Eleven chapters. Dear god. How much longer will anyone put UP with this monster?!
Thanks as always to wmr, elbales, and dark_aegis on time_and_chips, and also to the long-suffering types here like Emery Board and drox and ponygirl.
"All right," the Doctor conceded, "so you'd like an explanation --"
"Yeah, please," Rose agreed. His shoulder twinged with fresh pain as she hefted the shoe again.
Irritation and that familiar chafing anxiousness seeped back into his nerves. There was too much to do; too many things that had to be dealt with before he'd be in a position to sort things out in his head in a manner sufficient for retelling.
Never mind he'd sent her off so he wouldn't have to explain anything in the first place.
He didn't belong to her. He didn't belong to any of them. They were the ones who stepped through the door; the fact he even told them where they were was more courtesy than they deserved --
Glaring back up at Rose, matching her sour expression with his own, the Doctor slowly noticed the heavy purple bags under her eyelids, tinged with that slight but tell-tale red puffiness. He more abruptly noticed the set of her mouth and the tread of the shoe and decided, just this once, that something was owed.
"We don't have much time, so this is the Cliff Notes version, all right?"
Rose nodded. Her gaze became more distant, more attentive. Her arm dropped slightly.
"Remember what I said a minute ago? About the Rutans scouting about for a nice little moon they could use as an outpost?"
"Who're the Rutans?"
"Unpleasant violent expansionists with a passing resemblance to mint jelly."
"And they're looking to conquer Alezhandria?"
The Doctor scoffed. "Nope. They aren't interested in a library planet. No natural resources, no weaponry, no real strategic importance. They aren't looking for a settled world. They just want a useful little waystation that no one would take too much interest in; something perfect for the Host ducking in and resting up in between bashing the Sontarans with the mighty coiled tentacle of Rutan Fury."
"Oh, they sound fun."
"Fun like a tumor. The point is that sometime in the course of this current solar year, a Rutan scouting party does a preliminary sweep of this system, trying to figure out where to set up shop. They don't encounter any startling alien tech or fancy glinting objects, so they decide to abide by the non-aggression pact they'd signed with the Earth Empire and just keep their grubby little protrubances to themselves and stay on the dark side of Anubis."
"And that's a moon?"
"So what's the problem if they're not gonna invade?"
"Could you get your knee off my chest?"
"No, 'cause you'll just dart off and not answer my questions."
"I'm short of breath as is -- " That came out wrong.
She leant down, deliberately, blond hair sweeping down around her face. The Doctor's sternum flattened unpleasantly. Her voice was composed and cool and low and just the proper intonation he'd have coached young Dorothy on a few lifetimes back. Those memories contributed significantly to the sudden unease under his ribs.
"Just hurry up and tell me what the problem is, all right?"
"You don't get to know everything," he snapped.
Something almost hurt flitted across her face for a moment, as though that unspoken-of and widening space between them had just expanded by a few more yards. In spite of his better judgement, the Doctor heard his voice -- in a much more conversational tone than before -- amending, "It's complicated -- "
"Uncomplicate it, then."
Rose just stared at him. After a moment, she eased off and drew back, sitting down off to his side, dropping the shoe. Her face was set and emotionless. "Fine, then."
She leaned onto the rolled-up form of his jacket --
Instantly the Doctor grabbed her by the shoulders, rolling her away from the offending article. "Don't touch it!"
"What's wrong with you?" she snarled. "And just what's going on? Why can't you just tell me, Doctor?" Something about the way she spat the last line sounded almost plaintive in spite of herself.
He looked her in the eyes -- again confronted with the rawness around the edges -- and realized there was nothing to do but tell the truth. The chill in the air had nothing to do with his damp clothing.
The Doctor exhaled. "The problem," he said, "is this Book."
She stared at him, blankly. After a moment's pause, she slowly glanced over at the copy of Kant she'd dragged up with them.
