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 the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N: How's this for a prompt update? I wrestled fiercely with this chapter; thanks (as ever) to my wonderful betas, yamx and wendymr for pointing out the many gaps, holes, and inconsistencies that needed to be fixed.
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11
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He's gone mad, or perhaps the Universe has. Colours have faded to grey; shapes are blurred around the edges, or blend with one another in a way that makes him slightly queasy. Everything smells like dust and ash. Finished. Used up. Like a timeline that has bled out all of its possibilities -- or had them brutally ripped away -- until it becomes a never-was.
Sound has diminished into whispers and dull thuds with no echoes. Only the voices are loud and sharp -- as loud as they have rarely been since he was four or five, and learnt to barricade his mind, as befitted a Responsible Being, a member of a Superior Civilisation.
The barriers are down now, and the voices are loud. The deaf never know how loud they are. The chatter floating on the top is annoying, even disorienting, the way it all swirls together, but the undervoices are screaming, and they don't even know that they are screaming. Envy, resentment, despair, arrogance, apathy, and fear. Especially fear.
Jack's fear is louder than any. 'Course it is. The lad is terrified, and his fear has started a feedback loop that intensifies with every cycle. What he feels from Jack is so clamorous and raw that it makes him want to retaliate, strike back with fist or blade...or mind. He could do it, even in the midst of this cloud of madness. He could silence that voice, possibly forever. He's got the strength, and what control he has left is crumbling.
Now is the time to do what he has always done/must always do/will always do. Run! He lunges at Jack, at the others who stand in his way, shoving them aside with open hands. Open hands, empty hands -- O Time and Stars! -- bloody hands. The blood on his hands is spreading, dripping, flowing. It will become a pool, a lake, a sea. It will drown them all if he doesn't contain it. There is only one place where he can do that. Containment. Safety. Home. Prison.
Rose stares at the spot where the TARDIS used to be. She wants to have hysterics right now, really she does. Wants to curl up in a ball, or maybe scream and curse and break things, only that's a luxury she hasn't got, not with Jack up on that cliff, sick or maybe poisoned, and needing help.
The cliff! Maybe the Doctor's bringing the TARDIS up there to treat Jack as quick as possible? She wants to believe it, but she remembers those wild, mad eyes, and she knows it can't be true.
Doesn't matter. She's got to get back to Jack as soon as possible. Rose turns and finds eight A'atrans staring at her. Now that she thinks about it, she thought she heard other footsteps while she was running. She looks at them. Five of them are Haveners -- the youngsters who were born here on the planet that their parents named Haven. Three are Journeyers -- adults who travelled here from Lyonnesse. Their expressions range from excited to confused to fearful, and it's obvious they all saw the TARDIS disappear.
She searches the group for familiar faces. She only knows one of the Journeyers -- Hanorra, Estridon's older apprentice. The Haveners were volunteers on the cliff, running errands or doing grunt work, so she recognises them all, though the only name she remembers is Danachen. And she isn't at all surprised that it's impulsive, outspoken Danachen who's the first to step forward. "Rose, what was that?"
Not much point in repeating the half-lie they told yesterday, that the blue box was where they kept their tools. "It's our ship. The TARDIS is our ship."
"Dani!" Hanorra's voice is unexpectedly harsh. "Come here."
Rose looks at Hanorra, and she sees that the harshness comes from fear. Unpredictable aliens. Impossible, vanishing spaceships. She can understand that fear, can even sympathize with it, but she hasn't got time to indulge it, not now. "Jack! How's Jack?"
Hanorra softens. "He was no worse when I left. Estridon sent me to find you. And he summoned a medic."
That ought to reassure her, but it's not likely that the local medics know anything about treating humans. "Right. Better get back up there." Her aching muscles complain, but she's used to running in worse circumstances.
