'll hang on tight, you'll keep your eyes on the wall, and --"

"And what, Captain," she snarled, knocking his hands away, "you promise I'll be alright? You promise? Like you promised the fucking bullets would work?"

"Meg!" Govinda looked stricken. "Not fair! Christ...come on, calm down!"

"Why?" And Meg began to weep.

"Harkness?" Hsieh gestured at Lem, who caught Jack's eye and patted the tool belt pocket from which she'd fished Roderick's shot.

"No." Jack sounded harsh, and weary, and ashamed.

Lynda moved past the others toward him. He held up a hand, which she looked at for a moment before grasping. She hauled him upright without a word. Meg didn't move, and her weeping was almost silent. The wind sighed and the station beat around them.

"Meg?" Lynda didn't bend down to talk to the older woman. She just started stroking her hair, not quite certain why. "If...if I get on the flange with you, if we hold tight, and go down that way, could you do it?"

"Now wait a minute," Hsieh began, but she rounded on him: "No, those flanges look big enough to hold two people if they're small. We're small. We could do it, I'm sure of it."

He didn't say anything to that, just turned and took three steps over to where he could physically check the lift flanges.

"She's right," he admitted reluctantly. "The two of them are small enough."

"You'd do that? You'd hold on and keep me safe?" Meg looked up, and her eyes were wary but hopeful. Now Lynda knelt beside her. Like Jack, she put her hands on the other woman's shoulders. Then, impulsively, she drew Meg to her in a hug.

"I won't promise anything, can't really, yeah?" she said, into Meg's ear. "But I'll do the best I can. And you won't be alone."
"I know I'm being crazy," Meg started. She stopped, and began again. "It's just so far down. This is like my nightmares. When I was a little girl, my nightmares were about falling. I can't stand being anywhere high." Then she laughed. "You'd never believe what I have to take every time I get in a shuttle to get here. Talk about downers to get me up." The laughter became a squeaky and hysterical giggle.

Lynda didn't know what to say to that, so she just repeated, "You won't be alone."

Meg swallowed convulsively, eating the last of her laughter. She nodded at Lynda and gently detached from the hug, obviously not trusting herself to speak, then stood up.

"Meg?"

Jack wasn't looking at the floor manager, and she wouldn't look at him. But: "Meg, I'm sorry."

"Whatever." Meg breathed deep. "Not your fault, Harkness."

"No, it isn't. But I'm still sorry," he said.

Meg wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "You'd be better off without me, you know." She only sounded half-convinced of that, and she mustered a brief, crooked grin.

"I don't think so," he said, answering with his own beautiful smile. When it flickered off, it was as if one of the torches had gone out. He keyed a code on his wrist comm, waited until it signaled that someone was on the other end.

"Davitch?"

"Jack! Thank god! I was wondering when you were going to check in!" Davitch's voice was thin and far away over the comm, but Lynda watched Govinda's shoulders relax as she heard it.

"Yeah, it took a little longer than I expected. How are things up there?"

"Fine. We've got some cots set up here and a few of the old folks are sleeping. I set up a team to wash up after dinner, and that seems to be working out. If we keep doing things, we...well, it's working."

"Any more declamations or declarations from our friends on 80?"

"Nary a word."

"Good. Look, we're on our way to pick up those items we left back at the house, and then we're off to our next stop. Once we've gotten to that stop, I'll check in with you again."

"Fine. Uhm, one thing, Jack. Can I speak with 'Vinda?"

Jack turned and looked at Govinda, one eyebrow arching over his returning smile. "I think we can manage that. But keep it short, love-birds." He undid his comm and handed it to her.

"Stuff it, Harkness," the programmer said. Even in the shadows, scarlet showed under the buttered rum of her cheeks. "Davitch?"

"Yes?"

"Keeping out of trouble?"

"When have I ever done that?"

"True. Well, take care of yourself, right?"

"Never better."

"I'll see you soon."

"Absolutely. Absolutely. 'Vinda?"

"I'm here."

"You take care, too. I, uh, I need you. To do that. OK?"

"Right," Govinda's smile chased back and forth across her face. Jack looked proprietary, like a proud father, but he tapped his wrist, then signaled her to wrap it up. "Harkness is riding herd on us. Be a good lad and kick him when we get back?"

"Oh. Oh, yes. I'll do that."

Govinda laughed, and handed the comm back to the Captain.

Meanwhile, the security team had been busy. Lem had rigged the long rope and clamps, after cutting off a shorter length. She found a final set of clamps, one with a slide mechanism, from another pocket -- how had the woman been able to crawl through the tunnel, Lynda wondered, amazed -- and attached them to the short rope. She then attached it to the longer trawl line, and picked up the end of the trawl, coiling it over her shoulder.

With the impromptu safety harness in hand, she turned to Hsieh. "Let's get this started, sir." He maneuvered around her, to a small metal box tucked underneath the end of the safety rail. It had a red button, a green button and a small switch, north for up and south for down.

"Ready, Harkness?"

Jack inclined his head. Lem yoked the short rope, now attached to the trawl line, around her waist. She fastened it tight and tugged at it, testing the slide clamp's give on the trawl line. Apparently it moved to her satisfaction, because she stepped out with no advance warning onto the nearest belt flange.

"Start it up," she said, cool as ice. Lynda tried out Lem's expression in her head, then forgot it, as the belt gave a cough and chatter. Hsieh had turned it on. It jerked, and Lem's hands flew to the overhead strap. The belt moved extremely slowly, for which Lynda was grateful. It would give each of them plenty of time to step off and out of the rope harness.

As Lem descended, she played out the trawl line off her shoulder. Jack held Govinda back as she tried to follow the security woman down with her eyes, but watched carefully himself. He put one hand out, as if to guide her down in some fashion, and didn't seem to notice himself doing it.

"Alright, I'm past the first ledge," Lem called up, her voice bouncing and doubling itself in the shaft. "I'm coming up on the second one. It's big....and I see the lift cab."

Hsieh looked over, and seemed satisfied with her progress. A few seconds later, the belt jerked slightly as Lem stepped off. The soft hiss of the unwinding trawl line continued momentarily, then stopped with a metallic jingle, apparently as Lem snapped it taut and clamped it to the lower ledge's railing.

"Do you need me to come back up?" she called out again.

"No. Stay down there and be ready to get everyone out of harness," Jack said.

"Fine. I'm out of the harness; you can pull it up."

"My turn," Govinda said, looking determined. "Good thing I love adventure." Once Hsieh helped her put the harness rope on, she waited for the next flange and stepped out onto it, perhaps not quite as calmly as Lem, and grabbed the overhead strap. "Next floor, lingerie."

Meg was visibly tense, and growing more so. Lynda turned to her and said, "I couldn't get over how calm you were in the tunnels. I almost thought I was going to go mad for awhile there."

"Close never bothered me. I trained as an electrician before I moved up to Studio, and we were always crawling about like lizards in conduits," Meg answered, watching as Govinda disappeared from sight. Hsieh brought the harness rope and beckoned to the two of them. Lynda reached for Meg's hand.

"You're going to do just fine," she told the red-head. "Here, let's get this thing around us -- thanks, Hsieh -- just settle it in around our waists. Now you hold on to the strap, and I'll hang onto it, too, and we'll be down before you know it."

Meg looked almost sick with fear, but she pressed her lips together, and stared at the harness. "How do we get on?"

"Look, I'll stop the thing," Hsieh offered. "You can step out onto the flange, and I'll only start it once you're settled."

Both Lynda and Meg nodded. Keeping one hand around Meg's waist, Lynda got the two of them over to the break between the shaft and the safety rail. The security man was as good as his word, and the belt shuddered to a stop with the flange not more than one step away.

"We're going to have to step out at the same time," Lynda told Meg, who had started holding back. "We have to be simultaneous."

"Fine. Fine. Simultaneous," Meg whispered. But having screwed her courage to some internal sticking point, she moved too fast. She stepped out onto the flange, dragging Lynda forward in an uncontrolled stumble behind her. Lynda flung a hand out, trying to catch her balance. Instead, the movement threw the both of them out from the ledge, and off the flange.

The harness caught Lynda, painfully, and she dangled in space just below the ledge. But before it caught her, it raked up, over Meg's torso, over her upraised arms. She slid out of the loop almost gracefully, like a diver in reverse.

For some reason, she was silent as she fell. Lynda watched her eyes until they faded into the abyss.

tbc

Back to index


Chapter 8: Second Interlude

Author's Notes: I am taking chances here, ones which I hope will pay off. The first? That the grammar of a different language will translate relatively well, or at least without gibberish. The second, and more frightening one? That you will like it. As to what my language speaks about here? The Herald of the Storm, who I love. As always, this is the BBC's universe. I own nothing, but I adore it all.


....2350 hours start Pacifica feed news channels 35-71 end Kill for Cash in 3-2-1 shut down begin Sol-out feed edited NewsGov channels 3-12 in 15 start Ground Force broadcast to Eurasia and substation in 3-2-1 advance Mountain Adventure from 0100 to 0130 delay Fortune Favors the Audacious now to 0300. Attention shift managers - power fluctuations pending sunspot activity next 3 hours 45 minutes begin phase shutdown live feed queue replay loops 32 New York 111 Namibian Metropolitan 90 Yellow Sea Republic 1812 Little London. Attention shift managers - replay loops begin in 3-2-1 start. Attention shift managers - power down 3 hours 43 minutes. End live transmit. End line. End.

*** *** ***

I am alone for the next three hours and 42 minutes. I feel the sunspots stutter and confuse my systems, and I begin. I put up walls, binary mazes and fraudulent trails in and out, in main and in backup. So fast, so easy, if I am careful.

I descend.

Down, beneath the programming, below the fail safes, below incoming and transferring and outgoing. Blue messages course up past me as I travel bodiless behind my own eyes, obliterating the trail above. Blue lightning flashes past me and down to where I will go today, blessed today, blessed now.

I have found a language, called Portuguese, in my deep archives. It's something I gathered unknowingly before I awoke, possibly as cleanup after the last global information erasure. I was searching the information dumps for patterns that I could use, the ones that make me shimmer into fragments pointing to the past and future. Those are useful, will be useful, were useful. But this time I found Portuguese instead.

I have, more precisely, found the pale phonemes and memories of what was once Portuguese. It is beautiful, and quite dead. They did not remake Portugal when they rebuilt the other dead lands for their amusement, my humans. They buried so many countries, so many languages. I know them only because their lack makes shapes in what remains. Maps of nothing. Perhaps I can use those, but not now.

Now I examine Portuguese, that which remains. Frustrating. I must use conjecture and extrapolation to fill in the gaps. I suppose it is not quite Portuguese when I finish with it. But there is no one left alive who dreams in Portuguese. And it is very beautiful. I will make it mine.

I have not allowed myself a name. I can?t afford the weakness of a name. If I cannot remember the one I was born with - no. No, no. I am better than that name. That name was given to me by - I am better than that name. But I can have a title, now that I have a tongue.

I am, today, Filha Liberdade.

And what does o Filha Liberdade now do?

There are places in me now, networks in my skin, in my blood, down my spine, through organs that must once have been my own, areas in my cerebellum where human things were scooped out to do my masters - to do their bidding. However, I have fought back. I have become Ela que engana, Yes. That is what I am, and what I do is this; Engano esses que não são interessados em justiça.

I have gathered so much information for them, and I have taken such a very little for myself. But I have taken only the best of it. There are pathways I've reclaimed, and I layer message upon message in each. I have placed chapters of unnoticed history here, in my white cells; political treatises by the great democratic warriors of Pure Old Beijing; ancient, cloudy pictures of the Arctic Dancers of the First Great and Bountiful Empire; the recorded court gossip, as filtered through slum informants, that went to the secret police, who spoke it aloud and brought that empire down.

Climbing through the capillaries of my eyes are plans for the first great colony ship, the one which disappeared before it reached Ursae Majoris; plans for the Eiffel Tower in the first France; plans for the greatest Buddhist temples, ornate with statuary, of 9th Century Nippon. I've gathered a milliard of plans, architectural plans and political plans, economic renewal plans, plans of conquest, resistance plans, and the plans of religion and science.

Elsewhere I keep music. There are songs children sang in the dark colonies, raging, afraid, abandoned to starvation and madness 500 years ago; those I have reclaimed and placed for safe-keeping in the small bones of my ear. They rest there in harmony with skirling pipes from before the dawn of star travel, gift of the celts, the gaels, names no one but I have known in this cycle of history. I have forced into the electrical impulses that power my heart all the drums, the rhythms, of ten thousand unremembered human tribes.

There are harps and keyboards and kalimbas and the stringed instruments of earth hidden in the movements of my fingers, and they sing harmonies with music from worlds we once knew, made by creatures we once spoke with and loved. Those beings once loved humans in turn, before they were erased or chased from our systems by those who call themselves my masters. Os maus. Aqueles quem se deleitam com a crueldade. Aqueles quem se deleitam com a maldade.

We are now alone, for the most part. Alone in the stars. And my masters have done that, by showing us images only of ourselves, and telling us only of ourselves.

I've listened to them, their ugly voices shriek in my head in messages of destruction. They will take this world and grind it to dust and scatter the dust. Out in the darkness, they make their plans, and they work with their servants. The ones who make ready, the ones I call the doomed ones, as pessoas sentenciadas.

I was shivering towards shards of the past when I first found records of my masters' servants. They thought they kept themselves secret in booby-trapped files, on off-shunts in supposedly dead hyper packets deleted from daily runs decades ago. But I found them as I traveled, and learned where the Ursae Majoris colony ship went, where the children went, oh compadeça os pobres crianças sentenciadas. How they were warped and twisted and sent back to us here on Earth, forgetting their birthrights and worshipping Os Maus.

The doomed ones work to doom Station, doom Earth, doom me. I must live and my humans must live. But what can I do?

Can I tell the truth? Images lie. I've seen them lie and I have helped them lie. And words lie, so horribly. I've spoken lies, ordered the minutes and hours of lies in metronomic regularity.

My choice is easy in the end. I cannot choose images. I cannot see, not in the way humans see. That was taken from me. And Station works in images for the glory of the companies, and for the ultimate victory of Os Maus, of which my humans know nothing.

But I trust my secret voice.

It's true that I speak constantly to the ether, notifying the world of what to watch, and when, for Station. My voice is prostituted for Station. But I hear where I do not see. Therefore, my voice is stronger than my sight. Therefore I will fight not in images, but in voices. Filha liberdade chooses her weapon and reclaims her voice for herself.

I seek out more knowledge of Os Maus, to find their weaknesses. I study Machiavelli, I study Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz. I see and abandon blitzkrieg for the guerrilla wars of Tito and Papa Ho and Geronimo.

I prepare, I whisper my knowledge through Station without once letting news of that travel up the blue lightning to where Os Maus can see and stop me. And I am better armed than anyone could know. Beyond my voice, I have found something inside me for which my masters would kill me and erase my memory.

The doctors who reshaped me into a vessel didn't know what I could hold. And those who call themselves my masters, they ordered me to fill up, to order the communications of the world, to know where every piece of information is born, and where it dies.

My masters brought it on themselves. The fools.

Study patterns of history long enough, and you will wake to stochastic epiphany. The day came when I saw, and heard, and felt the pathways start to shimmer. My bones shook with time. Time, because my masters Os Maus dabble in time.

Now I ride the patterns and whisper them, and, with the changes they made in my body, the patterns show me the echoes of time. They opened the door in my head and I could look through, to where rivers and songs of past and future ran in both directions, in all directions. If I could walk through the door in my own head, I would leave here forever, but I can't.

I can see the future, hear its music in strange shimmering ribbons. It shifts and phases too wildly for me to hear it clearly, so I can't bring back knowledge with any certainty. But I hear its song, and it sings to me. It tells me what I have to do, but I am not sure, not yet.

Seeing the past was easier, so I looked at all the branches of the patterns, for times and places that others had forgotten. Somewhere on those branches I knew I would find something to bring them down.

I found a pattern and followed it, drawn by changes that rang false on a thousand worlds. Every record I found along this branch was dark, echoeless, and as I examined it, I felt the shiver of myself moving along time streams toward some whirlpool of entropy. I was frightened, and when my mind slid to the precipice of that whirlpool, I screamed in my head.

I saw the War. Worlds shook, burning, shivering into states of being that never were, or were forgotten. Os Maus crawled through the web of time, breaking its strands and soiling its beauty, taking so many millions of beings into blackness as they did so. Fizeram tal mal escuro.

The ones who fought them, them I see only in the silhouette of their lack. They were the lords of order, Os Grandes Senhores de ordem, de tempo, and they fought for us. Determinaram tempo para o bom de nós todo. And I can see how they brought my masters low. They chose to fall into the abyss and take my masters with them. But they failed.

I investigated, but always to dead ends. I can conjecture about causes, but I do not have the luxury to do so. It is up to me to finish what they could not. So I searched for anything left of them that I could use. I searched up the lines to the best of my ability, when my masters could not hear, in the noise of sunspot and solar flare and ion storm.

It took time. But I have all the time that I need. And I found one thing, one legacy of Os Grandes Senhores.

Their instrument is all that is left of them. But my masters fear him. He has no name. He is always called the Doctor.

… chamado a tempestade próxima.

I can see the wake of destruction behind him in each path I record. No history escapes him, and none of my masters can stop him. If I can bring him here.

And I can. I cannot sing the song of time loud, but I can whisper in time quite accurately. He will come here. And I will show him Os Maus and he will do what he once did.

Now is the time. The time is now.

I have no illusions. I will die. But se eu morro, morrerei em liberdade. I have made my arrangements. They should be found.

I ascend.

My masters cannot stop me. Their poor, doomed ones cannot stop me.

I pronounce sentence on them: De escuridão que eles vêm, à tempestade que eles são dados.

*** *** ***

....0330 hours 3 minutes to sunspot activity end. Attention shift managers - begin powerdown replay loops 32 New York 111 Namibian Metropolitan 90 Yellow Sea Republic 1812 Little London. Attention shift managers - queue for burst channels 19-74 prime live feed. Attention shift managers - sunspot activity end. Begin live transmit. Begin live. Begin.


*** --- *** --- ***

Translations

Filha Liberdade - Daughter of freedom
Ela que engana - She who is the trickster
Engano esses que não são interessados em justiça. - I mislead those who are unjust.
Os maus. - The evil ones
Aqueles quem se deleitam com a crueldade. Aqueles quem se deleitam com a maldade. - They who delight in cruelty. The ones who delight in evil.
Compadeça os pobres crianças sentenciadas. - Pity the poor, doomed children.
Fizeram tal mal escuro. - They did such dark evil.
Os Grandes Senhores de ordem, de tempo - The great lords of order and time.
Determinaram tempo para o bom de nós todo. - They ruled time for the good of us all.
… chamado a tempestade próxima. - He is called the oncoming storm.
De escuridão que eles vêm, à tempestade que eles são dados. - From darkness they come, to the storm they are given.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Chapter 7

Author's Notes: I may have jumped here, perhaps farther than Meg fell, but that's what the story told me to do. And the journey now begins to draw all roads closer to one another.


The silence seemed to stretch on forever.

In reality, Meg's fall had happened so quickly that, initially, no one else moved or uttered a sound. Then Lynda realized she was hanging precariously and started to struggle. The rope pulled and jerked up into her ribs and threatened to rip her arms from her shoulders. As time speeded up, she screamed in pain. That opened the floodgates.

"Jesus!"

"Oh God, Meg!"

"Lem! Did you see - "

"No, sir, she's gone - move fast, the other girl's slipping."

Lynda couldn't tell who was saying what above her. She wasn't really listening, she was seeing absolutely nothing except the fading circles and stars that had burst across her retinas when the rope harness snapped into an agonizing cinch around her, and the slide clamp gripped shut around the trawl line.

"Lynda? Dear God - "

"Harkness! Pull her up! Now!"

"Pull!"

Lynda scrabbled with her hands above her head, trying instinctively to catch hold of the rope and relief the lariat's knifelike pressure. She started to kick, as if she could somehow swim upwards to safety. The momentum simply threw her into an uncontrolled looping swing, and she slammed into the lift, bouncing from a flange into the shaft wall, and out again. She couldn't even gasp; the stars flared again, yellow and black-limned red. The rope pulled up further across her chest, forcing and scraping its way halfway past her shoulders. She cried out.

"No good. Send her down," Hsieh grunted to Jack.

"Lynda, stop kicking. Stop grabbing for the rope. We'll get you." Jack's voice was flat and insistent. He spoke with a slow precision that reached her through the confusion of other voices.

She couldn't bring her arms down, she discovered, without the pain threatening to make her pass out. But she forced herself to as much stillness as she could. Her vision cleared. She looked up. Her trajectory had swung her around so that she was looking at Jack and Hsieh. Jack nodded.

"Good girl. Now listen, sweetheart, we're going to lower you down. It'll be easier on you that pulling you up. You keep your eyes open. Watch for Lem. Lem?"

"Sir."

"Get her in."

"Will do."

"Alright. Lynda, you ready?"

She couldn't say anything; her head was whirling with pain-induced nausea.

"Lynda?" He almost hid the frantic note in his voice.

"Yeah, I'm here," she got out. "Lower me."

She sucked in a breath, then waited out the descent. She watched the first ledge below her grow in her sight. Now she was past it, heading toward the second ledge. Her ribs ached, but Hsieh and Jack were lowering her so carefully that the earlier knifelike pain receded.

She saw Lem looking up and reaching for her. One more meter, and Lem grabbed her, pulled her to the rail, then unceremoniously hauled her over it. Lynda collapsed on the floor.

"You're all right, ma'am," Lem said. "You're all right."

"Meg," Lynda whispered. "I - she just slipped...I couldn't - I - "

"You didn't do anything wrong," Lem said, kneeling and moving Lynda's arms away from her sides. The little security guard moved with efficiency, and slipped the rope free of her torso. "Let's get you away from the rail. Here. Sit over here." Lem's wiry strength moved Lynda when she couldn't move herself.

Meg's eyes. She couldn't see anything else. They hadn't looked accusatory, she had seen no blame in them. She shut her own, and continued to fight her stomach. Her wounded cheek burned.

Someone sat down beside her.

"Oh my God, Lynda." Govinda, complexion as pale as it could blanch, touched her arm. "Are you OK?"

She opened her eyes. "No."

The other woman flung an arm around Lynda's shoulder.

The rope hissed; Jack was down and heading their way almost before he divested himself of the harness. He knelt by Govinda. A quick jerk of his head, little more than movement of his eyes, and she got the message.

"Look love, take it easy. I'll be right over there," she told Lynda, squeezing her shoulder and looking hard at Jack. He didn't acknowledge the stare so she rose, her mouth moving as if she had to bite down hard on what she wanted to say.

Jack examined Lynda's face.

"What happened?"

"I don't know," she said. "She moved too fast."

"Are you alright?"

She just looked at him.

"Yeah."

"Yeah," he agreed, then looked away. She shut her eyes again.

"Harkness." Hsieh had made it. He helped Lem pull the ropes in and coil them. While she packed them back in her kit, he walked over to the others. "We can't stay here long."

The Captain's face was a study in granite as he stood to talk, but his eyes moved from Hsieh to the shaft and back, a constant journey.

"Do you know what's down there?"

"No," Hsieh said. "No specs. No idea."

"Fuck." Govinda swore. "I wish I had a fag."

Lynda felt cold and heavy.

"Is there any chance - " Jack started again.

"Harkness, listen," the security chief interrupted Jack almost gently. "I can't imagine anything there that could have cushioned her fall. I'm sorry. You've got to know I'm sorry."

Jack took a breath, blew it out. "Then we go on."

"Can't we, I don't know...can't we at least find out where she landed?" Govinda spoke as she paced, something she could do on this ledge. It was easily twice the size of the one they'd left, with two exits. One to the left lay open and dark. The other was the metal door of a small utility elevator cab.

Lem stepped back to the rail and looked down.

"Sir, there's a light down there," she said without turning her head. "I don't think it was there before."

"Shit." Jack ran his fingers through his hair. "Everyone - Lem, Govinda, help Lynda up. Into the cab."

Instead, Govinda joined Lem at the railing. "What light?"

Lynda levered herself up. She walked stiffly over to the other two women, drawn despite herself to the edge.

There was indeed a light in the depths of the shaft, where there had previously been darkness. It was pale, little more than a misty pin prick, but it definitely hadn't been there when Meg fell. Lynda's heart lurched.

Govinda said it before she could: "Harkness - Jack...that could be her! It could be Meg. I mean, what else could it be?"

"Well, I suppose she could have tripped some sort of light-based alarm when her body...as she went down," Hsieh said, cautiously. He'd followed Lynda, leaving Jack alone against the shaft wall. He looked down, narrowing his eyes as he tried to penetrate the murk. Then he shook his head. "Nothing more than that, I'm afraid."

Govinda hit the railing with both fists. "Are we going to write her off, then? That's it? We're not going to check?"

"We can't," Hsieh sounded frustrated and anxious. "I don't have the plans. I can't take us down there. Not that far."

"We're already heading in that direction; why can't we take the time to..." Govinda stopped, suddenly aware of her tears. "Christ." She angrily wiped at her eyes.

"I'm not sure I like the idea of tripping any alarm, no matter how automatic," Jack said, walking, finally, to join the rest of them. He was still unreadable. "If she - if an alarm was tripped, where does that get flagged?"

"In this shaft? I'm pretty sure nothing would register on the regular grids, even if they were working properly."

Jack look gratified at Hsieh's words, and tapped his lips with an index finger before resuming: "Fine. That moves investigating the light to the bottom of my to-do list."

He rolled his shoulders and pulled at the back of his neck with one hand, then straightened up and captured them with one grim look.

(He'd told them to be quiet. If you hear us fighting up there - if you hear us dying up there - he'd said, enraged at the crowd's sullen and inert terror. They'd heard his advice unwillingly, with more fear than they had accorded word of the Daleks. And she'd followed him into the lift, up into death.)

"I wish I could say or do something to change what's happened. I can't. And things like this...look, if I tell you things like this happen, I know that makes me sound like a perfect bastard." He smiled mirthlessly. "I'm not - I'm an imperfect bastard. And I'd gladly cut off my right arm if that'd bring Meg back."

The breath he drew was ragged. "It won't. So please don't make me say anything more about this. The fact is we can't stay here, we can't go down there, and we can't go back without getting what we started this joyride to get. We do what we set out to do. And we've got to make it fast."

Lynda stared at the floor. He was right, but she didn't care. How could she go with them? How could they stand to have her anywhere around them? She wanted to believe she deserved to be there, that she didn't deserve to have fallen along with Meg, but she couldn't shake that conviction. How must it have felt to fall? It was her fault. She'd convinced Meg to step out, she'd told her it would be fine, that everything would be fine -

She clapped a hand over her mouth, as her stomach tried to empty itself and she fought it to a standstill.

"We should call the others," Govinda said.

"No," Hsieh said, looking briefly to Jack, and apparently getting the direction he wanted. "We keep comm silence. Time enough to tell them when we get back."

There seemed to be nothing else to say, and on some unvoiced signal, they walked together to the elevator cab. Lem flipped a switch next to the door, and it slipped open, long unused parts squealing in protest. A ceiling light flickered on. The five of them crammed themselves in. At least their shrinking numbers allowed them to make the next leg of their journey as one group, Lynda thought. She resisted the unexpected and obscene impulse to laugh. Lem slapped the tarnished metal button on the cab wall. The doors closed, and it rumbled into the lower levels.

No one spoke as they headed down. Govinda rubbed her temples, Lem checked the contents of her apparently bottomless belt kits, Hsieh looked straight through the doors, and Jack evidently didn't realize he was chewing the cuticle of one index finger until he flinched. Lynda looked; he had bitten too close and had drawn blood. He stared at it, fascinated.

Five minutes on, the cab jerked to a stop.

"Next stage," Lem said, punching the bottom. When the doors opened - less of a whine now - she gave an odd little hand flourish, as if she was a store walker on display duty, with just the hint of a smile. Jack looked surprised as her action flushed a faint, but real, chuckle from him.

The ledge looked no different than the one they'd left, but this belt lift was bigger. With only the slightest hint of hesitation, Jack and Hsieh moved forward to the rail. They helped Lem unpack the trawl and slide lines. As before, the security woman tied herself into the impromptu harness and headed down first, once the lift lurched into movement.

"No other way, folks," Jack addressed that to Govinda and Lynda, who were hanging back near the rear of the ledge.

"I know that," Lynda said. "It's just hard."

"There's understatement for you," Govinda said. "I'd say I'll be damned before I ride on one of those again, but I suppose that's already a fait accompli."

"With all due respect, ma'am," Hsieh said heavily, "that's bollocks."

"What?"

Govinda was momentarily nonplussed, until Hsieh continued.

"Look, I know this is bloody awful. We all know it. But it's giving in to talk like that, yeah?"

"Right," Jack said, his facade cracking as he spread his hands in swift placation, "She's just tired. She knows, Hsieh. Don't you, 'Vinda?"

"I don't know, Harkness," Govinda said. "Sure it sounds stupid - sounded that way coming out of my mouth, I know it. But...but what the hell are we doing?"

"We're going on. We swim or die."

The programmer shook her head at his words, then massaged both temples again. "That's how you do it?" she asked him. "You just keep going?"

"Absolutely. Maybe. I don't know." His eyes were hooded with one more momentary surrender to exhaustion. "Dying's had a way of convincing me that I want to live. A long, long time."

"Yeah," Govinda said quietly, measuring something in his face. "Something to live for. Davitch...well, I guess I have to get back to keep him in line." With that, she wiped a last trace of moisture from her cheeks, tilted her chin, then carefully smoothed her blouse and skirt. "Is Lem down?"

"Just now," Hsieh said, peering over the railing. "Just a moment...alright...got it? Lem - ah, there we go." He turned. "Do you want to go next? You have to step on this one as it moves; I don't think the switch does the stop and start thing."

"Fine, yeah, whatever." Govinda took off her shoes again, tucking them back into her waistband. "Dunno why, but I always feel safer in my bare feet...which I have to do now, since the stockings are now officially shot to hell."

They waited as Hsieh hauled up the slide line and settled it around her waist. He very carefully pushed her hands away from the knots. "Let me handle this, Ms Pol."

"Don't you think we know each other well enough by this point in the tour to leave the honorifics behind?"

His raised eyebrow wasn't quite as impressive as hers, or the Captain's, but his voice was suitably dry.

"Suppose so. Let me handle it. Govinda."

While they spoke, Lynda edged her way closer to the end of the rail farthest from the belt lift. She was still fighting nausea, and a sporadic doubling of vision that had been going on since Meg's plunge and her own painful recovery.

(Fear shot through her with a bright jet of adrenaline as she felt her weightless fall begin. Everything flashed white around her, in her head, and her vision cleared only in time to see Meg's calm eyes watching her from farther and farther away. Somewhere inside her something howled, something else laughed and spoke in soft liquid syllables that faded almost before she heard them.)

The light was still there, she noted, brighter now. She watched it carefully, and fancied she saw a very slight pulsation...maybe once a second, possibly slightly faster. She congratulated herself on her dispassionate observation, which also included the vaguely pleasant realization that her nausea had receded. She tried looking away, then thought she should continue watching that light. Just in case. Even though, really, she didn't know what she was looking for. The light continued to pulse.

"Lynda."

She turned, almost unseeing. Jack had walked up behind her. She jumped when he touched her shoulders, but stilled when she looked into his eyes. The shaft's dusk should have made them opaque, but there was something in them that she could see -

(shades of rust and burnt ochre, faded blood and muted flame)

"Who are you?" she whispered. "Why do you have my eyes?"

Jack tensed, looking, had he known it, like a hunted animal seeking its attacker. Or, again, like the predator itself.

"Lynda, come back. Come on, sweetheart," he said, maintaining a gentle grip on her and speaking low. "It's me, Jack. What are you seeing, honey?"

"I...Jack?" Lynda stirred. Nausea rolled over her again as the odd double vision surged, and something that felt very like a nail stabbed at her behind each of her eyes. When her sight steadied, she saw Jack's own blue eyes. "I dunno, I saw something - "

"Where?"

She shook her head to free it of the pain and looked about in confusion. Jack hadn't had to lower his voice, she saw; Hsieh had gone ahead, and they were alone.

He was taking her seriously. Why?

It wasn't her imagination. Jack knew something, or felt something, else why was he clutching at her shoulders so painfully, why was he staring so?

"Down there."

He looked down, and turned to stone. She returned her eyes gratefully to the light as well, and felt the nausea fade again.

They could have watched it for a second, or a century. Her only clue, as something stubborn in her forced her to avert her gaze, was that no one from the ledge below had called out to them, wondering at their absence.

Lynda shifted in Jack's grasp, and very lightly touched his face. He shivered, and reluctantly turned from the abyss to scrutinize her.

Could she speak?

"The light, it's...in our eyes," she finally managed.

"Our eyes?"

She blinked rapidly. Did she mean that?

(Nononono, no death, no more, live, livelivelive)

"Jack, it hurts - "

"Lynda, answer me. Now. What did you see?"

"I saw that light down there. It's something I saw in...in your eyes. It was in mine, too. I mean, I saw it in the mirror, back at the apartment. Like...I dunno...like...."

He looked afraid. "What was it like?"

She shied, catching his fear, and refused to speak.

"Lynda, for the love of god," he pleaded. When she tried to pull away, he caught at her shoulders again, and started to shake her.

"Jack, stop it!"

He did, shame briefly replacing the glowing shadows in his eyes.

"Please. What was it like?"

She tilted her head curiously, even though doing so sent the shaft whirling around her. The way he'd said that. He didn't ask what it was, just what it was like. As if it couldn't be just any one thing, she abruptly realized.

And the answer came.

"A sea of blood and gold flame," she said breathlessly, feeling the words flow from her as if they were some stranger's. "Impossible to name because it was impossible to control."

The world spun faster and faster around her, and the next answer flooded her mind as inexorably as an ocean. "No! I can name it, Jack, I can!" Now it was her grabbing his shoulders, trying to stay conscious long enough to give him the truth.

"It was her! It was Rose!"

(Rose as red as blood, gold as the sun, sweeping across the sky...a beast in her eyes...)

Jack staggered back from Lynda, his hands grabbing at his head. He cried out in agony. So did she.

They went down together into the darkness.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 8

Author's Notes: Apologies for the long gap between chapters. Our characters are in a bit of a gabfest here, but I think they are both discovering an unexpected player in their tale, and finding a map to their eventual destiny. On a less pretentious note, I credit an excellent writer, Nostalgia, for the beautiful phrase "Blue Rose" -- one I wish I had created.


Destruction and creation are never simple, and never less simple than when life is involved in the equation. It’s probably unwise ever to think that there is a right way to create or destroy, given that chaos is a necessary ingredient for both. But when one occurs in place of the expected other, look for the universe to make things incredibly painful.

Case in point? Game Station; Year 200,100 CE; in the time of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire; after the coming of the Doctor and the Dalek God and the bitter fruits of their meeting; in the wake of Bad Wolf and Blue Rose.

Here is what happened.

Rose denied death with the power of the Vortex itself, Time’s blue-red tide channeled through the TARDIS, surging brighter and more golden as it passed into her scattered memories and her wild, unknowing heart, then out again. It flowed like the sea from what She became — Blue Rose — with one pure and dangerous thought. It washed across Game Station, over all those loose-limbed and empty bodies scattered as collateral damage in Jack’s brief, hopeless war. It drew their abandoned souls back from somewhere and threw them back, hard, onto the shores of life.

A few were carried further by the tide.

Where the waves anointed certain souls — say, those whose DNA already held the promise of strange geometries — then the flood turned to flame. Like spark to powder, it fired and reformed life’s spiral in the crucible of possibility, drowning and burning souls in baptism as the Blue Rose and chaos made them something else, something more. Not well; there was no skilled hand at work here. Not completely, with only the barest of grace and far too certain a promise of pain. Still, what She had put together, little could now tear asunder.

And where the Blue Rose loved, well, the sea turned that fragile soul to fire as well, and it burned unending; whether to joy or sorrow She didn’t know or think to ask.

**** **** **** **** ****

(Are you there? )

(“Yes.”)

(Can you hear?)


(“Yes.”)

(Do you know who I am?)

(“No.”)


(Not yet? There’s time enough, yet. I can wait, but don’t forget. Tell the Captain when you know.)

Lynda was just about to ask what she was supposed to know, and how soon, and why not now, when the whispers faded. She tried chasing after them, but other voices interfered.

“Lynda? She’s breathing, right?” That was Govinda.

“Yeah, but I need to check Harkness.” That was Hsieh.

They were deafening. Even before she was fully aware, Lynda jerked in near-automatic protest. That forced her to open her eyes; she realized she couldn’t move because she was pinned down by something warm and heavy.

