Previous chapters can be accessed here.
Previous Chapter: Nine
Summary: Love, silk, and memory, in shades of cold and dangerous blue.
Warning: Not for sex, not for immediate violence, but for any possible triggers caused by evidence of extreme imprisonment.
And here is where you'll find the newest chapter.
"Oh my god ... it stinks down here," Rose muttered, blinking rapidly as she forced herself to breathe. The claustrophobic space at the base of the stairwell was dank and all too reminiscent of overworked pub loos.
But the smell didn't bother her as much as whatever it was impeding her sight — well, not really impeding, she thought. Just ... shifting it somehow, as if she had a very little light hiding behind her, blinking on and off at unpredictable intervals, and throwing shadows that were just as hard to predict.
The shimmer she'd spotted out of the corner of her eye when she started down the stairs had been the start of it, and it had increased as she descended further. Maybe something in the air, something connected with the smell? It didn't seem to be affecting her any other way, though. I'm not unconscious, not paralyzed, that's gotta be good. Not hallucinating, not throwing up or falling down; that's gotta be good, she thought, determined not to let the flutter and wow in the air around her throw her off course. She couldn't afford to think about it, not just now.
So. Forget the shimmer as long as she could see in front of her, try to ignore the smell, and make a decision about whether to open that door.
That door, now ... that was creepy, that and the wet stone walls. It all seemed to her like the entry to some dungeon in a Hammer Horror picture, and Laowhra's talk about silk made her chew her lower lip. What would she find behind that door?
Nothing good, she was certain.
But she couldn't go back up. She didn't dare return to the regular stairwell, not with the bad guys out there looking for her. She had to get out of wherever this place was, into the streets, and she had to find her way back to the TARDIS. Jack would be there (pleasepleaseplease) and they'd work out a plan to spring the Doctor. And that meant she had to go through the damned door. Was it locked?
Rose looked closer, and realized the dull black metal panel wasn't pulled completely to. She ignored both the shimmer and her increasing heart rate, and pushed experimentally at it. It opened.
The little foyer it revealed was even creepier than the door. This was definitely not the kind of basement you wanted to be in. And of course there was another door, even smaller than the one she'd just walked through. She rubbed at her eyes and cursed softly at the now near-constant flicker. This latest one looked even more like a dungeon entryway, she thought.
"Then Christopher Lee's gotta be about, yeah?"
Saying that out loud made her nerves seem silly, at least momentarily, and surprised a giggle from her. For a second the shimmering lessened, which allowed her to get back to business.
So. Was this crude little opening locked? She took the handle, twisted and pulled at it without success. Trying to force it open was equally fruitless, so she reluctantly took out the screwdriver. Rose didn't like working with it any more than she had to, beset, as she usually was when it came to the Doctor's favorite hand tool, with visions of somehow turning it accidentally to a "blow up the world" setting. Still, needs must. At least she knew where its 'on' switch was, and remembered a couple of the most basic settings.
The screwdriver's whine was oddly comforting as she shook it in the general direction of the tiny keyhole under the handle. No, that wouldn't do, she realized; just because the upper doorway opened by happy accident when she'd done the same thing didn't mean this one would. She bent closer and pointed the blue-lit head of the screwdriver directly at the keyhole. Nothing happened, so she adjusted the settings, holding her breath as she did.
When she heard the tiniest of clicks from the keyhole, she blew the breath out and turned the handle. It opened, smooth as butter. No more excuses, you have to go through and keep going, she thought. If there are guards on the other side — oh shut it, you big girl's blouse.
Rose eased herself through and closed the door behind her, only to gag at the intensified smell. And now she was able to identify it more accurately, thanks to too many unplanned stays in poorly-maintained jails; unwashed bodies, sweat, urine and more unpleasant secretions. She had apparently walked into someplace worse by several degrees than the interrogation cell in which she'd awakened.
She couldn't pinpoint the source, not immediately. Or rather the smell was immediate, but she could see no people, guards or otherwise, nearby. In fact the area looked like nothing so much as the mechanicals and storage sections in Henrick's basement. It was much better lit than the tiny foyer behind her, and, for all the stench, appeared reasonably clean. Rose turned around and saw that this side of the door was almost unnoticeable, with a very tiny message to "Keep Locked at all Times" stenciled above the door handle. She thought dourly that it wasn't likely anyone in power around here actually expected people to come in, or go out, of their own volition.
She put her hand to the wall and pulled it back in surprise; it was just as damp as the stone wall in the bottom stairwell, something she might not have noticed had she not touched it. She sniffed the air again, wrinkling her nose at the smell, and realized that the stink floated on monumentally humid air, which was undoubtedly why the walls were weeping. It was far wetter than the harsh dry air of Lizhbau, certainly more so than the air in the cell upstairs ... didn't this planet have air conditioning?
No, that wasn't it, she realized. The humidity wasn't the result of any ventilation system breakdown; she'd have felt the mugginess upstairs if that was the case. It had to be deliberate. But why keep it this way?
The shimmering had returned, although not quite as badly as it was just before she came through the second door, and now -
(Wind blew, voices carried, called-)
"What?" Rose whispered the question aloud, stunned at yet another sensory intrusion.
