They called him the Oncoming Storm. Destroyer of Worlds.
On a thousand lonely planets nestled in the dark folds of space, his name was whispered as both invocation and curse, blessing and ward. The One Who Moves Between. The Lord of Time. Death-Who-Walks.
You'd think a bloody door would break for that, but no. After fifteen minutes of grunting and straining and cursing, the topmost section was barely loose. Jack's attempts at beating it with the electronic lock had only resulted in said lock becoming even more broken, and the Doctor -- who was having a very hard time with keeping the Book out of his consciousness while simultaneously maintaining an air of patrician restraint on an empty stomach without his nice warm coat or his lovely sonic screwdriver to comfort him -- was beginning to think seriously about curling up and dying in one of the corners of the room that didn't have too many bleached and crispy moths in it.
"Jack, don't do that."
"Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
"Famous last words. I should know."
"C'mon. This has worked at least twice for me."
"Yeah? You sober when you tried it?"
"I -- " Jack paused, face becoming interestingly blank. "That's . . . not strictly relevant, but -- "
"Yeah, okay." The human backed away. "But it might have worked."
He merely sighed. "Stand back." Eyes closed, mind attempting focus. Lose yourself in nothingness; mind the void, though --
The Doctor gritted his teeth. White flashes of static sparked on the edge of his vision whenever his mind wandered from the here and now. Everything hurt. More than usual, anyway.
a part of you that did not burn . . .
"What exactly are you doing that's so much better than my solution?"
He opened an eye indignantly. "What?" he demanded, feeling vaguely hurt.
Jack sighed gustily, regarding the ceiling. "Nothing. Go right ahead."
"Okay, so Time Lords are fast healers, right? Do you want to sit down for a second?"
The Doctor -- his hand now bandaged in Jack's vest -- bit back several centuries' worth of bilious responses and merely hissed, "M'fine."
"Because you can sit down, all I'm saying -- "
The Doctor started to say, 'Granted, but given all the time we've spent getting out of that stuffy little hellhole I'm not about to waste any more of it in the general vicinity of said hellhole, and gah damn hand hurt --', but instead opted for "Mmgrh."
"So, if we can't do anything about her . . ." Jack glanced back into the depths of their erstwhile confinement, biting his lower lip. "Guessing we're still heading to the Grid Room?"
The Doctor started to say, 'Of course; it's as good a place as any to look for Rose and hopefully bash the main system up in a manner conducive to finding the missing bits of the TARDIS, not that this would be an issue if certain parties had not moved it (though of course I wouldn't mention that cattily despite the hideous new time constraints that puts on us all what with this whole imminent threat of impending temporal restructuring) and wait, what's that?'.
The sound of distant footfalls stalled his tongue and he turned. Someone was hurrying down the other end of the corridor, hand-wringing evident even at this distance.
"Doctor, what are you looking . . . "
Whatever Jack was saying melted into a sort of undistinguishable slurry of words (voices) as the rush of blood to the Doctor's head drowned everything else out, attention suddenly, horribly focused on the approaching figure.
About halfway down the corridor, Horten finally looked up, their gazes locking. He blinked, mouth opening slightly.
There was a singular and brief silence.
Ten seconds later, the Doctor was pounding down the hallway in full pursuit.
"Aren't you going to call Jimmy back?"
". . . wha?"
Her mother smiled, passing her a plate full of glittering Slitheen eyes. "Jimmy Stone called. Aren't you going to call Jimmy back?" The eyes all blinked reproachfully up at her from the plate, and Rose found herself looking for their eyelids. Shouldn't be able to do that --
Also, she seemed to be wearing a sweater made from bin liners. "Mum? . . . you hate him --"
"Better than the last one -- " Jackie's face abruptly frowned. "Er, sir? I think she's coming 'round."
"Last . . . what?" Rose was suddenly aware of a loud thrumming from outside the flat, and she stood up to try to look out the window. This proved to be impossible --
"Oh, she's opening her eyes! Oh, good -- "
The glowering blue miasma was blocked somewhat by the worried visage of . . . of . . . what's-his-face, the bloke with no chin. Smelled like the dumpster behind the off-licence. Vetch?
There was another voice saying something but with the loud (why so loud?) background hum and the feeling as though her entire nervous system had been ripped out, trembling and shaking and moving through her --
"Oh no, I think she's passed out aga --"
Rose stared muzzily at her plate of eyes. "Mum, we got any salt?"
"I! Oh! Ah!"
