It would have been more than a little redundant at this point to say that Vetch was having a bad day.
Archivist Horten was apologizing -- and sweating -- profusely, frantically trying to round up all of the electrospanners that had rolled across the floor as a result of their collision. The contracted help -- Harkness? -- was eyeing the tools with what Vetch decided was a skeptical sort of interest.
Vetch's head swam. Why hadn't he just requested the day off in the first place? Bad enough he still had a headache from colliding with that big blue vent cleaner, but now he felt as though his chest had been staved in --
The fact that the entire row of hall lights had started flickering didn't help his queasiness.
Harkness was looking around. "Hey. You guys see where Rose ran off to?"
Vetch blinked. "Rose? The girl?"
The other man rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Rose. 'The girl'." He peered around the corner, blinking. "She slipped around there just a few minutes ago . . "
"Well, er, if you'll excuse me --" Horten grabbed the last of the spanners and thrust it into the bag, fumbling with the straps. "I've really got to -- " He blinked, suddenly noticing that the other man was holding his pair of pliers. "Ah. Excuse me?" He politely tried to ease it out of Harkness's hands, an action complicated by the vent cleaner's preoccupied expression.
Vetch's hearing wasn't up to snuff, but he thought he heard distant shouting. Whatever Harkness heard of it seemed to galvanize him, judging by the way he stiffened.
"What the -- Doctor?"
Horten abruptly stiffened as well. "Doctor? You -- you know the --"
Harkness started, turning to stare at the librarian. "Yeah, we're -- wait. What?"
It would have been more than a little redundant at this point to say that Vetch was confused.
Ragusa slowly propped herself up on her forelimbs, cursing the mystery guest and the evil girl. The fall itself hadn't done much damage to her; being heavily-armored was not without its advantages. Unfortunately, one of its drawbacks meant being heavy.
If she didn't get up off her back, she'd suffocate.
Concentrating on rolling next to the pool, she managed to hook her left forelimbs over the side and hauled herself up to a painful, half-recumbent position.
Even in the dim and suddenly spastic light, one could see that her office was in ruins. Twisted metal and plaster were strewn across the water-soaked floor. Books lay wounded, pages drenched, covers warping. And slowly she became aware of that annoying wrongness she had sensed all morning, especially just before the man had fallen out of the ductwork.
A smell. A horrible, meaty smell completely at odds with her normal scent.
Someone would suffer for this.
The man and the girl had departed mere seconds ago, but already she heard footsteps in the corridor.
The Archivist and the vent cleaner had made it to the Director's door long before the sore and limping Vetch. Something about the way that they just stood in the entryway should've indicated that the situation was unusual, but he wasn't really thinking about anything other than letting Ragusa know that Facilities was going to deal with things properly and, incidentally, was it all right if he just took the rest of the day --
Her office looked as though a bomb had hit it. The Director herself was sprawled by her habitation pool, twitching slightly. The overhead duct had been ripped out of the ceiling, blanketing the floor in dust and horrible grungy clumps of grey filth.
"Whoa," remarked Harkness. Horten's jaw moved up and down; no noise came out.
Vetch stumbled into the room, torn between helping Ragusa onto her legs and staying well away from the clearly irate alien. His foot grazed Faust and he stared down, bleakly, at the waterlogged 22nd century original binding rapidly being reduced to pulp.
That pretty much made him decide to stay away from the Director for a bit.
Harkness had no such qualms, striding over to the beast. "Hey. You seen a guy in a black jacket come through here?"
Ragusa stared at him.
Harkness sighed irritably. "Okay. How about a blonde girl -- "
The Director snarled an incomprehensibly vicious reply that employed the kind of language Vetch had only ever heard in nautical movies.
Rose collapsed against the side of the spire.
For the past ten minutes, all they'd been doing was running. Granted, traveling with the Doctor meant that you'd never place last in track events and quickly learned the importance of arch support when picking out footwear, so she'd held up reasonably well.
Except he'd gotten it into his head that they should go up to the roof, and they'd taken the fire staircase instead of the elevator.
