Past Due by Cryptile [Reviews - 76] Chapter or Story |
Thanks to: wmr, dark_aegis, nostalgia, ponygirl, Emery_Board, aervir, and a bunch of others I've momentarily forgotten to name for writing sufficiently kickass fic that I got off my o'erworked duff and wrote again.
And thanks to elbales, because she is nice.
She should've realized that something was wrong when he stopped moving and she ran face-first into him.
There were some words and phrases that the TARDIS's linguistic processing circuits never bothered translating. Presumably that was because she really, really didn't need to know what the Doctor was saying right now.
Jack looked . . .
. . . gone. Off. His eyes were half-open, occasionally fluttering as though he was tracking something. She touched the side of his face and was terrified at how cold the side of his cheek felt against her palm.
The air conditioning kicked back into action right about then, explaining at least part of the reason for the chill, but it wasn't much of a relief.
"Rose." This much she understood.
She swallowed. "Yeah?"
He exhaled slowly, his breath clouding in the air. "You still trust me? Still want to help?"
The Doctor passed her the bundled jacket. "Here. Take the Book. Whatever else happens, don't touch it. Matter of fact, don't let anyone touch it."
Rose took the bundle reluctantly, noting how stiff and forced the Doctor's motions seemed all of a sudden. "Okay, and I do what with it?"
"Hide it. Keep it well away from the TARDIS and the main grid room."
"What . . " Rose forced her voice to sound level. "What's the matter with Jack?"
The Doctor fixed her with a long, dead stare. "He's been absorbed by the Book."
"I thought you said only Time Lords could access that, though."
He shook his head, the flat look never breaking with her own gaze. "Rose. This thing's been accessed before, probably by our thief. My presence is making it worse, making it unstable. If I get in now, I might be able to scrape Jack loose before it's too late."
Rose's jaw didn't seem attached to the rest of her skull. "But . . . wait. What?"
"No time," he responded, grimly. "Hide the Book. Cover your tracks. Don't talk to anyone. Get to the TARDIS and hole up until we get back."
"I should stay with you -- "
"Would you just once do as I ask?"
His tone hurt. Rose flinched.
"You asked me if I'd do the same for Jack, right? Rescuing him? Now you know."
"But -- "
"Now, Rose. Please."
Her mouth opened and shut a few stupid times before she mumbled, "Be careful."
"Too late," he responded grimly, and the dead look went deader.
the void is cold --
white light seeping into his mind, filling the cracks and crevices with the songs of lost time. he struggles but the horizon opens and folds around him, embracing the last orphan of a dead world
Grey pebble beach, sky overhead guttering with burning afterimages. "Jack!"
it holds him close and whispers promises it doesn't know it can't deliver; it forces him to the ground and rakes its claws across his soul, singing over his screams
but along the periphery of the sky-that-is-not-sky the math changes, the scissoring mandelbrot fields of white darkening with uncertainty
and now it knows.
and now it knows why its promises are impossible; now it knows that it serves a vacant throne --
"Ja -- "
Grey pebble beach. No ocean, but something roared --
And then, quiet.
He risked a glance upwards. The sky-that-was-not-sky was silent, now, looping its bright spindles over and over again.
It was thinking. Assessing the new information. When it finally came to a conclusion --
"Where the hell are we?"
He turned. Jack Harkness stood next to him, smug face now refreshingly haggard and drawn. That alone kept the Doctor from throttling him there and then and leaving him on the grey stones.
Well, that and the fact that the sky seemed to be momentarily still.
"No time," he rasped. "Follow my lead. We're getting out of here."
Fumbling with the unwieldy bundle, thumping around in a huge network of metal passages and getting lost every two minutes was making Rose feel like the unluckiest bug to ever get dropped into M.C. Escher's ant farm.
The fact she was now effectively alone was that much worse.
All right. What would the Doctor do?
-- Oh, brilliant. She already knew what he'd done, the stupid -- Fine. What about Jack? Jack would . . . what would he do? Go in with a blaster and demand answers, or just tell the local authorities what nice eyes they had?
She couldn't even go to the authorities, could she? They'd remember her from the other day when she and Jack had tried to fob them off with the psychic paper, prior to running off like a pair of juvenile delinquents who'd been caught nicking from the till. Great plan that had been. Hers.
