Characters: Nine, Rose, Jack, Slitheen (various)
Summary: As eggs go, Blon was slightly scrambled. The story Jack, Rose and the Doctor learned on Raxacoricofallapatorius might best be described as deviled.
Chapter Two: Scrambled
Author's notes: In which EF Havreem tells the team a little bit about the unusual history of Raxacoricofallapatorius. As always, the BBC owns damned near everything in the Whoniverse, and graciously allows me to play with its creations - and by "graciously" I mean, of course, that it ignores me. Thanks, guys; I'll never take coin for it.
(More quick notes: "Velox Levitas" is bastardized Latin for "As Fast as Lightning," which should be self-explanatory, in context.)
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EF Havreem wiped his mouth precisely, and placed the napkin beside his plate. "And now, perhaps, we can begin to speak about the situation."
The Doctor nodded sharply, long fingers tapping the rim of his water glass; Jack said nothing, but watched the Doctor's face as if waiting for his next order.
Rose used her own napkin, and pushed her plate to the side. "Yes, please."
She had almost lost her own appetite when she saw the large plate of nearly raw meat the Raxcite ordered; all she could think of was the terrible joy she'd heard in Blon Fel-Fotch's voice as she and Harriet Jones hid from the hunting Slitheen's own voracious appetite. But luncheon conversation had been so low-key, so polite, so ... civilized, that she'd relaxed again, and tucked into her soup and sandwich. Eventually, however, even the most civilized of meals must come to an end, and then? Well, they really couldn't avoid this conversation.
"What you must understand is what it means to every civilized citizen, of every single confederation, city-state or corporate nationality, to deal with the Slitheen issue," EF Havreem. said. "They ... Ms Tyler, how long has your humanity been humanity? When did it transition from being just another animal in its ecosystem, to being the animal which could think, and feel, and look at the stars? And built towers to those stars?"
If a change of subject could cause whiplash, Rose would have been in a neck brace. But she was far more used to byzantine conversational gambits these days than she had ever been at Henrick's, and she considered an answer. "I think it's been, what, Doctor? Millions of years, yeah?"
He nodded, looking at their host with a queer glint in his eye. "Millions."
The little green man nodded. "That's right. And if you visited any number of worlds and asked the same question of their sentient species, you'd receive similar answers. No matter what kind of world, no matter if the breath of life is oxygen or methane, or if one's endo- or exoskeleton comprises carbon or silicon — or even if one has no skeleton, I suppose — the answer is generally the same. It takes millions of years before the germ of sentience flowers."
The four diners were seated next to an open bay window. Outside, a family of Raxcites walked by, slim and graceful. The parents wore very light clothing, but it complemented their forms, and looked comfortable. The three children wore less, the kind of cheerfully-patterned briefs that nursery schoolers might wear in hot weather. They were laughing at something one of their parents was saying, as they moved out of hearing.
"We Raxacoricofallapatorians cannot claim such a heritage," EF Havreem said, watching the backs of the happy family. "We were not allowed the luxury of developing naturally. We are what the cosmopolitans of this star sector call a Younger Race."
"You were engineered?" Jack's surprise was tinged with skepticism. "Forerunner engineered?"
"Yes. And no," EF Havreem said, still looking out the window. "Our sentience appears to have developed within the last 10 millennia or so — galactic standard, of course, but that's close to Terran measurement, so I'm sure you can understand the almost obscene speed that represents."
"God, yes," Jack said, darting a look at the Doctor. That craggy face gave him no guidance. "I ... thought Forerunner systems were closer in to the galactic core. Aren't most of them members of Velox Levitas?"
"Even Velox Levitas species are much older than we on Raxicoricofallapatorius," EF Havreem said. "Most are at least 200 standard millennia in age. We don't fit their standards for membership any more than we fit those of the natural universe."
" 'Scuse me," Rose asked, trying to keep up, "I'm sorry, but I think I'm a bit lost. Could you maybe help me understand all this velox and forerunner business?" She leaned back in her chair as a waiter took their empty plates. "Thank you." When the waiter was gone, she looked from Jack and the Doctor to EF Havreem. "Well?"
The Doctor breathed out slowly, then joined EF Havreem in looking out the window. "Tell her, Captain."
Jack shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but nodded. "Forerunners are what we call — what we think — are a species, or perhaps a group of species, who should be better known than they are. At least some people should—" he was eying the Doctor as he said that, but stopped when he realized the Time Lord had turned from the window and had fixed two very cold blue eyes on him. "Right. They appear to have come out of the galactic center with some sort of philosophy of advancement for all. Mental advancement, physical advancement, you name it. The records show they dropped into hundreds of star systems, built colonies — more like long term laboratories, as far as the Time Agenc— as far as historians could make out. They used genetics on a scale it's almost impossible to quantify, they used geo-forming, weather-sculpting, social engineering, everything that could mold the individual and the society."
