My first attempt at a mulit-part story, once again posted to time_and_chips -- thanks again to the kind readers there.
The timeframe for this story is between The Doctor Dances and Boom Town.
They were nattering away, again.
And that was fine. Really.
The Doctor pointedly bit the inside of his mouth as Jack recounted a near-death experience from when he was trapped on a volcanic mining asteroid during a solar flare while trapped with a gravid Drashig and seventeen heavily-armed and decidedly sociopathic Crimson Arbiters of the Interminable Will of the Macrocosm.
Again. Honestly, you'd think it was something special. The answer for dealing with the problem was so blindingly obvious --
" -- so I recalibrated the heat shields, configured the environmental controls to the Uranian constant, and--"
Reversed the polarity of the neutron flow.
"--I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow!"
Rose laughed, in spite of the fact that she couldn't have understood a tenth of that and even that tenth was a charitable concession of the Doctor's. Though she didn't have to laugh that hard.
Jack was grinning like he'd just discovered fire as he turned and looked up at the Doctor. Fine. It was an infectious grin. Don't let him know you think he's a card; tries to get away with murder enough, that one. "Eh, Doc?"
The Doctor sighed, tucking the excess wiring (and an orange rind) back into the roundel he had been fiddling with. "Sorry?"
"Pretty slick, huh?" Hands on hips. Grinning. Rose watching.
When in doubt, gesticulate with the sonic screwdriver. Keeps them from looking at your face. "Not that slick, no." Oh, lovely. Come on Rose, go back to staring at the pretty man. Go on!
A crease momentarily appeared on Jack's forehead. "Oh, really?"
The Doctor folded his hands under his armpits. "Yeah, really. I mean, not to rain on your parade, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, but some of us have reversed the polarity more times than you've had hot dinners." -- All that time with UNIT alone; poor Lethbridge-Stewart started twitching every time he heard that phrase . . .
His companions both regarded him with looks similar to those reserved for a dog that is violently sick all over the carpet at an otherwise happening cocktail party. Scowling, he turned back to the roundel and resumed shuffling things around in the vague hope of appearing busy. It might've been a bit late to not sound petty.
It wasn't so much that he objected to Jack personally. He could do light electrical work, charm the pants (literally) off hostile persons, do his share of the heavy lifting and gave Rose an actual human to interact with. The human factor was the deciding one, really; as of late, the Doctor had begun to remember that there was a limit to how often you could deal with only one other person in your time machine before you ended up A) fetishizing them, B) avoiding them, or C) both.
And it wasn't fair to keep Rose from other humans, obnoxious domestics notwithstanding. And at least Jack was a marginal improvement over the last two.
And dating and dancing was important.
The TARDIS lurched sideways.
Hands flying to the edges of the scaffolding, the Doctor barely managed to stay upright. The toolkit fell from under him, throwing spanners and ratchets violently to the floor. Rose staggered, nearly dashing her head against the console before Jack swept her back.
The time rotor had stopped in mid-pump; the emergency lights were all flashing lurid mauve.
"What's going ON?!" bellowed Jack, struggling to hold onto both the chair and Rose.
The Doctor cast a frantic glance up at the wiring. The problem didn't originate there; something was wrong with the main flight controls. In one deft movement, he slipped under the rail and landed in front of the opposite end of the console. Rose was obviously too busy trying to stand to appreciate how graceful he'd been. Typical. Just like the ship going berserk at the worst possible moments; can't leave us with a modicum of dignity, old girl?
Whatever else was going on, the TARDIS did seem to be trying to tell him something. The nearest visi-screen was flickering violently, numbers and symbols scrolling past too quickly for him to get a bear on --
And then the screen recalibrated itself, displaying only--
One lone sigil, flashing against a black background.
The symbol every Time Lord knew intimately.
Events stopped. The world went quiet. His blood forgot how to move.
and even now it comes, following in the storm's wake; jetsam from the burning, peace never to be found --
Something jostled him from his reverie. The TARDIS seemed to have righted itself; the lighting was no longer fluctuating. Something warm was on his hand. Startled, he turned to see Rose staring up into his face, lips parted, eyes worried.
"Well, that was a bit of unscheduled fun, wasn't it now?" He gifted her with a waxen smile, shutting off the screen when Rose looked over to it. Deep breath. "But all's well that ends well, as I said to Will. --Poor Will; wasn't his first choice for the name, but you know writer's block." Forcing the lips up as high as they'd go. Hopefully they won't notice that it doesn't reach the eyes.
Jack was staring. Rose was staring. Move the hands; do something useful.
"Anyway, sorted that lot out --"
"What was all that?" demanded Jack, folding his arms.
"Oh, crossed wires. There's a little bit of a problem needs looking at -- hah, Rose, didn't you say I was always busy making things worse by fixing them?" He grabbed her by the arm, walking her over to Jack. "But it won't take long for me to deal with."
"Huh. Guess you'll need help?"
A few minutes earlier, this comment would have invited resentment; would've been regarded as some attempt at upstaging him in front of Rose. Now, in the wake of that symbol on the screen, everything else was secondary.
