The stability of the temporal cosmos was at stake. The man was an obstacle. The Doctor was probably going to have to knock him out and tie him up with the electrical wiring.
Eventually tie him up. Eventually.
The Doctor grinned and folded his hands, leaning expectantly towards the bespectacled, vaguely puffin-shaped little man in the green blazer. "Lovely. Two lumps, and sugar if you've got any."
His companion paused in his work of setting out the chipped china cup. "Sorry?"
"Nothing." Cheerful grin. Keep them guessing.
"I'm dreadfully sorry about the, ah," the man made a vague hand gesture indicating the room, "state of affairs. In flux at the moment. Cataloguing. Databases. You understand."
The Doctor scoffed. "Eh. If libraries were supposed to be clean, they wouldn't have books in 'em."
This elicited a delighted little chuckle. "Quite so, quite so. Your tea, Mr. --"
"Doctor -- ?"
"Just the Doctor, thanks." He regarded the cup. Tannin and free radicals, good, but if he was going to get his brain back up to speed . . . He reached for the sugar cellar. "And you?"
"Horten. Maxwell Horten." The man eased himself into the swivel chair across from the Doctor. "Subdivision Director for the Archives, with a special emphasis on the history of our humble settlement." He beamed slightly, then frowned as he noted that the Doctor had dumped three teaspoons full of sugar into his drink and showed no sign of forgoing a fourth.
The Doctor's gaze lifted briefly from his cup to Horten's outfit. "You a Logician, then?"
The little man held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Please, do not prejudge me! -- Virtually all of the Archivists and much of the staff here are members of the Guild." He sighed. "It becomes easier to parrot the lines rather than wade through the tedious onslaught of evangelizing, I'm afraid."
Two more teaspoons? --Didn't get dinner. Three more. "Funny. Thought the Guild had slacked off the maniacal bent a while back."
Horten coughed politely. "Things improve with age, I've found." He seemed perplexed by the look that flitted across the Doctor's face. "Er. I'm sorry that I have no bandage for your wound, but it seems to be healing . . "
"Yeah well, 'time heals', et cetera. Does bring up a burning question, though." He stirred his tea, forcing it more than usual thanks to the slurry of sugar at its bottom. "One minute, I'm going to dinner; next minute, I find a body in a sidealley and the local constabulary fancies me as a pinata." Some of the tea was now running over the sides. "And now I'm here, which I'm guessing isn't the local gaol. And unless the city budget's been cut worse than usual, you aren't exactly pulling double-duty as Chief Inspector." He grinned again, careful to insert just the necessary sliver of an edge. "Interesting night out, even by my standards."
Horten adjusted his spectacles, an eager hand raised to flag the Doctor's comment. "Quite. Quite. Yes, I'm sorry to have, ah, waylaid you in such a fashion, Doctor, but it seems as though you stumbled into a rather dire state of affairs." He folded his plump little hands, then seemed to decide against it and clasped them instead around his own mug. "The poor soul you found in the alley was a fellow Archivist, name of Trevor Selos. So sad. So sad. Wonderful fellow."
"I didn't kill him," the Doctor said evenly. Eyes locked with the Logician's, who couldn't quite seem to meet that steady gaze.
"Oh, I know. You have no motive, after all, and certainly don't have the look of a killer." Horten smiled blandly, though his expression seemed a bit glazed. "No. No. I fear," here he leaned forward, "I fear the true killer is someone here in the Library. This is why I, ah, interrupted the police drones in their task. I require your assistance in bringing the real murderer to justice."
The Doctor slowly raised his cup. "So this is the Library. Thought so." He sipped from the cup, noting that the Archivist winced as he did so. "Why me? Why not just let the police work it out for themselves?" Sucrose. Ha. Haahhhh.