He fell silent, but continued with a frown when the Doctor said, "Go on. You're right so far."
"Their colonies stuck around on planets long enough to usher in this or that age of sentience, or enlightenment. Then, at some point only they would recognize, they'd leave.
"They cleaned up after themselves pretty obsessively, so apart from myths some planets may have from Forerunner interaction, we don't know what they called themselves or what they looked like, except that they were probably upright and bipedal. And we have no idea why they did what they did. Curiosity? Religious conviction? Galactic do-gooding, maybe, but it's anyone's guess."
"Well, that's ... that's good, isn't it?" Rose ventured. "I mean, evolution's good, right? Gettin' better, and smarter?"
"No. Not that way, not like that."
Both Jack and Rose flinched as their companion bit off the words and spit them out as if they were poison. "I'm sure EF Havreem, here, would agree."
"I do," the other alien said, heavily. He looked as grim as someone with his baby face could. "Mind you, we are not Forerunner-created; our history starts with some other would-be god, perhaps some space-faring species with more curiosity than conscience finding half-remembered Forerunner tools, and half-learning how to use them.
"But it doesn't matter who it might have been," he continued very softly, "because the end was the same. They turned the tools they found on a species just barely past hunting in packs on the veldt; used the tools on the uncomprehending animals, in an uncontrolled manner, forcing evolution so quickly that, at times, great-great grandchildren could look at pictures of their great-great grandparents and see how far they had come. How much they had changed. In fact, they could look at animals out on their present-day veldts, and spot similarities with their grandparents.
"Do you know what it does to a civilization to have such ... immediate knowledge of its mindless beginnings? How it could strip a culture's ability to hold itself in self respect? What child can respect itself, when it can look upon its recent past, its recent forebears, and see nothing but a brainless carnivore?
"Consider some of our greatest and earliest tales, and many of them are heart-breaking narratives of children forced to control parents who were savage within and without ... or our earliest art and music; so much of it sprang with unnatural rapidity from attempts by newly-intelligent men and women to understand why the mother who hatched them looked like a brute, full of love, perhaps, but witless of understanding her offspring.
"If we had time, I would read you those stories, show you that art, play you that music.
"At least the Forerunners' Younger Races were spared that."
EF Havreem's voice was thick with bitter pain and self-loathing; it was hard to reconcile such sorrow with the pleasant little man who wanted to practice English in his bureaucratic cubicle. Rose ached for him. She saw horrified sympathy in Jack's eyes, too.
What she saw in the Doctor's eyes confused her.
The Raxcite sighed. "Please forgive me." He reached for a glass, drinking slowly and appreciatively of the pleasant beverage he had ordered as an after-meal sweet. The others waited; he obviously wanted to continue after he calmed down. When the glass was empty, he looked at Rose.
"Miss Rose, you asked whether evolution was not a good thing."
She nodded, and felt somehow embarrassed. EF Havreem saw that, and shook his head slightly. "You are right, I assure you of that.
"You must understand, also, that we eventually deciphered what had happened to us. Our very travails made us curious about our world, so science was just as much a child of our experience as our art. We visited the fossil records and saw how elegantly other species moved forward, compared to the forced march we underwent.
"Ultimately, we respect evolution — natural, unforced evolution, the true way of the world, you might say — as only those who yearn for something they never had can respect it."
Unexpectedly, their host smiled. "But we survived our species' ordeal, as you can see. Life has a habit of self-correction; one of our wisest philosophers, Elaun Fel-Abrid Patcheer-Dul Thereem, said 'Living well is the best revenge' and the history our world wrote for itself after such ... wrong ... beginnings proves that. We are not without our successes. We have world peace. We have the literature I spoke of, and more; we have other songs, we have dance, and medicine and architecture, the search for truth and beauty. There are many worlds out there that have not reached our level, even without our burden."
He stood up, still speaking, "Thank you so much for your patience thus far. I know it isn't our successes I've promised to explain, but I didn't think I could explain the failures, the Slitheen and their ilk, until you understood a bit of our history.
"Now, shall we walk? We'll solve the challenge of this Slitheen child, but having begun the explanation, I find that I would like to show you a favorite spot of mine, where we can sit and admire the landscape. I promise I'll finish my story there."
Rose expected the Doctor to protest yet another delay, and was almost as surprised as she was grateful when he nodded without comment, rising to accompany the Raxcite out of the restaurant. She and Jack followed.