Past Due by Cryptile [Reviews - 76] Chapter or Story |
Hey, remember this? The long pointless story? It's back!
Apologies to everyone who (inexplicably) reads this thing. It has been a cruel summer. Well, not really. But thanks for sticking with it, and hopefully I'll crank the last four or so out before October or the heat death of the Universe. You guys are wonderful and thanks for your support, comments, criticism and patience.
This particular chapter dedicated to Emery Board and to wmr, who seems disheartened in regard to the absence of the good Captain from S2. I shall endeavor to supply a Jack Attack.
Metal twisted and groaned. The lights flickered ominously as the wicked claws scissored up through the feeble protection granted by the plexiglass diffuser, and a sudden low buzzing of complaint from deep within the ceiling denoted a greater electrical failure.
"Why -- hrrst -- am I doing this?" Ragusa demanded, all four claws wedged deep into the panelling overhead.
Rose peered out of the elevator, checking for drones. Nothing. "Because we're being clever."
"Oh. What a relief." Ragusa viciously tore out the rest of the overhead ceiling. A shower of sparks cascaded over her already-singed exterior and she hissed viciously. "How exceptionally reassuring. Hrrst. I am damaging an expensive and difficult-to-maintain vitally-important piece of equipment in my library because -- hrrst -- some idiot child who enjoys damaging priceless artifacts -- "
"All right, all right --"
She ripped out a metal strut as though it was made of particleboard, mandibles clenching, "-- in between what I can only assume -- hrrst -- is a lifestyle populated with mugging priests and abusing aged spinsters --"
"Oh, you're not that far gone. I'm sure there's an acid-drooling bloke out there who'd just love to show you both his tongues --"
"Ah. Agism and species-prejudice. Truly -- hrrst -- truly the day is complete." Ragusa widened the hole in the elevator roof. "Presumably this is wide enough for your mysterious purposes? Hrrst. Or should I set it on fire, just to be safe?"
Rose gritted her teeth. "Lift me up there, then."
"Explain later. Just give me a leg up and get out --" Rose ducked her head back into the hall. No more of the drones had appeared -- yet -- and the coast seemed clear. The unconscious man with the clipboard was still blocking the doorway, but that was easily-remedied. "Hang on."
She left the relative safety of the lift to drag him to one side, leaving the clipboard in the sensor beam to keep the doors open. Luckily, there was yet another alcove full of spider plants -- seriously, what was it with libraries and hideous foliage? was this a rule or something? -- and Rose was able to quickly and safely stow him under a potted fern that had designs on conquering the entire nook, if not the world.
She darted back into the elevator. "Right. Here's the plan --"
"Hrrst. I want an explanation --"
"No no no. Explain later. Give me a leg up and then get to that little space out there; the one with all the plants. Lay low until I get back out."
"What? Are you seriously suggesting --"
Rose felt a burst of rare gymnastic ability return to her and she vaulted up Ragusa's multi-limbed torso -- like climbing a tree, really -- and into the roof before the librarian could finish her complaint. The elevator shaft was echoing and dark, and in the seconds before her eyes adjusted to the almost complete lack of light Rose could've sworn she was back in the ducts with the Doctor again.
The thought of the Doctor lying motionless next to Jack in the cold and lightless shafts wrung a sudden sob from her throat; the sound reverberated menacingly in the infinite space around her. She put out a hand to steady herself, then realized it was now coated in some sort of lubrication that reeked of an unholy combination of ozone and steamed broccoli and the sense of loss gave way to that familiar and dear companion in times of great vexation -- annoyance.
Travel the universe. See vast and exciting new worlds of air-conditioning and service elevators. Better off dead, you big-eared git, if this stuff doesn't wash clean --
"What are you doing up there, child?"
Rose snapped back into action, fumbling with the sonic screwdriver. Though obviously running on low power, she was nonetheless able to coax a weak blue glow from it, and that familiar sight and sound galvanized her. She started looking for the connecting shafts that braced the main one, in accordance with all the times that the Doctor had done the same while working on that one pumpy bit of the TARDIS that was sort of like the main pumpy bit, only more pumpy and less slidey than this, but with a sort of . . . a general kind of . . .
