Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Genre: Gen, drama
Spoilers: Minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Series 4.
Summary: A star empire is menaced by deadly creatures from the time of Rassilon. Will one lone Time Lord and a human companion be enough to defeat them?
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes.
A/N: This story takes place sometime between Planet of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem. The Doctor is still recovering from The Year That Never Was -- an experience that he has not mentioned to Donna.
Previous chapter: Chapter 1
Chapter 2, in which the Doctor introduces himself, Donna learns some Gallifreyan history, and the Last Time Lord receives a surprising request.
In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.
George Washington, Rules of Civility
It says something about the Doctor’s lifestyle that he has a special smile reserved for people who are pointing lethal weapons at him. At those times, he reminds Donna of a puppy: friendly and harmless. It’s strange how many people don’t see past the smile and the wide, innocent eyes. They don’t see the analytical mind whirring at a billion miles an hour; assessing, planning, weighing options. Friendly? Yes. Harmless? Definitely not.
The guards snap their right arms up, pointing their blasters at the ceiling before holstering them. It’s some kind of salute, Donna realizes. The guard captain fixes his gaze on the Doctor. “Honorable Sir. If you will please accompany me to the Lower Audience Hall?”
As they descend from the gallery, Donna hisses, “What’s this about?”
The Doctor shrugs. “I haven’t been here in three or four centuries. Don’t remember anyone being particularly annoyed with me. They’re pompous, and much too fond of protocol, but it is a civilized planet. No one is going to start shouting, ‘Off with their heads!’ Unlike Elizabeth the First. Still haven’t figured that one out.”
“Wha--? Never mind. But some day soon, Space Boy, you and I are going to sit down for a long overdue conversation.”
The Lower Audience Hall is crowded with Paalgi of all ranks. The babble of conversation drops to a low hum as the outworlders enter with their escort. At the front of the Hall is a tall Paalgi, dressed not in a sarong, but a sleeveless robe of black and white. He stands in graceful stillness, and wears authority like an invisible crown.
“Either we’re being honoured, or we’re in a great deal of trouble,” the Doctor whispers. “That is a very important bloke – second in authority to the Imperator himself.”
The important bloke casts a long, appraising look at the newcomers. “I am Jrzek F’lall, High Minister of Paalgiou.” He rattles off a string of titles. First Among the Faithful, Guardian of the Fourth Circle, Holder of the Lesser Justice, etc., etc. When the long solemn recitation is finished, the Minister falls silent. He waits.
The Doctor inclines his head in the Acknowledgement of Equals. “Hullo! Very pleased to meet you. I’m the Doctor. Time Lord. And my companion, Donna Noble.”
“Human,” Donna adds.
The High Minister frowns. “A child of Gallifrey…that is plain enough, and Time Lord you must be, to have escaped the destruction. But you present me with no lineage, no titles, and no true name. ‘Doctor’ cannot be the name you bore when you stood in the Panopticon, and received the mark of Rassilon in your blood.”
Oh, that was a mistake, Donna thinks. She has a rapidly-growing list of Things the Doctor is Touchy About. Being asked for his real name is in the top five. Twice.
And, yeah, the ambient temperature drops about ten degrees as he speaks. “’The Doctor’ is my name now. Has been for many, many years. And ‘Time Lord’ is title enough.”
“Enough for the Acknowledgement of Equals?” Donna hears the quiet challenge beneath the words. Idiot. You’re just shoving your foot in deeper.
The Doctor sighs. “Your sort always have to make life complicated, don’t you?” he murmurs, half to himself. “I do have other titles, High Minister. You wouldn’t like most of them. You really wouldn’t.” He smiles, and it is like winter sunlight, with no warmth in it. “I am former Lord President of the High Council of Time Lords. This old head – well, not exactly this one, it was four or five regenerations ago – has worn the Matrix Crown of Rassilon. How’s that? Equal enough for you?”
Donna has met more than her share of snobs, egotists, and stuck-up bastards, but she’s never met anyone with the Doctor’s gift for cheery, off-hand arrogance.
The High Minister is silent for a long moment, then extends his cupped left hand, his eyes fixed on the Doctor. The Time Lord nods, as if in response to an unspoken question, then mirrors the gesture. Simultaneously, each man touches the other’s right temple. They maintain the contact for no longer than three seconds, then pull back.
