It was getting harder to think.
There were Facts. There were Reasons. There were Indications. And as the better singing-masters of his soul would have stressed -- he tries to explain that there was no choice, but the sigil looms -- the importance of paying attention to the small details --
"This is stupid, Doctor."
Definitely harder to think.
He'd explain it all later, he'd said, not meaning it. The trick was to just keep babbling and moving and hope that somewhere along the line you address enough of the issue that they think they got an answer.
"See," he heard his voice explaining with a brightness he did not feel, blood rushing in his ears all the while, "I thought there was something odd about finding it in the ducts. 'Who'd hide something this important in a duct?' I said to myself. Only if I was trying to hide something, and if I wanted to move it around without anyone knowing where it is, why not a duct?"
"Doctor . . "
He winced as light stabbed at the corner of his mind but continued to crawl onwards through the service hatch. "Easter Bunny. Never hide things where people would expect to find 'em. Only, the Easter Bunny hides things so people can find 'em, so it's not a perfect analogy, but it's the same idea backwards. Less hopping. Aha!"
He gestured triumphantly at a scuff mark on the bottom of the metal floor. "See that? Someone's been through here recently."
Just about then the air conditioning kicked in, so Rose's answer was lost in a continuous torrent of frigid air. The Doctor's damp skin shuddered and he instinctively started to unfold the jacket --
and the void is cold --
-- and folded it back up, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to feel grateful that the noise was covering up any noise made by Rose and him slogging through the shaft.
Facts. There were facts.
The service ladder. Accessible if you stood on the desk. The cover grille had some (recent?) scratch marks around the safety screws. Sonic devices don't leave those kind of marks.
The Book. Stranded in a ventilation shaft which also contained his allegedly-lost sonic screwdriver. Guarded by a very large and reasonably hostile entity. Unless, of course, it was just put there so no one would look for it. Easter Bunny.
He hadn't been willing to get sucked into Horten's vivid little melodrama, but there was something going on here. Wheels in motion. He was confused -- it was getting harder to think, what with the noise and the cold and the voices, dead voices and Rose's forehead smacking up against his backside every few moments, but dammed if it wasn't starting to resolve itself a bit.
Just not fast enough.
The A/C cut off, echoing eerily and leaving only the sounds of their panting and crawling.
"Okay, so stop me if I'm wrong," drawled Rose, "but weren't we supposed to be, I dunno, hiding this book?"
"We will. Eventually."
"If I asked where we were going," Rose muttered, "would I even get an answer?"
"Following a hunch."
"And the hunch is -- "
"Something doesn't add up. I wasn't paying attention at first; just wanted to find the Codex and be done with it. But it doesn't add up; something's calling out . . "
the screaming of the deathless ones --
The Doctor suppressed the urge to just lie through his teeth. If his own brain wasn't up to the task, why not use Rose as a sounding board? After all, hadn't it always worked before?
"My screwdriver. Got jumped by the drones, lost it, Horten said he couldn't find it, but it turns up in that shaft. Why's that?" He scraped along determinedly, which was difficult enough on only one hand. "The Book's there too; falls out after you knock the space lobster over. Why?"
"Someone hid it?"
A sharp finger prodded the Doctor's thigh, making him yelp and hit his head against the top wall. "Don't you go takin' that voice with me; I'm still new to this mess of yours."
"Look, all you need to know is that the missing circuitry of the TARDIS might not be lost after all. And I'm guessing whoever's responsible for all this hiding and duct-spelunking has something to do with it."
Rose sighed. The sound reverberated through the shaft, calling to mind the whispers of an infinite expanse of grey pebbles. "Okay. So what do they want with it all? The Book, the screwdriver, the TARDIS bits -- where does all that fit in?"
"That's what I aim to find out."
Another sigh. "So what exactly do I do, then?"
"Keep your eyes peeled. Look for anything out of the ordinary in here."
"Oh. Yeah. 'Cos I've been in ducts all my life, so I'll know what's wrong when I see it."
"You know, you could've stayed out on the town with Adam Mk. II and just left me to this."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means --"
and he is the architect of ruin, he the all-consuming fire
The Doctor crashed onto the shaft floor, gasping as the light scrabbled to get into his mind. Cheek against the cool metal, hunched over his jacket, it took all his waning mental strength to elude its grasp and remain here in the vent, with Rose hovering over him and shaking his shoulder. Her hand was warm. Everything else was cold --
"Are you all right?"