Oh, I am so out of my depth here.
"You're gonna want to get out, Director."
"But -- "
Rose ducked her head back down through the hole. "Look. If I do this wrong, the whole car goes fallin' down forty floors, yeah? So maybe you should just take this --" she tossed the Doctor's rolled-up jacket down "-- and get well clear in case it turns out I'm not so clever after all?"
Ragusa didn't have to get out quite that fast.
Something behind him to his left groaned and shifted against the side of the wall. " . . . five more minutes . . ."
Not again. Enraged, the Doctor prodded him sharply with his toe. "Wakey-wakey; we gotta go save the Universe again. Up and at 'em."
"Harrrruuugghhhh . . ."
The Doctor threw himself against the side of the wall, realized that he'd put his hand in a pile of something warm and wet and smelling of hydrochloric acid and broccoli. Closer inspection revealed it was hydrochloric acid and broccoli. "Oh, lovely. Get me to pay for dinner but you can't be bothered to keep it down?"
" . . . don't wanna go t' practice."
"Harkness. Kind of a bad moment for you to be sleepin'."
" . . . don't need my help."
The Doctor stifled the urge to yell you're dammed right I don't, look what you've done already. Instead, he peered off into the darkly-glinting maze of ducts that seemed simultaneously alien and familiar. He almost thought he recognized the junction up ahead, but then again . . .
That was the problem with vents. You were always getting the shaft.
" . . s'what's a nice Time Lord like you doin' inna place like this?"
The Doctor's expression froze. Not this again. It was one thing to reveal his peoples' name to Rose, who had no business knowing but at least couldn't use that kind of information. But Jack was a Time Agent, and subsequently in a whole separate category.
The Time Agency had, of course, been supervised and run by the Time Lords; just another dirty little offshoot of the CIA recruiting lesser species -- well, what they regarded as lesser species, anyway -- for the purposes of serving Gallifrey's interests while maintaining plausible deniability. Of course, the only ones who knew that Time Lords were part of the organization were themselves Time Lords. Damn shifty Time Lords who recruited some damn shifty 'lesser species'. His reluctance to have Jack on board had nothing to do with jealousy, after all.
Well. Not that much, anyway.
The human was struggling to form sentences, though this seemed to be a hurdle erected by emotional turmoil and not any real physical distress -- his inability to keep dinner down notwithstanding. The faint LED lights shone on Jack's prone form, highlighting his otherwise handsome features in a lurid sort of red haze. There was something odd in his gaze, though.
"I knew Time Lords never existed. Everyone knew that. So why . . . why's your head full of 'em?"
He was really getting sick of being relegated to the same category as the Loch Ness Monster -- also real, as he nearly pointed out. "Look. We existed. Past tense. Except owning to a massive temporal rupture in the fabric of space/time, we didn't. Exist." The Doctor scowled, pulling himself up on his elbows. "I'd explain it, only I won't. Now, if we could just get a move on?" He started off down the ducts, relieved to hear a thumping behind him.
They hadn't gotten fifteen feet before Jack opened his bloody mouth again. "All those people . . "
The Doctor's jaw clenched. "Change the subject."
"Look -- " there was nothing short of utter desperation in that voice, fear skittering through it -- "that wasn't -- that wasn't the Time War, was it? Because -- because it -- that -- I mean --"
"Change. The. Subject."
There was a very very very long silence, which was more than welcome. Finally, Jack said, his voice low and almost lost in the thumping of their bodies on metal, "Ignorance really is bliss, I guess."
A bitter smile. "Yeah."
He forced himself to remember that terrible commonality forged in the ruin of civilizations, trying a more compassionate tack. "C'mon. We'll get back to the Grid Room. Check the scanners for Rose, have a look about, maybe find a nice place for you to lie down." He did not add, and probably some nice person for you to lie down next to.
An odd thought crossed the Doctor's mind. "What were you doin' here with the Book in the first place?"
"I --" Jack paused. "Hey. Where is it?"
"I sent it off with Rose. Why -- "
"You sent that thing off with Rose?! Knowing what it can do?"
