Edited by: dr_whuh , my Best Beloved
Previous Chapter: One
Disclaimer: I wish it were otherwise, but nothing in the Whoniverse is owned by me. It belongs to the BBC, to RTD, and to its various creators. No coin is taken, no infringement is intended.
“Doctor, look at this!”
He’d been picking desultorily at a jewelry display (amethyst that wasn’t, sapphires that weren’t, things that weren’t diamond or jade) vague thoughts of finding one to route Rose’s way foremost in his mind, when he heard the tone in her voice and looked up.
It had been a very full day by their unusual standards, despite a lack of violence, invasions, conspiracies or unprovoked attacks
He and Rose had spent the morning hiking the fields and orchards outside Abela Fort’leza. She had taken dozens of pictures of the remarkably beautiful countryside, had squeaked happily as she dodged icy spray from the tumbling river, and hadn’t even noticed the cold winds, so determined was she to clamber to the top of every stony outcropping and orchard hillock.
Eventually, they decided they were hungry, and the two of them headed into the city for some street vendor food. He’d warned her about one or two of her choices, and had been pleased that she choked down both, and liked one of them.
For the past three standard hours, Rose had caromed between stalls in the main square: picking up pieces of crockery for closer examination at one place, trying on a colorful hat at another and pronouncing it very chic, leafing through Lizhbauan periodicals and books at one stall, still tickled that the TARDIS could help her understand written languages, too, then finding a food stall where she’d paid for some sweets, half of which she popped in her own mouth and half of which were pressed on him.
The Doctor, skilled by now in the art of watching her without seeming to watch her, loved seeing her this way. She wasn’t just shopping, she was soaking up the world around her.
It was why he kept looking for peaceful layovers. When they had time to breath and explore, instead of stumbling into misstep after crisis after disaster (his failing, not hers, whatever jibes he made about jeopardy-friendly companions) this happened.
He never tired of the look in her eyes as she processed all the new information, the new planets and times, the new creatures and beings, new manners of dress, of singing – oh, the singing, Rose adored listening to new music and songs, human and otherwise and trying to sing them – of dressing, of speaking. Of thinking.
He loved fielding her questions, on the spot or back home (home?) in the TARDIS. They’d talk in the kitchen, over tea, for hours into whatever passed for night on his ship. Or they’d head for the library, where she’d drape herself over some chair and he’d stretch out on the sofa until her questions energized him and he found himself pacing while talking, as close to joyous as he could be while he taught her what he knew. And still, always, watching her; her frowns of concentration, her laughter when some concept clicked for her...
I remember when I hated to answer questions he thought, before she reached his side and he registered the worry in her eyes. He dismissed all memories of white-haired arrogance and velvet-caped petulance. “What am I supposed to be lookin’ at?”
One look, and he understood. “Ah.”
“That’s all you’re gonna say?” Rose looked around at the lovely market, and shivered.
The pamphlet was a crude affair, product of the simplest kind of hand-cranked printer. Its message was equally simple. The language was one of the graceful neo-human tongues particular to the First Great and Bountiful Empire; what Rose could read because of the TARDIS, the Doctor had mastered centuries ago.
“‘To anyone who finds this letter’,” he read aloud. “‘Please read it, because what we tell you, you will not hear from anyone else. Don’t throw it away and don’t believe what the Governor says about us. We are not criminals or madmen, and we are not spreading lies, or idle gossip. The Memory Market is real’– “
“Must mean this place,” he said, casting a newly wary eye at their surroundings before continuing. “Let’s see...‘the Memory Market is real, and it’s here, in Abela Fort’leza, hiding in plain sight. We are the survivors of the Memory Market. We’re the ones the silk could not steal, and the merchants couldn’t kill. We escaped the traders who buy the silk-stolen. Our minds and our bodies are still ours. But look about you! You know something rotten has happened to our city! Your neighbor hasn’t moved away, she has been taken! The children haven’t run away, they’ve been taken! The thieves and the criminals have not been sentenced to jails, they have been taken! You could be taken, if you say the wrong thing, or anger the wrong official! You must believe us, and find someone to tell, someone who can help us. Don’t trust the Governor. Find others who believe, and talk to them. Petition the Emperor! Only together can we be strong and safe’– and that’s where it ends, I see.
“Not exactly a call for revolution, then. Not a good one, at any rate. This is all over the place...” He focused. “Where’d you get this?”
“I was looking at a book of poetry, and a bunch of them fell out. The book monger went mental. He grabbed at them, right out of my hand. Ripped them up, said something about vandals and troublemakers. I couldn’t catch a lot of it, he was talkin’ so fast. He started apologizing, and asking what he could get for me. I just smiled, like I was a complete git, made like an idiot tourist without a clue. When he finished bowin’ an’ scrapin’ and went off to serve another customer, I picked up the one he’d missed.”