It seemed odd that the future would have fire staircases. Or fires, for that matter.
Now, with the glorious late morning sun beating down on her damp, chafing body -- already wracked with the previous night's worry and more than a little peckish -- Rose seriously considered pushing the Doctor off the top and just going to sleep in a nice corner somewhere.
The Time Lord was sprawled on his back, jacketless -- he'd taken it off and rolled it up around a book or something -- and was going through some sort of breathing exercise. The concrete slats underneath him were wet with the pool's water.
"What was that thing, anyway?" Rose gasped, once she felt that her lungs were no longer in danger of collapsing. "Looked like -- "
The Doctor held up a warning finger. His eyes were half-slitted against the sun.
Instantly, the copy of Critique of Pure Reason was back over her head as blood pounded into her face. "Don't you 'shush' me! I only just rescued you from a giant space lobster -- "
She paused, swaying slightly. "What?"
His eyes opened, staring fixedly up at the sky. "The giant space lobster. Cheliloricatus argos. Female, by the look of it."
Rose lowered the book, angling it to keep the sun out of her face. "How much of that thing's undercarriage were you looking at, then?" The way it had been hunched over his face suddenly took on an even more alarming interpretation than the one she'd previously assigned it. "Oh my god, were you snogging the -- "
"What I want to know," the Doctor murmured, still staring up at the silvery planet in the sky, "is what the Book was doing -- " He abruptly broke off, as though aware that Rose was listening. His face locked down into the blank mask she'd come to associate with the Subject That Must Never Be Raised.
Rose felt herself sinking backwards against the side of the building, letting Kant drop from her fingers. It was nice up here, really. Five minaret-like structures with glistening golden domes towered majestically over the two of them; probably glorified air handlers or something. With Thoth hanging serenely overhead like a luminous grapefruit, the whole sight was very dreamy, very unreal.
Several hundred feet below them, the courtyards and surrounding dodecahedrons that ringed the Library gave way to the shining streets and gleaming white buildings she had admired all yesterday from street level. Bright shimmering dragonflies darted past, humming furious little ditties in needly bug voices.
Alezhandria was a jewel beyond compare.
"It'll all burn in seventy-eight years," the Doctor said, darkly.
It took Rose a moment to collect her thoughts. "What?"
He'd been watching her face, she realized. The relief she'd felt upon finding him -- and the subsequent rage he'd engendered as a result of being his usual maddening self -- was now rapidly becoming a horrible uneasiness.
Like going out on a beautiful January morning after the snow's fallen, and only just registering the huge icicle poised directly over your head.
"Twenty years from now, the Rutan Host tries to set up a colony on a neighboring moon." The Doctor laid his head back down, eyes shut, expressionless.
"And . . that bug thing was -- "
"Okay," Rose muttered, trying to get a grip on things. "So, you're trying to stop this Rutan thing, then?"
She blinked. "Why not?"
"Because the Sontarans stop them."
He opened his eyes again, staring up at Thoth. "No."
"Right." Rose sank down on her haunches, taking off her shoes. "Suppose it's too much to ask for a rundown of just what's going on right now, am I right?"
"Because it's not as though I was worried about you or anything."
"Not like me and Jack were spending the entire night trying to figure out where you'd run off to; not us."
"Didn't think so," he muttered. Rose threw her trainers at him.
Vetch's nerves were singing.
Part of that was due to the mess and general disorder, but the vast majority of his overwhelming terror had to be the looks that were flying between Ragusa and Horten.
The Director was obviously infuriated by the presence of Horten in her innermost sanctum and Horten, though studiously avoiding eye contact, was not helping the matter by rooting around in the piles of metal and sodden books as though he was entitled to them. Ostensibly he was helping Vetch clear the muck away, but that didn't make the atmosphere any less poisonous.
If this devolved into another shouting match -- well, hissing match, if memory served -- Vetch was just going to crawl under the desk and wait it all out.