Rose bit her lip. This did not actually make her feel better.
Assets. The Doctor was always making her list assets. What do we know, what have we got, has anyone seen my sandwich, I just put it down --
All right. Rose Tyler. Age 19. Ex-shopgirl, no A-Levels, knows how to spell "TARDIS" and remembers at least four of the words it describes. Good with climbing ropes. Assistant to the alien who routinely saves the world; nearly destroyed it herself on two occasions --
She was starting to get the decidedly unwelcome suspicion that she was more than a bit useless.
But wasn't that just the charm of traveling with the Doctor? That everything was always done for you? That there'd always be a nice prosaic explanation once all the running and screaming was done with, and when you were all laughing over chips?
Was it too much to ask for a big flashing sign every now and then?
Furiously Rose gripped the coat, remembering that she wasn't supposed to touch the contents directly. For all the Doctor's skittishness about the Book, the little she'd seen of it hadn't been that impressive -- except now her head felt a bit funny, like something was pressing against the side of her skull. Once or twice she thought she heard voices . . .
She wasn't that clever after all, was she? Good for bantering and not much else. Here she was, trying to figure out how to hide a bloody book while Jack was lying back there like a puppet with the strings cut and the Doctor was getting his brain written over by the very same bloody book and she couldn't do anything meaningful to help, and was currently lost --
Rose choked back a sob, gripping the edges of the jacket. I will not be useless. I will not be useless.
At least, not anymore.
Red squiggle on the side of the duct. Grid Room was ten minutes away from here, and the Doctor had said to keep the Book away from there, but on the other hand --
Rose carefully deposited the jacket in the same place where the Doctor had dumped the Codex not half an hour before. The Grid Room had that scanning system that he'd been looking through; if she could use it to find a better hiding place and keep an eye out for anything weird --
'Weird' being a relative turn, what with your two best mates getting lobotomized by a living book.
"Okay," said Jack, "so you're a bit upset -- "
"'A bit', he says. 'A bit'. Yeah, Flyboy; I'm upset. More than 'a bit', too."
"And you're well within your rights -- "
"Damn straight I'm well within my rights. Not that you know what my rights even are. See my hand, down here? -- That's you, on the subject of my rights. See my other hand? the one up here? -- That's the pinnacle of ultimate comprehension on the subject of the Doctor's rights, with special emphasis on the field of entitlement pertaining to anger generated by time-slumming confidence tricksters with more teeth than brain cells movin' my TARDIS around like a drunken car-park attendant who's nicked the keys to -- "
"Like I said, upset."
The Doctor grinned. It was not one of his more pleasant grins. It was actually a holdover from the last body, a mannerism that he'd picked up towards the end of -- the end of the conflict that he was resolutely and steadfastly not thinking about -- when the defeats kept mounting and the casualties increased just as rapidly and as he found himself resorting to actions he'd have decried with all his strength only a few decades back just to keep the players on the field --
"Like you said, upset," he said through his teeth.
"But you won't just tell me where we are?"
The Doctor fixed his gaze on the endless grey horizon. He'd been looking for a black rock for ages now, but for whatever reason it wasn't turning up. Overhead, the sky boiled in its furious attempt to come to terms with the outside universe. As respites go, it wasn't that reassuring . . .
"Aw, c'mon; don't I deserve a little -- "
"Save it for Rose, Captain. If we get out of here, and yes, that's a big 'if', I may just explain it all to you someday." Right before he stranded him in the Western Spiral Arm's equivalent of the Deep South.
"Look, one minute I'm crawling through the ducts looking for you idiots; next minute I'm stuck on the Planet of Infinite Rock Quarries. Last time something like this happened, they had to swap my liver out with a new tissue graft afterwards." He paused. "And they never did find the goat."
"What part of that was supposed to endear you to me, again?"
"Oh, trust me, I've just about given up on that ever happening."
the screaming of the deathless ones, and all things fall before the oncoming storm
Buckling as his knees wouldn't support him, hands scraping the unreal stones. The Book had made up its mind.
And its mind was going to be made up of his.