"No," he anticipated, "not that book. The Book. The one I've got wrapped up in the jacket. The original basework for what would eventually become the Matrix of Knowledge. The Gallifreyan Codex, jokingly referred to as the Black Book of Rassilon -- not that anyone's ever seen fit to joke about it."
Whispers of dead voices tugged at his ears.
Rose was still looking utterly clueless, and it slowly dawned on the Doctor that he'd never even told her his planet's name, much less about Rassilon or the Matrix or the Dark Times. Given the destabilizing residual horror that he was still working through, even the phrase 'Time Lord' felt like an accusation these days.
He wondered vaguely if he'd ever told her about regeneration, then decided there were more pressing matters at hand.
"Look," he said, gripping her shoulders, "my race are -- were -- telepathic, right? Not so much with other species; strongest amongst themselves. And because they were telepathic, and long-lived, and had too much time on their hands, they whipped up this massive neural interface that every living Time Lord -- and even some dead ones -- was connected to. Our minds were linked with this thing, giving it raw sensory input and all kinds of data that others could use and access, given the right permission and clearance. With me so far?"
"So -- like having the whole Internet in your brain?"
He winced at the analogy. "Fewer porn sites and spelling errors, but . . yeah, basically. Except that it was more of a huge archive containing the whole breadth of Time Lord history, both macro and micro, racial and individual. And you interfaced with it as though you were living the experiences yourself. It was basically a massive library inside of a huge simulated reality program."
"Oh, you mean like the Matrix," Rose said, face brightening.
"Yeah. It was called the Matrix of Knowledge."
"No, I mean from those movies -- "
"But it is, isn't it?" She paused. "Hey, wait -- the Architect, the Oracle, the Mero -- Mero-what's-his-face -- "
Those bloody Wachowskis.
"Lots of people have definite articles for names!" snapped the Doctor. "Now, if we can get back to my dead planet's history?"
"Sorry," she mumbled, looking genuinely contrite. She picked at the laces of the shoe. "So this Book is -- "
He hadn't been looking forward to this part of the explanation. Actually, none of the explanation pleased him, but this section felt like he was wading into murky waters and the feel of the dead voices clamoring so close wasn't helping his peace of mind.
He pushed himself up to his feet, staggering slightly, and leaned against the guard rail overlooking the edge of the Library's roof. The silver and gold-tiled roofs of the buildings below sparkled merrily in the sun of high noon, and he tried desperately not to think of it all gutted by flames.
He fixed his gaze on a small bronze minaret and resumed the explanation. "Like I said, people with the right access privileges could use the Matrix for specified reasons -- research, emergencies, the usual things. You got into it by way of a Door, and not just anyone got a key. Tampering with it was dangerous, and not just to the user. You get my drift?"
"The thing is, when the Matrix was first being compiled, back in -- "
fire laps at the corners of his vision. the storm spares nothing. in the distance, the howling of the monsters
The Doctor clutched the side of his face but went ruthlessly on. "Back in the Dark Times, when my lot weren't exactly the noblest or most technically-assured multi-temporal folks on the block, a lot of stupid Artifacts got made. I say 'Artifact'; what I really mean is 'inordinately-powerful piece of junk that some high-collared git with no chin thinks is a good idea to kick about in a minefield.' Mostly because no one was really policing them at the time."
"And the Book's an Artifact."
"Yeah." He focused his attention on the minaret some more until the voices subsided. "To be fair, it started off as -- like I said before -- just the basework for the Matrix, but after a while people started noticing 'ooh, that's not going to work' and transferred it all to a massive extradimensional framework of -- well, long story short, they chucked the Codex to the side after transferring its knowledge to the bigger system and that was that."
From behind him, the Doctor heard Rose standing up. "Except I'm guessing it wasn't."
"Obviously not, no."
"It's a Key, isn't it?"
He was a bit impressed, in spite of himself. "Close. It's a Door. And even worse, it's an unlocked Door."