"Keep going; you'll get all the vowel sounds sooner or later."
"Agh! Why --"
"Only partial credit for that one, sorry."
"Uh, Doc?" muttered Jack.
"I think you're hurting him."
The Doctor grinned savagely in response, focusing glassily on the door of the room which he and Jack had escaped from not minutes ago. His left hand was twitching furiously in Jack's makeshift bandage and his right was dragging Horten along in a manner that would've elicited comment from the better class of prisoners' rights campaigns.
He stormed into the disused storage room, slamming the smaller man down onto what was left of a swivel chair. "Jack. Door." Harkness glanced at what was left of it, sighed and gamely swiveled the remnants on their hinges. The end result was something less than stellar.
Close enough. The Doctor whipped back around to glower at Horten, who was rubbing his arm and trying to surreptitiously edge the chair away from where his captor stood fuming. "Well, well. How's the investigation going, Max?"
Horten licked his lips furtively. "Er. Doctor, I -- "
"He was there in the Director's study," Jack mentioned casually. "When the guts fell out of the ceiling."
"That had nothing to do with -- "
"Yeah? What about all that stuff you were carting off to the Grid Room? Funny, I didn't see you there." Harkness's voice took on a slightly menacing tone in spite of his calm appearance. "Or your kit."
Horten glowered. "Sir, as I said before -- "
"And surprise, surprise; you do know the Doctor. Fancy that."
"Now see here --"
-- the screaming of the deathless ones --
The Doctor closed his eyes, trying to drown out both of the quarreling humans and more insidious sounds. The swirling, insistent weight of the Book was still somewhere by the edges of his mind, lurking in a pregnant and predatory silence broken by the occasional vicious susurrus of things better left uncontemplated. Parts of his brain that had shut down in shock at the end of the War were sluggishly lurching back to life, detached numbness being overtaken by shattered dislocation as his telepathic sensors strained feebly to hear those echoes of voices, dead a lost world.
The Book was only too happy to send these echoes back. It was getting too dammed late in the day to be fighting his own brain, and he never had gotten that soup.
Deep breath. Time for some answers. The Doctor opened his eyes and smiled, horribly.
"So!" he sang, bright and brittle. "We've found our thief. But where's our murderer?"
Horten blinked in rapid succession. If he'd been a telegraph machine, he'd have just sent a rather garbled message about tax forms and spray fixative. "Er?"
"Oh, don't play coy. This," he held up the sonic screwdriver, "this look familiar to you?"
Horten blinked again, adding a series of pointless mathematical equations to the stuff with the fixative. "What?"
"Now, here's an interesting conundrum," the Doctor said, brightly. "Early this morning, you told me that the Book went missing about, ooh, seven months back. Bit of time elapsed before the two Archivists who'd been working on it disappeared, didn't it?"
Horten's expression was suddenly cagey. "Er. Doctor, I think -- "
"You think? You think? Oh, Horten. I know you were saying that membership with the Logicians' Guild was mostly ceremonial, but you didn't have to prove it by mucking up like this."
"Er -- "
"I'm just gonna stand here," Jack announced from the door, "and be on the general, you know, lookout for things. That okay with you?"
"Fine. So, let me see if I have this straight --"
"That's not to say that I wouldn't mind getting an explanation myself," Jack added. "I mean, murder mysteries are one thing; getting randomly dumped into VR programs is kind of, oh, another -- "
Horten started to get out of the chair. "Well, ah, as it happens, there is an exp --"
"Lemme guess," the Doctor interrupted. "You're a man who likes his antiquities. Historian. Old book like this turns up, naturally you're bird-dogging anyone studying it for information." He pushed Horten back down into the chair. "I'm guessing you get poor Archivist Lyn to let you look it over. Or you see something in her notes that she doesn't. One way or the other, you find out that this Book is more than it looks to be."
He ambled around the quaking man. "And you saw things, didn't you."
The Archivist licked his lips. "I . . . I didn't --"
"Yes, you did, didn't you? Looked into my memories, played them back to amuse yourself. But then you knew what I know. Knew what happened -- will happen -- is already happening to Alezhandria."
"I don't know wh -- "
"Yes, you do." He wasn't subtle with his mindflaying these days, but then again he wasn't subtle, these days. "I can see it just behind your eyes, you know. See what you've seen with my eyes. You know what's going on, don't you?"
Horten gave a strangled cry. A kinder man would have pitied him, but that kindly man had died in his own fires and this Doctor pressed on, ruthlessly.