"M' fine. Gimme a sec."
"Look," she groaned, slumping against the duct wall with a ker-whumpf, "don't you pass out; I don't know where we're supposed to go."
"It won't come to that," he responded, darkly aware that he would probably be proved a liar at the rate that the Book was unfolding itself around the corners of his vision, brushing up against the outskirts of
Oh, for the love of -- "What?"
"I didn't need a day out."
Thank you once again, Rose Tyler, for addressing the wrong issue. Your status as a valuable sounding board is under review.
"Can't run down corridors all the time," he wheezed.
"You were tryin' to get rid of me, weren't you?"
He wasn't quite prepared for her to look so shocked. "Why?"
"This thing," he said, tapping the jacket, "is dangerous."
"So? We've done dangerous before. Every other day. That's all we ever do."
The Doctor felt something warm and sudden burning to life in his chest. After a few moments, he determined that it was his muscles cramping from being hunched over and he straightened out. He counted to ten, shook the Codex out of the jacket and kicked it off to the side, jetsam from the burning, peace never to be found -- The babble of voices seemed to intensify and he lurched forward down the shaft. The Book was a darker wedge of shadow than the surrounding gloom, though the flickering LED lights picked out the seal.
"Right, and what was that about?"
"It's safer here," he lied, mentally bookmarking the passage. Junction 6A. Remember it by the that little squiggly red line underneath the faceplate that looks like an arrow.
The little squiggly line that . . .
He paused. "Rose, does that seem out of the ordinary to you?"
"So," Vetch said, peering up unsteadily at the blue box, "this is for cleaning ducts, right?"
Harkness was rattling what looked like a door on its side. "Actually, it's a dimensionally-transcendant spaceship."
"Okay," Vetch said serenely. It wasn't his problem. He was just here to help carry things. It had been very kind of the Captain to take him along. It had been even kinder of him to let Vetch drink directly from his hip flask.
He hiccuped. "Whyzzit blue?"
"I don't know; ask the Doctor -- " Harkness threw his shoulder against the box, face screwing up fearsomely. "Oh, crap -- it's locked! I forgot that Rose has the key . . " He whirled around, leaning up against its side, hand sweeping through his dark hair. "God. I've been on 3 A.M. pub crawls that were more organized than this . . "
"Pub crawls?" slurred Vetch.
Harkness glanced at him. "Maybe you oughta give me that back, Tiger." He gently pried the sleek metal container out of the intern's clammy hands. "Gus?"
"Augustine," Vetch said absently.
"Yeah, whatever. Listen. I need some sort of tracking relay system or grid or something with enough coverage to sweep the Library grounds. Is there some sort of surveillance network I can use?"
Vetch replayed all the words Harkness used with the vague and sinking feeling that there might be a continued resurgence in activities involving being stared at by maleficent robots and sitting on viscera. "Is there . . what?"
Jack sighed, using his hands to slowly and deliberately punctuate his words. "Where. Is. A. Computer?"
Harkness frowned. "Wait. Wasn't that one guy supposed to be heading that way?"
Vetch shrugged, nearly falling over.
Jack took a deep breath. "Well. Guess it's popular today. Lead on, MacDuff."
"So," Rose hazarded after a long silence, "what the hell are we looking at?"
She was inclined to think it resembled the sum total of every New Age boutique shop that Shireen had ever dragged her into just so she could look at the jewelry. There was quartz. There was blue light. There were shimmering optic relays. There were lots and lots of wires that somehow moved through the big quartz crystals and snaked upwards around some sort of huge conduit that went upwards through the ceiling.
If there was a Yanni tape playing somewhere, you wouldn't hear it for all the humming.
They'd followed the general direction of the squiggly red arrow for about ten awful minutes, in which time the Doctor had continued to not answer her questions and the A/C had come back on twice. When they'd finally burst through the side-mounted vent, they'd been blinded by the radiance of the huge . . shiny . . . thing.
"We're under the Grid Room," the Doctor remarked. "That's part of the main processing and computational grid."
