Previous Chapter: Twenty-two
Characters: Rose Tyler/Jack Harkness/The Ninth Doctor
Summary: A cold and beautiful world, a market, a bolt of silk, and three people walking through the doors of their memories into their future.
Edited by: My irreplaceable Best Beloved, buckaroobob , aka dr_whuh, and given a necessary read through by the wonderful a_phoenixdragon .
Author's Note: In which a necessary accomplice reaches a fork in the road, and the road now leads to our team as it rebuilds.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, No Whoniverse characters are mine. They belong solely to the BBC and their respective creators. I do, however, love them, and thank the BBC for letting me play in its sandbox.
There were two ways to go from Fort’leza General Detention to Central Command.
You could go out the front door of the prison that had once been one of Lizhbau’s main administrative and military connections to the Great and Bountiful Human Empire. You could climb into your well-polished military car and let the corporal assigned to drive you take you the short mile up the hill to General Command.
That short mile would be accomplished by taking long roads that climbed via switchbacks through the increasingly vertical city, from the industrial neighborhood in which the prison squatted, through Rat Town’s warren and its ever-present squads of Maldads keeping the tenuous peace; past the leaning tenements and empty store fronts that once had been bustling neighborhoods of factory workers and immigrants from the country; up more presentable streets and retail lined avenues through the fiercely neat neighborhoods of the lower middle class and the shabby gentility of the downwardly mobile; across neighborhoods of new wealth — homes too big, ground cars too conspicuous — and continuing along between broader streets with pleasant homes, more and more of them behind walls of incrementally taller and thicker dimensions.
Just before the boulevard dead-ended into electronic gates and private security officers, with the oldest dwellings of the city barely visible behind the thick twisted trunks of olive trees and garden trellises, your car would turn left, drive over a small drawbridge into a brief tunnel that burrowed through Central Command’s own considerable walls. In all, it would take perhaps half an Earth standard hour.
Or you could take the second way. It would cut your journey time in half, and it was certainly more private, taking you, up through the basalt and granite heart of Gel’Colinas. If you didn’t mind navigating through a plethora of wide or confining halls, taking a lift or two, or climbing two or three winding staircases of variable width and ease of access, you could avoid the streets.
In the old days, Central Command and what had once been Imperial Regional Headquarters had been umbilically connected. As they should have been, Isobel Fahrar thought while she headed to a little used postern on the first floor of the prison and used a keycard to open its door. The labyrinthine topography would have been confusing, yes, as you traveled through the mountain instead of over it, but it would have been direct in a deeper and better way.
The Empire’s trust in every colony’s self-governance was very carefully delineated. Here on Lizhbau, that meant Imperial headquarters were separate from the Governor’s seat. Congress, communication — that was expected, just as loyalty to the Empire was. But every colony’s internal affairs were its own, so long as it bowed to the Emperor. And in the old days the connection had been a good one.
Fahrar imagined the walk she was taking now might have been quite different when Lizhbau’s governor had been Philipe Bohlver. It must have bustled in here, with all the city and provincial departments connected via halls and stairwells, tied to each other and to national departments by proximity and practicality, and then down and south to the Empire, connected by liaison’s offices, joint council rooms, old friendships. Would the walls have been decorated differently, she wondered, would there have been brighter colors and pictures to stave off the heavy reality of being under a million tons of rock? Would the air have hummed with half-heard voices, maybe people laughing as they chatted between tasks ….
She would have been at home then, back when there was a solid relationship between Lizhbau, a deserving outpost of the Empire, and that Empire, she thought, trying to ignore the increasing humidity that signalled the narrowing distance between the clean corridors of FCD’s upper levels and the current reality of its rotten engine.
The humidity was one small reason that people didn’t willingly take this route up Gel’Colinas in these days of Philipe’s son. Not the kind of people Isobel Fahrar used to think she wanted to connect herself with. The kind of people she wasn’t good enough—
“Shut up,” she muttered to her inner imp, the one who’d been roused from slumber by that damnable alien. She breathed in and out and closed her eyes, working to focus the anger she felt, trying to make it useful. She had to think about this—
That was ridiculous, of course. She knew that if she actually stopped to think about what she was doing, her common sense would kick in. Meirelles was gone, good as dead, collateral damage that she needed to accept.
And here she was, she thought, not accepting it.
She was at a third sub-basement now, down in a grid of departments euphemistically labeled “Research and Development” or “Delivery” or, insolently, “Department of Agriculture.” Here at the base of the mountain, Fahrar had only the barest idea of how far these halls went, how many departments of agriculture and research and development laboratories she was being paid to ignore.
