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 fantastic beta, WendyMR.
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
"We're Time Agents."
Jack smiles. Clever girl. "Former Time Agents," he says smoothly. "The Doctor and I had a little... disagreement with the Agency recently. We didn't part on the best of terms."
"And you?" Elder Dathiha asks, looking pointedly at Rose. In the split second before she answers, Jack can see her consider the lie, evaluate it, and opt for the simpler truth.
"Not me. I jus' travel with Cap'n Jack an' the Doctor."
"Rose is from a primitive era of Earth's history," the Doctor says. "Barely post-atomic."
Uh oh. Doc doesn't sound happy. He's pissed off because Rose interrupted his 'confession'.
Rose isn't happy either, judging from her glare. "Oi! Enough with the 'primitive'. Who figured out how to disable that Retherian war computer?"
Jack suppresses a chuckle. Not the best example, Rose. You poured your dewberry smoothie over the control panel. By accident. "Primitive, but resourceful," he says.
And now he's the focus of attention. "Captain? You are the leader?"
He knows if he says yes, the others will play along, but even for him, the truth is the easiest lie. "'Captain' is my former rank. The Doctor has more experience in time-travelling than I do. Our ship belongs to him, actually."
"I borrowed it," the Doctor says blandly. "I was in a bit of a hurry, an' needed transport."
Jack blinks, and makes a mental note to ask about that at a more convenient time.
"This is how you know of Lyonnesse?"
"Like I said before, I've been to Lyonnesse," the Doctor replies. "An' our trainin' gives us a certain resistance to changed timelines."
"And you have come here to aid us?" It's a challenge.
"Actually, we came to get some clorinthium for our ship's filtration system," Jack says, flashing his most charming smile. "We had no idea that anyone else was on the planet until Rose had her... encounter."
"But we do want to help if we can," Rose adds.
"Why?" Dathiha asks bluntly, and the faces of the other ten Elders reflect her scepticism.
"'Cos it's the decent thing to do." She frowns at the Elders. "Doesn't mean we're happy about those stink bombs, but I s'pose you've got reasons to be suspicious of strangers. Yeah, we want to help."
"For a price." Jack lowers his voice and leans forward slightly, as if sharing a secret. "Rose has a sentimental streak. It's one of the things we love about her, but sentiment doesn't pay for fuel and docking fees."
Rose gives him A Look, but there's a flicker of amusement in it that tells him she understands. The A'atrans won't believe they're acting out of pure altruism, and he sure as hell isn't going to explain the Doctor's misplaced guilt. Greed is a universally understood motive.
He needs to strike the right balance. Interested in profit, but not rapacious. Really, there's not much difference between striking a bargain and running a con. "I think we could arrange a mutually agreeable trade. Your artisans do beautiful work. I have contacts who would pay very well. Some textiles, perhaps a few carvings--" He glances at the five intricately-wrought ghrazi flowers spaced evenly around the room. "Nothing that's sacred or otherwise off-limits, of course."
"What makes you think we need help from anyone?"
"You cannibalised your ship," the Doctor says. "Means no off-world shopping trips. Solar conversion arrays are efficient, but they won't run forever. Activation cells start degradin' after ten to twelve years. You lot have been here at least fourteen." He ticks off seven other technical problems that they can't deal with on their own.
Jack already knows about two of those. He could guess two more. The remaining three are problems he wouldn't have suspected until he pulled off the access panels. He doesn't see how the Doctor can possibly know about them, but he'd lay odds that the Time Lord is right.
The A'atran Elders murmur among themselves. He doesn't need to hear what they're saying. He can read their reactions on their faces. Some are in favour; some against; most are undecided.
"We will confer about your... offer," Dathiha announces. "You will be escorted to a place where you can await our decision." She gives the Doctor a hard look. "If you do not cause trouble, you will have no cause to fault our hospitality."
The Doctor inclines his head. "The rewards of a welcoming door are: bounty upon the table, safety within the walls, peace beneath the roof, comfort at the hearth, and a good name for eleven generations," he says calmly. It's obviously an old proverb. Jack's heard something similar on dozens of planets. Why does it sound like a threat?
The Elders don't reply, and the Doctor rises without further comment. Jack and Rose do the same. This time, there are only two guards: one leading the way, and one bringing up the rear. They exit the circular building, heading for the nearby cliff-face.
There are at least twenty doorways along the base of the cliff. Some lead to passageways or chambers, and some to cylinders that seem to be lift shafts. The doorway they enter becomes a two-metre-long corridor, ending in a spiral staircase. It's not the utilitarian metal latticework that Jack knows from space stations and prefab habitats. This stairway was carved into the heart of the cliff with laser drills wielded as precisely as surgical instruments.
They go single-file, though the stairway is wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side comfortably. A shallow groove with a smoothly rounded edge is etched into the wall at just the right height to serve as a handrail. Glow discs attached to the ceiling cast strong, warm light on the steps. They also reflect off the glossy, polished walls, highlighting the horizontal streaks of other colours -- black, grey, cream, and white -- that run through the red stone like the grain in wood.
It's like time-travelling, Jack thinks. That grey stripe, no wider than my thumb, took thousands of years to form. The whole thing, from base to top, represents millions of years. He wonders if Rose can see the science behind the beauty. He wonders if the Doctor can see the beauty behind the science.
They ascend 24.5 metres, according to Jack's wrist-comp. At the top, the landing curves gently to the left, widening into a large oval chamber. No door to lock them in: good. No doorway to hide behind for an ambush: bad. The wall on the left is pierced by many small elliptical windows, looking out onto the flat basin they crossed earlier. Was it only a couple of hours ago? Feels like a couple of days.
