Previous Chapter: Thirteen
Edited by: the rigorously excellent ljgeoff , pinch hitting for dr_whuh
Previous Chapters: Prologue and One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen
Summary: Love, silk and memory in shades of cold and dangeroius blue
Author's Notes: In which the Doctor fails to make his case, a rebel hurries up the pace, and a reunion lacks the right face. Not quite a placeholder chapter, as events torque towards conflagration and summation.
Disclaimer: While I wish it were otherwise, with a great yearing, The Doctor, Rose, Jack and the TARDIS are part of the Whoniverse and belong to the BBC and their various creators. I take no coin for playing in this world, and mean no copyright infringement.
The Doctor had, over his many long years, learned the difference between appreciation, admiration and affection. Some things might stimulate all three in observers; saints, sunsets and lovers perhaps. Others might generate only one or two; sandstorms, mantises and zealots sprang to mind.
It had been a difficult choice, but he'd finally ditched 'mantis' and gone with 'zealot' for Fahrar.
He sipped the water she had given him and decided he appreciated her, in the old sense of the word. She was vigorous, patently intelligent, and dedicated to her military calling. She was also, he thought, extremely dangerous. He didn't think it was instinctive, which made her unpredictable. That was a problem. Frankly, he would have been in less danger with a mantis. Instinct is fairly easy to map, and thus to predict. Once you've done that, you're half way home, eh? But someone who learned to abandon kindness, who thought to do that? They could zig when their prey expected them to zag.
Of course neither mantises nor zealots normally dealt with opponents who'd had more than nine centuries to navigate both zigs and zags.
"We've been talking for at least an hour—"
"Not really. You were eatin' your breakfast for the first half-hour," he pointed out.
"And you weren't," Fahrar said, almost as if she wasn't irritated by his interruption.
"Not hungry. Thanks for the water, though."
As I was about to say, you still haven't answered my question. Where are the rest of your colleagues?"
"Thought you told me you had my friend back in custody," he said mildly. "As for your question, I haven't answered it the half-dozen times you asked it, because I haven't the slightest idea what you're talkin' about."
"Harkness. I'm talking about Harkness." Now she did look very slightly irked.
"I don't have anyone named Harkness about me 's far as I can see. On the other hand, I think I've obliged you on some of your other questions. Doesn't that get me a prize?" He smiled at her, showing all his teeth.
She laughed, just a little. "No."
"Well, I've told you I'm not Imperium, and I've told you I'm not a rebel — yeah, I know, you prefer to call 'em insurgents; big word, little word, doesn't matter. I'm not one of them."
"None of that is anything I didn't know."
"Got that from my head, did you?"
"Not going to make it any easier for you." He stopped smiling and his eyes went cold. "You lot ambushed me and my companion, drugged us, threw us in a cell and then decided you'd scoop out my brain for good measure, presumably usin' the same poison you took us with. There are worlds where I could have your life by right for invadin' my mind. So give me one good reason to tell you anything at all."
Fahrar stopped smiling, too. "We are not on those worlds. We are on Lizhbau. I don't have to give you a reason for what I've done. And I will use the ... poison, as you call it, again. I'd rather not." She stood, and walked over to him, bending slightly to look directly into his face. "You were talking to people in whom the state has an interest. You talked about things in which the state has an interest— "
"Whose state?" the Doctor shot back. "Not the Empire."
She froze for a moment, then recovered. "We all serve the Emperor, so baiting me into saying something else is counterproductive. Right now, I believe you are an enemy of the state. I'm within my rights to use every tool I have to find out what you are here for, and whether it represents a threat to Governor Bohlver."
"You mean Bohlver's trade." He wondered when she'd try to slap the grin off his face; it was as infuriating as he knew how to make it. "Seriously, I don't have time to lob lies or dodge 'em. Besides— " and he surged from his chair, forcing her back and away from him. She hissed in surprise. " —I don't think you give a toss for your precious governor. An' even less for silk. Am I right?"
