Destruction and creation are never simple, and never less simple than when life is involved in the equation. It’s probably unwise ever to think that there is a right way to create or destroy, given that chaos is a necessary ingredient for both. But when one occurs in place of the expected other, look for the universe to make things incredibly painful.
Case in point? Game Station; Year 200,100 CE; in the time of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire; after the coming of the Doctor and the Dalek God and the bitter fruits of their meeting; in the wake of Bad Wolf and Blue Rose.
Here is what happened.
Rose denied death with the power of the Vortex itself, Time’s blue-red tide channeled through the TARDIS, surging brighter and more golden as it passed into her scattered memories and her wild, unknowing heart, then out again. It flowed like the sea from what She became — Blue Rose — with one pure and dangerous thought. It washed across Game Station, over all those loose-limbed and empty bodies scattered as collateral damage in Jack’s brief, hopeless war. It drew their abandoned souls back from somewhere and threw them back, hard, onto the shores of life.
A few were carried further by the tide.
Where the waves anointed certain souls — say, those whose DNA already held the promise of strange geometries — then the flood turned to flame. Like spark to powder, it fired and reformed life’s spiral in the crucible of possibility, drowning and burning souls in baptism as the Blue Rose and chaos made them something else, something more. Not well; there was no skilled hand at work here. Not completely, with only the barest of grace and far too certain a promise of pain. Still, what She had put together, little could now tear asunder.
And where the Blue Rose loved, well, the sea turned that fragile soul to fire as well, and it burned unending; whether to joy or sorrow She didn’t know or think to ask.
**** **** **** **** ****
(Are you there? )
(Can you hear?)
(Do you know who I am?)
(Not yet? There’s time enough, yet. I can wait, but don’t forget. Tell the Captain when you know.)
Lynda was just about to ask what she was supposed to know, and how soon, and why not now, when the whispers faded. She tried chasing after them, but other voices interfered.
“Lynda? She’s breathing, right?” That was Govinda.
“Yeah, but I need to check Harkness.” That was Hsieh.
They were deafening. Even before she was fully aware, Lynda jerked in near-automatic protest. That forced her to open her eyes; she realized she couldn’t move because she was pinned down by something warm and heavy.
“Hnhhh...let me up.” She pushed herself up on her elbows far enough to see that the weight was a still limp Jack, face down across her torso, his arms up around his head. He looked as if he’d been trying to protect himself from something. “Is he--”
“He’s just fine, give or take an apparent pick axe in his left eye,” came the muffled response from Jack, who was now struggling up and away from Lynda. “What the hell happened?”
Hsieh came into her field of vision, looking as upset as Lynda had ever seen him. “I was going to ask you, Harkness. All we know is we heard the two of you screaming like lost souls and then nothing.”
“Scared me grey, I can tell you,” Lem said. “Sir.”
Lynda looked at the three above her through a sticky fog that wasn’t dissipating. “I, uhm -- my head is killing me.”
As she gingerly put one hand to her forehead, however, she realized the pain was qualitatively different than it had been before...whatever it was which had felled her. Before, she thought, it had been a dull ache, like the rare hangover headaches she’d suffered through. Not surprising, I suppose, she thought, given the oxygen deprivation I went through and all. Now the pain was more directed, focused. It hurt more, like a ring around her skull; but somehow it didn’t bother her as much as the earlier ache had.
“I’m not — oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to come over so loud — I’m not surprised,” Govinda said, modulating her voice when she saw Lynda wince. “I mean, bloody hell, I expected to find you in pieces when we got back up here. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“How long have we been out?” Jack asked, ignoring their asked and unasked questions. His lips went white as he drew himself up on his knees, then leaned on the palms of his hands to get his feet under him. It was clearly an unpleasantly painful procedure.
“About three minutes,” Hsieh said. “Took me too damned long to reverse the belt lift. Sorry.”
“I’m not going to fire you, buddy,” Jack said, rubbing a space above his left eye. Apart from that, he seemed to be getting himself under control. “Just glad you could get up here that quickly.”
He turned to Lynda, who was still half-sitting, half-lying on the floor. “How are you?”
She grimaced. “Seems like somebody’s asking me that every time I turn around.” It was her turn to ignore the question.
