Alezhandria at dawn could just break your heart in all the right ways. Overhead loomed the silver globe of Thoth, over the horizon peeked the bright amber sun. The giant dragonflies whirred past on iridescent wings, singing elaborate little hunting ditties in metallic voices. Several unfortunate nightingales attempted to join the chorus and were eaten for their trouble.
The Doctor really, really didn't need to think about what Jack and Rose were doing right now.
They probably hadn't even made it back to the TARDIS anyway. Probably waking up in a ritzy hotel somewhere in the uptown district, in the kind of situation where the phrases "tangled limbs" and "sore but happy" and "limpid brown pools" -- no, no one actually said that, nevermind -- get bandied about by overtly sentimental types. And he'd facilitated it all.
Everyone else dances. I get hit on the head by robots while trying to stave off universal destruction. Discuss.
Of course, he might presume too much. Part of the Doctor was genuinely concerned that they'd be worried about him, that maybe Rose was out searching for him in some dark alley and getting jumped by mysterious strangers. This aspect of his thought was neatly overshadowed by the rest of his mind suspecting grimly that she was in a dimmed corridor getting jumped by Jack.
Well. At least they were out of trouble. Sort of.
His own companion this morning was hardly his first choice for world-saving. Archivist Horten was clearly a man whose only real exposure to intrigue and excitement had been via the literary traditions where the villain, upon being confronted with evidence of their dastardly evil plan, would expound at length upon the nature of their scheme before giving them a vital clue as to how they might be stopped. Hardly a realistic course of action.
Fine, it always worked for him, but that really wasn't the point.
Horten kept insisting that they reach the main computational grid, where he could demonstrate firsthand the extent of the revisions that Ragusa had made to the original records. "Unfortunately, ah, as the Director of the Special Collection, she has an encrypted system; I have tried on numerous occasions to access it and have failed. Er. Though I suspect you have the capacity to --"
They were currently loping down one of the main Library's access corridors, frequented only by harassed-looking interns and the occasional bleary-eyed Archivist. Not many people were up yet, and the few they encountered didn't give them a second glance. The Doctor was easily four steps ahead of Horten, who had to puff and jog to keep up with him.
The Doctor was indeed heading towards the main computational grid, but for reasons other than what Horten thought. Revising history was easy. Hell, not revising history was the hard bit. If this Ragusa character was trying to make all records of the book disappear by tinkering with a database, then she obviously had no idea what she was dealing with.
-- Assuming she was the culprit; that would need to be validated first. But it was a little heartening to know that even if the artifact had been discovered and tampered with that whoever had it couldn't do much with it. After all, the fact that there were murders and disappearances and cover-ups meant that Time itself hadn't been completely and ruthlessly edited out of existence. Yet.
And the book was somewhere on the premises.
And the main grid was just rife with electronic filing and tracking systems.
And he came first in jiggery-pokery.
He grinned savagely to himself, just as Horten managed to catch up with him. "Er. You don't think we should, ah, approach from a less conspicuous route? Ragusa may have --" here he lowered his voice, " -- may have agents in the vicinity."
"Oh, c'mon. Not like they'll have guards on the doors --"
They rounded the corner. There were, in fact, guards at the doors. Two police droids hovered on either side, red eyes blank and baleful. The Doctor's pace slowed only momentarily, but he waved cheerfully at the one to his left as he approached. "Hey there, handsome."
The robot regarded him dispassionately. Now that the Doctor had a chance to look them over without being attacked (so far), he concluded that his initial impression had been about right. Armor-plated lobster with fiddley bits. Long arms, too. He was inclined to think it looked familiar, but then given the circumstances of his first seeing one . . .
Behind him, Horten coughed. "Ahem. Er. We're just checking up on the latest batch of submissions. Interns, you know. Mistakes." He pushed the Doctor through the door. "Thank you!"
Safely inside, the Doctor turned and frowned at the Archivist. "No need for that, you know. Never make excuses; that's how they know you're up to something. Just swan in like you own the place." He tugged the jacket around his shoulders. "Works all the time." He turned back to regard the rest of the grid room. "Ooh. We're going to have fun . . ."
