Characters: Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness
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: Another story in the Changes!verse, my series about Rose, Jack, and the Doctor traveling together as partners and lovers. It takes place sometime after Changes. Thanks to my beta,wendymr .
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
He does not want to listen to this story. What he was expecting to hear is bad enough. If the Prince died of old age, there are only a couple of possibilities, none of them pleasant. He definitely does not want to listen to this story. "Tell me what happened."
Sojore raises her head. She's looking in his direction, though he's not sure if she actually sees him.
"The Queen sent for me after moons-set, in the middle of second dark. She told me that war was drawing close to Lyonnesse. I didn't understand. There was peace with all of our neighbours in the sector, our defences were strong -- but she said that there was danger. The Prince must be taken to safety. A small ship might escape unseen if the enemies were distracted."
"Enemies?" he asks, more sharply than he intended.
"I asked if the Rutans had returned. They passed through the home system ninety years ago, and by Havru's blessing, they did not linger. I thought perhaps they had come again, and the Sontarans followed."
It was a reasonable guess. The Rutans and the Sontarans were two of the most violent species in the cosmos. Many worlds had been destroyed simply because they fell in the path of these warring empires.
"My Lady said, 'We are not so fortunate.' And she laughed, as if it were a strange jest."
She was tellin' the truth, your Queen. The Time War made the Sontaran-Rutan wars look like schoolyard brawls.
Sojore continues her tale, explaining how Prince Zathek was smuggled from his chambers to a spaceyard at the other end of the continent. The Celestial Endeavour, a long-range exploration vessel, had been hastily converted to a personnel transport, and renamed Arrow of Hope. It carried the Prince and three hundred A'atrans away from their homeworld. Among them were servitors and guards, but also priests and artisans, scientists and poets.
"Bit like Noah's ark," Rose murmurs.
"Government in exile," Jack whispers in reply.
The Arrow's destination was a planet 15 kilo-parsecs away, a long-established colony of Lyonnesse. They had barely reached interlunar space, between the orbits of Enikun and Olekun, when thousands of ships appeared on their scanners.
The configurations and power signatures of the two alien fleets resembled nothing the A'atrans had seen before. Space seemed to blur around them in impossible ways. Massive, erratic pulses of energy came from all directions, like a storm-wracked sea with shifting winds.
The Doctor can see it all clearly. He was in another galaxy when the Battle of Lyonnesse was fought, but he can envision the planet and its two moons. Converging strings of equations stream through his mind, describing the distortions of space-time that assaulted the Arrow of Hope.
The pilot diverted as much power as he could spare to the shields. He guided the ship towards the inner face of Olekun, the larger moon, hoping that its mass would help protect them from the strange weaponry. The Arrow of Hope was buffeted by forces that no normal ship was designed to withstand. The Captain ordered everyone except essential ship's crew to secure themselves in crash-webbing.
Sojore had been in the port forward galley, preparing a cup of calmroot tea for the Prince. "He wasn't afraid for himself, but he didn't want to leave the Queen. He said he was ten, and would be invested as Heir at the next high festival, and his duty was to protect his Lady Mother. The Guard-Commander told him that his duty was to obey his Queen. I told him -- may Havru forgive me for it -- that he was being a silly boy."
There was no time for her to return to the aft cabin where the Prince would have already been strapped down by the Guard-Commander. Sojore made her way to the nearest crash-station -- in the corridor just outside the galley -- and secured herself. She began to pray, repeating the Five Invocations over and over again. Not until muscle spasms flared through her hands did she notice how tightly they gripped the webbing.
Two powerful blows slammed into the Arrow. Even within the webbing, the turbulence shook Sojore violently. Shabo's poem about storms hovered on the edge of her memory, but she could not recall the words. An alarm sounded, and lights went out. The only sources of light were the emergency glow-disks attached to the walls at regular intervals. A few minutes later, the lights flickered on, and the alarm ceased.