Horten's face creased. "Ah. The, ah, person that I suspect of the killing has some influence with the law enforcement. I fear that they would not be much help in solving the murder." He pinched the bridge of his nose, momentarily displacing his spectacles. "In fact, I believe that the police droids were deliberately tipped off by, ahem, someone in a higher position. Apparently they assumed an off-worlder would be a convenient, er, patsy." He took a deep breath. "In the, ah, interest of clearing your name, I feel that we must, er, join forces to build a case." He leaned back, looking slightly anxious.
What had this been, originally? Earl Grey? Djarleeng? "Huh. Guess there's a literary precedent for librarian detectives." -- Ooh, that was a good one; worked on two levels. How many spoonfuls did he put in this thing?
The Archivist was leaning forward again, his face suffused with hope. Something about his expression soured the Doctor's otherwise improved mood. This bright little man might be on to something, but he might also be completely wrong. Or overreacting. Or the murderer himself. And the feel of his quarry was somewhere here, somewhere in this building, pricking like a splinter . . .
He wasn't here to deal with little details. Yes, a man had been killed; that was bad. But if he abandoned his search to get wrapped up in a murder mystery then the artifact might never be reclaimed, meaning the expression 'the charnel-house of history' would shortly become a very literal one.
Big picture thinking. It left a taste in your mouth that no amount of sugar could overcome.
Just as well Rose wasn't here.
He fixed the Archivist with a steady gaze, hating himself for what he was about to do. "Don't suppose you've got my jacket?"
Rose sat dejectedly in the control chair.
He'd be all right. He had to be all right. He was the Doctor. He always got into trouble, but always got out of it in the end.
That was what he did. That was who he was.
All right, she'd saved him that time with the Nestene Consciousness, but he was still the one who did the rescuing all those other times. -- Oh, except Charles Dickens got them out of the cellar. And Mickey was the one on the outside who actually . . . yeah, and Cathica . . . then her dad had to solve that one . . . and Jack had taken care of the bomb problem for them --
She buried her face in her knees. All right. Revised standard: he was good at getting other people to rescue him. Never mind he'd last been knocked about by a bunch of stupid robots and then stolen away to Parts Unknown. Never mind that the people slated to rescue him were going quietly mad.
She felt so useless. The information they'd culled from the infochannels and their inept little charade at the station (fine, Jack was right about the paper) had only told them that the murder victim had been killed by some sort of massive internal displacement and that he'd been dead for about eight hours. No motives, no hints, no Big Flashing Clues -- at least, none she recognized. Where the hell were they supposed to go from there?
She bit the lower half of her lip. Jack was currently mucking around in the TARDIS's bash-up room, trying to boost the signal on his pink globe to pick up the encrypted police frequencies. If he was doing anything else with it, she wasn't sure she wanted to know. Something about his refusal to act openly upset struck her as . . . rude.
But then, he didn't have as much invested in the Doctor, did he? The alien who suffered him to tag along but watched him like a hawk, all sideways glances and terse sentences. Whereas Rose --
-- well --
-- having known the Doctor longer, was better attuned to him and his quirks and moods, his melancholia and deep still silences, the shining depths of his dark clear eyes; she was the one who strove to understand and to aid and to (yes) love him. The stupid bastard.
The stupid, vague, maddening multi-hearted alien bastard.
Rose Tyler stared at her knees, not seeing them. What she was seeing, however, was the beginning of a plan.
"'Livin' in just . . one . . mind --'"
He pouted slightly. "Geez, sorry." He pulled himself up off of the workbench, setting the pink globe down. "What's this about two hearts?"
Rose waved her hands around, frantic to explain. "The Doctor. He's got two hearts. That wrist thingy of yours, the one you used to scan for alien tech --"
Jack crossed his arms, looking skeptical. "Wait. You want me to reconfigure it to search out biopatterns? Rose, I don't know if I can do that --"
"But you can try, right?" Her fingers clenched reflexively. This plan was brilliant and she'd come up with it; did he have to shoot it down so quickly? Score one for Rose Tyler? Universe? Hullo?
