They kept running for a long time, finally slowing just enough to preserve energy. Though neither of them said anything, meeting up with the soldier had rattled them, and reminded them of how precarious their situation was. However, they did finally slow to a more reasonable pace, though neither wanted to stop for a break.
“Here,” the Doctor passed the water bottle over to Mishell without stopping. She took a drink gratefully.
“We can stop for a rest, if you need it?”
She shot him a look, but it was more of a private joke than an actual challenge. Like she was gently teasing him. Like they were friends.
“What, you think I can’t keep up?”
“I think your frail human physiology is no match for my superior Time Lord stamina,” the Doctor replied, earning a wider smile from her.
“Frail? I’ll show you frail.”
She began to run, and laughing, he matched her pace. She slowed after a minute, looking over at him, suddenly serious.
“I wanted to say,” she said slowly. “Thank you. For stopping me.”
The Doctor glanced at her in surprise.
“I’m not saying I’m not going to kill anyone else,” she added. “Something tells me we’re not going to get through this misadventure without some shots fired.” The Doctor winced at the thought, but at the same time, he couldn’t deny it. These soldiers had demonstrated that they would not hesitate to shoot to kill, and however much he might abhor it, he knew that having Mishell as backup might be a valuable asset. “But shooting an unarmed man…” she faltered, shrugging. “Thank you,” she repeated.
They reached a stream, and it took a minute to locate a way across that didn’t involve wet shoes. Finally, the Doctor located some rocks, and they managed to edge their way across, emerging dry and victorious.
“How far away are we?” the Doctor asked, once they were back on solid ground. It was getting later in the afternoon, and the Doctor knew that they’d be spending another night out here. However, if Mishell had been correct about the trip taking three days, then they’d reach the base tomorrow.
“Less than a day,” Mishell said. “Best guess, anyway.” From what the Doctor could tell from his strengthening connection with the TARDIS, this was about correct.
“If we’re going to hunt,” the Doctor told her, “we should do it now.”
Mishell contemplated this.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. He wasn’t, but he didn’t want her to go without, for his sake.
“I could go either way,” he said, noncommittally.
“Because I’m fine. Really,” she added, off his skeptical look. “I got used to getting by on a lot less food than we ate last night, and we shouldn’t risk hunting again. Save our gun for when we need it.” The Doctor debated objecting against her calling it “our gun,” but decided it wasn’t worth pushing the issue right now. Instead, he pulled a banana out of his pocket, handing it over to her.
“Here,” he said. “Eat that.” Mishell eyed it, but evidently they had bananas on Frax, because she only laughed and began to peel it. The speed with which she consumed it only confirmed his suspicion that she had been hungry. Or maybe she had just learned never to let food go to waste.
“Why am I not surprised that you have a banana in your pocket?”
“Bananas are good,” he said, unable to keep from smiling as he remembered saying those very words to Rose and Jack.
He froze as his ears caught the sound of a high pitched beeping noise. Mishell stopped in her tracks.
“I’m not…” the Doctor cut himself off, realizing that the beeping was coming from his pocket. He reached in, and pulled out the soldier’s wristcomp.
“Why is it doing that?” Mishell demanded.
The Doctor didn’t answer, as he turned it over in his hands. The small screen was alight.
“It’s a message,” the Doctor said.
“To the soldier?” Mishell asked, moving to look over his shoulder.
As the Doctor watched, words flashed across the screen.
“It’s a message to everyone,” the Doctor said, feeling a sense of relief. He’d been worried someone had already missed the soldier they’d left behind, and was calling for him on his wristcomp. While they probably could have gotten away with not replying, he didn’t want to do anything to attract any suspicion.
Then the next words flashed on the screen, and his hearts stopped.
THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR THE DOCTOR.
“What?” he breathed, completely unable to believe what he was seeing. Mishell gasped, looking from him to the wristcomp. The words repeated themselves.
OPEN BROADCAST. THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR THE DOCTOR.
“How…” Mishell started to say, but before the Doctor could even register what she was saying, far from register what was happening on the wristcomp, the screen flickered, turning to static. The beeping sound ceased. The Doctor recognized what was about to happen. A video message was about to be broadcast.
The image swam into view, and the Doctor gasped as though he’d been struck, feeling as though someone had just kicked him in the chest.
The image was of Rose.
