The good news is, big chunks of Past Due got themselves written. This . . . is a short bit.
Dedicated to They Who Endure.
There is music everywhere, if you know where to listen.
Take, for example, the staggered syncopation of six heavy, armor-plated legs unevenly making their way across a marble floor; add in the heavy wheezing of a giant cheliloricatid as a counterpoint. A rising and ominous hum of approaching drones serves nicely as a middle section, and a teenaged human singing "dammit dammit dammit" under her breath completes the ensemble.
All they needed now, Ragusa thought dazedly, were some animated bluebirds to alight on the girl's shoulder and they'd be set.
This did not seem like one of her normal trains of thought, but repeated electrocution allows for some variance in normal cognitive processes.
"Dammit dammit dammit -- "
"Are we -- hrrst -- are we -- what are we doing, exactly?"
The human -- Rose -- was halfway down the hall and obviously wanted to be much further away, though that was no doubt due to the increasing whine of the drones and less because of Ragusa. Unfortunately, the Director was not terribly fast at the best of times, and now with parts of her nervous system feeling as though they'd been batter-fried the situation was not improved.
Rose loped a few paces back towards Ragusa. "We gotta get back to the Grid Room. Don't ask me why, but we gotta get back to the Grid Room -- "
"I told you not to ask why, I'll explain later, but right now we -- "
Rose's expression froze as she stared at something behind Ragusa. "Run!"
The Director didn't have to turn around to see the drone; the heavy vibration was clue enough. "Hrrst. I can't."
"Oh -- " The human shifted her grasp on the bundled-up jacket. "D'you think you can, you know, fight it then?"
"Hrrrstttt?! I could not -- hrrst -- could barely hold my own against the last drone, what makes you think -- "
The girl's eyes, still fixed on whatever was down the hall, widened suddenly.
"S'pose that means fightin' two is out of the question?"
The light hitting the tiles under Ragusa's scrabbling legs were at the angle that indicated it was just after one. Normally, she had a nourishing cup of nutrient mix in a hot Earl Grey infusion around this time of day. She would have very much liked that right now, she reflected.
". . . . hrrst," was as eloquent a reply as she could manage.
Rose glanced around frantically. "Where's the nearest elevator?"
You can fall backwards through the ruin of nine lifetimes and never reach the end of it all.
You can watch the fires of a thousand worlds gutter and burn until there's nothing but the void left in the place of light and heat.
There is only the void, in the end.
And the void is cold.
So was his cheek.
Eyelids sticky with frost parted to see nothing but darkness. For a moment his worst fears seemed to have come to pass -- and then he registered the faint line of red LED lights, the dull reflection on scuffed and corroded metal.
A cough rattled off to his left and he slowly, tortuously shifted to see a pale figure trying to lift itself on its elbows.
" . . . harrrrrrggghhh . . . "
". . . ck? . ."
" . . . d'ctrr . . . augghhhh . . ."
" . . all right?"
In the sense that Jack was here and in the present, the answer seemed to be yes.
In the sense that he'd just vomited all over the Doctor's hand, well . . .
Shoving himself away from the steaming remnants of what looked like a reasonably nice dinner (which he'd paid for, naturally), the Doctor groggily tried to prod his brain back into action. With their closeness in the narrow duct this proved extremely difficult, especially given that both of them had been unconscious and regularly chilled by the ventilation systems kicking in and the simple act of raising a hand seemed impossibly hard.
How long was I out? -- Expect the real question is, how long was I in . .
The Doctor slumped against the side of Jack's thigh, making a halfhearted attempt at stabilizing the human but really just collecting his thoughts. The Captain didn't seem to be generating much heat; given all they'd been through it was high time to get out of the vents . . .
" . . . wha th' hell wuzzat?"
Rose. Where was Rose? -- The Book. Sent Rose off with the Book. Hopefully she'd hidden it. Hopefully she'd listened and not run back to the TARDIS. Even more hopefully, she hadn't been sucked in herself.
Because . . .
fire laps the corners of his vision
Because having seen it all again, having known with nightmare certainty what would be there and how it would remember him, the Doctor realized he couldn't possibly go back into the Codex. Not only would it know better than to wait for him to make the first move, but it wouldn't make the mistake of dredging up his night terrors to keep him down.