She had one more basement to reach, and then the long corridor that would lead her back up to the main connection points in the under-mountain ways. The walls showed the glistening moisture of undried air. They kept it cool, so the moisture was uncomfortable — dank and damp, Fahrar thought — but it was necessary. Down here, the humidity helped damp the psychoactive out-gassings from silk production. Neither regular below-deck staffers nor anyone else coming down here would like what the inside of their heads felt like without the heavy humidity. She knew that.
Just as she’d known about the increased sweeps of the city, had known full well that the military command structure was riddled with people not fit to wear the uniform — not just the washouts she’d been dealing with in the wake of Avhenna’s assassination, but all the way up to the comfortably carpeted chambers of the colonels and generals she’d once thought honorable.
She’d heard the gossip and the stories about Inverno as well; only police and reporters gossiped more than soldiers. She’d heard how the general staff tried to keep on his good side. About how what he really did in his labs oozed closer to the surface of his self-proclaimed scientific research as his position with Bohlver became more and more secure.
She’d known about it, and had chosen to put that knowledge away, filed under things she didn’t need to pay attention to because it was someone else’s job. Someone else’s job.
The way was dark. Avhenna’s people had felt little need to keep every light socket filled. But she didn’t really need much light. She simply needed to follow the conversations shouted back and forth between the people who spent their shifts down here.
They never comprehended how loud they were, Fahrar thought. Wearing the psychic dampeners that everyone simply referred to as ear plugs was a necessity if one was down here for more than an hour or so, even with the humidity helping, but wearing them made most people almost deaf and they overcompensated when they spoke. The dampeners threw out a subsonic signal that helped manage the distortions human minds were prey to while walking through rooms of silk bolts piled high, or shelf after shelf of silk infusion.
The dampeners also blanketed the psychic calls of people who had been subject to silk.
Fahrar pressed her lips together, but let that thought sit there and bite at her conscience. Then she let it stay a little bit longer. She hadn’t done that for quite some time, let her conscience up and out. It hurt, but being uncomfortable about it also felt better than she’d felt for that same long time.
She knew exactly where “supernumerary non-personnel” came from and why they ended up that way. No one who grew up in Abela Fort’leza was innocent of that knowledge. They, too, had been someone else’s job to her. Now someone she knew had become supernumerary; now at least some of this had become her responsibility, and she hated that. Or perhaps she hated herself for letting it become somebody else’s job —
Fahrar shook her head. It was better to think about what she would say when she got to Inverno, how to word things to make her mission a success.
He knew why she had requested an emergency meeting, of course, but she had no reason to think he’d release Mireilles to her care (or as she’d put it in the telephone call, her parole.)
“So why the hell am I doing this?” The hallway stretching before her had no answer.
“No, I’m afraid I can’t.”
Renhald Inverno actually sounded sorry.
He sat in a very comfortable chair behind his very efficiently organized desk, and seemed very much in control of his surroundings. A part of Fahrar admired him for the organizational skills he had. She’d always treasured those abilities in herself. Today, seeing herself mirrored in Inverno’s well-ordered office made her skin crawl.
Inverno wasn’t, perhaps, as well ordered and in control as he wanted to look. Fahrar noticed that he was tapping a sheaf of papers on his desk. His eyes kept darting between her face and those papers, although he tried to make the motion as unobtrusive as possible. From where she sat, she could see that the top sheet looked like some sort of medical report.
“Why not? Sir.” She had to remember who she was talking to. “I know she’s being held for assault—”
“She’s being held for murder, as you know very well.”
“Yes, sir. We went over this on the phone. But as you told me, my adjutant was attacked by the victim. She responded in self-defense. She’ll be charged with second degree murder at worst. And we can hold her for further questioning in FCD.”
“This took place in an Imperial research facility.” He interrupted her, “While it is, of course, military space, the Governor has made it clear that he places a great deal of importance—”
Oh, indeed he does. Fahrar edged forward a little in her chair, willing herself not to go across the table at this man. She’d thought about her next words carefully, and this seemed to be the best opening. “Sir, I know that I was sent to FCD to clear things up, to get things running smoothly after Avhenna’s—”
“Death.” He said it blandly.
“—assassination.” She used the word deliberately. “Assassination, sir.”
His eyes narrowed, but she went on. “It was assassination, and we’ve — I’ve — been dealing with its repercussions for the past two weeks, again as you know.”
“You’ve been very efficient in doing so.” He nodded sharply in her direction. “Central Command sent the right person for the job.”
