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. A photo of the pattern mentioned in this chapter is posted at the end.
Previous chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Friendship Overrides Etiquette,
In which the Doctor explains about the Hrul, and Donna stops to smell the flowers.
The rules of etiquette, though stringent as regards acquaintances, have little or no application as regards intimate friends; friendship overrules etiquette.
Manners and Rules of Good Society, Or, Solecisms to be Avoided
By A Member of the Aristocracy, London, 1888
On her fourteenth birthday, Donna received a book from an elderly cousin entitled Modern Manners for Young Ladies. She actually read it – that is, she and her friends took turns reading bits aloud in the poshest tones they could manage, while the rest laughed hysterically. She remembers there were sections on dating, how to behave at a job interview or a formal tea party, and how to introduce a “special young man” to one’s parents.
It’s been more than a few years since she last read Modern Manners, but Donna remembers it clearly. She is quite sure that it did not have a section entitled “What to say when your best mate admits that he destroyed his own planet”.
Oh God. Oh dear God. At first – and later, she will be ashamed of this – she is horrified. How could he do that? Next, she is furious. How could they ask him to do that? Her mind flits back to the cave under Vesuvius. “That’s the burden of the Time Lord, Donna.” How much had she added to his pain on that trip, urging him to break the rules to save strangers, when he could not save his own? Modern Manners can’t help her with this problem. There is no book in the whole bloody Universe that could possibly help her with this problem.
He is looking at her, waiting. Underneath the guilt and the self-condemnation there is… what? Fear of what she’ll say? No. Something calmer than that. Resignation. He thinks I’m gonna hate him. Fat chance. She’s not going to say one word to increase his burden. On the other hand, words of comfort won’t do much good. Might as well spit on a bonfire. She winces. Not the best metaphor.
“She must’ve had a lot of trust in you, that President of yours.” At the Doctor’s startled glance she says, “Trusted you not to do a bunk, not to freeze or panic and make a huge mess of her plans.”
“She always trusted me too much – more than was good for her.”
“Ah. One of those,” Donna says with a knowing smile. “The sort who always needs to have a man tell her what to do. Not too bright, I suppose.”
“Not too—” The Doctor’s eyes are huge with astonishment and indignation. “She took a Triple First at the Academy! Most stubborn woman I’ve ever met – including you, Donna Noble. I don’t think anyone else could have persuaded the High Council to act in time.” He stares reproachfully at Donna, who pretends not to notice.
“In time for what?”
The look on the Doctor’s face says he knows exactly what Donna is trying to do. “In time to prevent the enemy from destroying the rest of the Universe.” He turns away. “There should have been another way.”
“Maybe there wasn’t one,” Donna says softly.
“I should have thought of something,” he snaps, and follows with several words that the TARDIS can’t – or won’t – translate. He leans forward, arms braced on the table, head bowed.
Even if she could think of words, they would probably be useless. She places a tentative hand on his arm with just enough pressure to let him know that she is there.
He takes a deep breath, straightens, and she can see that his face is impassive again. The Great Wall of Gallifrey is back in place. “Right, then. I think we’ve got everything we can find in the Archives, at least for now. Time to go for a walk. Nothing better to clear cobwebs out of the mind than a good walk in the fresh air. Do you know that the gardens of the Imperial Palace are famous in three galaxies?”
Donna gets the message. Topic closed. “Gardens. Right. They don’t have any dangerous alien flowers, do they?” she says suspiciously. “No carnivorous petunias or flesh-dissolving carnations?”
“Certainly not! Honestly, Donna, where do you get these ideas?”
The Imperial Gardens prove to be lovely to the eye and soothing to the spirit. Donna feels her own mood rising as she stands on a low stone observation platform, overlooking over a huge flowerbed planted with two different varieties of the same flower. Like most of the other gardens she has seen here, this one is arranged in a geometric design that might not look too out of place at a stately home back in England. It looks a bit like an upside-down apple – a purple apple – with a yellow sort-of-spiral pattern inside it. She stands motionless, allowing the colours and the shapes and the scent – a bit like cinnamon – to fill her senses.
The Doctor climbs the six steps to the platform, and stands beside her in companionable silence. His face is still guarded and closed, but she can tell from the set of his shoulders that he is feeling calmer.
“They’re amazing, these gardens,” she says. “My mum would flip over these – she loves flowers, but she’s got a brown thumb. Even killed some silk daffodils, once.”
His eyebrows arch in a wordless invitation to explain.
“She had a bunch of them in a vase in the kitchen, and one day they got pushed too close to the cooker.”
“Caught on fire?”
“Nah. She was boiling eggs, and the steam—” Donna bends her elbow so her right forearm is pointing stiffly upwards. Abruptly, her fingers flutter, and her arm flops down to hang at her side. “I told her that having them in the kitchen was daffy.” She chuckles at her own wit.
The Doctor’s eyes widen. “Oh, that’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant.”
Donna starts to say that she didn’t think it was that funny, when she notices that the Time Lord is ignoring her and staring at the flowerbed. “Do you see that?” he demands.
“Yeah, flowers. Noticed them, thanks. Are you listening to me, Spaceman?”
He jabs an emphatic finger, just in case she has somehow managed not to notice a garden the size of a football field. “That pattern is a Trojeborg.”
“A Trojeborg,” he repeats. “Caertroia? Jatulintarha?”
“Speak English. Eng-lish,” she says with elaborate slowness, as if he is a dim-witted foreign waiter at a holiday resort.
