Rose trusted the Doctor. Sometimes she thought she trusted him too much.
She knew he'd do something clever with the blue globe, and of course he did. She wasn't sure if a "multi-phase induced waveform pulse circuit" actually existed, but when it came to technobabble she'd learned just to nod and look hopeful. Maybe cock her head to the side and peer up expectantly.
Even if she had gotten her A-levels, they wouldn't have clarified just how the Doctor had managed to disable the two floating squid things with a cheery grin and a click of a button and a flippant remark about calamari which her brain deliberately forgot as a self-preservation measure.
After all, part of the appeal of traveling with the Doctor was that it was that it was all done for you, wasn't it? You just followed, looked hopeful -- deliberately suppressed the homicidal rage that welled from never ever being told just what was wrong and why, of being treated like a clever but worrisome dog -- and eventually everything would work out fine.
Rose trusted the Doctor. But she really didn't understand how he'd walked directly up to the chittering space lobster and stood right under its clacking jaws.
"Don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm the Doctor; this is Rose Tyler. Didn't get a chance to thank you for your lifeguard duty, earlier -- "
The thing screeched. Rose instantly turned to the door, realizing it had already swung shut behind them. The handle wasn't moving.
"Doctor -- "
He didn't turn around; merely held up a hand. "S' all right. Just take a breather." Fat chance.
The -- the whatever the Doctor had called it -- was even bigger in the closed confines of the little room. Every bad dream about spiders crawling over Rose's face, every dead crab on the beach, every acid-dripping xenomorph that Mickey'd bashed up from a kit -- they had nothing on this.
"You," it hissed at the Doctor. "You. You were in my office."
"Thought it was yours; yeah." He held out a hand. "You'd be Ragusa, maybe?"
The mandibles -- there were four -- all parted in a hideous snarl. Two split on either side; two others arched over the bottom pair. The mouth underneath did not in fact contain a second head, but the fact that it was decked out like an iron maiden wasn't much comfort. How the hell had this thing done CPR on the Doctor without removing his face?
"Director to you, primate."
"Doctor to you, Director." He proffered the hand again, and Rose waited for the monster to rip it off. The monster, however, merely glowered at it as though it contained a cup of drawn butter. "Can we talk?"
"If it is to be about -- hrrst -- compensation for what your -- hrrst -- idiot associate did to those books, then yes, by all means let us -- hrrst -- talk. Be very sure that I have much to say on the matter."
The black eyes glittered as they swung up to regard Rose, and she felt herself sinking back against the door. "Doctor . . "
The Doctor's hand drifted up between the monster's gaze and Rose's. "Hullo. Funny you should mention it; I was wondering about a book. A very specific book."
The thing's head slowly swiveled down to meet his gaze. "Why are you here?"
"Ooh, ontologically speaking, that's tricky -- "
The horrible jaws clattered open again. Spiny growths started to rise all along the creature's back. "HRRST."
"See, this book's not really something that should be floating around. It's dangerous. --Well, all books are dangerous; power of an open mind pen mightier than sword et cetera et cetera nada y pues nada -- " He blinked, then continued. "Anyway. This book. Black. Pages that dance. Fiddley little metal thing on the cover. Probably very hard to catalogue, owing to the lack of printing information or publishing dates or subject matter or author, not to mention it's probably melted any machines you've run it through . . "
As he rattled on, the creature -- Ragusa? -- slowly leant forward, fangs skittering. Rose watched them move, wishing that the Doctor was aware of them, wishing she could get words out of her throat, wishing she'd just stayed in bed this morning --
"So," the Doctor said brightly, turning back around to face the beast, "according to my sources, you were in charge of this thing. And apparently two Archivists under you went missing a while back. And yesterday I stumbled over a corpse in an alley that everyone says was a third Archivist, also under you." He paused. "Why are you under guard here, anyway?"
"As though -- hrrst -- you do not know."
"Wouldn't ask if I did." He smiled. This had roughly the same effect on Ragusa that fabric softener had on granite. "Oh, c'mon, Director. I'm wanted for this murder just because I tripped in a back alley."