That was probably Inverno’s honest praise. Thirty-six hours earlier, she might have been elated. She smiled thinly and continued. “Meirelles is part of the reason for that. When I was seconded to to FCD, I made sure she was with me; she was in for a promotion, although she didn’t know it, because I’d put through the papers. I had no intention of letting her leave my office.
“And yet she was recalled to Central Command, barely five days after we were both sent to the prison,” Fahrar said. “She wasn’t expecting it, nor was I. There was nothing in the order that explained why one lance corporal had to be recalled, although normally the bureaucrats are more than happy to explain, in triplicate.
“Do you know why?”
As soon as she said it, Fahrar knew she’d said the wrong thing. He looked annoyed. Worse, he looked suspicious.
You can’t go back, she thought. Go forward. “Do you know why she was brought back to General Command over my objection?”
“Of course I don’t. That’s a personnel matter, and I have other things to do. Do you think I take an interest in one staff member’s comings or goings?”
As he said it, Inverno looked again at his pile of papers. Fahrar followed his gaze. This time, she caught the word ‘Xeno’ and realized he’d been tapping her own report on the Doctor.
“I don’t know, sir,” Fahrar plunged on. “But I find it unusual and inexplicable, and in the current atmosphere of unrest, where the insurgents’ reach has extended directly into FCD, unusual and inexplicable are potential dangers. I want Mireilles back with me, yes; but I assure you that she will stand trial for murder. All I want is time to question her on how she got moved here. If there’s any potential connection to the troubles, I want to find it and neutralize it.”
Of course everything she said was a complete fabrication, put together quickly in what she hoped might impress Inverno as a facsimile of military thinking. If he believed that she herself was only interested in questioning Mireilles to investigate the insurgency, he might be willing to parole Mireilles to her. Then, if she could get her adjutant back into her orbit, she could put together some sort of defense for her, could use stalling tactics inherent in military chain of command to keep her out of prison, or at least minimize the probability of a long sentence.
She just had to get her out of Inverno’s hands.
Fahrar forced herself to look directly at Inverno, to sit back, to keep from crossing her arms defensively. Her attitude had to tell him that she was in command of this situation, that she was not worried at all —
“Sous-Tenante Fahrar, please do not attempt to play me.” He said it pleasantly enough. “If your purpose was truly just finding out what the person in question might know about insurgents, you’d be here with your own silk techs —” he paused, a faint look of disdain showing what he thought of any techs not under his own command. “ — and you’d be questioning her now. With my full acquiescence.
“What you want to do is keep her out of my hands. You’re afraid for her.” He tilted his head slightly as he said it and looked almost gently sad. “You’re fairly certain that she has become part of my research.”
Fahrar stared at him, unable to respond. Could he be that blatant now? Could he simply announce that he’d taken a member of the empire’s military and — inside her head, she fought her anger and the creeping fear — experimented on them? And what about her? Was she that transparent? Had she lost so much of her self discipline?
He went on. “I can’t blame you for wanting to protect a valuable staff person. And I most definitely appreciate loyalty. I am not blind. But I’m not willing to waste your time, and I’m certainly not willing to waste mine.”
Inverno held up a hand for silence. “I cannot provide you your adjutant.”
“Why?” Fahrar hated the plaintive tone in her voice. It sounded too much like all the people who came before her every day, supplicants seeking information about their loved ones.
He hesitated then looked at her and nodded slowly, as if he’d made some momentous decision. “She’s been tried and sentenced.”
She held as still as she could. “And?”
“She is part of my research now.” He was quite calm, staring intently at her, and she knew he was measuring her, assessing her response to what he was saying. “Or rather, she was.”
The blood pounded in her ears. “Cabo-lança Mireilles is dead?” She spoke very formally.
“Justice has been served; and research. She is gone,” Inverno said.
Fahrar caught at the distinction like a dog on the hunt. She didn’t want him to see her grab at anything, weighed the risk of asking any more questions, and decided against doing so. She saw in Inverno’s eyes something that told her she had received just about all the honest mercy he would provide her. “I see. Sir, there are forms to be filled out; her family to be contacted—”
“My people will do whatever needs to be done,” he interrupted. “Please understand that your office need have no further dealings with the Mireilles case.”
She nodded once, sharply, unwillingly mirroring his earlier acknowledgement of her. I have lost control. I have to regain my place in this conversation or I will lose complete control of myself and that can’t happen. Just remember what he said, how he said it. Remember that. That’s your mission.
“If there are any final,” her lips thinned, but she ploughed on, “final forms that I need to sign as her … her former superior, I’ll sign them at your convenience.”