She was standing against a blank wall, revealing nothing about her surroundings. A soldier stood next to her, a gun to her head. No one else was visible in the shot.
“Rose,” the Doctor whispered, feeling physically ill at the sight. One arm was bandaged. Her face was bruised, as though she’d been struck multiple times. There was blood on her face and shirt, from what looked to be a nosebleed. The sight of her blood made him want to hit something, made him want to shout in his rage. He could feel himself shaking, his free hand clenching into a fist, murderous thoughts tugging fiercely and enticingly at his mind.
Mishell caught hold of his shoulder, squeezing it in a tight, steadying grip.
“She’s alive,” Mishell murmured. “Focus on that.”
The Doctor knew she was right. Most of the damage looked to be superficial. Surface injuries, painful, but not dangerous. It was mostly for show. Proving that they could, and would, physically harm her. Rose was standing under her own power. Her arms looked to be bound behind her, but she looked relatively unharmed. She was alive…he’d hoped it, tried to convince himself of it, but now he had proof.
She looked up, and he swallowed hard as she looked right at the screen. But she didn’t say a word.
A second later, someone began to speak.
It wasn’t Rose, or the soldier onscreen. It was someone out of sight of the camera. And if he’d heard correctly, it was a woman speaking. What was going on?!
“If we have judged your abilities correctly, chances are you have gotten your hands on one of our wristcomps by now. If you haven’t, no doubt you soon will.”
“How do they know who you are?” Mishell murmured.
“I don’t know. Shh…” he hissed, as the voice continued. He could barely breathe.
“As you can see, we have your friend Rose.”
The voice placed heavy emphasis on the word “friend.” The Doctor gritted his teeth as the soldier holding Rose pushed the gun a little closer to her. His hearts ached as he saw her breath catch, and she tried to pull away slightly. But the soldier was using his other hand to hold her in place. The Doctor couldn’t help but smile grimly as she glared at the soldier. Her spirit definitely wasn’t broken.
“For the moment, she is unharmed.” Unharmed? They called that unharmed?! “Whether she remains that way depends entirely on you.”
The woman’s voice was very stiff, lacking in emotion, but more because the speaker was forcing herself not to show emotion, rather than not feeling it.
“We have no wish to harm Rose,” the voice continued. Could have fooled me. “And we know that you feel the same. So we propose a trade. Yourself for her.”
What? The Doctor was honestly taken aback. Why would these soldiers have any interest in him? What did he have to do with the conflict between these planets? He wasn’t involved. How could capturing him aid them in any way? He knew that many species longed to get their hands on a Time Lord for one reason for another, but he honestly didn’t know what these people stood to gain from him.
Rose clearly hadn’t known what the woman was about to say either, for the Doctor saw her eyes widen. She looked like she wanted to say something, but the soldier gave her arm a wrench, and Rose gasped in pain. That sound nearly undid the Doctor, black rage so powerful that it blinded him surging forward, but Mishell’s hand tightened on his shoulder, to the point of being painful. He clamped down on his raging thoughts, forcing himself to think.
“As you have probably guessed, we are at the military base in the forest to the north of Pantila.” That was the name of the town they’d been hiding in. The town Rose had been taken from.
Why were they telling him this? If they knew anything about him, which somehow they appeared to, they must know the danger in revealing their location. They must know what he could do. They were letting him see her injured and in pain…they were purposefully antagonizing him. They must know what was coming for them. He didn’t understand…didn’t know what was happening. Or why…
But at the same time, now he knew Rose was alive. And now he had verified that she was being held at that base. They were already only a day away, so they would be there soon. And if they were interested in him, well, maybe he could use that to his advantage.
“If you have not surrendered by sundown tomorrow,” the woman said. “She will die.”
Rose didn’t flinch at the words, and the Doctor was so proud of her, even as the words chilled him. If they hurt her any more…
“For her sake, I hope you are already on your way.”
That was quite a gamble, the Doctor thought. What if he’d still been in Pantila? Three days away. He’d have had no chance of getting there in time. Either they were taking a big risk…or they knew him well enough to know that he would absolutely be on his way.
“We will play this message on repeat every ten minutes,” the woman said. “To ensure that you see it. Turn yourself over to us, or Rose Tyler dies. It’s that simple.”