The Doctor turned to glower at Jack, who looked genuinely horrified. An ugly sneaking little piece of him took offense at the man's concern for his companion -- his proper companion -- and he replied, "She's movin' it out of range. Can't have my brainwaves getting hijacked every five minutes if we're gonna make any progress in -- "
"But if that thing sucks her in --"
"Yeah, had occurred to me; thanks so much for bringin' it up," the Doctor snarled. "But our options aren't great any way you slice 'em now, are they?"
Jack exhaled slowly. "No." He shuffled forwards on his elbows for a bit before adding, "You've got a lot of faith in that girl."
The Doctor glanced at the intersection they'd reached. A sinking feeling in the pits of his hearts told him that he hadn't been this way those other times and he sighed. "She's earning it." The walls gleamed an unpleasantly vivid red thanks to the LEDs and he closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts. "Not just anyone gets to stay in my TARDIS." -- There had been a turn, then a long straight shaft and then they'd gone left for about fifty meters; then the floor had sloped --
"It's this way," Jack said.
His eyes snapped open. "What? No it isn't."
"Well, I came this way."
"Yeah, well, you didn't know where you were going, did you?"
Harkness glared back at him. "Hey, Doc -- where's Naples, again?"
"Anyway, I was following the little blue numbers."
The Doctor sighed theatrically. "You mean, the little blue numbers that look like little red arrows? 'Cos -- " Part of his brain that had gone off to sulk suddenly came storming back as though it had remembered some more grievances it needed to vent. "Wait. Blue numbers?"
"That's what I said."
"Jack. When you entered these ducts, did you go through the Grid Room?"
The human blinked. "Yeah. Saw the work of the sonic screwdriver, figured you guys couldn't have gotten far and went in after you."
"And you turned right at the first junction?"
"No, I went straight." Jack propped himself up on one elbow. "Then I got turned around pretty bad, but I noticed these little blue numbers -- " here he pointed up to the seam joining one corner to the next -- "and thought, 'hey, these intersections are all numbered; the Doc and Rose must be following those'. And there were all these scuff marks -- " he pointed at a noticeable black streak against the side of one of the sides of the junction -- "so that backed up my theory."
"Except it's completely wrong. We were following red arrows. And those corridors were pretty scuffed-up, too."
Jack took a very deep breath. "So. Were either of us actually going anywhere?"
"I was. Consulted the map -- well, blueprints. But this . . ." The parts of the Doctor's mind that had come back to speak their piece decided to go fume in the basement some more and he was left in a state of frustrated confusion once more. Someone's been using the ducts to get about. Only, who? And why two different systems? Is one of them just the Facilities crew mucking out the air system, because if --
-- fire laps the corners of his vision --
He'd had the Book out of his head for long enough now that its sudden, vicious resurgence hit him doubly hard. Even if Rose had gotten it far away, it was going to keep pounding him from a distance until it caught him off-guard.
"Doctor," he gasped, clutching the side of his head. "Not 'Doc'. Call me 'Professor' and I'll bash your head in with spoons."
"Geez, you must be all right if you're making threats again." Jack pulled up next to him. "Look. If this thing's affecting you, we need to get outta here, pronto."
"Yeah, I was sayin' that while you were snorin' back there --"
"So let's just follow this slope, all right? It looks familiar to me. At the very least we'll figure out the general direction of the Grid Room, right?"
The Doctor started to protest, then swallowed his pride. Jack had trusted him enough to be led out of the hellhole that the Book had become; the least he could do was show a minimum of grace to the man. And he had been genuinely worried about Rose dealing with it . . "Right. Lead on, Space Captain."
"Okay, but you don't get to call me that if I can't call you 'Doc'. Not happening." Jack pulled ahead on his elbows, pausing momentarily to glance back at him. "Why spoons? Why not the screwdriver?"
In spite of himself, the Doctor grinned more than a little wickedly.
The drones were stupid but efficient. The thing to remember about things that are stupid but efficient, however, is that they are essentially very efficient about being stupid.
