"I'm so tired I can't see straight."
Govinda leaned against Davitch as the lift hummed, her head nudging his chest, her words muffled as she spoke into his shoulder. Davitch supported her, but his own eyes were heavy and bruised with weariness. In fact, his state of near collapse - and the near-tumble he took whilst stumbling against a table - had prompted Hsieh to sentence him to immediate withdrawal from the cafeteria, despite Jack's earlier order. Jack had been too tired to argue.
"Let's stop off at Layover. I left my bag there," Govinda mumbled. "You?"
"Yeah, my duffel, too," he murmured.
" m'not staying there, though."
"Right, no. Not there."
"There?" Jack was leaning, too, against the lift wall. His eyes were closed and his head tilted back far enough for Lynda to see the soft pulse in his throat.
"Yeah," Davitch said. "Push 10, would you?"
Jack leaned over, eyes still closed, and hit the correct button. "You folks were permanently on station?"
"No," the other man replied. "We were PV crew. Uh, place variable. PVs could stay on station at no cost, or we could apply some of our pay to a permanent shuttle pass. People with ties downstairs, or any of us who didn't like being cooped up here, generally requested PV status instead of PA " permanently assigned. PV meant less money, and fewer promotions, but...." He trailed off, his overtaxed mind obviously not up to finishing the thought.
Lynda rubbed her temples, felt her lips burn with sleep deprivation. No one was moving, she realized, and she had no doubt they all felt the same way, half paralyzed and only half aware of it.
The lift sighed to a stop; Govinda straightened and shook her head as if to clear it of cobwebs. "If we had to pull a double shift, or the shuttles weren't running, we could use Layover. Just a cot, a mini-loo and a locker, but that's all we needed."
"Were there a lot of you?" Lynda asked as they exited the cab, more out of conversational inertia than interest.
"Not bloody likely. They made it clear they didn't like too many PVs on staff. I'm not quite sure why," the dark-eyed programmer said. "We - Davitch and me - were getting pushed to go to PA status before this nightmare happened."
"When she says before, she means absolutely right before," Davitch said, his laugh soft and mirthless. "I was already having a bad day when you lot arrived; I found a memo in my inbox at the start of shift, telling me to re-designate or take a pay downgrade."
Lynda found it simultaneously amusing and unsettling to think of Davitch worrying about office politics. It seemed so small in the face of everything he'd been through. But it wouldn't have seemed small in that unimaginably distant time before everything went to hell, she reminded herself. She remembered nights at home, the pressure her parents' bureaucratic struggles had put them all under. Civil Service Byzantium, her mother would call it when she drank.
"I dunno, Davitch," Govinda mused aloud. "I think I'd be ecstatic to be dealing with Borden's memos right now instead of the last few hours."
Then her brow furrowed. "Or not, I suppose. I wouldnt-"
"Wouldn't what, 'Vinda?" Jack, eyes still closed, was leaning again, this time against the lobby wall. "What makes death, Daleks and destruction the good part of a bad day?"
Lynda couldn't decide if Jack noticed the subsequent conversational chill. Even without their silent contact, she knew how deeply ill he was with fatigue; she suspected he was blind to almost everything but staying upright.
Govinda eyed him and apparently reached the same conclusion. "Well, I wouldn't know you world-beaters, would I? And I wouldn't have this one to keep on the straight and narrow." She renewed her grip on Davitch, bumping her hip into his thigh with a mix of weary clumsiness and affectionate deliberation.
"You think I'm worth it?" her tall companion asked the top of her head. His earlier bitterness melted into a goofy smile.
"Hah." Govinda"s deep laughter shouldn't have sounded as giddy as it did. "If you have to ask, maybe I ought to throw you back...but, yeah, you're worth it."
Jack straightened, rubbed his face and opened his eyes. Looking blearily down one of the three halls leading away from the lobby, he asked, "Which of these do we take to reunite you with your overnight cases?"
"To your right." Govinda looked worried. "You know, you look a proper mess."