If she hadn't been put off her game before, (and she'd already given him plenty of signs that he'd done just that — the fact he'd laughed when she asked why she shouldn't kill him started the ball rolling,) he figured she was half-way to flummoxed now. Could be good, he thought, could be dangerous. Still, she hadn't followed up on her initial threat ...
The Doctor said nothing more, just remained standing and watched the woman carefully as she thought about speaking, then decided against it. He stayed silent as she moved precisely, ignoring her camp chair and going instead to a chair in front of the utilitarian desk tucked into the corner of the room. Once she sat, he reseated himself.
The camp chair, the desk and its chair were at stylistic odds with the rest of the chamber, which was decorated in barely-restrained bordello. The desk was neatly organized, but almost overflowing with paperwork; he was reasonably sure her predecessor was the room's original designer, and the cause of her work load. "They bring you in to clean up the mess?"
She didn't look at him, but her lips quirked involuntarily, before she answered. "Which I intend to do as quickly as possible, and that includes dealing with you. If you're not willing to tell me where you're from, and why you're here, and where Jack Harkness is, I'll have to get rid of you."
"You gonna kill me, then? Thought we got that out of the way like the cheap conversational gambit it was."
She laughed out loud this time, and for a moment she looked like someone he could have liked.
"No, you're right. I won't kill you. It was rather a melodramatic turn of phrase, wasn't it?" Fahrar sighed. "But if I can't find out who — or what — you are, I will strip you of your memories, and put you on a juggernaut filled with more like you, and send you somewhere. And you, whoever, or whatever you are now, will never put Lizhbau at risk."
"Does it ever bother you?"
She stopped shuffling papers, and her lips were thin when she turned around to face him again. "What bothers me is irrelevant."
"You used to be proud to be a soldier, though, didn't you?"
He remembered times in his life when saying something like that, and being aware that it might blow up in his face, wouldn't have bothered him in the slightest. His scarf and country gentleman days for instance — the first time he didn't really care about being mad; or during his Machiavellian seventh incarnation. Now he cared too much, and all because of who shared his life. But still he said it, because it was true and because it might gain him some advantage.
Fahrar pleased him slightly by nodding very slowly. She leaned back in the desk chair and looked up at the ceiling as she spoke. "When my father attended my graduation from military academy, he told me to remember one thing. He said military precepts and ethics have little, if anything, to do with each other, no matter what my instructors had taught me - and that I had best pay attention to the former and ignore the latter. I found his advice clarified my vision immeasurably."
"Wasn't how you were raised, though," he hazarded. "Not how he raised you, am I right?"
"His perspective had changed by the time he gave me that advice," Fahrar said quietly. "By that time, he had 20 years in service, 8 medals, two successful promotions and four blocked efforts, two children, one leg and a three-quarters military disability pension."
"Oh, no. She'd left long before then, when her politics and his dedication to the force parted ways." Her face closed up again, and her lovely brow knit slightly. "I can only imagine I'm telling you this because I'm getting ready to strip you of all your memories."
"Or because you can trust me. That's a possibility," the Doctor said brightly. The morning light was moving across the floor, and he wanted out of this room. He needed her trust. "I don't think you really want to wipe me clean. There's no reason we have to be at odds. Why don't you tell me when it was you thought you should have listened to your old Dad, and not the one who came to see you sucked into the military?"
She eyed him for one long moment. "No. Why don't I tell you what happened this morning, while I was keeping you alive. First, I sent word to General Command that I needed more troops seconded to me here at FCD. I got what I wanted, because what FCD wants, the state wants, and what the state wants, it gets. Those men and women are worth twice what I have to suffer with here. They are now on enhanced patrol, with orders to find Jack Harkness. They have this—" and she pulled a sheet of paper from the desk, walked over and handed it to him. "—to work with."
He looked at it. It was slightly fuzzy, and distorted in some fashion he ascribed to having been ripped from his brain. But it was, verifiably and inescapably, the Captain.
"From my head," he said. It was all he could trust himself to say. Not him, not Jack ....