Frowning, Horten wiped off his glasses again. "They were robots, Doctor. They behave according to logical precepts, not by, ah, 'swanning in'. Er." He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I do hope they aren't specifically watching for us . . ."
The Doctor was too busy giving the grid room a once-over to respond.
It was the size of one of your classier cathedrals, and had something of a residually holy air about it. The only light came from the glittering blue of the data feeds and the luminous viewscreens. Ghostly echoes of the scuffling of feet and the muted beeps of keypads were the only sounds.
And of course, there was a huge quartz-and-metal data terminal in the middle of it all, shimmering with bursts of compressed information, thrumming with power and just generally looking like the most beautifully ostentatious New Age electric mixer on acid ever.
The Doctor's palms itched. It wasn't that the grid terminal was sophisticated; it wasn't. Two hundred years before, it would have been obsolete, and one good look showed him that it had been hastily and cheaply retrofitted from whatever existing technologies were still adaptable. The data feeds via cranial holes were much more sophisticated in terms of packaging and relaying information than this old fossil.
But you couldn't take out a person's brain and fiddle with the fun bits. Also, brains didn't glitter in quite the same way.
"Of all the times to be missing your sonic screwdriver," he murmured.
It was just as well the Doctor wasn't there. He'd have flayed Jack with a teaspoon.
The TARDIS console room didn't have a flat surface that wires and extruded bits of electronics hadn't been strewn across or under. The lighting system threw a nauseating orange glow on everything, as though payback for the atrocities that Jack was creating from the ship's higher functions.
It was funny, Rose thought. She'd almost gotten used to the idea of the TARDIS being alive, had sort of reconciled itself to the fact that it slummed in her head, could just about handle those times she felt it nudge past her consciousness like a stranger in a dark hallway -- but the minute something happened to it that it didn't like, it started acting less and less like a mysterious alien artifact and more like an aged sheepdog who's going to haul off and bite one of those damn kids if they keep trying to make it wear sunglasses.
Good thing it didn't know whose idea this really was, she reflected.
It probably didn't help that Jack was treating it -- her -- whatever -- like a recalcitrant computer that should have been pitched years ago. "Seriously, who built this thing? I mean, it's bad enough that half of this wiring's unreadable -- " here he thrust up a bundle of cords with some strange, shimmery mathematical symbol designating their function, whatever that was -- "but it looks like it was all just shoved in here so they could sweep the floors!" He reached in to the panel, then grimaced, pulling out what looked vaguely like a shriveled carrot. "And then they chucked the dustpan in here, too."
Rose shrugged. She'd helped where she could, but this was even less her field of expertise than Jack's. "I think the Doctor said he'd had to do a lot of sudden repairs. Something happened to it a while back, maybe. Though the way he goes on, I don't know what normal is with this old thing." She tapped her nails on the side of the console; small lights flittered under the surface. Irrationally, she hoped the TARDIS didn't understand normal conversation.
"Yeah?" Jack sighed from somewhere under the grillework. "Where'd he get this ship, anyway?"
"Dunno. He acts like he's always had it." She bit her lip and stared at the upward sweep of the ceiling, racking her brain for pertinent information. "I . . . yeah, I think he said once that his people made them. They're all gone, though; guess this makes it the last one in the Universe . . ." A sudden, horrible sense of loneliness made her tapping hand stop, then gently smooth itself over the console. It was probably her imagination, but the lights had stopped pulsing . . .
"Huh. Doesn't really help us that much . . . " Jack's head suddenly popped out of the floor, looking like a meerkat with crumbs in his hair. "What is the Doctor, anyway? Not human, obviously; don't know any species off the top of my head that have two hearts and that much attitude . . ." He paused, blinking momentarily. "Scratch that. Species with two hearts that look even vaguely humanoid."
"Time Lord. That's what he calls himself, anyway; not really a scientific name --" Rose noticed that Jack's face had soured. "What?"
"Time Lord? He told you he was a -- oh, Rose." He threw up his hands, sinking against the side of the grating.
Indignant, she folded her arms. "What?"