Subsequently, they were able to hone in on the stopped elevator car. The elevator was obviously very important because it was stopped and the doors had been torn apart. The roof was also torn apart, and since the drones had been programmed by people who had lived on Alezhandria -- a peaceable and reasonably quiet settlement, the antics of this day notwithstanding -- they were well-familiarized with their programmers' fervent belief that you really could escape through the roof of an elevator shaft and climb your way to the higher levels.
It happened in movies, after all.
So they swarmed -- eight of them, tentacles snaking viciously, red eyes dully glowing and refracting evilly against each other's chrome surfaces -- and hovered up through the hole and began a thorough and deadly search of the higher reaches of the shaft.
Curiously enough, the programmers of the drones also seemed to believe in the time-tested inability of the pursuing villains to look off to the side and see the concealed heroes, which offended the sensibilities of the two persons hiding in the foliage somewhat but beggars can't be choosers.
Rose quickly slipped out from behind a rubber plant (covered in spider mites, of course) and removed the clipboard from the threshold. After the doors closed with a soothing tone, she used the last of the sonic screwdriver's power to blow out the lift control, a la a certain man who'd dragged her out of the basement of Henrik's.
She turned to Ragusa, wondering if her smile was as wide as it felt. "Run!"
"To where, exactly?"
The smile froze for a moment. "Um. The . . . " Oh, hell. It's going to be the stairs again, isn't it?
"The stairs!" she exclaimed, flashing another desperate grin. "C'mon!"
"Hrrst. And why are we --"
"Explain later. Move!"
Rose wheeled around, nearly concussing herself on one of the lower-hanging plants. "What? Why not?"
Ragusa -- covered in ivy and wheezing like the bellows of a decrepit pipe organ -- leveled a glare at Rose that could have easily been directed at Sigourney Weaver with a flamethrower. "I. Have. Had. Hrrst. Enough. Of. This." She wobbled uncertainly for a moment, then lurched towards her companion; Rose watched a host of spider mites jump ship. "Since I opted to accompany you, I have been attacked by unspecified forces for highly dubious reasons -- hrrst! -- implicated in numerous instances of vandalism, insulted, confused, patronized and -- hrrst -- forced to run about idiotically while you are obnoxiously flippant and maddening and vague and have done nothing but play with that -- hrrst -- magic wand of yours without ever once explaining what the benighted planet of hell is going on. Hrrst." Her voice reached a desperate crescendo. "And for the record, running is NOT an answer to all of Life's problems, and 'I'll explain later' is NOT an answer to ANYTHING."
"Look -- " Rose started, and then stopped. And froze.
"Look," she said again, and realized she couldn't complete her thoughts. "Oh. Oh, god."
Ragusa cocked her head inquisitively. "Hrrst?"
Rose half-sobbed, half-sighed in explosive disgust. "I'm turnin' into the Doctor."
"I thought you said this looked familiar!"
"It did. Past tense. Now it doesn't."
"Yeah, well, as much as -- Jack."
"Sorry. Thought that was the lever."
There was a long silence wherein the Doctor attempted to discern the relative position of Jack and himself in the now-dark and cramped shaft devoid of lights. They'd have to turn around; a prospect which the Doctor's rapidly-developing sense of claustrophobia made out to be much more complicated than it should. He sighed, gathering his strength and bracing himself for the inevitable game of Twister. After a few seconds, something occurred to him.
"What did you mean, 'lever'?"
"Oh. There's this lever that sticks out of the side of the wall, just here -- "
"Yeah. I knocked into it while I was waiting for you to catch up. Bruised my ribs --"
The Doctor fumbled in the dark, letting his hands alight on the strange protrusion. "That's odd."
"Hey, don't lean on it. I think I felt the floor --"
Fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump BOOM.
Fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump BOOM.
Rose glanced back at Ragusa anxiously. They'd made it down the last four flights of stairs -- bloody stairs, why did it have to be stairs -- reasonably well, but the giant arthropod wasn't really cut out for this sort of movement. She'd had to hook her forearms around the railings and skid down unevenly on her bottom six legs -- not easy under the best circumstances, Rose guessed, and certainly not now that they were in a hurry and that Ragusa was weakened.
Fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump fwhump WHAM.
"Hey, careful," Rose yelped as the the Archivist impacted the side of the wall. "You really gonna be able to get down another thirty stories?"
