Archivist Ragusa raised a scabrous hand to her spectacles and frowned at the readout.
"Thirty-seven illicit downloads from Archive Six; twelve unauthorized viewings of classified text. Nineteen unspecified usages between the hours of 03:00 and 07:48. Hrrst." She glanced up at the ruddy-faced intern who was shifting from foot to foot. "How did you come across these . . . transgressions?"
The boy -- Vetch -- folded his hands behind his back in a misguided attempt at appearing professional. Not a yet a Logician, he nonetheless wore the double-breasted green suit with the symbol of Universal Logic woven onto the left breast. It might've commanded more respect if there wasn't a curry stain slightly below it.
"I was trying to get Archivist Selos to sign off on my time log. He wasn't there, and I, er, waited a bit, only he didn't come -- "
And it was getting close to dinner, thought Ragusa drily.
"-- so I thought that I'd leave him a message on his webwork, only there was this." He pointed at the readout. "At first I thought it was nothing, but then I realized it dealt with your department. The Special Collection, you know, and since it looked important . . ." His voice trailed off as he lost confidence.
Ragusa clicked her mandibles in irritation. "Hrrst. And it did not occur to you that Archivist Selos had not already sent me this information? You merely assumed I was unaware of the problems within my own department?"
The intern blanched. "Er, that is -- "
Ragusa directed her gaze back down to the tablet. "As it happens, I was not aware of it, but that is hardly an excuse." She sighed, a heavy buzzing sound. "In light of recent events, an explanation from the late Archivist is highly unlikely. Very well. You have already been questioned by the Guard -- " the boy's flinching said as much "-- so presumably they will contact you for further inquiries. It is well that I have this information. You may go." She turned back to her own webwork, scanning its branches with mounting concern as the network blossomed with wild speculation and intrigues. Worse still, this massive and most recent server crash had very likely destroyed countless hours of processing. None of this boded well for her.
A slight cough made her turn. Vetch was still standing there. "Er. Could you sign my time log, ma'am?"
Rose stared at her knees.
When she'd been little, and not especially fond of taking baths, her mum had told her to pretend her legs were the backs of whales surfacing for air. She could only get out of the tub when they'd done this at least twenty times, without cheating and just splashing them up and down in a hurry.
Her mum was a bit weird, sometimes.
Rose sighed, submerging the whales. After a long day of walking and shopping, warm baths were just the ticket. She let her gaze fall idly to the parcels and clothing she'd left on the dressing chair. The little blue orb was peeking out of her jacket pocket.
Reaching over, she tried to activate it but got only static. At first she thought it must be broken but then she recalled the Doctor saying something about the TARDIS jamming low-range transmissions; the satellite feed was probably too weak to pick up in here. Jack was going to be disappointed.
Someone knocked on her door. "Rose?" Speak of the devil.
"I'm in the bath!" The door handle moved slightly. "That means don't come in, Jack. What's going on, you found him?"
A sigh. "No. Checked all over." A pause. "I think he left the TARDIS a while ago."
She pursed her lips. "Why?"
"Well, it just looks like he tore through the workshop and took all the good batteries, for starters--"
"No -- I mean why would he just leave?"
"Hey, you're the one who knows him. Look, I'm gonna run some scans; come find me when you're done."
Rose listened to the sound of his footsteps receding down the hall. Why would the Doctor leave? Did he discover there was something he needed? Maybe he stepped out for a bite. Or a drink; he could knock back a few when the mood hit him.
Maybe something was wrong with the TARDIS. Maybe he was in trouble. Maybe he was racing desperately through the city, trying to find them. -- No, that was silly; he'd have called.
She sighed again, violently breaking the surface of the water as she drew her knees to her chest. So much for relaxing baths. The blue orb caught her eye as she climbed out of the tub and suddenly gave her an idea.
Rose pulled on her clothes from earlier and, still damp, jogged down the familiar twists of the corridors until she reached the still-quiet console room. Stepping out of the TARDIS, she shivered deliciously as the warm night breeze played against her wet skin. The blue flowers on the walls were actually glowing in the moon -- in the planetlight -- and the white buildings loomed pale and serene. The distant city glimmered like a multifaceted jewel.