"Yes." She didn't look quite as satisfied as she ought to have been. "They don't know who he is, any more than I do, but they'll find him, and they'll bring him to me, and I'll find out from him what I couldn't learn from you, and what you've refused to tell me. Oh, and we'll find your transport, too." She looked briefly discomfited as she said that; the Doctor hid the very small satisfaction that afforded him. It was clear she had some picture of the TARDIS, but couldn't reconcile a closet-sized box with what his mind must said it was. She might not be as successful finding the old girl as she wanted him to think.
"The other thing that happened overnight may or may not be connected with you and your team," Fahrar continued. "Not 15 minutes after I sent the search squads out, a shipment of supernumerary non-personnel that left here earlier for disposition was waylaid after being hit with an IED."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Improvised explosive device."
"Insurgents. Criminals," she countered. "More and more of them are disrupting everyday life here in Abela Fort'leza. They're blowing up trucks, shops, interfering with ordinary people who are just trying to live their lives." As she said that, something changed in her voice, and in her face. The Doctor leaned forward in his chair, fascinated despite himself, as always, by watching the human heart at work on its unknowing owner.
She went on. "They're confusing people with propaganda that will lead to nothing but heartache. Men, women, children — none of them who want anything to do with politics or idealistic foolishness. There are soldier's children out there who are orphans because these ... thugs, these hooligans, want something they will never get. Never."
She stopped speaking, perhaps aware that her voice had been rising, then and looked out the window at the morning sky, before turning her glare on him again. At that point the Doctor knew he'd lost any chance of convincing her to let him and Rose leave. This woman was indeed a zealot, one who'd schooled herself to ignore the unholy basis of her government's power, by focusing on the surface law and order issues.
He couldn't help but ask, though: "So? What did they get?"
"In this case, precious little. They had, apparently, thought they were getting a payroll run. Instead, they got four dozen amnesiac personality wipes. Or, in the end, maybe half a dozen, since our people responded quickly, took out two of the thieves, and rounded up the strays."
"Where are those strays now?"
"They're being processed for distribution and delivery off-planet." Her voice was as hard as her eyes. "Your female team member was one of them."
He looked at the patch of sunlight that now lay at his feet, and willed his jaw muscles to stop jumping. "You're lying."
"I can contact the distribution center, have her brought back. Just tell me who you are."
"I said, you're lying." He could more than match her. "You haven't caught her, and you won't. You won't nab Jack Harkness either. And you should be glad. Because right now, all I'm interested in is leaving this room, getting my friends, and getting as far away from you and your sorry superiors as possible. If you've done anything to my friends, though — if you've caused them any kind of hurt —I will stay here. And you will regret that."
"That," Fahrar said slowly, "is something you shouldn't have said." She picked up the telephone receiver, punched some numbers, then spoke to someone at the other end. "This is Tenante Fahrar. Send a detail to the commander's quarters ... yes. Returning a prisoner to holding."
He waited until she rang off, and said, "You're not going to get anything more out of me. You had your chance."
"I know," Fahrar said. "But you're not my problem as of now. You've just made a direct threat on Lizhbau's legal authorities, and that has won you a trip to General Command, and the Fortress. I'm handing you over to Assistente Inverno. God help you, then, because he's the only one who will."
"That supposed to scare me?"
"The Assistente is not pleasant, and he's far less patient than I've been," Fahrar said, just as a knock on her door undoubtedly signaled his removal. "If you're not human — and we didn't get to talk about that much, but I don't believe you are human — he'll find out. I would have been easier on you, in part because ... well, no matter. I'm sorry you couldn't have been more forthcoming."
The Doctor didn't bother responding to that. Nor did he resist being surrounded by a quartet of extremely large guards, or taken back to a cell; this one smaller and, by the sound of it, closer to some lorry park than his earlier quarters. He wasn't sure whether being moved farther up the chain of command was a win or a loss. Turning Fahrar could have been useful, but getting out of this building allowed him a shot at escape, the TARDIS, and a chance to intercept Jack before he was picked up by her thugs. Then the two of them could work out a retrieval strategy for Rose.