She couldn't help but be a bit impressed. "How'd you know that, then?"
He gestured to the big spindle that rose through the ceiling. "I've been up there, on the top floor. Down here's just a secondary level." He smiled disarmingly at several dour-looking Archivists who looked them up and down.
He'd been a basket case back in the vents, she thought, stretching her aching back and wincing at the crack from her protesting spine. But he'd stopped having those fits once they'd ditched that book thing. He wasn't leveling with her.
"So . . . this thing's a computer?" Well, stranger things . . . she was traveling in a Police Box, these days.
"Good thing we didn't bring the B . . . the thing with us; we'd probably make it crash or something."
He rewarded her with a sudden smile which she returned before remembering that she was annoyed with him.
"So. Our mystery rabbit likes having direct access to the Grid -- after-hours, I'm guessing; can't just barge out of ducts in plain sight -- and he likes to spirit things around. Interesting."
Rose looked up at the glowing crystal monstrosity and steadfastly refused to be impressed by it. "And he knows enough to keep the . . . thing that puts out all that interference well away from it, too."
"Maybe," the Doctor murmured, seemingly struck by a random thought. He darted over to a glowing cluster of maps that were projecting out of a globby little structure that reminded Rose of the little informational spheres that she and Jack had bought yesterday. She fumbled in her pocket and was reassured by its weight and cool, smooth feel.
The Doctor was doing something cryptic to the computerized whatever that involved flashing the sonic screwdriver at it and muttering. Random screenshots of library corridors began scrolling past her. "You looking for something, then?"
"Someone, more like."
"Oh, hey, there's the TARDIS."
"Yes," he agreed. His voice made her find a new topic. Unfortunately, that topic wasn't likely to help his mood.
"You looking for Jack, then?"
"But he can help --"
"He's done enough helping for one day, thanks."
The annoyance resurfaced. "We were worried about you."
"I didn't ask to be rescued."
"You'd have done the same for him." The silence wasn't encouraging. "Right?"
"Don't change the subject -- "
He was frowning at the screen slightly to his left. "Horten. Looks like he's in trouble."
Rose glanced at the hologram. The pudgy little man who'd collided with Vetch was gesticulating frantically at two police drones, both of which stared at him dully.
"I know him; me and Jack met him in the halls -- "
Instantly his bright gaze was on her. "Really?"
"Yeah, he was carrying all these tools and he collided with this guy who was showing us around. Seemed like he was in a rush -- "
"Did he say anything?"
"I dunno; I heard you yelling and didn't really hang about after that. The rest you know."
The Doctor turned back to the scene, eyes glinting. "Hmm."
The drones slowly moved away from Horten, who was wiping off his face with a handkerchief. He started back down a different hall, and though the Doctor frantically tried to keep up with his movement he was quickly lost from the viewscreens. The drones, however, were still in view, hovering in front of a door which magnification showed to be WMR 6.
"Wonder what's there," Rose remarked idly.
"Or who's there. C'mon!" He leapt up, grabbing her by the arm. "Work to do."
"Please say we're not goin' back in the ducts."
She sighed in relief. "Oh, great, because --"
"That's later. We're taking the stairs."
The hell. "Doctor, just where are we going now?"
He looked back over his shoulder at her, grinning just a bit madly. "We're going to see a bug about a man."
Vetch was sitting down. Vetch liked sitting down.
Harkness -- Jack -- was standing up. And yelling.
"For crying out loud!" Several Archivists turned and frowned disapprovingly. "The bastard's been through here!"
Harkness gestured angrily at the holoscreen. "Look at this configuration! Somebody bypassed the main display systems."
"Not unless he's got a sonic screwdriver."
"Oh." Vetch stared up at the spindle, wondering if there'd always been two of them. "I don't think he does -- "
"That was sarcasm, Augustine."
"Augustine," murmured Vetch automatically.
Jack gave him a long look before turning to an irritable green-suited woman who was coming at them with a clipboard. "Hi. You seen a guy with a black leather jacket wandering around?"
She scowled. "Do you have clearance to be in here?"
Jack leaned in slightly, eyes heavy-lidded. "If I'm here, I must have clearance, right?" He smiled. The Archivist flushed slightly, obviously trying to rally her thoughts.