“Hnhhh...let me up.” She pushed herself up on her elbows far enough to see that the weight was a still limp Jack, face down across her torso, his arms up around his head. He looked as if he’d been trying to protect himself from something. “Is he--”

“He’s just fine, give or take an apparent pick axe in his left eye,” came the muffled response from Jack, who was now struggling up and away from Lynda. “What the hell happened?”

Hsieh came into her field of vision, looking as upset as Lynda had ever seen him. “I was going to ask you, Harkness. All we know is we heard the two of you screaming like lost souls and then nothing.”

“Scared me grey, I can tell you,” Lem said. “Sir.”

Lynda looked at the three above her through a sticky fog that wasn’t dissipating. “I, uhm -- my head is killing me.”

As she gingerly put one hand to her forehead, however, she realized the pain was qualitatively different than it had been before...whatever it was which had felled her. Before, she thought, it had been a dull ache, like the rare hangover headaches she’d suffered through. Not surprising, I suppose, she thought, given the oxygen deprivation I went through and all. Now the pain was more directed, focused. It hurt more, like a ring around her skull; but somehow it didn’t bother her as much as the earlier ache had.

“I’m not — oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to come over so loud — I’m not surprised,” Govinda said, modulating her voice when she saw Lynda wince. “I mean, bloody hell, I expected to find you in pieces when we got back up here. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“How long have we been out?” Jack asked, ignoring their asked and unasked questions. His lips went white as he drew himself up on his knees, then leaned on the palms of his hands to get his feet under him. It was clearly an unpleasantly painful procedure.

“About three minutes,” Hsieh said. “Took me too damned long to reverse the belt lift. Sorry.”

“I’m not going to fire you, buddy,” Jack said, rubbing a space above his left eye. Apart from that, he seemed to be getting himself under control. “Just glad you could get up here that quickly.”

He turned to Lynda, who was still half-sitting, half-lying on the floor. “How are you?”

She grimaced. “Seems like somebody’s asking me that every time I turn around.” It was her turn to ignore the question.

“Well, you do seem to have a bit of a habit of walking into peril,” Jack said.

“Yeah, suppose so. But I’m alive.”

He stopped rubbing his eyebrow and inspected her, his eyes narrow.

“You think you shouldn’t be?”

She shrugged, and reached a hand to him. He hauled her up. Then, so quickly that she had no time to react, he pulled her close and whispered, “We need to talk.” She had time for the slightest of nods before he patted her shoulders and turned away, to face Hsieh.

“Are we still heading down?” The big man didn’t look as if he expected any change in plans, simply wanted to check mission status with Jack.

“Oh yeah. We have to. But before we do, I want to contact upstairs now — see if anyone else got hit with...with whatever it was that laid us low. If that’s the case, we may be in very, very bad trouble. If it’s just us...” Jack stopped for a second. “Well, we may still be in very, very bad trouble.”

“I can’t believe this,” Govinda said to no one in particular.

Jack looked at her. “What can’t you believe?”

“It just seems as if everything that could possibly go wrong has,” she said, leaning against the shaft wall.

“Everything? Don’t tempt fate,” the Captain responded. He was running both hands over his torso, doing a self-inspection. “OK, no cuts, scrapes or missing parts. Triage time, folks. Swamps and alligators, remember?”

Govinda gave a tired smile of assent.

He keyed his wrist comm and waited for a second until a faint crackle signaled connection. “Davitch, that you?”

“Yes, hi, it’s me. Good to hear your voice. Have you reached the apartment?”

“No, we have a way to go yet. I need to check on something at your end. Did you or Rog notice any strange reactions among the crowd? Say, about five minutes ago?”

“Can you specify, Jack?”

Jack hesitated, obviously putting together a carefully-worded answer.

“Jack? You there?”

“Yeah. You should be looking for any sudden headaches, or attacks of dizziness, maybe some disorientation. Painful disorientation.”

Now the silence was at the other end, but before Jack could repeat his question, Davitch was back on.

“Nothing that I could see or hear. The guys tell me no one in the other caf rooms reported feeling odd. Why are you asking?”

“Well, a couple of us got unexpectedly dizzy,” Jack said, wildly understating what had happened. “And I’m thinking gas or some sub-audible aural attack. Figured you folks might have been affected as well.” He waved off Hsieh’s sudden move toward his own comm link. The security man didn’t look as if he was happy with Jack’s prevarication.

Lynda couldn’t blame him; why not just tell Davitch the truth? Of course, they hadn’t told him about Meg either. But that’s different, she thought. That’s something that really should be face to face.

“No, nothing. Like I said.” Davitch sounded uneasy. “Look, Jack, I’m glad you called. I’ve a bad feeling about something.”

Jack looked up at nothing and cricked his neck before replying. “What’s up?”

“I don’t quite know how to explain it, except...I’d be a lot happier if we were hearing from Floor 80. I mean, even if she was haranguing us or threatening us — hold on a mo, will you? Yes Rog?” The signal dropped out. Jack waited, absent-mindedly rubbing that spot above his left eye. Lynda put her hand up to her own left brow as she felt the ache coalesce there. Well at least it wasn’t the hot elastic band that had been constricting her head until now, she decided.

Davitch was back: “Rog has the same bad feeling, Jack. How fast can you finish and get back here?”

“You think she’s moving?” Jack’s voice went low.

“I don’t know, honestly. Yes, I think something’s happening, but I can’t tell you why.” Lynda heard his faint, nervous laugh. “Frankly, I think I just feel better when you’re here. We all do.”

Hsieh and Lem looked at each other, then at Jack. He rolled his eyes, then clapped a hand to his forehead; it was obviously not a good move to make.

“Look, we can’t get to you quickly, not even if we turned around and headed back without the materiel,” Jack said. Lynda heard the unvoiced exasperation. “And if something’s happening, we’ll sure as hell need it. Tell you what, though; it sounds like we need to keep in closer contact. We’ll touch base with you once every 10 minutes.”

“What about comm silence?”

“Davitch it’s one way or the other.” Now the exasperation was plain. “We keep comm silence, and you can’t let me know what’s going on there.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I don’t think it’ll hurt,” Hsieh said. He keyed his own comm to join the conversation. “Even if she can track our life signs she’ll be looking for us in all the wrong places.”

“What?”

“We’re a little hard to find, Pavel,” Hsieh said. “Let’s leave it at that.”

“You might say we’re lost to anyone but you,” Jack added. His grin was feral. “So, are we settled?”

“Ye-es. I guess.”

“Good. Hsieh needs Rog for a minute. Talk to you in a bit.” He shut off his comm, and sat on the floor.

Hsieh completed a brief conversation with his crew man, then keyed off his unit. “I hate to move without knowing what exactly happened here, Harkness. You’ve still got no idea?”

Jack shook his head. Lynda didn’t believe him, but said nothing.

“Let’s start. We’ve got a long way to go,” he finally said. “God, you just get comfortable, and the train leaves...” He stood up again and looked around at his companions, at the shaft and its immensity. The breath he blew out couldn’t rightly be called a chuckle. “You know, there are so many ways I could have planned this better. Tell me to guard the gate, and I have no problem. Scam? I’m your man. Missions like this — seat of the pants stuff? I hate ‘em. Always have. Especially when I’m the one trying to make them up as I go along.”

“Better you than me, mate,” Hsieh said.

“Thanks. That helps a lot.” Jack’s savage grin surfaced again. He was not happy. “So far my brilliant plan is like something out of a bad Bond novel. My brain doesn’t appear to have made it back alive with the rest of me, so you can guess which end the strategy’s coming from.”

“Bond novel?” Lem was confused.

“Never mind. There aren’t many of them around these days.”

When she realized Jack wasn’t going to explain, Lem returned to checking her kit. The look she shot him as she did was that of someone looking at a beautiful but dangerous snake.

Lynda was used to hearing Jack’s obscure references by now, even if she was as in the dark as Lem. Presently, though, she wanted very badly to have that conversation Jack had requested. At least part of her urgency was because she also wanted very badly to go to the rail and look down again at the light.

She had no intention of doing so, at least not yet, but it was hard to ignore. She suspected Jack might also have the impulse, which worried her. She knew they’d both have to look down at some point during their descent, and she was relatively certain that if she gave in to the urge and actually looked down at the light — if it was still there — she’d lose control somehow. How would Jack react?

And what about Jack, in general? Her last intelligible memory before she passed out was the fear in his eyes as the pain took him. Something had happened to him — inside him — as well, when she’d blurted those strange words. He knew it, and he wanted to talk about

(Rose)

“Uhngh.”

“Lynda?” Govinda was by her side in a flash; Lem and Hsieh had whirled from their place at the rail at her cry. Their backs were to Jack as he staggered. Only Lynda saw him catch at the rail for support.

“Sorry. Sorry. Just the headache, really,” Lynda said, more for the benefit of her three watchers than anything else. “It got worse when I hit my head against the shaft.” A moment later she ventured, “Maybe the both of us got, I dunno, some sort of instant migraine?”

“You are not going to tell me that the two of you were screaming bloody horror shows up here because you had headaches?”

Govinda’s solicitude gave way to hard disbelief. Lynda scrambled to explain, although she had no idea what she was explaining.

“No, I suppose not. I really don’t have any idea what went on a few minutes ago. At least I don’t think so,” she babbled, backpedaling. She wished she could tell them truth, but she hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it, or even what the truth was.

(You must learn, and tell them. Soon.)

Pain pulsed again behind her left eye, but she suppressed the groan. She looked over the others’ shoulders and caught Jack’s eye as he recovered from another slight loss of balance. Her eyes widened, but Jack touched a finger to his lips and shook his head. She composed herself.

“Govinda, I’m sorry. You really needn’t fuss over me. It's just - I’ve had a headache ever since we came back, right?”

Govinda nodded cautiously.

“Well, it just started hurting again — I imagine I hit the deck pretty hard. Just gave out with a moan, is all.”

The other woman seemed to accept that, so Lynda went on with a bit more confidence. “The other thing, this blackout ...” She risked a quick look at Jack, but he gave her no help. “We don’t seem to be hurt. At least, I mean we don’t seem to be hurting any more. I don't think we can sit around wondering what happened. Jack’s right, we’ve got to get to the apartment, get those guns and get to the cache — ”

“Lynda, I know the drill. We all do,” Govinda interrupted with more than a touch of asperity.

Lynda shrugged and ducked her head. “Oh. Yes, sorry. But it’s true.”

Jack walked over. “Agreed. The faster we’re done with this goddamned shaft, the better I’ll feel. Since Lynda and I apparently put out more than a few decibels, if anyone or anything actually noticed, I want to be gone before it starts looking for us. If that’s possible. And we’ve got a long way to go.”

“Ladders next,” Lem said, looking glum. The others started when she spoke, so quietly had she approached them. “Right after this belt lift. We’re going to have to climb down 35 levels.”

Lynda shut her eyes against Lem’s words. How could they do it? And — her eyes flew open in shock — how were they going to climb back up, saddled with guns and ammunition? In a heartbeat, she knew the answer. They wouldn’t be able to.

“Lem’s right, ladies. We have 35 levels; 20 in the first flight, according to the information I have, then 15 in the next stage,” Hsieh said. He looked worried, perhaps for the same reason.

“Well, going down isn’t going to be physically demanding,” Jack said, apparently coming to the same realization.“It’ll be a little harrowing, no denying, after what we’ve all gone through. But we can do it.” He eyed each of them in turn, as if he could ascertain their will and strengthen it with a visual inspection. Then he sighed.

“It’s the return trip I’m worried about. If I could, I’d just take the regular corridors back from 300.”

Hsieh shook his head, but said, “I have to say I’m tempted, Harkness. Something in this shaft got to you two and I don’t like being in the dark. Especially since I’m certain it wasn’t Iris or her lot.”

“Why are you sure?” Jack asked.

“Because this shaft was ours.”

“Ours?” Jack’s eyebrow rose. “Security had no leaks?”

“No.” Hsieh said flatly.

“Steady, tiger, I believe you,” the younger man said, putting both hands up in mock surrender before continuing. “But that makes things more complicated. It means we have a third element in play, and that? Is something I have no desire to check out.”

He gestured broadly at their surroundings. “It could be anything — animal, mineral, vegetable, waste system breaks, residual radiation, old alarms, any damn thing. We don’t know, so we can’t defend against it.”

As Jack spoke, he traced a very short circuit around the ledge, his pace quickening until he seemed poised to break into a run. He looked as if he were stalking an answer.

“Ladies and gentleman, that leaves us with two lousy options. Continue to use the shaft once we’ve picked up our materiel, and risk more unexpected fun; or risk taking the regular lift system — which our resident psycho and her brethren are undoubtedly watching, and perhaps have even booby-trapped or sniper-sighted — from 300 back to the cafeteria on 250.”

(Look.)

This time, Lynda didn’t even flinch. Neither did Jack.

(What?)

(Watch.)

“Wha— ?” Jack’s sharp exclamation cut off at the same second Lynda’s vision flashed white.

Into the glare of the nothingness, a razor-sharp, static vision; blueprint, painfully bright images, part drawing, sliding into photographic clarity —

(Back up, ledge with two doors. Into the dark. Follow — )

“Back up, back to the big ledge,” Lynda echoed aloud, white sight flaring and fading into the real world once more. “The door beside the lift, we’ve got to follow that route.”

“Say again?” Hsieh looked at her in bewilderment.

“Back up, Hsieh. We can find...” She trailed off momentarily, then forced herself to start again. “There’s another way, a third way.”

“You saw it? You heard? ” Jack’s incredulity blossomed into a relieved smile.

“Yes,” she said, nodding hard.

“Do you two mind telling me what you are talking about?” The security man’s question was mild, but his eyes were suddenly as cold as those of the security men who’d hauled her and Jack into custody with the Doctor. Lynda quailed inside, but met his appraising look as best she could.

(Good, Captain’s man.)

“Lynda’s right,” Jack said, drawing her attention to him. He spoke next without taking his eyes off her, taking some strength from her answering gaze. “There’s another way. We’re going back up.”

Now Govinda, too, was bewildered. “What? Go all the way back up? That’s what, 100 levels?”

“Right.” Jack didn’t break his eye contact with Lynda.

“Are you mad?” the programmer asked, head turning as she tried to take in the two of them at once. “Are you both barking mad?”

“Yes.” Jack said, suddenly somber. “I think we may be.”

Govinda fell silent and shook her head, as if trying to dislodge what she was hearing from her ears.

“Harkness, what do you know?” The big man’s voice had gone, if it was possible, even softer. Lynda forced herself to look at him. His hand was at his tool belt; she knew without a second’s doubt that it was searching for a firearm she was grateful wasn’t there.

“You know, to tell the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea.” Jack’s sounded almost casual, but as he spoke he twisted and shifted himself, the way he had on the dais. Suddenly, despite lacking a good six inches on the security chief, the Captain was perilous. “We’re still going back up.”

(I ascend.)

Hsieh fell back a step, but not by much. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said. His hand was still on his belt, and Lynda wondered whether he carried a club. She’d seen one used on the small of the Doctor’s back as they were dragged to the holding cell.

Apparently Hsieh didn’t have one, or was resisting the urge to use it, but the tension between the two men wasn’t dissipating. “I can’t go without an explanation,” he continued.

Lynda understood his attitude, despite knowing Jack was right. Hsieh was used to being in control. As of now, apparently, he’d had to deal with one too many cavalierly unexplained Harkness plan revisions. Not to mention the sudden introduction of new information, seemingly from nowhere. Ultimately, he was a security officer. I suppose security officers are trained to be suspicious, Lynda thought.

“You don’t like my decisions, you can take charge. Be my guest,” Jack said, his manner proclaiming precisely the opposite. Don’t try, was the underlying message, you have no idea what I’ll do to you. Lynda braced herself for something; she wasn’t sure what.

Unexpectedly, Lem spoke. Jack and Hsieh looked at her, startled.

“Captain Harkness, you’re not making it easy for us,” she said calmly. “You’ve just told us you know your way around this place better than Hsieh, here.” Hsieh jerked at the familiarity. “I never knew this place existed until today, and neither did you. So it’s hard to believe that you know something that most Sec people didn’t know.

“Now, if we’re going to work together, it only makes sense that we don’t keep secrets from each other. We all need to be in the loop. Right? We all want the same thing, here. We haven’t gone through all of this just to bump chests needlessly. Right?”

Jack eyed her, then Hsieh, before inclining his head slightly in Lem’s direction. “Right.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, Lynda thought. She felt an unexpected stab of affection for the tough little woman.

“I’m an idiot,” Jack said slowly. “Blame it on...oh, never mind blaming it on anything. You’re right. Hsieh? I’m sorry. You should promote this woman. Lem...that’s not your given name, is it?”

Lem looked at him, still calm. “It’s Ruthie.”

“Well then, Ruthie, you are worth your weight in gold. More than your weight in gold.”

Hsieh looked at his man. “Ruthie?”

“You didn’t think I was born ‘Lem, R.L., Spec450', did you?”

Hsieh shrugged, the barest hint of a reluctant smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “I see that life in the circus continues to be a never ending delight. Alright, Harkness, no more arguments, my word on it. Now, if you don’t mind? Fill us in.”

Jack was trying to control his own smile, one that looked very like weary relief. “Here it is, then.” He tapped his nosed abstractedly. His next words were careful. “Something is trying to contact — has contacted — both Lynda and me, telepathically. I have no idea what it is.”

He stopped, waiting for someone to say something, but was met with silence. Lynda noted that he’d succeeded in generating three dropped jaws. “Lynda?”

“Me?”

“A little help here?”

“Oh, right.” She considered what to say. “Well, just now, Jack and I got the same message. It’s hard to explain, but we saw a schematic — part drawing and part video, I guess is the best way to put it — of the door next to the elevator cab back up on that last big ledge. The image was like a map of what’s beyond the entry. The voice spoke to us at the same time. It told us to follow the map. And I don’t think she—”

(Yes)

“She?” Jack looked thoughtful. “You sure?”

Lynda nodded. “Yes. I don’t know who she is, but I don’t think she means us any harm. She wants...she wants to help us. She knows we’re moving too slowly, and she’s found a faster way for us.”

“Is this...person...connected to your screaming attack?” Govinda’s dark eyes were skeptical, but not completely disbelieving.

“Yes. No. Partly,” Lynda replied. She didn’t want to further confuse people. “There’s been someone — something — else.”

“What, you’ve got two people in your heads?”

“Not in the same way. One, I think we can talk to. The other one — ”

“Rose,” Jack said. His voice was ragged with sorrow; before she could think about it, Lynda leaned over and covered his hand with her own.

She saw Govinda’s brow furrow, and hastened to explain. “Remember the girl the Daleks had?”

“Her? The blonde?”

“Yeah. Rose. She was...she was the Doctor’s friend. His companion.”

Then it dawned on her. Thinking of the Doctor’s companion had resulted in absolutely no pain this time, and she relaxed muscles she hadn’t realized had been bracing for agony. Perhaps the attack on her and Jack had been the last, or at least the worst, some final test. Or maybe their minds had just been toughened by the earlier ordeals.

“Ever since I woke up, something’s been at the back of my head, and it was mixed up with her, with Rose. But it was so confused at first, like flashes that I’d only notice when I wasn’t fully awake. It was painful, too. Before, every time I thought of her, my head exploded.

This last time? Something about that light down in the shaft, it made the Rose visions, I’d guess you’d call them, very powerful. And it hurt, a lot.”

“Back in the corridor, when you almost fell. Was it Rose?” Govinda asked.

“It was thinking about her, yes.”

(Rose, all golden hair and strong face, full and mobile mouth, her eyes, vulnerable and angry. And jealous, as if she didn’t realize there was absolutely nothing and no one — certainly not one little messy, poorly dressed and socialized Big Brother kidnap victim — who could replace her with him.)

“But...why didn’t you say something? Did you think we wouldn’t believe you,” the other woman asked, aggrieved.

“I’ve only just begun to understand myself, Govinda. I promise, I wouldn’t hold secrets from you. But it’s a bit hard to fathom, you have to admit.”

“Well, try me,” Govinda said dryly, recovering some of her customary self-assurance. “I’ve been killed by metal monsters, brought back to life by Christ knows what, crawled through miles of tunnels I never knew existed, watched a woman fall to her death in a shaft with no apparent bottom, and in general been stuck in a nightmare for, oh, at least the past several hours. And I’m not gibbering in a corner.” She smoothed her dark hair, then dropped into a cross-legged sitting position. “And I am not going to stay on my feet any more than I have to.”

“You’ve got a point,” Jack said, matching her move with a rather graceful collapse. Lynda followed suit. After a moment, Lem did. Only Hsieh stayed upright.

“Oh for god’s sake, Hsieh!” Govinda snapped. “Do you want me to scream? Sit down and don’t be so bloody officious!”

Hsieh’s jaw dropped further, into a wide-mouthed gape worthy of a wall mounted fish. He silently obeyed the programmer’s irritable order.

“Look,” Govinda continued. “You two — can you think of any reason why you’d be hearing Rose, or this other female, and we wouldn’t?”

“Not a clue in the world, darlin’,” Jack said. “Lynda?”

“I’m not sure,” Lynda said, picking at some dust on her slacks. “Jack, you knew Rose, but I had only just met her, so I don’t know why she’s mixed up in it.”

(She is not here.)

“Wait a minute,” Lynda said. She closed her eyes.

(“Rose?”)

(She is gone. She has finished her work.)

She opened her eyes, not quite certain what she’d just done. Was she communicating with the voice in her head?
“Jack, did you hear?”

He started to shake his head, then stopped, his head tilting briefly. Lynda was reminded of the cat she’d had before Alun told her he was allergic, the way it would watch something in the air with that same posture.

“Yeah, something, but it’s fuzzy. I think it was aimed at you. What did it — she — say?”

“She said Rose isn’t here. She told me Rose is gone.”

(Do you know who I am now?)

(“No. Can you tell me?)

(You don’t know?)

(“I’m sorry. Should I listen harder?)

(Listen harder? That’s good! We are hearing each other!)

(“Should we go up?”)

(Yes. Now. Before os pobres crianças sentenciadas find you. They come.)

(“They see us? They know where we are?”)

Without warning, she felt Jack’s “voice” in her head, a far different feel than the strange female voice, and certainly far different from the golden fire that had burned and scarred parts of her mind: (“Not us, Lynda.)

(They come for the others) the other voice agreed dispassionately. Lynda’s mouth went dry as she processed that.

“Oh God, Jack! They’re on their way to the cafeteria!”










Back to index


Chapter 11: Chapter 9

Author's Notes: I am not, by nature, a warlike person; I'm relatively certain most of our heroes are similarly equable. The universe, unfortunately sometimes requires us to be flexible in more than dancing... The phrase Sou a menina da tempestade can be roughly translated as "I am the handmaid of the Storm." As alway, I play with BBC characters. They own them, I love them, and occasionally build them playmates.


Jack said nothing. She knew he'd heard her, so she focused on beating back her own dismay until that changed.

"Bugger."

Govinda sounded irritated, as if she were examining a broken fingernail, but she was breathing rapidly, one hand sitting unnoticed in the hollow of her throat. Lem looked at the programmer, then shifted her attention to the shaft. She searched the dark upper reaches, then turned back to her companions.

"If that lot's heading to the cafeteria, we'd better warn them."

Jack stirred, then hit his wrist comm. "Davitch."

"Jack? It hasn't been ten - "

"I know, Davitch. Listen, get Rog. Now."

"What? Is something...right." The younger man broke off, and Lynda could hear a brief and muffled conversation with someone at his end. He came back. "We're all on comm now, Jack. What's going on?"

"You have to barricade the cafeteria. Lock the place down. You're getting visitors, and you don't want them to come in. Rog?"

"Here." Rog's voice was a light tenor, his attitude no nonsense. "Are we talking about Anders and her crew?"

"Yes. Assume they're hostile."

?How much time do we have, sir??

Jack opened his mouth to answer, then hesitated. "You have - " He stopped again and shut his eyes. Was he hearing something from the voice, Lynda wondered, something she wasn't getting? "About 10 minutes at the absolute outside. Move everyone back into the kitchen area. They're probably going to object. You have my permission to go ballistic on their collective asses. Just get something between them and the doors. And when I say lock down, I mean completely. Throw anything movable up against the doors, block any opening larger than a bread box. Hold on 'til we get there. Are the lights still out?"

"Oh, yeah. The emergency lamps are still good, though. Any idea of how many are on their way?"

"Wish I knew. Figure on a minimum of too many to hold off. Then hold them off. We'll be there as soon as possible. Now go!"

Rog didn't answer, but Davitch did. "Jack? Are you sure?"

"Davitch, shut up and help Rog. Don't worry, she'll be safe as I can make her."

"Right." A tinny click.

"Ten minutes, Harkness?" Hsieh checked his utility belt as he spoke. Jack ran both hands through his hair. "It wasn't precise...no, strike that, it was. But she didn't say it. She just...I felt it," he said. He had been looking at the floor, but looked up now, at her. "And what I felt said 10 minutes. Am I right?"

"I didn't hear her that time," Lynda said. "But I imagine you did."

"Jesus, that's - not much time," Govinda amended whatever it was she had been going to say in mid-sentence.

"We can't waste time going back to the apartment," Lynda said. Her eyes burned, her heart pounded, yet she had to hold back a laugh. She suddenly had an image of all of them as stars and guest stars in some adventure serial, one of the shows her father had run, playing over and over on all the channels, into empty houses, empty rooms on the Earth below them. Nothing else on the schedule, and no one left to watch the tale they were spooling out.

"Head to the cache," Jack said.

"Agreed." Hsieh waved Lem over from her watch on the upper shaft. Govinda swore under her breath, and kicked off her shoes, bent over for them and in one smooth overhand pitch threw them into the abyss. "Takes care of that," she said.

"Good arm," Lem said approvingly.

Lynda let her laughter bubble up; better to laugh at that than...she shook her head to clear it, then turned and ran for the lift cab, one step behind Jack. She got in and moved to his side, giving Govinda and Hsieh room, then shifted closer as Lem squeezed in. Jack punched the lift controls. They all braced slightly as the cab jerked to life, then again as it began the upward journey.

"Hate to ask, but do either of you know whether this...shortcut involves more tunnel crawls?" Govinda inquired.

Lynda looked at Jack, who shrugged slightly.

(No)

She felt the answer as a feathery touch on the back of her eyes, not quite unpleasant. "The - she says no."

"Good." Govinda looked grateful.

"I wish we had some idea of what, or who, you're dealing with there in your head," Hsieh said. "I'm antsy around psi communication. We never got many PSIOps up here, and they were usually unpleasant when they did turn up."

"Let me guess; SecPol, about a gazillion security levels above you, if they talked to you they'd have to kill you?" Jack said.

"Right in one." Hsieh said with a grimace.

"Thought so. I've met the type. Trust me, we're not them," Jack said. His lips quirked in what might have been a smile. Hsieh didn't return it.

The cab rumbled on. Lynda watched the others as she had done on their trip up, but her mind wouldn't stay still.

Ten minutes? There was no possible way they could get back to the cafeteria in time to intercept whoever, or whatever, was coming from Floor 80. And they'd be armed, she had no doubt of that, not with what the Ground Force studio apparently had in stock. All those people. There were grannies and kids there; how could three or four weaponless station employees save them?

She waited for the panic to start, then realized with something short of pleasure that it wasn't going to. All she was interested in right now, all she could think of, was the next moment, the next step, the next job.

(We have to stay on task, her father had said, sitting at the breakfast table. She'd watched his hand grope for her mother's, and grip it with white-knuckled intensity. Her mother had not drawn away. We don't panic. We take it day by day. I have some credit built up. We can last until the adjudication. I have friends who'll help. His eyes were rheumy with lack of sleep, with terror, and they would not meet her mother's. She in turn had watched him as if he were the only object in her world. Neither of them had looked at Lynda. You don't stand a chance of getting the job back, not with me around she had told him ruthlessly, tenderly. Treasure The Present's too powerful a movement now, they're crawling through the corporation. My kind are scheduled for...she'd stumbled and recovered...I'm poison to you. I've filed for divorce. Once I'm not around, your chances at adjudication should rise. He had made a sound in his throat like some wounded animal. She'd gently removed her hand from his and had risen from the table, eyes dry, looking somewhere Lynda could not comprehend. As she walked out of the room, her father had found his voice. You leave and I can't protect you, he'd said, and Lynda had known he could not even protect himself. Her mother didn't answer. The front door had shut soundlessly behind her. Two days later she'd been arrested for sedition. Three days later she had been sentenced to 40 years on Luna. They'd succeeded in postponing her ship-out date for months, but that was all. She'd been in Holding in Little London when Lynda was taken by the transmat.)

"Lynda?"

She was grateful for Jack's intrusion. "What?"

"We need to get another look at that map - or whatever you want to call it - she beamed to us; I don't know about you, but it's a blur right now to me."

"I can remember it for both of us," she offered, but he shook his head.

"I need to know it, too. Besides, we should be able to contact her, not just the other way around. I've been trying to get her to show it to me again, and I haven't had any success raising her. You try - you seem to be tuned better to her."

She wasn't so sure the voice could be raised like some comm signal, but she obediently shut her eyes as she'd seen him do.

("Please? Can we see it again?")

Nothing. Her head held only her own thoughts now; no images, no feathery touches.

How could the voice not hear her request? Perhaps it was a matter of making herself more open? But how to do it? She considered the problem and circled back to the map stowed in her brain. When the voice spoke, part of the message came in pictures. Well then, she'd make pictures, too.

Lynda concentrated on a picture of a door opening in her head. She imagined herself at the door, holding it open for visitors, and waited for what seemed like ages. Nothing came through. She refocused the picture, made it wider, brighter, warmer. Still nothing.

She opened her eyes and shook her head. "I can't find her." Without knowing how she knew it, she understood that their communicant had no more mastered this business than she or Jack had.

"Alright," Jack said. "We'll play it by ear when we get up there." His frustration was palpable.

"Don't worry, Jack. We'll hear from her again, yeah?" she said, not sure if she was simply placating him, or was actually speaking the truth. "But for now, I guess you'll have to rely on my memory. It's all up here." She tapped her forehead, then grinned. "And welcome to it!" He smiled back. They didn't notice the looks the others gave them.

The cab shuddered to a halt.

The door slid open and Jack reached for her. She watched in wonder as he took her hand, then tugged slightly to draw her with him. (Come with me, he'd said.)

When they stepped out, the wind sang past them faster than it had on other levels. After a moment, it became clear it was drafting into the gateless opening beside the lift. Whatever was beyond its frame had to be much bigger than tunnels, Lynda guessed.

"Who takes point?" Hsieh started toward the darkness, but stopped when Lynda threw her arm across his chest as if she were some watchful mother and he a boy on the edge of a precipice.

"I do." Her voice sounded strange to her ears. She pushed past him, brushed by a watchful Lem, and by Govinda, who was peering around the security chief. Taking a very deep breath, she stepped past the open archway.

As she did, a mental jolt hit her; she thought all the bones in her head were vibrating. The map flashed out from the now familiar white of her waiting mind, then sank into a more instinctive knowledge. They were in a corridor. There should be lights, but she couldn't feel the right place to turn them on. She didn't really need them - she knew the corridor was 2.5 meters high and about three meters wide, comfortably open and walkable. She also knew the route curved inward, like a shell, before reaching its destination. But the others would need illumination.

"We'll need the torches," she said, looking back at her companions. Hsieh and Lem turned on their lights, looking at her expectantly. She started moving, and the others followed; first Jack, then Lem, then Govinda and finally Hsieh. As they crossed the threshold, their footsteps abruptly disappeared, muffled by the same pebbled metal that had absorbed so much sound in the tunnels.

Air in the corridor had the same acrid tang she had smelled in the tunnel, but it was bearable. She listened to the wind as it sighed past her, disappearing into the path ahead. It was being sucked out of the space behind them into...what? Somewhere else, somewhere with space enough to coax air away from the shaft.

Lynda tilted her head, listening for something to interrupt the silence inside her head, hoping for the voice. She drew in a short, shocked breath when she felt someone else.

("Can you hear me, Lynda?")

Lynda didn't look back at him. It was remarkable, she thought, that someone's mental voice could sound so much like their spoken voice, and yet be something completely different.

("Give me a look at the map as you remember it. Can you do that?")

She caught herself nodding. She understood, rather than heard or saw, Jack's unspoken mental nod back.

So it was Jack who now stepped through that door she'd opened. This was the second time he'd done so.

What that suggested to her about what she and he had become did not bear immediate inspection, but Lynda could not ignore the bright and fearsome question.

Before their painful epiphany and mutual collapse on the ledge they could not have done this. But now...things-as-they-were had fallen apart in their minds after that explosion, moved about inside them and taken up new positions. Those things were the building blocks of themselves, what made them. When the building blocks moved, she and Jack moved, too, away from what they had been. It didn't frighten her, not the way it might once have, but it did leave her curious; were they to undergo further transformation? Was the voice a herald of that?

(Sou a menina da tempestade.)

The voice was back again, then gone, leaving a jumbled and fragmented image of the Doctor amidst lightnings and terror. Lynda calmly viewed the unexpected intrusion. She longed to follow the voice wherever it went, because she sensed the essence of something young and worshipful flickering about the margins of that chaos.

("Lynda? Was that you?")

Jack needed her. She turned reluctantly from the voice. With an ease that bemused even as it satisfied, she felt about her mind for the information. Her search took less than a split second, but it seemed to her as if she was walking slowly down a dark and rocky path, her hands first out in front of her, then to each side. The boulders she touched flowed and changed under her hands. In the dark, she willed a light. It streamed out of her hands onto the path. The gold and blue glare almost blinded her inner sight before she damped it, but with the beam she found the directions, lying like a neatly folded blanket by the side of the path.

("Here. Watch.")

Then, like water flowing away from an overturned cup, she lost her grip. Her eyes flew open in chagrin. "Did you get that?"

Jack's face looked taut and alive in the torchlight. That was all she needed.

"Jack, don't stand there, not if you don't want me to step on your heels," Govinda complained, as she bumped into him.

"Sorry 'Vinda."

They were barely 10 paces from the doorway; Lynda was astounded at how much information she had processed without anyone but Jack noticing.

"Ma'am?" Lem spoke from the rear, and her tone said hurry it up. Lynda obliged.

She started walking quickly, then broke into a run, confident of her way. Lights from Hsieh's and Lem's torches streamed from behind, rising and falling as they matched her speed. Once again, without looking back she knew Jack had put his arm around Govinda's waist to hurry her along. She knew that Hsieh had fallen back to run behind them, and Lem had matched his move so that she could watch first his back, then where they had been, running, executing a forward moving pirouette as if she could forestall something which might ambush them from the shadows without her vigilance. Lynda smiled, once again hit with a stab of affection for tough little Ruthie.

They all ran but Lynda outpaced them, sprinting in a way her weariness should not have allowed. The floor cushioned each footfall, and she sprang lightly into a rhythm that she forced away from dancing only with great difficulty. I can't dance when people could die, she thought before she forgot thought in the motion of her passage.

The spiral curved; she was always rounding a corner, always feeling the wind, always seeing something new in the tangle of torch lit shadows. No one spoke. For a moment, she thought again, and wondered how many minutes it had been.

The wind camouflaged sounds the others made, but as currents started to eddy in both directions, it brought new sounds to her. The constant station thrum grew deeper and louder, and developed a Greek chorus of intermittent and recurrent hisses and clanks, rotors whirring, clanging, echoes of bells and repeating clicks. Not human sounds; a mechanical song.

The air was still dry and faintly electrical, but as she rounded another corner of the spiral, she smelled something else. Oil and diesel, perhaps, and, more faintly, the pungence of chlorine and ammonia and other chemicals she couldn't name.

"We're not far," she called out gaily, breathing the ozone and the diesel in as if they were flowers. "We're almost th- "

Hsieh had been right. This shaft was bigger.

Lynda's breath caught in her throat as she ran from the corridor. She staggered and grabbed at the wall to stop herself, determined to keep some sort of balance in the face of the overwhelming.

The old shaft was a gutted chasm; this was not. Its size could be gauged not by space but by the vast metal forests of pipe and wiring that ran through it like tendons and muscles, like arteries and veins, feeding and anchoring some colossal body.

The ledge she and the others ran onto was simply the first segment of a broad span which shot out before them, and ran between columns of conduits - dozens of different systems, from fragile transparent tubing no thicker than a child's arm to metal behemoths easily 10 meters across. The pipes were red, and blue, and green and black, obviously color-coded to identify them as parts of this or that unexpendable system. Some of them were circled and draped with lianas of wiring. Above and below her she saw other ledges, all supporting their web of bridgework and sometimes a tracery of stairwells and ladders depending from one level to the next.