The creature regarded him blackly. "By your own admission, you are not affiliated with the police. Hrrst. I see no reason to confide in you." Claws lowered slightly. "I will wait for my lawyer and keep my own counsel until then, rather than speak with," here she looked contemptuously down at him, "a damp stranger with a quick tongue."
"Quick tongue; quicker mind. I may be damp, but I'm not wet. And you can't call a lawyer if you disappear, Director. You might be next on the list."
"That sounds like a threat."
"Not me that's makin' it. Don't you at least want to know if we're on the same side?" He gave her a long, steady look.
After what seemed to Rose like an eternity, Ragusa relented. "I am sitting in this -- hrrst -- room because entrails fell out of my ceiling after you left," she grated, the four spiny arms slowly raising. "I suspect that you were involved somehow. You are not endearing me to your idiocies, 'Doctor.'"
"Give me time, give me time." He looked up into its face. "You've got questions, right?"
Ragusa merely hissed.
"Foremost being: 'who's framed me and how do I put things right?'"
The lobster's mandibles closed, slowly. "And the Book features how?"
"You tell me. It was under your care. Or rather, under the care of those two who were under you. So. Tell me about them."
"Hrrst. I fail to follow your line of reasoning."
The Doctor made small, patient gestures with his hands. "If I remember, Horten said -- "
"Horten?" Ragusa's spines went hedgehog again, sending Rose back up against the door, jiggling the handle for all she was worth. "You've been talking to that miserable waste of -- hrrrrrrrrrrrssssssssscccccckkkk -- "
He merely arched an eyebrow, folding his arms. Rose was beginning to think that she really needed to stop trusting the Doctor this much.
"So," he said calmly, once Ragusa had gotten that out of her system, "maybe you should fill me in on Lyn and the other one."
"Patrick. Patrick Grimwade." The claws flexed. Rose tried the handle some more, prompting the beast to look up at her sharply. "Hrrst. Stop that, child. It is vexing."
The Doctor half-turned to her, then swayed back to face Ragusa. "So. Why would you have killed them?"
"Are you accusing -- "
"Motives. Finding motives. Did they know anything you'd want kept secret? About the Book, maybe?"
"They were dependable. Lyn was naive, but not stupid. She refused -- hrrst -- to let Horten near the Book or any of the translated portions after -- hrrst -- I gave her full custodianship of it. After she disappeared, it went to Grimwade."
The Director's spines lowered along the side of her carapace, rattling slightly; for some reason Rose thought of cattails bending in the breeze. The huge body slowly sank onto the ground, all six legs folding up around the bulbous carapace with little scraping sounds that made Rose wince. Ragusa seemed, if not relaxed, at least more restrained. Her head was still higher than the Doctor's, though his neck was no longer tilted at such a sharp angle.
"I had known Grimwade since -- hrrst -- his very first assignment here, as an intern. He had an exceptional talent for translations and a good head for figures."
The Doctor folded his arms, sizing her up. "Could've made him a liability, him poking around in your private affairs."
Black eyes narrowed. "Hrrst. There were no private affairs to speak of. The Book was of limited interest to me; it is only now that I find myself beset by complications pertaining to it."
"So you didn't off him, either?"
"Patrick Grimwade was my friend," she responded, voice clipped. "I was assured of his trustworthiness after -- hrrst -- no fewer than thirty-eight years working alongside him. The two of us as a team were responsible for cataloging and updating the Special Collection's database; we succeeded where five other taskforces failed. It was he that I asked to handle this infernal book of yours, trusting in his good sense and -- hrrst -- reliability. He was a human of exceptional character and intelligence and the thought --" her spines were bristling now " -- of being accused of murdering him for the sake of a piece of space trash incites me to rage, Doctor."
The Doctor seemed unfazed, staring up into Ragusa's hissing maw. "Really."
The Time Lord fixed her with a leaden stare. "So. What would it take for you to kill someone?"
The mandibles contracted and flexed silently. Rose was vaguely aware of her own hands curling protectively around the handle behind her.
