Characters:Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness
Spoilers: none.Summary: A supposedly harmless planet holds unexpected dangers, and disturbing revelations about the Doctor's past.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N:This is another story in my unnamed series about Rose, Jack, and the Doctor traveling together as partners and lovers. It takes place sometime after Changes. Thanks to the members of DW Britpicking for suggesting specific sorts of alcohol for Rose's disastrous experiment. Many thanks to my swift and splendid beta, wendymr
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
She hasn't felt this sick since that horrible party when she was fourteen, and she got plastered on cider, Lambrini, and WKD Blue. Her gut is churning, her eyes are on fire, and her legs have turned to jelly. If it weren't for the Doctor's strong hands, she'd be flat on her face. Beside her, Jack is doubled over, hands on knees, breathing in short gasps like he's trying hard not to puke. The Doctor seems okay. She can't see him -- can't see much -- but his hands are steady, and he's not making sick-up noises. I s'pose this stuff doesn't work on Time Lords.
The cloud thins, and though her head's pounding, she can stand without help. Jack, upright now, pulls her into the gap between himself and the Doctor. Rose doesn't resist, but she turns around so they stand in a rough triangle, facing outwards towards the circle of aliens. Wonder if I can get hold of one of those sticks? Most of her combat training has been hand-to-hand. The only weapons form that Jack's been allowed to teach her is Denebian stave dancing. She's good at it (for a non-Denebian), but even if she had a stave right now, she's still as weak as a half-drowned kitten.
"Why is the other male unaffected?" one of the aliens demands. "He appears to be of the same species."
"It should work on any oxygen-breather," another snaps.
"That is of no account." She can tell, just from his voice, that this one is the leader. "He will not resist or flee while the others are incapacitated."
The Doctor growls, "'He' will do a lot more than resist if they don't get better, an' quick. You must have an antidote -- use it!"
"Unnecessary. They are recovering already. You will come with us. The Elders are waiting."
The A'atrans don't bother with ropes or handcuffs. They just herd their prisoners around the flat-iron rock, and down a gently sloping gully. It's slow going, because Rose and Jack are still weak. Rose is leaning on the Doctor's arm, but she's walking on her own two legs. Jack, stumbling beside her, insists that he's fine. She holds out a shaking hand to him, and he takes it, and if they happen to steady each other on the rough terrain, there's no need to mention it.
Because of their slow pace, she has time to look around. Their escorts are wearing what might be uniforms: tunics and trousers made of a reddish-brown fabric that blends in with the rocks. They're all different in style, and not just because they aren't mass-produced. One tunic has long, tight-fitting sleeves and a neckline cut in a 'V'. Another has a stand-up collar that looks like something from an old Beatles poster. Some of the fabric is woven in a way that gives it a rippled texture. Never been on a planet where the police cared about fashion.
At the bottom, the gully opens onto a circular dry basin 100 metres wide. It's almost completely enclosed by near-vertical cliffs, most of them taller than the London Eye. Squiggly horizontal lines on the cliff faces mark the layers. Like a giant stack of pancakes. They're mostly shades of red, with some greys and dark browns mixed in. Irregular mounds of rocks, at least three metres high, are clustered at the base. Must've broken off the cliff and fallen.
The mounds flow into one another in a series of graceful, irregular curves. Rose is reminded of the frozen waves of Woman Wept, or the wind-etched deserts of Meloria VI. Maybe the sun-glare is affecting her eyes, or her head is still fuzzy from the gas, but it takes her a few minutes to process what she's seeing: the rock mounds are buildings, with doorways.
"Don't see that very often," Jack murmurs, and she wonders what's so special about stone buildings, even if they look like sculptures. Then she notices that his head is tilted up. A flash of movement catches her attention. Some of the dark spots on the cliff walls are openings, and people are looking out of them.
Caves! "How'd they get up there?"
Jack is opening his mouth to answer, but one of the guards turns to glare at him, raising his stick in warning. Jack gives their captor a quick, saucy grin, but remains silent. Rose squeezes his hand, and he squeezes back. On her right, she feels the Doctor stiffen slightly, but he also keeps his mouth shut. She follows their lead. Save the questions until they meet these Elders.
'Elder' mus' be a courtesy title. There aren't any youngsters in the group of A'atrans awaiting them, but most are far from elderly. Six males and five females sit on the curved bench that hugs the back wall of the interior of the largest stone building. Like the guards, they are wearing hand-sewn garments that manage to be both practical and elegant, but in a variety of colours. Each Elder has a long rectangle of intricately-decorated fabric draped around his or her neck.