“Well, you do seem to have a bit of a habit of walking into peril,” Jack said.
“Yeah, suppose so. But I’m alive.”
He stopped rubbing his eyebrow and inspected her, his eyes narrow.
“You think you shouldn’t be?”
She shrugged, and reached a hand to him. He hauled her up. Then, so quickly that she had no time to react, he pulled her close and whispered, “We need to talk.” She had time for the slightest of nods before he patted her shoulders and turned away, to face Hsieh.
“Are we still heading down?” The big man didn’t look as if he expected any change in plans, simply wanted to check mission status with Jack.
“Oh yeah. We have to. But before we do, I want to contact upstairs now — see if anyone else got hit with...with whatever it was that laid us low. If that’s the case, we may be in very, very bad trouble. If it’s just us...” Jack stopped for a second. “Well, we may still be in very, very bad trouble.”
“I can’t believe this,” Govinda said to no one in particular.
Jack looked at her. “What can’t you believe?”
“It just seems as if everything that could possibly go wrong has,” she said, leaning against the shaft wall.
“Everything? Don’t tempt fate,” the Captain responded. He was running both hands over his torso, doing a self-inspection. “OK, no cuts, scrapes or missing parts. Triage time, folks. Swamps and alligators, remember?”
Govinda gave a tired smile of assent.
He keyed his wrist comm and waited for a second until a faint crackle signaled connection. “Davitch, that you?”
“Yes, hi, it’s me. Good to hear your voice. Have you reached the apartment?”
“No, we have a way to go yet. I need to check on something at your end. Did you or Rog notice any strange reactions among the crowd? Say, about five minutes ago?”
“Can you specify, Jack?”
Jack hesitated, obviously putting together a carefully-worded answer.
“Jack? You there?”
“Yeah. You should be looking for any sudden headaches, or attacks of dizziness, maybe some disorientation. Painful disorientation.”
Now the silence was at the other end, but before Jack could repeat his question, Davitch was back on.
“Nothing that I could see or hear. The guys tell me no one in the other caf rooms reported feeling odd. Why are you asking?”
“Well, a couple of us got unexpectedly dizzy,” Jack said, wildly understating what had happened. “And I’m thinking gas or some sub-audible aural attack. Figured you folks might have been affected as well.” He waved off Hsieh’s sudden move toward his own comm link. The security man didn’t look as if he was happy with Jack’s prevarication.
Lynda couldn’t blame him; why not just tell Davitch the truth? Of course, they hadn’t told him about Meg either. But that’s different, she thought. That’s something that really should be face to face.
“No, nothing. Like I said.” Davitch sounded uneasy. “Look, Jack, I’m glad you called. I’ve a bad feeling about something.”
Jack looked up at nothing and cricked his neck before replying. “What’s up?”
“I don’t quite know how to explain it, except...I’d be a lot happier if we were hearing from Floor 80. I mean, even if she was haranguing us or threatening us — hold on a mo, will you? Yes Rog?” The signal dropped out. Jack waited, absent-mindedly rubbing that spot above his left eye. Lynda put her hand up to her own left brow as she felt the ache coalesce there. Well at least it wasn’t the hot elastic band that had been constricting her head until now, she decided.
Davitch was back: “Rog has the same bad feeling, Jack. How fast can you finish and get back here?”
“You think she’s moving?” Jack’s voice went low.
“I don’t know, honestly. Yes, I think something’s happening, but I can’t tell you why.” Lynda heard his faint, nervous laugh. “Frankly, I think I just feel better when you’re here. We all do.”
Hsieh and Lem looked at each other, then at Jack. He rolled his eyes, then clapped a hand to his forehead; it was obviously not a good move to make.
“Look, we can’t get to you quickly, not even if we turned around and headed back without the materiel,” Jack said. Lynda heard the unvoiced exasperation. “And if something’s happening, we’ll sure as hell need it. Tell you what, though; it sounds like we need to keep in closer contact. We’ll touch base with you once every 10 minutes.”
“What about comm silence?”
“Davitch it’s one way or the other.” Now the exasperation was plain. “We keep comm silence, and you can’t let me know what’s going on there.”