Oblivious, the Doctor continued, his voice at odds with the coldness seeping into the room. "After all, you're an Archivist. You like order. You like things being neat and in the right place. You don't like people interfering with the workings of stuff you've spent ages sorting out. You probably hate budget cutbacks and barcoding and people who get filth all over the photocopier. What would make you chuck your ethics out the window?"
The answer, when it came, was low and deliberate and without sibilation. "I don't know. I am not a murderer."
The Doctor looked down briefly, about to follow up when Ragusa interrupted him. "Perhaps I should ask you the same question."
Rose saw his back stiffen, sensed his gaze locking to the floor.
Ragusa's voice continued, still clipped and metallic and horrible. "I have -- hrrrst -- worked in this place for nearly a century, Doctor. Do not presume -- as your young companion already has -- that my -- hrrst -- unconventionally alien appearance renders me incapable of judging emotional response."
Her spines lowered, but her words grated on. "I have met and known more of these people than I care to think on. Petty, obsessive minds, many of them. Enamored of the status quo. Afraid of change. Better suited to lives spent cataloguing human history than lives spent making it. Better suited to preserving wisdom rather than -- hrrst -- applying it." She leaned towards him, the interlocking plates of her chest clacking softly. "And then I meet people like you, Doctor. Playing the hero. Barging in and acting as though -- hrrst -- you can solve the world's problems by asking flippant questions."
His head swung up. He still said nothing. Rose was glad not to see his eyes.
Ragusa angled her thorny head to the side, black eyes glinting. "I may be -- hrrst -- nothing more than a minor component in this overall structure. Perhaps obsessive. Perhaps joyless. Decidedly overworked. But that is all I need to be. Hrrst. I am an Archivist. I put things in order because someone must. You cause disorder. You and your kind."
The Doctor now spoke, his voice seeming strangely controlled, distant. "And whose kind is Horten, then?"
The mandibles clicked shut.
Time Lord and Archivist locked gazes, before Ragusa finally looked off to the side. "His reasons are not known to me."
"Tell me about Horten."
"You have met him --"
"You're such an observer; you must have an observation. Who is Maxwell Horten?"
The alien's spines flattened along her back. The ever-grasping claws stilled momentarily. "A little man with a large name. His kin-group's history extends far back into Alezhandrian memory. They were among the first settlers here."
"That supposed to be relevant?" the Doctor cut in. Ragusa's head swung back around, irritably.
"If you had -- hrrst -- been subject to his long-winded discourses on this subject for as long as we have, you would doubtless count it so. His division of the Archives deals exclusively with Alezhandria's past. He rarely leaves the Library, other than for occasional -- hrrst-- guest lectures at the University. As far as I am aware he has never left this satellite."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow, as if to say that Ragusa wasn't one to talk. "Megalomaniac?"
Ragusa sniffed, or at least Rose assumed that was what she'd done. Impressive, considering she didn't have a nose. "Self-important, yes. Hardly maniacal."
"So what would he want with the Book, then?" the Doctor mused, pivoting on his heel. Rose suppressed the urge to warn him against turning his back on the alien. Ragusa, however, merely glowered.
"Hrrst. I do not presume to know. The little I was told of this book seems to indicate that it has --hrrst-- abilities in regard to showing the past, though I am disinclined to believe this."
A single mandible twitched imperiously. "Such things are not possible, Doctor. Surely you know this?"
He smiled without showing any teeth. Rose knew that smile. That was the one you kept your eyes peeled for.
"You must've thought it did something, to keep it away from Horten."
Ragusa's bottom set of claws started to move in a strange and unsettling manner; it took Rose a moment to realize she was somehow crossing her arms. The top pair of claws still floated tensely by her sides.
"I 'kept it away' from Horten for the simple reason that he was interfering with its being catalogued. And after Lyn and Grimwade voiced their concerns to me in regard to -- hrrst -- the Book's power output, I decided that it was too dangerous to allow unauthorized persons access to it, supposed temporal abilities or not."
"What if it could show you the past?"
"Hrrst. Then Horten would've grafted it onto his skin."