The Doctor swallowed hard as Rose looked right into the screen, and it felt as though she were looking right at him. She looked frightened, but also desperate to communicate something. What was she trying to tell him? He knew her so well, but he couldn’t read her mind like this. She glanced off to the side, where the woman speaking on the broadcast seemed to be standing, and then back to the screen. The Doctor clenched his teeth in frustration. He knew she was trying to tell him something important, but what was it?!
“See you soon, Doctor,” the woman’s voice came, and from her tone, he knew this was the end of the message. Rose seemed to know it too, for her eyes suddenly widened.
“ONE WORD! JUST ONE WORD! RUN!” she screamed, all in one breath.
The next instant, the soldier had struck her over the head with the butt of his gun, and the screen went black.
The Doctor stepped back, a feeling of absolute shock sweeping over him, momentarily overwhelming every other emotion, even his horror at what he’d just witnessed, even his fury at what had been done to Rose. The wristcomp slipped out of his hand, and Mishell caught it.
“What did she mean?” Mishell demanded. “Doctor? Doctor, what’s wrong?”
He couldn’t breathe. One word, just one word…run.
Memories assaulted him, triggering a chain reaction in his mind, the words carrying a significance that she must have known they would. Of their first ever meeting, of taking her hand after his regeneration…and his message to her when his tormenters had released her. He’d used them as a reassurance that he wanted her to leave, and also to tell her to run. Those words, forever linked with pain and terror and misery and darkness, and that place…those people.
“Why did she tell you to run?” Mishell asked. She grabbed his hands, trying to get him to focus, and he couldn't help but grip them back. “Doctor?”
“She didn’t…” he whispered.
The word ‘run’ was one thing. But those six words…she knew their significance. She knew that he would remember his torture at the hands of those hired men. That those words would inevitably conjure up images that made him tremble even now. She knew he would think of it…she was counting on it.
“She was warning me.”
It was a message.
She was telling him that this had to do with that ordeal. Somehow, some way…it had something to do with what was done to him. He couldn’t understand how this could be the case, how Frax and Calyx could be linked to that. The planet that the hired torturers were from wasn’t even in this solar system. As far as he knew, the planets had no relations with each other.
But he knew Rose, and he knew that she knew him. This was what she wanted to tell him. She’d known he would think of the torture as soon as he heard those words. And there was only one reason why she’d risk her life to send that message…because this had something to do with that. Were the same torturers here…was it the person who’d hired them…were these people hired too? He didn’t know, but he did know that somehow, this had something to do with those terrible ten days.
For a split second, sheer terror overwhelmed him at the thought of facing anything to do with that situation. No, no, no, no!
“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Mishell’s voice was full of concern and fear, but his body reacted automatically, yanking his hands out of the confinement of hers. His mind instinctively panicked as memories surged forward, one triggering another in a relentless chain reaction that caught him off guard, leaving him defenseless. Cruel laughter, mocking, hatred, blood, terror, harsh hands on him, no way to escape, no hope…and pain, blinding, crushing, terrifying pain…
Then he suddenly came to himself as a horrible thought struck him, filling him with blinding clarity.
Those people had Rose.
They had Rose, they had hurt her, and they were going to hurt her worse. The only thing that terrified him more than facing that ordeal again was the thought of Rose being forced to endure it. They had Rose…and he could NOT allow that. He had to stop them. If this was in any way related to those events, then these people were far more dangerous than he’d originally thought. And not only did they have Rose, but they had the TARDIS too.
He took a deep breath, this knowledge steadying him and filling him with purpose, and focused once again on Mishell’s worried face.
“She was warning me, Mishell.”
“Warning you about what?”
“That this is bigger than just Calyx’s war with Frax.”
“What do you mean?”
“We have to go, Mishell. We have to go now!”
But they’ll know we’re coming.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the Doctor shook his head. “We’ve got to get to that base.”
“Wait…you’re not actually going to surrender to them, are you? To trade yourself?”
“I hope not. But either way, we’ve got to get to that base. And we’ve got to do it fast.”
“All right,” Mishell said, something in her voice showing him that she’d detected how serious and worried he now was. “We’ll run. Just like she said.”
“Run…” the Doctor echoed, forcing his emotions back into check. Despite this turn of events, he needed to keep his head, now more than ever.
“But while we’re running,” Mishell added sternly, “you’re going to explain to me exactly what’s going on.”
The Doctor didn’t even bother arguing. He merely nodded, and with new urgency fueling their journey, they began to run again.
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