Previous Chapter: Two
Edited by: the magnificent dr_whuh , my beloved
Disclaimer: The BBC owns everything in the Whoniverse. I take no coin, intend no copyright infringement and play in the world with others' characters (and some of my own.)
His comfortable chair was surrounded by books; books piled on his side table, books at his feet, books to either side of the lounger. A casual viewer could have been excused for thinking Captain Jack Harkness was a bibliophile’s worst nightmare, until that viewer saw that each pile was alphabetized, and grouped according to topic. The individual monographs and countless notebooks he’d found were also carefully placed according to subject, some piles flagged with post-it notes: “further reading;” “cross reference;” “WTF???” Con men and time agents couldn’t afford to be disorganized.
Nor could they afford to be late.
“That, for the moment, is that,” Jack said aloud, checking the time. “If I want to be beautiful for the kids, I need a shower.” He paused for an answer he knew wouldn’t come, then continued. “Not that making myself pretty for those two is going to do me a damned bit of good.”
It’s kept you here these past few weeks, not trying to figure out the when and where of whatever planet they dumped you on, he thought. Yeah, but how long does novelty last? You usually dropped someone after a few weeks, too, he answered himself. “Oh, for fuck sake, leave it the hell alone!” he snapped at himself.
A brief, pleasant vibration pushed gently at the base of his skull, from the inside. He calmed down. “That’s you, isn’t it, sweetheart? Sorry for the blue language – but we are talking about what those two do to me. ”
Jack waited for something more; the TARDIS had proven to be unusually friendly with him today, helping him (at least he thought she helped him) to find books and leading him to the comfortable cubby in which he’d ensconced himself, so it might not be too much to expect further interaction. Feeling no response, however, he went ahead and put the books back on a teakwood library cart. Time to reshelve.
That chore done, Jack was just about to leave the library when something occurred to him.
“They took off, as usual, without so much as a tourist map,” he chatted to the air as he turned on his heel and headed back inside. “How much do you want to bet that they’d welcome me particularly warmly if I had some basic tourist information with me when I met them? And here in the library...there should be something in your lovely depths about Lizhbau, if I think hard enough about it, right? Do I have your modus operandi sussed?"
Not completely, not by a long shot, was Jack’s interpretation of the sudden, shocky poke that hit him. He winced, but ignored it and went over to the elegant cherry wood card catalogue cabinet. It took him 10 minutes to winnow the wheat from the chaff, but he found the “Human/First Empire/History/Geosocial” section and fingered through the cards until he found “Cold Paradise: Lizhbau as Pleasure World during the reign of Emperor David.”
“This should do the trick,” Jack said, “and, lessee...oooo, this one looks intriguing...”
He plucked a second card out: “David’s Justice: When Lizhbau’s Memory Market Fell.” He could never ignore anything with the word ‘memory’ in it.
Jack didn’t open either book until he returned to his room, got his shower and changed clothes. With 20 minutes left before he absolutely, positively, had to leave the ship, he threw himself onto his bed and picked up the book on the Memory Market. Wonder if that’s the market they took off for he thought, checking the index.
The title of the narrow volume’s second chapter stopped him dead. “The role of Lizhbauan lamia silk in the rise of illicit memory trading.” Jack turned to the chapter.
Lamia silk, it seemed, was the product of the Lizhbauan silkworm analog. Early colonists had discovered the world would nurture Earth-style life without any disruption of its own ecology. In due time, they found the native moth analogs, and their eggs, then noticed the blue and shimmering cocoons. Some scientist-entrepreneur had decided to try farming them. That man’s name wasn’t important, but what happened to him was.
He’d been safe enough dealing with a few fibres, from individual cocoons, the author wrote. He’d even been safe whilst spinning them into thread: apparently in small quantities the psychoactive nature of the substance was only powerful enough to dissuade predators from eating the chrysalids.