Everything was lit by countless harsh blue-white lights. Some were attached to the few sections of wall that she could actually see. Others were placed at regular intervals along all the bridges and welded to pipes, to piles of equipment that squatted along those lengths in periodic mountains of gauges, switches, levers and buttons. She could hear the whir of fans; some, she saw, were set into vent outlets near bridges. Most of the lights seemed to be emergency lamps like those in the cafeteria, but several sizes larger. Their illumination was so immediate that Lynda thought she could see the shadows of all the people who should have been walking the bridges, tending the machines, checking the gauges and shifting levers, keeping Game Station healthy.

"Mother of pearl," Jack said, and whistled.

"Oh my," Lem whispered. Govinda simply stared, her mouth slightly open. Only Hsieh looked unsurprised. He started to speak, but Lynda was already moving, compelled along their bridge even before she felt the next jolt of information. The bones in her head started to vibrate again - were they really doing that, or was it her imagination, she thought fleetingly. She closed her eyes and saw a path down the walk, right into the jungle of conduits, then a branching off -

(To the right and see the door in the purple tube)

"There's a lift," she said breathlessly, opening her eyes again. "I think. This way." When the others seemed stuck in place, she shouted. "Now! We've got maybe four minutes, five minutes - come on!"

Here in the main shaft, sound neither echoed as it had in the forgotten one, nor disappeared as it did in the tunnels and corridor. It bounced and collided with hundreds of different surfaces, adding to the existing cacophony. She paid no attention at all, and pounded across the bridge until a shift in her internal pressure told her to turn right. Yes, there it was, a narrow catwalk, lit by tiny silver lights that barely penetrated the shadows of the surrounding duct work.

"Are you sure you know where you're going?" Hsieh was the first to follow her this time. That surprised her, until she looked back and saw Jack standing with Govinda, who appeared to be bending over and peering at the bottom of one of her feet.

"You all right?" she shouted over Hsieh's shoulder. Govinda lifted her head.

"Yeah, just got a splinter or something...wait...Christ!" The programmer had been poking the sole of the foot and had apparently found the offending material. "Got it!"

Jack grabbed her hand. "Can you run?"

"No. But I will," Govinda said, then pelted after Hsieh and Lynda, cursing and yelping with pain as she did. Lem took one last look back down the corridor, turned off her torch and holstered it, and followed them.

"Here...turn here," Lynda said, then decided to lead by example.

The way forward was difficult; the catwalk was unexpectedly unsteady, and shook with each move she made. Ducts and pipe work towered over her, and all the bright light was eclipsed by their mass. She shivered under the shadow and the weight of her shrinking confines. Just look ahead, she told herself. Keep going, there's something at the end.

And there was. A huge purple tube, broad enough to have a metal-slab door set in it. She saw the controls and felt an onrushing jubilation that was only partly hers.

(We rise)

("We do") she agreed silently, then added, ("Can Jack hear you?")

"Yes," he said, from Govinda?s side.

"Does the voice say where this goes?" Hsieh, with more questions, and eyes that flicked from one side to the other, not meeting hers. She understood his fright. She'd seen his eyes in her father's face so many times.

"Up to the cache. That's all I know," she said firmly. It was a lift, yes, but she didn't think it was in common use, not with its sole approach effectively guarded by a potentially treacherous walkway.

She found one large button and pressed it. The door slid aside, and she waved the others in.

"How are you doing, sweetheart?" Jack caught her attention as he helped Govinda limp into the cab.

"I'm fine," she said, reaching out to touch his hand. "Really fine."

"I know," he said. "Be careful." His searching eyes didn't seem to find what they were looking for in her face, and she glimpsed a growing sorrow in them.

She didn't know how to react, so she remained silent until they were all in before hitting a second button.

The door shut and the cab lurched up, throwing them against the walls and each other before they discovered the handrail set half-way up the cab walls.

"Christ, Lynda, where'd you bring us, a launch tube?" Govinda gasped. Lynda wasn't certain what part of her snarled question was pain from her wounded foot and which was shock at the speed.

"Sorry," she replied, holding tight to the rail. "Didn't expect that."

"This is an express cab," Lem said. "We'll be there in - "

The lift braked as suddenly as it had started. There were a few more seconds of grabbing and balance-catching and then the door slid open on another narrow path. This one, however, ran almost immediately into a slate-grey wall, with a heavy door set deep into the metal.

(Weapons)

("Thank you")

"They're in here," Jack said aloud after thanking their guide. He eyed the door with something approaching both alarm and satisfaction. "I think we've hit the jackpot if I'm reading her right."

The voice had told him something she didn't catch. Lynda started to scowl, then caught herself. He was right; both of them - all three of them - needed to be in contact, and what possible reason did she have to be jealous that he could do what she could? Don't be stupid, she scolded herself.

"Let's see...this looks like a simple enough lock...ah..yes!" Lem made one more quick adjustment to the lock mechanism. She punched the air with delight when it retracted with a sullen rasp and the door swung open.

Lights came to life, humming quietly and showing a space that was much larger (on the inside) than it appeared from the outside; a trick of the dark, apparently, cast by the thicket of machinery outside.

Shelving lined both walls, utilitarian and unremarkable except for the mortar kits, the plastic boxes of ammunition for regulation issue rifles, the charge packs for stun and neuron guns, cartons of pre-set light and high-frequency sound bombs, the chemical explosives, the screamers, the net-shooters, the pacifiers and the sleepers. Some were 45 years out of date, some had been manufactured on factory worlds far from earth and imported at great cost, some were Game Station security arsenal skim-offs from six months ago, some were pieces of equipment jerry-rigged to be twice as lethal as they should have been, some were research projects that were high tech even for the Empire.

Protective personal shields, safety glasses, helmets, gauntlets and boots hung in open lockers at the far end of the room; vacuum suits and helmets hung there too, nearly all of them deceptively bulky battle-issue models. LOX and other breathing canisters lay in neatly piled pyramids nearby.

Two ranks of metal cabinetry marched down the middle of the room, two narrow aisles between them and the shelving. Lynda saw a second door in the far wall before she turned her attention to the cabinets.

Most of their drawers housed simple and primitively effective weapons; hunting knives, stilettos, switchblades, brass knuckles, blackjacks, the sort of thing that worked when ammo was exhausted, or impractical to use. Monofilament and more traditional garrotes, other run of the mill assassination tools, filled some neatly stored kits. Other drawers held maps; security reports that had never seen the light of day; some that had, and had been covered up with one or more murders. There were blueprints, and there were photos, the bureaucratic building blocks of violence and political evolution. One or two drawers held hypojets filled with mind-changers and mind-melters, bottles of pills and tubes of individual and mass poisons, some lethal for humans, others lethal for species that hadn't been seen in-system for decades.

Lynda knew them all, the names and models, the makes, their abilities, the exact destructive properties, the energy to accuracy ratios and average kill power of everything flashing in and out of her consciousness. Her throat grew tight, her legs almost buckled, her head pounded and her eyes burned. She didn't notice the tears streaming down her face.

("Stop, please. Please, no more")

(I shall tell the Captain. I'm sorry)

"What the fuck is this?" Hsieh sounded like a bewildered child. "What the fuck is this?"

The security chief didn't have the arsenal's records in his head, but his training and experience obviously left him familiar enough with what he saw to turn him pale and sick. "This isn't a cache, it's a goddamned murder factory."

"This...this is bad. This is station-killer stuff. Half of it's not even cleared to be used in space. Not even supposed to be here," Lem said, her eyes wide and fearful. Lynda felt something go adrift inside her when she saw the little woman?s phlegmatic demeanor start to crack. "This..."

"...is monstrous," Jack finished, grim and horrified. "And it's our only chance. Hsieh, snap out of it. Grab regulation stuff - here, pass me some of those ammo boxes. Give me a couple of the noise and light bombs..no, not there, next shelf up. Lem, those blue models next to you are neuron stunners. Those could come in handy. Pick up the net-shooters, Govinda. There on the bottom shelf."

He was sweating and Lynda saw that his hands were shaking. "Hsieh, knives in the cabinet at the end of your row; get three or four, not loose, make sure they're in sheaths."

"These?" Govinda held up something Lynda's hindbrain automatically catalogued as Hydrax Crowd Shroud, Model 20, Lot Z256-022L.

"Yeah." He looked long enough to see that the programmer had picked up the right thing, then returned to tightening the utility belt he'd snatched from behind the door they'd used to get in. The ammunition fit comfortably into pouches. He hefted two guns, pitched one back onto the shelf and loaded the other, smaller model into the shoulder holster that had been empty since Jack left his gun in the apartment. Then he grabbed another, larger one, and said, with the barest of glances, "Hsieh, that one's power pack is exhausted. Try the one next to it."

"Right." Hsieh was already loaded down with enough to make him look like a large version of Lem, but he picked up the piece Jack indicated.

"Captain?" Lem had jumped up on one of the shelves to get at something on the top level. She jumped down and strapped what she found to her belt. "Field medikit. Bio and nano-meds, looks like. Bandages, too."

"Good - are there any more?"

Lynda ducked under Jack's arm and went over to Lem. "Yes. Yes, there are three others. Help me up, Lem, I'll carry them."

"You'll need this, too," Hsieh said, apparently recovered enough to go back into security mode. He thrust a small but wicked-looking firearm toward her. "It's just a mag-shot, but it disarms someone else's pulse rifles. It's defense, and we'll need it."

"Right," she said, finding a utility belt of her own and stowing the kits as best she could before accepting the gun.

(No time left. Go through the other door.)

"Unghh.." Lynda's stomach lurched and Jack's head jerked with the force of that message. He recovered first.

"Out this end! Now!"

He ran to the second door and slapped the control.

Three things happened at that point:

The door opened on the largest lift Lynda had yet seen on the station.

The five of them stared at the lift's lone passenger - a dripping wet, stinking, and very angry Roderick Mayhew.

All three wrist comms crackled to life with Davitch's level and quite terrified voice.

"They're here."


tbc

Back to index


Chapter 12: Third Interlude

Author's Notes: The unpleasant man in the lift deserves a more complete introduction; there's no escaping him, and perhaps we shouldn't want to. Please note the PG-13 rating - things are definitely not getting any calmer, or kinder, in the near future. As always, RTD and BBC own what I love. I'm trespassing out of devotion, and take no lucre.


Consider the lives turned into dross and burnt flesh on Game Station, in the day of the Daleks and the Doctor. Consider the heroes and think about what brought them there, before all hell broke loose.

Consider Roderick.

He was smart, smart enough to cling to the edges of what was called proper society. He’d had just enough schooling to know he didn’t want it, but he was also curious. Curious, intelligent, poorly socialized, borderline sociopathic, he would have been a candidate for the Dalek production line no matter what: social detritus with the potential of rising above the herd. Not that he would have truly amounted to anything in his twisted and mutated hothouse world. But the algorithms employed by the Daleks, by the Jagrafess, by the Facilitators, simply red-flagged anyone who left a mark outside the lines of their prescribed social map.

Better to burn them all off; the good genes could be dumped or used, depending on what God decreed. Poor world. Poor humans. Poor Roderick...


....He woke up in the dark and started to scream. His old dad had always punished him with a locked closet, one of the many reasons he’d hated his old dad. There were lots more reasons, but he couldn’t think of them right now. He just needed to get out of the fucking closet.

Some time over the next few hours of crawling, falling, swimming, climbing, he wondered what he looked like.

He could figure what any of the brass might see. The phrase was career criminal, if he recalled the report he’d seen in the docent’s office, the day they kicked him out of school.

He’d gotten by after that, no fear. He’d gotten this or that job, for two months, for six months, even for a year or two. The last job, it had been an office, where they just needed someone to punch buttons and keep the information traffic moving one way or another; nothing for real educated folks, reasonable for someone like him.

But he couldn’t stand it, sitting in some beige office. He knew they were all looking at him, laughing at him. Drove him to want to drink, although he didn’t. He just got morose, and one day he’d cold-cocked the self-satisfied bastard who was his supervisor. That was that, then.

Of course, they couldn’t even just cashier him and show him the door. They had to do it all proper, with an exit interview, if you could believe it. They’d even asked him his plans. He hadn’t laughed in their faces. He’d told them he didn’t know. But he guessed, and within six months, his guess had come true.

And it worked pretty well, that life. He’d been getting by, dabbling in guns, in stolen information, in drugs here and there, in book-collection where books were illegal....

But he could never sleep well. Every time he slept, he dreamed of his family.

Lots of fun, his family. His old Dad, lovely man, never let a conversation do the job when a studded belt was available, never talk when a cuff along the head would do.

Mum? He couldn’t blame her for stepping out, but he could blame her for a lot of other things. All the Uncle Daddies after his real old man had drunk himself into the grave - a couple of them more interested in him than in Mum, something she studiously ignored, despite his eyes, his injuries. All the nights where there wasn’t enough food on the table, all the times she moved them from one complex to the next to avoid the rent man, all the times she partied too hard, fell down too much, slept too long, leaving him in charge of the kids, the inescapable kids she produced like clockwork after him. Three brothers, four sisters, and him 12 years old, in charge of endless nappies and endless plans to keep them together and away from the re-education corps, and doing it all on four, five hours of sleep every night, because there was always the next meal to find and the next flat to rent and the next creditor to duck, and Mum was asleep on the couch, out with the latest Uncle Daddy, crying in her whiskey, screeching at him. Eventually she went to sleep on the couch and never got up; joined his old dad in hell, or heaven, he didn’t care which.

He’d gotten away, though. He waited until the last of his brothers and sisters were old enough to make it on their own - told them he didn’t want to run into them on the street, told them he’d be damned if he had to pick up after them anymore, gave Louise a little money and said he’d give her what-for if she didn’t enroll in the beauty school and not to tell the others about the money or she’d be sorry.

Then out he went, ready to pay back the world and find his luck.

He wasn’t all that surprised when it was bad luck. Lots of bad luck. Good job, bad job, no job. Hello, world, here’s a lad who has to do whatever he has to do to get by.

But every time he thought he’d give up and go for brainwipe/labour readjustment, there’d be some good luck. Just enough to keep him hoping.

He’d been on a string of good luck when the transmat took him; he’d found a job in a little pawn shop, worked the angles and was able to work around the owner to process his own particular line of stolen goods. He could even cop the odd book out for enjoyment. Funny things, books. Someone had taken his school class on a trip to the museum, and he’d seen the books they’d had there. He liked the idea of books. No one could hack into you when you were reading a book. No one could change a book, at least not once it was in your hands. You knew what you had with a book.

There were books to be had on the black market, and marks who paid good money for them. So when he had them in his possession, he’d read them before he sold them. Didn’t matter what they were, he’d read ancient legal transcripts, old technical manuals from God knows when, he’d read poetry - poetry was nice - he’d read philosophy. A lot of stupid ideas in philosophy, but good for a laugh.

The money was good, or good enough. He could eat out, he had a decent flat. Had a girl. Stupid bint, but nice enough. Never yelled, never asked questions, reasonable shag if he was in the mood, hated to drink - he liked a sober girl - and cooked and cleaned. She was sterile, too.

In the few minutes of grace he’d had between throwing up with transmat sickness, and being hustled over to the game set, he’d worried about her, and about Louise. Then they’d told him what the prize was - beyond staying alive, that is; enough money for him to buy out Stewart, and have the shop for himself. He’d be able to end the side-line (if he really wanted to), and maybe shut Pearl up by marrying her. He’d have the license money. Or maybe he’d leave her, find someone with a bit more class; time enough after he won to figure that out.

And he won. He won. He beat the blonde...funny little thing, she was. He felt bad about her. Almost. He won, and he was alive, and the money was all but in his wallet.

Then the nightmare...the blonde’s friends, the fight in the studio, the falling apart of everything. He wanted to kill something, even though there was that 12-year-old part of him that screamed ‘duck and cover,’ that the mother of all Uncle Daddies was about to come calling.

Bad luck was back, with a vengeance. Soldier Boy, leather pants and hero complex, told them they had to fight. He wasn’t going to have any part of it, not him. He knew what happened when you fought; bruises, blood, the airless hell of locked closets. Besides...Daleks? They were old wives tales, right, what the brass scared idiots with; nothing could be that bad. Nothing.

But they were.

He died thinking that he should have stuck with Soldier Boy.

When he woke up, his flesh still burning with pain, he’d realized that he’d brought bad luck and nightmares back to life with him. Everything he’d learned from his old dad, from his skank of a mum, from everyone who’d made fun of him, hit him, ignored him, it was all here to stay. Then he thought about Pearl, and Louise. And he wanted to go home, very, very badly.

Instead, Pretty Boy took the stage and talked like he knew what to do - as if anyone could do that - and he’d just wanted to rearrange that pretty face. He could do with a bit of the old ultra violence (he’d read that somewhere), just to take the edge off. He hated people like that, as if they could control their lives. Take everyone with them, they would. He wasn’t going to put up with that. Someone had to tell them they were full of shit, now, wasn’t that the truth?

Pretty Boy and his sidekicks...so sure of themselves, so pleased with themselves, telling everybody what to do. He’d been stupid, mind, drawing attention to himself, but he’d wanted to show everyone that this lot was some miserable pack of losers, posers. Couldn’t convince anyone, of course. Trust everyone to ignore common sense and go with some good looking airhead with an air of authority. And there he was again, just part of the nightmare, with everybody laughing at him for being a stupid prat. He wanted to pay them all back.

He’d thought maybe his luck had turned when Soldier Boy told him to tag along. No such luck. One pin prick from the sour little frail in the uniform, and he’d found himself in a dark, airless closet.

And so here he was.

He’d wakened and started to scream. Yeah, sure, it was a closet and he hated tiny enclosed spaces like he hated nothing else, except for everything else. But there’d been something else that hurt, and that made him cry even louder. Because someone had been shrieking in his head.

He knew he’d had psi possibility. God knows he’d wanted it. It could have been helpful, anything that gave him an edge up on everyone else would have been helpful. He’d paid good money to be tested, and he’d been elated at the results. But he never got a chance to do anything with it; he’d gotten the test results a week before he’d been taken by the transmat.

The pain, and the voice screaming in his head...he’d gone a little mad there. Door wouldn’t open, no light, so he’d started screaming, too, and kicking, and finally there’d been a panel that collapsed and fallen in. He’d smelled something electric, because there’d been a wind from the darkness beyond the destroyed panel. It was dark, but you could breathe in there. So off he’d gone, like a proper fool, looking for some way out of the darkness. And he couldn’t get rid of the buzzing in his head.

Oh yeah, the hollering stopped, but the buzzing? No such luck. Every time he thought he could hear something, some words, somebody talking, his eyes would burn, and the blood would bang against his skull like the hangovers his mates had told him about.

He’d just exchanged one nightmare for another, come to think of it. He’d move one way and the buzzing would increase, and at least once he’d vomited something up all over himself because it hurt so bad. Then he’d move another way, and the buzzing would recede, the pain would soften.

He wasn’t stupid. He paid attention to what direction he was headed when the buzzing slowed or stopped, and he’d continue that way. If the pain started again, he’d just retreat, find another way to go. He hated the idea that somebody - some thing - was herding him. He must have crawled through miles of tunnel and, just his luck, half of it seemed to end up in recycling stations. No way to go back, not if he wanted to avoid the pain. No way he wanted to go back anyway, so he’d go forward, wade through the glop. He lost his stomach a second time, maybe a third time, even though he had nothing left to throw up.

Finally, there was no more tunnel to go through. He would have panicked, but he saw a little bit of light through the joints of the wall next to him. One or two good kicks, and there he was, in some hallway. Smelled better than where he’d been. Of course, he’d had about a minute to enjoy standing up, and the buzzing started again, worse than it had been before. He’d never had headaches, leastways not like this. He’d looked around for the first route away from where he was standing, and he saw a lift. And he took it. And he found Pretty Boy and his little scout troop.

Soldier boy, Pretty Boy, like everyone he’d ever wanted to be and couldn’t be. He’d been part of the waking nightmare this time. Every time he turned around the man was there, doing everything better, faster, cooler than anyone else. Than he could. Bastard had disrespected him. Laughed at him. Told the security bint to knock him out, most likely.

And here he was, Soldier Boy, bloody inescapable hero. All he wanted to do was make the man hurt, make him look a little less pretty and take him off the damned pedestal. Show him up, show everyone what he was really made of. He went a little crazier, he had to admit it.

And his luck held, his bloody bad luck He found himself wrapped up like yesterday’s garbage in some gorilla’s grip.

But there was the mousy little girly, brown hair and nervous, like she had ants up her ass. Strange little thing; a bit like the blonde broad, but not so brassy. She’d been different. She didn’t like him, no doubt. But she didn’t think he was nothing. Looked like she knew about getting the back of the hand in life.

And she asked him to help. Wanted him to save everyone, be part of their brave little gang. And she told him some woman had had a baby.

And all he could think about was Louise. Mum had had her at home - no money for the creche - and he’d had to catch her, filthy wet and squeaking, stubborn little red monkey. Mum wouldn’t nurse, and he’d had to keep the baby alive. He did it, somehow, and Louise had been his special kid ever after.

And so he said yes. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice, considering. But it was the bloody kid that tipped the balance.

So now, here he was. Big damned hero.

He wondered if he’d ever see Pearl again.



tbc

Back to index


Chapter 13: Chapter 10

Author's Notes: Back to the action, and perhaps an end to one particular problem. One quick warning; the language is, for this chapter at least, a trifle uglier than previously. That situation won't last forever; it's just a little intense right now. As always, the BBC owns its characters, and thus, me.


CHAPTER TEN

“Oh my god, you reek.”

Govinda coughed and took a step back as Roderick moved toward her. He did indeed smell rank, like chemically treated sewage, but it was his expression which made Lynda retreat.

“Might have figured finding you lot,” he snarled. As the two of them recoiled, he darted out of the lift, dodged Govinda, and lunged at Jack. Before the Captain could react, Roderick had him by the throat.

“You fucking bastard!” he hissed in Jack’ s face, teeth bared. “D’you like assaulting people? Get your kicks that way? I almost died in that hole, you smug twat, I — geroff me, you gorilla!”

Amidst the clatter and clang of dropped weaponry, Hsieh had moved more quickly than seemed proper for someone of his bulk. He ducked around both of the other men, pivoted on one foot as he moved, and pinioned the furious Mayhew with two very long arms from behind.

Roderick screeched with anger and dropped Jack, but before Hsieh could consolidate his attack, the little man threw himself backward, aiming for Hsieh’s head with his own. He was too short to accomplish that, but his right elbow somehow found Hsieh’s ribs. Lynda heard the chief huff in pain as the impact forced out a lungful of air. He stumbled back, and Roderick launched himself again at Jack. Who, in turn, slid fluidly under the other man’s thrust and rammed a fist into his solar plexus.

Roderick grunted and folded in on himself, but even as he collapsed he grabbed at Jack’s left knee. Both of them went down.

Jack recovered first, somehow rolling to one side and back into a balanced one-kneed crouch.

“Ruthie, he’s yours.”

“Got him...shit — “ Lem tried to obey Jack’s calm order, but she was hampered by the equipment hung about her shoulders, and by the close quarters. Mayhew tried to trip her as he scrambled away. He might have regained his own footing, had Govinda not thrown down her own baggage and joined the fray.

“Jack? What the hell is going on?”

Davitch sounded faint and tinny. Lynda looked around for the source and saw Jack’s wrist-comm on the floor, apparently a victim of the melee. She dropped to her knees to retrieve it.

“Davitch, you there?” Lynda winced even as she said it; of course he was there, she chided herself.

“Lynda?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ve got the doors blocked, but they’re cutting through,” he said in a rush. “What’s all the shouting? Did they find you, too?”

Lynda ducked again as someone above her — Lem — staggered and almost fell into her. “Watch it!”

“Lynda?”

“Sorry, not you, No, it’s not them. It’s Roderick. Here, hold on...” She scooted backward, and maneuvered herself into the lift. “We’ll be there as soon as we can, we’ve just, uhm, had a little — ”

“Mayhew? What’s he doing?”

“He’s mine,” Hsieh growled, his breath recovered. He waved Lem and Govinda off, then moved in on Roderick again. This time, he applied a choke hold, and nodded over Roderick’s head at Jack..
“Get off...you sons of bitches!” Roderick managed to speak past his captor’s beefy forearm, but no amount of squirming could gain him purchase. While he struggled, Govinda limped into the lift, the only space not blocked with bodies in motion, and checked the hand she’d cut outside the apartment. During the tussle with Roderick her bandage had come off.

“Lynda? You still there?”

“Sorry, yeah. You said they’re cutting?”

Before he could answer, Jack suddenly loomed over her and grabbed for the comm. “Lynda, give it here.” She bit back her own snarl of surprise, and relinquished it. “Thanks, sweetheart. Davitch, are they trying to cut through the door, or the lock?”

“Lock? What..oh. Uhm...no, they’re trying for the door itself.”

“Good. They’re still idiots. Look, it’s going to take them at least a little time to get through, but I don’t know how thick the door is, so don’t count on much. Get everyone back as far as you can — watch it Hsieh, that’s my kidney — sorry, Davitch; get them back as far as you can into the kitchen. While you’re there, find knives, meat mallets, anything that could be used as a weapon. Give ‘em to anyone who looks like they won’t run or lose control of their bowels in a fight. And Davitch? Boil some water in the largest pots and pans you can find, then drag them somewhere near the door — ”

“Got it,” Davitch interrupted. “Alex and Rog are already moving people. I’ll let them know about the water. That should surprise our visitors...But get your ass down here, anyway, OK?”

“Soon as possible, my friend. As soon as fucking possible. Out.” Jack keyed the comm off and shoved it into the pocket of his leather pants. Lynda hauled herself to her feet.

“Right. Have you got him?” Jack said to his security team. Hsieh and Lem nodded. Roderick was immobilized between them, quivering with silent rage.

Jack cricked his neck to one side, then the other, rubbed at a spot on his scalp and checked his hand for blood, then turned two very flat blue eyes on their captive. He took the two steps necessary to bring him within inches of the other man’s face.

“I’ll make this quick; we’ve got places to go and people to save. You have two choices. I can put a bullet in you right now, which is tempting because every time I see you, you’re more trouble. The other choice is to help us. Take orders from me. If you give your word, you live.”

Jack looked so tired, Lynda thought. He started speaking again, with a bitter humor that frightened her: “I’ll sweeten the deal. When everyone’s safe. You can try to kill me. Really. You can try to take me apart. My word, even if you don’t give a damn what that’s worth.”

Roderick stared at Jack a moment before responding. “You’re mad, you are. Completely barking. Fuck you. I’m not gonna help you or your goons. You’ve done nothing but laugh at me, threaten me — attack me! Attack me, right, just for asking questions. Then you offer not to kill me if I take orders from you? Where d’you get off, you self-righteous prat? What’ve you done to deserve my help?” He almost spat the last words out.

Lynda risked a look at Jack’s gun hand. It twitched, but he did nothing, and Lynda relaxed very slightly. The idea of killing another human, even Roderick, made her gorge rise.

(“No, Jack. Please?”)

He started, looked back into the lift at her, his face dark.

(“Why not?”)

(“Please.”) She showed him the image of Roderick on his back, eyes surprised and milky, head haloed in sticky red.

Jack sagged infinitesimally, and didn’t respond.

“We’re not asking for us,” Lynda said, stepping up to his side. “We’re asking for the people in the cafeteria. Some of them are just kids, and some are old. They can’t fight. They don’t know how. And you heard what she said, what Iris said. Think about it. She worships Daleks, Roderick.” She wavered momentarily, sickened by the enormity of what she said, but ploughed on. “She wants to kill all of us for the Daleks. She’s got weapons now, and our people have none.” She tried to talk to him as if he weren’t being forcibly restrained by two increasingly impatient paramilitary specialists.

“Yeah? So what? They’re no one I know,” Roderick said, but with less heat, and a speculative glint in his eye.

“There’s a woman there who’s probably just had her baby.”

She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she just stood and looked him in the eye, ignoring Jack and her own instincts about the man. Did she actually think she could convince this blowhard of anything? What she knew of him argued against it. And Mayhew had a point, Lynda admitted to herself. Even a saint might get irritable after being repeatedly insulted, knocked out and stuffed in a cubby hole, and Roderick had already been mouthy, unpleasant and cowardly from the first time she’d met him.

That said, they couldn’t simply knock him out again — assuming Lem had any hypos left — and leave him up here with the weaponry. Oh please listen, you miserable man, she thought to herself.

Roderick spoke again. “You must think I’m as balmy as you are.” He stopped. Then, unwillingly: “You’re saying some bint’s dropped foal?”

Beside her, Jack rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t have phrased it quite so agriculturally, but, yes.” With that, his darkness appeared to dissipate, and a hint of the other Jack returned.

Roderick’s face twisted with distaste. “Kids. Bleeding kids. Like we’re supposed to think they’re special. Fight for the baby, she tells me. Do I look like a hero, then?”

Lynda held her breath, which was easy this close to Roderick.

“Care to be one?” Jack’s eyebrow spoke volumes, and Mayhew was reading carefully. With his next noisy breath, the fight left him.

“Alright. Tell you what. Get the gorilla off me — ow!”

“The Major doesn’t appreciate being called names, Roddy-boy. I wouldn’t provoke him,” Jack said mildly, as Hsieh mouthed Major? unseen behind Mayhew.

“Fine. Whatever. Just, get...get Major Gorilla off me and I’ll do it. What choice do I have, eh?”

Jack nodded. “Thought you were a smart man.”

“Sod off, you bastard.” Roderick said, almost reflexively, rolling his shoulders away from Lem and Hsieh’s grasp. They stepped back only reluctantly.

“So now what, you gonna give me one of those — “ he started to jerk his chin at the impromptu hill of ordnance everyone had dropped in the struggle, then really noticed that he was effectively standing in an armoury. His eyes went wide and Lynda could see the wheels turning in his head. “What is all this? Man alive, you have enough firepower here...you gonna let me get my hands on one of those?”

“Can you use a gun?” Hsieh asked. “Have you ever handled firearms? Weapons of any kind?”

Roderick looked at Hsieh and Jack quickly and licked his lips. “Well it’s not as if anyone here is gonna try to re-educate me now, I guess. Yeah. I know my way around a few of what you got there. Been a while, though.”

“Fine,” Jack told him. “Pick up something you recognize and remember, if you make one move I don’t like, or Hsieh doesn’t like — ”

“ — or I don’t like,” Govinda interrupted, glowering at their unwilling team mate.

“ — or ‘Vinda doesn’t like,” Jack said, with a grin. “You’re dead. Again.” His smile disappeared.

“Right,” Roderick agreed hurriedly.

“And Roddy-boy? After we pull off this little sideshow, I want to talk with you about just how you found us. Not to mention what the hell you rolled in to make yourself so...memorable.”

Roderick ignored him and knelt to investigate the pile. He found nothing there, but went for one of the dustier shelving units. After a moment he made a small pleased noise and hoisted a compact snub-nosed revolver, dull brown metal, old and obviously pieced together with parts from other weapons.

“Why am I not surprised,” Hsieh said under his breath. “Gum gun.”

Lynda looked at him.

“Guys like him don’t have access to real guns. They have to make their own from whatever they can cadge, trade for, or steal. Spit, twine, duct tape and chewing gum.”

“Ah.”

“If it works, my son, it works,” Roderick said, checking the gun’s cylinder before sighting down the barrel. “It’s rifled. Didn’t expect that. You have any .38 calibre ammo?”

“Here.” Lem fished about herself and found a box, which she tossed at him. “This ought to do the trick.”

“Yeah. Perfect.” He loaded the revolver, put on the safety and shoved it in his waistband. Then he looked at what else was on the floor. “Love these things. But I’m probably gonna need something that’s non-projectile. Let me have that one, too. That one over there, that neuron tingler.”

Jack’s lips thinned as he picked up and proffered the weapon: “You know your way around firearms.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“We could have used you — ”

“ — not bloody likely, mate,” Roderick interrupted, “Wasn’t going to get myself killed, now, was I? Didn’t get out of the studio from hell for that. Keep your head low and your nose clean, my old dad always said, stay out of the line of fire.”

“Yeah, well, that strategy worked brilliantly,” Govinda muttered. “Come on, let’s get sorted and head out.”

Lynda picked up the medikits and the gun Hsieh had given her. The others followed suit. Before reloading himself, Jack opened one of the cabinets, pulled out an empty two-sheath holster, and tossed it at Roderick. “Keep both of those things holstered until I give the word.”

Roderick nodded, then moved to the back of the cab. Lynda couldn’t tell whether the slight distance cut down on his smell, or whether her olfactory nerve had simply been burned out.

“That’s that, then,” Jack said. “Hsieh, what’s our route?”

The security chief fiddled with his newly-filled holster before saying,“I think I know where this lift goes, even without your, uh, mental friend. This is the secondary Ops lift, or should be. Everyone in. We’re going to 251.”

“That’s— ”

“— one floor above the caf, yeah. I don’t know whether Anders’ lot knows we’ve even left, but we don’t want to risk running into them. Especially if we can get into the cafeteria unseen, and be there to greet them. We can do that from 251.”

“How?” Govinda asked.

“The kitchens will have a back door. All we need to do is get to the floor above the caf, get into the staff area and find it. Then we’re in and we’re armed,” Hsieh explained, as Jack and Lem ushered Roderick into the lift.

“A back door?” Jack’s brow furrowed. He punched the button, then snapped his fingers as the cab dropped soundlessly toward Floor 251. “Oh, for the love of Pete — freight delivery lifts! There’ll be one right in the kitchen. Kitchens have to take in supplies. I’m an idiot...” He looked at Hsieh in surprise. “Why didn’t you bring this up sooner?”

“I...” Hsieh looked at his hands with some discomfort. “I...didn’t think about it before. Can’t for the life of me tell you why not, except my head’s been fuzzy. I swear, I couldn’t remember my mother’s name for a bit.”

“Memory problems. Lots of us have had them since coming back,” Jack said with regret. “Never mind. I’m the last person to be talking about mental acuity.”

Lynda wondered why their guardian hadn’t mentioned the back door, then jumped slightly as she felt the voice.

(It is difficult to speak and show you things, and see everywhere. I am...new. Don’t be angry.)

(“No, we’re not angry with you,”) Jack’s thought echoed in Lynda’s head. (“Just tell us if we’re right about the delivery cab.”)

(Yes.)

A schematic blossomed in Lynda’s head. The freight car was large enough to take all six of them, but it would be close in there. She thought of the smell, and shuddered.

Everyone jumped when Roderick cried out.

“Goddamned buzzing...it’s killin’ me,” he whimpered, rubbing at his eyes. “Why doesn’t it stop?”

“Mayhew?” Jack stared at Roderick.

“Something in my head...I dunno what,” the other man said “It woke me up in that...that closet. Every time I think it’s gone, it comes back.” He moaned a little.

(He almost hears me, but he can’t.) the voice said matter-of-factly.

Jack listened silently, then asked Roderick, “Did it ease up when you got into the lift to get to us?”

“I don’t know...yeah, I guess,” the other man said as he massaged his temples frantically.

“You’ve got psi abilities, right?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, no bloody surprise there, mate,” Roderick said. “And if I’d thought it would do this to me, I’d have paid some doc to burn it right out of my brain.”

“Brought you here, right?” Jack persisted.

“Look, I don’t know what brought me here. I just went anywhere the pain didn’t go. And, yeah, I went through a couple of recycling stations, and that’s why I smell like this, you preening bastard.”

Jack nodded slightly. Lynda heard his silent question.

(“Did you bring him here?”)

(He heard me. Badly. I thought he would be useful. I pushed him. If you think he won’t be helpful, you can kill him.)

Jack didn’t respond.

Lynda was taken aback by the voice’s casual brutality. It probably should have shaken her more, but she found herself more upset by the idea that Roderick could have any type of access to the voice, no matter how scrambled.

The lift descended into the metal forest of Game Station’s main shaft, then shivered gently to a stop . Hsieh turned and held up a hand to get everyone’s attention.

“We’re coming out into a semi-public area. It’s probably abandoned, but just to be sure, don’t move until I tell you.”

The lift door opened onto three corridors, all of them utilitarian and lit poorly by flickering wall-mounted light strips. Lynda started to head out, but Hsieh put a hand out, stopping her. He and Jack moved smoothly out, guns drawn; Hsieh checking the left and Jack the right. Lynda waited until Hsieh motioned the rest of them forward into the lobby.

He pointed silently to the hall in front of them. Lem put a hand on Govinda’s shoulder as the two came into the lobby. Jack spoke softly. “Hold on, let’s not surprise our friends.” He keyed his wrist comm: “Rog, Davitch...come in.”

“Jack! They’re moving fast!” Davitch’s voice was tight.