“I don’t think it’ll hurt,” Hsieh said. He keyed his own comm to join the conversation. “Even if she can track our life signs she’ll be looking for us in all the wrong places.”
“We’re a little hard to find, Pavel,” Hsieh said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
“You might say we’re lost to anyone but you,” Jack added. His grin was feral. “So, are we settled?”
“Ye-es. I guess.”
“Good. Hsieh needs Rog for a minute. Talk to you in a bit.” He shut off his comm, and sat on the floor.
Hsieh completed a brief conversation with his crew man, then keyed off his unit. “I hate to move without knowing what exactly happened here, Harkness. You’ve still got no idea?”
Jack shook his head. Lynda didn’t believe him, but said nothing.
“Let’s start. We’ve got a long way to go,” he finally said. “God, you just get comfortable, and the train leaves...” He stood up again and looked around at his companions, at the shaft and its immensity. The breath he blew out couldn’t rightly be called a chuckle. “You know, there are so many ways I could have planned this better. Tell me to guard the gate, and I have no problem. Scam? I’m your man. Missions like this — seat of the pants stuff? I hate ‘em. Always have. Especially when I’m the one trying to make them up as I go along.”
“Better you than me, mate,” Hsieh said.
“Thanks. That helps a lot.” Jack’s savage grin surfaced again. He was not happy. “So far my brilliant plan is like something out of a bad Bond novel. My brain doesn’t appear to have made it back alive with the rest of me, so you can guess which end the strategy’s coming from.”
“Bond novel?” Lem was confused.
“Never mind. There aren’t many of them around these days.”
When she realized Jack wasn’t going to explain, Lem returned to checking her kit. The look she shot him as she did was that of someone looking at a beautiful but dangerous snake.
Lynda was used to hearing Jack’s obscure references by now, even if she was as in the dark as Lem. Presently, though, she wanted very badly to have that conversation Jack had requested. At least part of her urgency was because she also wanted very badly to go to the rail and look down again at the light.
She had no intention of doing so, at least not yet, but it was hard to ignore. She suspected Jack might also have the impulse, which worried her. She knew they’d both have to look down at some point during their descent, and she was relatively certain that if she gave in to the urge and actually looked down at the light — if it was still there — she’d lose control somehow. How would Jack react?
And what about Jack, in general? Her last intelligible memory before she passed out was the fear in his eyes as the pain took him. Something had happened to him — inside him — as well, when she’d blurted those strange words. He knew it, and he wanted to talk about
“Lynda?” Govinda was by her side in a flash; Lem and Hsieh had whirled from their place at the rail at her cry. Their backs were to Jack as he staggered. Only Lynda saw him catch at the rail for support.
“Sorry. Sorry. Just the headache, really,” Lynda said, more for the benefit of her three watchers than anything else. “It got worse when I hit my head against the shaft.” A moment later she ventured, “Maybe the both of us got, I dunno, some sort of instant migraine?”
“You are not going to tell me that the two of you were screaming bloody horror shows up here because you had headaches?”
Govinda’s solicitude gave way to hard disbelief. Lynda scrambled to explain, although she had no idea what she was explaining.
“No, I suppose not. I really don’t have any idea what went on a few minutes ago. At least I don’t think so,” she babbled, backpedaling. She wished she could tell them truth, but she hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it, or even what the truth was.
(You must learn, and tell them. Soon.)
Pain pulsed again behind her left eye, but she suppressed the groan. She looked over the others’ shoulders and caught Jack’s eye as he recovered from another slight loss of balance. Her eyes widened, but Jack touched a finger to his lips and shook his head. She composed herself.
“Govinda, I’m sorry. You really needn’t fuss over me. It's just - I’ve had a headache ever since we came back, right?”
Govinda nodded cautiously.
“Well, it just started hurting again — I imagine I hit the deck pretty hard. Just gave out with a moan, is all.”
The other woman seemed to accept that, so Lynda went on with a bit more confidence. “The other thing, this blackout ...” She risked a quick look at Jack, but he gave her no help. “We don’t seem to be hurt. At least, I mean we don’t seem to be hurting any more. I don't think we can sit around wondering what happened. Jack’s right, we’ve got to get to the apartment, get those guns and get to the cache — ”
“Lynda, I know the drill. We all do,” Govinda interrupted with more than a touch of asperity.