She was by his side, looking up intently into his face. "Doctor . . "
He kept his expression as neutral as possible. A flock of dragonflies alighted on the bronze minaret for a few brief seconds and then tore off again.
He felt a slight pressure on his (unjacketed) shoulder and resisted the urge to forcibly remove her hand -- or to lean into it. "The . . . The Matrix was on your home planet, yeah?"
He knew what she was driving at. "It should've gone up with the rest of everything at the end of the Time War. That's all."
The fingers tightened. "If you don't want to -- "
"Too late now; might as well finish," he said brusquely. "The Codex was supposedly destroyed by responsible custodians years ago, but of course Time Lords never throw anything out -- "
"You can say that again," he heard her mutter.
"D'you mind? -- No one dealt with the Book. Someone probably used it for all sorts of political skullduggery via the Matrix, or maybe some doddering old ex-Council member wanted it to relive his glory days. The point is, everyone assumed it was gone." He sighed. "Bit of a surprise when the TARDIS picked up its signal. Must've gotten timelooped or thrown into the Vortex when -- at the end of the War." He glared at the minaret as though it was trying to break his will; it continued to glimmer inoffensively.
"I knew something was up with you," Rose said, perhaps just a little smugly. "So. You've got the Book; what's the problem? Let's go get Jack, and we pop off in the TARDIS -- it's downstairs, you know -- "
The Doctor sighed. "Rose, it's a little more complicated than -- "
Something about her previous sentence warranted a small red flag. "Wait. What d'you mean, downstairs?"
Vetch stared blankly at the warm mug of tea that the other man was proffering him. "Hey. Gus."
"Augustine," he mumbled, wondering vaguely why the lights were still flickering.
"You should drink something. Here," Harkness appropriated his hand and pushed his fingers around the cup. "That'll hold you. If you need something stronger in it," here he winked and tapped what Vetch had assumed was a tool pouch, "give me a yell."
Vetch blinked a few times. He stared at the mug. His reflection stared back. He tried to remember why his nose was swollen.
The police droids had gotten there in record time -- a lucky thing, given how rarely they seemed to work properly. The Director had icily reiterated that she was innocent, but had suffered herself to be taken into temporary custody until the situation had been investigated and resolved.
Harkness -- apparently he was a captain or something, Vetch wasn't clear on the details and was having a hard enough time just remembering his own profession at the moment -- had tried to explain the situation to the droids, only to have them dully go through their paces without listening to his testimony. They hadn't shown any interest in the three witnesses, which didn't strike him as very good police procedure.
On the other hand, given how terrified Vetch had felt yesterday when answering their questions pertaining to Selos's disappearance, not having to deal with them wasn't an entirely bad thing.
Either way, Harkness was still poking around the scene, and seemed to have press-ganged a rather confused Horten into his service, despite the Archivist's constant and increasingly frantic insistence that he needed to be somewhere else.
"They should've sent a forensics team around," the non-vent-cleaner said, frowning down at the still-damp patch on the chair. "Doesn't seem right, just picking it all up in a tarp. The outline's crap, too." He nudged the glowing blue phosphorescence that imperfectly described where a pile of organs had been moments before.
Vetch looked down into his tea. The haphazardly-strobing light threw eerie shapes over its surface. A random shadow cast across the mug looked kidney-shaped and he had to put the cup down.
"And they even didn't check the vents for DNA traces," Harkness went on, frowning. "Geez. The defense is gonna have one hell of an easy time at this trial. Those robots really dropped the ball."
"But, ah, surely the presence of, er, human entrails in the Director's own office speaks volumes as to -- "
"Yeah, well, I'd rather know why the Doctor and Rose were in here, not to mention where they got to." Harkness pivoted on his heel. "Speaking of which, how do you know the Doctor?"
