A Teaspoon And An Open Mind: A Doctor Who Fan Fiction Archive
Eleventh Doctor
Scytale by platypus [Reviews - 3] Printer
Author's Notes:
For nonelvis.

He lands the TARDIS expertly, materializing within the only two-point-three square meters of empty space in the dusty warehouse.

"Did you see that?" the Doctor asks as he pops his head out the door. "Spot on."

River, as expected, is clambering out from amongst the boxes to meet him. "It was lovely, dear. Thank you for coming so quickly. Take your trousers off, would you?"

He raises an eyebrow, trying to suppress his immediate Pavlovian response without much success. "When the psychic paper said it was urgent, I didn't think you meant that kind of urgent. Bored, are you?"

"Not at all." She dusts her hands off on her faded coveralls. "I came across something I need your help with. I've been authenticating these artefacts for the Farenzai Earth Museum. So far they've checked out, but something didn't feel quite right. Then I found this in a secret compartment." She holds out a narrow, coiled strip of parchment.

He takes it. Old, but not brittle, it unrolls easily. "Well, I'm guessing it's a forgery, based on the fact that it's"–he squints–"written in ballpoint pen." He skims down the string of Greek letters. "It's gibberish."

"It's a scytale."

"A what?"

"Scytale." The word trips off River's tongue, three syllables. "It's a simple form of encryption. Wrap a strip of parchment around a rod and write your message; when you unwrap it, it's unreadable, unless you happen to have a rod of the appropriate size." She nods at the Doctor. "That's where you come in."

"What makes you think I have a rod of the appropriate–" His brain catches up to his mouth. "River!"

She grins. "Look closer. Don't you recognize my handwriting?"

He eyes the lettering uncertainly. "Not in ancient Greek."

"What about this?" She taps the beginning of the parchment, and he peers closely enough to make out a tiny pair of stick figures. One has a scrawl of curly hair; the other, a crude bow tie. "We were here. Or we will have been. And we left a message for ourselves."

"With a unique decryption key." One whose enthusiasm seems undiminished by the idea of such a practical application.

"Precisely," River says. "Unless you've made a replica for me to bring on my long, lonely expeditions."

He clears his throat. "Ah, no. There's just the one."

"Good thing you're here to help me out, then." She gestures at the vast and silent warehouse. "If these are forgeries, they're excellent. And whatever's going on, apparently it's important enough that we're both needed to investigate. I'm extremely interested in reading this message." She glances down pointedly. "So are you, it seems."

He only squirms a little. "Well, yes. Though that's not actually about the message." It's about River, with her hair tied back and a smudge on her face and her eyes bright with excitement.

"No reason it can't be both." She slips to her knees, drawing the parchment from his loose fingers. "Why don't we find out?"
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