"So I expect you'd really want the Book, then. You're racking its contents -- and that's the whole history of my species as told through mine, thank you so bloody much -- for information, but with my memories hitting you upside the face like Palin with a pilchard you can't get a handle on things. Not to mention that Lyn's starting to think the Book's not part of a lending library, and Ragusa agrees. So you steal it."
The Archivist blanched. "There's no evidence -- "
The Doctor grinned. "Of course there is." You're giving it to me, aren't you. "So now you've got it -- but you still don't know how to use it. Bit tricky, stealing a motorcycle and then remembering the last time you rode a bike was with training wheels. Can't exactly ask Mummy for help, can you?"
He glanced over pointedly at Rose to add emphasis, only to remember that Rose wasn't there. Jack was giving him a look perfectly balanced between amused contempt and confused respect, though, which meant he was probably on the right track. "So. Now you need Lyn's notes. Only she's really not inclined to trust you, now. So you find a way of dealing with her."
He kicked aside one of the rusting metal shelf sections, the half-real woman still staring expectantly in her frozen moment, silent. "Your doing. You really can't ride this bike, can you?"
The little man flailed in his seat, choking. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone!"
The Doctor smiled coldly, wishing those words didn't have such a terrible echo. "Oh, Max, Maxie. Yanking things out of causality is dangerous enough when you're a Time Lord with a functional Time Scoop; what made you think you'd succeed with a manual you barely understand and less comprehension of quasi-reciprocal trans-temporal feedback loops than plankton's got of the Gobi Desert?"
His words reached a vicious crescendo and he rounded savagely on his heel, catching the briefest of confused stares from Jack as he started to wheel back around. "So now you've blipped poor ol' Lyn into temporal stasis and can't get her out of it. Worse still, you're already suspect, so you have to let all her notes and data pass to Grimwade. But you don't stop there, oh no. Because the alarm's ticking to Volcano Day, to quote the good Captain, and even if you're long gone you don't want all your hard work going up in flames. So you off him, too."
Spinning wheels and widening gyres. Two lives back and he'd have done things to this man's mind that would've made Lecter blink, but this was here and now and this life and he had to trust to the brief and brutal side of things. The ring of truth was in Horten's voice and it demanded that he act instantly.
"So you tried to win him over, then," the Doctor barked.
"And he listened?"
-- he tries to explain that there was no choice, but the sigil looms --
The Doctor drowned out the chorus by focusing on Horten's sweating, pasty face. "I don't have time for this -- "
"He did! I had nothing to do with it -- " Odd. Horten didn't have the capacity for duplicity -- well, not that much. Was he telling the truth?
"Fine. He 'disappeared'. But in the meantime, all Lyn's notes, all Grimwade's notes pass to Trevor Selos. Selos works on the history of the Book and doesn't see any reason to give you any more access to their diaries. Meanwhile, Ragusa's giving you the hard stare. You try to wear Selos down, but he won't talk to you.
And then what happens, Mr. Horten?"
Horten slumped back into the chair. "I -- I tried to hack his files."
"No luck, then."
Horten rubbed his face, wearily. "He kept them on a unit that was not connected to the main interface. A data dump, with no interface for the main grid. I spent weeks trying to find those files before I realized . . "
"So you had to get the hard copy."
"But Selos passed it on to Ragusa. And Ragusa, being the Director of the Special Collection, had the best possible encryption system that a library budget could afford." He snorted reflectively, in spite of himself. "'Course, you being a crap hacker probably didn't help the cause, did it . . "
Horten sagged in his seat, tears pooling in the rims of his lenses. The Doctor tried to find that cold edge that had served him so well in the past, but here was just a small, broken man with no hope. What was the point of rallying for such a grim future?
-- dead --
"So you deputized me to help you hack those files for you, and let me just say that's an inspired bit of gall right there; keeping me in the dark about the thing I was looking for while using me to get at it. Botched, but gutsy. Not that you could come right out and ask me for help, could you?"
The Logician was bent low over himself, shoulders heaving. "Horten."
"So, call me, uh, crazy, but being a latecomer to all this, well . . . " Jack sighed, leaning against the doorframe. "I'm not really seeing how everything's adding up. Not yet."
Neither did he, but he was dammed if he was going to say it out loud. "Explain later. So. Mr. Horten. You want to explain why my screwdriver, you know, the one you said was missing? why it was in the ducts above your esteemed Director's office? Not to mention why the Book and what I'm guessing was Trevor Selos's insides were keeping it company?"