"Hrrst." The black eyes opened and closed balefully. "My faith is in gravity, through which all things are possible." Her good three arms scrabbled weakly against the side of the wall -- now with crumbling plaster flaking down to the floor. The fourth twisted sickeningly against her carapace, showing where the worst of the drone's electrical attack had gouged furious black fissures in her exoskeleton.
Rose glanced at the injured arm, wishing it wasn't hanging quite that loose in its socket. "D'you want me to . . . you know -- "
She made a vague hand gesture, then realized it probably didn't help much. "Your . . . arm. Thing. Maybe I can bandage it or something?"
The giant alien slowly turned her head to regard the limb in question, mandibles twitching. Nothing else happened for the better part of ten seconds, other than Ragusa glaring at her swaying arm as though she could repair it with her mind. Rose nearly unwrapped the Doctor's jacket to make a sling, but thought better of it, instead opting for her own hoodie.
"What -- hrrst -- are you doing?"
Rose eased the pink fabric over the bumpy ridges of Ragusa's (still-charred) exoskeleton. "If I can just get this 'round you, maybe we can keep your arm from dangling too much. Until we can get a doctor to look at you, anyway."
"Not yours, I hope."
In spite of herself, Rose grinned. "'Least he's cheap."
"I doubt it." Ragusa allowed Rose to wind the hoodie up into a primitive sling, but when it became evident that it wouldn't hold she firmly pressed her aside. "Hrrst. This will not succeed."
"No, just --"
"Rose. Hrrst. You cannot fix my arm. I do not have bones."
Rose bit her lip, glancing down the echoing stairwell. Every landing was going to play hell with the Director, and they weren't going to make good time anyway, but --
"You must go on without me."
Rose blinked; it was as though Ragusa had read her mind. "What? But I don't know the -- "
The giant lobster lurched to pull herself upright along the wall. "Hrrst. The Central Grid is an open circular shaft space. The entire Library -- hrrst -- is configured architecturally around that main tier. Get to the first floor and -- hrrst -- ask if you can't see it."
"Yeah, but what about those drones -- "
"I don't pretend to know what you hope to succeed at -- hrrst -- or why, but I am in no state to help you further."
Rose glared. "I was gonna say, what if they find you?"
"Hrrst. Either way, you could hardly stop them." Ragusa straightened painfully. "You must tear down your own -- hrrst -- your own doors, now."
Rose bit her lip that much harder. "Look. I'll find the Doctor and Jack, and then I'm coming back to find you. Just sit tight and don't die or anything, all right?"
She got the distinct impression that Ragusa had rolled her eyes, despite the lack of irises, sockets, or eyebrows that would've indicated the same. "Hrrst. But of course."
Rose was halfway down that flight of stairs when Ragusa called out, "Wait!" She turned around to hear a sickening crunching sound --
-- and caught Ragusa's charred limb in her hands.
"That might help against the drones," the librarian rasped, neatly staunching a greenish seeping liquid with Rose's hoodie.
The Doctor felt sick.
Granted, this was the day for feeling sick, but for the first time it was generated from something other than the contents of his head. He hadn't expected the fall to be such a short distance -- less than ten feet down, and cushioned with old upholstery, imagine that -- and he'd just about gotten his head around the idea that this was a deliberate entrance they'd stumbled across.
Then he'd seen the woman who was only half there.
She wasn't much by the standards of the world. A short woman, slightly overweight, mid-thirties with a face that looked older than the rest of her. Grey eyes, the Doctor couldn't help but notice. He tried not to think of that other doomed face that slept in Jack's mind.
This face was locked in a confused half-smile, half-grimace; one hand was raised in a gesture that could've been supplication or accusation but either way had no real urgency behind it and the fingers dangled easily past her smooth plump palms. The feeble overhead light -- not LED but a proper lighting column -- shone in her and through her, ghostly and translucent but with a horrible solidity that showed her to be more than a mere projection or a hologram.
Behind him, Jack boggled quietly. ". . . Is she alive?"