Jack pursed his lips. "Well . . . the Doctor, or someone, ripped out what looked like all the really important and necessary tracking bits from the TARDIS . . " He glanced around the workshop, rapping his knuckles on the workbench. "Souping up Pinky here didn't work, so I don't know how you expect me to jury-rig a bio-scanner; not really my field of expertise."
Oh, thank you so much, Universe. "Well, what would you need?"
Jack sighed, giving the table a particularly frustrated rap and then smacking his palm down. "A transinductional matter converter, maybe. I dunno, some big freakin' transmitter signal with a wide range -- would need to be keyed to the TARDIS, though, so --"
Rose fumbled in her pocket and thrust her phone at him. "Blimey, isn't this just our lucky day?"
For all that it symbolized a desire to keep everything and everyone at arms' length, for all that it was a snarling renunciation of those fatuous affectations of his earlier lives, for all that it was the outward and physical manifestation of the scarred bulwark of his soul -- damn, he looked good in this coat.
Too bad the tracker was so conspicuously absent from its pocket. Not that he needed it to find his quarry; even now, admiring his reflection in the cloakroom mirror he felt it nudging against the periphery of his awareness, a blur in the corner of his mind's eye. The much more pressing problem was the one of what would happen once he'd accomplished what he'd set out to do and then tried to take off in a TARDIS that was mildly lobotomized.
Not like you can get the parts from the dealer, anymore.
A rapping at the door. "Doctor?"
He sighed. Horten. "Found my screwdriver, have you?"
The little man bustled in, quickly shutting the door behind him. "Er. No, I'm sorry, Doctor. When I brought you here --"
"How did you bring me here?"
"Oh. Er. My buggy. I was supposed to meet with Trevor, you see, and was in the vicinity when you were attacked." He readjusted his spectacles, peering up at the Doctor like a myopic gannet. "Stroke of luck, really."
"Hmm. Not really." The Doctor patted down his jacket in one last and ultimately futile attempt to discover some remnant of the electronics. Nothing. "I mean," he added mulishly, "Holmes didn't need a deerstalker and pipe, but good luck getting him to work without 'em."
Horten blinked, then smiled wanly. "But he was fiction, Doctor."
"Whatever you say. 'Course, it was the cocaine he couldn't do without . . . So, then. I get attacked. You rescue me." The Doctor glanced around the small, mildewy room, found a chair, and wheeled it around. He plopped himself down with gusto, crossed a leg, folded his arms and cocked his head while donning the kind of expression that sent people scurrying for the trees. "You rescue me from some big, nasty, not-especially-bright-or-conversationally-stimulating police droids. How, exactly?"
The Archivist spread his hands before him again. "I could hardly take any credit for martial prowess, sir. The, ah, droids' main computational banks are run off the same servers shared with the Library and indeed much of Alezhandria's other law departments. And since we are updating and editing these archives continually, they tend to crash at semi-random intervals when too much, er, strain is placed on the network."
The Doctor frowned. "Hang on. The Archive's farmed out some of its server space to the police department? How strapped for cash are you lot?"
Horten arched an eyebrow. "We're a library. Need I say more?"
"At any rate, this shared connection was almost certainly used to hack or disrupt the droids' regular sweep functions and restrain you. That is, assuming that the murderer hadn't merely bought off a police official for the order. One of them left to contact a stretcher detail for the, er, the corpse shortly after you were, ah, incapacitated, and the other two were preparing to move you to a holding cell when the server crashed." Horten reached into his breast pocket, carefully opening a tortoiseshell case and taking a lint-free rag from it. He began to clean his spectacles; the Doctor noted the dark circles under his eyes.
"Stroke of luck, then." He leaned back in the chair, still watching Horten. "Too bad you didn't get my things; suppose it can't be helped. D'you know if the droids confiscated them?"