Hands were on his shoulder, trying to shake him upright. "Way to trip."
The Doctor furiously tried to shake him away. "Didn't trip. Codex. Matrix. Voices . . . " His vision swam, blurring the grey landscape even further. White lightning seeped across the dome of the sky. Looking for them. Looking for him.
This time, he knew it wouldn't let him slip away.
"Jack." His voice caught in his throat, sounding like he was speaking around a fist.
The human's face was wary, but strangely vulnerable as he bent down beside him. "Yeah?"
This probably wouldn't work, but . . . "Memory. Your most vivid memory. Somethin' you remember in every detail. Somethin' you could describe backwards and forwards."
"Doc, are you -- "
He gripped him by the collar of his shirt. "D'you want to get out of here?"
Jack's eyes strayed to the seething sky, to the rocky ground. "Hell yes."
"Then concentrate. Every detail. Every possible detail."
voices, dead voices
"Concentrate -- "
Mars, Bringer of War reclines on a bed of human skin, glancing with contempt at a lithe Apollo and a particularly impish Mercury cavorting with Dionysus and his rather comically exaggerated endowment.
As far as mosaics went, this was definitely not the kind that got center stage at the British Museum.
The Doctor stared at it, acutely aware of how his focus on the tiles shifted periodically, seeming rimmed with haze. Almost as though he was looking through someone else's memories . . .
He was uncomfortably aware of a general freeness around his nether regions, as well as an alarming lack of verticality. There was also an arm around his shoulder.
He turned his head to the side. Jack wasn't wearing much, either, other than a lazy grin.
"So. Galerius. Second thoughts on my offer?"
"I'm definitely reconsiderin' where I stand on the subject of your continued existence."
A crease appeared on Jack's otherwise smooth face. He looked slightly younger, the Doctor noticed, and his hairstyle was more closely-cropped.
"Sorry? I thought you were having a good time. It sure seemed to me like you were having a good time . . " Jack's fingers traced lazy circles on the Doctor's shoulder. A quick once-over indicated that it was not, in fact, the Doctor's shoulder, unless he'd developed two new moles without noticing.
"This is the Doctor speaking, you oversexed git."
Jack's faced creased even more, and then suddenly snapped back into the more familiar expression of alert derision that the Doctor knew and tolerated. "Whoops. Sorry. Thought you were -- "
"Yeah, I noticed," he responded, removing Jack's arm from his (now black-jacketed) shoulder. "Honestly. This is the one thing you remember best of all?"
Jack rubbed his face, seeming confused. " . . wait. What are we doing here? We . . we were in the quarry -- "
The Doctor sighed, getting out of the bed -- or rather, the smashed-together series of couches littered with cushions, half-full goblets and pliant, sleeping girls in various states of extreme undress. "No. We were in, and are in an artificially-maintained reality generated and maintained by my subconscious. That white stuff attacking the edges was the host program attempting to assimilate my brain into the neural architecture for a massive data transfer."
Say what you would about the debauched lout; at least he dealt with explanations better than Rose.
The Doctor sidestepped a puddle of what he hoped was just wine and moved around the room, grateful for the lack of noise in his head. Frescoes, flowers, a balcony -- He frowned, squinted off into the distance. "Hang on. This is Pompeii?"
"Yep. 48 hours before Volcano Day." Jack leant on the balustrade, turning his head towards a particularly mind-bending sunset. "God. This is one hell of a simulation; I can even taste the air . . "
The Doctor glanced down. "How about simulating some clothes?"
"What, you don't like the view?"
"Of Mount Vesuvius? -- Yes. Of Harkness Minor? Not much."
"Prude." Mercifully, the getup from before materialized. "There. Happy?"
"Hardly." The Doctor glanced out at the city, which reminded him uncomfortably of Alezhandria glowing in the late sun. This wasn't his day for doomed cities. "We need to get moving."
"Out of this simulation. Out of the Matrix."
"What, like those old Earth mov -- "
Vetch had heard nothing but static on the commlink for twenty minutes. Now that sobriety was slowly rearing its hoary head, he was starting to suspect that things were probably very, very complicated in the ducts and that Jack was no doubt devoting all his attention to saving the world or finding his coworkers or whatever the hell was going on anyway.