"S'all right, Sati," Vetch explained. "He's for the ducts. Fixin' them 'n stuff."
She gave him a confused look, then suddenly seemed subject to a revelation. "Oh. So those people were with you?"
Harkness leaned in, face intent. "People? Tall guy, Northern English accent, was probably yelling or being patronizing? Blonde girl, probably yelling at him?"
Sati blinked. "Er . . . I think so. They came through that vent about, oh, ten minutes ago and were making an awful mess down here -- "
Jack sighed. "Yup. That'll be them. Didja see where they went?"
"I'm really not sure," she responded. "There were only the five of us down here, and we all had this hiccup in the power feed happening, so we sort of turned our attention to that -- "
Harkness turned back to the holoscreen. "Dammit! Why is nothing ever easy with those two?" He scanned a few screens. "How many views does this thing get?"
Vetch's mind wasn't up to snuff, but luckily Sati's was. "Two thousand, six hundred and forty-eight."
"Great. Where's this duct?"
Vetch stared peaceably at the glowing screens and their scenes of comparative peace and quiet and general lack of horrific dismemberment while Sati led Jack to the vent. After a few moments, Jack was back by his side and tinkering with a little pink hologlobe and his wrist comlink-duct-cleaning-whatever.
"You got a pink one?" Vetch asked, blinking. "Only they get -- "
"Yeah, I know what they get, Gus."
Jack shoved a feed cable into the pink globe and set it down in front of Vetch. "Look. This is what I need you to do. See this little switch here?"
"Yes -- "
"Okay, the globe's keyed to my comlink, so you can get in contact with me if you see Rose or the Doctor, right?"
Jack looked as though he might be ill. Vetch wondered if he'd left anything in the flask.
"The girl we were walking down the halls with, remember? And the other one's the guy in the jacket that I was just talking about. I need you to scroll through all these channels, and if you see them, either of them, lemme know, okay?"
Vetch felt mildly panicked. "Where're you going, then?"
Jack slapped his wristband back on. "If those two are in the ducts, they won't show up on the cameras. They can't have gotten far, and if they're doing something that pointless and stupid they'll probably need my help." He sighed. "Can you do this for me, Gus? -- Augustine. Can you do this for me?"
Vetch blinked. "I just have to sit here?"
Jack grinned brilliantly, patting Vetch's cheek. "Attaboy. I'll check in with you every five minutes, all right?"
He felt a little lost as Harkness clambered into the vent -- to the continued irritation of the local Archivists -- and only just remembered as his boots disappeared from view that he'd taken the hip flask with him.
In the largely empty-corridor, the two drones hovered. The temptation to say 'hovered expectantly' was hard to resist, but frankly these were the most bored-looking robots she'd ever seen. Granted, she hadn't seen many robots per se, but these squid things were definitely the type that made the term 'machine intelligence' a bit of an oxymoron.
"You got your phone handy?"
She automatically started to say yes, then remembered that she'd left it hooked up to the TARDIS. "Nope."
The Doctor sighed. "Fantastic. There's never a remote satellite relay when you need one."
Rose shrugged, rolling her hand around the cool metal of her globe for comfort.
After a moment, she stopped rolling it around. "Doctor? . ."
He stared at the little blue ball, expression unfathomable. Suddenly he grinned; the old, manic and infectious grin.
"Blimey, isn't it just our lucky day."
Ragusa stared at the blank walls of the West Maintainance Room (6). She had not enjoyed coming here the previous day to answer the police's questions pertaining to Trevor Selos, and whatever else had changed since yesterday, her dislike of the room had not.
Attempts at collecting her thoughts were difficult enough without remembering Horten's fatuous round face peering at her from behind the man with the compact laser. The little man. He'd had something to with all this, or her name was not Ragusaergosicatus.
Which it was. That too was constant.
And when she found that interloper, and once she found that vicious child --
There was a sudden lull in the low-frequency vibrations coming from the drones outside. Blankly the Director looked up, wondering if she was about to be interrogated or transported, or if they'd just powered down.
The door opened.
It was with an emotion situated perfectly between horror and fury that Ragusa saw the interloper and the vandal walk in through the door. The large-eared man had a decidedly unhealthy grin on his face as he walked directly up to her.
"Hullo again. You busy?"
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