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.
Thanks to the marvelous wendymr for beta-reading.
Previous chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6
Chapter 7: An Univited Guest,
In which Donna is insulted, and the Doctor takes up basket-weaving.
"Never take an uninvited friend to a ball or dancing party without previously asking permission."
Hand-book of Official and Social Etiquette and Public Ceremonials at Washington: A Manual of Rules, Precedents, and Forms in Vogue in Official and Social Life at the Seat of Government of the United States for the Guidance and Information of Officials, Diplomats, and Residents.
By De Benneville Randolph Keim. Washington, 1889.
Donna stares at the Crown. Created by Rassilon… it must be incredibly ancient. She thinks back to her first encounter with the Doctor. He’d shown her the formation of the Earth, with the Racnoss spaceship at its heart. The Time Lords had been at war with the Racnoss, so that meant the Crown could be even older than her planet. Hold on… why’s it on the TARDIS? “If you’ve got this with you, is the Matrix—”
His face is still closed, impenetrable. “No. There was no way to take it off Gallifrey, and no point in trying.”
Too late she remembers what he’d told her in the Archives: he hadn’t expected to survive the destruction of his world.
“At… the end, everything had to be precisely coordinated. We used the Matrix, the President and me, to link with each other. The Key could only be used in the physical presence of the Matrix, so I took the Crown. Afterwards, I just put it away. Don’t know why, really. Battered old thing – not exactly decorative. And it’s not like it had a use anymore…”
Donna knows why. He hadn’t wanted to keep it in sight, but couldn’t bear to toss it away. The memories it held were too painful, and too precious.
“Forgot I still had it,” the Doctor says, switching abruptly to a cheerful tone that fools neither of them, “until you reminded me, Donna Noble. You and Aunt Edna.”
“What are you going to do with— oh my God! Did Rassilon lock the Hrul in the Matrix?”
The Doctor’s beaming at her, even as he shakes his head. “Oooh, clever clogs! Good guess, but I don’t think so. Someone would’ve noticed. But I’ll bet he used something very similar.”
“So… you’re going to build another Matrix?”
His smile falters. “Nah. Take too long, even if I had all the equipment. Something much simpler, but I should be able to use the Crown as a control device, to spring the trap.” His brown eyes scrutinize her. “Nothing else to be done until the AECs finish charging, so you may as well get some sleep. Allez dormir!”
In the morning, Donna has a quick breakfast before venturing out of the TARDIS. The Doctor is nowhere in sight, but she sees that Gher Besif has returned. He’s not alone. An elderly Paalgi in a yellow sarong trimmed with orange is walking in front of him.
The stranger looks at Donna. Without any word or gesture of greeting he says, “Ehkak, where is your master?”
“I haven’t got one, grandpa,” she retorts, “and who the hell are you? Oi! Gher, who’s the fathead?”
Gher’s voice, hesitant but clear, replies, “Donna, this is the Respected Lord Professor Tragan Vehik, head of the Department of Cybernetics at the Imperial University. He will be assisting the Doctor with the device.”
“No, he won’t be, actually.” The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, sipping tea from a chipped mug that reads Souvenir of Blackpool. “I said I wanted you to help me, Gher. I didn’t invite anyone else.”
The Respected Lord Professor stares. “You would rather have the assistance of this student? This… stripling?”
“Yup.” The Doctor strolls forward. “The young often have more flexible minds than their elders. They see new possibilities. Yesterday, Gher showed a great deal of insight into my contraption, even though he can’t possibly have had any experience with Time Lord technology. Bright fellow, and he’s got good manners. He was very, very polite to my sarthain.” The Doctor continues to advance. He is smiling. “I value my sarthain, Tragan Vehik, I value her highly. Respect shown to her is respect shown to me. And disrespect shown to her...”
He’s now standing directly in front of the professor, close enough that a human would consider it “in your face”. He continues to smile, and his voice is soft and casual. One hand still holds the mug of tea; the other is tucked into his coat pocket.
Donna watches carefully. She’s seen the Doctor deliver warnings with a smile before. This is different, but she’s not sure why. He’s being… protective. Weird. They always take care of each other, as best mates should do, but it’s not as though the geezer has hurt her or even threatened her – he’s just been snarky. The Doctor always lets her deal with that sort of thing. He even likes to watch her take stuffy bastards down a peg or two. She turns sideways, and now she can see his eyes. They’ve gone fierce. If he were a cat— A tiger, more like. —he’d be flicking his tail right now.
Maybe the geezer isn’t looking at the Doctor’s eyes, or maybe he’s just stupid. “You want the boy’s help because he spoke pretty words to your ehkak?”
“You will not call her that. Do you understand?” The smile is gone, and though his voice is still soft, it is no longer casual or relaxed.