Harkness seemed completely oblivious to the bad blood between the Archivists -- well, he was an outsider, after all -- and was trying to help Ragusa to her feet, a daunting task given that she had six of them. It was probably nothing more than a momentary lapse in composure that allowed the Director to be touched so familiarly by a human.
"Whoa. Steady there." Harkness grabbed her second left leg and swung it out alongside the others. "Here we go. Better?"
He smiled brilliantly. He had very bright teeth. "Name's Harkness, Jack Harkness. And I have the honor of addressing . . ?"
The Director gave him a look that would have withered lesser men. "What are you -- hrrst -- doing in my office?" Her head swung sharply to regard Horten -- still hunched over a pile of metal sheeting -- and then took in Vetch, who blanched.
"He -- he -- he -- "
"I'm here for the vents," the other man responded languidly. "Except these two assistants of mine seem to have gone on break a bit early. They were in here, right?"
Vetch blinked. Two assistants? But surely there had only been the girl . . . oh, this was too much. He started to look about for someplace to sit.
Ragusa drew herself up slowly, spines clattering. "If you mean that -- hrrst -- stupid man who was in the shaft and the ill-mannered child who destroyed a good portion of the Antiquities Collection, then yes, I have met your companions. And I hold them both fully accountable for --"
"Did you see which way they went?" Harkness interjected, hands held up in appeasement. Vetch slipped past him, moving towards a nice dark corner by the webwork where he could call the janitors and sit quietly and maybe gibber for a bit.
Ragusa's voice was like glass dragged over metal. "No. I did not see them leave. It was the girl who knocked me down, making it virtually impossible for me to breathe, much less note what happened. So that we are -- hrrst -- completely clear on matters, I fully intend to press assault charges --"
Vetch tuned out the sound of Harkness making all kinds of soothing excuses, none of which seemed to be working. He remembered there was a comfortably-padded wing chair off to the side of the webwork -- it had been used by Grimwade, prior to his disappearance. Ragusa wasn't exactly the type who'd sit in a chair, much less fit in one.
The lights were still flickering irregularly. It was very dim over here, with only the glow from the visiscreens picking out the odd detail on the floor or the wires. There was a strange, tangy smell emanating from somewhere around here, but it was a small price to pay for a good seat. He lowered himself down onto the chair and wondered why it was so lumpy.
" -- she's basically a good kid, just needs a little guidance. I'll get her to apologize -- "
Kind of squishy, actually.
" -- considerably more than apologize, given that those books are -- "
The smell was worse over here, too.
Vetch absently moved a hand under his posterior to tug the cushion back into place and started as his hand touched something spongy and sticky. He shifted off of his left buttock and heard something beneath him make a pathetic little splurt.
" -- look, I just want to catch up with them -- "
There was a light panel somewhere here. Vetch fumbled, found it, and slowly looked down.
The chair was much as he remembered it -- navy blue syntholeather with little brass rivets, done up in the Post-Neo-Edwardian style that had been all the rage a few decades ago. There was even the same indentation made by the repeated application of a hot coffee mug -- again, the work of Grimwade.
The digestive tract sprawled over and under the chair was new, however.
Vetch decided now was a good time for gibbering.
The Doctor had spent the past 24 hours being shot at, stunned, incapacitated, captured, lost, falling, running, nearly drowning, resuscitated by monsters and getting sucked into dangerous simulacra. Arguably, Rose Tyler yelling at him shouldn't have been that horrible by comparison.
It was probably the way she was standing over him with that shoe.
He had a vague memory of his intentions when he'd set this plan in motion the other morning. Rose and Jack would keep each other occupied, meaning that she'd never have to know his real reason for coming here. The only reason that could make him voluntarily come to Alezhandria anymore, knowing what would happen to it.
She wouldn't have to know what happened to Alezhandria, after all. And as for the Book --
"Right, now you listen to me --"
They'd been essentially good intentions. Even if it had meant packing her off with Jack the Walking Pick-Up Line. Even if it meant that the cozy duo they'd been for -- well, it felt like forever -- was that much more destabilized, his own role whittled down accordingly to accommodate someone else.