She sat down by the grocer's stand, nodding at the peaceable lady working it. "Excuse me, I just press this button and it starts working?"
The woman shrugged. "Pretty easy interface. Just don't click on any of those pop-up windows or you'll never be rid of them."
Universal constants. Rose tapped the button and marveled at the slight hum that the orb produced as light folded out of it into a shimmering white rectangle. Slowly, the page folded into a three-dimensional representation of the Archival City, with arrows and flash points and animations crowding around its complex topography. Blinking, Rose tried to figure out the interface, which turned out to be calibrated to her eye movements. Though dizzying, it somehow made sense while it was working.
Forgetting the reason for activating the orb in the first place, Rose skimmed the gossip of the day (boring), read up on the hot spots (they'd hit five), had several publications offered to her at low introductory prices and discovered that apparently the world was not ending, the aliens weren't invading and those worrying explosions to the right quadrant of the screen were from a movie trailer.
She was rather enjoying the experience until a series of urgent words appeared across her field of vision:
Breaking: Missing Archivist Found Dead. Suspect Detained For Questioning
The first image was that of a nervous, bookish middle-aged man which the glowing font below identified as Trevor Selos, 47, deceased.
The second image, identified as a possible murder suspect, was --
Rose jumped up, stumbling back to the TARDIS.
Rose was not used to being frantic. Desperate, yes; desperate was normal. Frantic was an entirely different subcategory.
The whole charm of traveling with the Doctor was that you always had a lot to worry about but not a lot to actually do. You acted as a sounding board, posited theories, asked seemingly obvious questions and just generally tried not to sprain your ankle; he did the rest. You were party to everything that was going on -- and invariably incarcerated once those goings-on fell apart -- but you weren't responsible for it. And you weren't expected to be responsible for it. You helped out where you could, but the hugely and devastatingly clever part of the plan (and the head-butting when it failed) was the Doctor's department. You just got to tell him how clever he'd been.
She knew she wasn't stupid, but in the last half-hour it felt as though her brains had dribbled out her ear. She'd burst into Jack's room yelling about launching a rescue mission, grab the sonic blaster and meet me in the spare room in ten minutes! and had realized in short order that what she'd really meant was while he was doing that, she was going to go get the Doctor so they could go . . . rescue the Doctor.
Jack, calmer if slightly terrified of her now, had gently suggested that maybe they just go down to the police department and ask to see him.
That was the other thing about traveling with the Doctor. Everything ended up seeming like a worst-case scenario.
So they'd flagged down a cab -- driven by the same garrulous camel-thing who'd dropped them off earlier -- and were now speeding towards the Hall of Justice.
Actually, speeding was hardly the word. "Don't like to go too fast, this time of night. Bad for the digestion. Family's prone to the digestion troubles. You been eating well, lately?" A noxious cloud of gas wafted past their faces. Rose gritted her teeth and flung herself back in the seat. Perfect.
"You could've at least brought the blaster," she muttered, picking irritably at a hole in her hoodie.
The look Jack gave her was of utter incredulity, with perhaps a little more amusement than strictly necessary. "Rose. Police Station. Walking in with a holster isn't going to win us any friends."
"You could pretend you're a detective! You've got the psychic paper --"
"Come on, that's a glorified party trick! Just because it works on the man in the street and your 20th century rubes doesn't mean that professional law enforcement will fall for it."
"So what do we do?" Rose sighed angrily, then sized Jack up. "And I'm not a rube."
"Didn't call you one."
"I was born in the 20th century."
He folded his arms defensively. "Only the end bit. Anyway, we don't have to worry. The Doctor's obviously innocent, the court system isn't too corrupt and there's no stupid death penalties or anything. We'll go in, demand a lawyer, and knowing the Doc, we'll even end up solving the murder and saving the planet from some big unspecified threat or whatever." Jack snorted, then gave Rose a slightly more sympathetic glance. "C'mon, relax. Haven't you ever bailed anyone out before?"