He tried not to think of what it must be like for her. Bad enough knowing that hideous yank five times over, but then to have been trapped in that no-state, to be suspended indefinitely between the rise and fall of a heartbeat and forced to endure the unmitigated horror of a single millisecond that refused to end -- but then again, humans weren't particularly temporally-sensitive. Maybe she wasn't suffering. Probably didn't even know what had happened. What was happening.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm so sorry . . " Jack reached to touch her arm, but the Doctor slapped his hand down. "Don't."
"What's wrong with her? Can we get her loose?"
The Doctor could barely suppress the bile welling in him. "No. No one can."
"She's in some sort of temporal suspension, right?"
"Time-scooped," he responded, forcing himself to look into the living corpse's eyes. "Removed from linear events with a faulty piece of technology, then abandoned here when whoever was muckin' with it realized they couldn't reverse the effects." The Doctor couldn't keep the rage out of his voice now and didn't even want to try at this point. "Bad enough when it's proper equipment doing this sort of thing, but some bloody-minded amateur cobbling a time-scoop together from the Book -- " Teeth ground into his cheek; nails dug into palms. "She's stuck."
Jack looked her up and down, horror and pity slowly dawning on his face. "And we can't reverse it?"
The Doctor could only stare at the frozen woman. There but for the grace of God, he thought with nothing like gratitude. Aloud he responded, "To survive that you'd have to be a Time-sensitive at the very least, and preferably one with a good chunk of your selves out of the loop."
"How would you . . ." Jack's voice trailed off. He stared at the Doctor for a long nervous moment, and the Doctor dully remembered that humans liked other people to blink occasionally when they were being engaged in conversation. He closed his eyes, and Jack rushed to fill the silence with, "So this big fancy Book of yours that sucked us in can do this, too?"
"Oh, yeah," he replied wearily. "Semi-senient interactive archive with an unstable mental interface and enough residual chronoscopic fluctuation to seriously destabilize the nature of causality. Makes julienne fries; microwave safe." He rubbed his face, silently dreading the prospect of opening his eyes again. "One regular Swiss Army Knife of Bad, the Codex."
"But -- but -- " Jack's voice was trying to remain professional, clinical, and in spite of himself the Doctor loved him just a bit for it. "This must've happened for a reason, right? I mean, we studied temporal oubliettes at the Academy -- " the Doctor snorted derisively " -- and no one does this sort of thing accidentally; someone had to set out to trap her on purpose."
The Doctor still didn't want to open his eyes just yet. "Agree with you partially on that. She didn't get herself stuck by messin' about with the Book; someone did that for her. Question is, why?"
"Who is she, anyway?"
Reluctantly, he left the dark behind his eyes for the unwelcome sight of the living dead girl. "Dunno. Not a Logician; she isn't wearing the greens." He forced himself to look at her clothing: a one-piece mauve worksuit favored by the kind of people who stopped dressing to impress a long time ago. Gaudy pink piping around the breast pockets had been added in an eleventh-hour attempt at punky flair that failed. Small neat rectangular badges were clipped to the side of her lapel; they were similar to those worn by the rest of the Archivists.
"She works here, I think," Jack said, echoing his thoughts. "Probably a specialist in a field; only rockstars get to dress like slobs." He sounded somewhat contrite a moment later, as though ashamed he'd said that aloud. "Single, I think."
The Doctor snorted. "Why am I not surprised that you picked that up . . ."
Jack arched an eyebrow, coolly. "No wedding ring or partnership bands. Jumpsuit's got cat hair on it. Sensible shoes. And that one little badge on the side of her arm -- the swan, see? -- means she belongs to this one romance book club. This girl doesn't -- I mean, didn't get out much."
The Doctor -- who wore no signifiers of marital status, liked cats, routinely composed scathing diatribes against impractical footwear and had financed most of his personal experiments and jiggery-pokery during the long dark UNIT years by writing bodice-rippers notable for their lack of bodices and ripping (but rife with technical terms and ruthless historical accuracies) -- resented the implication but opted to say nothing.
"Moving on," Jack continued, "she doesn't look like she's being attacked. She's not afraid. Annoyed, maybe, but she obviously didn't know what was happening. I bet whoever did this to her is someone she knows, maybe even someone she trusts."