She looked up at him. “I read it, Doctor, and I started lookin’ around. I mean really lookin’, the way you do. I shouldn’t be this affected by some tatty piece of propaganda, but...this one, I dunno. It rings true, if you see what I mean. This place is beautiful, but when I really paid attention, I saw it. The people are scared half out of their wits. And there’s all those toughs hanging around. I don’t know if they’re police, but they’re givin’ everyone the fish eye and mum’d nick them for rozzers in a minute.”
That was his cue to start paying attention to something other than her. The only problem with watching Rose, or thinking (too much) about her, was that sometimes his powers of observation were...misapplied. Jack would–
Handsome Jack would throw you entirely off your stride–
He shook his head. What that thought was doing there...(Jack and Rose, Rose and Jack–Stop it!)
“Doctor? You OK?” Her brown eyes held only concern.
“Doin’ fine, thanks. Just taking a leaf from your book. Checking the scene.”
“And?” She was still looking at him oddly.
“You’re right. Everyone around here looks–”
“–like they know they’re bein’ watched. Am I right?”
The wind was cold; Lizhbau’s sun had dropped behind a bank of impenetrable cloud on the horizon and around them, the market’s own lights were flaring into life. Rose shivered and clutched at the fleece jacket she was wearing.
“C’mere.” He put one leather-clad arm around her, pulling her close and smiling at her as her arm crept around his waist. “Can’t go checkin' the situation out when you’re freezing,’ can we?”
She nodded into his chest, and his coat muffled her reply: “Right. What do we do, then? Wait for Jack?”
He could feel her excitement rise, smell it in the increased tang of adrenaline she let off. It mixed with what he thought of as Essence of Rose, the fruit and musk, and he breathed deep, grinning fiercely into her hair. I only travel with the best he thought, the best, bravest, maddest of apes...and now there are two and how can I resist–
“The Captain? Nah, not yet. Let’s figure out what we’re looking for first. I’d say that book monger of yours is our first stop.”
The book monger was only the first stop. He hadn’t wanted to tell them anything, had insisted he knew nothing about the pamphlets. When he saw Rose’s raised eyebrow, he realized he’d been caught out, and tried another tack. He offered his name, Pau Sampaio. They were children’s pranks, Pau Sampaio said. After one glowering look from the Doctor, he shifted uncomfortably and started again; they were malicious attempts to defame him in the eyes of the authorities; no, he mis-spoke – they were rabble-rousers who prattled stupidly about something that didn’t exist. It couldn’t, not in this law-abiding city....
“You quite done going on?” the Doctor asked, superficially calm as he examined his fingernails, but pitching his voice high enough to be heard easily across the fountain square. “Look at me. Do I look like a fool? No one writes something like that unless they’re desperate, and no one denies the information unless it’s true. D’you get my drift?” He smiled, and looked more dangerous then than many men did whilst brandishing weapons. Sampaio slumped.
“I can’t tell you anything more, Ser and Sera, I swear it. But I can tell you who knows more about these...these screeds,” he said, checking first the increasingly shrill night time crowd, then the silent men who still lounged against walls and porch poles around the market. Having apparently decided he had escaped their notice, he said, “I can show you to her. I’m closing up for the night. Go away now, but follow me when I leave.”
They did. Rose held the Doctor’s hand for comfort, and to avoid being separated in the crowd through which the trader was making his way. Soon the crowd thinned; they were out of the market proper, working their way down first one narrow sidestreet then another, always keeping their unwilling guide in sight.
This part of Abela Fort’leza was not an area tourists came, the Doctor saw as his eyes adjusted to the increasingly erratic light. Where the buzzing and often-malfunctioning lamps illuminated them, the shops were smaller, meaner, their blue-washed walls faded and dirty. In this neighborhood, the windows were uniformly grimy and small. About three turns along, he and Rose started having to guide each other around or over mounds of trash. They also had to watch where they were going to avoid crunching over broken glass; not far ahead, the book monger did the same without watching his footing.
There were no shops now, just warehouse doors and nondescript buildings of indeterminate use. Some were multi-storey, and a few had second floor windows. Shadows moved behind one or two, but most froze as their footsteps approached. Something that sounded a bit like a dog barked in the distance.
“Doctor, are you sure we shouldn’t wait and go back to get Jack? It’s almost completely dark, and he’s expecting us back at the fountain.” Rose kept it quiet, but looked up at him, requiring an answer.
It was like a ewer of cold water poured over his head. They should. They should go back, and rendezvous with the Captain. All three of them should head back to the TARDIS, they should probably just leave Lizhbau–
“No, wait, Doctor, never mind. Look at Sampaio! He just ducked into that door there,” Rose said, all the unease gone from her voice as the tang of her fear adrenaline deepened back into excitement.
Mother of worlds, I’ve taught her all the wrong lessons he thought, even as he felt his own adrenal system shift output to mirror hers. Their spoor combined dizzyingly in his nose and his lungs. He looked at the door, just now shutting, then back at Rose.
“Quite right. Shall we?” She nodded, checking their whereabouts in a now-almost-automatic sweep of potential attack points, then looking back up at him. Her eyes were dark with the thrill of the hunt. Oh, yes, all the wrong lessons.
(To Chapter Three)