Lynda shrugged and ducked her head. “Oh. Yes, sorry. But it’s true.”
Jack walked over. “Agreed. The faster we’re done with this goddamned shaft, the better I’ll feel. Since Lynda and I apparently put out more than a few decibels, if anyone or anything actually noticed, I want to be gone before it starts looking for us. If that’s possible. And we’ve got a long way to go.”
“Ladders next,” Lem said, looking glum. The others started when she spoke, so quietly had she approached them. “Right after this belt lift. We’re going to have to climb down 35 levels.”
Lynda shut her eyes against Lem’s words. How could they do it? And — her eyes flew open in shock — how were they going to climb back up, saddled with guns and ammunition? In a heartbeat, she knew the answer. They wouldn’t be able to.
“Lem’s right, ladies. We have 35 levels; 20 in the first flight, according to the information I have, then 15 in the next stage,” Hsieh said. He looked worried, perhaps for the same reason.
“Well, going down isn’t going to be physically demanding,” Jack said, apparently coming to the same realization.“It’ll be a little harrowing, no denying, after what we’ve all gone through. But we can do it.” He eyed each of them in turn, as if he could ascertain their will and strengthen it with a visual inspection. Then he sighed.
“It’s the return trip I’m worried about. If I could, I’d just take the regular corridors back from 300.”
Hsieh shook his head, but said, “I have to say I’m tempted, Harkness. Something in this shaft got to you two and I don’t like being in the dark. Especially since I’m certain it wasn’t Iris or her lot.”
“Why are you sure?” Jack asked.
“Because this shaft was ours.”
“Ours?” Jack’s eyebrow rose. “Security had no leaks?”
“No.” Hsieh said flatly.
“Steady, tiger, I believe you,” the younger man said, putting both hands up in mock surrender before continuing. “But that makes things more complicated. It means we have a third element in play, and that? Is something I have no desire to check out.”
He gestured broadly at their surroundings. “It could be anything — animal, mineral, vegetable, waste system breaks, residual radiation, old alarms, any damn thing. We don’t know, so we can’t defend against it.”
As Jack spoke, he traced a very short circuit around the ledge, his pace quickening until he seemed poised to break into a run. He looked as if he were stalking an answer.
“Ladies and gentleman, that leaves us with two lousy options. Continue to use the shaft once we’ve picked up our materiel, and risk more unexpected fun; or risk taking the regular lift system — which our resident psycho and her brethren are undoubtedly watching, and perhaps have even booby-trapped or sniper-sighted — from 300 back to the cafeteria on 250.”
This time, Lynda didn’t even flinch. Neither did Jack.
“Wha— ?” Jack’s sharp exclamation cut off at the same second Lynda’s vision flashed white.
Into the glare of the nothingness, a razor-sharp, static vision; blueprint, painfully bright images, part drawing, sliding into photographic clarity —
(Back up, ledge with two doors. Into the dark. Follow — )
“Back up, back to the big ledge,” Lynda echoed aloud, white sight flaring and fading into the real world once more. “The door beside the lift, we’ve got to follow that route.”
“Say again?” Hsieh looked at her in bewilderment.
“Back up, Hsieh. We can find...” She trailed off momentarily, then forced herself to start again. “There’s another way, a third way.”
“You saw it? You heard? ” Jack’s incredulity blossomed into a relieved smile.
“Yes,” she said, nodding hard.
“Do you two mind telling me what you are talking about?” The security man’s question was mild, but his eyes were suddenly as cold as those of the security men who’d hauled her and Jack into custody with the Doctor. Lynda quailed inside, but met his appraising look as best she could.
(Good, Captain’s man.)
“Lynda’s right,” Jack said, drawing her attention to him. He spoke next without taking his eyes off her, taking some strength from her answering gaze. “There’s another way. We’re going back up.”
Now Govinda, too, was bewildered. “What? Go all the way back up? That’s what, 100 levels?”
“Right.” Jack didn’t break his eye contact with Lynda.
“Are you mad?” the programmer asked, head turning as she tried to take in the two of them at once. “Are you both barking mad?”
“Yes.” Jack said, suddenly somber. “I think we may be.”