"I can guess," he said. "We all do. If we don't get some sleep soon""
"Then let's get going," Lynda said firmly. She took the lead, and said without looking back, "What door?"
"It's three past Security Two," Govinda said. That didn't make immediate sense to Lynda, but before she could ask, she was halfway down the reasonably well lit hall, in front of a door, the sign for which declared it the entry to Secondary Security. She beat back a stab of curiosity and walked a little faster, to the third door past the sign.
"Right," Davitch said.
The light that flickered on once Lynda opened the door illuminated a long beige room. Cots lined one wall, separated by grey plastic shelving and narrow lockers. Most shelves were bare; some housed abandoned read- and write-rewrite pads, jumbled entertainment cubes, the occasional box of unknown items. Most of the open lockers were similarly bare, save for forgotten cardigans, hair brushes, toothpaste, spare trainers.
People had tacked pictures on some locker doors, or sometimes to the wall over a cot; families smiled and waved from one or two of the holos, young men and women blew kisses from others, parents whispered silent words of love. She saw one viewing screen on the wall next to the door, but someone had moved shelving in front of it. A bolt of cloth on the top shelf cascaded over and down the unit's front, blocking the screen with a brilliant river of red, blue and gold.
"This is cheerful," Jack said, looking around slowly.
"Does what it says on the tin, I'm afraid, not much more," Davitch said, walking past Lynda and heading to the far end of the room. "I'll just be a moment."
She hadn't expected it to be so dingy, not after the neon hues of the Big Brother apartment. It smelled stale and tired, like one of the sad labor gang transit stations her fourth form class had been herded through in Public Responsibility, Basic. "What are the permanent quarters like?"
"Quads, or doubles if you're PA at our grade," Govinda said. She went to a nearby locker and retrieved a green bag from it. "Imagine your Big Brother studio, except a little more cramped. Well, a lot more cramped in the quads. Upper management had posh suites down by the shuttle bays, but I can't tell you what they're like. No one ever invited me around for tea. They're probably nothing but vacuum now."
Lynda fingered the cloth that blocked the view screen. It slid across her fingers with an almost unnoticeable nap, as if it wanted to be velvet but settled for silk. "Whose was this?"
"That? Amy's, I think," Govinda looked at it briefly. "Unofficially, anyhow. Officially? Property of What Not To Wear. She was a dresser for the show. She had access to all the bolt ends, so she'd make a little extra credit by putting outfits together for people."
Davitch rejoined them, a tan duffel slung over his back. "She was good. She had a studio downstairs. Somewhere on Gran Canaria, I think."
"She had little sisters," Govinda said. "Twins. Used to make really sweet outfits for them. She had a picture she showed me once-" She stopped, swallowing repeatedly. Her eyes filled with tears, looking somewhere else. "She was on the last shuttle."
Lynda felt her eyes sting in sympathy. Gone, everything gone.
"What time is it? I mean, station time?" Jack asked, his own voice rough.
"2310 GMT," Davitch said, looking at his watch.
Jack shook his head. "Can't get over you using GMT. At least it makes it easier for me...let's see. First time I looked at a clock it was 1400. After we were 'matted in."
Lynda jerked in surprise. Less than 12 hours? That had to be wrong.
("Nope. Nine hours and 10 minutes.")
She slid easily into their rapport. ("Seems like a lifetime. Suppose that's a bit of a cliche, though.")
("Sweetheart, it's not a cliche when it's true.)
"Let's get out of here," Jack said aloud. The four of them left the beige room and didn't look back.
"Christ, was everyone except you a slob?"
Govinda shoved a small mound of clothing off Strood's bed.
"No. Just the boys, really," Lynda said. "We kept our room alright, Crosbie and me. The other Linda, and Amjun and Sharla, they were neater than we were. I didn't go into their room after (they were killed) they were voted off."