When he wove the stunningly beautiful fibre into actual cloth, however, and handled the resultant material...well, his assistants had found him on the floor, calm and empty, staring somewhere else. One of the assistants tried pulling the cloth from his fists and immediately collapsed as well. After that, investigators used tongs to remove the silk. Separating the scientist from it proved fatal, but they were able to save the assistant, apparently because the chemical receptors in his amigdala and other brain sectors hadn’t been completely infiltrated by the silk's telempathically active chemicals.
“God’s orphans,” Jack muttered. He read further.
Word of lamia silk – dubbed that by the horrified investigators, and never officially named anything else – spread quickly. It was just as quickly outlawed, except for, as the imperial directive stated it, 'Purposes of Empire.' The book didn’t go into the numerous ways it was undoubtedly adapted for military or medical uses; Jack could imagine half a dozen without breaking a sweat. Instead, it focused on the silk’s underground reputation, and the experiments of foolhardy amateurs. It wasn’t more than a few years, and no more than a few brain-deaths, before they’d refined its pharmaco-empathic properties.
Someone who was exposed to the silk would be lost almost entirely to hallucinations based on his or her own memories; secondarily – and importantly for the developing illicit silk trade – personality patterns became very easy to mine from the compromised brain. They could be recorded, stored elsewhere, poured through, and used.
Spies and saboteurs came to value the silk, when they could get their hands on it, since telempathically shocking a victim and plumbing his memories was a lot cleaner and more accurate than torture or even the most sophisticated truth drugs.
Drug dealers did their own experimentation, and discovered they, too, could tease a victim’s feelings and memories out, but for different uses. Work the memories, find the most erotic, the happiest, perhaps the most unhappy, then inject them back into a liquified silk distillate. Voila! An emotion drug for those who wanted to vicariously live through others. And of course, there were the victims, amnesiacs who could be retrained and sold on flesh markets.
Why do sentient beings always want to buy and sell each other Jack wondered, turning a page. Why do humans do it so enthusiastically?
The story went on. The silk could be manufactured off planet, but never as successfully as under Lizhbau’s climate conditions. And, because most governors were honest, and obeyed the law by suppressing the silk trade, sometimes brutally, Lizhbauan silk was at a premium in the rest of the Empire. Still, it was never completely stamped out.
And when good governors were succeeded by bad, it flourished. During the regency of the 23rd Governor of Lizhbau, and that’s the time the Doctor was boasting about bringing us to, Jack thought with sudden trepidation, it spread like a virus. Dehde Bohlver was greedy, vindictive and just smart enough to realize he could rule with an iron hand, if his enemies were afraid of being dragged from their beds, gutted of their memories, and either sold at a flesh market or left on a street somewhere as an object lesson to other potential rebels.
It worked, too, until Bohlver’s harsh rule generated more would-be rebels than he could process as silk fodder. He wasn’t smart enough to abide by the warnings of his lieutenants, instead ordering his crews to take them all in, to gut them and manufacture more silk, more drugs, more slaves. The increasingly profligate sweeps took in tourists as well as natives. Eventually, and inevitably, one sweep simultaneously took in tourists whose absence was noted off-world, and enough natives to anger Bohlver’s subject past the point of fear. Riots ensued and the eyes of the emperor turned to Lizhbau.
“The tipping point came when a non-human tourist fought his way into Bohlver’s private chambers, a brain-dead female companion in his arms, and engineered the governor’s capture by rebels,” Jack read aloud. “The alien had no name, but sparked the Silk Rebellion simply with the force of his grief, then disappeared.”
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit...”
Jack threw the book to the floor and bolted off the bed.
He grabbed his gun from the holster, checking its charge before replacing it in the holster and settling that in and around his shoulder. He’d come aboard with none of his other weapons; no knives, no garrotes, nothing. Only the gun, and as far as the Doctor knew, that was all he had now.
He considered, then discarded, any thought suiting up further. For all he knew, they could be sitting at the fountain, ready to chew him out for being late (but they're not, the agent in him whispered.)
The gun would have to do, and Jack thanked his lucky stars that it was fully recharged. He shrugged on his greatcoat, then headed for the front door.
Just before he left he turned and looked at the walls. “I’ll find them, sweetheart. I hope.”
(To Chapter Four)