The ship seemed so quiet. Though people shouted and booted feet pounded the decks, no more energy pulses struck the Arrow. Sojore unfastened her webbing with trembling hands and ran aft. She was nearly to her destination when she was stopped by a cluster of guards and ship's crew. "Lady Sojore, it may not be safe," one of them said.
Looking beyond them, she saw that the metal of the walls and deck were oddly discoloured. "Nowhere is safe," she said, pushing through the men.
She must have walked past several dead bodies before reaching the Prince's quarters, but she saw nothing. Inside the cabin, the body of the Guard-Commander was slumped at the foot of the bed. The look of him would have frozen her bones, if she did not have to face a greater horror.
The body of Prince Zathek lay on his bed, still restrained by the crash-webbing. He had aged. He still had the stature and proportions of a child, but his flesh was withered, his cheeks sunken, his eyes dulled. "Soji? Are you here?" He spoke in a hoarse whisper.
She knelt beside him. "I'm here, sweetling."
"Soji... I'm cold."
Sojore unfastened the webbing, and clasped Zathek's frail body against hers. "It's all right," she said, marvelling how easily the lie came to her tongue. "Just rest, sweetling. You'll feel better in the morning."
As Sojore describes the Prince's deterioration, the Doctor can feel Rose's horrified reaction run through him like a live current. Oh, Rose... I never wanted you to know about all this ugliness an' destruction. He wants to comfort her, but doesn't think she'd welcome his touch right now. So much blood on my hands. You shouldn't be dirtied with it.
Rose reaches for the Doctor's hand, holding it with one of her hands and stroking it with the other. Jack, sitting on the other side of Rose, stretches his arm across her shoulders, and gently presses the flat of his palm against the nape of the Time Lord's neck. The Doctor knows he doesn't deserve the comfort that his partners are silently providing, but he doesn't have the strength to refuse it.
Sojore continues her tale, speaking in a low monotone. Her eyes are fixed on nightmares that only she can see, but the Doctor can imagine only too well.
She held her Prince as the long hours passed. When his breathing became more laboured, she permitted a medic to fetch a respiration mask, but insisted on applying it herself. At intervals she paused to moisten his dry lips and mouth with a soothing spray. She murmured words of comfort and favourite old stories. She reminisced aloud about special occasions and everyday pleasures. "Do you remember when we visited the Garden of Eleven Joys? And the kori-birds were perched in the trees?"
Prince Zathek nodded. Even that slight movement seemed to require great effort. "Soji, sing? Moons... bird..."
She sang, though her voice was raspy, and kept wavering off key.
"Both the moons have set, and still you cannot sleep.
Music rides the breeze that though the window sweeps.
It is a kori-bird, perched high on a tree.
Kori, does your song bring me sorrow or joy?
Or is it just a dream for my precious boy?"
She sang all five verses, then sang them again. At the end, she could hear that his breathing was calm and even. She sang another song and another. Sleep songs, riddle songs, sea songs, love songs -- everything her tired mind could remember. Halfway through "Drafa's Journey" Zathek let out a long, wavering sigh. He took a few more faltering breaths, then lay still in Sojore's arms.
Sojore kissed his leathery cheek, then laid him back down on the bed. She turned his limp. unresisting form onto his left side, as was proper, and gently pulled his knees up towards his chest. This final service completed, Sojore sat, unspeaking and dry-eyed, beside her Prince.
After an hour, perhaps two, of this silent vigil, she allowed a serving-woman and a medic to lead her away. As they escorted her to her quarters, she overheard snatches of conversation. Sixty other A'atrans had been found dead in the aft section of the Arrow. Lyonesse was gone -- not merely destroyed, but gone. No trace remained of her, or of her two moons. The other, uninhabited planets of the system were still there, though in different orbits.
Rumour and speculation ran unchecked throughout the ship. It was the Sontarans who annihilated Lyonnesse. It was the Rutans. It was the Miasini. It was some unknown extra-galactic race. The destruction had been caused by their own military, testing a fearsome new weapon. No, it was an experimental planetary shield with an unstable energy source.