He needed Jack now, he thought; he needed him a great deal.
Four hours before the Doctor and Tenante Isobel Fahrar failed to communicate. Seven hours before Jack walked into "Cheap Eats Now."
Hilda Ghildau and Nico Machado were awakened by the dull crump of something large hitting something immovable. It sounded and felt as if it was almost directly outside the tiny flat they shared above "Cheap Eats Here."
"All the hells and all the heavens, and everything in between." Nico pulled the blanket over his head. "Can't a man sleep?"
"Nico, get yourself over here." Hilda had slipped from their bed when it shook, but her exhausted lover was still trying to shut out the world. Normally, she would have let him. "Nico! Now!"
"Sera Lumina, you're a slave-driver — oh." He stood next to her at the little window, looking at the glow above the buildings across the street. "Is that on the motorway?"
"No, it's closer, no more than three or four streets away. And that's no regular pile-up. Listen."
He did. No sirens, no shouts, no evidence of ambulance or rescue personnel. This was one explosion the authorities didn't want on the record. Nico was suddenly wide awake, and angry. "Goddamn. Goddamn. It's Salvha."
"Once he heard about that shipment, there was no way he was going to listen to us," Hilda said, sounding disgusted with herself. She peered down the street, looking for the black Maldad vehicles that were sure to be passing by. "There they go. I should have gotten him out of the room when Genhoa started his report."
"No ... no, it's not your fault, it's Salvha, and him alone. Damn his eyes! We told him we couldn't risk an action this close to base — where are my trousers?"
"What are you going to do? No, they're not there. I put them in the wash; they were filthy. Your old ones are clean in the closet," Hilda said. "Did you hear me? What are you going to do?"
"I should very much like to pitch him into Rio Corazh'frio but I'll settle for confirming that he wasn't caught. If he was ..."
"He won't have been," Hilda soothed. "You know that."
"You're right. What he lacks in strategic wisdom he more than makes up for in tactical abilities," Nico growled, bouncing from foot to foot as he struggled into the trousers. "Which is good, because that means he'll be around when I rip him a new one." He staggered into the wall, swore, gave up and fell back onto the bed, pulling up his trouser zip before he reached for a pack of cigarettes on the bedside table. "Get word to Jao and the others. We need to talk tonight, after closing time. Make sure Salvha's there, and keep him there. This close to the project's end, we can't risk eyes on us and I will make him understand that if I have to beat it into him."
"Nico, what if he finds her?" She hadn't turned on a light; it wouldn't do to let anyone outside know someone was up after that blast; the area would be crawling with Maldads.
"Luisa?" He just shook his head. Even in the dark, Hilda could see he wasn't giving that possibility any credence.
"Alright, I know, you're right. I'll send word. But Nico ... remember why he did it. You aren't waking every day with your heart in a cage."
"There are hundreds of others with their hearts in cages, love," he said, looking fruitlessly for a match. "They manage to keep their wits about them."
Hilda blew out a breath, knew he was right, and changed the subject. "Are you sure we can risk meeting in the bar? This close to where government squads are bound to be checking out everything that moves? I'm not just talking about everyone else; you have to be careful. Even with the changes you've made — "
"No. If you don't come in to work, that could be noticed, too." He walked over to her, sighed and took her face in his hands. "As it is, we're just regulars here; the Maldads will be in and out of the neighborhood all day and they'll be checking places like the bar. If the regular bartender doesn't show up, if some of the steady barflies disappear, that will raise suspicions."
Hilda nodded, reluctantly, and Nico continued. "If everything tonight is like it was last night and the night before, that's what the investigators put in their reports. We should be fine by closing time, and there is no chance that anyone outside of you or Jao would recognize me, not with the surgery and the eye color. Why you always harp on that—"
She looked at him steadily, her lips pursed and he threw both hands up in self defense. "Look, if you're really nervous, we'll head to Genhoa's after close-up and talk there."
"That's better," Hilda said. "Here, put an over-shirt on. You're not going out there, are you?"
"No, just out to the kitchen to make some bidasfeina. I'm not going to sleep any more." He shrugged on the shirt she'd handed him.