" . . . god in heaven . . ."
Not that he could face those fires a third time. Not even for Rose. Before, he would've said yes, but --
It never got easier. Never.
But then, why should it.
The Daleks could slumber in their metal skeletons content in the knowledge that they were the world-killers and that was how they were meant to be because that was all that they were expected to be. Only amateurs were made sick with guilt and fear; murderers were allowed their quiet dreams.
" . . . cruk cruk cruk --"
Suddenly he needed to see that stupid ape's upturned face again; all those incessant thick-headed questions and bloody-minded cheek and that easy awe and the whole infuriating and maddening bundle of hormones and misconceptions and giggling that somehow kept him from going completely dead on the insides.
He blinked, jolted out of his thoughts. " . . yeah?"
Jack's face looked as though it had been used to clean a public lavatory. "Yer a Time Lord."
The situation demanded a witty comeback, but talking still seemed like a tall order. The Doctor attempted to arch a superior eyebrow, with limited success.
Jack was flailing with an outstretched hand and an index finger that didn't actually seem to be pointing at anything. Glassy eyes rolled equally as unsteadily. " . . except, except, except everybody knows Time Lords don't exist, just crukking stupid legends -- "
Talking suddenly seemed easier, even with the sandpaper lining his throat. "Yeah, and I spend m' long nights bein' mythopoetic just f'r the hell offit."
"You can't exist."
"Shouldn't exist. Do. Go figure."
"Geez," croaked Jack, slumping back against the side of the duct with a graceless whummppff. "You guys were supposed to be like gods."
Oh, he was too tired for this. "Look, shift. We can't hang about in here much longer, and I need to find Rose -- "
"Seriously, what the hell was all -- "
"Shut it. We've got to get moving." The Doctor tried to scrape together recent memories that hadn't involved fire or the wholesale destruction of Time. Ragusa. Talking. The ducts --
He slapped Jack's thigh in triumph, eliciting a startled yelp. "That's it. Grid Room!"
"Why isn't there a button that says 'Grid Room'?" Rose snarled.
"The lift does not go to the Grid Room."
"Hrrrst. What is your obsession with mindless technology? Automated doors, sideways elevators? What purpose would that serve, other than wasting valuable funds and breaking down at the worst possible -- "
"All right, all right -- "
"Restructuring a building to accommodate that kind of -- "
"I said, all right." The parts of Rose's brain that were not singing with panic and dread muttered darkly that leaving the Director behind in the corridor might've been a good move.
She glanced down at the wheezing alien's charred exoskeleton and felt more than a little guilty. "Which button gets us to the main floor of the Grid?"
"No, I mean --"
"Close Door Close Door Close --"
The snaking tentacles left a rather large dent in the stainless steel doors, but happily the lift was well-maintained and sped smoothly upwards.
"Hrrst. We want to go down."
Rose bit her lip in frustration, noting that one of the buttons she'd hit was taking them high up the side of the Archives. "Wasn't thinking."
Leaving people behind was wrong, Rose told herself. "What floor, then?"
"Hrrst. 'Central Tier'. But -- "
Rose jabbed the button with a feeling of satisfaction, only to feel the elevator purr to a stop. Frowning, she regarded the light map -- they hadn't reached the 42nd floor yet -- and then it occurred to her that someone else probably had to use the lift; of course, big building --
The doors opened with a cheerful yet soothing tone note that in no way mitigated the fact that there was a drone waiting on the other side.
Rose slammed the Door Close button while Ragusa, in a sudden show of bravura and/or desperation, flung her bulk upwards and knocked the drone out of the threshold. The doors closed with a pleasant neutral sound no doubt meant to relax passengers; the elevator sped smoothly upwards.
Shuddering, Rose slumped against the the side of the wall as Ragusa sagged back down to the floor. "Blimey," she managed.
She got the distinct impression that if Ragusa had eyebrows, she'd be furrowing them at her right now. Rallying, she continued, "Well, at least we're -- "
The elevator slowed again.
The doors opened with another relaxing sound which was lost in the screech of a drone wedging itself violently between the gap. Electric tendrils found the Director's armored bulk once again while Rose's sputtering mind insisted that she hit the Door Close button a few more times. Sparks flew; Ragusa screamed.