“It’s a unicursal labyrinth pattern. Very ancient. They’re found on planets all over the cosmos. On Earth they’re laid out with stones, carved into cliffs, that sort of thing. The ones in Britain – mostly gone now – were cut into turf. I must say, I’ve never seen one done in flowers. Very fetching. The Earth names mostly translate as ‘Troy Town’. For some odd reason, you humans associated labyrinths with the city of Troy.”
She seizes at something familiar-sounding. “Troy? The one with Brad Pitt? And the weird-looking giant horse?”
The Doctor squuezes his eyes shut for a moment, as if in pain. “Thirty-one centuries of literature and history, and all you can think about is three hours of your incredibly brief life wasted in a cinema.”
“Three hours with Brad Pitt is never wasted, beanpole.”
“Achilles didn’t look anything like Brad Pitt, I promise you.”
Before Donna can ask how the hell he knows that, the Doctor is rambling again through archaeology, semiology, paleosociology, and a bunch of other ologies that she can’t pronounce, let alone understand. “—and in Sweden, the local fishermen believed that the laybrinths could be used to trap the smågubbar, evil spirits who would otherwise follow them out to sea and cause bad luck—”
Donna gives him a full two minutes before jabbing an elbow into his side.
“Ow! Blimey! What was that for?”
“That,” she says severely, “was for being an inconsiderate git. If you must run your mouth, then say something useful. For starters, you never answered my question, before.”
“What question?” he asks cautiously.
“How can something eat memories?”
He is silent for so long that Donna starts to think that he isn’t going to answer. “Let’s go over there.” He leads her off the platform, through an archway in a tall, dense hedge, and into an enclosed garden with a fountain at its centre. There are benches facing the fountain, and they seat themselves on one.
“Most brain functions have two components: chemical and electrical.” The Doctor’s in lecture mode now, but he’s not just spouting information to show how clever he is. He’s actually talking to her, and watching her closely for reactions. “The brain is constantly sending messages all over the body. The transmission form depends on the kind of message it is, but most of it is some combination of electrical and chemical.” He taps a finger lightly against her forehead. “Busy place up there, even in primitive species—”
“Oi! I’ve had enough insults today.”
“—primitive species like hedgehogs, and cows and bush-tailed kniffles,” he says, managing to look offended and triumphant at the same time. “In sentient beings like yourself, Donna Noble, there is also a psychic component. That’s mostly reserved for the higher brain functions. Not much psychic stuff going on when your brain talks to your liver or your spleen.”
“Like when the sink in the office loo is bunged up?” Donna suggests. “Nobody sends the janitor an email. They give a shout, or they phone his mobile.”
The Doctor beams at her. “Right you are! Now, the psychic stuff is associated with complex thoughts and memories, and it generates a special energy. That energy, plus the electrical and chemical components, form the framework of memory storage. The species that can detect that kind of energy are mostly the ones that generate a lot of it themselves. They’re either psi-sensitive—“
“Like the Ood?”
“Yeah, like the Ood. Or they’re very, very intelligent, like the Reticca; or they’re both, like, ohhh… me, for example.”
Donna rolls her eyes. “If that ego swells any more, Spaceman, it’s gonna explode.”
“Now who’s being insulting? If I’m a genius – and I most certainly am – and I’m a bit telepathic, why shouldn’t I say so?”
Donna is fairly sure that Modern Manners had something to say about bragging. Then again, it was written for humans. Maybe people on Gallifrey used to announce their IQ scores as casually as saying “Good Morning”.
“The Hrel aren’t sentient. They’re mindless parasites. They can detect this kind of mental energy, they’re attracted to it, and they absorb it. You weren’t too far off when you compared them to midges.”
“So… they don’t really eat the memories…” Donna says slowly, working it out. “They eat the psychic stuff, and the frame that holds the memories together falls apart.”
“Yes! Exactly! Donna Noble, you are fantastic, you are.”
“So, how do you… catch something like that?” She was going to say “kill”, but is afraid of the Doctor’s reaction. Besides, “catch” is the first step, whatever they do with the little monsters.
“Rassilon only knows,” he says gloomily.
“Can’t you ask him?” She sees the frown forming, and hastily adds, “I don’t mean going back. I know you can’t. I mean like with a séance. Or a ouija board.”
“A séance?” His eyes look ready to fall out. “Blimey, Donna, have you gone bonkers? Don’t tell me that in the 21st century, you can possibly—”
“There have been scientific studies done, you know,” she informs him.
“Where did you read that? In the Daily Sport? Right next to the article about Elvis Presley working at a Tesco in Leeds?”
She sputters with indignation. “You’re an alien! A blooming psychic alien! How can you not believe in ghosts? Nobody on Mars ever had a chat with Aunt Edna after she passed away?”
“I am not from Mars—“ he says automatically, and then his face lights up like a million-watt bulb. “Donna Noble, you are a genius! You are magnificent!” He flings his arms wide. “I could kiss you!”
Donna jumps up from the bench. “Whoa there, Space Boy! Don’t get carried away.” She says the second sentence to his rapidly retreating back, because he’s heading out of the fountain alcove and down the garden path as fast as his long legs can stride. “Wait up! Where the hell are you going?”
He doesn’t slow. “TARDIS. Need to get some supplies. You’ve given me the key to this problem, Donna Noble – you and Aunt Edna!”
continued in Chapter 6
A Scandinavian labyrinth. More info here.