Govinda fell silent and shook her head, as if trying to dislodge what she was hearing from her ears.
“Harkness, what do you know?” The big man’s voice had gone, if it was possible, even softer. Lynda forced herself to look at him. His hand was at his tool belt; she knew without a second’s doubt that it was searching for a firearm she was grateful wasn’t there.
“You know, to tell the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea.” Jack’s sounded almost casual, but as he spoke he twisted and shifted himself, the way he had on the dais. Suddenly, despite lacking a good six inches on the security chief, the Captain was perilous. “We’re still going back up.”
Hsieh fell back a step, but not by much. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said. His hand was still on his belt, and Lynda wondered whether he carried a club. She’d seen one used on the small of the Doctor’s back as they were dragged to the holding cell.
Apparently Hsieh didn’t have one, or was resisting the urge to use it, but the tension between the two men wasn’t dissipating. “I can’t go without an explanation,” he continued.
Lynda understood his attitude, despite knowing Jack was right. Hsieh was used to being in control. As of now, apparently, he’d had to deal with one too many cavalierly unexplained Harkness plan revisions. Not to mention the sudden introduction of new information, seemingly from nowhere. Ultimately, he was a security officer. I suppose security officers are trained to be suspicious, Lynda thought.
“You don’t like my decisions, you can take charge. Be my guest,” Jack said, his manner proclaiming precisely the opposite. Don’t try, was the underlying message, you have no idea what I’ll do to you. Lynda braced herself for something; she wasn’t sure what.
Unexpectedly, Lem spoke. Jack and Hsieh looked at her, startled.
“Captain Harkness, you’re not making it easy for us,” she said calmly. “You’ve just told us you know your way around this place better than Hsieh, here.” Hsieh jerked at the familiarity. “I never knew this place existed until today, and neither did you. So it’s hard to believe that you know something that most Sec people didn’t know.
“Now, if we’re going to work together, it only makes sense that we don’t keep secrets from each other. We all need to be in the loop. Right? We all want the same thing, here. We haven’t gone through all of this just to bump chests needlessly. Right?”
Jack eyed her, then Hsieh, before inclining his head slightly in Lem’s direction. “Right.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, Lynda thought. She felt an unexpected stab of affection for the tough little woman.
“I’m an idiot,” Jack said slowly. “Blame it on...oh, never mind blaming it on anything. You’re right. Hsieh? I’m sorry. You should promote this woman. Lem...that’s not your given name, is it?”
Lem looked at him, still calm. “It’s Ruthie.”
“Well then, Ruthie, you are worth your weight in gold. More than your weight in gold.”
Hsieh looked at his man. “Ruthie?”
“You didn’t think I was born ‘Lem, R.L., Spec450', did you?”
Hsieh shrugged, the barest hint of a reluctant smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “I see that life in the circus continues to be a never ending delight. Alright, Harkness, no more arguments, my word on it. Now, if you don’t mind? Fill us in.”
Jack was trying to control his own smile, one that looked very like weary relief. “Here it is, then.” He tapped his nosed abstractedly. His next words were careful. “Something is trying to contact — has contacted — both Lynda and me, telepathically. I have no idea what it is.”
He stopped, waiting for someone to say something, but was met with silence. Lynda noted that he’d succeeded in generating three dropped jaws. “Lynda?”
“A little help here?”
“Oh, right.” She considered what to say. “Well, just now, Jack and I got the same message. It’s hard to explain, but we saw a schematic — part drawing and part video, I guess is the best way to put it — of the door next to the elevator cab back up on that last big ledge. The image was like a map of what’s beyond the entry. The voice spoke to us at the same time. It told us to follow the map. And I don’t think she—”
“She?” Jack looked thoughtful. “You sure?”
Lynda nodded. “Yes. I don’t know who she is, but I don’t think she means us any harm. She wants...she wants to help us. She knows we’re moving too slowly, and she’s found a faster way for us.”
“Is this...person...connected to your screaming attack?” Govinda’s dark eyes were skeptical, but not completely disbelieving.
“Yes. No. Partly,” Lynda replied. She didn’t want to further confuse people. “There’s been someone — something — else.”
“What, you’ve got two people in your heads?”