Hell, Jack had just become invaluable. He'd occupy her while --
"How's about a day out? Ever been to Alezhandria?"
They were asking questions that he wasn't in the mood to answer. Given that the two were usually chatting away at each other like a pair of schoolgirls on a field trip, one would think that they'd have dropped the subject of what happened and just gone on without him.
"You'll have fun! They have restaurants! Live entertainment! Bazaars! Street musicians! Knife fights in churches! Go on," he shooed Jack and Rose out of the TARDIS, "it's perfectly safe."
They turned and stared at their surroundings. Rose was the first to speak. "Where are we?"
They had materialized in a deserted but lovely little alley between two white stucco walls twined in pale blue flowers. The ground was laid with vibrant yellow hexagonal tiles that gleamed like September promises, the air was warm and friendly, large but benign cricket-variants trilled from between the leaves and basically no one was aiming weapons at their heads. Looked to be a good day.
The Doctor surged past them, aiming towards the universally-familiar form of a GalactiBanks Credispenser and Light Transactions Unit. The parts of his mind not locked down and cold tried to remember the last time he'd made a deposit -- well, compound interest should still leave him well in the black; even Hole-Head Boy probably hadn't burned through that much -- "I told you. Alezhandria."
Jack slowly pivoted on his heels, taking in the sights. The square that they were standing in was unpeopled save for an elderly grocer stocking some kind of luminous pink fruit. The buildings were thin but graceful, with long vertical slats for windows and bright silver and copper-tiled domes of roofs. Willowy bluish trees rustled contentedly from where they grew in hammered brass urns along the sides of the road. "This doesn't look like Egypt to me."
"Bright lad. It isn't. I swear, anytime the human race needs a new name for something you just dig out an old one and put go-faster stripes on it." He grimaced as the machine informed him that the maximum withdrawal he could make at that time was 5000 GC. "Oh, come on!"
"Didn't think Egypt was done up like Neo Byzantium, anyway," remarked Jack.
"Didn't think Egypt had one of them," murmured Rose, pointing at the large and rather obvious silver-green planet shimmering half-in, half-out of the bright blue sky.
"Ah. Good point."
"Alezhandria's a moon settlement; built and burned long after your time, Captain." The Doctor scowled at the machine's continued insistence that he consider refinancing his home. "That planet up there's Thoth; big hydrogen-and-helium giant that doesn't get used for much. The rest of the system's pretty quiet traffic-wise. The Guild of Logicians settled and terraformed this place a few hundred years back -- oxygen generators, modulated atmosphere envelope, the usual."
Rose let her eyes wander to the distance. "So if this place is so far out and there's no business, why build anything?" She squinted.
The machine was getting stroppy about his withdrawals. "Because it's one of the last great archives of the human empire. At this time in your history--" he fiddled with some switches, trying to coax five or six more bars out of the slot -- "at this point, you lot are finally moving away from conventional digital recordings and towards instantaneously accessible compressed data transfer. You know, Rose; holes in the head."
Jack winced. "Ew. Hard to think of that as high-tech."
"Eh, it goes the way of Betamax. But here and now, it's a big thing. So big, this entire settlement is trying to obtain and categorize all the old info before it gets pitched in favor of the new stuff." He sighed at the automated teller. "No, I will not need a receipt, thanks so very much . . ."
"So, the people here are librarians?" Rose asked, tilting her head.
The Doctor grinned with a surge of fierce pride. Who's clever, why that would be you, Rose Tyler ! . . "In a manner of speaking, yeah, but they sure know how to have a good time. Ever worked in a hotel while an ALA convention's going on? You can't move for gin bottles."
She turned to the him as he unceremoniously dumped the credisticks into her hands. "There. Go and enjoy yourselves, courtesy of the Blue Box Vacation Lines."
She was trying to look in his eyes. Damn. Damn. "Doctor? Something wrong?"
Again, he grinned maniacally. " 'Course not! But why stay in that stuffy old TARDIS when you can see the bright and shining city on the hill?" He pointed in direction of said city; it was indeed bright and shining. It was not technically on a hill, but nothing's perfect.
She glanced over, biting her lip. Jack came up behind her, hands on hips again.
"You're just going to stay here?"
The Doctor spread his arms wide, trying to project an air of olympian preoccupation with immutable constants. "Got to figure out what's wrong with the secondary control relays. And no, thanks, you can't help. Last time someone tried to figure out my labeling system, they had to go sit in a nice quiet room without sharp objects for a month."
Jack arched an eyebrow, the insufferable bastard. "You positive?"
"Would this face lie?" Keep it straight. "Go on, then."
Rose looked over at Jack, Jack looked at Rose, and they both burst into stupid, carnival-day grins. He took her by the arm, she leaning into his side, and they started off towards the city proper as though they'd been planning this all along. Rose raised a hand to wave back at the Doctor, though she didn't turn around.
She might've at least turned around.
He tried to suppress that terrible sense of disablement that welled up inside him as he watched them leave. When they were far enough down the street, he stalked back to the TARDIS, eyes cold, mouth set.
While the mice play, the cat's away.
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