He isn't much of a fashion plate in this incarnation, though he still admires artistry. Right now, it isn't the beauty of the brocade stoles that draws his attention. They're all very old, and were obviously cut from the same piece of fabric. Eskar whisper-silk is incredibly rare, almost as rare as the intricate patterns embellishing the stoles.
"Outsiders." The speaker is a woman who seems to be the senior member of the group. "I am Elder Dathiha. You are guilty of trespass on our lands."
"Start with the verdict? That how you do things here?" He forces himself to keep his tone casual. The recollection of Rose and Jack, doubled over in pain and nausea... They're all right. No lastin' harm done. He's still got to find out about these people, and help them if he can, but on his own terms. Protecting his humans comes first.
Jack shakes his head. "These are busy people, Doctor. They don't have time for little details like justice."
Good lad! The A'atrans of Lyonnesse prided themselves on the fairness and honesty of their government. If these people hold the same values, Jack's words will sting like nettles.
"You are guilty of trespass," Dathiha repeats coldly. "What remains to be seen is whether you are guilty of other offences."
"Offences? Blimey, you've got some nerve! You dosed us with poison gas. All we did is offer help -- or didn't Merron and Kiy bother to mention--" Rose's outburst is cut short by a series of dry coughs.
Right. Enough of this nonsense. He raises his voice enough to be heard over the indignant buzz of conversation.
"Music echoes from the splashing fountain,
A rainbow glimmer veils the waterfall's mist,
Silver fish dart through the clear, placid shallows:
All of these things are lovely; more lovely yet
Is cold water given to a thirsty guest."
He's not sure who's more startled: the A'atrans or the humans, because they're all gawping at him. His companions aren't used to hearing him recite poetry, but it's the A'atrans that he wants to shake out of their complacency. His gaze sweeps across the row of Elders before returning to fix on Dathiha. "Did you forget the words of Shabo, after so many years? Or have you lot decided that they don't apply this far from the Mountains of Hlau?"
Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, Doctor. Five lines of poetry, and you got their attention as well as I could with a stun grenade. Jack studies the eleven Elders on their stone bench. They're all frozen into speechlessness. More than a few have pale faces and dilated pupils. Maybe better than a stun grenade...
Elder Dathiha blinks, and makes a hand gesture. A guard comes forward with a tray holding three cups made of moss-green porcelain. Jack takes one, and looks at the Doctor for his cue. Some cultures spill a few drops as an offering to their gods, or recite a ritual greeting before drinking. For all he knows, the plan is to shock the locals further by smashing the cups on the mosaic tile floor.
The Doctor drains his cup in one gulp, and Jack does the same. Rose takes a few cautious sips, pausing once to cough, then drinks the rest of her water.
Chairs appear, and Jack sinks into his gratefully. He could run if he had to -- he could do a lot of things if he had to -- but a little recovery time is welcome. "Thank you," he says to the young man who refills his cup.
"Hospitality is one of the Five Shining Virtues, Jack. 'S good to know that it hasn't been completely abandoned." The Doctor is pointedly not looking at the Elders.
"What are the other four?" Rose asks, right on cue.
"Knowledge, creating beauty, respect for the land..." The Doctor pauses, titling his head to one side. "...and justice."
One of the male Elders inhales sharply. "Who are you?"
My turn. "Captain Jack Harness. And my friends Rose Tyler and the Doctor. Just 'the Doctor' -- he's sort of a minimalist."
"Where are you from?" another demands.
He shrugs. "No fixed address."
"We travel a lot," Rose adds helpfully.
"The real question," the Doctor says, "is where you lot are from. One of the colony worlds? Or Lyonnesse itself?"
Elder Dathiha begins to stand, then sinks back onto the bench. "You know of Lyonnesse?" she whispers.
"Been there a time or two, me. Visited the Sceptre City, the Garden of Eleven Joys, and the Palace." The silence in the chamber is absolute. "Saw some beautiful stuff there." He gestures at the brocade stoles. "All of those bits used to be part of the Heir's Cloak of Summer Splendour. What happened to the Prince who wore it?"
A female Elder rises. She is the youngest of the group -- perhaps mid-forties in human terms. "I am Sojore. Prince Zathek was my fosterling. I tended him from the eleventh day of his life -- his Naming Day -- until the day of his death. He died in my arms--" Sojore has to take several breaths before she can continue. "He died of old age."