The Doctor smiled that worrying smile, again. Rose felt herself bracing for . . . well, something.
"And what if it could show you the future?"
Ragusa's bottom two arms unfolded. "Impossible. The future is a fluid entity; there are no set events."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," the Doctor drawled. "For the sake of argument, Director, if the world ends tomorrow, what would you do about it?"
The giant blinked slowly. "Hrrst?"
"Let me put it this way: what do you love more than anything else in this world?"
Ragusa seemed momentarily taken aback. One of the mandibles arched slowly over the lower two, as though uncertain.
The Doctor merely stood, calm, unfazed.
"Only one thing?" Ragusa's voice sounded almost confused, then rapidly slid back into its normal irritated rasp. "There is no one thing. My work -- my finished work. Efficiency. Things that function properly."
"What about your family? Friends?"
"Where are you going with this line of questioning, Doctor?"
"The world's burning. You're an Archivist. You can save one thing from the fire, Ragusa. What is it?"
The mandibles clacked in irritation. "This is ridiculous --"
"I don't -- "
"You're asking two different questions --"
"One thing from the fire."
"They are mutually exclusive -- "
His voice was suddenly ruthless, cold. "Fire's here. What do you save?"
"I -- "
Ragusa lurched as though his words had been blows, spines rippling in agitation. "I -- I do not know."
Rose's breath couldn't move past her throat.
"Not good enough," the Doctor said, still terrible, still inexorable. "You're losing everything you've ever had. Everything you could have had. Everything you are. Everything you were. If you don't make a choice and soon, the fire won't leave anything. Time's running out. Everything's going up in flames.
"What do you save?"
"I -- "
"Nothing!" the creature hissed, a claw raised in front of her head as though shielding herself from his tone.
The Doctor slowly rocked back on his heels, his look ossifying into something unreadable. Rose's veins had winter in them.
Ragusa slowly lowered her arm, staring at the Time Lord with a mixture of loathing and fear. "Well? Was that the answer you were looking for? Was that what you wanted to hear?"
"Not really," he responded.
Rose slowly let her breath out. Ragusa seemed to be doing the same, though how the alien managed that was beyond her.
"Then what -- "
"See, it's a tricky answer," the Doctor said, swiveling on his heel slightly. "A psychopath might answer like that. Then again, you might just be a nihilist. Of course, your average Buddhist monk on the street would probably answer the same." He looked calm, but Rose could see that the hands in those jacket pockets were balled into fists.
She had to interject. "Well, yeah; but if you give them the Spanish Inquisition like that , anyone'll talk."
He turned to her, tapping the side of his nose. "But what would they say, Rose; what would they say . . "
"Whatever you want, if you pull that head games stuff."
The Doctor shook his head. "Missing the point. Philosophical outlooks on existence. Worldviews influence reactions, and vice versa."
"That is so much crap."
He merely pivoted back to Ragusa. "You don't think you're doing anything useful here at the Library?"
She merely glowered.
His voice dropped, grew quieter. "There aren't many of you left, are there?"
Ragusa's mandibles twitched convulsively. "Hrrst?"
"Your lot. Archivists. Rest of the Empire all gearing up for the new technology; a chicken in every pot and a hole in every head. You're a gatekeeper to a world of information. Like you said, you 'put things in order'. But if everyone and anyone's a gatekeeper, what does that matter? All your systems and structures and procedures, poof, like that. Microfiles and digital archives chucked in a bin where no one's ever going to call them up. Just because some silly monkeys opt for trepanation instead of actually learning the Dewey Decimal System."
She seemed dazed. "The . . . what?"
"Doesn't matter. Point is, Ragusa, you care about your work more than anything else?"
"I . . yes."
"But you wouldn't save it from extinction?"
Her voice had a rattle in it that had nothing to do with her being alien. Rose heard despairing resignation. "From extinction? . . Time is inexorable. There is nothing -- hrrst -- that will not one day be outdated. For . . . for years I have known this. We cannot -- hrrst -- resurrect the dead. We merely clean their graves." She slumped forward, defeated.