So when the blonde girl lurched out of the duct -- cursing and grunting loudly enough to drive the local Archivists to despair -- Vetch managed a sickly grin before realizing that this was probably going to be a problem.
"You. Show me how to work this thing."
Vetch blinked. "What?"
"These screen thingies. I need you to show me how they work."
"Are you Harkness's assistant?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Yeah."
"He's looking for you, you know. Oh. You met up with him?"
The girl just stared at him for a long moment. "Sort of, yeah. Only I need to scope something out. D'you mind?"
Vetch found himself being forcibly nudged out of the way and desperately tried not to notice the parts of her that brushed against his chest. "I'm not, uh, quite sure you know how to work this properly, Miss . . . "
"Tyler. Rose Tyler. We met before, remember?" Her eyes flew over the screens, brow furrowed. "Easier than it looks. Now where did he . . . "
"Only," Vetch said, averting his eyes as she leaned further, "I'm supposed to be watching these screens for you and that other man; the Captain said it was important . . ."
"That's nice . . " she muttered, attention fixed on the screens.
Vetch swallowed. "He even gave me a commlink and everything."
Despair clawed its way into his voice. "To be honest, I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing right now."
Tyler snorted. "You an' me both."
"Can I go now, you think? Or should I wait until he calls back?"
She sighed heavily. "I dunno if he'll be calling anytime soon." Her throat seemed to constrict slightly.
"Oh. Is there something wrong, then? Because," he added hastily, "I'm really not the one to talk to about this sort of problem. I'm really more of an, uh, Archivist-in-training."
"Yeah . . . " Her voice trailed off. Vetch didn't quite catch the irritated edge creeping into it.
"I mean, I drop things all the time. Well, I say all the time; not strictly true but I spill things a lot -- "
"And spilling's kind of like dropping, but more horizontal-ish. Though it does sort of fall down, too, so -- "
"Shut up," Tyler snapped. Her eyes were fixed on a screen in the bottom left-hand corner of the viewgrid. Visiscreen 188; the one with the two robots lying down outside WMR 6. "Waaaaaiiiit . . ." she drawled, tapping her chin, eyes flashing. "Now there's a thought . . . "
"They've been out for a while," he said, anxious to make amends. "I, uh, didn't see it happen, but -- "
"I was there," she responded, eyes narrowed. "Hang on. What's he doing back there?"
Vetch watched in some confusion, only just realizing that Archivist Horten was bent over one of the inert drones, frantically splicing exposed wires back together. "That's really not his department, is it?" he asked unsteadily, hoping to find common conversational ground and not to notice Tyler sinking against him. "I mean, he could get in trouble with that. Tampering with private . . . with police property. Right?"
"Yeah . . " she responded, watching intently. "His name's Horten, right?"
The little man threw up his hands and pounded the side of the drone in frustration. He removed some sort of (oddly familiar?) device from his waistband and began tapping it, furiously.
Instantly, both drones lurched upright, bobbing like drunken balloons. Horten mouthed something terse at them and they followed him back down the corridor.
Before he had time to remark on this turn of events, Tyler was staring him in the face. "You. Track him. Don't let him out of your sight. I'll be back here in a bit; just keep your eye on him whatever happens. Got it?"
This was turning into the strangest maintenance problem Vetch had ever heard of. "All right?"
"Great. Thanks." Rose Tyler and her midriff clambered back into the duct, leaving Vetch alone with his hangover and a heightened sense of importance.
It took him several long moments to remember what he was supposed to be doing.
Rose adjusted the bundle neatly under her arm, gripping it as tightly as she dared, and quietly peered around the corner.
Nothing. Just an ordinary library-of-the-future corridor. Right.
She sank down onto the floor, legs aching. She knew now why the Doctor hadn't wanted to use the elevators; with the Book fluctuating like that, getting stuck in a lift was asking for trouble.
She still hated those stairs with an undying and eternal passion.
Her knees felt ready to fall off, but she slipped noiselessly down the hall and in front of the door that she and the Doctor had breezed through -- well, he had breezed through less than an hour beforehand.
It took all the strength she could muster to turn the handle.