He looks around the Control Room. Only a few moments ago, his mind interpreted it as a forest. A forest in a cave. He shivers again. What could have disoriented him so much that he didn't even recognise the TARDIS? Even the worst regeneration crisis has never done that, and he's still in the same body he started the day with. He looks down to be absolutely sure of that. It's a mistake, because those familiar hands are still coated with half-dried blood. He'll know more once he's recovered enough to walk to the medbay.
Can find out something now... The ident scanner on the TARDIS console is within reach. The tip of his little finger is clean. He presses the button, then holds the bloody palm under the flickering beam of light. Within five seconds the readout beeps. Human. Adult male. Harkness, Jack.
The other hand gives the same result. There's no trace of Rose's blood, but that doesn't particularly reassure him. Humans are fragile creatures, and there are so many ways to damage them. What did I do to Jack? echoes like a dirge in his mind, alternating with Did I do something to Rose, too?
He tries to take a couple of steps away from the console, and nearly topples over. Not yet. He ought to sit down again, rest a while, but remains standing. No delays, no backtracking. As soon as he can, he must go to the medbay. He'd be willing to crawl if that was an option, but he's got to keep the blood on his hands -- Jack's blood, a small voice reminds him -- for testing.
Estridon meets her at the top of the stairway. "I think he is a little better. The bleeding has slowed -- perhaps even stopped. We tried to clean his face with wet cloths, but he became agitated when anyone touched him."
Jack is lying on his side, knees drawn against his chest. Several picnic blankets are spread out beneath him, and a folded one is under his head. Despite the heat -- it must be nearly 40, Rose reckons -- he is shivering.
"We made him comfortable and left him alone," Estridon explains.
"You did well in doing so, Engineer," a voice behind them announces. "A living being is not a machine that you can toy with until it responds in a way that suits you."
Rose whirls around to stare at a familiar face. "Elder Sojore is our Senior Medic," Estridon explains.
S'pose it's not so strange, their royal nanny being a medic. Child minders in a creche have to learn first aid. Right now, only one thing matters. "Can you help him?"
"I don't know." The Elder's voice is quiet, dispassionate. "I have no experience treating aliens. Can you persuade him to allow me to examine him?"
She kneels beside him. "Jack? 'S me."
"Rose?" His voice is so soft and shaky that she practically has to put her ear against his mouth. "You okay?"
"That's my line," she scolds him. "I'm all right. You're the one lying here with bloodstains all over your shirt. Gave me a real fright."
"S-sorry. Don't exactly remember what happened." His pupils are not quite as huge as they were before. "Rose, hold me? I know it's stupid but I feel so damn scared."
"'Course I will." She curls up behind him in a spoon position, her front pressed against his back. She strokes his arm gently, murmurs soothing words, lays soft kisses on the nape of his neck. On the edges of her vision, she's aware of Estridon and Sojore watching them. Let 'em watch. This is what Jack needs.
Suddenly he stiffens, a spasm going through him like a jolt of electricity. "The Doctor!"
She doesn't hesitate. "He's hiding in the TARDIS. Saw him go in with my own eyes, before I came back to check on you."
"He was up and running fast as an Olympic sprinter," she says truthfully, "and his nose wasn't streaming blood like a fountain." She chooses not to mention what she'd seen in the Doctor's face. It was more than fear -- it was terror mixed with madness.
When his shaking has quieted to the occasional shiver, Rose pulls away from Jack, though she stays within touching distance. She turns Jack to face her. "The medic's here. You know her -- Sojore. She wants to examine you. Think you can hold still for that?"
Jack is silent for much longer than she expects. Finally, he says, "I'll try." He adds, "Hold my hand?"
"'Course." Rose beckons to Sojore, who walks slowly forward, like a vet approaching a wounded dog.
Jack grips Rose's hand so tightly it hurts, but he doesn't move as Sojore shines a small torch into his eyes and then into his nostrils. Sojore unclips a small scanner from her belt and slowly waves it over his body. When she reaches the upper torso, she frowns. She peers at the readout, then passes the scanner over Jack's chest again. She tilts her head back and forth -- an A'atran gesture of confusion. "Havru guide me! I don't understand."