“Not in the same way. One, I think we can talk to. The other one — ”
“Rose,” Jack said. His voice was ragged with sorrow; before she could think about it, Lynda leaned over and covered his hand with her own.
She saw Govinda’s brow furrow, and hastened to explain. “Remember the girl the Daleks had?”
“Her? The blonde?”
“Yeah. Rose. She was...she was the Doctor’s friend. His companion.”
Then it dawned on her. Thinking of the Doctor’s companion had resulted in absolutely no pain this time, and she relaxed muscles she hadn’t realized had been bracing for agony. Perhaps the attack on her and Jack had been the last, or at least the worst, some final test. Or maybe their minds had just been toughened by the earlier ordeals.
“Ever since I woke up, something’s been at the back of my head, and it was mixed up with her, with Rose. But it was so confused at first, like flashes that I’d only notice when I wasn’t fully awake. It was painful, too. Before, every time I thought of her, my head exploded.
This last time? Something about that light down in the shaft, it made the Rose visions, I’d guess you’d call them, very powerful. And it hurt, a lot.”
“Back in the corridor, when you almost fell. Was it Rose?” Govinda asked.
“It was thinking about her, yes.”
(Rose, all golden hair and strong face, full and mobile mouth, her eyes, vulnerable and angry. And jealous, as if she didn’t realize there was absolutely nothing and no one — certainly not one little messy, poorly dressed and socialized Big Brother kidnap victim — who could replace her with him.)
“But...why didn’t you say something? Did you think we wouldn’t believe you,” the other woman asked, aggrieved.
“I’ve only just begun to understand myself, Govinda. I promise, I wouldn’t hold secrets from you. But it’s a bit hard to fathom, you have to admit.”
“Well, try me,” Govinda said dryly, recovering some of her customary self-assurance. “I’ve been killed by metal monsters, brought back to life by Christ knows what, crawled through miles of tunnels I never knew existed, watched a woman fall to her death in a shaft with no apparent bottom, and in general been stuck in a nightmare for, oh, at least the past several hours. And I’m not gibbering in a corner.” She smoothed her dark hair, then dropped into a cross-legged sitting position. “And I am not going to stay on my feet any more than I have to.”
“You’ve got a point,” Jack said, matching her move with a rather graceful collapse. Lynda followed suit. After a moment, Lem did. Only Hsieh stayed upright.
“Oh for god’s sake, Hsieh!” Govinda snapped. “Do you want me to scream? Sit down and don’t be so bloody officious!”
Hsieh’s jaw dropped further, into a wide-mouthed gape worthy of a wall mounted fish. He silently obeyed the programmer’s irritable order.
“Look,” Govinda continued. “You two — can you think of any reason why you’d be hearing Rose, or this other female, and we wouldn’t?”
“Not a clue in the world, darlin’,” Jack said. “Lynda?”
“I’m not sure,” Lynda said, picking at some dust on her slacks. “Jack, you knew Rose, but I had only just met her, so I don’t know why she’s mixed up in it.”
(She is not here.)
“Wait a minute,” Lynda said. She closed her eyes.
(She is gone. She has finished her work.)
She opened her eyes, not quite certain what she’d just done. Was she communicating with the voice in her head?
“Jack, did you hear?”
He started to shake his head, then stopped, his head tilting briefly. Lynda was reminded of the cat she’d had before Alun told her he was allergic, the way it would watch something in the air with that same posture.
“Yeah, something, but it’s fuzzy. I think it was aimed at you. What did it — she — say?”
“She said Rose isn’t here. She told me Rose is gone.”
(Do you know who I am now?)
(“No. Can you tell me?)
(You don’t know?)
(“I’m sorry. Should I listen harder?)
(Listen harder? That’s good! We are hearing each other!)
(“Should we go up?”)
(Yes. Now. Before os pobres crianças sentenciadas find you. They come.)
(“They see us? They know where we are?”)
Without warning, she felt Jack’s “voice” in her head, a far different feel than the strange female voice, and certainly far different from the golden fire that had burned and scarred parts of her mind: (“Not us, Lynda.)
(They come for the others) the other voice agreed dispassionately. Lynda’s mouth went dry as she processed that.
“Oh God, Jack! They’re on their way to the cafeteria!”
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