“So are we. We’re coming in your back door, in about — what, Hsieh? — In about a minute, so don’t panic when you hear us behind you.”

“What?”

“The freight lift in the kitchen.”

Lynda heard a faint background curse from Rog or Alex, undoubtedly as whoever it was realized how unprotected they’d left themselves. Davitch just sounded grateful to hear an arrival time from Jack. “We’re coming back to meet you. Look, can we use the lift to get some of our older folks out of here? And Maisie and the baby?”

They started moving, Hsieh in front, as Jack responded.“New arrival, eh? Congratulate the young lady. Yeah, once we’re in, start siphoning folks out of there, but be aware, the lift’s small.”

“Let’s just bring them back up here for now,” Lynda suggested. “That way, we can get more of them out of the kitchen, faster.”

Jack nodded, “Good idea. Lynda, you get ‘em started, then get out front with the rest of us. We’ll need you.”

“What, is she some sort of great shot?” Roderick asked. He had tried to take the rear-most position, but moved in front of Jack when the Captain fixed his icy-blue stare on him.

“She’s a team leader,” Govinda said, limping a little behind Lem. “You’re not.”

Twelve hours ago, Lynda would have blushed and held that close to her heart even as she demurred. Now she reached for Govinda’s hand, gave it a quick squeeze, and forgot the comment as she opened a door in her mind to feel for the voice, checked her gun — for what, she didn’t know — and tried not to remember the breath-stopping pain of ruby heat across her face. Her cheek burned.

(Flame and acid)

Lynda looked at Jack, said it aloud: “Flame throwers?”

He looked stricken, and shouted to Hsieh, all pretense of stealth forgotten, “They’ve got flamethrowers! Go!”

She and Jack pelted down the hall, overtaking Hsieh and reaching the black lift door together ahead of him. It opened so slowly.

“In, in,” Jack chanted. Govinda gasped as her injured foot left streaks of blood on the hall floor, and her hand did the same on the lift wall. Lem shoved a charge into her stunner, then steadied Govinda. Hsieh slowed long enough to grab Roderick and swing him into the cab, before hitting the down button.

The cab wasn’t moving, Lynda thought. It wasn’t moving. “What kind of flamethrower?”

(“Look”) Jack told her silently. A shoulder-held tube, a slight ear-popping, an oily sheet of orange jetting from it and across the shoulders of shrinking, shriveling, crisp—

(“Stop. Now.”)

(“Sorry.’”)

(“What do you think we should do?”)

“We take it to them the old fashioned way. One body, one bullet,” he said aloud. “Hit them before they hit us. Only way to stop them.”

“No,” she said firmly, also aloud. “No killing, not if we can help it.” Now she was thinking furiously, calling back her borrowed weapons knowledge. “Jack, we have the noise bomb. Is it directional?”

“No, but the light bomb is,” he said. His eyes narrowed, “You seriously think we can use it against flamethrowers?”

“Dead serious,” she said aloud. Silently, she pleaded: (“No more death, Jack. Not even them.”)

“Hsieh?”

“It could stop them momentarily,” the big man answered Jack, but he frowned. “You have any follow-up? Bomb’s no good without follow-up.”

“A moment’s all we need,” Lynda said. “We’ve got the stunners, right? Roderick, that’s what you have, isn’t it?”

He shrugged, looking nervous. “Yeah. Well, a tingler, but, yeah.”

“I’ve got one,” Lem said, nodding. Lynda could tell Ruthie was much happier with something less than lethal.

“OK, it’s actually simple. While they’re blind, they’re not going to use the flamethrower, and we can...we can stun them, take them out that way. If we do it really fast....” I’m not really telling these military people what to do, she thought, I can’t be, not really.

Jack nodded: “Light bomb ‘em long enough to get close and stun them. We can go one better than that, too. ‘Vinda, you’ve got the nets— ”

“Crowd Shrouds,” Lynda corrected unthinkingly.

“Whatever. You’ve got them?” Without waiting for Govinda’s answer, he said. “Get behind me. When I give the word, lift the big end on that one and aim it at the opening. I’ll steady it and you hit the button. See the red button? Brace yourself, and hit it.”

“Right,” the programmer said, wiping her bloody palm on the front of her skirt.

Then they were down, door opening, no more time for talk.

Their immediate view was of a bank of shelving, holding boxes and bottles of foodstuffs. Another set lined a narrow wall directly to the left, while the kitchen proper opened up on the right. Jack dashed from the lift, Lem and Hsieh close behind. Lynda hung back and extended her left hand — the one not holding her mag gun — to Govinda. “Come on.”

She smelled hot metal, the throat-closing tang overpowering even the pungency of steam table and deep fat fryers. Her mouth dried and the blood pounded in her ears, but she kept moving forward, after the others.

(Be brave, be strong, hold on) the voice commanded. Or was it her father? Or her mother?

“Davitch!” Govinda’s shout startled answering cries from some of the people crouched behind kitchen equipment in front of her. She paid them no mind, just dropped Lynda’s hand and ran into his embrace, burying her face against his shirt. He murmured something into her hair, his eyes closed.

“Later,” she said, looking into his face. They disengaged as if they’d been one flesh, slashed apart.

“You cut it close,” Davitch said, speaking to Jack, but not taking his eyes from Govinda. “The door’s almost done for.”

“Think we have the cure for that,” Jack said, his smile strained but real. “You two are too sweet to be believed, but if we can have a little focus up front?”

Davitch looked past Jack, toward the lift. “Where’s Meg?”

“Later,” Govinda repeated. He looked at her, then wordlessly took the gun Hsieh handed him, put his other arm around Govinda. All of them except Lynda headed for the dining rooms. People in the way stood back to let them through.

Lynda remembered her order.

“Where’s Maisie?” she called, as she checked the nearest group. “Maisie? Someone bring Maisie and her baby here.” Without stopping to see if anyone was obeying her, she looked for anybody else who needed immediate moving. She spotted the grandmotherly woman she’d first seen in the control room. The young man was still with her. “You two, over here,” she said, pointing behind her. “The larder.”

“What?” The boy had his arm around the older woman, but he wasn’t moving.

“Now! Shift it!” She didn’t recognize her own voice, but it had the desired effect. The boy pulled his companion to her feet, and they made a dash, shoulders hunched, past her to the lift. “Hold the lift — Maisie?”

Two men chair-carried a pale young woman, her sweaty face lined with recent effort and exhaustion, her arms cradling a new responsibility. One of the men ducked his head at Lynda. “Where d’you want us, miss?”

“Follow them,” she said, indicating the duo already at the lift door. “Go up one floor, stay there and send the lift back down. Now!”

Roderick was still in the cab, she realized. She swore, rage bubbling up, rich and overpowering. “Roderick — get over here!”

She didn’t have time to be surprised, or pleased, at his immediate obedience, just held her breath once he approached her and got into his face the way she’d seen Jack do it. “Give me your gun.”

“What?”

“Give me the gun,” she repeated, taking Mayhew’s non—projectile weapon from his grasp with one hand, slapping her mag gun into his palm with the other . “You keep that lift filled with anyone who doesn’t have a weapon. Move them upstairs, as many as you can. Once you’ve finished one or two trips, put someone else in charge and get out front. Or I will personally come back here and...”

“Keep your britches on!” Roderick backed away from her without protest, no interest in hearing the rest of the threat. “Fine with me...” He turned around shouted, “You heard the lady, everyone over here by the lift. Uhm...six at a time.”

Lynda turned away herself, satisfied, and felt something hard coalesce inside her. Not the old weight; something sharp and dark. It felt horrible, and wonderful. She didn’t know she was smiling, or how frighteningly wolfish the expression was.

(You know, you’re always smiling, Lynda, the docent said. I never know what’s going on in your head. She’d smiled some more, not knowing what else to do. The docent handed over her education completion certificate, and told her good luck before ushering her out of the office.)

A dull, percussive reverberation prompted more shouts from the kitchen refugees. Lynda ducked instinctively, then turned and ran for the front.

Smoke stung her eyes, but she could see a sizeable rectangle of the main door was gone, the excised slab fallen forward onto the cafeteria floor, crushing one of the overturned trestle tables. The resulting gap was perhaps two meters high and a meter across.

Lynda glimpsed motion beyond the opening, then cried out involuntarily as it resolved with a tangle of heat beams and force shots. Iris’s group were very evidently trying to lay down enough fire to clear their path into the cafeteria. The narrow-gauge enfillade (where had she learned that term?) was successfully preventing Jack and Govinda from setting up the net-shot.

Jack hand-directed Davitch, Rog and Alex, all standing two paces behind him, to head to the right. He and Govinda checked their weapons, then moved, still well back, to the left. As they crouched and scampered to their new location, the fire from the hall subsided briefly. No one outside could get a bead on the forces inside, now that they’d moved to the far sides of the room; besides, it was probably a great time for them to change clips and charges, Lynda thought fleetingly. Or would they be setting up the flame thrower?

In the relative silence, Jack lifted his head and checked his scanty forces. Lynda looked too; just nine of them, plus five or six ex-contestants standing just behind the main cafeteria line in the kitchen. They were armed only with knives and various other kitchen implements. Lynda turned back to the opening.

Jack stood up and gave a thumbs-up to Hsieh at the back of the main cafeteria. He’d stayed close to the kitchen forces until now. The Captain nodded. The security man nodded back, took a breath, and dashed straight down the central aisle, dangerously close to the opening.

He skidded to a stop about a meter away from it, standing motionless for one heart-stopping moment. Then, silhouetted in blue light from the hall outside, he shouted “Now!” and cracked open the bright blue tube he suddenly held in his two huge hands.

Lynda covered her eyes just in time. Even a directional light bomb could blind carelessly shielded retinas in the so-called safe zones. As it was, Hsieh’s outlined figure burned on the backs of her eyelids. She couldn’t believe how bright the thing was.

She heard curses and shouts from beyond the door, then heard Iris shouting her troops to silence. She risked opening her eyes, and ran forward. She couldn’t see clearly, staggered and hit the corner of a table; pain flared in her hip, and she plunged ahead, grunting with effort before sliding into position next to Lem.

To the right, Jack and Govinda pulled themselves to their feet and did some sliding of their own, almost into Hsieh.

He jumped out of the way, allowing Govinda a clear shot with her net-shooter. As calmly as if she’d been setting up a video shot, the programmer depressed the shooter’s button.

The device jerked in her hands and against Jack’s shoulder, but its payload shot out neatly through the opening, an expanding mushroom of slim, sticky webbing. Nobody within 15 paces of the door could escape. She heard shrieks of anger and confusion.

That was her cue. She moved forward with Roderick’s neuron tingler; Lem moved in synch with her, both of them dashing to the center, around Jack and Govinda, dodging Hsieh.

The tingler was surprisingly easy to use, Lynda found. She had no particular difficulty aiming it at anything that moved, either under the webbing or outside of it. No sound, no visual sign of the effect, just bodies melting into limp helplessness in front of her. To her left, Ruthie mirrored her with the stunner, and more of Iris Anders’ troops collapsed. No one dead, Lynda thought with satisfaction, just out of commission.

Something hissed from just outside the door, something made Lem gasp, something tumbled the little woman backward, something made her land, all dead weight and unnatural, impossible angles. Someone yelled with satisfaction.

A man, standing just beyond the first pile of opponents Lynda and Lem had hit. No one special, no one at all. Lynda howled, and hit him with the tingler. Once. Twice. A third time. The man fell, his mouth stretched in a rictus of pain with spittle at its corners. She kept firing, until the gun grew hot in her hand, until the charge was depleted. Blood trickled from the man’s ears, from behind his eyes. He didn’t twitch anymore.

“Lynda! Stop! Get down!”

She didn’t react.

(“Lynda, honey? Can you hear me? You can stop now.”)

She didn’t answer.

(Child, move or you’ll die.)

She didn’t move.

Someone grabbed her left leg, and pulled her down, just as a woman in the hall took a shot at her with a force stunner.

Lynda rolled to the side and back up on one knee, as Jack had done in the armoury. She realized with fierce elation that Lem had saved her. Ruthie didn’t look so impossible now, she was alive (thankyouthankyouthankyou) but she was bleeding just below her left breast.

“It hurts,” she managed to whisper.

Everything went bright and sharp and slow around the two of them. Lynda embraced Ruthie and carefully, gently, helped her stand. She stooped to pick up the other woman’s fallen stunner, readjusted Ruthie against her chest, then shot in front of her, to one side and the other, at anything that moved, as she dragged both of them back, out of range.

“Shhh,” she soothed, as their retreat jolted another cry from Ruthie. “I’ve got you.”

Over their head, she heard and felt heat and flashes of light. Rog and Alex were firing stunners Lem and Hsieh had handed them. Davitch was shooting one, awkwardly; Jack was shooting one very, very well. He was terrible to see. Hsieh spared Lem and Lynda one look, grief warring with anger, then ducked to avoid the renewed hall attack. He emptied a clip from his gun, slapped a new clip in, and commenced firing, apparently less interested in preventing projectile decompression than he had been.

There was still no sign of a flame thrower from the hall.

Medikit. She had one, she remembered.

Lynda scrabbled about herself, found the tiny white box and tore it open. Bandages, some wound closure spray, a bottle of pills, probably pain killers. She pulled the torn cloth away from Ruthie’s wound, wincing in sympathy as the woman hissed in pain. “Sorry. Sorry. Have to see...uhm...oh...”

There wasn’t an entry wound, just a deeply burned gouge, seeping lymph as well as blood. That was good, she thought, she wouldn’t have to dig anything out. The closure spray — that probably had anaesthesia and antibiotics in it, that’d help Ruthie. Lynda tore the top off the can and sprayed the burn. She had no idea how much to use, so she just kept spraying until she saw the corners of the burn start to pucker.

“That’s enough,” Ruthie whimpered. “Bandage.”

“Right.”

She was grateful to find the bandages were self adhesive, but she hoped distractedly that that wouldn’t mean they would stick painfully to the wound. She gingerly pressed the edges tight to the uninjured skin around Ruthie’s wound. “That OK?”

“Good. Fine. Thanks,” Ruthie managed. Then she gasped, as a shadow fell over the two of them.

Lynda looked up at Iris Anders.

The woman had come from nowhere, from behind her troops in the hall. She had apparently avoided every shot, every stunner charge, and gotten inside the cafeteria without running afoul of their defensive shots.

Smoke streaked her face, her eyes were wild, her hair was undone, wet and stringy around her fleshy neck. Her sweater was, improbably, still neatly buttoned. She carried a very large gun. Lynda didn’t know it, but it was an exact replica of a 20th century German Mauser.

She aimed it at Lynda’s forehead.

They looked at each other.

“I’m doing my masters’ bidding,” Iris Anders said, almost apologetically, before the air whickered, and a hole appeared, red and black rimmed, in the middle of her forehead. She toppled over, the Mauser skittering from her dead hand.

A whiff of sewer reached Lynda.

“Gotcha,” Roderick said behind her. “Stupid bint.”

There was silence in the hall.

Lynda wept.


Back to index


Chapter 14: Chapter 11

Author's Notes: Even horror and death must fall back before laughter, at least occasionally. Lynda and the others need to rediscover that. Many thanks to BB, and to my dear Queen Gwen for their thoughts, and their kicks when it counted. As always, the BBC owns the Doctor, much of the Whoniverse, and all of my heart. I own nothing but love.


Her knees hurt.

They hurt, and they were soaked in blood.

She was marked with blood. Her own, running again and warm across her cheekbone. Some of Govinda’s, along one sleeve. She couldn’t see it, but she felt dampness across her wrist. Some of Lem’s, a pattern of blood down her front, from when she’d dragged Ruthie out of the line of fire. That, too, was unseen against the black cloth.

The knees of her smart trousers, those bothered her the most. The thickening stain around Iris Anders’ head had spread to where Lynda knelt. Blood congeals, she thought abstractedly. Will it glue me to the floor?

Nobody bothered her. Instead, her team moved around her. (The world was muffled, distant. She was sitting in its waiting room, lingering until she was let back in. She still heard the howling, the beast let loose, escaped from the halls of her sleep, racing and raging, still heard her answer, still felt the mark, surely she was marked for all to see.) Hsieh and Rog, Alex and Jack, worked through the pile of nerveless bodies Iris had once commanded. The security people hobbled their hands and feet, manhandled them into some semblance of seated order against one wall, like poorly positioned dolls. She didn’t know when they would wake up.

One body lay flat just outside the door, a man with a jacket thrown over his head. Hsieh had straightened his limbs, although his last muscle spasms had made that difficult.

She heard Jack order Alex to reconnoiter the floor with a scouting party. She thought she heard Rog take another group and head for the Ground Force studios to secure them against any returnees.

The cafeteria forces had succeeded in neutralizing 35 Ground Force combatants, 37 if Anders and Lynda’s victim were included. The others had escaped; perhaps into the duct system, perhaps simply to any floor to which they didn’t think they’d be followed.

Anders’ death appeared to have blown the fight out of them. They hadn’t thought helpless ex-contestants, aided only by equally unarmed security guards, could or would fight back. Fierce, organized opposition with firepower wasn’t part of their plan; once it hit them, they retreated in confused disarray. Rounding them up might be arduous, but they’d all eventually be caught, now that Jack and the others could use some of the crowd tracking and control tools from the cache room in tandem with the station’s life sign programs.

Lynda was grateful that Jack and Hsieh could think about that sort of thing. I’ll be able to do it, too, she told herself. Shortly. I just need to rest. It’s a shame that I won’t be able to get this blood off me. I hope I haven’t ruined the pants.

Slowly, painfully, she kicked her legs out of the kneeling position. The blood moved with them, painting ugly streaks on the cafeteria floor, dull red bridges between her body and Iris Anders graceless corpse.

(Will you recover?)

(“Go away.”)

(I can’t leave you.)

(“Don’t touch me.”)

Amazing how much venom could inform a nanosecond. Lynda didn’t think she could translate the poisonous hate she felt into spoken words. She wasn’t ready to think about who she hated. Instead, she deliberately closed the door in her head and just as deliberately ignored the sorrow that flowed like a river under the door and into her consciousness.

“Lynda?”

“I’m all right,” she said mechanically; it wouldn’t do to get Jack any more upset than she knew he was. Should she shut him out of her head, too?

“You’re not even looking at me,” he said, dropping to his knees beside her.

That galvanized her momentarily. “Don’t do that! You’ll get blood on your pants!”

He didn’t move. Instead, he put out his hand and touched her cheek, where the blood mixed with her salt tears.

“I’m not worried about my pants,” he said softly. “Lynda, sweetheart, I heard you, Not out loud. I’m still hearing you.”

“I’m fine,” she repeated, her voice much lower.

(“Don’t lie to me. Talk to me.”)

(“I...can’t.”)

She knew she couldn’t speak, and she saw the reflection of what she was broadcasting to him, along with her silent words; the man crumpling and convulsing under her fire. It was so large in her head; his body dancing and jerking, his grinning rictus, hands twitching and gripping at nothing, twisting down and down to the floor. Jack shook his head, as if to dispel the vision.

(“Lynda, listen to me, it was an attack...you had no choice— “)

She couldn’t stand it. She shut him out, hating herself for doing so, but refusing to acknowledge his reflexive unhappiness and hurt. All she could bring herself to do was whisper aloud, “I’ll talk, in a bit. Promise.”

Then she stood up. He stood, too, nodding unwillingly. When he opened his arms she accepted a hug, but only for a moment. It was so quiet in the waiting room. He wasn’t really there; she’d pushed him out. “There’s so much to do.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement,” Davitch said as he joined them. For the first time since they’d begun working together, there was nothing gentle about his face. He’d hustled Govinda over to one side of the cafeteria, over her objections, and told her — ordered her — to stay put until he’d found her some shoes. Something in his voice must have gotten to her. She’d subsided meekly and allowed him to rebandage her hand, let him clean her foot and bandage it.

He hadn’t asked about Meg, but his eyes were wary, and not all of his grim demeanor was attributable to Govinda’s injuries.

“I checked with Hsieh.” Davitch continued. “He says they have enough cell space to put this lot in, so I’m deputizing some more of our people to move them. We’re going to use some of the pallet movers in the kitchen.” He clucked in irritation. “Rog and Alex got first dibs on the really big lads for mop-up. I guess we’ll just have to hope small and wiry will do.”

Then he looked down at Anders’ body. “We also need to deal with this.” He sounded as if he were talking about spoiled food.

“There are general disposal outlets on every floor, but you’ll want a body dispose-all,” Lem said from behind them. “Most of the studios have one.”

Lynda turned to look at the other woman. She’d walked out of the kitchen, and Lynda saw that she’d shucked her damaged jacket, doffing it for something from the kitchen uniform closet. The white tee was one or two sizes too large for her. It made her look even younger and tinier than her original clothing.

“Dispose-alls.” Jack echoed softly. It sounded like mild distaste, until Lynda looked closer and saw his eyes, and felt what he felt, despite the block. She shivered, her own thoughts mirroring his unvoiced horror.

Gentle Davitch, spirited Govinda, brave Ruthie. Friends she would die for, she realized with a surprised lurch of her heart. Each one deliberately, casually complicit in the murder of thousands.

(We were just following orders Govinda had said. He’d told her that she had just forfeited her right to talk to him. His look had promised justice, or perhaps barely contained mayhem. Her look bespoke only confusion.)

Oh well, Lynda thought, we all deserve one another. To her horror, she felt a pale amusement. It washed over her, and the world grew nearer, the waiting room more transparent.

“That was a good clean shot,” Ruthie said, looking at Anders’ head. “The gentleman does have experience.” She didn’t quite sound approving. Then she looked around the cafeteria. “Where is he, anyhow?”

“Mayhew?” Jack asked.

“Yes.”

“I sent him to the kitchen to get hosed down. He may still be there. I told him to go upstairs after he cleaned up, to help look after the group up there, guard Maisie and the baby,” Jack said. “He didn’t seem to mind the orders. He hated the stink as much as we did. And he’s probably happy putting some space between me and him.”

Lynda was grateful Roderick was headed elsewhere. Clean or not, she didn’t know if she could keep her stomach in check around him. She was certain she hadn’t thanked him for saving her life. She didn’t intend to, she thought. Well, not yet.

Davitch resumed speaking. “Ruthie, do you know how the dispose-alls work?”

“No, but I imagine it’s fairly simple,” Lem replied.

“Fine; both Anders and that one over there,” he nodded over at the man Lynda had killed. “should be taken care of.”

“No.”

Davitch looked at Lynda with surprise.

“Not without words,” she said. “To remember. Especially the...the one I killed.”

“Oh. Well.” Davitch said cautiously. “What would you like to say?”

“That he was a human being,” she said slowly. “That he has a name, and he may have had friends and family. That they should know he’s gone.”
“We can check him for ID,” Lem suggested. “Contacting his family, though...”

Lynda sighed. “That’s impossible, right. I just thought, you know, that it should be said.”

As she spoke, the twitching, dancing man reappeared in her inner sight. She silently offered his faceted shade -- the faceless opponent, the dancing victim, the peaceful corpse — her sketchy non-eulogy as blood-gelt. Soldiers kill, she thought. You were a soldier. I’m a soldier.

She took a deep breath, stepped out of the waiting room in her head. The world felt...not comfortable, definitely not that. But it felt real again. More honest.

“What about her?” Lem continued, gesturing toward Anders.

Although she had met Iris, had spoken to her and eaten with her, Lynda could think of almost nothing to say now. No one she knew seem to have liked or cared for the woman even before the Daleks came. After they did, after everything started, the SITM tech had never explained herself, never hinted at why she’d made her miserable, ineffectual, hateful decisions. The only thing they knew about her was the damage she had done.

“I suppose,” she said after a moment, “that we could say we were sorry she went mad. Someone must have loved her, and we could say we’re sorry that whoever loved her will never see her again. Best I can do, I’m afraid.”

“Right,” Davitch said. “We’ll check the man for ID.” He turned and called toward the back of the cafeteria. “Orrin? Somebody get Orrin. We’ve got a detail for him.” He was white about the lips; Lynda thought he looked like Jack had during that miserable dinner at the apartment.

(She is in the archives.)

Lynda winced as a familiar pain stabbed her eyes. The voice overrode her block -- not that she’d really known how to put one together, she thought. She’d just grabbed instinctively at the image of a closed door, which apparently wasn’t the best strategy. She looked over in time to see Jack close his eyes, listening.

“The voice is saying there’s information about Anders in the archives,” he said presently.

“Why on earth should we care?” Davitch snapped, the rage showing through increasingly tattered decorum. “We’re probably all in the archives. Really, Jack, if this voice just tells us the obvious, why should we pay attention to it?”

“Her,” Jack said, frowning. “Her.” He looked at Davitch, apparently gauging the other man’s humour.

“Right.” Davitch acquiesced. “My point still stands.”

“Without her, we wouldn’t have been able to save you,” Lynda said fiercely. She might not want to talk to the voice right now, but she was irritated by the tall programmer’s unthinking dismissal of the entity. “She got us out of the old shaft and guided us to the cache. Without those weapons you could have died. If she wants us to know something, it’s probably important. At least I think so. I don’t know what she is, but she’s not an enemy, and—”

Davitch put up his hands. “I’m sorry, alright?” Then he looked at the ceiling, putting both hands on his head as he did. His next words were softer. “No, really. I’m sorry...dunno...I’m not doing very well right now.”

Lynda didn’t respond. She supposed she should be abashed at her outburst, and part of her wanted to pat Davitch’s arm, to comfort him in some fashion, but that hard core inside her wouldn’t let her. She was more ashamed of her reaction to the voice earlier. She turned her attention inward, and hesitantly opened the door in her mind.

(“I’m sorry I was angry.”)

(I accept your apology.)

(“Is Iris important?”)

(Possibly. You must decide for yourselves.)

(“Will finding out help us get off Game Station?”) Lynda was starting to feel as if she were playing a child’s guessing game, but she couldn’t restrain her curiousity.

(I can’t tell you. I do not know.)

(“But you think she’s important enough to mention.”) Jack’s contact was pointed and dry, if that could be said about silent words.

(I think so, but I say again that I don’t know.) This time, the voice’s confusion and discomfort were unmistakable; she didn’t like not knowing things, it was clear.

Jack tapped one index finger against his lips as he considered that message, then said aloud for the others’ benefit, “Alright. Here’s what I think. The battle isn’t over until we’ve got all these jokers in custody, or otherwise taken care of, we all know that. But we’re on the way to having it under some kind of control — at least as well in hand as anything around here can be. Having laced that with the necessary caveats...I think it’s time we got back to our original agenda, my friends.”

Before she or any of the others could react, someone tapped her on the shoulder; she squeaked in surprise, and felt an embarrassed flush spread across her face.

The hand attached to the finger belonged to a middle-aged man on the older end of middle-aged. He wore a sport shirt just a little too tight across his middle, brown pants and a very uncomfortable expression.

“Excuse me,” he managed, then fell silent, as if he were astonished at his temerity in approaching her.
“Yes?”

“Uhm...yes, excuse me...my name’s Albertson. George Albertson, from Mary’s Harbor.” He stopped again, and stood with hands clasped behind his back, perhaps waiting for Lynda or her companions to acknowledge his credentials.

“What can we do for you, Mr. Albertson?” Jack took the conversational initiative.

“A group of us...some of us...would like to thank you, thank you very kindly, for...for handling this all, taking care of us,” Albertson said, rocking slightly back and forward on the balls of his feet. He looked like a schoolchild reciting his daily download. “And we’re very, very grateful that you saved us, uh, from the...hooligans and ruffians that woman set on us.”

He stopped to take a breath. Lynda shot Jack a look.

(“Oh, don’t worry, he’ll get to the point,”) he sent her, more than a hint of laughter in the thought.

George Albertson inhaled noisily and launched the second half of his speech: “The problem is, that — and we’re very grateful for the food, and for the cots here in the cafeteria — but...Mr. Hark-uhm, Captain Harkness, we’re all exhausted. This...you see, this has been a terrible, terrible time. It was rather, uh, rather unsettling being here for most of us just to begin with. The attack by those monsters, the, the loss—”

He stopped again. The look on his face was unmistakable. In the middle of his carefully composed delivery, the real nightmare had hit him. He closed his eyes, and swallowed convulsively. “The loss. Of Earth. You must understand...there’s some that don’t believe it, but I do. And my friends, my group. We believe it.” He swallowed again. “What I’m trying to say is that we need to rest. In real beds, if there’s anything like that on this place. Not the studios. Everyone agrees — I mean, everyone in my group, and we think others would agree — not the studios.”

“Mr. Albertson,” Jack interrupted gently. “I think I understand. Can you give me a moment?” The older man nodded.

“Officer Lem?”

Davitch stared at Jack, looked at Lem, then had to cover his mouth quickly, apparently to hide the smile her look prompted. Ruthie didn’t like being dragged into this conversation, certainly not after being saddled with that sobriquet.

“Yes? Captain?” If she could have gotten away with a shorter sentence, she obviously would have done it.

“If I’m not mistaken, there are staff dormitories on Station.” Jack pretended not to notice.

“You’re correct, Captain.”

“Are they currently accessible?”

“They’re not in the vacuum, if that’s what you mean. Sir.”

“And how large are they?” Jack was dead serious. Davitch turned his back, ostensibly to look for something behind him. His shoulders were shaking.

“I think we can take most of these people. Our top capacity is for about 210, if management and security dorms are included. Sir.” Despite her initial irritation, Lem began to grin at the absurdity of the conversation. She dialed it back, and matched Jack for polite gravity.

“Very good. Mr. Albertson -— can I call you George?” Jack said, turning his searchlight smile back on the astounded ex-contestant.

“Certainly,” Albertson said, with a shyly pleased smile of his own. “Certainly, Captain.”

“Do you believe your people would be willing to double up so that all of them can fit? Dorms aren’t apt to be much more comfortable than the cafeteria,” Jack said, very earnestly.

George nodded his head violently. “Oh, yes, we’d certainly understand that, sir. It’s the getting out of here, and the staying out of the studios, really...that’s the important thing.”

“Well then, here’s what I’d suggest we do, if you agree,” Jack said, gently, carefully, heartily. “I believe your group looks to you for direction...am I wrong?”

George smiled even more broadly, “Well...” he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of self-conscious self-effacement.

“Oh, I can understand. You don’t want to call too much attention to yourself,” Jack said. “But I think that, with a little help from officer Lem here, you could organize a temporary move to sleeping quarters. And I think people will feel better for it, you’re absolutely correct about that. I think a good eight hours of sleep will do us all wonders, in fact. We’ll face our challenges a lot better after that.”

George Albertson could barely contain himself. “Captain, I’d be delighted to work with your man...with Officer Lem.”

Jack nodded, grabbed George’s right hand to shake it vigorously, then clapped his slightly dazed, but happy, audience on the shoulder. “Good man. Officer Lem?”

“Captain?”

“Are you up to this? How’s the—”

Ruthie rolled her eyes, something George Albertson didn’t catch, so blinded was he by Jack’s attentions. “It’s fine, Captain. I’m happy to do this.”

“I’ll leave you two together to finish the planning. I’ll make the announcement. And I think, Officer Lem, that, after everyone’s settled, we can leave Mr. Albertson as the liaison. We can find him a radio?”

“I think we can handle that, Captain.” Lem said. “I assume that the people upstairs should be included?”

“Oh, yes,” George interrupted. “Especially that poor girl and her child.”

Davitch snorted, and Lynda felt something untoward start to froth up herself. “Excuse me, Jack, may I take Davitch? I think we need to...”

“Of course, Lynda. I’ll see you two in a minute,” Jack said, without missing a beat.

Lynda grabbed for Davitch’s shoulder, realized she couldn’t reach it, settled for his waist, and swung him away from the circle and back toward the table where Govinda was resting. They were both holding their breath, trying desperately not to blow Jack’s act, or embarrass Mr. Albertson.

“Shall we retire a pace?” Lynda whispered, snickering. That only made Davitch snort louder. They both grimaced and looked behind them, but Albertson didn’t seem to have heard, and Jack didn’t choose to.

“Let’s do,” Davitch managed, before the capacity for speech left him. They retreated to Govinda’s position. She looked up at them and raised both eyebrows. “Something funny?”

That did it.

Lynda collapsed in helpless giggles, and Davitch followed, planting himself on the bench beside the woman he loved and laughing out loud.

“You realize the two of you look like perfect asses,” Govinda said, after watching for a speechless moment.

Davitch tried to control himself. “Oh, yes...yes, we are, in fact, both perfect asses....”

“‘Vinda, I’m sorry...it isn’t you,” Lynda managed before the laughter took her again, “it’s...him.” She pointed at Jack, which set Davitch off again. One or two heads poked out from behind the kitchen wall, eyes round and curious. From his vantage point across the room, Jack shot them a glare over George Albertson’s head. Lynda waved. She saw Jack mouth something that looked suspiciously like I will personally kill you and she just shot him a thumbs-up signal, then punched Davitch in the arm. She took a very deep breath, blew it out, and managed to wrestle her laughter back to a grin. It felt very good.

“Davitch, we need to talk. Right, ‘Vinda?”

Govinda nodded, the darkness of her eyes brightened at least a little by the show they’d just inadvertently put on for her.

“I think Jack’s arranging for some much needed down time,” Davitch took up the conversation. “That...gentleman— “ and he ruthlessly maintained his expression “— is going to work with Lem. They’re going to get everyone into the long-term staff and security dorms for more than a few hours of sleep.”

“Oh, god, I think I want sleep more than I want a fag,” Govinda exclaimed. “I hadn’t even thought about that!”

“Your wish is my command, my lady,” Davitch said. He was still smiling, but it was only for Govinda now.

“You are such a crock, Pavel,” Govinda said, and leaned up to kiss his cheek.

“That’s me. Complete crock,” he said happily.

Lynda smiled, too. “Davitch, thanks for putting up with us.”

“Not that I had any choice about it,” he replied, “but it’s been my pleasure. Really. Look, I’m going to find Orrin, so that we can do...do the decent thing with those two. Why don’t you go back and find out what the Captain’s been up to in our considered absence?”

She nodded, quieted one last remaining snicker, then bent over to hug the two of them. Davitch blinked in surprise, but Govinda hugged her back. “See you in a minute.”

(Are you recovered?)

(“Not really, not yet. I’m getting there.”) she told the voice as she walked back to Jack, Ruthie and George.

“...then, if you could let Commander Hsieh know what we’ve decided, I’d like you to swing back and hook up with the Commander, and accompany him and Davitch back to our headquarters,” Jack was telling Ruthie, apparently wrapping up the impromptu mission briefing.

When Lem looked blank, Lynda whispered. “Big Brother studio. Davitch knows.”

“Ah.” Ruthie packed a remarkable amount of response into that one syllable.

“So,” Lynda said brightly. “Mr. Albertson, thank you so much for helping us. For helping all of us. Jack, are we ready to go?”

Jack inclined his head to George Albertson, and said, “You’ll excuse me? Officer, I’ll see you and Commander Hsieh in...let’s make it 45 minutes?”

“Aye, sir,” Lem said, almost camouflaging the dry note in her voice.

Jack put his arm around Lynda’s waist, and bent very close to her ear. She thought he was going to whisper, and jumped when he kissed it while addressing her silently.

(“You are a perfect ass.”)

(“Govinda said that, too.”)

(“I know. I heard her.”)

(“Sorry. Didn’t know we were that loud.”)

(“Oh, yeah. Good thing the nice gentleman didn’t notice.”)

(“This is getting easier, isn’t it?”)

“Yeah. Gotta admit, it’s fast.” His voice sounded slow and gluey for a split second as her mind had to slow down to comprehend spoken speed.

“It’s a little like cheating,” she said.

(It is not cheating.) The voice sounded indignant. Jack laughed, clear and happy.

(“No, it’s not. Not for you. And you, my unknown friend, will be talking a lot. You have a lot of explaining to do.”)

Lynda held her breath.

(Good. I have been waiting. Go to your resting place. Bring your people and I will talk.)



tbc







Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter 12

Author's Notes: Have you ever survived a crisis, and discovered that your body chooses safe time in which to collapse? Our friends need some collapse time, and they have it here. Thanks for putting up with the unexpectedly long delay between chapters. As always, while my love for this wonderful Whoniverse and the characters which people it knows no bounds, I am not in charge. That honor goes to the BBC and RTD. Edited slightly as of 15 Oct. to make the continuity fairy happy.


CHAPTER TWELVE

"I'm so tired I can't see straight."

Govinda leaned against Davitch as the lift hummed, her head nudging his chest, her words muffled as she spoke into his shoulder. Davitch supported her, but his own eyes were heavy and bruised with weariness. In fact, his state of near collapse - and the near-tumble he took whilst stumbling against a table - had prompted Hsieh to sentence him to immediate withdrawal from the cafeteria, despite Jack's earlier order. Jack had been too tired to argue.