The Doctor, still pivoting, half-turned away from both the alien and the human girl, presenting them with the back of his jacket. Neither could see his face. Rose needed to see his face. "And you're hating it."
"Feelings are not important. The work goes on. Better -- hrrst -- better an ordered grave than an open one. I would rather have it said we left the database intact rather than cast it to the winds."
"Posterity and all that."
Ragusa merely shook her head. For all that she still looked like something Gieger had dreamt up after a bad Mardi Gras, Rose suddenly felt horrible for her. "This is no country for old men."
"Maybe. Never saw the appeal of mechanical nightingales, though . ." The Doctor winced again, as though something was giving him a headache. "Brings me back to my original question. Maxwell Horten. One thing from the fire. What does he save?"
"Do you really need me to tell you this?"
Tight-lipped smile. "For the sake of argument, Director, please."
She stared at him, black eyes glinting. "Alezhandria."
He nodded curtly. "Right. Thanks for your time; we'll just be off, then. Rose?" He made a sideways motion of his head. "Up for some more duct spelunking?"
"That a rhetorical question? Only you've been so big on those, lately -- " She tapped the door. "Can't you just unlock it?"
"No point. What we want's up here. And this time, I know where we're going."
Rose found herself wishing for a pitchfork. "Oh. Great. Well, what about -- " she made a vague gesture at the silent alien, then bit the bullet, "What about her?"
The Doctor turned back to the Archivist. "The guards outside are dreaming of electric sheep. If you still want to wait for your lawyer, you can stick about, but I don't think anyone's coming. Figure you could handle a puny door pretty well." He commandeered the battered desk from the northeast corner of the room and dragged it underneath the room's ventilation shaft.
Ragusa watched them clamber over the desk in bemused silence, speaking only when the Doctor reached the vent. "And you, Doctor?"
He ducked his head back down. "Yeah?"
Her voice managed to be blunt and sharp at the same time. "The fire. Hrrst. What do you save?"
Of course, he didn't answer.
Entrails, sonic screwdrivers, Gallifreyan artifacts. All in the same place. Convergences. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, thrice is design. Except when it isn't.
TARDIS bits gone missing. Service ducts. Grid Room. Robots? Think. Think.
"Doctor, what was all that about?"
"I'll explain later." Stabbing light behind the eye just there. Definitely getting closer. He was glad he'd memorized the service duct readout in the Grid Room, though the scuffmarks and occasional red squiggle indicated that the Easter Bunny had been through here at least once before.
Behind him, a long sigh. "Say that a lot, don't you?"
"I mean it," he lied. "Explanations once we're home and dry. But, in case you didn't get a whiff, the ol' jacket's still damp, so just hang on."
A pause, and then, in a lower voice: "I trust you, you know."
Oh. She just had to say that. Now it was the Doctor's turn to sigh, a long, gusty sound that momentarily startled him.
Rose thought she trusted him. But what did she know about who he was? All she knew was what he'd told her; what he'd shown her of his life and methods and behavior and frankly, it wasn't the way it had always been.
She only knows what she's told. Poor, brave, lucky Rose.
"I'm the last Time Lord."
He didn't owe them anything, least of all the truth. Especially the truth about this.
"The Matrix extrapolates data from the living minds of Time Lords."
But then, she'd learn sooner or later. There would be a day when she wouldn't just follow him into ducts, when she wouldn't storm the gates looking for him, when she wouldn't face off with giant crustaceans to keep him safe.
There'd be a day when the penny dropped and she grasped the full enormity of the Time War, not seeing it as some piddling skirmish with pepperpots but as a jagged wound in reality that could never, ever be repaired or unmade, with him as the architect of ruin, he the all-consuming fire --
Let her hear at least some of the truth from him before the Universe shoved the worst bits in her face.
"And because there's only me now, all it's got left to show is what's in my head."
It took her a moment to grasp the full implication of this. "So . . oh, god. Anyone who gets it, they can see inside your --"
"Just so you know, all those other problems I mentioned before, the energy output and -- "
"But still -- "
He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling very, very old. "Yeah. Still. Lot of history in this old thing." He did not add, and so much of it turned out not to be real, after all. "Lots of technical information. Secrets I was supposed to keep. Stuff no one should ever get their mitts on."