"I'll say they were neat. Look like they could have been military," came Jack's voice from the room in question. "Dibs on their space. As of now. And I am off duty as of now. Even to Hsieh. When he and Ruthie arrive, tell them to sack out in the fourth bedroom. No, leave a note for them, and get some sleep yourselves. I don't care about anything else. Wake me before the next six hours are well and truly in the past, and I will make you wish you'd stayed dead the first time."
"Charming," Govinda said.
"And lovely, 'Vinda, don't forget lovely," he said, before shutting the bedroom door.
Govinda snorted. Then she looked at Davitch, on whose pale face weariness and nerves were warring for primacy as he stood at the entry to Strood?s room. "You coming, then?"
He said nothing, but smiled and moved to her side. Before they closed the door, Govinda looked at Lynda.
"You going to be OK?"
"I'll be fine, promise," she replied. "I'll post that message for the others before I turn in."
Then she was alone in the tiny hall. Just as if I'd been the winner, she thought. The last one standing. She suppressed the urges to laugh and cry, and went to her room.
She was surprised at the relief she felt, walking in there. She'd never felt safe anywhere inside the apartment during the show. Her own bed was haphazardly made, a small pile of her tee shirts and underthings placed, neatly folded, at its foot. She had managed to win some read pads in one of the weekly mini-competitions, and they sat on her tiny purple sidetable. That was it. She'd never put up the holo of her parents.
Crosbie's things were still there. Moved by memory, Lynda walked over to the other girl's bed and sat down.
(If we win, Crosbie had said, defiantly ignoring the idea's risibility, if we win, I'm bringing you home to meet mum and dad. They'd like you, she had said, and you'd like them. It's pretty around our complex, we've even got a parkette a few floors down, with real shrubs and flowers. And I have a real kitchen to work with, not this excuse for one. I can whip up twice the meal at home that I can manage here. Lynda had smiled and nodded, refusing to think about how wonderful it would be to have Crosbie as a real life friend, how good it would be to have someone to confide in and laugh about things with.)
Poor Crosbie. She remembered hoping, after Jack had used the transmat beam on her in the Weakest Link studio, after he and the Doctor had embraced each other with joy at the implication, that Crosbie and Sharla and the others could somehow be similarly ransomed.
"I wish..." she whispered. "Oh, Crosbie."
The past was a foreign country for everyone but the Doctor, and Crosbie had been exiled there long before (RosetheDoctortheWolf) had jumbled life and death so ruthlessly.
"That's that, then," she said, and moved to stand up. As she did, she smelled herself; the ketones of weariness mixing with sour sweat and something that her hindbrain identified as the blood on her clothing. She gagged involuntarily.
She wasn't going to sleep this way.
Off came the slacks, the tailored shirt, her socks and trainers, knickers and brassiere. She went to the closet, rummaged about and found her dressing gown. She padded to the kitchen and pitched her clothes into the laundry autoclave. It hissed softly; the outfit would be presentable in the morning, if she wanted to wear it again.
Lynda was grateful that Big Brother had rated real showers for its contestants. Water did something that no sonic shower could accomplish, she thought, as the water pounded her. It was the only way she could feel clean now. Her hands had started to prune up, and the bathroom was steamily fragrant with soap and shampoo by the time she decided the job was done. She'd scrubbed her skin almost raw, she'd lathered her hair three times, and she couldn't think of any reason to stay in the stall, no matter how comfortable it was.
She dried herself perfunctorily with the towel, trusting to her robe to do the rest of the job. One more trip into the livingroom to pick up a discarded read-write pad: "We're asleep for the next six hours, Jack says take the last bedroom," she keyed. "Sleep. If anyone needs us, they'll call."
Slapped onto the wall opposite the front door, and toggled for night-bright, it would be the first thing Hsieh and Ruthie saw when they walked in.
Lynda crawled into her bed, pulling the covers up around her chin to stave off the chill of exhaustion and the last of the shower. Just before sleep conquered her, she wondered if dreams would come. Frightened, she slid into darkness.