(Wind carrying voices, many voices, manymany-)
She shook her head (wind and voices, listen, almost understandable in the windrushingrushing) refusing to listen, then scrubbed at her face, hard. This was not going to happen, she thought fiercely, she would not let it. Bad enough that she couldn't shake the visual confusion, she couldn't get dragged into some new hallucination. And, oh yes, the whispers were definitely a hallucination of some new kind.
"And that means silk, I suppose," she said softly to herself. "At least I think so. But I don't know what that means, do I? Is this where they store it? Or turn it into that rubbish they dosed us with? It smells like a muck skip, like a broken toilet - no way you can miss that smell, yeah? So where's the people making the stink?"
She stopped, put her hands to her mouth in embarrassment. Want someone to hear you? And you make fun of Jack for being a motor mouth.
Just as she thought that, she saw the corner of her vision start to shift again, and -
"No, don't you dare," she hissed. To her bemused relief, her vision steadied as she spoke and the almost-sounds sank into inaudibility.
She frowned, and spoke again, almost in a whisper. "So ... what, I just keep babbling to myself?"
Well, you don't want anyone answering you inside your head, do you?
"Right, then, I keep babbling."
Rose looked down the long room in which she found herself. Beyond, past an a open wire gate, she could see one corridor straight ahead, and what looked like the start of a second narrow but reasonably well lit hall at right angles to the first. "Another choice to make, then. To the right, or straight ahead? Which way to the exit, please? And can you please not put me in a cell or knock me out, please? Eeny-meeny-miny-mo ... let's go straight ... straight, huh? Wonder what Jack would make of that? Call it pretty dull dancin', I'm sure, although I don't know whether he thinks any dancing's dull. God knows he wants to dance with one of us, but that's not gonna happen, more's the pity, and oh, my god, I'm glad he can't hear what I'm saying."
She ignored the blush that the running commentary brought to her face, walked to the gate and peered to her right before heading straight up what seemed to be a longer corridor than the one she'd eschewed. The walls here were just as as shiny with moisture as they were behind her. Half way down the corridor, she also noticed the smell had intensified still more. She fought her suddenly rebellious stomach, a battle not made any easier by the continual visual disturbance.
"What I'm looking for now," she went on almost sub-vocally, desperate to ignore the nausea, "is a door that's clearly marked 'Exit safely here to the outside, where there aren't any guards, an' you can head safe home,' but failing that, I'll look for one that simply says Exit. What I'm not lookin' for are - shit!"
A gabble of male voices (God they're loud, are they deaf or something?) signaled unwanted company, apparently coming down the corridor behind her. Rose whirled about, looking for someplace to hide - what the hell was it about corridors, half her bloody life since meeting the Doctor was running up and down the damned things - because she couldn't get back to the room she'd left without running into whoever was coming. Could she reach the end of this hall and get around the corner she saw there, without making enough noise to alert them to her presence?
She sprinted, heart in her mouth. Despite being certain they'd hear her, she couldn't hear any change in the gabble. It transformed into conversation as the unseen group got closer. Rose put on one last burst of speed and careened around the corner. She found herself in another bright foyer with (thankyougod) a tiny blue and white "Exit" sign above another metal slab door.
" ... got away. So we get stuck with perimeter watch because those idiots can't do their job."
"Do they actually expect some skirt to get down here on her own? Do they think anything moves here unless we move it?"
"See, you're supposing they think."
The laughter was raucous, loud — yelling in a crowded club loud, Rose thought — and it was still coming her way. She headed to the exit door and was about to open it when she spied the small print under the sign. Her heart sank. "Authorized Retinal Scan Required, or Alarm Will Sound."
She felt like crying. Now what? Surrender? Give up?
The hell with that.
She looked around again. There, at the far end of the foyer; a tiny alcove with two doors facing each other. Not caring whether anyone heard her now, she dashed to the alcove and tried both doors. The first seemed to be dead-bolted on the other side; the second was easier to unlock with the screwdriver. It had the added benefit of a small and grubby window. She peered in, saw nothing moving in the dim interior, then opened the door and ducked inside, figuring she could brave a look back out through the window to check for the guards.
Rose staggered, and fell against the door as she shut it, sliding down with her face against the metal, unable to control her limbs. The resulting pain was a blessing, keeping her mind from slipping completely into the gust and torrent of silent voices that threatened to overwhelm it. Although she didn't immediately know it, her temporary paralysis was also a blessing. Had she remained upright, even the desultory look the guard shot through the window seconds later would have revealed her. As it was, he saw nothing. The door had relocked behind Rose, and he had absolutely no desire to enter the room beyond it. Nor, more importantly, could he imagine anyone else wanting to.
"Nothing. Let's get back to the wardroom and out of this godforsaken reek. You'd think they could hose out the pens ...." The guard's voice receded slowly.
Rose was at least temporarily safe, but she was still under siege from her own senses. The visual and aural onslaught finally overwhelmed her; she turned her head and leaned to one side in time to avoid emptying her stomach all over herself. She retched repeatedly, spasming into dry heaves that finally trailed off. She wiped her mouth and tried to think.
"Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up," she mumbled, half swallowing the words as she rolled away from the door and the vomit, to lie prone on a wet but blessedly cool floor. The torrent of not-sound retreated in the face of her litany, and she grinned faintly, crazily, into damp stone before continuing the muffled tirade. She felt as if she were talking to someone, now, not to herself. "I am not going to listen, I don't know what you are, but I'm ignoring you. The only thing I'm thinking about is getting out of here and whatever the hell you are, you are stayin' out of my head, you got that?"
Talking steadied her. She gathered what she could of her wits and forced herself to her feet, then looked around her. "So what do we have here? Isn't that what the Doctor would ask, yeah, he most certainly would ...."
Enough light shone through the tiny windowpane to make her surroundings visible once her eyes adjusted. The first thing she spied was a rough trench, cut into the stone floor and running more or less down the center of the room. Rose saw bits and pieces of rubble on the floor to each side of it, as if the thing had only recently been dug. In the uncertain light, she could see a sullen trickle of water - her gorge rose again as she caught a whiff of it, but she forced it down again. She was standing about a foot from the trench, which seemed to run into a wall next to the door. Across its six or seven-inch span the floor ran uninterrupted up to - she narrowed her eyes, trying to interpret a befuddling jumble of deeper darkness beyond her immediate ability to see.
"Oh god, I can't keep this up," she muttered, "only so much I can say before I'm just talking nonsense and no reason or rhyme. Wait... yeah, that'd work. Lessee ... Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row ... pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I went to London to visit the Queen, pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under the chair ...."
There, that was easier than trying to keep up a one-sided conversation. Rose reached for the nursery rhymes she'd heard as a child, and starting humming the old tunes. Feels like a little bit of home, doesn't it? she thought; she felt that crazy smile again. She felt better too, more anchored somehow, than she had since she started descending the stair, which might not be a great improvement, but she'd take it.
"Help me. Please. Please help me."
She very nearly dismissed it as another mental incursion. But the whisper was outside her head, not inside. And - a jolt of adrenaline cleared her mind with the kind of brutal speed nursery rhymes couldn't - it was the whisper of a child.
A child at the end of its tether, whispering because its throat was raw from screaming in terror and pain so great it might start screaming again.
Rose looked deeper into that jumble of shadows across the trench. The jumble resolved into a row of crates of varying heights, but nothing much over four feet. She looked back at the door, half expecting it to open on her when she turned the screwdriver on. Nothing happened, so she found one of those basic settings she remembered. The tip glowed a brighter blue than normal - not really much more light than she might have coaxed from a dying torch, but it added enough to the available ambient light that the crates were now quite easy to see, more than a dozen of them. They were fronted with wire mesh doors, and looked like the ones some people kept their dogs in, except that their sides seemed ... painted somehow, or - no, they were draped in something ... and inside the crates-
"Please help me. If you're real ... are you real?"
The sheer hopelessness of that cracked little whisper almost broke Rose's heart. All her own fear and nausea fell away, and she crossed the sewage trench without delay. "I'm real. Where are you?"
The stench was different, this close to the crates. The sharp tang of bodily fluids, yeah, she recognized that. And blood, she could smell blood. But there was something sweet, something too sweet and underneath that -
This time she couldn't control her gorge. She doubled over, dry-heaving helplessly.
When she could command herself again, she raised her head and used the frail light of the screwdriver to take a more careful look up and down the row of boxes. Every single one was draped in blue cloth. Each held a body. She couldn't tell if any one of those bodies was moving, and she was very afraid that at least one or two of them hadn't moved for some time. Would never move again.
I am going to go mad, that's all there is to it. "Hush little baby, don't say a word, brother's going to buy you a singing bird, and if that selfish bird won't sing, sister's going to buy you a golden ring ...."
There. There, to her left. Motion to go with the whispered plea.
"I'm here," she got out, and moved the last few steps to the crate. Falling to her knees, she looked inside.
A pale, dirty face stared at her, eyes wide and mad with both fear and hope.
"Please, lady, can you take me home?"
Lte. Isobel Fahrar had a pounding headache. She looked at the man standing in front of her, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "You have no idea how tempted I am to say that I'm surrounded by incompetents, but I know that's not true. Not completely."
"I'm calling in some of the day shift, Tenante," Sgt. Celestino said. "They're fresh, and a good sight more on the ball than my lads. Begging your pardon, but my boys are idiots."
For a wonder, she saw, his tunic was buttoned right, and he didn't smell of whiskey. Small blessings, and he did know his men's limitations.
"I don't care whose men you use, Sargento. I simply want her found by 11 bells. And in the meantime-"
Fahrar turned her attention to the second person standing in front of her, the young tech assigned to night shift for Special Operations. She'd been busy over the last 20 minutes with the man they'd recaptured. "What have you got for me?"
The woman's confusion was at odds with the hard lines about her eyes. "Tenante, I'm not sure. Have you ever heard of a Thyme Lord?"
(to Chapter Eleven)