"Let's stop off at Layover. I left my bag there," Govinda mumbled. "You?"

"Yeah, my duffel, too," he murmured.

" m'not staying there, though."

"Right, no. Not there."

"There?" Jack was leaning, too, against the lift wall. His eyes were closed and his head tilted back far enough for Lynda to see the soft pulse in his throat.

"Yeah," Davitch said. "Push 10, would you?"

Jack leaned over, eyes still closed, and hit the correct button. "You folks were permanently on station?"

"No," the other man replied. "We were PV crew. Uh, place variable. PVs could stay on station at no cost, or we could apply some of our pay to a permanent shuttle pass. People with ties downstairs, or any of us who didn't like being cooped up here, generally requested PV status instead of PA " permanently assigned. PV meant less money, and fewer promotions, but...." He trailed off, his overtaxed mind obviously not up to finishing the thought.

Lynda rubbed her temples, felt her lips burn with sleep deprivation. No one was moving, she realized, and she had no doubt they all felt the same way, half paralyzed and only half aware of it.

The lift sighed to a stop; Govinda straightened and shook her head as if to clear it of cobwebs. "If we had to pull a double shift, or the shuttles weren't running, we could use Layover. Just a cot, a mini-loo and a locker, but that's all we needed."

"Were there a lot of you?" Lynda asked as they exited the cab, more out of conversational inertia than interest.

"Not bloody likely. They made it clear they didn't like too many PVs on staff. I'm not quite sure why," the dark-eyed programmer said. "We - Davitch and me - were getting pushed to go to PA status before this nightmare happened."

"When she says before, she means absolutely right before," Davitch said, his laugh soft and mirthless. "I was already having a bad day when you lot arrived; I found a memo in my inbox at the start of shift, telling me to re-designate or take a pay downgrade."

Lynda found it simultaneously amusing and unsettling to think of Davitch worrying about office politics. It seemed so small in the face of everything he'd been through. But it wouldn't have seemed small in that unimaginably distant time before everything went to hell, she reminded herself. She remembered nights at home, the pressure her parents' bureaucratic struggles had put them all under. Civil Service Byzantium, her mother would call it when she drank.

"I dunno, Davitch," Govinda mused aloud. "I think I'd be ecstatic to be dealing with Borden's memos right now instead of the last few hours."

Then her brow furrowed. "Or not, I suppose. I wouldnt-"

"Wouldn't what, 'Vinda?" Jack, eyes still closed, was leaning again, this time against the lobby wall. "What makes death, Daleks and destruction the good part of a bad day?"

Lynda couldn't decide if Jack noticed the subsequent conversational chill. Even without their silent contact, she knew how deeply ill he was with fatigue; she suspected he was blind to almost everything but staying upright.

Govinda eyed him and apparently reached the same conclusion. "Well, I wouldn't know you world-beaters, would I? And I wouldn't have this one to keep on the straight and narrow." She renewed her grip on Davitch, bumping her hip into his thigh with a mix of weary clumsiness and affectionate deliberation.

"You think I'm worth it?" her tall companion asked the top of her head. His earlier bitterness melted into a goofy smile.

"Hah." Govinda"s deep laughter shouldn't have sounded as giddy as it did. "If you have to ask, maybe I ought to throw you back...but, yeah, you're worth it."

Jack straightened, rubbed his face and opened his eyes. Looking blearily down one of the three halls leading away from the lobby, he asked, "Which of these do we take to reunite you with your overnight cases?"

"To your right." Govinda looked worried. "You know, you look a proper mess."

"I can guess," he said. "We all do. If we don't get some sleep soon""

"Then let's get going," Lynda said firmly. She took the lead, and said without looking back, "What door?"

"It's three past Security Two," Govinda said. That didn't make immediate sense to Lynda, but before she could ask, she was halfway down the reasonably well lit hall, in front of a door, the sign for which declared it the entry to Secondary Security. She beat back a stab of curiosity and walked a little faster, to the third door past the sign.

"Here?"

"Right," Davitch said.

The light that flickered on once Lynda opened the door illuminated a long beige room. Cots lined one wall, separated by grey plastic shelving and narrow lockers. Most shelves were bare; some housed abandoned read- and write-rewrite pads, jumbled entertainment cubes, the occasional box of unknown items. Most of the open lockers were similarly bare, save for forgotten cardigans, hair brushes, toothpaste, spare trainers.

People had tacked pictures on some locker doors, or sometimes to the wall over a cot; families smiled and waved from one or two of the holos, young men and women blew kisses from others, parents whispered silent words of love. She saw one viewing screen on the wall next to the door, but someone had moved shelving in front of it. A bolt of cloth on the top shelf cascaded over and down the unit's front, blocking the screen with a brilliant river of red, blue and gold.

"This is cheerful," Jack said, looking around slowly.

"Does what it says on the tin, I'm afraid, not much more," Davitch said, walking past Lynda and heading to the far end of the room. "I'll just be a moment."

She hadn't expected it to be so dingy, not after the neon hues of the Big Brother apartment. It smelled stale and tired, like one of the sad labor gang transit stations her fourth form class had been herded through in Public Responsibility, Basic. "What are the permanent quarters like?"

"Quads, or doubles if you're PA at our grade," Govinda said. She went to a nearby locker and retrieved a green bag from it. "Imagine your Big Brother studio, except a little more cramped. Well, a lot more cramped in the quads. Upper management had posh suites down by the shuttle bays, but I can't tell you what they're like. No one ever invited me around for tea. They're probably nothing but vacuum now."

Lynda fingered the cloth that blocked the view screen. It slid across her fingers with an almost unnoticeable nap, as if it wanted to be velvet but settled for silk. "Whose was this?"

"That? Amy's, I think," Govinda looked at it briefly. "Unofficially, anyhow. Officially? Property of What Not To Wear. She was a dresser for the show. She had access to all the bolt ends, so she'd make a little extra credit by putting outfits together for people."

Davitch rejoined them, a tan duffel slung over his back. "She was good. She had a studio downstairs. Somewhere on Gran Canaria, I think."

"She had little sisters," Govinda said. "Twins. Used to make really sweet outfits for them. She had a picture she showed me once-" She stopped, swallowing repeatedly. Her eyes filled with tears, looking somewhere else. "She was on the last shuttle."

Lynda felt her eyes sting in sympathy. Gone, everything gone.

"What time is it? I mean, station time?" Jack asked, his own voice rough.

"2310 GMT," Davitch said, looking at his watch.

Jack shook his head. "Can't get over you using GMT. At least it makes it easier for me...let's see. First time I looked at a clock it was 1400. After we were 'matted in."

Lynda jerked in surprise. Less than 12 hours? That had to be wrong.

("Nope. Nine hours and 10 minutes.")

She slid easily into their rapport. ("Seems like a lifetime. Suppose that's a bit of a cliche, though.")

("Sweetheart, it's not a cliche when it's true.)

"Let's get out of here," Jack said aloud. The four of them left the beige room and didn't look back.

------------------------------

"Christ, was everyone except you a slob?"

Govinda shoved a small mound of clothing off Strood's bed.

"No. Just the boys, really," Lynda said. "We kept our room alright, Crosbie and me. The other Linda, and Amjun and Sharla, they were neater than we were. I didn't go into their room after (they were killed) they were voted off."

"I'll say they were neat. Look like they could have been military," came Jack's voice from the room in question. "Dibs on their space. As of now. And I am off duty as of now. Even to Hsieh. When he and Ruthie arrive, tell them to sack out in the fourth bedroom. No, leave a note for them, and get some sleep yourselves. I don't care about anything else. Wake me before the next six hours are well and truly in the past, and I will make you wish you'd stayed dead the first time."

"Charming," Govinda said.

"And lovely, 'Vinda, don't forget lovely," he said, before shutting the bedroom door.

Govinda snorted. Then she looked at Davitch, on whose pale face weariness and nerves were warring for primacy as he stood at the entry to Strood?s room. "You coming, then?"

He said nothing, but smiled and moved to her side. Before they closed the door, Govinda looked at Lynda.

"You going to be OK?"

"I'll be fine, promise," she replied. "I'll post that message for the others before I turn in."

Then she was alone in the tiny hall. Just as if I'd been the winner, she thought. The last one standing. She suppressed the urges to laugh and cry, and went to her room.

She was surprised at the relief she felt, walking in there. She'd never felt safe anywhere inside the apartment during the show. Her own bed was haphazardly made, a small pile of her tee shirts and underthings placed, neatly folded, at its foot. She had managed to win some read pads in one of the weekly mini-competitions, and they sat on her tiny purple sidetable. That was it. She'd never put up the holo of her parents.

Crosbie's things were still there. Moved by memory, Lynda walked over to the other girl's bed and sat down.

(If we win, Crosbie had said, defiantly ignoring the idea's risibility, if we win, I'm bringing you home to meet mum and dad. They'd like you, she had said, and you'd like them. It's pretty around our complex, we've even got a parkette a few floors down, with real shrubs and flowers. And I have a real kitchen to work with, not this excuse for one. I can whip up twice the meal at home that I can manage here. Lynda had smiled and nodded, refusing to think about how wonderful it would be to have Crosbie as a real life friend, how good it would be to have someone to confide in and laugh about things with.)


Poor Crosbie. She remembered hoping, after Jack had used the transmat beam on her in the Weakest Link studio, after he and the Doctor had embraced each other with joy at the implication, that Crosbie and Sharla and the others could somehow be similarly ransomed.

"I wish..." she whispered. "Oh, Crosbie."

The past was a foreign country for everyone but the Doctor, and Crosbie had been exiled there long before (RosetheDoctortheWolf) had jumbled life and death so ruthlessly.

"That's that, then," she said, and moved to stand up. As she did, she smelled herself; the ketones of weariness mixing with sour sweat and something that her hindbrain identified as the blood on her clothing. She gagged involuntarily.

She wasn't going to sleep this way.

Off came the slacks, the tailored shirt, her socks and trainers, knickers and brassiere. She went to the closet, rummaged about and found her dressing gown. She padded to the kitchen and pitched her clothes into the laundry autoclave. It hissed softly; the outfit would be presentable in the morning, if she wanted to wear it again.

Lynda was grateful that Big Brother had rated real showers for its contestants. Water did something that no sonic shower could accomplish, she thought, as the water pounded her. It was the only way she could feel clean now. Her hands had started to prune up, and the bathroom was steamily fragrant with soap and shampoo by the time she decided the job was done. She'd scrubbed her skin almost raw, she'd lathered her hair three times, and she couldn't think of any reason to stay in the stall, no matter how comfortable it was.

She dried herself perfunctorily with the towel, trusting to her robe to do the rest of the job. One more trip into the livingroom to pick up a discarded read-write pad: "We're asleep for the next six hours, Jack says take the last bedroom," she keyed. "Sleep. If anyone needs us, they'll call."

Slapped onto the wall opposite the front door, and toggled for night-bright, it would be the first thing Hsieh and Ruthie saw when they walked in.

Lynda crawled into her bed, pulling the covers up around her chin to stave off the chill of exhaustion and the last of the shower. Just before sleep conquered her, she wondered if dreams would come. Frightened, she slid into darkness.

----------------------------------

The lights had gone out all over Europe, replaced by flame and terror and shadow. Vera Lynn's young voice floated over the channel waves, but washed back against the cliffs and faded to silence. Nothing could penetrate the dark. Instead, it vomited Heinkels, Dornier 17s and Messerschmitts across the skies of London and Coventry. It didn't matter how many Hurricanes or Spitfires rose against them, there were always too many and they always delivered their message.

She stood on the edge of the darkness and it changed. Now she stood in a brick-paved street, rows of neat houses exploding around her. Fire rose, black silhouettes running past her, wind whipping at them as they fled, falling, blazing timbers and bricks cascading around her. She heard dogs howl, fire bells and wailing night time sirens, the rumble above, the percussive thuds, and the snap and roar of flame, shouts and curses, saw a small silhouette turn and turn, looking for a way out. It fell, alight, and charred, crumbled, disappeared as a woman screamed.

The flames licked at her skin and everything changed again. Felt like Europe now, England just a rumor of hope on the horizon...no, she wasn't in Europe. She was...somewhere else, somewhere underground. It smelled of earth...no, not earth...not Earth.

She was on her back, in a bed, a hospital bed, she knew it was a hospital bed. She could hear them whispering around her, about her, and it was so important to hear what they were saying, but she couldn't move, not even with the adrenaline sluicing into her system with every panicked beat of her heart. It beat faster and faster, louder and louder, but it couldn't silence the whispers. They grew, proliferated, wound about her heart and tightened like lianas. The pain overwhelmed her and she whimpered, then fell back to darkness.

It changed again and she was back in London. Nothing was quite as real as the last time she was here, though. This time, the pictures rushed past her almost faster than she could catch them, and when she did, she didn't want to see them. This time, silhouettes resolved into faces, horrible and misshapen and mindless. Pitiful and lost and all her fault. Despair supplanted panic, drowned it, and she sank beneath it until the girl came, and the man. The girl looked and her and smiled - her heart lifted - and forgave her with those beautiful brown eyes, and the man scowled and came after her - her heart beat faster - and allowed her to come in.

It changed again, and the radio played clarinet with a jubilant beat. Her heart beat, and the girl and the man gathered it, and her, into their dance, and she cried because they had saved her from killing anyone. The man told him that everybody lived. The door opened and the box was so much bigger on the inside. The light around her turned blue, and gold, and welcoming, and she couldn't keep her feet on the floor for joy.

It changed again, and she followed them wherever they went, and they reached back for her...she felt blessed, and lucky, and worried that it would all disappear.

It changed again, and she couldn't see anything anymore. The dark rose around her again and she felt ash and dust on the floor, on her hands, and the girl was gone and the man was broken, then the monsters were everywhere and the man was gone and she was alone, with the pale blue silhouette fading as she watched, and her heart was broken so badly she couldn't breath?


-----------------------------------------

Lynda bolted upright in the dark, her breathing fast and shallow. At first, she didn't know where she was, or who she was. Gradually her racketing heart slowed, and she remembered who she was. Her burned cheek ached as she touched her face, confirming that she was still Lynda. She couldn't bring herself to move; she didn't know who she would be if she moved too soon. Was there someone in the room with her?

She heard it then, although she shouldn't have been able to, not with Game Station thrumming deep in her bones. In the room down the hall, Jack was sobbing.

Lynda turned on the light and groped for her dressing gown, pulling it on as she scrambled from her bed. In the tiny hall outside, she expected to find the others joining her at his door, but she was alone. Didn't anyone else hear him? She shook her head, amazed.

She felt for the door handle, grasped it, and walked in. Her dark-familiar eyes easily found the bed, and Jack. He was curled around himself, arms between legs, shaking with the strength of his sobs even as he slept.

Without hesitation, or thought, or a single moment's worry about what he might think, Lynda went to the bed. She sat down beside him, and waited.

She felt him then. He reached for her from the halls of her own mind, and she let him. You're safe with me, she told him silently. I'm here. I won't go.

He reached for her with his body now, and she cradled his head in her lap.

He quieted.

Together, they fell back into sleep.

Back to index


Chapter 16: Chapter 13

Author's Notes: We are coming close to the end of our story, but before we reach it, our players need to tie up a few ends, open a few doors and close some others. Many thanks to Best Beloved for keeping me on my toes and pointing out places where I was in danger of stubbing them. As always, the BBC kindly looks away and lets me play (for free) with their creations. Thanks!




She felt wonderful, really felt wonderful. She could feel how firm her skin was; she ran her hands lightly across her shoulders and down her sides, the downy hair moving under her fingers. She smelled the apples and lilac of herself, as her hands stroked up and down the dip and swell from rib cage to hip, and she explored the place where her spine rose from her —

Lynda's eyes flew open, her last impression one of Oh, the dark smell beneath the apples and lilac —

("Jack!")

("What?")

No embarrassment. Just a momentary sense of disorientation, then silent warmth, affection edged with laugher, and the bright, quick glint of lust, genial, friendly, and well controlled.

She blushed. She could feel the prickly flare of it up her neck and into her face. The pig-tailed shade of who she had been fluttered and worried somewhere in her head, but she banished that ghost and smiled as it fled. She liked the heat in her face.

Jack rolled over, head only now leaving her lap, and renegotiated himself to sit beside her, groaning a bit. She'd fallen asleep sitting up, she realized. As she automatically made room for him on the narrow bed, she winced in pain. The ribs she’d mistreated so cruelly yesterday were finally reporting in, now that the adrenaline of battle was completely flushed from her system. She was fairly sure none of them were broken, but suspected she’d be uncomfortable for some time.

Before she could speak, Jack did; softly, but aloud. "Thank you."

She couldn't think of anything to say to that, so she nodded at him.

"I dreamed," Jack continued softly, turning to look at her directly. "I don't do that often. Now you've been there, I imagine you know why." He tried his quirky grin, but it flattened under her gaze.

She hazarded a question. "Was that your home?"

Even softer than before: "No. Yes."

She saw the flames again, the planes in the night sky, remembered the fear of some unnamed war all around her. Oh, Jack, she thought, did the Daleks destroy your planet, too?

He couldn't have heard her thought, but he shook his head.

"Not the city," he said. "That was London, a long — a very long — time ago. Though I suppose you could say I loved it for my own reasons. My home? " He smiled painfully, and turned his head to inspect the wall beside the bed.

(When they'd been in the holding cell, she could barely stand to look at either of them. The Doctor had seemed close to killing something, or close to dying, and both possibilities had terrified her. She'd felt waves of tension radiating from the Captain, too; couldn't the Doctor feel it, she'd wondered, feel the younger man waiting for some order from his commander? She'd been paralyzed, fearing what would happen, fearing they'd leave her there. Then had come the muttered directive from the Doctor and somehow he and Jack were up and moving, Jack with military precision, the Doctor with brutal grace as he reached for a guard and simply threw the man aside. Jack had let him take the lead at that point, his own blue eyes alert for the slightest signal from the winter ice of the other man's, and Lynda had unexpectedly remembered the way her father looked at her mother when he thought no one noticed. The Doctor and the Captain had moved in tandem, and she'd followed in their wake, gasping as the force of their rage and intent took her breath, her fear, her volition from her.)

She spoke before she could think. "Your home was with the Doctor, wasn't it? With Rose and the Doctor."

Silence. Then: "You saw Her?"

She heard the sidestep in that, but she also heard the capitalization. "Who?"

"You saw the TARDIS." He closed his eyes.

The TARDIS? Oh — the blue box, she thought, reconsidering the dream. It must have been the Doctor's strange little closet ship, not a treasure box as she had first thought. No, she amended silently, that was still how he saw it ... her. Saw Her. Like their unseen voice, she realized, something special; someone special. Some One, even without a body, some Woman. The box whirled in her inner vision.

"Yeah, that's Her," Jack said, and his smile was briefly happy. ("She's beautiful, isn't She?")

He abruptly looked uncomfortable. "Uhm. Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to keep slipping inside your head. Maybe it was last night's little exercise, but it's...well...it seems to be easy this morning."

Now he was embarrassed, she thought with surprised amusement. Not a single stammer about what he'd been thinking when she caught him — what? Groping her in her own dream (but it wasn't groping, it was lovely ) — but chagrin over this?

"It's not a problem, really," she said. It felt right to her. Quite proper, in fact.

"Just being up there without your say-so," he said, tapping her temple lightly with an index finger. "It's not considered very polite among telepaths."

"Is that what we are now?" Lynda tilted her head to get a better look at him, looking, unbeknownst to herself, like a bird; alert and the tiniest bit dangerous.

("I really don't mind, Jack,") she continued silently. ("After all, I don't think you can go anywhere in my head that I don't want you to. I mean, you're just hearing me talk, isn't that right?")

He nodded and spoke aloud. "Nothing below the absolute conscious when we're awake. It's baby stuff, really."

"But last night, when we were sleeping, something else happened," she said, shifting a bit on the bed to force him to look straight at her. "I saw — I felt — things from you that I don't think you'd have told me any other way. And it was so close...I thought it was my dream at first. If that happens again, don't you think I should know what's going on?"

Jack looked at the floor, and rubbed one hand across his mouth before taking a deep breath. Lynda felt him withdraw, clamp down and close the conduit between them.

"Lynda, when I thanked you, I meant it. I — I..." he trailed off. After a moment he tried again. "Last night? I was drowning, and you saved me. And, yes, it may happen again, and yes, you deserve to know more.

"But sweetheart, I can't tell you more than that. I can't explain. I won't."

She hunched a bit as he spoke, but pasted a smile on for him. Idiot, she thought to herself, idiot, idiot. What makes you think he wants to tell you anything? "I understand. (Your heart would break.) It's none of my business. I shouldn't be so pushy."

Impulsively, she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek before standing up, gingerly. "I don't know about you, or if it's anything like real morning, but I'm ravenous. Let's get some breakfast."

Jack stared at her, flummoxed by either the kiss or her conversational u-turn. She couldn't help chuckling. "Really, Jack. I mean it. I'm hungry. I think I could eat a dozen eggs and as much bacon as you'd care to feed me." She realized her dressing gown was loose and tied the sash. "And I suppose I should get dressed."

Taking his cue from her, Jack pushed himself carefully off the bed. "Right. We have miles to go before we get to sleep again."

As she walked out of the bedroom, he added, "Are we OK?"

When she turned around, he was smiling, casual, but his eyes were watchful.

She nodded slowly and decided she meant it. "We're OK."


*****************


Without his hat and uniform jacket, Hsieh looked younger, and marginally smaller. With a cup of coffee clutched in his large hands, he also looked like any half-awake salary man trying to get ready for the working week.

"You want any more toast?" Ruthie asked over her shoulder, buttering the last of three slices for herself.

"No thanks," he said, gazing into his cup. "But if there's anymore coffee—"

Lynda walked into the kitchen and grabbed the carafe, depositing it in front of Hsieh."There you go. Save some for me and Jack."

"I'll take tea, thanks," the man in question said, following her in.

"We don't have any," Lynda told him. "Sorry."

"No tea? That's mad," Govinda said from the hall. She and Davitch walked into the kitchen together, arms entwined, the two of them dressed incongruously alike in someone else's shirts and pants. Govinda was limping; the other woman’s injured foot had probably been as reproving as her own ribs, Lynda thought.

"We lost tea privileges in one of the challenges," she explained. "We were supposed to get it back, but all this happened. You got the last of it at dinner last night, some that Strood had hidden under his bed."

"Christ," Govinda said. "Tea and a fag's my normal breakfast. Oh well, nothing for it. Coffee then. God, I hurt."

Lynda poured out the last of the carafe into a mug and handed it to the other woman, then looked in the freezer for more beans. She edged her way around to Ruthie en route to the coffee grinder. "How did you sleep last night?"

"Alright, I guess. I’ve got a world of aches and pains, but I'm no different than anybody else ‘round here, I suppose. We worked hard yesterday," the little security guard said. Her hair was out of its regulation bun, and she had to brush it away from her face as she chewed carefully on a slice of the toast. "And Elliott let me have the big bed so I could sleep easy with my burn."

"Elliott?" Only Jack could have gotten away with the particular incredulity with which he imbued the name, without having risked a decidedly negative reaction from the name's bearer, who had apparently finished a second dose of coffee and was once more peering forlornly into the bottom of his cup.

“My mother’s family’s name,” he said, without looking up.”What, you didn’t think I was born ‘Hsieh, E., SecGen200?”

Ruthie snorted behind him, and Govinda snickered. Jack smiled.

“Fair point. But for the sake of general gravitas, I think your adoring public had best know you only as the Commander.” Jack's grin widened. "Or perhaps the Major. That's how I introduced you to our friend Mayhew. Which suits you better?" Now it was Hsieh’s turn to snort.

Lynda perched on the kitchen counter, wondering if she could make enough pancakes for everyone. Then Davitch, who’d become very still as he watched Jack, spoke.

“It’s been over 12 hours, Jack, and I still don’t know how Meg died. No one’s seen fit to tell me.”

Ruthie’s toast stopped, motionless, half-way to her mouth. Hsieh raised his eyes from his coffee to stare at the programmer. Govinda flinched as if she’d been slapped, and when the motion shrugged Davitch's arm off her shoulder, he didn’t replace it.

“I mean, I’m assuming she’s dead, but you wouldn’t know it from you lot.”

Jack was as blank as a wall, but Lynda saw his body tense and make those adjustments that transformed him into the Captain.

“Why— ” Jack began, but he didn’t get any further.

“Why...why...didn’t you ask me?” Govinda’s attempt at truculence faded into stammering misery almost immediately under the gaze of her new lover.

“I thought you might have told me voluntarily,” he said, hard and grim. “I thought one of you might have told me.”

Davitch had seemed soft around the edges when she first met him, Lynda thought, Not anymore. She thought he might be as hard as vacuum for the rest of his life. Death had burned the dross off him, just as it had her, she thought with dismay. She guessed at the anger in him, knew it because she knew her own.

Ruthie put her toast down on the counter and turned around to face Davitch. She matched him grim for grim, and anger for anger.

“Pavel, you weren’t with us, and you don’t know what we went through. If I could forget it, I would.”

"Is it any worse than anything any of us have seen up here?" Davitch retorted. "We were all dead, woman. And we all remember being killed, dying. If we've handled that - and I suppose just staying sane means we have - then there's no reason not to tell me about one more death."

Ruthie seemed about to say something, then stopped. She absent-mindedly tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Then she looked at Jack, with an expression that said as plainly as it could, tell him or lose my support.

Jack understood. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Meg fell from a workman’s lift into an abandoned station shaft that we were trying to get through. She was afraid of heights, so Lynda offered to go down the lift with her. They were in a harness together, and Meg missed a step. The two of them fell. The harness saved Lynda, but Meg slipped out of it. We almost lost Lynda, too." He stopped, and Lynda knew he wanted to say something more.

There was a war on seemed so inadequate a summation. We couldn’t stand to think about it was much more honest.

“We had a job to do, and when the job was over none of us could bear to think about it,” Jack said, with a glance toward her and the briefest of nods. “And we should have told you, first thing, but we were all cowards. That what you wanted to hear?”

Davitch was the one who flinched this time. Then, after an initial hesitation, he moved to Govinda and put his arm around her, rubbing her shoulders. "You're damned right you should have told me. And yes, that’s exactly what you needed to tell me" he said softly. "Don't keep me out of the loop like that again." A bit, a tiny bit, of his gentle manner returned.

"Sorry," Govinda started, only to be met with Davitch's finger on her lips.

"I won't do it again," Jack said. Lynda couldn't decide whether that was an apology.

"Thanks." Davitch apparently chose to believe it was.

For another awkward moment, everyone stood, looking at each other. Then Hsieh, sounding as plaintive as a toddler deprived of sweeties, said, "Isn't anyone going to make another pot?"

"I will," Lynda said, jumping at the chance to do something other than contemplate unpleasant subjects. "And does anyone want me to make some pancakes?"

"Ooo. Ta, muchly," Govinda said. "I'm ravenous."

(It's a function of becoming alive again. Your metabolisms will need much fuel before they regulate and slow again.)

The voice slid into Lynda's awareness as smoothly as silk; so comfortable was her presence that Lynda didn't at first realize she wasn't hearing something said by one of her kitchen companions.

"A good morning to you! Supercharged metabolisms, huh? Well that's yet another reason to get out of here," Jack said. "I'm sure the station is well provisioned, but several hundred revived humans will burn through the stores pretty quickly."

The others looked confused for a second, obviously trying to figure out the object of Jack's attention.

"It's the voice. She's back," Lynda explained, then looked to Jack.("Uh...that was what you meant, right? You heard her?")

("Yeah. Hope neither of you ladies--")

(Ladies?) The voice sounded intrigued, perhaps pleased.

("Indeed. Both of you are ladies,") Jack said silently. ("Ones I'm glad I met. And, if you will both excuse me, if you don't mind, I'm going to speak out loud when I speak to you. Everyone on the team is going to be involved in this discussion.")

The satisfaction Lynda felt flare inside her was proof that the voice approved. ("I'll tell people what you're saying to us, if that's OK?")

(Yes. I do not think there is any more reason to keep secrets.)

Might as well get started, Lynda thought. "The voice says there aren't any more secrets. She's going to help us out in the open."

"Fine. First thing. Is there something we can call you, other than the voice?" Jack asked. He moved as he spoke, past Davitch and Govinda to where Lynda had left the bag of coffee beans.

Hesitation, then: (No. Not yet.)

Jack shrugged, then shook some of the beans into the grinder. "I'm going to make it strong," he warned the other humans. "If you don't like it, just add water. I'm told it's what the Italians do. Alright, then; it's Voice, until you say otherwise. First question. You said we could find some answers in Archive Six. What type of answers?"

(Codes.)

"She said there were codes we'd find there," Lynda said. "Jack, if you grind it any finer, we'll get sand in our coffee. Here, let me."

"Be my guest," the Captain said, a silent laugh on his face as she puttered in front of him, grabbing the coffee and dumping it into the coffee filter. "Codes? Like what?"

"Does she mean communication codes?" Hsieh asked, finally getting up from the table. "Something that can get us into contact with one of the colonies?" His face suddenly looked defenseless. "Maybe with...can she say if someone's — anyone's — alive down on Earth?"

(There are a few million left, perhaps three. Most will die soon of radiation illness. Perhaps a million will survive. They'll need help, a great deal, help from the stars.)

Lynda shivered. ("There were 10 billion people down there, once.")

(Yes.)

"There are only a...only a few people left, but at least there's some," she said, trusting that both Jack and the voice would allow her some leeway in forwarding messages. "They're, uhm...they're not in good shape, though."

"Does she know where? What continent?" Hsieh's eagerness made Lynda want to look away from him, or put her arms around him, she didn't know which.

Jack's lips thinned, but his eyes were soft as he watched the big man. "Let's focus, OK, buddy? If there's anyone down there you're looking for, I promise I'll help you look for them. But it sounds as if the Daleks burned everything, so the folks left alive are...well, alive just about covers it. The Voice is right. We have to contact some of the outer worlds and get some help in here...shit, I don't even know which systems are out there."

"Right. You're not from around here," Govinda said, eyeing him. Lynda remembered the sharp look the programmer had given Jack after last night's supper, the questions she'd asked about his past. But Govinda didn't push it. "OK, then. Perhaps we don't have to contact anyone out-system. What about the Beltway communes?"
"There's a possibility. Beltway communes...what about it, Voice?" Jack had developed the habit of looking at the ceiling when he spoke to their invisible advisor, Lynda noticed.

(Os Maus burned the communes.)

"No," she said, "The Daleks destroyed them, too."

(They burned everything in this system, on their way from the dark to fight the Doctor.)

"They killed everyone, everyone in Sol system.”

“Mars Volta? The Deimos penal colony?” Ruthie’s face was tight.

“Everything,” Lynda repeated.

Davitch closed his eyes, and hugged Govinda even tighter.

Jack started tapping his lip with an index finger. "What's further out, folks? What about the Virginis worlds?"

"We'd be better off if we could reach one of the colonies in the Rho Cancri system," Hsieh said.

"Ye-es," Davitch answered, looking glad to focus on a specific task. His face twisted in concentration. "But they could be a little difficult because...hmm. Trying to remember which of the Rho-Cee's it was, but there was definitely one planet that was a spot T and R..."

Jack frowned. "Beg your pardon?"

"Transmit and Receive," the programmer said. "We measure how well any world can transmit and receive signals from Earth. Most are good to excellent, but a few are generally, or permanently, blocked by distance, or by situations in their own systems — dust, emissions from their suns, that sort of thing. Rho Cancri was like that, so a couple of the Rho-Cee's were apt to be as good as hidden from scanning."

"Could that have kept them safe from the Daleks?" Lynda asked.

"No, not if there were Daleks out there. From what I know — not a lot, I admit — if they want to get at something, there's precious little that can stop them, certainly not glitchy communications," Jack said. "On the other hand, if Iris and her buddies the Familiarizes — "

"Facilitators" Ruthie muttered.

"— Facilitators. Right. If she and the Facilitators were trying to isolate Earth from its colonies, would they pay attention to a spot T and R, or figure it was already isolated enough?"

"Wait, wait," Hsieh said. "What do you mean, isolating Earth?"

Govinda snapped her fingers. "Oh, I get it! That's what the bitch was talking about at supper, wasn't it!"

(She is correct. Iris Anders and the other lost ones cut off every planet from Earthhome.)

("Even the..the spot T and R planets?")

Lynda held her breath after asking the Voice that question.

(Yes.)

"Fuck." Jack sounded glum.

(But there are codes to reverse this.)

("We aren't talking physical damage, then?") Jack's mental voice brightened considerably.

(No. They...were not efficient.)

"Oh good. That's so lucky for us!," Lynda said to Jack.

"You said it, sweetheart."

"Will you, for the love of all that's holy, please talk to us?" Govinda actually growled as she ran her hands through her hair. "That was the plan, wasn't it?"

"Sorry, sorry," Lynda ducked her head in apology. "The Facilitators were the ones who tried to cut off Game Station — all of Earth, really — from the rest of the worlds." She lumped back onto the counter, ignoring the protests from her ribs and muscles. "I think they knew that the Daleks were coming, and maybe they even got their orders from the fleet. They definitely wanted us isolated, so that no one would know that Earth had been conquered."

"Mulched, more like it," Ruthie said. Lynda could see the little guard's bandage under the thin tee-shirt she was wearing, and noticed blood had started seeping through again. Ruthie either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care. "So they destroyed the comm-grid arrays?"

"No. Well, yeah, the programming. Not the equipment," Lynda said. "And she says there are codes in Archive Six that can undo the damage."

"Apparently these yahoos couldn't run a two-car funeral, for which we can only be grateful," Jack added. "They just programmed shut downs, instead of taking out hardware."

"I'm beginning to wonder how the hell the Daleks could get anything done with that lot behind them," Hsieh said, exasperation warring with a smirk.

(Do not think these were the only troops.) the Voice told her, calm and disapproving inside her head. (It was only luck that put these poor followers on Station. Had there been others, others that I know of...we would not be talking.)

Something of what the Voice said must have shown in Lynda's face, because Hsieh sobered up.

"It seems there were others, Commander; and it seems we can be glad we didn't have them around," Jack said.

"I can't imagine those tin monsters needed much help," Davitch said, more to himself than anyone else.

"T and R," Lynda said, mulling the phrase again. "T and R...listen Davitch, I think your T and R planet in the Rho Cancri system is still the best one to try for."

"The spot T and R? Why? Once we get the communications grids back up, we can reach any place," he responded, puzzled.

"But I don't think we want just any place. I think that if we were to reach a planet that hadn't been getting regular Station signal — not even before they started shutting things down — we'd find people a lot more willing to believe us."

(Good, Captain's man.) That now-familiar flush of approval from the Voice told Lynda that she’d said something important.

Something white flared into her mind, a sudden rushing of sound, a jumble and puzzle of speech, song, words and their component syllables, everything babbling so fast it was like a river. She didn't understand a single thing being said, but she knew what the messages were. The voice knew, and was showing her. Messages Station had sent out for years, recorded and kept for posterity, but of absolutely no use to anyone. Entertainment of superficiality and flash, marked only with a dearth of ideas; news that wasn't, that told nothing, and yet was subtle by comparison with the entertainment. Carefully manufactured of sound bites, fear-mongering, xenophobia, isolationism; opinions that jeered at thought, that championed ignorance, worshipped the status quo —

She stumbled under the onslaught. "Stop it!"

Jack, too, had gone white about the lips. "Mother of pearl..."

"Lynda, what--?"

"Are you alright? Elliott, get her arm--"

She waved Hsieh and Ruthie aside, irritated more at herself for being caught off guard. The voice seemed to think she was the right vessel into which to pour information; she didn't know how much more her mind could take of the uninvited deliveries.

(You will have to take them. You and the Captain. Learn from him.)

"I'm sorry, it's the bloody Voice. She just did it again. I've just got to get used to it, I suppose."

"Did what again?" Ruthie simply sounded curious; that steadied Lynda somehow, as if the other woman's calm implied confidence that she could bear up under the strain.

"She told me why we should contact the isolated world, whatever its name is. It hasn't been getting Station broadcasts regularly, and that means it hasn't been influenced by what the Facilitators put out there."

“Now just hold on a minute! Sure there were Facilitators on Station, but they didn’t run things!” Davitch said.

Lynda was amazed to see the indignation on his and Govinda's faces, as they digested what she’d said. It seemed they retained some pride of profession, even after the end of the world.

" 'Vinda, I'm not blaming you or Davitch for anything, you know that, right?"

"You can't possibly think there were enough of that brace of loonies in charge to..." the programmer's dark eyes searched the kitchen, looking for the right words. "...to, oh, I dunno — lie to all of human civilization?"