Insert standard spiel of "You're not the most important man in my life", repeat as necessary.
" -- tried to go to the police, and then that went pear-shaped --"
Essentially good intentions. She didn't have to know about the Book. It wasn't as though he owed her an explanation. The Doctor had never pretended that he wasn't in her debt, even if he was cagey about stating just what it was she'd done for him, but not even Rose Tyler got a free pass where the Time War was concerned.
Although the shoe looked really unpleasantly hard. Vulcanized rubber. Rough on the face.
" -- looking out for those squid things all the way back to the TARDIS -- "
With everything else he had to sort out now -- why the Book had been in the ducts, why his screwdriver had been in the ducts, why Horten wanted to get into Ragusa's files, why a member of Infraorder Cheliloricadae had saved him from drowning --
-- how to get out of the Library without being seen --
-- how to get the Book off this world as fast as nonhumanly possible --
-- how not to have his brain implode --
-- with all this to deal with, Rose's untimely 'rescue' had just dumped another series of unwelcome complications into his lap.
" -- and of course nothing was where you always say it is, so we had to tear apart -- "
It slowly dawned on the Doctor that despite giving her a all-expenses-paid romantic day out in one of the most peaceful cities in the galaxy with a very good-looking and accessible man for company, she'd gone the Leela route the minute she'd sensed he was in trouble.
There was something . . . gratifying about that. Something that warmed the cockles of his hearts. The smile welled up out of a strange hidden reservoir of peace, drowning if only for a moment the tortuous cares and concerns of the work ahead. She'd been worried about him. Take that, Jack Flash.
It turned out to be a bad idea to smile just when Rose was reaching the loud part of her diatribe; she hit him with the shoe.
Ragusa stared at the entrails strewn over the chair and floor and webwork. Vetch had whimpered out of the way, allowing Horten and the other man -- Harkness -- to get a good look at it.
"It must have come from the ducts," she rasped, lurching slightly. The smell was worse than before.
Horten was expressionless. Harkness bent over the grayish pile of organs, apparently scanning it with some sort of wrist device. "Human. Circulatory and -- oh, ick -- digestive system, and a bunch of other things I don't wanna look at too closely." He turned his face away, exhaling slowly. "Judging by the -- lungish -- deflated -- uh . . ." He stood up, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah. And the sticky bits, probably this was removed -- god, that's foul -- about twelve to seventeen hours ago. Maybe." He shook his wrist device, frowning irritably. "Damn. Should've patched this back together . . "
Vetch made some sort of little mewling cry from behind them.
"You know," Harkness added, glancing at what Ragusa suspected was a sigmoid colon, "general squick factor notwithstanding, this is a pretty slick job. I mean, compared to some of the stuff I've seen on Iskandi and Varos, this is in pretty good condition." He glanced back at Vetch. "Except for the parts that got sat on."
Ragusa clicked her mandibles together. "Just what does a -- hrrst -- vent cleaner know about evisceration, pray tell?"
"You monster," whispered Horten, turning to look up at Ragusa. "You horrible thing."
Her spines rose. "This is not my doing, Archivist. I would caution you against speaking before the case is investigated -- "
"And I suppose Lyn and Grimwade met the same fate?"
Ragusa snarled in fury. "If you have an open accusation to make, Horten -- "
"That's enough." She swung her head around to see Harkness leveling some sort of compact laser at her. His face was set, suddenly businesslike where before it had been fatuous and empty. "Hands where I can see them. All of them, please."
"What are you doing?"
"It was all over the broadcasts last night. That Selos guy that got offed? -- Massive internal displacement. At first I figured they just meant that his insides got scrambled, but apparently there was more to it than that." Harkness raised the laser. "And this is your office. C'mon, lady. Raise 'em."
"I will not -- "
He nodded to Horten, who was still bristling with rage. "Hey. Get on the intercom or whatever and get Security down here." His grip on the laser tightened. "We'll let the authorities figure out what's what; about time they owed us an explanation anyway . . "
Harkness's voice trailed off. "And when I find those two . . ."
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