He began tapping the xenomorph’s report; Fahrar glanced at it, then away.
“I’ll have my office send you whatever is necessary, thank you,” he said. The legs of his chair scraped as he pushed backward and stood up. “This has been a —” He evidently thought better of finishing the sentence. He frowned, and tilted his head very slightly. Fahrar knew she was being assessed again.
“ I assume that was all you were here for? Was there anything else?”
“Then we’re done.” The gesture he made toward the door stopped just short of being an order to get out of his sight. This was finished for him.
No. No. You cannot do this. She thought wildly that she wasn’t sure whether she was talking to him, or to herself, but it boiled up nonetheless. From someplace she thought she’d burned out or buried a long time ago, the little girl who’d believed her father’s stories chose this moment to surface, to protest. “But it’s not—”
“It’s not what?” he snapped. “It’s not fair? You think it’s not right? Or good?”
Inverno came around the desk so quickly that Fahrar found herself reaching instinctively for the weapon she’d left back in her own office. His pale eyes were even more noticeable when the color in his normally pallid skin was so high. His head thrust toward her and she thought of something hunting for prey.
He shook his head, not violently, but with finality. And he looked disappointed in her; angry, practically sorrowful.
“Tenante Fahrar, you are known as a supremely professional officer, and in the 10 days or so that I’ve dealt directly with you, that has been pleasantly confirmed,” he said. “I will tell you, therefore, that I’m surprised that your professionalism, your … practicality, could not extend to this issue. Your realism.”
He straightened, and moved his chin as he adjusted his lab smock so that its high collar covered the military jacket he probably wore as a matter of bureaucratic probity.
“I’m sure you deal with this sort of situation daily; if not before you were seconded to your current post, certainly since then. You have undoubtedly told many people that you could not help them find their … loved ones.” Again, there was that distaste. “You are a career officer, are you not? You have every understanding of our situation here. You understand what I do. You understand our world. You know our economy, and the military’s role in maintaining the health of everything that I and my colleagues do. You have not had a problem prior to this; I’ve checked your record. You have not had a problem until now. And you know why. The situation has not changed. This world has not changed. It is simply that your own ox has been gored.”
He sighed. “I had hoped for better. Still, I believe I can hope for better from you in future; you are an excellent officer.”
I am an excellent officer. I am an excellent officer. Fahrar couldn’t stop the repetition in her head, but she did successfully keep herself from breaking out in hysterical laughter by working out exactly how many minutes and seconds had passed since she had entered Inverno’s office, and exactly how many minutes had passed before he’d shown her the rot at her own core. What the alien had begun, Inverno had quite clinically completed.
Remember what he said. She is gone.
She is only gone.
Renhald Inverno walked to the door of his office, opened the door, and waved at her again. She got up, and left, without a salute, numb to the military niceties. She did not look back as she heard hurried footsteps coming from somewhere behind her, stopping in at the office she had just quit. She heard some underling speak, caught the words “something wrong” and “xeno,” and almost automatically added them to her cache of tactical information.
The walk back under the mountain was very long. By the time she reached her office, she was reasonably sure she had herself under control.
Laowhra Sampaio’s glower was a pale imitation of itself. She was one step from breaking, panic plain to see in the way her eyes grazed everything in the room except Fahrar herself, in the sweat showing on her upper lip and in rings under her arms. Fahrar had no intention of making this any more difficult than it had to be. She nodded at the enlisted man who had brought the woman in, indicating that he could leave, which he was more than happy to do. Few of those here at the prison liked being around her any longer than they had to be.
“Don’t worry. You haven’t been arrested,” she said, deliberately looking the tall woman in the eye. “You can walk out of here. Both of you.”
“You and your husband, Merritt Sampaio.”
The hope on Laowhra Sampaio’s face was a terrible thing to see, Fahrar thought.
She continued. “He’s … injured. You’ll need to care for him, to help him return to himself, but he should recover. He may, at least. He was not — he is not — a complete victim of the Memory Market.” She allowed herself a very small, quirked smile as she used the banned terminology, and wondered if her unwilling guest was going to hyperventilate herself into incoherence.
Fahrar was immensely relieved to have extricated the man from basic holding. He’d only gotten one treatment, and should regain most of his memories. There had been some raised eyebrows down at holding, of course; some pointed questions about why someone who supposedly had been pumped dry of information and sent on for processing now had to be removed from this month’s tallies. When she’d made it seem like their mistake, like one more inefficiency that she was making careful note of, they were willing enough to release the shambling prisoner to her custody. He currently sat one floor below, confused, but grateful to be away from what he was still intelligent enough to know he wanted to be away from.