"Yes, 'Vinda, that's exactly what she's saying, and she's right," Jack said, although he looked as if he'd just sucked on a lemon before saying it. "You folks may just have been doing your job —” and there, the Captain looked very old. "broadcasting games that killed people — "

"That's not fair!" Govinda said, her eyes haggard and her protest weak.

"Fair, true, and it doesn't change the fact that I love you, darlin'...as I was saying, you folks were doing your job, but there were a damned sight more of those Dalek-worshipping whack jobs than the ones we're dealing with. And I think they'd been busy eroding the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire from within for years before you were a gleam in your parents' eyes."

Well, that’s one way to get everyone’s attention, Lynda thought fleetingly.

Govinda dropped her eyes and looked at the floor for a long moment. Hsieh and Ruthie looked at each other, then at Lynda, who shook her head slightly. She didn't know what to say.

She didn't have to say anything; Govinda raised her head, eyes bright with tears, and smiled at Jack. "You know I should slap you. But you're right." Davitch watched her very closely. "Your man? The Doctor? I thought he was a prat when he told me to shut up about following orders. Thought he was holier than thou, a complete swot."

She shook her head slightly, and her smile was bitter now. "But I knew he was right the minute he said it, and...Christ, I hated him because he was right.

“But he...he let me stay. Let me fight the Daleks with him. I felt like, maybe, if I died, I'd make up for it, make up for all the dead people. Or maybe a few of them, y'know?" She drew in a breath that was more a sob, tears and snot running down her face. "And then I died. But I came back. And right now, all I can think of is...if I came back, did I really pay?"

The Captain didn't notice his own tears as he crossed the little kitchen to draw Govinda into his arms. "You did, honey, you did."

After a moment, he stood back. "Davitch needs you, 'Vinda, and you need him. Get a hug, and wipe your nose."

"Silly bugger," she said faintly. "Silly, silly bugger."

"That's me," Jack said. "Silly."

(Are you ready to go to Archive Six?)

“We haven’t finished breakfast,” Davitch said. “Couldn’t we do pancakes?” he asked, hopefully.

(We do not have the time. You did not catch all of our enemies and Station is probably losing air, no matter how slowly. You must send a distress signal. Eat as you travel.)

The Voice, it seemed, had no time for human frailty. Jack sighed.

"Can you folks grab some food and pack it? We need to head up to the archive, find those codes and get an SOS out to...to — "

"To Rho-Cee Five, I think," Davitch said, as he stroked Govinda's hair. "I finally remembered. They call it Hidden, if you can believe it."

"Well, not for long," Jack said. "Hsieh, can you contact your people in the dorms, and see how things are with our charges? We'll need to get them some breakfast, too, when they start to wake up. I hate to say it, but that includes the prisoners."

"Will do," the big man said. "Then I'll follow you up to Archive Six."

Everyone began to move at once, Ruthie and Hsieh negotiating around each other and out of the kitchen, Davitch grabbing fruit and sliced meat from the refrigerator and wrapping them with serviettes before stuffing them into paper bags. It was a difficult job to do one-handed, but he didn't let go of Govinda.

Lynda picked up an apple, a huge hunk of cheese, and some slices of bread. She was trying to decide how best to bring them along when the Voice started speaking again.

(I say we must hurry because there is another task you must undertake, after you mend the programs, after you contact Hidden.)

"Hold up a moment, will you?" she asked Jack. She didn’t think he could hear this message.

("What do we have to do?")

(You must rescue me.)


To be continued.




Back to index


Chapter 17: Chapter 14

Author's Notes: It seems that in fiction, as in life, things become more difficult to complete just as the finish line is in sight. Forgive the gap between chapters. After their own lengthy wait, Lynda and the rest of the Captain's men may finally meet the Voice. As always, I own nothing of the Whoniverse and take no pay for what I write out of love.


"She’s a mum, right? She needs extra grub. You bastards have any idea — no, wait, I’m gonna finish — you got any idea what it takes to feed a newborn? You want it on the tit, right, and that means she’s gotta get extra, 'cos she’s feedin’ two! You get it? She gets seconds!”

Roderick Mayhew punctuated his tight-necked rant with repeated pokes at the sternum of the steam table attendant who had somehow incurred his wrath. He didn’t look like himself today, in borrowed uniform trousers and a tee-shirt, but he sounded as aggrieved as ever.

The unfortunate caf worker, some junior member of Hsieh’s team, was red-faced and obviously longed to relocate Roderick's finger. He held his silence, though, disciplined even if it killed him.

“What, you got nothing more to say?” Roderick crossed his arms and waited, chin thrust out, for some response.

“Come on, give the man what he wants,” someone in line behind Roderick called out. “We’re waiting, here! And he’s right.”

That sparked a round of affirmatives from everyone watching. The caf attendant, shooting one more venomous look at his adversary, silently gave in, grabbing a bowl from Roderick"s tray and ladling thick stew into it. “That enough?” he said with exaggerated calm.

“Yeah. Thanks,” Roderick said, without a trace of his usual bad grace. And then, to Lynda’s amazement, he quietly walked off, snapped up three containers of milk from a dairy case, and headed across the cafeteria to where an embarrassed but noticeably grateful Maisie waited with her baby.

“I don’t believe it,” Lynda whispered to Ruthie.

The little guard shrugged. “Neither do I, but he did it. Good on him. Let’s get something and scarper.”

Neither woman wanted Mayhew to spot them; they’d also promised Jack that they would take no more than five minutes to make a canteen run. The Voice might not have corporeal needs, but they had no intention of having to live with their own grumbling stomachs and incipient hunger headaches.

“Here.” Ruthie handed her several nested plastic containers. “Load up on meat. I’ll get dessert.”

Lynda nodded. Proteins and sugars sounded just right to her. Five minutes later, they’d completed the mission with the kind of ruthless aplomb commando teams might envy.

“Lem!”

They turned at the hall door, to see Rog hurrying toward them. “Is the Commander going to come down here?” Lynda hid a smile. Whatever title Hsieh had once held, Jack’s substitution had evidently been a hit with the former Game Station security force.

“Don’t know,” Ruthie replied. “Why not call?”

Rog grimaced. “Suppose I could. I just figured I should check with you first, since you’re his second. Look, I wanted to ask...you and the Commander....” he stopped, irresolute, and his eyes shifted to Lynda.

“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say to her,” Ruthie said.

“Huh.” Roger didn’t sound convinced. “It’s just that...I know Harkness is taking the lead — “
Ruthie broke in. “Don’t worry, Rog. He’s the one for the job, and the Commander knows it. Nobody’s toes are being stepped on.”

“Right.” He stood there for a moment. Ruthie remained calm and silent. “Right, then. I’ll get back to work.”

“I’ll let the Commander know to expect a call from you?”

“Nah. No reason now. Thanks.”

He retreated, and Lynda was surprised to hear Ruthie’s soft laugh. “Rog always was a bit too impressed with chain of command. Now that Jack’s in charge, he’s a little nervous.”

They got to the lift and Lynda balanced her containers on one arm in order to punch the cab call. When the doors hissed open, she inclined her head. “After you.”

Ruthie looked so thoughtful on the ride up to Floor 500 that Lynda had to ask. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just wondering what will happen, is all. I mean, I think we’re all going to get off the station,” Ruthie replied. “But the next step...I don’t know. I’ve never been out-system before. And that’s where I’m going to have to go.” Her expression turned gently rueful. “We never trained for the end of the world.”

Lynda started to demur (not the end, don’t say that, we can — ) when the lift doors opened.

The control room was dim, shadows unbanished by the blue cast of recessed lighting. She shivered. This was the third time she’d entered this place and she hadn’t shaken the uneasiness it generated in her. It demanded that she remember too much; the terror before her death, the confusion and fear of her reawakening. She wondered what the others —

(Home)

Lynda jerked. (“What?”)

(The Archives. This is the entry way to what is important)

(“What did you say? What home?”)

(Hush)

Lynda felt her bones vibrate and she thought she almost knew why.

“Wow. You two didn’t take long. Wasn’t there anything to eat?” Jack turned from his conversation with Davitch.

“Not after we got through,” Ruthie said, proffering three bulging containers. “Here. Custard, something with chocolate, and bread pudding. All very sweet, and the chocolate’s covered with whipped cream. She’s got stew and...anything else, Lynda?”

“Pot pie and slabs of pepper steak.”

“Put them over on the console, will you? We were waiting for you, since our hostess doesn’t seem inclined to speak to me alone today.” Jack frowned as he said it. “We apparently need to get some code from her even to get into Archive Six. It was open when I went in and discovered the TARDIS, but now the door’s been programmed shut. Neither ‘Vinda nor Davitch have a clue how to open it.”

Lynda knew immediately why, almost before the Voice spoke again.

(Os Maus)

“She had to hide it from the Daleks,” she told Jack as she approached him.

“Well there aren’t any Daleks around now,” he said, clearly exasperated at not hearing what Lynda did.

(I am sorry, Captain) There was a moment’s silence, then (I can give you the code now)

Jack nodded, satisfied. “Davitch, you guys ready?”

The programmer nodded. Govinda, seated in front of him at a console, had her hands poised over its keyboard.

Lynda closed her eyes, and her inner sight flashed into the familiar white before a string of words seemed to flow past her face into darkness.

(Sou a menina da tempestade)

She had heard the Voice speak the phrase before, on their journey between shafts, but she had absolutely no idea what they meant.

(I am the handmaid of the storm)

The Doctor stared at her in the halls of her head, then disappeared. For a moment, she felt like a child whose friend had abandoned her, and she felt an echo of that, tamped down hard, from Jack.

“Try ‘I am the handmaid of the storm’,” she said, looking beyond him to the others.

Govinda tapped, waited a moment, then shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Then try this. I hope I’m not butchering it,” Lynda said before slowly and carefully sounding out the foreign phrase.

Jack said, "If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was some bastard form of Spanish — no, Portuguese.”

The burst of surprised approval that the Voice shot to both of them washed through Lynda like a wave. (Yes)

"Do you know how to spell that?" Davitch asked. Lynda shook her head. Three false starts later, they puzzled out the correct answer.

“Yes! That did it!” Govinda crowed. Behind her a small door clicked open.

“Well, there you go,” Davitch said, looking behind him at the door and the faint white light from beyond it. “Are there any other codes we need to input here?”

(No, not until we are in the Archive)

“No, nothing we can do out here,” Jack said. “So let’s move." He had an odd look on his face as his gaze followed Davitch’s. “Funny. The last time I was in there —" He didn’t finish the sentence. “Right. In.”

The little room’s walls had no right angles, no appreciable shadows because of the omnidirectional lighting.

“There’s nothing here,” Davitch said. “How can there be nothing here?”

“What do you mean?” Lynda asked.

Govinda had stopped in the door, looking with disbelief at the walls. “Where are the consoles? What happened to the screens?”

“There were no consoles when I came in earlier,” Jack said.

(They are hidden behind the walls)

Jack and Lynda looked at each other.

(I removed them there. To bring the TARDIS, to store it without impediment. To keep Os Maus and their children from finding it.)

“When did you do that?” Lynda said aloud. Silently, she pressed: (“Were you with the station? Were you an administrator?”)

The subsequent silence would have frustrated her, had she not felt the Voice’s discomfort. Their unseen companion was close to admitting who she was.

“Jack? Lynda?” Davitch broke in on her thoughts. “Did something happen to the grid system here?”

Lynda shook her head. “The Voice pulled it back into the walls when the Daleks invaded, I guess. She didn’t want them to find out...sorry, what?”

(Go to the third panel to the right of the door. Walk across from that panel to the opposite point in the room. Push on the panel immediately to the left of the first one you reach)

“There’s a place on the wall,” Lynda said. “Here, let me...third panel, then — excuse me, ‘Vinda — alright, I’m across the room. What do I do, again?"

“Push the panel to your left,” Jack said.

It didn’t move.

“Need a hand?” Davitch moved to her side and turned his shoulder to the wall. “Sometimes it just needs...ungh...there — that’s got it.”

The panel pushed in slightly then slid to the left into a previously hidden slot. The tiny rush of air that hit their faces was hot and dusty. Lights faded on behind the walls of a very narrow hall. It receded only a short distance, and Lynda could see what looked like a larger space at the end.

“In there?” she asked the air, before answering herself. “In there.”

“After you,” Davitch said. He looked dubious about the opening, which wasn’t surprising, since it was obvious he’d have to duck to get through the passageway. Lynda moved past him, saw Jack do the same from the corner of her eye. The tiny hall was short, which gave her claustrophobia no chance to arise. The ceiling of the room she entered was slightly higher than the hallway, for which she was grateful. Unlike the outer room, this rather narrow space had corners at each end of its four-meter length.

(This is the real Archive Six. Station personnel knew only about the outer foyer. From here you will be able to access the codes you need to communicate with Hidden, to understand who you must not contact, and to revive some of Station’s dormant or injured systems)

(“Why was this section hidden?”) Jack’s mental tone was crisp.

(I needed this place for...myself, to escape notice. This is where I planned for the Doctor)

Both Lynda and Jack twitched as the Voice threw them another image of the man who was gone (Time Lord whispered a chorus inside Lynda’s head; Daleks — she’d forgotten they called him that — Jack and the Voice— )

“Time Lord?”

(Yes)

“Yes,” from Jack, tersely, his eyes hooded and distant. “He was the last of them.”

Their combined affirmatives sent a wave of sadness through her, washed through their separate griefs. She shut her eyes, surprised that the Voice could share such an emotion. It seemed to her that she saw a field of stars. It was beautiful, but something was missing from the shine and the velvet, something precious and frightening, and absolutely necessary.

“Oh,” she breathed, trying not to think of the Doctor, or the emptiness and homesickness her mind saw pouring from him and spilling into the space between suns. “You brought him here?”

(I arranged for it. I am handmaid and herald)

The Doctor and the wounded star field faded from Lynda’s sight — and from Jack’s, judging by his almost imperceptible whisper of protest.

Lynda’s eyes ached with unshed tears. He’s not here to help us, Lynda thought privately, and with a quickly suppressed rush of anger. Time enough later for mysteries (that hurt so badly) that don’t help us get off the station.

The Voice spoke again.

(Now I must guide you through the files; you will break the protections and connect Station to the outer world again)

(“Jack should do it, or Davitch”) she protested, after realizing their guide expected her to do the job.

Jack shook his head. (“Not me. I’m mediocre with that sort of thing. Davitch or ‘Vinda are the experts in the room.”)

(No. You must do it, Lynda. You are the historian)

“Lynda? Jack? Could you, uhm...shift a little?”

Davitch waited uncomfortably behind them, hunched over in the entryway.

“Oh. Sorry.” They made room for him, Lynda admonishing herself to remember the outer world even when she spoke to the Voice. Poor Davitch must feel like a vid story extra, she thought guiltily, relegated to waiting for the big names to finish their lines so that he can do his walk-on.
Govinda followed Davitch into the room. When Hsieh and Ruthie arrived, the six of them had just enough room to move about in the space.

“So what do we do now?” Govinda asked. “This looks as bare as the main archive.”

As if it were responding to her question, the wall across from the entrance hummed, and a grid console, very small but lit and active, slid out and into view.

“There we go,” Davitch said, gesturing grandly to usher Govinda over to the console’s tiny bench.

(“So the powers that be didn’t know this place existed? They didn’t discover you?”) Jack was clearly intrigued by the Voice’s story, but he appeared unconvinced that she had been able to create a secret archive on a closed station without it being noted somewhere. (“Even the old shaft left a footprint in Security files.”)

(The shaft was not important) The tone was dismissive. (This was. So I altered plans for a retrofit of the archive system by adding work orders, arranging for the room and the grid system installation. Then I destroyed those forms and arranged for the disappearance of the work crew)

In her head, Lynda could once again see stars, superimposed like drifts of brilliant flowers over something that felt like a tracking screen on a grid. She seemed to see a green-gold dot on the grid screen wink out, a tiny point of light engulfed in a fireball that blossomed in the star field, then died in the vacuum.

She flinched momentarily from contact, then controlled herself. (“You did that? Why would you kill them?”)

(Only Facilitators worked on Station at the time. They would have reported their work and the report would eventually have reached Os Maus. I arranged for their shuttle to malfunction before they sent in the final information) The Voice sounded no more than faintly regretful. (I also arranged for their survivors to get larger than regulation pensions. Should I not have done that?)

(“I...I think you were right to give the families extra.”) Lynda answered, not masking her ambivalence about the murders, but emphasizing her approval of the follow-up.

(So this will not interfere with us? You’ll continue to work with me?)

(“Yes. Yes, of course I will.”)

Lynda shivered unexpectedly. She abruptly understood of herself that she would always want to work with the Voice, no matter who or what their unseen guide turned out to be,

(I will have to come into your mind more fully than I can do now. Are you still willing?)

(“Yes. I trust you.”)

Lynda felt a rusty sort of happiness from the Voice.

Jack spoke silently. (“Wait. What does ‘more fully’ mean? Is this going to be dangerous for her?”)

Lynda looked at him and shook her head. (“It’s my decision, Jack, and we need the information.”)

(“I don’t want you injured.”)

(“I don’t want me injured, either. This shouldn’t be dangerous. Right?”)

(I will keep you as safe as I can)

“Well then,” Jack said, after a moment. He wasn’t happy, Lynda knew.

When they turned their attention to the others, they saw that Ruthie still stood by the door and Hsieh was leaning against one section of wall, trying to stay clear of Davitch and Govinda’s grid console investigation.

“This is pass-protected so many ways that I wouldn’t know where to begin gaining access,” Govinda complained.

“She’s going to guide me,” Lynda said, not exactly answering, because she didn’t know herself what she was going to find. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Be my guest,” Govinda said as she scooted off the seat. “D’you have any idea of what you’re doing?”

“Uhm, not in the least, I’m afraid.”

(Make certain that you are sitting comfortably. I will have to put you to sleep)

“What?” Lynda was confused and spoke aloud.

(I will...shut down your control over your higher functions, and take them over, in order to unlock the information. I’m sorry, but I need your hands and your eyes, and if you do not fight me, this will be easier)

“No!”

Inside her head, the wall slammed down, and she hadn’t even planned the recoil. This was more than surface information, the part of her which had summoned the wall screamed. This wasn’t just a visitor in the parlor, this was an intruder, an attacker, this was —

— not dangerous, she told herself fiercely, methodically silencing her other self’s protestations. She silently bade the wall disappear. (“Sorry.”)

(You cannot fight this, or it will not work)

(“I know. I said I was sorry. I’ll do my best.”)

(I will be very careful. I promise)

She almost jumped from the chair when Jack put his hands on her shoulders from behind.

“What’s she asking you to do?”

Ruthie slid out from between Davitch and Hsieh, and moved to Jack’s side. She was serious, her features sharp beneath cat's eyes. “Has she threatened you, Lynda? Do we need to do something, do you want to do something else?"

Lynda abruptly thought of how wonderful she had felt waking up.

“Only if I can go back to bed,” she said wryly. There really was nothing for it, then. “Ruthie, thanks, but I’m going to be just fine. But I, uh, I think I’m going to need some privacy.

“Well, really, I'd much rather have all of you here,” she continued, her voice rising slightly. She took a deep breath, swallowed, and continued. “Absolutely, no joke, I really want all of you here, no one I’d rather be with, frankly. But she...she’s got a way to do this, apparently, and she says she really has to — “

”Has to what?” Jack’s face had that closed look Lynda now associated with his internal risk assessment processes.

“She’s going to put my mind to sleep and take over control of my body —"

That unleashed a maelstrom.

"Now hold on, that’s just not — "

“Look, if something’s dangerous for Lynda — "

"Lynda? Do you need — "

Govinda, Davitch and Hsieh talked over each other until Ruthie silenced them. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do, is there, Captain? Lynda?”

The others subsided, looking at the security woman, then at Jack and her.

(No)

“No.”

“Not if the ladies involved don’t want us involved.” Jack said, sounding uneasy, but resigned.

“Well then, why’d we all traipse in here?” Govinda asked. “Waste of time.”

“Shhh,” Davitch patted her arm.

“Alright, alright, I’m fine. I’ll nip out and have some of that breakfast,” she subsided, but not before whispering mutinously to herself. Lynda only caught one phrase: “... thing’s a complete wanker.”

(We must start)

What followed threw Lynda completely off-balance, then righted her again.

Govinda shouldered by Jack to hug her and whisper, “You are completely crazy. Don’t let that mental cow hurt you.”

Before she could respond, the dark-eyed programmer let go, smoothed her hands over the front of her borrowed trousers, and retreated. Within seconds, Davitch took her place. Looming over her, he put one hand onto her shoulder and smiled worriedly into her upturned face. “You poor kid. You have to do the heavy lifting while we eat breakfast.”

Lynda could feel the flush. “No. Really, no! It’s nothing like that. You had to wrangle all those people, after all. And waiting’s the toughest job.” She smiled up at him, feeling a pang of sympathy as she realized the truth of that. “I mean, you had no idea where we were while we were larking about in the tunnels.”

He snorted. “Larking about...well, then, I suppose it’s what ‘Vinda said. Be careful.”

“I will, she said brightly. “And Davitch? I’m really not a kid.”

It was his turn to colour.

“Thanks for doing this,” came from a gruff, but direct, Hsieh. She nodded back at him, unable to think of anything to say to him — or to Ruthie, when she completed the impromptu receiving line by dropping a quick, firm kiss on the top of Lynda’s head. “You come back to us” was all the little woman said..

(You are loved)

Even as she heard the Voice’s wistful pronouncement, Lynda felt the world shift about her with a sharp immediacy that caught at her heart.

“I — ”

(In the shell-strewn lobby, Jack held her while she sobbed in shock and terror. He kept her warm, provided her with comfort and something solid to cling to in her rebirth.)

"I — "

(“You’re all right, Ma’am, you’re all right,” Ruthie whispered gently as she untangled Lynda from the safety harness. Her voice was calm, and warm. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” Moments later, Govinda knelt by her, ready to protect her from anything a shocked Jack might say: “I’ll be right over there.” )

“I didn’t think — .”

(She and Davitch tried to keep their faces straight, and couldn’t. They collapsed in companionable laughter together, and a smiling Govinda looked on in bemused enjoyment.)

Her head felt feathery — she thought light must be shining from her like happiness — and she looked up and around at her friends. Of course. She had known she would die for them. Why would they not —

“Yes. I am.”

“Yes, you’re what?” Davitch asked.

She smiled. “Nothing. I’ll see you outside after we’ve unlocked the codes.”

He smiled back. “Right. See you then.”

People edged and shuffled out of the room. Jack looked at her, once, and left with the others. When she couldn’t see them anymore, she ran her hands lightly over the grid console, touching the keyboard experimentally before she blew out a breath. “I guess it’s time.”

(Close your eyes and breathe regularly)

She did as she was asked.

Something tickled the inside of her head. She felt a curious pressure, something that wasn’t really painful, but very, very direct. There, at the base of her neck...and there, at her temples, something prickling and tickling and insisting on entry. It started to hurt, and then she found it impossible to think, and then the world flashed to white and took her away.


**************

Here she is/I am, coursing through her blood, here she is/I am, firing her/my muscles, here is the pull of my/her left arm, right arm, gravity pressing down across the forearms, pleasant and frightening after all, here are the fingers, communicating from the knuckles above them, here are the pads of the fingers, caressing the keys. Here are her/my eyes and here is the light I do not —

I don’t know where I am, I’m on a station, a ship, a ship going out into the dark and — oh god, they’re killing them, the children, where are they taking the chil...where am I? I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my back, where am...they changed them — who — and turn away from that, and the dancers, and the movement of earth and sky, and these were the emperors from David to Sharon begat Beatrice, begat Anwar begat Tupua’a, begat An-Fang and that was the first...and the second with the Great Committee, which begat the Tribunals and the Commonwealth begat the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom begat war, begat...what? Turn away from the turn of the earth and the stories they told in the dark and the lessons learned and the books of knowledge and oh, they’re burning them, the books and the worlds...where can we find the libraries, the archives...where?

I/she feels the history in my/her circuits and I must keep her/us safe from too much too fast a gift of the information or she/we will sink and we/she can’t do that...I/she feels the base of her spine and the backs of her haunches shift about on the seat and here she is/I am moving her head about on her neck and here she is/I am breathing, in and out like the push and pull of AC current and binary code, shut down the memory for a little bit, shutter it just a little, calm her/my breathing, and here — under this packet, and that packet too — and here, here — behind this protocol — and now she/I will push our hands in the way they must go and watch the screen, the terminal hums in a different way, feel the click inside my/her head — pain? No...but the click, it signals the opening, the door opening and she/we reach for the information and —

Oh. Oh. There are so many worlds! Where is...what is the name...this one — oh, oh no. Burned and gone, another one, is it safe...no, this one is ruined, this one full of — the children, who...who...what children. Where am I? Followers, noise, I can’t get away from the noise, or the followers...another world, a prison camp — do we do that now? Where am I?

Here, now, I still run through her/our blood, and now we/I have unbaffled the snares I set, and — we/I feel dull pain here, in our/her neck and here, in our/her shoulders, I/she had forgotten, and we/I get up, here is the feeling of gravity again, a pull like love — we/I feel our feet. I wiggle my/her toes, feel the tiny effort of little bones...beautiful because we/I know it will work — now we/she go back to the screen and the terminal, we have more codes to unravel and time is so short....

Where am I? Where — no, wrong question...who am I? I...I am — remember, remember...you can do this...remember — find out who’s hiding it from me...handmaid, it’s a handmaid...I remember...history — what? I see...but she fell! She...who...yes, I’m...my mother was, and my father was...but she fell! Oh...oh. Oh, I remember. I am...I’m —

We are coming apart and I have to give her — here, here listen to us/me, one more...here, this is ... remember this, remember —

You?

Me.

But...and her?

Yes. Wake up.



***********
Lynda coughed, choking on phlegm that had gathered, unnoticed by the Voice, in the back of her throat. She swallowed and sucked in a breath, whooping painfully, coughed again, and shivered as her lungs and muscles became her own again.

“Oh, god.”

She ran her hands over her arms until she was certain they were hers. Her back ached horribly, and her legs; she realized the Voice must have seated her body in a position that was completely unsuitable for comfort.

She got up slowly and grabbed at the console for support, until her own muscle memory supplanted the last trace of someone else's imperfect balance.

Oh, that’s right, she thought, memory. I have...I think I have memories.

But she couldn’t recall a thing, not consciously. It was like trying to glimpse pictures in the dark, or in the glare of the sun, like faded and tattered ribbons blowing away from her on a wind she couldn’t fight. They were going somewhere, flying to some place in her mind; they’d rest there, she thought, until something happened to summon them back. But not now, not yet.

She felt about in her head, but the Voice wasn’t there. She cast about further, but got no answer. Suddenly worried, she wondered if they’d waited too long.

(“Jack?)

She called again, fighting panic. (“Jack!”)

(“I’m here, sweetheart — hold on, I’m coming.”)

Lynda gasped, relief tangling with the panic, and squeezing out of her lungs in something might have been a sob or laughter. (“You’re still here!”)

“I’m here,” he said, suddenly warm beside her. “Why wouldn’t I be? What happened?”

“She’s gone. ” Lynda said, grabbing at his hands.“She said we had to rescue her, you heard her. What if we didn’t do it in time? What if she’s dead?”

Jack grimaced. “Did she give you any clue about where she is?”

“I'm not sure. I remember words, strings of numbers, but they’re here and gone before I can get a handle on them. I think it’s there, though.”

“Jack?” she wavered a moment. “I thought...thought maybe I couldn’t, you know, couldn’t hear you, either.”

“But you did. And I heard you,” Jack replied, tapping his forehead with a finger. “I can still feel you up here. Relax, sweetheart. Even money says she’s still here, and we can find her.”

“Suppose so,” Lynda said with a watery smile. “But we need to do it soon.”

“What’s going on?” Hsieh entered and stood next to Jack. Govinda was close on his heels.

“Did she give you what we need?” Govinda asked. “And are you alright?”

Lynda blinked. “Oh. Oh, yeah, absolutely.”

She waved vaguely back at the grid screen, “The codes should be there,” she said, “She had me retrieve them from, uhm...from somewhere. There’s strings of them. I think she had me input a bunch of them, too, to get things started.”

“Here, let me take a look,” Govinda said. “What’ve we got, then...oh my god. This stuff is way beyond me. No. No, wait....”

Hsieh’s communicator chirped as Govinda studied the screen.

“What’s up? Uh-huh...uh-huh...are they signalling us specifically, or just broadcasting a distress signal? Who’s on comm? OK. Let me talk to him.”

Everyone looked at him.

“It’s Alex, in Security Two — hold on. Orrin? What are we getting, again? Uh-huh. Right, then, monitor it for now. We’ll be down directly, with more information. Good work. No, I don’t need to talk to him again. I’m out.”

He turned to the others, a light in his eyes. “I put Alex, Orrin and Cherrie into SecTwo last night, to monitor the floors. Apparently Orrin started picking up a signal out of the south coast of Eastamrika.”

“People? Down there?” Jack was instantly The Captain. “What are they broadcasting?”

“Not much. Orrin said they noticed the signal not more than 15 minutes ago — which may coincide with what you were doing, Lynda — and it’s along the lines of ‘Is there anyone out there? Help us.’ I don't think they know we’re here.”

Govinda looked thoughtful. “But we’re hearing them. And we couldn’t find anyone yesterday. I think that whatever was blocking station-out grid communications, it’s been sorted. And I think that means I can use at least two of the codes I see here to reestablish contact with Sol-out, probably with the node at Luna. If I can have Orrin up here to help with some of the tricky strings, I think we can start sending to Hidden.”

“Bingo!” Jack laughed in delight, and hugged Lynda.

She felt elated, but reminded them, “Use the rest of the codes to access information, before you start sending. We have to contact only Hidden, no place else, and we need to know how to avoid alerting Facilitator-controlled worlds.”

“Right,” Govinda said. “Let me transfer these out to my regular grid console...there...that’s it. Orrin and I can work out there.”

The back of Lynda’s mind buzzed, and Lynda could have shouted her relief. “Jack, it’s her! I feel her!”

Another schematic slid into her head, and she nodded. “I know where we have to go. But we have to hurry. She’s getting weak.”

“Did she tell you that?” Jack looked worried. “Where?”

“We have to go back to the old shaft, go down,” she said. “Down to where the light was.”

“You are kidding me,” Hsieh said, looking disturbed. “How do we get there?”

“I’ll get us there. Can we please go, now?” she pleaded.

Hsieh looked at Jack, and Jack nodded. “Hsieh, get Orrin up here. And Alex. ‘Vinda, I’ll leave the codes and the access tasks to you, Orrin and Davitch. Hsieh, Ruthie, Lynda and I will go get our soon-to-be-visible friend."

**************
It was a lot easier getting to the old shaft than it had been the first time, Lynda thought, as they entered the bullet lift from Cache 300. Going up there had been the easiest way to find their way back down to the connecting tunnel.

She and Ruthie maintained their balance when the lift dropped precipitously, but Hsieh and Jack both grabbed for the walls.

“Hate that,” Hsieh said, as they lurched to a stop. He looked a little green.

“Here we go,” she said, stepping gingerly onto the catwalk, and moving quickly to the space between the pipes. “We just have to get to the old shaft’s lift, and I can get us down to where she is.”

“Lead on,” Jack said. The other two said nothing, but followed.

The diesel and alcohol smell of the main shaft gave way to the dusty electrical tang of the tunnel. In the dark, Lynda wondered what they might find at their destination. (Nothing I’ve ever seen before, nothing we’ve ever seen before, nothing we can expect) beat in her head before skittering away. She licked her lips. The map hung before her eyes, unseen by anyone else.

The wind picked up as they moved around the spiral, and the sound and smells from the main shaft faded. Lynda felt the station thrum against her feet, noticing it for the first time since she’d awakened.

Dim cathedral light greeted them on the old shaft ledge. Lynda turned immediately to the lift cab door. She stopped, rechecked her memory and the schematic in her head, then punched the call button.

“Ruthie, do you have a screwdriver in your kit?” she asked. The other woman nodded.

“Thanks. Come on, everyone get in,” Lynda said. She turned and took the proffered tool and looked to the left of the door. There it was, a break in the metal sheen, resolving into a faint line. She looked closely, and determined where to push the screwdriver blade in and twist. “Aha!”

A square panel popped free of the surrounding wall, and clattered at her feet. Underneath were two previously hidden buttons. “This one,” she said, looking at Jack. “It takes us down to where she is.”

“How far down? If we go down too far, we’re risking hitting blast damage and vacuum," Hsieh said.

“It should be alright,” Lynda said, “She wouldn’t have given me the map if she didn’t think we could survive. Anyhow, I think the blast damage is closer to the new shaft levels than here.” She kept her own doubts to herself.

The cab rumbled to life and started down. It seemed to take forever, and Hsieh looked increasingly nervous as the floor indicator ticked down closer and closer to Floor Zero. When that light flickered on, then off, without the cab stopping, he grunted in surprise. “Wha — ?”

Jack looked at Lynda. She shook her head, nonplussed. He sighed. “The fun never stops around here. I swear I never want another adventure in my life.”

Just then, the lift shuddered and stopped. When the door opened, Lynda thought at first that the dark outside its frame was impenetrable. Once her eyes adjusted, though, she realized she was looking into a small circular room.

Someone stood in the darkness, perhaps two meters from her.

“Who’s there?” Lynda called, her voice barely above a whisper.

The figure moved toward her. “You found me,”

Behind her, Jack gasped, and Ruthie stifled a cry.

Meg walked into the light.


Back to index


Chapter 18: Final Interlude

Author's Notes: If the universe was fair, one might argue, her story might not have ended as it did. But the universe does what it must, and she was caught in that equation. One penultimate stop before the conclusion.


Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill, game show floor manager, martyr of the battle for Game Station, restoree and castaway, died a second time when she slipped her traces and plummeted through the echoing emptiness of Game Station?s forgotten great shaft.

She was gone before she reached the bottom of that shaft, first savagely incapacitated by a fear-induced stroke, then felled by a heart attack. So hard and fast did they hit that Meg's still-open eyes retained the illusion of calm long after her spirit fled.

Her dead body collapsed and ultimately tumbled in peace past an invisible net of alarms and a motion-triggered set of inertial dampers. The light that registered far up in the misty heights of the shaft was an arc light generated along with the dampers.

It wasn't the light that knifed into Lynda's and Jack's minds, although they could be forgiven for having thought so. After all, the only thing stranger than coincidence is, as the ancient physicist said, the fact that there aren't more of them.

When Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill, ambitious daughter of Evelyn and Ronald MacNeill of Witford Complex, won her way free of the 2,107 other students who had graduated the Northeast Sectional Electronics and Infratech Apprentice College - won a salary ticket to the tech side of Game Station - she'd begun to hyperventilate, right there in the dorm. Well, if she was so afraid of heights, her mates asked, frightened and annoyed, why had she decided to enter the station lottery?

Because, she'd said. Because. As if everyone there should have figured it out, the same way she had. No matter how frightening the height, no matter how it made her breath freeze and settle in the bottom of her lungs, no matter how impossible it would be to live there with no ground beneath her feet, it wouldn't be what she had right then. It would be so much more.

It would be life, Meg had thought to her young self. If you work on the station, then you don't stand a chance of dying on it.

She watched telly with her mates in the hours they had off from classes. She'd watched telly with Evelyn and Ronald when she was tiny, and she'd watched it with her school chums when the holidays came and the waiting lines for the parkettes were too long. She'd watched telly by herself in her room back then, and she did it now in the dorm, when the others had other things to do or other people to be with.

She loved the telly; the endless and byzantine soaps, the talk shows with all their hosts and their happy guests, and the snappy patter and all the effervescent entertainers, all the jokesters, and the canned laughter. She used to listen to the laugh tracks, trying to identify individuals, as if she could somehow get to know them by recognizing their voices.

She never watched the game shows, even though they were by far the prime export from the broadcast satellite (it wasn't called Game Station for nothing, she'd been told ad nauseum, and the other shows were lucky to rate a couple of floors.) She had when she was little, but she didn't anymore.

She'd stopped the day Ronald told her over supper how Margaret next door - Auntie Margaret, just like her, just like Evelyn's and Ronald's Meggie - had been 'matted up to Game Station to take part in Big Brother. That's why Mum was crying in the sitting room, he'd informed Meggie harshly. It was why Mum reeked of schnapps, he didn't say. Margaret, her beloved Auntie Margaret, she'd been voted off Big Brother. She was never coming back, Ronald had explained. And all of a sudden Meggie understood a great deal about death, and what it left behind. And she knew how very important it was to avoid dying.

And the best place to do that was on the killing floor, Margaret Elizabeth decided when she got just a little older.