Jack gave her a look that was delicately balanced between compassion and utter exasperation. "There's no such thing as the Time Lords. They're an old galactic myth, just a holdover from the idea of gods or whatever."
"No, they aren't. The Doctor's one."
"Rose, the maybe five or six accounts that exist which mention Time Lords are all hugely-incomplete and sketchy stories that no one with a lick of common sense would take seriously. Every career drunk in this end of Muetter's Spiral will tell you a story about some gallivanting alien that turned out to have godlike powers, right before they try to sell you a 'genuine Time Watch' that's obviously higher technology because it's got a digital interface. Geez. I don't know why the Doctor would tell you he's a --"
She couldn't believe this. "What? No, he is a Time Lord. We got locked up in Satellite Five, this creepy zombie guy got into Adam's head --"
"Nobody, but the Doctor hadn't told him he was a Time Lord, and I hadn't either, and the Editor still figured it out." She felt a small sting of triumph at her use of deductive logic. "There you have it. Time Lord."
He was looking so annoyingly skeptical. "So? That just means he came to some weird conclusion on his own; doesn't make it true. Rose, even if they did exist -- and they didn't -- they supposedly disappeared from known time aeons ago." He ducked back down under the grillework. "Look, I'm sorry that you didn't know what he was doing --"
"Yeah, I know they disappeared, Mr. Fifty-First Century. That was on account of the Time War."
"Oh for --" She heard him sigh explosively from underneath the floor -- "Just because there was this huge friggin' multi-temporal distortion a while back -- well, relatively speaking a while back -- it doesn't prove the existence of Time Lords. I mean, come on. That's like saying JFK's dead because Jack the Ripper went after him with the Lance of Longinus."
"They were fighting the Daleks!"
"There haven't been Daleks for years! They're borderline legends themselves, for --"
"I met a Dalek!"
"Yeah? Then why are you still alive?"
"It was a real Dalek, clever dick. The eyestalk, the plunger, no conversation skills; Dalek. It called itself a Dalek, the Doctor called it a Dalek --"
"Yeah, well, the Doctor calls himself a Time Lord, so --"
"Okay, okay . . ." She heard him sigh again, watched a few more withered carrots get tossed up from under the floor. "Did he tell you he had two hearts?"
Rose folded her arms in irritation. "No, as a matter of fact, I found that out myself." She regretted the words the instant they left her mouth. Meerkat Jack's head was above the floorboards, eyes glinting.
"Reeallly?" His tone was unmistakable. "Fascinating. Comparative anatomy student, Rose Tyler?"
She waved a warning finger at him, simultaneously suppressing an outburst of rage and a giggle. "Not what you think. Cease and desist. You've got work to do, remember?"
Jack waggled his eyebrows but gamely ducked under the floor again. "Oh, you're no fun."
"Yeah, well . . ." She settled against the control chair, moving aside some anaconda-sized cables. "Someone's got to be the Doctor."
"Uh . . . Director?"
Vetch stared into the darkened room, trying not to flinch. It took several moments for his eyes to adjust to the low light, and then the distinctive looming shape that was Ragusa appeared in segments over by the webwork. Her heavy back was to the door, and thusly to the boy as well. The screen's pale light moved eerily across her chitinous appendages.
Vetch paused. A long and insectile silence followed before he remembered why he'd come. "Er. Sorry to bother you again, ma'am, but I couldn't reach you on the intercom . . . I just wanted to let you know that Facilities is looking into the source of the power fluctuations here in the northwest quadrant. They say they'll be over later in the day to, er, look into the Special Collection's wiring." He folded his hands behind his back, then seemed to realize that this was a futile gesture without her watching. "Um. They said they could probably hit your office by the end of the week, since you're so busy --"
"No." The words were sharp, rattling and buzzing in a way that made Vetch step backwards. "Tell Facilities that I want them to start the search in my office. I want every possible source of the power surge ferreted out and catalogued. Twice. I will not -- hrsst --be occupying the area this day."
Slowly, straightening and expanding like something Vetch had seen in an old movie serial with lots of screaming and bioslime, the Archivist unfolded herself, moving towards him with terrible slow steps, clacking as she walked.
"I will be using -- hrsst -- the main grid room instead."
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