The question was how soon word of what she’d done would filter upward, and how quickly she could get her own plans in motion. If this woman was willing to do what Fahrar wanted her to do, and could do it quickly; if she actually knew anything of what her fool of a brother-in-law had been involved with, then —
“What do you want from me?” The Sampaio woman wasn’t glowering now. She was gazing at the floor. “I gave you the man and the woman. You said it wasn’t enough.”
“Then what?” She still didn’t look up.
“Things have changed,”
Fahrar had spent the last two hours in a mission-focused fever. Those around her didn’t question her orders; they’d long since learned that was a ticket to very unpleasant consequences. They became even more obliging, when she let slip that getting these particular tasks completed, and getting those specific files to her right now, that wrapping up the purchase orders and getting the file closure overrides put into place yesterday, damnit, might be the key to moving That Bitch Fahrar Back Up the Hill. In fact, she was treated to more cooperation in 120 minutes than she’d clawed from them in the past week and a half. That netted another sour smile from her.
She was right, she’d thought after going through the files, and checking into areas that weren’t her business. She was definitely right, she thought not 10 minutes before Laowhra Sampaio had been less than politely shoved into her presence. Those files … oh, yes, the red flags were probably starting to make their way to people who she needed to avoid.
Reading them was painful, too. Nicholas, you should have stayed dead.
She had refused to think about all that for years. She'd kept her eyes and thoughts averted even after Machado surfaced, and it became too easy to suss out who that was. She had put it away as one of her failed military experiences. She had told herself that she could consider him a criminal case, a terrorist and nothing more. She’d made him somebody else’s business. But not anymore, it seemed.
She knew this was following a trail of breadcrumbs to someone who would have no interest in helping her. She knew that she had no logical reason to believe that even if he did, he could. And she had not the slightest idea of what she thought might constitute “help.” But she was going to go with her gut, the way she’d stopped doing too quickly after she graduated Academy.
We’ll see. We’ll see.
Fahrar blinked. Had she said something aloud? Well, if not, she was definitely about to.
“You’re going to take me to Salvha Adao, because I know he’s your brother-in-law’s son-in-law, and he has safe houses. If you can’t get me to him, I’ll bring in your brother-in-law. And if you both insist you know nothing, I will put you to the silk, but I really don’t want to do that, even though I don’t expect you’ll believe me. I want —”
She stopped. She’d swept her office twice for bugs, but still didn’t trust its security. She might be sending flags up, but so far they were slow and, with luck, not shooting too quickly up the electronic heights of Gel’Colinas. Thank all that might be holy that things were still in healthy disarray down here. Still, she needed to buy herself as much time as possible. Caution from the crazy woman who’s lost her sense of self-preservation, then.
“— Salvha Adao. I want him. You can get me to him. Don’t worry. He’s not going to die, or land in prison. Nor will you. Nor will your brother in law. I assume that there are at least a handful of places that you know of, or at least suspect he frequents. So tell me, and start now.”
Laowhra’s mouth hung open only for a moment. It snapped shut, and she looked directly at Isobel Fahrar for the first time. “Where is Merritt?”
“Where is Adao?”
A long moment. “He’s with Pau At least, Pau left word that that's where he was going."
Fahrar nodded slightly.
“And you can—”
“Yes. I mean, I think so. There’s a place, a bar.”
“There are a lot of bars.”
“I know the right one,” Laowhra insisted. Then her mouth twisted unwillingly. Fahrar kept silent.
“There’s another place —”
Fahrar knew this could go no further unless she provided payment. She'd prepared the release papers. "You can have these now; proof of my good faith. Look them over if you want to be sure they're real."
She handed them to the other woman, who peered through them as if looking for hidden traps.
"You'll take me to where I want to go. You point it out, but you don't come in with me. You come right back here. Those papers are good only for the next two hours, no longer (if they hold water that long). Take your man and get out and there's an end to it." She made sure her meaning was clear; no questions or the deal was off.
"As you say," Sampaio managed.
"Then we go. Now"
Rose had just come out of the tiny bedroom where they’d put Filomena, and was once more making a beeline to Jack as he rested on the threadbare sofa. Salvha had just lifted the dirty blind on the front window a millimeter to check the street below.
“What?” Nico came in from the back hall, drying his hands on a kitchen towel.
“Laowhra Sampaio’s down there.”
Pau Sampaio, sitting on a rickety chair in the far corner and busy writing on a tiny pad of paper balanced on his knee, looked up, shocked.
There was a knock at the door.
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