A universe of nasty dark suspicions came to light. "Lyn."
The Doctor looked at the figure, marshaling every ounce of determination still left in him into this long last supposition. "Two Archivists went missing, couple months ago. Specialists in their fields. One of them was named Lyn." He glanced at the badges, wondering if she'd sewn them all on herself, wondering who was taking care of the cats. "Think we found her."
"Something's rotten in the state of Denmark," muttered Jack.
"Not just the tinned ham, either."
"But why here? Why would a . . a 'time scoop' or whatever be kept here?" Jack abruptly blinked, looking around. "Hey. Where is here?"
The Doctor took in their surroundings. This definitely wasn't a duct; he'd become something of an authority on the subject of ducts in the last twelve hours. They appeared to be in some sort of disused filing room, with the air thick and clotted with dust. Aside from the lightstrip running along the walls it was completely dark. Ominous boxy shadows leaned worryingly towards them.
He shuffled over to the door -- stubbing his toes on discarded terminals, old cabinets and three or four broken coffeemakers, as befits any library storage room -- and noted that the only door had been sealed from the inside with what looked to be a high-end electronic lock. There was also a plank nailed across the top and bottom, just in case.
"Of all the days to need a sonic screwdriver," the Doctor muttered.
He grimaced, more at the situation than at Jack. "We're locked in. Looks like whoever's been using this room for their own dirty storage doesn't want anyone nosing about in it." Not unlike the Mystery Rabbit's appropriation of that room with the sofa. "Some bunny's been busy," he mused.
Jack glanced at the door. "Ooh. That's a Gordian Mk. 4 Zuper-Lok. I hate those things."
In spite of himself, the Doctor blinked appreciatively. "What, that bad?"
"Yeah." The Captain glowered at the neat matte grey bar, hitting it once sharply in the middle with the heel of his palm. It beeped despondently and promptly fell off the doorframe with a sad little electronic gurgle. "Pieces of crap, all of 'em. I shelled out 500 Galactibucks on a pair of those things to keep this shipment of rare Urbankan lawn shrines safe until I could unload them on my dealer; next thing I know, my warehouse is full of pigeons and empty of statuary and these two neat little pieces of plastic are lying unscathed on the floor."
"Don't suppose you can break boards, too?" the Doctor asked hopefully.
"Easily. Provided I've got a sledgehammer."
"Never mind, then." The Doctor sighed, trying to remember if this sort of thing had been covered in Venusian Aikido. He vaguely recalled telling his instructor that he had a screwdriver and subsequently would never have to know that particular skill. If he got out of this alive -- and sane -- he was really going to go and thump himself, although seeing as that particular incarnation was otherwise well-versed in Aikido that might turn out to be a bad idea.
He summoned his qi, became one with the Universe, abandoned his consciousness to the Time Winds --
and he is the architect of ruin, he the --
-- nearly got sucked back into the Book and decided to go with Option B. "Jack?"
"What d'you fancy as a battering ram?"
Rose skidded down the last corridor. Nothing.
She hefted the rolled-up form of the black leather jacket under one arm, nearly dropping Ragusa's charred claw as she did so. There weren't many people around, but the looks one or two had given her upon seeing the limb had been priceless in a sick sort of way. Rose was vaguely aware that she was probably incriminating herself but it seemed rude just to put it down and walk away.
Also -- god, this is wrong -- it did look sort of intimidating, and given that her heart was merrily pounding away in her throat and her vision was blurring and that she was on the verge of laughing hysterically or bawling her head off, Rose wanted a damn bargaining piece when the rest of the world came calling.
The main stretch to the Grid Room was much as she remembered it. Hopefully . . .
She peered around the corner, staring at the doors. Begging the Doctor to open them, peer at her imperiously and wave her in, yelling something about helping Jack.
She steadied herself. The last thing she wanted to see upon walking in was whathisname, Vetch still sitting at the console and blathering away. On the other hand -- if he had spotted the Doctor and Jack up and about --
Rose took a deep breath, straightened, and walked slowly and deliberately towards the Grid Room.
The door opened for her, and there was an army of red glares --