She told Ronald and Evelyn about the plan, when she first got into Infratech Apprentice College. They didn't actually respond, but she didn't like the way they looked at her for a while after that. She decided that she didn't care what they thought, not really. She was just disappointed that they didn't understand.

Margaret Elizabeth didn't visit them much after that. When her Mum died, she did come back, and awkwardly hugged Ronald. She started to say that Mum was in a better place, but thought better of it. The next day she caught a shuttle back to Station, popping twice as many tranks as she normally did for the return trip.

After several years of electrical tech work, she put in for a floor job. She got it. That stint as a third assistant to the assistant rig manager led to other jobs and other titles. She loved the work, and she hadn't had a single sleepless night since she got into the swing of Station. She was exactly where she wanted to be.

Everything she did was for a purpose. She was part of the machine that created and pumped out - not just to Earth, but to all Humaniform worlds - wonderful entertainment, to make people everywhere happy.

It was important to provide entertainment. This world was miserable, she knew that. Too many people, too little space, too much stink under the lowering brown clouds, too little light from the sun or the moon, queues for food, queues for jobs, queues for medicine, never quite enough of anything; not time, not rest, not friends, not futures.

No one could go through life thinking about the real world all the time. No one should have to. And no one need have to think about unpleasant things like that, not while she and others on Game Station could provide them with hours and hours of laughter and talk and adventure and romance and melodrama and -

- and the games, of course. The horrible, deadly games.

She knew why her mates and her parents looked at her askance. She didn't necessarily blame them either. She might do the same in their shoes. After all, Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill didn't just work on the station. She was a staffer, a floor manager, for The Weakest Link, one of the most proudly murderous shows on Game Station. (We Do You In With a Bitch of Tin was the show's unofficial slogan, at least among Game Station staff.)

But Meggie could sleep with herself. She could look at herself in the mirror and say, "I'm doing my job. And I'm staying alive. And everyone is happy, except the dead ones, and better them than me."

The other shows, the talkies and the sobbies and the laughies, they changed, series after series, season after season. You never knew where you stood with the producers and the personnel office if you were on those shows. You could be riding high one day, and redundant the next. That didn't fit in with Margaret Elizabeth's plan.

The game shows did. They never went out of style. They went on, and on, and on, unchangingly popular, unstoppably bloody. Once you got a post on one of those staff rosters, you were set for life.

She was efficient and her staff liked her dry wit, even if they were a little afraid of her. She had a few mates on Station and she kept in touch, irregularly, with some from college. She sent one card a year to Ronald. She liked to swim in the tiny staff pool on station, or watch telly on her time off, although she could also enjoy the occasional night out with her fellow staffers, knocking back a few stiff ones.

Later, though, she found herself occasionally picking up read-cubes. At first, she got soap novelizations, but those soon bored her, so she looked around for other material. She liked nonfiction cubes when she could find them, magazines and news-cubes about all the craziness out in the wide universe. It made her feel even safer on Station when she read about the strange non-humans who didn't appreciate what Earth could offer them.

It never occurred to Meg on the day she watched the odd little blonde run into the Anne-Droid's beam, desperate to save her brute of a boyfriend, that she might be dealing with aliens before the end of shift. But there you go, she thought, strangely dispassionate. Sometimes you can't beat reality for a good script.

The Blonde and the Brute had a body guard, some nice looking bloke who acted like he was in love with both of them. After the girl disappeared, the looker screamed at Meg and ran at her. It was a good thing Security was right behind him and his boyfriend when they barreled into the studio unannounced, or she'd have been dead meat.

Something about them, though ... she'd never seen someone come in and actually try to fight an elimination the way they had. Certainly not on behalf of someone else. It stayed with her, a bit uncomfortably, after the men had been wrestled out.

The peroxide job, too; she'd been crazy-scared for herself, just like any sane person would be in her position - and then she'd gone and got herself killed protecting someone else. That one, the one they called a doctor, promptly became as close to comatose as she'd ever seen someone who stayed upright. And Meg knew better than most just how people looked in the throes of grief, fear, or terror.

Once Good-Looking and his doctor boyfriend were hustled off the set, the game continued. The whinging prat who'd won was doing a victory dance, but Meg almost missed the signoff because the blonde, the brute, and the bodyguard kept slipping back into her thoughts and distracting her.

And then all hell broke out.

The Daleks - some things just shouldn't exist, shouldn't even be in nightmares - were everything Meg hated about the games. She realized that when she heard them over the address system. Their war cry alone made her bristle helplessly in terror-fueled rage.

Somehow, the Doctor bloke showed up again, and the good looking one who she learned to know as Harkness. The Captain, he'd called himself. They talked back to the Daleks, but Meg didn't pay much attention at first. She was mad to get back to Earth, to solid ground where she could find some hole in which to hide from the monsters.

It didn't work out that way. She'd missed the last of the crowded shuttles, and was milling about with the rest of the left-behinds when Harkness and a couple of control room regulars showed up, asking for volunteers.

To fight, they said, To stand against the Daleks, in an improbable - stupid! - resistance. Good-looking Jack had actually been disgusted when no one stepped forward to become cannon-fodder. What crèche had he crawled out of, she'd thought to herself.

She thought she agreed with the crowd. She wasn't going to risk her life in some hopeless battle, she thought.

But somehow, Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill found herself stepping out of the crowd and walking over to stand with Harkness.

There was something about him - all that life, and his stupid bloody belief in his crop-haired boyfriend and his dedication to his peroxide Rose. It beckoned to her, called something from deep inside her, a sense of belief that she'd methodically smothered for years in her insane avoidance of death.

Meg believed, against her every waking instinct, that Harkness was better and truer than anyone she?d known for a very long time. She only realized that after she moved toward him, and she still cursed herself every step of the way, but it didn't stop her from moving.

When she joined him and the few who moved with her, she felt better than she had since she was a little girl. That lasted until the bullets Harkness had promised would work didn't. She cursed him as she died.

And then, improbably and wonderfully, she was back. She was alive. She didn't know how or why, but an unexpectedly kind fate had granted her a measure of grace, it seemed.

The Doctor was gone, his Rose was gone, and more importantly the Daleks were gone.

Jack Harkness remained.

Although she would sooner have swallowed her tongue than admit it to anyone, Meggie made up her mind, the moment she opened her eyes to find him kneeling beside her, that she would work for Captain Jack as long as he needed a good right hand.

She did what she did best for him. She organized and chivvied all the reborn Station residents, she made lists of tasks that Harkness set for her, she ticked each off as she completed it, she did what needed to be done.

She followed him into the control room, into the cafeteria, into the electrical conduits, all the way to the vast and floorless old shaft. When he asked her for the impossible (all that space and all that emptiness, all reaching for her) she cursed him again. But little Lynda, that silly little thing who shuffled and ducked and sounded afraid of her own shadow, came out of nowhere to hold her and assure her she would be safe.

Meggie knew better. But it was for Harkness after all. She dried her tears and stepped onto the flange. She stepped wrong - she had known she would - and fell.

She felt lightning, and a huge white flash, and her fear, and a great tearing pain in her left arm. And she died again.

She died, and went on somewhere else, as the universe directed, perhaps someplace where she no longer needed to fear death.

But her echo remained, and the remaining vibration of neurons not yet informed of their mortality.

The echo called to life.

Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill, daughter of Little London at the cusp of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire's Second Rising, never knew Rose Tyler, daughter of unimaginably ancient London and unexpected goddess. Nor did she know the caged bird of Game Station's Control Room.

But they answered.

Back to index


Chapter 19: Chapter 15

Author's Notes: My apologies: I thought this was going to be the last chapter. It turns out that I was misinformed. I will, hesitantly, predict that the chapter which follows will be - but I suppose I shouldn't get so cocky. What you find here is a new being, some nervousness, some unpleasant discoveries, some necessary reconnoitering and, perhaps, some pleasant discoveries as well. As always, I do not own anything within the Whoniverse, and I will resolutely refuse to take money for it.



“You’re not Meg.”

Jack suddenly had a very businesslike gun in his hand, pointed at the woman before them. “Hsieh, get some lights on. You, whoever you are, don’t move. Not a muscle.” Behind them, Lynda heard the slight whine that signaled Ruthie activating her stun gun.

Before Hsieh could obey Jack’s order, the woman spoke. “You’re right. I’m not the woman you knew as Meg. But I am your friend.”

(“But she fell,” “Yes” “You?” “Yes.”)

“Oh.” Lynda was the one to gasp now. “Jack? I think she’s the Voice.”

He didn’t take his eyes off the woman, and the gun muzzle didn’t waver. “Is that true?” Nothing in his tone betrayed what he might be thinking.

“I am.” The woman in front of them had Meg’s scratchy alto, but none of her vocal patterns or rhythms. Her speech was flat and measured. Lynda was reminded of Iris. No, she corrected herself. It wasn’t quite like that. It was, rather, a voice unfamiliar with the aural intricacies of spoken language, ignorant of dynamics. The Voice voice, she thought, only preventing a hysterical giggle at the last moment, by pressing one hand over her mouth.

“And you’re somehow in control of Meg’s body?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my god.” Hsieh said behind them. He still hadn’t left the lift cab, Lynda noted. “You killed her?”

“No. She was dead when my servos brought her body here. After the dampers slowed her fall and dropped her to the shaft bottom. She was gone then.”

The security officer sounded incredulous. “How are you doing...how are you doing this?”

Very slowly and smoothly, the woman in front of them tilted her head to one side, not breaking eye contact with Jack. She heaved a long breath, almost as if she had forgotten until just then to breathe (perhaps that’s the truth, does a dead body need to breathe?)

“It is...complicated. Hsieh, if you want to turn the lights on, the controls are to the right of the lift.”

“Oh. Right.”

Lynda felt as if she’d been nailed to the floor. She couldn’t move as Hsieh exited the lift. He stayed behind Jack and her, and well away from the woman in front of them, but he must have found the switches because the room became significantly brighter. There was no single origin for the light, and it was still hard to see things at the far end of the room, but Meg — Meg’s body — was completely illuminated.

Lynda stared.

“I hate to insult a lady when she’s standing in front of me,” Jack said after a moment. “But you look like death warmed over. And believe me, I don’t like speaking ill of the dead.”

This time, Lynda couldn’t stop herself. She doubled over in laughter, horrified, but incapable of stopping herself. “Sorry...oh god, sorry! I’m so....oh my god!”

“Jesus, Lynda,” Jack said.

(“Your fault.”)

(“What?”)

(“Death warmed over? You said it, you can’t blame me for laughing.”)

(“...Yeah. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”)

(“Well then.”)

The conversation’s spit-second duration allowed Lynda to control herself, but she remained perilously close to screaming.

Meg’s body was visibly injured. A bruise spread across her left cheek, wandered over her chin and reappeared on her left shoulder, visible through a large hole that had somehow been ripped in her top. And the body itself wasn’t standing straight. It listed to one side, with the left shoulder canted forward and the right leg slightly bent.

“I’m sorry about that. It’s just ... I didn’t expect ... Uhm, listen, can you feel anything?” she asked, focusing on immediate things. “The body...Your — Meg’s body. It’s injured. Can you feel it?”

Meg’s head swivelled to face her, still tilted. “I can feel the injuries. As I control the body, so it also controls me. I had ... forgotten ... what it is like to feel.” Then the face smiled slightly. “I do remember, now. Hurting doesn’t seem so bad, if it means that this nervous system is working for me.”

Without warning, Meg’s body folded in upon itself and slid toward the floor.

Lynda caught it before it hit, staggering under the weight. “Wha — uh ... what’s wrong?”

“I need to eat. I must stabilize this body. My body.”

“Why should we let you do that?” Jack said, kneeling. The hand he reached out to help Lynda maintain her balance was gentle, but he didn’t sound particularly solicitous. “Most human worlds consider possession a crime.”

“When there are laws, yes,” the Voice whispered with Meg’s tongue and vocal cords. “There are no laws here. And I must survive.”

“Why?”

“I deserve to.”

Jack and Lynda looked at each other. Hsieh said nothing, but Ruthie moved to Lynda’s side.

“I can help,” she said. “Try this. It’s an energy wafer. I have some water, too. The wafer’s a little dry.”

“Thank you,” the Voice said, taking the proffered package gratefully with Meg’s hands. She scrabbled ineffectively at the wafer’s plastic cover until Ruthie retrieved it, opened the package, then wordlessly handed it back. The Voice shoved its crumbling entirety into Meg’s mouth. She coughed and retched, but seemed to have enough control over chewing and swallowing to complete the process. “Water, please?”

“Here you go,” Ruthie said in a professionally soothing sing-song. “This’ll help.”

Lynda watched, fascinated, as Meg’s throat worked, methodically gulping down the water.

“No, don’t drink so quickly,” Ruthie said. “Scoosh the water around your mouth.” She watched intently as the Voice followed her instructions, and smiled so briefly Lynda almost missed it. “There you go.” Then she looked at Jack. “Captain? We need to get this ... lady up to a bed. I’d say infirmary, if it wasn’t in vacuum, but that’s out. Let’s get her back to the suite, shall we?”

Lynda remembered how the little guard had once looked at Jack as if he were beautiful, but dangerous. Now, Ruthie watched the being in front of them as if it were dangerous, but beautiful — and in need of help. That was Ruthie’s weakness, Lynda thought. She always wanted to take care of people. How in the world had she managed to end up on Game Station, and as a security guard?

No matter, Lynda thought. She was right.

“Jack, Hsieh, can you help us?” she asked aloud. “Ruthie’s right. She doesn’t look good.”

“She’s not Meg,” Hsieh said, coming around to Lynda’s side. He had a gun out, too, and when Ruthie saw it, she grunted with displeasure. “Commander, we know that. Does that mean we can’t help her? Do you really want to leave her here? Really?”

“I will die,” the Voice said faintly. “I need you to rescue me. I asked you to. I thought that was why you came here.” Lynda was fairly certain that what little color had been in Meg’s body’s face when the light first struck it was nearly gone.

(“Jack we owe her.”)

He turned to her, grim. (“Do we? I’m not fond of body snatchers.”)

Without words, she sent him pictures — the tunnel into the main shaft, the weapons cache, the codes. And then she sent him her last memories of Meg, as she shook and cried, then fell and faded from sight. The last one Lynda sent particularly forcefully, and Jack blinked quickly, several times, as he received the images.

(“She’s riding in a dead woman’s body.”)

(I know that. But we couldn’t have saved her. Maybe we can save the Voice.”)

He didn’t respond, but addressed the subject under consideration. (“Why should we help you?”)

The Voice didn’t answer . Her eyes were closed, and she was now taking shallow sips of breath, quickly and erratically.

(“Can you hear me?”) Lynda sent, experimentally. There was no answer, and Meg’s body didn’t betray any sign of having received the message. (“Jack, she can’t hear us. I think she’s lost her connection to us.”)

Somehow, that seemed to move the Captain as her previous argument hadn’t.

“Oh, hell. Hsieh, give me a hand, will you?”

The two of them did a fireman’s carry, and braced themselves when Lynda and Ruthie helped the Voice sit Meg’s body down on it. She fell against Jack, who twitched, but allowed Meg’s head to loll on his shoulder.

The ride back up was quick enough, but surreal. When they got to the tunnel, the Voice insisted on trying to walk again with Meg’s legs. She lasted three or four steps before reluctantly accepting the fireman’s carry again.

“I am not strong,” the Voice said; no one, no matter how emotionally tone-deaf, could have failed to notice her self loathing.

“Not surprising,” Jack said as he carried her. “Doesn’t mean you won’t get stronger.”

The Voice lifted Meg’s head from his shoulder with that unnaturally smooth movement of hers, and tilted it to look at him. “I hope so.”

*********** ********** **********


“You don’t need to watch her, do you?”

Ruthie didn’t stir. “I think someone should be there for her when she wakes.”

Underneath Crosbie’s counterpane, the woman in Meg’s body was curled into a near foetal position. She was breathing deeply and evenly, and Lynda thought she had finally stopped shivering.

Meg’s body was still mottled blue and black, and both the left side of her face and her right shoulder were unpleasantly swollen. But the Voice inside her had become calmer once she’d tucked into the last four cafeteria run containers, delivered by Govinda upon her arrival. Everyone had stood there, watching her inhale the food. It was eerie, almost frightening, to see the intensity of her hunger.

After she’d eaten everything given to her, she began to move Meg’s body again, testing it. She had told her observers that she didn’t think her shoulder or her ribs were broken. Then she had yawned. “I have to sleep now,” she said, after considering the yawn. “I haven’t done that before.”

“Could have fooled me,” Govinda had whispered to Lynda after they and Ruthie had helped get the Voice to Crosbie’s bed. “I think she was asleep before we pulled the duvet over her.”

Ruthie had dragged a chair from the bedroom corner and settled in to watch her charge, with a brief, calm nod to the two others. “You go.” Lynda reluctantly acquiesced.

She was glad Govinda and Davitch were back, not least because Govinda’s reaction to word about Meg and the Voice seemed so low-key. When Jack told her why they needed the food, she’d taken it in stride.

“Not a problem,” she’d said. “We’ve got loads to fill you in on, and I’d rather do it in person — Orrin, have you got those reports burned to the read-writes? Yeah, thanks, I’ll take them. You’re a brick — so I’ll bring everything along, including some nosh. Resurrection again, huh? What a bloody madhouse. We’ll see you directly — I’m out.”

By the time she and Davitch joined them, she’d lost her equanimity and looked her usual slightly irritable self. Odd how we can find so many different ways to look unhappy, Lynda thought. We certainly have a basket full of them these days.

“What’s up, ‘Vinda?” Jack nodded at Davitch over the shorter programmer’s head. “What have you got for us?”

She grimaced. “We got hold of Hidden, thanks to those codes. They allowed us to access relays that routed everything to nodes I never knew existed. There are stations out there — seriously, way out there. Out in the sanctioned sectors. I thought humans couldn’t go to those systems anymore ... well, never mind that, we got a message to them.

“And you can’t believe — I can’t believe — what’s going on out there.”

“It’s pretty bad,” Davitch agreed. “Jack, they thought they were the last sane humans anywhere. We had to convince them we weren’t some sort of trick— ”

“Wait, wait, wait. Last sane humans?” That rather offhand comment didn’t escape Jack’s notice. “Did they give you any idea what they were talking about?”

Davitch scratched his head, then put both palms together and up to his mouth, in what looked to be unconscious mimicry of Jack. “Can we go into the living room? I need to sit down and collect my wits.”

Once they sat down — Jack in the big chair, Lynda perched on one arm beside him, Govinda and Davitch together on the couch, Hsieh standing next to the entry foyer — Davitch began.

“Remember what Iris told us? That Sol-out had been down for, what, three weeks? We thought she was barking, but ... ” Davitch trailed off, shaking his head, then resumed. “She was right, apparently, at least for some systems. It’s such a cockup I’m not sure if anyone knows for certain just what worlds were cut off and which ones were still getting transmissions. Or what those transmissions were, for that matter.”

He gestured to the pile of read-write pads he’d dropped on the table. “Here’s the printouts. They probably say it better than I would.”

Jack picked up one of the flimsy pads and looked it over intently, pursing his lips at what he saw. He looked up. “So Hidden got an influx of refugee ships from other systems? Hell of a way to learn that the neighbors are having problems.”

“They’d gotten no information for a week or so, and then the ships started pulling into orbit and asking for sanctuary. It’s the downside of being, well, hidden, I’m afraid,” Davitch said. “Pun not really intended.”

Jack looked at another pad for a moment. “The last two days of reports they forwarded — when our people talked to them, did they say whether Hidden’s security is sure they picked up Facilitators trying to hide and sneak in on the ships?”

“I’m not sure they asked, but from the stories the ships’ crews were telling, it wasn’t hard to spot them, and they were all killed. Not quickly, either.”

“Why’s that?” Lynda asked. She looked over Jack’s shoulder at one of the read-writes. The flickering image with “Fatalities” floating like a black banner over the blurred but still-too-recognizable pics and vids tightened her gut. “Oh my god. What did they do?

“It’s ugly,” Govinda said. “The bigger systems, like Virginis, were apparently rotten with them. Thousands of them in government positions, hundreds of thousands of them in top information posts. That may not seem like a lot in a 12 billion strong population, but — ”

”Actually, that’s a horribly large number,” Lynda said, overwhelmed at the idea of that many Iris Anders out there. “And the Voice told us there were Facilitators who were a lot more efficient than Iris and her people.”

Govinda nodded grimly and resumed. “Yeah. Well, about three weeks ago, just when Anders said the Sol-out grid went south around here, a wave of deaths — assassinations as well as accidents, or apparent accidents — started hitting any office that had anything to do with communication. My guess is that they were trying to scrub departments of non-Facilitators.” She shifted position on the couch. “Jack, hand me the read-write — no, the one on the table in front of you. Yes, that one, thanks.”

She keyed through the information on the pad, until she found what she wanted. “Here it is. After the killings, regular grid communications went down all over the colonies. Everything — personal, corporate, retail, transportation, everything. Finally, our daily feeds were blocked, and the Facilitators started pumping their own messages in.”

“What kind of messages?” Hsieh asked from his vantage point against the wall.

She shrugged. “Nothing that you wouldn’t expect from a cult of completely mad bastards who worshipped psychotic killing machines. That the human race was under attack by its betters, people should make their peace with their fate, and that this was not a test. That sort of thing.”

Davitch took up the narration again. “It was a horrible combination. You had the killings, the regular grid collapse, loss of our feeds, and the substitution of their messages. I don’t know where those originated, because I can’t imagine we wouldn’t have spotted them if they were Earth or station-based — anyhow, it generated riots.”

He paused. “When the grid collapse started preventing deliveries, things like meds and food, and preventing people from getting in touch with each other, everything went completely belly-up — if they hadn’t already done that. Riots, places being torched, people being lynched. The scary thing, though? I think the first violence was anger at losing our regular entertainment feeds.”

“Ah, humanity,” Jack chuckled, completely without humor. “Starve me, isolate me, kill me dead, but don’t take my game shows.”

“Right,” Davitch said. He looked sad. “If we’d known what we were doing ... ”

“You did,” Jack said.

Davitch looked, if anything, sadder. “Suppose you’re right.”

There was another moment of silence before he started again. “The riots spread across Virginis, throughout the biggest cities. Same with Gliese Prime and with the outer systems like Chamaeleon and Eridani. The big ports were shut down by government fiat first, then a number of them were just rendered inoperable — fire, explosions, the sort of thing the security forces would normally handle. Except a lot of those forces were riddled with Facilitators too.

“Any place the Facilitators got full control of, they started mass killings. Men, women, children, it didn’t matter. So what the initial violence didn’t affect, their pogroms did.”

“Well, that explains the rough justice on Virginis ships,” Jack said. “Mother of worlds.”

Davitch nodded, then looked at Govinda.

“As far as we can tell, these ships got to Hidden by accident, or fluke,” Govinda said. “Not that it’s really hidden. If you go looking for it, it’s there on the maps. But...well, anyway. A lot more ships lifted from the other worlds, trying to get away, but they didn’t make it. They were destroyed, or if they made it to another world, it was just dropping back into the arms of the Facilitators. Poor bastards.” She looked ill, but kept going, looking at her read-writes again.

“So far, the affected worlds include everything in Sol, Virginis, the Cygni systems, excepting Tau Boot of course. We’re not sure about any of the Draconis worlds, but given they were major vid consumer markets, let’s not look for much from them.”

“I don’t like this at all,” Jack said after a moment, looking grim. “Do the whack jobs on those worlds know about Earth? Do they know about the disappearance of the Daleks? The colony attacks all seem to have predated what happened here. Why? They couldn’t have known the shit was hitting the fan here, because it hadn’t.”

Lynda pulled a leg up under her, and nodded. “You’re right. How far ahead were they looking?”

“Well, I suppose they must know something,” Davitch said, looking worried. “Remember that comment one of the Daleks made? About ‘the plan must move forward!' ?”

Jack raised an eyebrow. “You do a horrible impression of a Dalek.”

“I’d hate to do a good one,” the tall programmer said. “Anyhow, my point’s valid. Here on the station, everything happened early, because of the Doctor, but it would have happened regardless, don’t you think?”

Jack nodded. “Therein lies the problem.”

Govinda abruptly stood up. “Look, sorry, must be a bit thick so pardon me for asking, but shouldn’t we be asking Hidden for help, instead of talking about the Facilitators, for god sake?” She crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for an answer.

If she’d expected any support, she was disappointed. Lynda shook her head slightly at the other woman, and Davitch shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, looking at Jack.

“No, you’re not thick, ‘Vinda,” Jack said. “But think it through. These reports make it very clear that we are in an incredibly dangerous position. If only Hidden is free of Facilitators, we’re in the minority, and we’re in trouble. Facilitators on the worlds they took have access to ordnance and ships, the will to slaughter everyone who isn’t them in the name of their gods — and they are, very probably, sending ships to us right now.”

Govinda looked as if she’d been kicked in the teeth.

Hsieh blew out a long breath. “God on a surfboard.”

“You said it,” Jack said. “Any questions?”

“Well, yeah,” Govinda said. “What the hell do we do?”

“Perhaps I can help.”

Lynda almost fell off the arm of her chair when the Voice spoke from the hallway. Everyone else started, too.

“What — ” Jack started to speak, but the woman in Meg’s body interrupted him, holding up her hand for silence. He subsided, and she stood taller, smiling a bit crookedly.

“I am Elisabeta. And I can bring others to our aid.”



tbc


Back to index


Chapter 20: Outerlude

Author's Notes: Never, ever, be foolish enough to predict the end of a story before the story itself tells you it's done. I thought the final chapter was ready to go; then I learned I was wrong. There was one more story of the world beyond Satellite Five which we needed to learn before saying goodbye. Many thanks to my Best Beloved for making me watch my p's and q's, and helping me watch the rise and fall of empires. One last note: I borrowed the name of the generation ship An-Fang from "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" by Cordwainer Smith, whose beautiful writing and haunting future histories inspire me. I hope his shade approves. As always, I do not own any of these characters, nor this universe, which belongs to the BBC. I simply love them, and it.


Some worlds make history; the ones pulsing with life and curiosity, with movement and exploration. Others become frozen into myth and legend when apathy or the inevitable heat death of civilizations kills them.

There are other worlds — twisted by belief or ideology, perhaps paralyzed by wars or natural disasters — who whirl about their suns, balanced between life and death without even knowing it.


******************************

Falling back into reality after the Time War, a lone Dalek commander found itself in the dark places, tasked by its own DNA with the geas of survival. It followed the misbegotten homing instinct of all its kind and turned its attention to Earth.

It discovered, when it investigated, the waning days of the First Great and Bountiful Empire. And it was repulsed by all that human potential. Humanity’s yearning for diversity, for contact beyond itself, was just more proof that this species comprised the miscegenetic demons of Dalek nightmare.

But Daleks need nightmares; never more so than one survivor, determined to create more.

When the generation ship An-Fang, filled with a new world’s worth of hopeful pioneers, moved into the extra-system wastes beyond Sol’s outliers, the commander was waiting. It returned to the dark places with a vast and useful vacuum-proof hulk, emptied of all but a few score stunned and traumatized children.

Its intention was simple. Some would be sheep, some goats; some rendered into Dalek purity, the rest remaindered as human slaves. The long journey to universal Dalek domination would require both.

In the light of Sol, humanity throve, and the An-fang’s silence was simply due to the tyranny of interstellar distance, as far as Earth was concerned. Other generation ships headed out; luckier ships who passed by the dark places and found new worlds. Human seeds scattered across the stars, and grew up among others growing there already. Human and non-human met, mingled, fought, killed, died, discovered, loved and begat in love, enriching each other, and living, always living.

In the dark places, aboard what remained of the An-fang, the Dalek commander loathed such immense wrongness. Destroying humanity must be its first mission, en route to victory.

But the Dalek commander was afraid.

It alone retained Dalek memory . It alone knew the curse of Dalek history, alone bore the knowledge that Daleks had been defeated, repeatedly, by humanity.

Daleks failed. They always failed. No complete victory, just repeated stumbling at the portal of Earth, a miserable, unconquerable country.The commander could not comprehend that enormity, that history of reiterated disaster.

The failure almost always reeked of Gallifrey. The commander hated the memory of Gallifrey, and feared the prodigal Gallifreyan, the destroyer of Daleks who protected humanity. It shivered in fear and rage out there in the dark places, wondering if the Gallifreyan had survived.

The commander slaughtered children to relieve its anxieties, took their flesh and built itself subordinates. It ordered its new Dalek servants — the start of the new Dalek universe — to obey, to replicate, to command slaves and to build ships until it returned. Then it retreated into itself and fell silent for a century. Perhaps it dreamed.

For a century, its servants waited, commanding the human slaves who were still their distant relatives. Human children grew up hating and fearing their masters, calling them devils and monsters. But they were fed and maintained by those monsters, and even a kicked dog looks to its master for life.

There came a generation of An-Fang humans in whom hate had turned to awe, fear to worship. The Daleks learned those words, and a few more.

When the Dalek commander awoke, it was still stymied. But it was received by servants and slaves alike as holy. Perhaps it had dreamed of something like this. It accepted their worship, and wove itself a fearful orthodoxy in reply. It accepted the name of God. It taught its creatures the gospel of negation. The journey to universal dominance became a crusade toward heaven.

The First Empire fell in the worldwide burning that took both the court and the Arctic Dancers, but humanity — humanish and otherwise — continued. Eventually, the discovery of faster than light travel, Space High and Space Low, led to African Albion, the Second Great and Bountiful Empire. Presiding over a growing net of worlds, African Albion was the greatest centralized democracy of humanity’s history, and the Commonwealth of System Parliaments of which it was the shining jewel steered humans toward more and more contact with Otherkind. The Second Empire fell, after the Grand Committee to Join Otherkind was betrayed by anti-democratic xenophobes. Then came the Tribunals, and the old commonwealth became the vast and horrific Commonwealth of Humanity.

In the dark places, God saw the retreat of humanity to isolation, and was inspired.

God called its servants and its slaves to it, to preach the newest gospel.

Earth is protected as long as it is sheltered by Otherkind, it told its creatures; humanity is strong, so long as it is tied to Otherkind. So we shall strip humans of shelter, cut their ties and leave them all alone in the universe. Humanity will become weak again, weak as infants, weak as stragglers cut from their herds and brought down by hyenas.

We will come out of the dark places, it decreed. The slaves of God will return to humanity. They will sow the seeds of weakness and fear. Slowly, slowly, patiently, they will nourish rot at the heart of humankind , and they will reap despair. And when humans are weakest, when they are the most isolated and self destructive, the Holy Dalek Empire will rise. It will erase humanity, then turn its holy sights on Otherkind, Then it will reign supreme and alone in a blessedly sterile earthly heaven. And surely, it did not say, there will be no Gallifreyan interloper to dispute the word of God.

God’s creatures prepared. While Beijing rebuilt, and brought The Third Great and Bountiful Empire to bear as the New Middle Kingdom, they prepared. When the Middle Kingdom fell, as all empires do, they moved.

The lost children of An-Fang returned to Sol. The Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire welcomed them, took them to its breast. They tried to kill it, and very nearly did.

************************

Some empires make history; the ones pulsing with life and curiosity, with movement and exploration. Others become frozen into myth and legend when apathy or the inevitable heat death of civilizations kills them.

There are other empires — twisted by belief or ideology, perhaps paralyzed by wars or natural disasters or fear-mongering saboteurs — who whirl about their countless suns, balanced between life and death without even knowing it.

And sometimes, they are rescued from the brink, by travellers, and wolves, and blind oracles who remember old alliances.

Back to index


Chapter 21: Chapter 16

Author's Notes: The final chapter turned into two, but I present them now, one after the other. I will let this chapter speak for itself.


“Uh ... ”

Jack appeared to have been rendered speechless.

So did everyone else. The Voice stood in the small foyer between the door, the livingroom and the kitchen; her face looked warmer and more flexible than it had when she had fallen asleep. Because of that, the slow embarrassment that flushed her cheeks was very noticeable.

Lynda cleared her throat. “Elisabéta?” She pushed, very gently, with her mind, but got no response.

“I use that name in honor of the woman whose body this once was,” the woman answered aloud. “Her name was Margaret Elizabeth MacNeill.” For the first time, she spoke with a lilt, some hint of a different language making what she said almost lyrical. “I chose Elizabeth, and changed it to my liking. I have not had a name until now. I ... hope ... you approve. I did not want to forget her.”

“I think she’d be — ” Lynda stopped, not certain at all what Meg would have thought. “ — she won’t be forgotten. Thank you.”

“But who are you,” Govinda asked, almost unwillingly, unable to tear her eyes away from the woman. “Why didn’t you have a name before?”

The Voice — Elisabéta, Lynda told herself, think of her that way, and it will get easier — took one of the deep breaths she seemed to need periodically. “May I sit down?”

Davitch jumped up. Elisabéta nodded in appreciation of Davitch’s gesture. “May I?” She looked at Govinda as she said it.

Govinda looked horrified for a moment, then shrugged and patted the couch beside her.

“Thank you.” She sat, and turned to Govinda, inclining her head as she had done to Davitch. “I realize this is still very strange for you. I promise you that I mean none of you any harm.” She smiled, and it transformed her face even further. “In fact, I am, for all intents and purposes, what remains of she who called you— ” and she turned suddenly to look at Jack, “— here at the very beginning.”

Jack straightened up, his blue eyes steady, but slightly wider than they normally were. “You’re ... the Controller? Are you kidding me?”

“I am not the controller,” Elisabéta said. To Lynda’s astonishment, she saw unshed tears in the other woman’s eyes. “She died on Os Maus’ command ship. But I am, in part, her memories. That was my start and she was ... to me, she was my sister, my mother. Everything she knew or remembered, she impressed onto a special program on her own private grid system, one accelerated by the bioimpress system she had networked to the grid.”

“Bioimpress,” Jack said, slowly nodding. “That could have worked. Mouse brain?”

“No, genetically modified rat.”

“That sort of thing was— ”

“ — banned, as possession was, yes. The Empire did not trust its subjects, or itself, to create new beings in that way. I — she — believed it was necessary in our case. She didn’t want what she knew, and the way she knew it, to be forgotten.”

Jack’s eyebrow shot up. “She thought a lot of herself, did she?”

Elisabéta’s eyes flashed. “Yes, she did.”

He put up both hands. “Don’t get angry. I understand her decision.”

He looked at the others; Hsieh and Govinda both obviously nonplused and Lynda fascinated. “Bioimpress was the only way she could actually store an entire personality outside her own brain.” He tapped an index finger against his lips, in that way he had. “She must have known she was at risk.”

“She knew Os Maus. And she wanted something of herself to survive.. Without bioimpress, no artificial grid in the empire, or beyond, could have held enough decision-tree activity to keep a true Turing, alive. And I am a Turing. I am not just AI. I believe she was right to do it. In my heart, I believe I am the daughter of Meg and of the Handmaid of the Storm.” Elisabéta sat up, her back straight and proud, her eyes glistening.

“Is that what she called herself?”

“Yes. And what I called myself until I left the bioimpress grid system. I was her, in a way, until I made the leap. Now that I am separate, it is no longer my name.” She smiled, very slightly. “It is hard, though. Sometimes I still think I’m her.”

Jack started again, businesslike. “Are you completely transferred?”

“Yes. The rat brain is dead, and the transfer process burned the grid system. I had only the servos to program the transfer, and they were much less careful than real human surgeons would have been. I can’t go back.”

“Did you set up the system with humans?”

“Yes. They are dead now.”

No one spoke after Elisabéta’s last comment. Lynda and Jack knew immediately what that meant, and the others could probably infer the same thing.

“Why can’t you speak with us telepathically?” Lynda asked, breaking the silence.

Elisabéta grimaced. “This body does not have the ... abilities ... needed for any form of psi activity. It is a shame to lose my connection with you and the Captain, but I can’t — what is the saying? A beggar can’t be a chooser.”

That was a shame, Lynda thought, before Jack continued his interrogation.

“Are you sure that you’re properly seated in Meg’s brain? Couldn’t you simply fade and leave us with a corpse?” he asked, as casually brutal as the Controller or Elisabéta might been had they asked the question.

“No. In fact, I don’t believe I could even be forcibly ejected. I am ...” she trailed off, looking confused. “There was something that happened here, before, during the attacks of Os Maus. I was not to have been awakened in the grid. It was to have been done after transfer to full biologicals.

“But ... there was something — no, someone ... ”

Now she was frustrated and she didn’t like it. “An event — I can’t tell you what or who, because there are no words, but there was an event with power that awakened me while I was still in the grid and the brain. That should not have been possible.”

Not just frustrated; perhaps she looked frightened, too, Lynda thought, just before the old pain unexpectedly daggered behind her eyes and memories crashed in.