She looks at Rose: studying, appraising. "You are the same species, yes? I do not know what is normal for your kind. Perhaps I can use your readings as a baseline, since you appear unaffected."
"Same species, yeah," Rose confirms. She wonders if she should mention that there's three thousand years between them, and that Jack's DNA has been tinkered with in complicated ways that she doesn't understand. Nah. Better not.
Rose forces herself to stand still as the scanner translates her body functions into numbers and glyphs she can't interpret. Sojore's face is equally unreadable.
"I am sorry..." The voice is soft and regretful.
A sliver of something icy is stuck in Rose's throat. For a moment, she can't breathe, then she takes in a sudden, deep gasp.
"I can't tell you what happened," Sojore says, "but his condition appears to be improving. His heart rate is faster than yours, but it is slowing. In one of my people, I would diagnose a reaction to something he ate or drank." Her hands move in a graceful gesture that makes Rose think of a shrug. "Without a better knowledge of his body chemistry, I would not take the risk of providing medication. I prescribe rest, and re-hydration, and small meals. The foods at dinner gave him no trouble, I believe."
Sojore studies Rose as if she's a sum that doesn't quite add up. "You have had no symptoms?"
"No. No, I'm fine." The medic nods, dismissing her, and turns to talk to Estridon.
She didn't ask about the Doctor. Bloody hell, I s'pose she's already heard about the TARDIS disappearing. Rose does her best to push the thought aside as she settles back onto the blankets. Right now, she's got to take care of Jack.
It takes him much longer than he expects -- nineteen minutes, forty-three seconds -- before he's steady enough to walk. He heads off in the direction of the medbay, walking with one bent elbow brushing against the corridor wall to help him keep his balance. He can't touch anything with his hands, not yet.
Once inside the medbay, he locates a sterile flask and a pipette. A few drops of solvent turn the half-dried blood on his left hand into a usable sample for testing. While that's processing, he washes his hands as carefully as if he's scrubbing for surgery. The sample of his own blood has got to be collected before the toxin is completely out of his system, and it mustn't be contaminated.
Part of him wants to run back to the Control Room and hit the fast return button. The colder, more rational part knows that once he's back in the time stream he has to be ready to act immediately. He won't get a second chance to help Jack and Rose. If this stuff can knock a Time Lord for a loop, what will it do to a couple of humans?
Jack's dreams are full of bright colour: blue sky, copper-tinged rocks, red blood. When he opens his eyes, he doesn't realise at first that he's awake. Everything is white. It's not the bright, featureless white of sun-glare blindness. Not the cold, industrial white of prisons and hospitals. This is more...textured, like a sand dune, and he wonders if he's dreaming of home.
"Jack?" Rose's voice brings him back to the here and now. He's staring at the white ceiling of the white room. Cautiously, he raises his head and the tops of the white walls come into view. So far, so good. He sits up slowly, and is pleased to find that his body doesn't seem to object. Much. He's got a mild headache, and he can feel some developing bruises.
Rose appears at the side of his bed and offers him a cup of water. He downs it in one long gulp. "Thanks." She leads him through the expected litany of questions. How does he feel? Not bad. Does he remember what happened? Vaguely. Some dizziness, and then overwhelming fear. Not fear of anything in particular, just fear, raw and terrible. The examination was an ordeal, but he's been through worse. And then, when he was recovered enough to endure contact with strangers, being half-carried down the stairs and back to this room.
Rose nods. "Sojore said I should let you sleep as long as you wanted. It's been about two hours."
"So, what does the Doctor think about all this?" Jack tenses when he sees all expression and colour drain from her face. "Rose? Is he still hiding in the TARDIS?"