Rose poked her finger through the hole, twisting the fabric savagely. "Yeah, Mickey. For trying to swim in the lobby fountain after betting Johnny Park he could drink a pint a minute for ten minutes. Murder, now that seems a little different."
"Geez, calm down." Jack paused. "Was Mickey drunk or just paying the forfeit?"
"I honestly don't remember." She sighed again, turning back to the cabbie. "Please? A little faster?" Turning back around, she found Jack's expression unreadable.
"You're really worried about him, huh."
She clenched her jaw. "Not that worried." If anything, angry. Really, really angry. One perfect day of vacation ruined, and she didn't even know why.
The station was busy but clean and well-ordered. The people at the desk were of a naturally surly disposition, but still answered the questions Rose and Jack put to them.
The answers weren't what either of them wanted to hear.
Three police droids -- huge, hovering one-eyed things that looked like the bastard offspring of a jellyfish and HAL -- had indeed discovered the deceased Trevor Selos with the suspect in an unoccupied street off Panthea Row. The suspect, a mid-sized humanoid male in his early forties, resisted arrest and was incapacitated --
" 'Incapacitated?' What the hell does that mean?" Rose demanded.
It meant incapacitated, apparently. The droids scanned him for his file, discovered that he was not in the city registry and subsequently prepared to transport him to a holding facility for questioning. Unfortunately --
Unfortunately, the continual updating and processing of new information meant that the main computational grid periodically overloaded and shut down. Both of the droids carrying the suspect were running off one of the same servers that crashed, meaning they blacked out for a good 45 seconds before rebooting in autistic mode. The suspect was missing when they came back online.
"Did he run off?" asked Jack, leaning in.
The officer expressed his doubts on that, given that the suspect had been tasered and then struck on the head twice.
Rose slammed the palms of her hands down on the desk. "That's what 'incapacitated' means? Your stupid robots hit him and tasered him!? Ever heard of police brutality?" Jack was trying to tell her to keep her voice down, but the words were clawing their way out of her throat now. "Why not shoot him in the leg a few times just to make sure? You call yourselves professionals!"
The man behind the desk stared up at her, then at Jack's psychic paper, then back to her, then the paper. After a moment, he said, "You aren't really detectives, are you?"
Ten seconds later and they were running out the door.
fire laps at the corners of his vision. the storm spares nothing. in the distance, the howling of the monsters; before him, the screaming of the deathless ones. he tries to explain that there was no choice, but the sigil looms--
Something wet on his face.
Eyes opening without enthusiasm, the Doctor groggily attempted to wipe off whatever was on his forehead. It turned out to be blood from a shallow gash on his temple.
Arms cold. He wasn't wearing his jacket. Feeling almost naked and still decidedly feeble, the knowledge that his tracker -- and by association, several vital components of the TARDIS -- was now effectively gone just completed the overall sense of complete and utter failure. Not to mention that he'd stumbled across a dead body in an abandoned alley with no other witnesses; this day had long, obnoxious trial written all over it. He groaned quietly, closing his eyes again.
It was here.
Darting upright, instantly alert, the Doctor cast a wild gaze around the room. As his frenzied mind came to grips with the situation, he quickly realized that he was not in a detention block or holding cell -- he was in someone's office. A small, tasteful desk cluttered with decidedly tasteless paperwork occupied the corner nearest him. Antiquated processors and webwork interfacings competed for shelf space, cables ran throughout the ceiling and floor, and a poster on the far side of the beige walls told him to "Hang In There!" The smell of coffee and ammonia was rather prevalent, as well as sweat.
And the smell of something else. Old time. No human would possibly have sensed that.
The Doctor slowly backed away from the lumpy gray couch that he had been deposited on. It was here. Somewhere here, in this room. Or --
No, not in the room, but close. So close. His palms started itching; he tried to wipe them against the insides of his jacket sleeves before remembering it was gone. Well, fantastic. The sonic screwdriver was gone as well. Whoever was holding him wasn't taking any chances.
"First order of the day," he muttered to himself. "Find out what it is I didn't do, how I didn't do it, and why. Second, cross own timeline and punch self in face repeatedly."
There was a rustle outside the door, and the Doctor braced himself for another joyless confrontation with The Authorities.
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