"I . . ." Horten took a long, shuddery breath. "I don't know."
"Oh, come on, Max. No secrets now."
"No, I don't . . . I don't know. I assumed that Ragusa --"
"Again with trying to implicate the Director? Please. I eat toast, beans and red herrings for breakfast. You've got nothing left to lose; why were they --"
"I don't know." The little man flinched horribly as the Doctor stared him down, quailing in the Time Lord's basilisk gaze. "I . . . I honestly don-- "
Not. Again. "And just what were you trying to do with the Book, anyway? Because as far as changing the future goes, you haven't. Yet. Though if I don't get this -- "
"Shut up. Talking. C'mon, Mr. Horten. I'm not finished with you; not by a long shot."
"Doctor." Jack's voice had a warning note, and he had withdrawn further into the room. "Remember this whole 'lookout' thing I was on about?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, then registered a low, background hum. Getting louder.
"Right. Split up; meet back at the TARDIS." He grabbed Horten by the shoulder, hauling the little man to his feet. "Don't suppose I can prevail upon your superior Agent training to lead them off for a bit?"
Jack sighed heavily, but waggled his eyebrows. "Anything to be of service. Need the key, though." He leaned in, muttering in the Doctor's not-inconsiderable ear, "So how'd you figure out it was him?"
"I didn't. All a freeform bluff based on some conflicting accounts. Doesn't explain nearly enough, though." The Doctor dug in his trouser pocket for the key, handing it over and morbidly wondering if he'd ever get it back. "Here. Don't you get caught."
"What, and miss your big explanation as to just what the hell's going on? I'll come back from the crukking grave if I have to." Jack saluted jauntily, then dashed out of the room. Thirteen seconds later, a police drone whirred past, tentacles flailing. Neither of the two remaining men breathed until the groaning had receded in the outside halls.
The Doctor felt Horten flinch under his grip, and a few more errant questions reared their heads. "Just out of curiosity, you wouldn't be controlling that lot too?"
"N-no. No. I don't -- I thought they were loaned out to us, I -- I tried to reprogram one or two but -- well -- "
and even now it comes, following in the storm's wake
The Doctor shook his head, waiting for the world to stop flaring white. "Sorry. Wait. So -- the squiddies aren't yours, then?"
"I told you, the Director has influence -- "
He cut Horten off with a snort. "No one's got this kind of sway." Adjusting his grip on Horten's collar, he glanced out into the halls. Though already jittery, his nerves could still pinpoint that malevolent whirr somewhere on this level. Assuming that Jack was leading the drones on a merry chase, that meant he and Horten could take the direct route to the TARDIS.
This brought up an interesting point. "Uh. Horten?"
The puffin-faced little man glanced up at him, defeated, shivering. "Yes?"
"You didn't see a police box anywhere, did you?"
The drones seemed to be moving around more erratically than usual, although Ragusa suspected the same could be said of her. More alarming was the fact that she hadn't encountered anyone in the halls since parting with the human girl on the staircase. Budget cuts and shortened hours notwithstanding, there should be some staff still around.
Although it would not have surprised her if they really had been skipping out early, these days. Nothing was sacred.
A low series of vibrations pulsed from a nearby corridor. Close. Hopefully there was somewhere to hide, but so far . . .
-- Come to that, why had she broken into Horten's office? There had seemed to be good reason for it at the time, but that was largely the fault of that infuriating girl, who had seemed so very sure of the reasoning and then failed spectacularly to clarify anything. Some vague and badly-explained concept of danger made in a tremulous voice, then some inexplicable robot attacks for good measure . . .
They did reality vid shows about this sort of thing, she remembered hazily. Disorientation drills. Pick a victim, instigate a rapid series of jarring events and see just how madly they'll behave before catching on.
Her arm was missing; she'd been electrocuted by police drones after being arrested for having an unexplained digestive tract in her ceiling; she was exhausted, patronized, insulted and on the verge of collapse; her library was no doubt horrifying to behold in certain areas. Oh, there would be lawsuits.
The warning buzzing started to chafe under her chitin. Very close.
There didn't seem to be many more options for hiding, although given how tired Ragusa was feeling, falling over into torpor didn't seem like such a terrible option. Out of deference to her habitual if pointless defiance of the inevitable, she turned one last corner.
She blinked mulishly at the blue cabinet some idiot had dumped in the middle of the hallway, where anyone could walk into it. Lawsuit.
There was an inexplicable creak and a panel -- door? -- opened in its surface.
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