Hilda eyed the bed longingly, then looked at the clock and grimaced. "Do you have to go in to work today?"
"No. There's no work for the next three days. I think Borys wants time to clean up after the last sewer job."
"I don't blame him. You reeked when you came home."
"Yes, well, the dignity of manual labor." He didn't see her sharp look at him, or the understanding softness that replaced it.
"Go. Drink your bidasfeina, then. I'll call Genhoa in an hour or two — he should be off shift by then — and tell him to start rounding people up."
Outside their window, the orange light was fading, replaced with the harsh white of arc lights. Hilda spared one more look, and hoped Salvha hadn't found his wife.
While an unconscious Doctor resisted Isobel Fahrar's psych tech and her length of blue silk; while Nico and Hilda reacted to what they saw and didn't hear outside the bar.
Rose crawled over unmoving bodies in the black interior of a crashed juggernaut, trying to find her companion.
"Luisa? Where are you?" she called, not bothering to control the tremor in her voice. The lurch and tumble of the trailer had been terrifying because there had been no warning. One minute she was trying to find the least uncomfortable spot on the floor, and trying to ignore the fear she always felt when she was caught in darkness — the next she'd been thrown sideways, then back against the wall before being launched, head first, into what was probably the roof. Only an instinctive flinch, with her arms thrown over her head, kept her skull from being split by a support strut.
"Luisa? Come on, it's time to leave." She was increasingly spooked by the silence. Was she the only one alive? No, she thought with relief, now she could hear some people breathing, and groaning. Each moment, the moans and cries multiplied, albeit without speech. Outside, however, Rose could hear shouts and a tangle of competing commands, then the sharp retort of repeating weapons. Were there two groups outside? Yes, definitely ... you couldn't miss the sound of gunfire. Was that a good thing? Maybe some rebels had come to free the prisoners? She shivered with unexpected hope.
"Rose?" Rose tried to pinpoint where Luisa's voice was coming from, then called out, "Here, I'm here. Follow my voice."
"My knee hurts."
"Alright. Hold on, I'm coming," she said, trying not to groan. The last thing she needed if she was to get out of this situation was an injured woman. But she'd be damned if she was going leave Luisa in the truck. Rose had promised to stick by her, and so she would.
Somehow Rose found the other woman, and she didn't resist when Luisa hugged her like a frightened child. At that point, she was feeling like one herself.
She had just gently disengaged Luisa's arms from around her neck, when some of the voices she'd heard out in the darkness coalesced around what appeared to be the van doors. She heard one definite order to stand clear, then the metallic clang of hammering drowned out anything else, quickly followed by the hiss of oxyacetylene cutters. Whoever was out there couldn't simply unbar the doors, apparently.
"What is it, Rose?"
"I don't know. Rescue, maybe."
"Or insurgents. That means FCD squads will be here, soon ... no, not FCD. It'll be RH, she hates dealing with FCD ..." Luisa's bewilderingly lucid words sank almost as soon as they rose, back to a confused moan. "Oh, Rose, it really hurts!"
"It definitely means we're getting out of here," Rose said, trying to sound as if she meant it. "Just wait; we've just got to be patient. We're being rescued."
"Vella," the other girl whispered. "Vella's coming."
"That's right, sweetheart," Rose said, putting her arms around the girl again. "Vella's coming." She had no idea who Vella was, but it was the second time Luisa had mentioned her; if she was remembering a sister or a friend, that had to be good. Perhaps she could remember where she came from, and that might be their first destination.
Around them, their unseen cage mates became louder and more agitated, sobs and wailing ample proof that injuries were making the torture of their confusion worse. The air took on the sharp burning smell of heated metal, and Rose finally made out the doors' location, as part of the heretofore unseen steel began to glow dull red.
"Luisa, hold tight. I'm going to move us over to where that door is — see where it's turning red over there? That's it. Come on, now ... mind you don't trip over anyone. Here ... good girl; that's it." Rose didn't bother standing up; even with the ruddy glow of the metal making it infinitesimally less Stygian, she felt safer closer to the floor.