"So . . . " Rose's face was screwed up in concern. "Someone's got all your know-how and is tryin' to use the Book for something?"
"That's my guess, yeah."
She let out a long, low, shuddering breath. "Great. Is it these Rutans?"
He shook his head, trying to clear some of the noises out. "Nope."
"And not whatserface."
Well, at least she'd stopped calling her 'that thing.' "Ragusa? -- No. Whatever else she is, she isn't our murderer. Or our thief. I've got some pretty nasty suspicions, but --"
the screaming of the deathless ones, and all things fall before the oncoming storm --
Through the blinding burst of white, her voice. "Doctor? What's wrong?"
The Doctor exhaled, letting his head fall back and hit the wall. "The Book's awake."
"You're talking like it's alive."
"Undead, more like. But it's sending out signals. Trying to find me." He sighed again, this time sharply. "And it'll gut my mind and open the core of the TARDIS and probably warp the fabric of reality nine ways from sideways."
Rose's mouth moved up and down, calling to mind a particularly confused goldfish. "What? Why?"
He looked her in the eye, trying to remember how he'd been able to do the one look that made people's insides liquify and their propensity for asking involving questions fade. But the voices, dead voices were too loud, and her face too worried, and the slivers of brown fighting with the grey of her irises reminded him of the way the shattered remains of Earth had drifted across the surface of the Sun --
fire laps at the corners of his vision. the storm spares nothing --
He took a deep breath. "It was the original basis for the Matrix, yeah? Only, no one cut it off from the source like they were supposed to. And now it's reverting to form. Trying to rebuild it. And again, it's only got my memories to go on." Involuntary shuddering of his hand was due only to his leaning on it; he shifted to his elbow. "It'll absorb me. I'm linked to the TARDIS, so she'll get sucked in as well, and -- well. There was a reason the Book wasn't a coffee table edition . . . "
"And you can't stop it?"
"Not indefinitely. If my people were still around -- "
He didn't know he'd choke on the words, but grimly stumbled through the rest of the sentence. "If they were still around, there'd be a counterbalance. We -- they'd have been able to diffuse and disperse the Book properly. But the equation's imbalanced."
Her hand was in his. Odd, that. Normally he noticed that sort of thing straight off the bat. "So how do we get it right, then?"
He shook his head. "Dunno. Was going to figure it out once we'd gotten out of here, but if the TARDIS isn't working by the time the Rutans get here -- "
he tries to explain that there was no choice, but the sigil looms--
"sskkttttttttt -- Vetch? You gettin' -- sskkkkkkkkkkkccchchchhhh"
Vetch started, staring guiltily back up at the holoscreens in front of him. "Mmmph! What? Sorry?"
"ccckkkk -- I said, can you hear me? You're starting to break up; must be some kinda interference --"
The intern considered this. "Oh. Right. But you're moving away from th' Grid Room, so . . ." He let his voice trail off. Harkness had wanted him to look for something, hadn't he? Someone? He was normally so good with directions; but for some reason it felt as though his brain had been removed from the rest of him and wrapped in muslin and placed on a high shelf and allowed to gather dust and then nibbled by mice --
"Uh," Vetch faltered, "you're breaking up."
"sskkkktttttttt -- voices? 'Cause it sounds like -- ggrrrrccchhhkkkkktttt"
Vetch blinked, wondering why two of the robots guards were lying down over on Visiscreen 188. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"rrrccchhhhkkkktttttt -- er mind. There's something here -- ssskkkkkkkkkkccchchchcchchhh"
Terrible visions of distended viscera danced in Vetch's head. "What? Oh no. Is it -- "
"skkkkttttttttttt -- looks like a book? Hang on -- ssssskkkkkccchchchchccchhhhhhhhhhttttttt"
Vetch waited for the better part of ten minutes before it occurred to him that maybe Jack wasn't going to be calling back.
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