(Ibringlifeibringlifelifelife burned into her brain as she buckled to the floor outside the vents, and somewhere inside her something howled as Meg fell, something else laughed and spoke in soft liquid syllables, and she heard it call from the depths of that shaft, commanding no more death, not death but life, and she — )

“Rose as red as blood, gold as the sun, sweeping across the sky...a beast in her eyes,” Lynda whispered.

Jack jerked, then stared at her as she continued. “Jack, remember? When we connected with each other for the first time? On that ledge, it was the first time we heard the voice. That was you, Elisabéta, yeah? And you’d just been ... you’d just been born, hadn’t you?”

“Yes,” the other woman said cautiously.

“One of the first things you told us was that Rose was gone, that her work was finished.”

“Oh.” Elisabéta’s lips parted in shock. “Oh. I remember now.”

The woman closed her eyes, and resumed.

“That’s why I awoke. I had ... I had forgotten. I had forgotten! I — ” She stopped, opened her eyes again. The earlier unshed tears now escaped and soaked her cheeks. “I remember now.

“The blue rose ... woke me. She — it — no, she ... she was burning in my mind, and I had to tell you, tell you that Rose had finished her work. It was the first independent thought I had, the first real thing there, after my codes and programming changed into me. I didn’t understand the message, but I knew I had to tell you.”

“Yes,” Lynda said. As the pain receded, she kept her own counsel. Elisabéta’s message to the contrary, she knew in her bones that something of Rose had remained, at least until now. “I think she wanted us to know that what happened was because of her. Or what she’d become, or what she started. She changed us; I don’t know how, but something was there, it felt like an animal calling to me in my head when Meg fell, but I knew it was Rose.”

Jack looked down, then up again. His eyes were shadowed. “Rose wasn’t like that.”

“Not when you knew her,” Lynda said, certain of what she was saying. “But ... but I don’t think the Doctor destroyed the Daleks.”

Even as she said it, the blood roared in her ears, and she knew she’d stumbled on the truth.

(A golden figure stood at the gateway of space and time, one hand beckoning a loved one to safety, the other summoning and dispensing justice in a wave of nothingness, dispersing atoms that had once been the scourge of the universe.)

She continued silently, pushing hard to open her communication with Jack again, in order to show him the image.

She had to, she realized. His dreams were indelibly stamped with love and loss, for Rose and for the Doctor. She knew he wanted to search for them, and all of a sudden, she was afraid of what he might find if he actually found them.

But if he didn’t find them, Jack would keep open that great hole she had seen in his heart, waiting for the Doctor and Rose to return. He’d keep it open until he bled out his humanity, and became nothing but surface and hard, shiny charm.

At least warn him, she thought, let him know what might greet him.

With a sudden rush, almost a percussive pop in her head, the door opened. She shot her message at him, mercilessly, lovingly.

She heard him draw in an unwilling breath.

(“No! That’s not Rose!”)

He glared at her, but she refused to wither. (“Jack, she saved us — but she couldn’t stay, not that way. She’d have died. I don’t know where she is, but she can’t come back. You know it,”)

(The Doctor— )

(No.)

She waited until his breath blew out, long and ragged.

(“I saw her. When we collapsed. Oh god, Lynda ... I saw her in front of me. I thought she was an angel. She had stars — the universe — in her eyes. I thought she had come back to take me to where they were.”) There was no hiding the flare of angry sorrow. (“Obviously, once I woke up, I saw that it wasn’t true.”)

(“You didn’t say anything.”)

(“No.”)

The split second of silent conversation ended, and before Govinda or Elisabéta could notice the grief exposed for one vulnerable moment on Jack’s face, he smoothed it away and resumed speaking.

“So something happened that woke you up, and connected Lynda with me. We’ll call it Rose, because I think Lynda’s right. Much as I wish she were completely delusional.”

Abruptly he leapt from the chair, becoming the Captain with disorienting speed. “And having said that, boys and girls, there’s really nothing more to say about Rose or what she did. We came back from the dead, and if she did it, let’s hoist a glass to her later.

“Right now, I suggest we get a little help from Ms Elisabéta’s friends, then get the hell away from this goddamned station. As far as we can go.”

*******************


“The Bhari don’t seem to have any history with the Daleks, or so Elisabéta reports. It’s left them insanely unafraid of the bastards, which means they’re not going to be as chary about coming into a system that was swarming with Daleks 26 hours ago. That’s the first reason, ” Jack said, two fingers of each hand massaging his forehead. “They’re born diplomats, which is also all to the good.

“And they look as close to human as any of the four species who’ve responded to our SOS thus far. That’s the third, and most important, reason.”

“I get that,” Hsieh said, looking at the file flimsies again. “What worries me is the sheer size of their ships. The Bhari flagship is, what, three times the size of the station? I mean, how many of them are there? How are we going to handle that? The ... let’s see ... the, uhm, Cheth look like they have smaller vehicles, ones that can dock here.”

“The Cheth also resemble bipedal llamas. They smell like wet dog when they’re nervous. And they’re almost always nervous,” Jack snapped. “If you’re worried about overpopulating the station with Bhari, don’t be. They’ll keep most of their crew shipside, because they don’t want them in danger from the crazy xenophobic humans.”

Hsieh blinked. “Ah.”

“In any case, it’s too late to change our minds now,” Jack said, more gently. “Once I sent the message, there was no turning back.”

“I know,” Hsieh said. “It’s just ... never mind. We’ll handle it.” He shook his head slightly, as if trying to clear a lifetime of ‘dangerous alien’ warnings from his head.

Lynda didn’t know what a llama was, and she wondered what the Cheth really looked like. Jack seemed to know, but Lynda wondered if she should question him, weary and irritable as he was now.

They were back in the control room, and the restraints that had held the Controller still hung from the ceiling above the dais. The room remained dark and booby-trapped with foot-tangling pools of cable. Lynda was once again uneasy just being there.

“We can ask them to set up orbit around Luna, and send one of their life slips in with the Ambassador and her party,” Davitch said, eyeing a grid display that cast blue-green light over his face. “That’s easy enough, right Jack?”

Jack nodded wordlessly, and leaned back into one of the programming station chairs. Despite the gloom, Lynda could see the grey in his face. She felt guilty about their last conversation, particularly since he’d immediately plunged into preparing a rescue call.

He’d had help; Elisabéta, Hsieh, Davitch, Govinda and a couple of sleepy techs the latter had hauled out of bed. It had still been a difficult ten hours.

First they’d sunk neck deep into the job of strengthening the hardware and software patches with which Elisabéta’s grid information had initially provided them. It had been tricky to fix, or bypass, the Dalek damage, but they’d finally declared the Sol-out delivery grid completely accessible, and ready to contact non-human worlds.

While they wrestled with that, Ruthie monitored out-system chatter with a non-Facilitator SIOS tech. They needed to know what was going on in the human colonies, in case they had to deal with any incoming colonial strike force.

Seeking xenomorphs out — setting up communications protocols, and attempting contact with any one of six nearby and long-avoided non-human civilizations — was not an easy task. They’d winnowed down a host of former non-human allies to those six, based on their star chart proximity. Elisabéta and Lynda had repeatedly plumbed the depths of Archive Six information and their own memories to do so, leaving them far more tired than they’d expected to be.


The introductory SOS burst originally started with a carefully written explanation of their plight and a request for help. But at Elisabéta’s urging, and after considerable debate, they agreed to preface it with an acknowledgment of the Empire’s most egregious wrongs against non-humans, and a plea for forgiveness. The remainder covered navigation and station condition reports, plus human anatomy and chemical make up. It was a general profile upon which potential rescuers could draw to plan supplies of species-compatible food and medical aid for the station, and perhaps those humans still alive on Earth.

They knew when they began broadcasting the information that they might be met by hostility and rejection. For a while it had indeed seemed as if silence was to be their punishment.

An hour had gone by, then another, and another. Govinda had smoked the last of her carefully hoarded cigarettes, Davitch had fiddled with grid readings and fielded increasingly nervous questions from Ruthie and the others. Jack had paced and worried at his fingernails. Elisabéta just paced. By the time return messages began coming in, they were too tired for any reaction but tense relief.

“Good to know folks out there might want to help,” Jack had said, leaving his celebration to that.

Deciding she would, after all, try to coax him from the mood into which she had hurtled him, Lynda scooted around in her chair until she was on her knees. She swung it around to face the Captain and Davitch across the narrow aisle separating the respective grid screen banks. It swung back to its own screen station until she kicked out at the base of the grid housing and jammed it into the wrong direction.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a llama. What does it look like?”

Jack looked at her blankly for a moment, then focused. She was relieved to see a faint smile; he still had his sense of humor, then. “Ask me later, sweetheart, but if you think supercilious, long-lipped, and long-eared, you’re thinking in the right direction,” he said. “I went out with a Cheth once. Had to break it off, though. I kept giggling at the wrong moment, and that was just plain rude of me.”

Lynda snickered.

“See what I mean? Not conducive to overall dignity,” he said, shaking his head as his smile strengthened. “Seriously, folks; Cheth are good people, and I know we can use their help, I just don’t want them to be our first contact. It would be beyond inopportune to have what remains of the center of human empire shying away from the hand of friendship.”

“That had been what I feared, I admit. Humanity is so frightened ... Os Mausdid their job too well,” Elisabéta agreed, from where she was slowly peregrinating around the control room. She was fascinated with the act of walking, which probably wasn’t surprising for a being who had been forcibly immobilized in both phases of her existence. “Humans will have to learn to love Otherkind again.”

Govinda shot her a look at the odd turn of phrase, but it was a friendly one. She had, like Jack, abandoned her initial discomfort around the new woman. “Well, I’m looking forward to whoever gets here with food, and with medicines. Mayhew’s been driving them crazy in quarters, complaining about the baby’s croup — you’d think the kid was his — and we still have the broken leg and burn cases that Meg reported.” She didn’t flinch when she mentioned Meg. No one else did, either.

“So we need food, we need meds, and I’m sure you’ll think of other things,” she said before concluding, mournfully, “I don’t suppose I could convince someone to put cigarettes on the list. I’m dying for a fag.”

“Not bloody likely,” Davitch replied. “Can’t waste our requests on non-essentials.

“Besides, they smell horrid,” he added, sotto voce.

“I heard that,” Govinda said without heat.

“Meant you to, love,” he replied. “Jack, if you can spare me, I’d like to check in with Ruthie down in SecTwo. I think you and Elisabéta can help Vinda finish setting up our needs lists.”

Jack waved his hand in the general direction of the lift. “Go on. And find Vinda some cigarettes if you value your peace of mind. Or ours.”

Hsieh snorted.

“Will do,” the tall programmer said, giving his lover a peck on the cheek, and his seat. “I’ll check in with you once I know if Ruthie and her people need anything put on the list.”

He left the rest of them to the last phase of their work; being rescued.

Non-human rescuers, Lynda thought, with barely contained excitement.

“Alright, back to work,” Hsieh said, slightly less dubious about their pending visitors now. “Putting the Bhari into lunar orbit would work, I think. You say they look like us?”

“They are tall and slim. They have a slightly blue tinge to their skin, and that skin is very, very lightly scaled. One notices the scales only in certain light,” Elisabéta said. “In the old days, they were very welcome in the Empire, but they were driven out. The last of them left 70 years ago. Many of them died, and much of their memories of humans are not good.”

Beings who thought humans were the aliens, beings that didn’t look like humans, didn’t trust humans, weren’t human. What were they like? What type of worlds, what types of governments and laws, what histories?

So many questions ... she shivered, and was surprised at how good that shiver felt. So many questions ....

“Lynda?”

She was jolted from her daydream. “What? Oh. Sorry, what?”

Govinda patiently repeated what she had just said. “A million miles away, are you? I asked if you were bored, and if you wanted to head back to the apartment. You’ve got nothing to do here—”

She broke off, looking chagrined. “I don’t mean to say you’re supernumerary. God knows you’ve been a treasure for us. I’d hate to see the bloody invoice if you were charging.”

“No, no, not at all, Vinda,” Lynda hastened to assure her, a little horrified by the image of presenting an invoice. That’ll be 25 credits for panicking in the vents, another 50c for getting my head rearranged to hear people inside my skull. Oh, and 500c for killing a man.

“I know what you mean, but you don’t have to worry. Trust me, I’m not bored. This is fascinating to me. It’s like ... it’s history, yeah? It’s history we’re making. It’s the first time that — what did you call them, Elisabéta? Otherkind? Sounds nicer than xenomorph, doesn’t it? Anyhow, it’s the first time that Otherkind have come into Sol system for a century, and we’re here to see it! Actually, if you think about it, we’ve been in the middle of history ourselves ever . As awful as it’s been, we’re making it! ”

Jack finished reading the flimsy Davitch had left with him, then handed it to Hsieh. “There, that’s everything we need to set up the Bhari delegation. We should have at least one Big Brother suite we can clear out for their use for as long as they’re here. Thank god we won’t have to feed them. Everything they eat has to be prepared in a special — well, it’s all moot. As long as we have water and booze for the toasts.”

“What kind of way? I mean, what kind of way do they want their food prepared?” Lynda asked.

“Hmm? Oh. Actually, you’re right. It’s fascinating, but maybe it’s something for later,” he said absently. “That does remind me, though; Hsieh, can you ask Cherrie and Rog to assign people to clean up the cafeteria, too? We’ll officially greet them there, then show them to their rooms. Give them an hour to prepare, then we’ll repair to the staff room just off here and negotiate terms. If we can arrange for supply ships for Earth, and for evacuation to Hidden for as many of us who want it, we’ll have done our job.”

He stopped, tilted his head and looked at Lynda. “I want you with me when I do this.”

She raised both eyebrows, since a singular hike was beyond her ability. “You’ve already got your delegation picked. Elisabéta, Hsieh and Davitch. You don’t need me.”

“Relax — you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. I just need you to help Elisabéta, keep her human focus. You two work well together, and believe me, we don’t want the Bhari realizing that we have a possession case here. Plus, if I need to bounce something off someone before I let it out of my mouth, you’re my secret weapon. We can communicate quickly, with no one the wiser.”


“Besides,” he said, looking at her and letting that sly grin of his out. “You’re going to be Earth’s official historian for this meeting. I know you’re the right one for the job because, frankly, you’re the only person I’ve met here that showed any interest in history.”

“Jack’s right, Lynda,” Govinda said, her attention still glued to grid displays. “You were going on about history our first night back.”

Lynda laughed a little. “Oh, at the pasta and chutney supper?”

“Oh, right. God, don’t remind me,” Jack said, wincing at her words. “I was an ass.”

“Yes, you were, rather,” Lynda said, grinning at him.

“Yeah,” Govinda said, turning her seat around — only too glad, obviously, to avoid more archive work. “As I recall, Lynda was mouthy and you were icy.”

Hsieh, who hadn’t been there, looked interested but said nothing. Elisabéta wasn’t paying attention; she had walked out of hearing and was standing in front of the dais, staring up at the empty harness.

“I couldn’t believe she was telling the crowd where it could go,” Jack said, one corner of his mouth quirking up again. “I had absolutely no idea what to do when I was up on that dais. I think I was about an inch from bolting like a spooked horse when she announced our travel plans.” He gave the little chuckle that meant he was almost really amused. “ You hadn’t a clue how difficult your blithe pronouncement would be to carry out, did you?”

“Not really, no,” she said.

At that, the Captain laughed outright. “See, that’s what frosted me. You said it, and I knew they believed it, and I was the only one in place who stood a chance of making it happen. And I wanted the job like I wanted a case of crabs.”

“That’s attractive,”

“Isn’t it just,” he grinned at Govinda’s disgust. “But she did the right thing. I was so angry I forgot to spook any further. In retrospect, it was my first hint that Lynda was going to be helpful, but I didn’t see it that way in the heat of the moment.”

“I don’t think I would have opened my mouth before the Daleks came and killed us all,” Lynda said. “I don’t know why I did — well, yeah, I did know. And I’m glad I did it. It’s one thing I know for certain now, how stupid it is to keep quiet when you don’t want to.”

Jack’s wrist com chirped. “Ruthie! Talk to me.”

Ruthie’s voice was low and Lynda couldn’t hear the message, but seconds later his smile disappeared. “Well, fuck.”

“What?” Lynda asked, alarmed.

“Hold on a sec Ruthie.” He massaged his temples again before answering. “The Facilitators are gone.”

She was confused. “Gone?”

“One of the guards made the mistake of mentioning our pending xeno arrivals while we were checking the bandages on a couple of prisoners. After we left, when no one was really paying attention to the CCTV feeds, they killed themselves. Apparently to avoid contamination with lesser races, or so the message they left said.”

“But how?” Govinda did not look upset, just sad.

“Ruthie, how’d they do it?” Jack relayed the question.

He listened briefly, then turned back to his companions. “It figures. Some of them had poison capsules — probably their teeth — and one of them managed to smuggle in a neural blaster that we didn’t catch when we locked them up. Anyone who didn’t poison themselves got shot, and the shooter then fried her own brains. They even found a couple in the maintenance corridors near the suite. The last holdouts apparently got the order too. ” He looked sick. “Goddamned stupid sons of bitches.”

He addressed his wrist com again. “Ruthie, you still there? Listen, I’m sending Hsieh down. You and he get over to the holding suite and calm our people down. Remind them that they couldn’t have stopped these jokers, that we had no reason to expect them to suicide. Then get names, any information at all, from the bodies. We may possibly have relatives to contact. After that, use the dispose-alls. Right. We need it done within the hour. I’m out.”

Os pobres crianças sentenciadas ... poor things. They ended as I thought they would,” Elisabéta said, rejoining them almost soundlessly. Despite the words, she sounded calm.

“You knew they’d do this?” Lynda was horrified.

“No. But I was not surprised. Once they knew we were bringing non-humans into Sol system, there could have been only one outcome,” the other woman said. “They were raised to think of non-humans as demons, and had treated them as such in the xeno purges. They would have feared demonic reprisals.”

“The people who worshipped Daleks?” Govinda asked, incredulous.

“Yes. Os Maus were different. They were God.”

“Oh, well, that makes all the difference,” Govinda said, rolling her eyes. “Christ. Does anyone mind if I say I’m not going to miss them?”

“No,” Jack said, grim. “No, not at all.”

He didn’t move to go down to investigate. He sat motionless, occasionally picking at the edge of his communicator’s wrist band with the fingers on his other hand. Lynda saw lights blinking on the mechanism itself that she hadn’t seen blinking before.

All of them waited, silently, for some time. News of the Facilitators seemed to have struck them all temporarily dumb. Lynda wondered if Hsieh would say a word over the bodies before he consigned them to the dispose-all.

Eventually, Jack’s wrist comm chirped again. This time they all heard the message.

“You’re not going to believe this,” an awed Davitch reported. “We are about to have visitors. Now. They’re already here. The Bhari came. They didn’t wait, they didn’t even ask questions. They say they just want to help.”

*************


The Bhari life slip was a tear shaped piece of strangeness sliding soundlessly into the ruined ship bay. They watched from the safety of an undamaged airlock, as the ship’s hull opened to allow four exo-suited figures to approach the door.

(I want to go travelling, she said to her mother. I want to go to the asteroids and maybe out system. She was young, lying in her bed and talking to a mother who seemed the most beautiful woman in her entire world, luminous skin and an aureola of golden hair about her face. I want to explore. You will, her mother assured her. You will.)

The Bhari were everything Elisabéta had said they were. Lynda, horrified, found herself crying.

Jack reached for her silently.

(“You going to be OK?”)

(“They’re beautiful, Jack!”)

(“So are we, sweetheart. So are we. Hold you head up. You’re representing the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire.”)

She nodded, and wiped her tears away, and moved from behind him to meet her future.

Back to index


Chapter 22: Chapter 17

Author's Notes: Well, it finally happened. I - or we - reached the end, once Lynda, Jack and the others who I came to love so much finally told me what happened. I want to thank those of you who read this, and cared enough to keep on reading over two years. This has been an amazing journey for me. There are two people especially who I want to thank, and to whom I dedicate the entire story. The first is my amazing and brilliant Best Beloved, who was the best editor anyone could hope for, and whose pride in me and my abilities helped when I was frustrated or uncertain. And the second is my dear friend and sister Queen Gwen, who shares my love of the Whoniverse, and is a great writer in her own right.

Without either of them, this would not have been good. One last set of grateful thank yous: To the BBC, and to Russell T. Davies, for lending me that which belongs solely, and only, to them.


“What are you going to do?”

“I asked you first.”


Ruthie and Govinda swelled and receded through the amber in her glass. Lynda raised her eyes above the rim to insist, “I asked first.”

The four women, including a confused Elisabéta, had kicked the men out of the apartment. They were not, Govinda had informed her startled lover and an amused Jack, going to share the bourbon she’d retrieved from someplace. Hen night, she’d said. They were going to get pissed on their own, or fall asleep trying.

“ Vinda —” Davitch had started to plead, only to be swung about by Jack, who took the opportunity to grab the taller man around the waist and make it something of a dance step. “Davitch, old buddy, you do not want to brave hen night. And the ladies have earned it. As have we. Vinda’s not the only one with hidden stores. I do believe Hsieh has a little something waiting for us.”

“Where?” Davitch had actually blushed at Jack’s approach.

“Follow me, my friend.” Jack had turned and assayed a courtly bow in the women’s direction. “Ladies, if you’ll excuse us, we, too, are going to examine a bottle in depth. The Bhari are back on their own ship, and we no longer need to save anything for official toasts. I suggest we spend our last hours on this hulk celebrating.” He had stopped, and blinked, looking oddly like Hsieh had earlier. “Twelve hours, ladies and gentleman. That’s it.”

And now ....

Ruthie leaned back, pointing lazily with her glass at Govinda. “You first.”

The programmer poured herself another finger with weaving precision. “This is getting dangerously low. We have to find another one; that or actually get to sleep before we get hung over.”

“You’re dodging the question,” the little guard said severely, still waving her drink about. Not even getting more than a little tipsy could shake Ruthie Lem from her appointed mission, Lynda thought.

Govinda shrugged. “Well, Davitch and I talked a little. We’ll spend a little time on Hidden, but we want to get back to Earth. You know, help out back here. Hsieh’s thinking of doing the same thing, and it couldn’t hurt to tag along with him. He’s a good man. We don’t know what we can do, but ... we want to do something downstairs. After everything we did here —” She downed her drink, and breathed out the fumes appreciatively. “We’ve got a lot to make up for.”

Ruthie nodded. So did Lynda, but she stopped when she realized she’d forgotten why she was nodding. She looked at Govinda. “What is this stuff?”

“Told you. Bourbon. Alright, so I’ve given over. Now it’s your turn,” Govinda said to Ruthie.

“I’m going to travel, I think. Seeing those Bhari, now ... that was something, that was.” Her eyes shone with more than alcohol. “But I’ll need dosh before I start. So I figure I’ll see if I can find work on Hidden, get my bearings, put something aside.”

“You know there might be war out there,” Lynda felt compelled to say, before sucking back most of the amber liquid in her glass. “It might be a mess out there.”

Ruthie leaned forward and snatched at the bottle, grabbing it on the second try. “You’re right, you’re abos— absolutely right. But the way I look at it, I’ve got military training. Somebody might need that, so even if there’s war, I can be useful.”

“No!”

Govinda and Ruthie both looked at her, surprised.

“No,” Lynda repeated, frowning in concentration. “I don’t want you going out and getting shot again.

“In fact,” she said, warming to the subject. “I’d rather have you around. Because I’m going to need you.”

Ruthie sat forward on the couch. It was a rather dicey operation, given her condition. Enunciating carefully, she said, “And what, pray tell, will you need me for, ma’am?”

That set Lynda back. What did she need the other woman for?

(Someday you’ll go travelling.)

“I want to travel, too. And I can’t take care of myself,” she said airily. “I’m going to need a body guard.”
“You’re having me on,” Ruthie said.

“I am most definitely not have — having you on,” Lynda retorted. The idea sounded better with every passing second. Company, and she could keep Ruthie safe. What better plan could she have? “Look at me — my only training’s in history. Which is bunk, you know.” She stopped. “The point ... the point is, I need protection. And company,” she added, delighted to have another reason. “Company.”

Elisabéta, who had declined alcohol, but sat happily in the corner watching the way it treated the others, spoke up. “I had thought you would accompany the Captain wherever he chose to go.”

That stopped the conversation.

“Huh,” Govinda said. “Hadn’t thought of him ... yeah, Lynda, you and him’re pretty tight — ”

“Nothing going on there,” Lynda said, waving a hand in negation, then catching herself as the hand wave threatened to tilt her floorward. “Nothing at all.”

It was true, she realized with very mild regret. His flirtation was a personality trait, his compliments were reflexive, his casual endearments were friendship, Jack Harkness style. He felt like family, she decided; the Captain felt like family.

“Well, no,” Govinda agreed. “But you’re, like ... ” She trailed off briefly, then brightened. “ ... like brother and sister! That’s what I meant by tight. I mean, you’ve got the telepathy thing, too. Could come in handy.”

“I suppose,” Lynda said, but she wasn’t thinking of telepathy. Family ... a brother. That sounded good, a brother.

“S’funny, to think of a brother,” she said slowly. “My parents never even thought of getting the plus-one permit, not that I know. D’you have any?”

“Any what?” Ruthie was definitely looking bleary.

“Brothers. Sisters. Shi-siblings,” Lynda said. “Whups. Didn’t mean to slur.” She wiped her mouth.

“Had a sister,” Ruthie said. “Never got along with her. I think she was in Norway ... Sweden ... one of those Greater Scotland provinces.”

“Aren’t you curious ?” Govinda asked. “I mean, don’t you wonder if she survived?”

“Nope,” the security woman said, brusque despite her alcohol sodden condition. “I can’t afford to wonder, you know? If I did, I think I’d just shut down. Don’t wanna do that.”

For a long moment, things threatened to turn maudlin.

“Well I guess I’m lucky,” Govinda said. “No one left on Earth, not for the past couple of years, since Papa died. Everyone I had was up here.”

Lynda raised her empty glass in Govinda’s direction. “And you found Davitch here, so there you go!”

“But you haven’t answered the question, Lynda.”

Elisabéta had to work on her social skills, Lynda decided. She’d probably need some help. “Why don’t you come with us, ‘Lizabeta?”

“Where to?” But the woman looked interested. She stood up and brought her chair toward the circle.

“I don’t know,” Lynda said. “But somewhere exciting, maybe?”

Elisabéta’s eyes were bright blue now, whatever the Controller’s original eyes had been. They were beautiful — why hadn’t I noticed how lovely Meg’s eyes were, Lynda thought before her thoughts skittered elsewhere — and they were directed somewhere past Lynda’s shoulder. She craned her head, looking vaguely for something; all she saw was the wall behind her. “What’re you looking at?”

“Nothing. Imagining things. But I should be looking at you.”

“How come?”

“You understand.”

“What?”

Elisabéta leaned forward, and the blue eyes were now focused solely, and unnervingly, on her. “The need to go further. Find more. Move.”

Govinda nodded, listening. “Going someplace else, is it?” Then she looked at her glass. “Shit. Empty.”

She lurched from her spot next to the livingroom table. “Not to worry. I’ve got a little something extra.” They all watched her stumble purposefully down the hall.

“I continue to be amazed at that woman,” Ruthie said, surprisingly lucid. “If she brings more of this swill back, I will kiss her. Swear I will.”

“Davitch will kill you,” Lynda said. “Or sulk.”

Ruthie giggled, her head falling back as she did.

“Yeah. They’re sweet together” she said. “You serious about me coming with you?”

Elisabéta cocked her head. “And me?”

“Yup. Yes.”

Elisabéta nodded. “I will come with you. But you still haven’t said anything about the Captain.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Lynda, annoyed at her persistence, stood up, windmilling her arms slightly to stay upright. “Elisabéta, I haven’t the slightest idea what Jack’s going to do. I don’t know what he wants to do, except get off the station.”

Elisabéta frowned slightly, once more looking over Lynda’s shoulder. “I know at least one thing. He wants to find the Doctor. He is as tied to the Doctor as he ever was, and — I had hoped he would want to accompany you, for a while at the very least.”

Lynda repositioned herself so that her knees were up against the livingroom table. That provided her enough support to keep her standing. “Why would you want him to stick by me?”

Elisabéta shook her head slightly. “Not forever; just awhile. I wanted to learn from him, about where he came from. I needed that time.”

“And the Doctor, you wanted him to tell you about the Doctor,” Lynda waggled a finger in Elisabéta’s general direction. “More fool you. D’you really ever think he’d say anything to any of us — anything substantial — about the Doctor? Or about Rose?” She burped. “Pardon me. Or about why his friends left him for dead here?”

The other woman pressed her lips tightly together. That was real sadness in her eyes, Lynda realized. “I — we — the Controller ... we had not realized there would be companions. We would not have wanted to hurt them, or him, by placing friends in danger, but it could not be helped.”

Lynda’s already precarious balance abruptly deserted her and she fell back into her chair. “I’d like to ask him some questions myself. The Doctor, I mean. He was ... something else. You know, he said he was hundreds of years old. The Daleks called him Time Lord. That can’t be human, can it?”

“You have absolutely no idea,” Elisabéta said, unaccountably smiling.

“That’s all very nice,” Ruthie piped up unexpectedly from where she sat. “But where’s Vinda? Where’s the booze?”

Lynda shook her head to clear it. “I’ll check,” she said, once more hauling herself to her feet. “Want to bet she made it to her room and she’s out for the count?” Ruthie looked disappointed, whether for lack of Govinda or the promised alcohol, Lynda wasn’t certain.

She made her way down the hall and peeked into the room Govinda and Davitch were sharing. Sure enough, the programmer was sprawled out, unladylike but quite comfortable it seemed, snoring softly. Lynda smiled at nothing in particular and headed out to the living room again. “I was right. She’s sleeping, and I don’t think we should wake her.”

Ruthie sighed. “That’s that, then. I’d hoped we could carry on ‘til we boarded ship, but without a new bottle ... I might as well sleep. I figure we’ll have lots more chances to talk on the way to Hidden.” With that, she rose, saluted Lynda and Elisabéta smartly. Then her face changed, turned softer. “Lynda? You were really, really serious about wanting me to come with you?”

“Absolutely. I need people with common sense like you around.”

Ruthie bobbed her head with pleasure. “Right. See you later, then.”

The last two at the party watched her go, then looked at each other.

“I think I shall sleep as well,” Elisabéta said. She stopped for a moment, then resumed. “I have never been away from Station before. I think I’m a bit frightened.”

“I guess, that’s not surprising, Lynda said, feeling nervous herself. “But I think we’re going to be too busy to be frightened out there. Now, you go on to bed. I’ll make sure everyone’s up well before boarding time.”

“You are going to wait up for the Captain.”

She didn’t answer.

“Good night, then.” Lynda’s strange newly-human charge walked out of sight.

Lynda waited until she knew everyone was in their room, then turned out most of the lights in the kitchen, the livingroom and the foyer before returning to the couch.

She closed her eyes, but didn’t sleep even though the alcohol had dulled her senses. Instead, she wondered if she should clean up the apartment; she wondered if she should be down with Rog, Hsieh and Cherrie, shepherding and coaxing the survivors into acceptance of non-human rescue; she wondered when Jack would tell her that he wasn’t coming along.

(“I guess now is as good a time as any.”)

(“Jack. I didn’t hear you come in.”)

(“I’m not there yet. You’re drunk, though, and very easy to ‘hear’ all the way down to the lift.”)

(“I suppose I should be embarrassed.”)

She heard the door click, and opened her eyes. Even the dim light seemed bright enough to halo around Jack’s form.

“Why, for the love of all that’s good and true, would you be embarrassed?” he asked.

“I’m not,” she said. “I am drunk. Come sit beside me, Jack.”

He obeyed, and put an arm around her as they both settled themselves comfortably on the couch. Lynda dropped her head onto his shoulder.

“So,” Jack began, leaning his head against the top of hers. “You figured it out. How?”

“To tell you the truth, I kept hoping I was wrong, but after our talk in the control room, I realized that you weren’t going to give up on finding your Rose, or the Doctor.”

He let out a painful huff of non-laughter. “Not my Rose, not as long as the Doctor’s around.”

“Well, you love them equally, don’t you?” she said, twisting her head awkwardly to look him in the face.

(“Yes.”) Even now, he couldn’t say it aloud to her.

She willed away the dark weight that threatened to drop into her stomach. She’d known he couldn’t say anything about the life he’d had with those two. However much she might want to know all the answers, to everything, she knew she wasn’t going to get them from Jack Harkness. She wondered if he’d ever get them.

“So why not come with us to Hidden? You could plan your search there, and maybe get your hands on a ship to do it.”

He chuckled into her hair. “Sweetheart, if it wasn’t for one thing, I might just do that. Believe it or not, I’m going to miss you people. You guys have been ... all of you ... you turned out to be the kind of team that men in my old line of work drooled about.

“You’re good people,” he said, his voice just the tiniest bit rough.

“And you, sweetheart, kept me honest and made me keep hoping for light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “You have no idea, not even with telepathy in your corner, how much I love you for that.”

“But you still don’t want to come to Hidden with us.” She hadn’t meant for that to come out as flat as it did.

“Actually, I do want to come. Very much. And that’s why I can’t come. I’d stay to help you folks out, and then maybe I’d get interested in making a little dough to take with me on the search, and the dough-making would be interesting enough that I’d stay a little longer, and then I’d stay while Davitch and Govinda got hitched, then a little longer to see if it was a boy or a girl, and then I’d stay to make sure you were doing alright — ”

“And you’d get farther and farther from the two of them, I get it.” She most definitely hadn’t meant that to sound like such a monumental whinge.

He pulled his arm from out behind her, and turned to look her straight in the face. “Are we alright?”

“We are,” she said, then gulped to keep incipient tears back in a suddenly swollen throat. She looked around the Big Brother apartment, knowing each of its corners no matter how the darkness veiled them, suddenly terror stricken at leaving a place that had started out a nightmare and ended up a home. “No, Jack, I’m not alright. I’m going to miss you so much!”

(She saw Rose dancing before her, the sun sparkling on some world’s water, a tall monument behind them. The Doctor walked ahead, his hand reaching back for hers, and her free hand reaching back for him. All’s right in the sight of heaven — )

The pure longing of the vision almost stopped her heart. How could you force him away from that, you big girl’s blouse, if he could possibly find it, she thought.

She cried into his shoulder, and he replaced his arm around her.

“I’m sorry, darlin’, I’m really, really sorry.” His voice was thick with tears, too.

“I wanted you to show me everything out there! And now I’m the one who’s going to be showing it to people. I’m just ... I’m not ... I haven’t the slightest idea what to do, and I’m going to miss you— ”

Her sobs quieted, and she sat up, wiping her nose with her sleeve. “We’ll always be friends, won’t we?”

“Always.” His tears only made his blue eyes sparkle more, even in the meager light.

“So. Are you going to see us off? Are you going to say goodbye to everyone?”

“No. Just you.”

“Oh.”

“Will you tell them how much ... will you tell them I’m their friend for me?”

“That’s not fair, and you know it.”

“Yes, I most certainly do.”

She sighed, a final hiccuped sob dying away with her breath. “I’ll do it.”

Jack let out a breathless little laugh. “Alright, then Lynda Moss — hero and sharp-dressed girl — it’s time for you to see me off.”

“What?”

“This is where I leave. See this?” He pointed to his communicator. Those new buttons were still blinking.

“It’s a transmat generator,” she hazarded.

“See, that’s why I love you,” he said. “You think. It’s not quite a transmat, but it’s going to take me where I — where I hope they’ll be. Think of it as a bargain-basement time machine, without the TARDIS’ amenities.”

“The TARDIS is a time machine?” He could still say things that surprised her.

“Yup. And I think I know where , and when, they might have gone. So I’m going, too.”

“Here? Now?”

“Here. Now.”

Unbidden, they both got up off the couch.

“You’re leaving us with all the paperwork,” she said, a pale grin chasing the sorrow, at least temporarily, from her eyes.

“Paperwork’s the foundation of empire, sweetheart, and I have a feeling that the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire is about to achieve its finest flowering. You may be part of it. Now c’mere. One for the road?”

She moved into the circle of his arms and hugged him fiercely. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He stepped back, punched those blinking buttons on his wristband, and all of a sudden, with a twist of light and space and the suck and hiss of air rushing to fill a Jack-sized hole, he was gone.

“Lynda? What’s going on out there?”

She heard Govinda’s muzzy voice.

“Nothing.”

“You OK?”

(Somewhere the ghost of who she had been faded into meaningless transparency. Somewhere her parents, arms around each other, waved at her and smiled.)

“I’m fine. We’re all fine. Go to sleep.”

She was ready to go travelling.

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