Somehow she moved the two of them in the direction of the door, via an awkward stop-start knee shuffle. At least twice, they have to move around someone - once an unmoving hulk, the second, more frightening time, a figure that grabbed at them. Rose fought not to feel ashamed at having pushed whoever it was away.
Her one thought was to get close enough to the doors to see out when they were forced open, but out of the direct view of whoever was breaking in. Even a second's worth of time to see the situation, she thought, that's what Jack always says.
They made it to a wall — probably the corner formed from the juggernaut's roof and the back wall, she thought, her sense of direction kicking into overdrive — just as the tortured metal buckled, groaned and collapsed under the combined insult of the cutters and the hammers.
"What in the world—"
"What the hell — this isn't payroll! Adao — where's Adao?"
"—stinks of shit in there—"
"Are they— Oh ... oh Sera Sangao, they're moving."
"Bloody hell, get them out—"
"The cab's still burning—"
"Leave them, you idiot, clear out!"
"—ldads on the way, didn't you hear me? Savha, what bill of goods did you sell us?"
The confusion finally resolved, and Rose's eyes adjusted to the relatively bright light outside the ruins of the doors. One or two hard-looking men, shock and anger clear on their dirty faces, pulled themselves into the trailer, casting about to find uninjured inhabitants; beyond them Rose could hear the clattering footfalls of people running from the scene.
"Luisa! Luisa, are you here?"
The little man scrambled in past his companions, looking eagerly into the darkness and breaking it with the beam from a hand-held torch. "Luisa?"
"Vella!" Rose hadn't heard that kind of joy in anyone's voice since coming to Lizhbau.
"Vella, it's me!" Luisa pulled away from Rose and struggled to her feet, moving toward the man with her arms out-stretched. "You came, oh god, I've been so frightened! They— Vella?"
He looked at her with incomprehension. "Who are you?"
"I — Vella, I'm ... I ... don't you — I'm Luisa!"
"What? No. No — what have you done with her? What are you trying to — who told you her name?" The man's narrow face contorted, whether with confusion or anger, Rose couldn't tell. He grabbed the arms Luisa had held out for him, making her cry out in pain. "Where is she? Where! Tell me or I'll—"
"You'll leave her alone," Rose snarled. She rolled to her feet faster than thought, going for the man's eyes with one clawed hand, and kicking at the side of his knee. He lurched back with a grunt, and Rose pulled Luisa from his grasp. "Come on."
"No! Vella, please — Rose, I have to stay ..."
"He doesn't know you," Rose hissed at the other woman, desperate to get away from there before someone on one side or the other decided they were fair game. "He's not whoever you think he is. Come with me now, or — or I'll leave you, and you'll be all alone." She forced herself to keep moving, and used her slight height advantage and greater strength to haul the protesting, crying Luisa in her wake. She'd feel guilty later. They had one chance to get out of here. Whatever incomprehensibility had just happened, they couldn't stop to figure it out.
She shouldered their way past a gape-mouthed duo who'd watched the whole scene. They didn't stop her as she guided Luisa over the treacherously jagged remains of the door, then climbed and cursed her own way over them.
Once they were both safely on the pavement, Rose looked around, trying to get her bearings. She noted, then ignored, the flames dying in the juggernaut cab and the dead men scattered across the street. Details, just details .... she scanned the shabby industrial buildings on each side of the street. Which way to go?
"He — didn't know me. I don't—" Luisa shivered, then shook her head. "Where am I? This isn't the barracks."
"Come on. We'll find out where we are once safe. Can you walk?"
"I ... yes. I can walk. It's just a sprain." Luisa's face twisted with effort, but she moved steadily, and spoke meticulously. "I think we need to go over there. That alley. Now."
Rose didn't argue. She put a steadying arm around Luisa's waist, and the two of them made it to the shadowed recesses of the alley. They looked back only once, to see the little man flee and the unmarked military vehicles round the corner. Then they moved on.
(to Chapter Fifteen)