Donna has gone beyond confused to worried. Nothing’s gonna happen, she tells herself. He’s not gonna smack an old geezer for being rude. She takes a few steps forward so she can turn and face the Doctor. “Calm down, Space Boy.”
“I can’t let him abuse you,” the Doctor snaps, and Donna isn’t sure if he’s speaking to her, to himself, or maybe to someone that only he can see. “Not again. It’s my responsibility—”
“It’s your responsibility to do the DIY thing and save the planet,” Donna says. “Finish your tea; it’s getting cold. Gher can walk the professor out, and when he gets back, you’ll tell him how to help.” She points at the outer door, giving both Paalgi The Look. “Off you go.”
As soon as they walk away, Donna turns back towards the Doctor. “What was that about?”
“He wasn’t invited.” The Doctor waves a hand at the array of equipment beside the TARDIS. “It’s not a penny arcade for anyone and his brother to play with.”
Donna, hands on hips, glowers at him. “Don’t give me that rubbish. You know what I mean – why blow your top because some geezer was acting like an arse?”
He arches one brow. “Shall I apologize for trying to protect you?” The Time Lord is back, in all his chilly detachment. For a moment, Donna wonders if he expects her to bow and scrape.
“It would make about as much sense as anything else you’ve been saying,” she grumbles. She’d like to push him into a proper explanation, because something is definitely rotten in Denmark, but they have other priorities right now. “What’s next? What can I do?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing yet. Gher and I have to build the trap. We won’t need you until then.”
It turns out that “weave the trap” would have been more accurate. The Doctor flips a couple of switches on the control panel, and the AECs begin to hum. Donna looks at them, hundreds of slate-blue discs laid out in the divided-spiral pattern of the labyrinth. The hum grows louder and the AECs start to glow. A pillar of blue light springs up from each disc.
“Gher! Leave that setting just as it is,” the Doctor says. “Allons-y!” He rushes over to the labyrinth, Gher at his heels. The Time Lord points a small device at the closest pillar of light, and points a small device at it. Slowly, the pillar bends into a tall, narrow arch. The top of it touches the disc diagonally opposite it. It vibrates slightly, like a spring held under tension. “Time to get it fastened. Sonic screwdriver. Now!”
The young Paalgi points the sonic screwdriver at the spot where the light-beam meets the disc. The Doctor lowers the device he used to manipulate the light. The arch shivers, but the connection at the base holds firm. The Doctor grins. “Brilliant!” He moves on to the next pillar. Again, he bends it diagonally across the pathway, and gestures for Gher to sonic the other end in place.
When he’s gone all around the outermost ring, the Doctor begins to work his way back, starting from the opposite side of the path. Each new arch crisscrosses an old one. The labyrinth begins to resemble an upside-down basket, woven from thick strands of azure light.
The weaving takes hours. Donna watches, enthralled by the gorgeous, complex structure. She knows the Doctor is a builder and inventor and a bloody genius, but most of what he makes is slapdash and improvised and just plain odd-looking. What can you expect, after all, from a man who has a bicycle pump hooked up to the control panel of his spaceship? But this thing, sculpted from light and energy into the shape of a living mind, is so gloriously beautiful that it almost hurts to look at it.
Donna has new standards of scenic beauty since travelling with the Doctor. Her first involuntary trip in the TARDIS showed her the heart of a supernova, followed shortly by the formation of the Earth, Since then she’s seen sights that no human could imagine, in galaxies that are invisible from the world where she was born.
She looks again at this ethereal maze. It’s a suitable place for faeries to play at hide-and-seek – gossamer-winged creatures out of the pages of an Arthur Rackham storybook. This fanciful thought amuses her for a moment, until she remembers what creatures will really be entering the maze – and what will happen if the walls of woven light cannot contain them.
When the weaving is done, the Doctor flicks some levers on the power source. The strands of light begin to swell and thicken. “They’ve got to press together and form solid walls,” he explains. “Can’t have the Hrul slipping through the cracks. As soon as that’s done, it’ll be time to bait the trap.”
“What will you use for bait?” Donna asks. She’s imagining a high-tech generator sending out pulses of ultrasonic enticement, like a fancy version of those electronic thingummies they sell on late-night telly to kill flies.
Gher is looking up at the Doctor, also eager to learn another secret of Time Lord technology.
“Welllll…” the Doctor says vaguely, “It’s pretty much like trapping any other predator. You just need to have some of its favourite food within smelling distance, and the more appealing, the better.”
Donna freezes. The Hrul only eat one thing – memories, live and fresh from a conscious mind. And the older and more complex the memories are, the more appealing they are. Standing right in front of her, looking oh-so-unremarkable in his rumpled brown suit and glasses, is the most delectable banquet that the Hrul could ever dream of.
Continue to Chapter 8