She puts a finger to her lips, gestures at his wristcomp, and then at the perimeter of the room. He checks the readout. All clear. "What's wrong with the Doctor?"
Rose stands before him, hands clasped tightly together. Her tongue flicks across her upper lip. "I told you the truth before, but not all of it. The Doctor was acting just like you, 'cept his nose didn't bleed. He was really spooked. Didn't talk, didn't seem to hear me. He ran off...and I followed him. I didn't want to leave you, but--"
"You did the right thing," he says gently, though his heart is beating loud enough that he can hear it pounding in his ears. He takes hold of Rose's arm and tugs gently until she's sitting beside him on the bed.
"He ran to the TARDIS -- he ran really fast, Jack. So fast that I couldn't catch up." Her eyes are pleading for him to understand, to forgive her. "An' then the TARDIS dematerialised. He's gone, Jack. The Doctor is gone."
Jack feels as though someone has just sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. The Doctor is gone. No. Can't be. "He wouldn't leave us," he protests. It's a reflex, saying that. He knows that Rose wouldn't lie about this.
"He did!" With these two words, Rose abandons any pretence of self-control and begins to weep.
Jack grabs her in a tight hug. "It'll be okay," he says over and over, and maybe he's talking to himself as well as to Rose.
When the tears stop and Rose's shoulders are no longer shaking, Jack forces himself to think. "If the Doctor had the same thing I did, he would have been feeling scared." Terrified, an inner voice corrects. "I think you were right when you said he was 'hiding'. He'd want to be in a safe and familiar place. And when he got inside the TARDIS and still felt afraid, he'd follow instinct, and take the TARDIS--"
"Take her where?" Rose demands.
"It doesn't matter." She gawks at him, speechless. "Really -- it doesn't matter. Into the Vortex, back to Trehinor or Retheros Station or Earth. The point is, he'll stay inside until he recovers and the fear goes away, and then he'll come back to us."
"What if he can't come back to us? What if he doesn't get better?"
Jack can't blame her for worrying. He isn't nearly as calm as he sounds. "I got over it, and so will he. If it hit him harder, maybe it'll take longer for him to recover, but he will recover." He lowers his voice and puts on his best Northern accent. "Time Lord, me. Not as fragile as you apes."
The sound that bursts out of Rose Tyler's lips is half laugh half sob. "Yeah, he'd say something daft like that." She huffs out a loud breath, and the laughter is gone. "Jack, people will be asking questions. When the Doctor took off, there was an audience. And then I made it even worse by announcing that the disappearing box was our ship, the TARDIS." She hangs her head. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing for you to be sorry about."
"I spilled our secret!"
"Which was not so secret any more. The disappearing box already gave it away." She starts to protest, but he won't let her. With loving firmness, he places an open hand on either side of her head and pulls her towards him until their noses are almost touching. "Let's focus on the important stuff. You did a great job of looking after us. You made sure that the Doctor didn't fall into a ravine or get lost in the badlands, and then you came back and took care of me. More than that, you probably saved my life."
She can feel the heat of a blush creeps up her face. "Don't be silly."
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Jack isn't often in serious mode. Of course there are times when he's in pain, or angry, or worried. Mostly though, he's got a grin and a quip for every situation, even when they're being chased by monsters. Now his expression is intense, focused, as though he's about to tell her something vitally important. "Rose, you don't know what it was like. What I was feeling was sheer terror. Not a nightmare or a scary hallucination -- just one hundred percent pure distilled fear. If you hadn't been there for me, I don't know what I would have done. I might have thrown myself over the edge. But you were there with me and I knew I was going to get through it."
Rose looks less miserable now, but her forehead creases. "Jack, what was 'it'? What made you two sick? Sojore says it was probably something you ate."
"Could be. Maybe there's a spice that the A'atrans can eat but is toxic to us."
"So why didn't I get sick? We all ate the same stuff." She pauses. "No -- wait. There was that pickle I didn't like."