The lights had gone out all over Europe, replaced by flame and terror and shadow. Vera Lynn's young voice floated over the channel waves, but washed back against the cliffs and faded to silence. Nothing could penetrate the dark. Instead, it vomited Heinkels, Dornier 17s and Messerschmitts across the skies of London and Coventry. It didn't matter how many Hurricanes or Spitfires rose against them, there were always too many and they always delivered their message.
She stood on the edge of the darkness and it changed. Now she stood in a brick-paved street, rows of neat houses exploding around her. Fire rose, black silhouettes running past her, wind whipping at them as they fled, falling, blazing timbers and bricks cascading around her. She heard dogs howl, fire bells and wailing night time sirens, the rumble above, the percussive thuds, and the snap and roar of flame, shouts and curses, saw a small silhouette turn and turn, looking for a way out. It fell, alight, and charred, crumbled, disappeared as a woman screamed.
The flames licked at her skin and everything changed again. Felt like Europe now, England just a rumor of hope on the horizon...no, she wasn't in Europe. She was...somewhere else, somewhere underground. It smelled of earth...no, not earth...not Earth.
She was on her back, in a bed, a hospital bed, she knew it was a hospital bed. She could hear them whispering around her, about her, and it was so important to hear what they were saying, but she couldn't move, not even with the adrenaline sluicing into her system with every panicked beat of her heart. It beat faster and faster, louder and louder, but it couldn't silence the whispers. They grew, proliferated, wound about her heart and tightened like lianas. The pain overwhelmed her and she whimpered, then fell back to darkness.
It changed again and she was back in London. Nothing was quite as real as the last time she was here, though. This time, the pictures rushed past her almost faster than she could catch them, and when she did, she didn't want to see them. This time, silhouettes resolved into faces, horrible and misshapen and mindless. Pitiful and lost and all her fault. Despair supplanted panic, drowned it, and she sank beneath it until the girl came, and the man. The girl looked and her and smiled - her heart lifted - and forgave her with those beautiful brown eyes, and the man scowled and came after her - her heart beat faster - and allowed her to come in.
It changed again, and the radio played clarinet with a jubilant beat. Her heart beat, and the girl and the man gathered it, and her, into their dance, and she cried because they had saved her from killing anyone. The man told him that everybody lived. The door opened and the box was so much bigger on the inside. The light around her turned blue, and gold, and welcoming, and she couldn't keep her feet on the floor for joy.
It changed again, and she followed them wherever they went, and they reached back for her...she felt blessed, and lucky, and worried that it would all disappear.
It changed again, and she couldn't see anything anymore. The dark rose around her again and she felt ash and dust on the floor, on her hands, and the girl was gone and the man was broken, then the monsters were everywhere and the man was gone and she was alone, with the pale blue silhouette fading as she watched, and her heart was broken so badly she couldn't breath?
Lynda bolted upright in the dark, her breathing fast and shallow. At first, she didn't know where she was, or who she was. Gradually her racketing heart slowed, and she remembered who she was. Her burned cheek ached as she touched her face, confirming that she was still Lynda. She couldn't bring herself to move; she didn't know who she would be if she moved too soon. Was there someone in the room with her?
She heard it then, although she shouldn't have been able to, not with Game Station thrumming deep in her bones. In the room down the hall, Jack was sobbing.
Lynda turned on the light and groped for her dressing gown, pulling it on as she scrambled from her bed. In the tiny hall outside, she expected to find the others joining her at his door, but she was alone. Didn't anyone else hear him? She shook her head, amazed.
She felt for the door handle, grasped it, and walked in. Her dark-familiar eyes easily found the bed, and Jack. He was curled around himself, arms between legs, shaking with the strength of his sobs even as he slept.
Without hesitation, or thought, or a single moment's worry about what he might think, Lynda went to the bed. She sat down beside him, and waited.
She felt him then. He reached for her from the halls of her own mind, and she let him. You're safe with me, she told him silently. I'm here. I won't go.
He reached for her with his body now, and she cradled his head in her lap.
Together, they fell back into sleep.
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