Food and drink will be fetched for them, one of the guards announces. A few minutes later, another uniformed A'atran enters, carrying a tray, which he places on a low table. "You are welcome under this roof. Take refreshment, and be at ease. Remain here until summoned, or we will use a paralytic cloud." He says this in one long breath, as if the last sentence is part of the ritual greeting. Maybe it is... now.
All the guards file out of the room, and Jack can hear the muffled sound of their boots on the stairway. He consults his wrist-comp. "They're all down. Two posted at the entrance."
The sonic screwdriver whirs. "No listenin' devices. No toxins in the food -- an' it's safe for humans." The Doctor looks pointedly at the tray, then at his companions. "I don't want you two keelin' over at the worst possible moment. Sit down, have somethin' to eat. An' then you can tell me what the bloody hell you think you were doin' with all that claptrap about Time Agents."
Rose didn't expect him to be grateful, but she'd hoped he would be reasonable. "We thought we were keeping a pig-headed moron with cotton-wool for brains out of unnecessary trouble," she says sweetly.
"A Time Agent? Me?"
She and Jack exchange looks. The Doctor's Time Lord dignity is bruised.
Jack clucks his tongue. "A Time Agent. Shocking."
"Scandalous," she agrees. "Next thing you know, he'll be associating with humans and all kinds of riffraff."
"Oi! Don't be puttin' words in my mouth, Rose Tyler. An' sit down. You're not recovered yet."
"I'm okay, Doctor." She looks at Jack. An understanding passes between them.
"We both are." The two humans position themselves on either side of their partner. They link arms with him, and pull him down as they seat themselves. He doesn't resist.
The stone bench jutting out from the right-hand wall of the room is covered with thick cushions of something that feels like soft leather. It's certainly one of the more comfortable places that they've been imprisoned.
"Doctor... were you there?" Jack asks. His voice is low and serious -- unusual for him, even in crisis situations.
The Doctor shakes his head. "I was in the Triangulum Galaxy, dealing with another incursion. There were so many-- I didn't hear about Lyonnesse until later."
Rose takes in a deep breath. God, please don't let me muck this up. "Doctor, do you want to help these people?"
"Said so, didn't I?"
"It'll be easier if-- if they don't ask too many questions." She stumbles on. "Easier for them, I mean. Seems they've started to put the War behind them. They still remember what happened -- course they do -- but they don't think about it all the time." Except maybe Sojore, 'cos losing the Prince hurt her so much.
The Doctor's looking at her like she's a puzzle he needs to solve. "Jus' how do you figure that?"
"You said one of their 'shining virtues' was creating beauty. There's lots of beautiful stuff here, even the little, unimportant things. Prob'ly their dustbins are beautiful, too."
Jack laughs. "And filled with beautiful trash, I'll bet."
"But it's different here than how you described Lyonnesse. You said that was a green place, with lots of gardens and fountains, an' white shining buildings. If all they thought about was the past, wouldn't they be trying to copy it?"
"She's got a good point, Doctor. The art here is designed for this world. The materials, the styles -- they're all made to harmonise with the landscape."
"Like... that." She jabs a finger at the window wall facing them. There are dozens of small oval windows scattered randomly across the wall. At least, she thought they were random. All at once, she can see that the oval windows are leaf-shaped, and very lightly carved lines on the stone wall suggest a tree trunk, with many branches and twigs. She can even tell what sort of tree it's meant to be -- one of the short ones that grow beside the stream she walked along.
"That's planetary west," Jack observes.
It takes a few seconds for her to understand. Come sunset, that lovely tree with its pale sky-blue "leaves" will be painted all sorts of colours. "So, in a few hours--"
"Three point six two standard hours," the Doctor says.
"--it'll be gorgeous."
"I like looking at gorgeous things as well as the next man," Jack says, giving his partners an exaggerated leer, "but I'm hoping we won't still be waiting then."
The Doctor gives a soft grunt which could have six different meanings -- or none at all.
"Rose has a good point, though. These people, they're not trying to live in the past. They're making something new, using pieces of their past."
"Like the cloak." Both men look at her questioningly. "The Prince's special cloak. They didn't put it in a museum or a shrine. They cut it up to share it, jus' like they're sharing the government. Did they have Elders back on Lyonnesse?"
"Nah. King or Queen, an' a sort of three-part parliament."
"They're moving on, Doctor. They're healing," Jack says.
The Doctor looks at each of them in turn through narrowed eyes. "You two gonna stop natterin' an' have somethin' to eat?" He gestures at the tray on the small table in front of them.
Rose knows it's as much of an acknowledgement as they're going to get. She points to some pale green slices that look like cucumber. "What's this?"
"Thorn-fruit," Jack replies. "It grows on a lot of arid worlds. Sort of an edible cactus."
"It's good," the Doctor adds. "Tastes like pear."
She leans forward and helps herself to a slice. It's sweet and moist. Sticky nectar clings to the tips of her fingers. She puts one finger into her mouth, purses her lips around it, and slowly pulls it out again. She repeats the procedure for two more fingers, then her thumb. "Very good."
"Delicious," Jack says. He isn't looking at the table.
"Jack..." The Doctor's tone is a mix of warning and fond exasperation, but Rose can see that his eyes are darkening.
She picks up another slice of fruit, and presses it against the Doctor's mouth, which opens to accept the morsel. He smiles his thanks, lips moist with juice. Rose reaches for another piece, intending to offer it to Jack.
Jack swivels suddenly, pressing his mouth against the Doctor's in a hard, demanding kiss. His hands cup the back of the Doctor's head, as if to prevent him from moving away. The Time Lord offers no resistance. His own hands grab at Jack's shoulders, pulling the younger man closer.
Rose watches them. She's motionless, almost holding her breath. The tip of her tongue sweeps across her upper lip, cleaning off the last traces of juice. Yeah. Delicious is the right word...