The screaming was pretty damn horrible in an inclosed space.
Rose slammed the mono-optic circuit with her bundle, feeling her wrists twinge in pain as the titanium-reinforced hull of the machine refused to budge. She frantically drew back for a heavier blow, mind shrieking that this was the stupidest idea ever --
It took her several seconds to realize that it hadn't been her who'd knocked the robot halfway down the hall; Ragusa had drawn back for a punch at the exact same moment as her.
"DOOR CLOSE!" roared the Director, and Rose tore her eyes away from the form of the drone rolling down the hallway floor like one of Hell's lost volleyballs. The nondescript sound was lost in Ragusa's labored hissing and Rose's shivering gasps. The lift stank of ozone and lobster.
"Doctor," Rose realized she'd whispered, and everything just hurt that much more.
The lift slowed again.
Ragusa rose on all six legs, both sets of claws extended, charred plating hanging off her sides. The rumbling snarl building in her chest cavity was deafening but could not drown out the sound of Rose's racing heart oh god not again --
The doors opened.
Ragusa -- spines erect, mandibles skittering, eyes narrowed to slivers of mindless rage -- lunged screaming into the threshold like something out of a Ridley Scott movie and Rose knew she'd be terrified if she could still feel anything and --
The man with the clipboard screamed and fainted.
The doors attempted to close after a few seconds of them just staring, but with his leg in the treads they kept edging politely back.
"I think he works in Central Processing," Ragusa said distantly.
"Oh," was all Rose could say.
Vetch reeled back into consciousness after a particularly horrific little reverie induced by the contents of the now sorely-missed hip flask. The thousands of scrolling screens continued to sail relentlessly past his blurred vision, mocking him. Round shapes and red dots bobbed before him.
His. Head. Hurt.
There had been something he was supposed to do. If he'd had a cup of coffee, remembering would have been far less of an issue. Although from the way the inside of his mouth felt, he'd definitely had something --
Oh. That's right. Harkness.
Vetch groaned and sagged in the chair, which had been designed for higher purposes than comfort. Thinking about chairs and comfort reminded him of the last comfortable chair he'd been in, which in turn reminded him of what he'd found in said chair, which tied back in nicely with remembering the Captain.
Harkness had set him down here. Wanted him to look for -- no. No, the girl had told him to keep an eye out for --
. . oh hell.
The foggy haze induced by anxiety, shock and hypervodka burned away as Vetch's eyes focused on the bobbing red dots and silvery spheres. They were not, in fact, products of a hangover, though they were certainly contributing to it now.
Police drones buzzed relentlessly through the marble corridors of the Library, easily numbering in the dozens. A slow, terrible pit opened up in Vetch's gut and gave the queasiness there a whole new edge.
Blinking, he quickly looked around the Grid Room. It was empty -- something that was virtually unheard-of during afternoon hours. Where had Sati and her team gotten to?
"Good Lord; what are you doing here?"
Vetch jumped at the sound, noting only too late a sudden heavy droning sound behind him and a reddish cast to the light --
He turned around and looked into a malefic fiery orb, the crimson light filling his sight and blinding him to the world. Interesting and damp things happened about his nether regions.
"I! Um! Fellasleepsorrysir--" he stammered, trying to jam a brainful of square thoughts into round excuses, "veryverysorrydon'tknowwhat'sgoingonpleasedon't --"
The figure obscured by the light seemed to lean forward slightly.
". . . Vetch?"
Vetch goggled at the voice. After a moment, it occurred to him that he really must be hallucinating after all, which cheered him only slightly.
" . . . I thought you were . . ." he started, and then didn't know how to finish up.
"Just a misunderstanding, my dear old thing. Being sorted out as we speak."
Waves of relief threatened to drown Vetch and his eyes watered slightly (thought the red gaze probably had something to do with that as well). "Oh. Oh thank goodness. Oh. Oh, I've had such a horrible day -- "
"Yes, well, I'm afraid I can't help you much there, Augustine. But maybe you can help me?"
Vetch nodded. "Sir?"
"Where is Archivist Horten?"
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