Horten seemed genuinely flustered. "I'm afraid you've misheard me, sir. I was, er, concerned for the welfare of young Vetch, here -- " he gestured at him in a loose sort of way " -- seeing as I'd collided with him, and was advising that --"
Harkness folded his arms, the skeptical look back on his face. "Yeah, another thing -- where were you headed with all those tools?"
"Er. Someone in the Grid Room wanted them, and probably still does -- I should really get back to them; they'll be . . . yes . ." Wringing his one free hand and making a last visual sweep of the room, Archivist Horten bustled out the door. Harkness slowly followed him, leaning up against the doorframe.
"Funny," he remarked to Vetch, "he's going in the opposite direction than before."
"Might be an alternate route 't the Grid Room," slurred Vetch, trying to remember if this was the case.
"Maybe," Harkness observed. "Doesn't explain why he's just dumped the toolkit, though."
"He moved the TARDIS?!?"
"Well . . . yeah, basically -- "
"He MOVED the TARDIS?!"
"Okay, see, it seemed like a good idea at the time -- "
"'Good idea'? 'Good idea? Does getting smeared across the fabric of existence like a choc ice on a linen tablecloth sound like a 'good idea'?"
"We landed all right," Rose said stiffly. She wasn't sure whose side she was going to take once the oncoming storm hit -- finding the Doctor was her idea, true, but Jack had gotten into his head to actually move the ship. And as grateful as she felt to him for helping to find their errant Time Lord --
-- mostly grateful, once the Doctor got a look at the interior of his TARDIS, Jack was probably going to wish he'd just blown up in space after all.
"Stupid, blundering apes!"
They were back in the Library corridors. Once again, they'd taken the stairs; the Doctor hadn't told her why. He hadn't explained much of anything, really, since learning about --
" -- kill him. See how much he likes that full head of hair and toothy grin when I shove it back up through his own -- "
"Jack was worried, you know. It wasn't just me."
"He thought something was up, too -- "
The Doctor snarled, his stalking footsteps echoing viciously in the empty halls. "Figures. Takes a conman to detect a con."
"Oh, just stop that -- "
"Now I'll never get the Codex off Alezhandria. Did you hear that 'whooshing' sound just then, Rose? That was History, flying completely out the window thanks to your friend and mine, the one, the only, Captain Jack Harkness. Can't wait to see what he does for an encore -- "
Rose hadn't wanted to say it. "Yeah, well you didn't kick me out when I did the same, so should I pack up and go too?"
There was only the sound of their footfalls for a while; his sharp and echoing, hers squeaking. Eventually it was too much for her, and the nagging questions began resurfacing.
"You didn't answer my earlier question," she said. "The Matrix. It's destroyed, right?"
He shifted his grip on the rolled-up jacket. "Right."
"And the Rutans or whatever will be sweeping the area looking for goodies in a few months anyway?"
"So -- " she paused, biting her lip. "There's a good reason why we can't just hand the Book over to whoever shows up, right?"
He goggled at her. "Were you even listening to --"
Rose held up a hand. "Hold on now, you said only Time Lords could access this thing properly. What harm's it going to do if no one can even read it? Besides, if the Matrix's gone, it's not like it leads anywhere anymore, right?"
He stared at her as though she'd grown another nostril and whirled back around, throwing his hands in the air. "Humans!"
"Oh, don't start -- "
He whirled about. For a terrifying moment Rose thought he had rounded on her, then realized that his face was strangely blank.
"You hear something?" he asked after a pause, squinting slightly and cocking his head like a confused retriever.
"Sort of a long, low, buzzing sound?"
"I told you, no." She glanced up at the ceiling. "What, like fluorescent ballasts? --Because those lights look as though -- "
"No, that's just energy from the Book interfering with the main power grid," the Doctor responded, absently. "No, this is different, rings a bell somehow . . "
They stood, frozen, and then Rose heard it too. It was familiar; reminded her of when she and Jack had been in the police station and they'd walked by the --
Instantly, her gaze locked with the Doctor's. She suspected that her expression was much the same.
The noise was getting closer.
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