"Fantastic." He let his head dangle over the back of the chair, one leg jiggling irritably. The little man wanted something from him, he could sense it. Information? Or just a chance to impart some? Honestly, the man was fidgeting like an incontinent terrier; he was obviously worked up about something. The Doctor exhaled noisily. Maxwell Horten seemed like a reasonably decent sort. Little high-strung, a bit pretentious, slightly paranoid, but essentially good-hearted.
Too bad he was going to bolt out of here the minute he knew where the exits were located.
"So," he drawled again, staring up at the water-stained ceiling tiles, "you've obviously got someone in mind as Mr. Big."
"Oh, indeed." The Archivist's tone lowered, and he set his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. The eyes under his beetle brows were set and cold. "Ragusa."
"The Director For the Special Collection. Archivist Ragusa. All of the non-conventional and, ah, more worrying texts are under her care. Few of these are human works, but then, she isn't one herself." He folded his arms. "And she's ruthless about upholding her authority."
The Doctor shrugged. Petty tyrants were everywhere, even in libraries. Especially in libraries. Although . . . "'Special Collection', huh?"
Horten waved a vague hand. "Works the Guild would rather not trouble the rest of the Empire with. Some merely heretical, some truly revolutionary, some notable only for their, ah, remarkable binding and one or two of them . . . well, beyond explanation." He sighed. "Ragusa has spent the past eighty years overseeing the collection and I believe she may regard it as her own, rather than rightful property of the Archives. She has made a point of restricting access to many of these works and even denying their presence in the records when questioned."
Small hairs prickled on the back of the Doctor's neck. "Really."
"Unfortunately, yes. And her temper is considerable. She's ruined the careers of those who cross her, and -- " Horten paused, seeming to regard a nonexistent point in the distance, "when two Archivists who worked under her started to -- well, begin from the beginning -- when one of the books in the, ah, Special Collection went missing seven months ago, two Archivists in her department noticed this and began searching the records for it."
"And they ended up dead."
"What? Oh, no. No. Not dead; merely missing. They disappeared within three months of each other; first Lyn and then Grimwade. The police supposedly conducted a thorough investigation into the matter, but nothing was ever satisfactorily resolved. Then, Trevor Selos resumed the search for the book, confiding only in me. Initially, I thought, ah, that he was merely overworked, delusional." He sighed, a dusty little sound that seemed to echo in his throat. "Poor Trevor . ."
The Doctor kept his gaze fixed on the tiles above him. Small patches of mold ringed the brown edges of the water spot. "So you think Ragusa stole the book and knocked off anyone who stumbled onto her trail."
"I would hesitate to, ah, make an outright accusation, but the evidence does seem to point in that direction." Horten's despondent tone acquired a pleading note. "Please, Doctor. This must certainly seem like a waste of time to you, but I can assure you that --"
The Doctor's head snapped back up. "Waste of time? That depends." He saw Horten flinch at his own tone, sharp and to the point. Fixed him with a look that would derail a locomotive. "This book. This mysterious little novella that the good Director's taken a fancy to -- what's it called?"
Horten blinked, answering automatically. "No one knows. The language -- it doesn't correspond to any known system of writing. The, ah, characters seem to move on the page, and resemble mathematical concepts more than mere -- more than ordinary word groupings." His fingers laced into each other, anxious. "Er. Though that was, ah, Trevor's assessment. I never was allowed to see it, myself, and then it disappeared --"
the screaming of the deathless ones, and all things fall before the oncoming storm
The Doctor's voice was low and deathless. "And it's a black book? Smells like metal? Got a funny symbol on its cover, looks like an eight but with two little curves arcing out?"
all things, except --
The Archivist's mouth opened, then shut again. "I -- yes. Yes, he did say --"
The Doctor closed his eyes.
Of all the things to endure. Of all of the things to be allowed to survive, it was this.
Oh, well. Work to do.
He leapt out of the chair, startling Horten, who staggered back as though struck, and grabbed the smaller man by his shoulders.
"The game's afoot," he declared. "Come along, Watson!"
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