"You tasted a tiny bite of it," Jack points out. "The Doctor and I didn't eat much more than you did. If the toxin was in the chatkha, you ought to have had some kind of reaction."
Rose frowns. "Unless it affects some people and not others. Could it be 'cos you two are blokes?"
Jack shakes his head. He doesn't know as much as he'd like about Time Lords, but he does know that the Doctor's biochemistry is very different to his own. However human that body looks, even naked, it doesn't contain a drop of testosterone. His thoughts start travelling down a different path. "There are other things the Doctor and I have in common, besides being male. And the symptoms are a clue. I'll bet that something in our lunch was a chemical compound that only affects--"
Telepaths. The Doctor re-reads the molecular formula that the bio-analyser printed out for him. The damn stuff is a psychotropic agent that only affects telepaths. It's in both samples of blood -- his and Jack's.
This is good news, as much as anything about this bollocksed-up mess can be called good. Jack's telepathy is minimal, so he won't have had much of a reaction, and Rose would have been untouched. His own recollection of the scene on top of the cliff is blurry, like a nightmare that the mind resists remembering. Jack was bleeding from his nose. Did I do that? Did I belt him? An' Rose? No! I couldn't have hurt Rose. Another fragment of memory drifts past: Rose running after him, calling him. They'll be all right, he thinks, then snorts. Yeah, aside from feelin' terrified and abandoned, they'll be right as rain.
He takes another look at the formula. Its function was evident from the first moment he glanced at it. Now he can see other details, other patterns. It's not a naturally-occurring compound. It--
"--had to be artificially engineered," Jack says.
"You're sure?" It's a question, not a challenge.
"I'm sure," he says flatly. "I can't prove it, not without some pretty sophisticated equipment, but I'm sure. Even if the compound was found in some berry or seed, it would have to be purified and concentrated to have that kind of effect."
Rose doesn't need to understand organic chemistry to grasp the implications. "Someone poisoned you two on purpose? Gave you a drug to make you crazy?"
"I think I was collateral damage. They set out to poison a Time Lord. The fact that I have a touch of telepathy was just an unfortunate coincidence." His mouth tightens. "Or a nice bonus."
"It was probably in the juice," Jack continues. "That's how I would have done it, back in my Agency days. Liquids are a better delivery system than solid foods, and the spices in the juice would cover any odd taste."
She thinks about the grinning boy in the green-as-spring tunic, pouring out cupfuls of juice. "You think that Kurden did this?"
Jack shakes his head. "Nah. Not the kid. Someone down below spiked the entire container of juice. Easiest way to be sure of getting your target. It was hot up there, remember, and everyone was drinking. The A'atrans aren't telepaths, so there was no danger to anyone except us."
"The Outsiders," Rose says. She quotes part of the grafitti than an anonymous hand chalked on their door last night. "Let evil be cast out..." She thinks of the Doctor running heedlessly towards the cliff edge. Oh, God! "Who could do this? And why? I mean--" She gestures helplessly.
Jack nods as if she's making perfect sense. "They don't like aliens, but in this kind of culture it's a big leap from dislike -- even hate -- to murder. The timing is weird, too. Why now? Why not wait until we finish the repairs?"
"It's not the Council," she says, thinking out loud. "They want us to sort all the mechanical stuff. They'd wait. An' they wouldn't need to be so sneaky."
Despite the somber topic, his eyes smile approval at her. "Clever girl. This was meant to look like an accident. The aliens go crazy. Maybe they fight each other and fall off the cliff. Maybe they attack innocent A'atrans and have to be executed before they can do any more harm."
But we didn't do what we were expected to do. "What do we do now? We can't just sit on our bums and wait for the Doctor."
"True. I was thinking that we might take care of some unfinished business."
"The solar array? Can you finish that without-- on your own?"
"I could do, but I had some other business in mind." Jack's grin is quick and feral and dangerous. "I was thinking we might go hunting for a poisoner."