The Arrow had taken almost no physical damage during the attack, but the bombardment of energy waves had damaged navigational controls, and wiped parts of the databanks. It took four days for the scientists on board to isolate and analyse the readings they'd taken.
The Captain himself made the announcement, just after firstmeal. As the Queen had feared, Lyonnesse had been caught in a clash between the Daleks and the Time Lords. The weaponry of one side or the other had somehow distorted the very structure of time and space.
It did much more than that, the Doctor knows. Not that you lot could understand what really happened. Takes an 'advanced' race to properly muck up the Universe. He also doubts that the A'atrans could appreciate the irony of their fate: the very forces that obliterated their planet had also saved their lives. Two or more energy pulses had intersected in just the right way to form a sort of temporal breakwater. Even so, parts of the ship had been only partly protected, admitting the entropic waveform that aged the young Prince and immediately killed his older compatriots.
Sixty dead, the Doctor muses bitterly. Jus' a few drops in the sea. A few more innocent victims among the billions claimed by the Time War.
One week after Prince Zathek's death, the Arrow of Hope limped into a small spaceport on a mining planet. The miners -- dull-witted Musteloids from Skerk -- did not seem to comprehend who their visitors were, but they traded stores of fuel and other essentials in exchange for luxury goods. They also gave permission for funeral pyres to be built on a rocky plateau five kilometres from the spaceport.
Sojore watched the twisting flames claim the bodies of the dead, releasing their spirits to journey onwards. Only when the pyres were reduced to embers did her tears finally flow. With them came the words of the poem that had been eluding her.
"Upon the Jade Sea, the winter gale tossed
The heaving, foam-crowned waves into great mountains.
You were torn from my arms by the jealous sea.
You will lie in her cold embrace forever
While I keen my grief into the mocking wind."
Sojore falls silent, her eyes bright with remembered tears. An Elder who identifies himself as Priyan takes up the tale. "We set course to Ysande -- the nearest of our colony worlds. As we entered orbit, there were no responses to our comm signals. Scans showed no energy signatures, no sentient life. We searched for ruins, for signs of destruction, whether by war or natural disaster. Nothing. There had been two large cities and many small settlements, and we could not find the slightest trace of them -- not so much as one plexibrick."
'Course you didn't find anythin'. Lyonnesse was wiped from the timelines. It never existed, so it never settled any colonies.
The Arrow of Hope traveled on to Gezin, a world that had a long history of trade and diplomatic agreements with Lyonnesse. The Gezinoi space control authorities did not recognise their signals, but finally allowed the Arrow to land as an 'unknown vessel in distress'.
"We told them of our misfortunes... and they laughed. We must be mad, they said, or else we were rogues and tricksters. Lyonnesse was not real, only a fable told to children. A few gullible fools had formed expeditions to search for the riches of Lyonnesse, but none succeeded. We told them of the battle, of the Time Lords and the Daleks, and they laughed all the more. More legends, they said. Gods and monsters battling to control the cosmos -- not even drunkards in taverns believed in the Time War."
Everywhere they journeyed, it was the same. Lyonnesse was a myth, a falsehood, a delusion. They could not travel endlessly, but where to settle? Many worlds would have welcomed their science and artistry. They need only lie about their origin. "We had lost so much," Priyan says. "To surrender our name was too great a sacrifice."
So they came here, as far from other worlds as they could get. Do they think of this place as a new Lyonnesse, or jus' a memorial for the planet they lost?
"Now you know our tale," Elder Dathiha says, looking sharply at the three travellers, "and we desire to hear yours. Where are you from, Outsiders? How do you remember lost Lyonnesse, when all the worlds have forgotten her, except as a half-dreamed tale?"
What can he do but tell the truth? He'll offer whatever aid he can, whether it's repairs, provisions, or organising transport to another, less harsh planet. What does it matter if they hate him? He's the source of their troubles, or near enough as to make no difference. 'S long as they don't blame Rose an' Jack... "Thing is, I'm a Time--"
"--Agent," Rose blurts out. "We're Time Agents."