His face expressionless, Jrzek F’lall, High Minister of Paalgiou, leans forward, and begins the Obeisance of Respect in the First Degree. In that same instant, the Doctor halts him with an outstretched palm. He doesn’t want to waste time playing these idiotic games of power and status. He just wants to know what is going on. The mental contact was brief and superficial; only meant to establish his bona fides. It also conveyed a sense of urgency, but he couldn’t see more without trespassing. Like most members of telepathic species, the Doctor has strong feelings about privacy. Snooping is always rude and sometimes dangerous.
“What do you want, High Minister?”
Jrzek F’lall hesitates. “Shall we speak in private?” At the Doctor’s nod, he continues, “You may leave your human here – the servants will attend to her.”
“No!” Donna and the Doctor say simultaneously. The Time Lord continues, “We stay together, Donna and I.”
The High Minister makes an off-hand gesture that Donna interprets as She’s not important enough to argue about. She’d love to give him a piece of her mind, but now is not the time. So, as they walk the short distance to a conference room lined with mirrors, she distracts herself by thinking about the Doctor. He used to be president of the Time Lords? That seems so far-fetched. She can’t imagine the Doctor as a politician – making speeches, following the rules, staying safely at home. Maybe he was different before the Time War?
Once seated at the elaborately carved table, the High Minister turns his full attention on the Doctor. His gaze is almost as intense as the Time Lord’s. Ancient civilization… nearly as old as Gallifrey. “Doctor. In accordance with Convention Six of the Shadow Proclamation, I call upon you to honor the treaty of mutual aid between Paalgiou and Gallifrey.”
The Doctor’s eyes have gone very dark. When he finally speaks, each word is as deliberate and targeted as a laser. “Gallifrey is gone. Even the Shadow Proclamation would admit that interplanetary treaties are void if one of the signatory worlds ceases to exist.”
One of the many problems with the TARDIS’s translation circuit is that it doesn’t do a bleeding thing about facial expressions and body language. Donna can’t tell if Jrzek F’lall is amused, horrified, annoyed, or thinking about his dinner.
“You don’t need to remind me about the Time War, Doctor. We of Paalgiou honoured our obligations. Eighty squadrons of [untranslatable] ships were at Arcadia, and fifty more at the final defense of Gallifrey. None of them returned home. Four of those ships were crewed by kinsmen of my house.”
Now Donna knows that Jrzek F’lall cannot read minds without touching. Otherwise, he would hear her mental screams of outrage. Don’t you dare start whinging about your cousins or uncles or whoever. He lost everyone. His whole planet is gone, you stupid git. The only reason that she doesn’t scream this aloud is because it would hurt the Doctor.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” the Time Lord says with genuine regret, and Donna wants to scream at him now. It is not your fault. I know it’s terrible, being the only one left, but it is not your fault.
“They journeyed into death with honour, as befitted their names and houses,” the High Minister says curtly, “but I did not bring you here to speak of the past, Doctor. Paalgiou is in peril now, and only a Time Lord can save us. The Hrul have returned.”
The Doctor shakes his head emphatically. “Impossible. The Hrul were vanquished aeons ago. Rassilon removed them from your world and destroyed them utterly.”
“You are wrong, Doctor. Rassilon removed the Hrul from Paaligiou, but he only imprisoned them. I believe that he wished to keep them as a possible weapon against his enemies.”
“That would be madness. No one could control the Hrul well enough to use them as a weapon – not even Rassilon.”
Donna can’t keep silent any longer. “You need to back up a couple of pages, Doctor. Who is Rassilon and what are the Hrul?”
Both men start at the sound of her voice. The Doctor seems to have forgotten that she was present; the High Minister looks astounded. Like he’s an ambassador visiting Buck House, and one of the Queen’s corgis asked his opinion on global warming
“Rassilon was a Time Lord – the first and greatest of us all,” the Doctor says bleakly. “He created much of the basis of our civilization. The Hrul are entities from another dimension. They only partially exist on the physical plane, which makes them hard to detect and harder to capture.”
“They sound like intergalactic midges. What makes them so terrible?”
“The Hrul are mnemophages,” the Time Lord replies. “They eat memories.”
Continued in Chapter 3