Title: Hearts and Moons Recall the Truth
Previous Chapters: 29, here or here
Characters: Jack Harkness/the Ninth Doctor/Rose Tyler
Summary: In which an emperor gains a weapon and loses a criminal, while the TARDIS is close to reaching Her goal.
Author's note: I was able to add a phrase at the bottom of this chapter that I wasn't quite certain I'd ever be able to. We're now well and truly near the end.
Edited by: the incomparable dr_whuh. What would I do without you?
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole property of the BBC and their respective creators. I take no coin or credit, and thank the BBC for letting me play in its sandbox.
“I am no lord of armies. But I am forced to be many equally unpleasant things. A judge, for example.”
David walked to the end of the dais, dismissing the phalanx of soldiers with a wave of his hand. They retreated to where they must have been standing when the TARDIS materialized. The hard glares he was getting made it clear to the Doctor that they would disobey that hand in an instant, should he threaten their ruler. Which, of course, the Doctor had no intention of doing. He liked the look of this human.
“It’s an uncomfortable position to take,” the Doctor said.
David eyed him quizzically, then nodded, as if he’d seen something in the Doctor that he trusted. “It is. And I suspect your … unusual … arrival will require my judgement, at the very least. ”
The emperor of the First Great and Bountiful Empire of Humankind Among the Stars appeared to be perhaps 50 or 55, judging by the almost unnoticeable retreat of thick kinky hair from his forehead and the slight grey at his temples. A second or two of extending his Gallifreyan senses and the Doctor knew better. David radiated age, in a way other Lizhbauans didn’t. The man was at least a standard human century old, perhaps 125.
He was alive and healthy because the benefits of empire all bent toward him, but a quick look in his eyes assured the Doctor that this man was neither greedy for life nor afraid of death. It had to be related to the succession, he thought, whether that was lack of issue, or lack of worthy issue. That would be a burden many rulers couldn’t bear for long, the Doctor knew, not with an Empire the size of this one. Still, it was not his concern.
He felt a snap of disagreement from the TARDIS, but hid his surprise from those around him.
(This is important?)
He got no answer, but he now added who might come after David to his evaluation of the ongoing situation.
David wore a black tunic and slim black trousers, with black, low-heeled short boots. That was it. No crown, no sash, nothing to alleviate the black except a small gold, black, and silver medallion pinned on the tunic’s mandarin collar, bearing what appeared to be his family’s coat of arms. The Doctor would have approved of the restraint, but he knew it was mourning garb. Even had Nico not told him the fate of David’s mother, the Doctor was uncomfortably aware of the man’s pain. It spoke silently in his tired eyes, in the ashen cast overlaying his dark brown skin.
Is any of that for victims other than your mother? He couldn’t help sympathizing with the man; nor could he help viewing him with the merciless eye of a Time Lord. Once again, he caught the emperor’s eyes, and was satisfied. He grieves for all of them.
In fact, the Doctor realized with a deep sadness, David’s grief was for far more than the victims of silk. He was grieving for the entire empire. His grief was bidding fair to kill him, medical interventions notwithstanding. The Doctor knew well that a broken heart could translate into physical disability. Ah. There’s the succession issue, right there.
The stasis engendered by the shock of their arrival and the emperor’s order wouldn’t, and really shouldn’t, last, the Doctor knew. He looked past David to rest of the room. No one but the emperor, his guard, and his unexpected guests; no staff, no courtiers. It could be early in the morning, before court officially was to begin. It could be late at night, with David the last person in the room. He was that type of ruler, the Doctor thought.
He looked toward the top of the dais, then nodded at the chair. “Looks uncomfortable.”
“It is. I ordered it to be constructed that way. It’s a physical admonishment against delusions of grandeur.”
“Not many thrones have computer screens.”
“I prefer to have accurate information at my beck. And how many throne rooms have you materialized into?” The question was mild.
“More than I’d like to,” the Doctor responded. “Look, Emperor —”
“Etiquette generally suggests Majestade or Serenidade.” Was that the merest glimpse of a smile?
“I doubt you have much to be serene about, but fine. Serenity, I bear you no ill-will and won’t be the cause of any danger to you or the empire. Neither will my companions — Jack Harkness and Rose Tyler, the good lookin’ ones in that gaggle behind me. In fact, we’re here to help the Empire, as are the folks with Jack and Rose. Jao Neves is the one built like a bullet, and he’s one of your agents; Black Throne, I think you call’em?”
David stiffened, and the Doctor heard, rather than saw, the guards take a step closer. He ignored the sound and went on. “The little man with Jao is very dangerous, but very loyal: Salvha Adao’s his name. Hilda Ghildau is another one of your agents, but she’s wasted on that sort of thing. She’s as gifted a genetic architect as your empire has, I’ll warrant, and I should know.
“You may not recognize the tall man, but he’s Nico Machado Bohlver of Lizhbau, and his silk-addled father, the governor, lies in my medlab while I try to undo the damage to his mind and body. Not optimistic, but I’m not a quitter, either. Nico’s officially a dead terrorist, but he’s another of your loyal subjects, as is Sous Tenante Isobel Fahrar. I think you can forgive the lieutenant her past sins, especially since she probably won’t be able to do it herself.
“The specimen who still hasn’t raised his head from the floor, on the other hand?” The Doctor let his revulsion show. “That’s the poison in your empire, Serenity. That’s what’s in need of judgement. Renhald Inverno of Lizhbau. He controls the silk trade today. And he’s going to admit it all, because he knows he can’t avoid it.”
The look in David’s eye was suddenly as fell as it had been calm a moment before. “Rise.”
“Serenity—” Inverno had found his voice, although it was not much more than a whisper. He hadn’t yet found his feet.
“Stand up. Or I will have my guards stand you up.” He gestured and two guards moved toward Inverno.
The man scrambled erect with just about as much dignity as his throne room entry had afforded, but he managed to stay upright. He wouldn’t look up, and the Doctor wasn’t surprised; the man had a well-developed survival instinct, and he probably knew looking directly at the emperor wouldn’t be a good idea. His mind was also probably working overtime, trying to figure a way out of his predicament, the Doctor knew. He’d done the same thing uncountable times. But Inverno was no Time Lord, and there was no way out for him.
“Forget it, Renhald Inverno. There is no way for you to escape this maze.”The Doctor’s glee was savage.
“I am a loyal subject of His Majesty,” Inverno said, still not raising his eyes, but trying for a steady delivery. He wasn’t very successful. “You are a … an unknown quantity with a dangerous, alien weapon that managed to get past all of the Imperial protections Earth has. You have the governor of my world as a hostage —”
The Doctor couldn’t help it. He laughed. He had to give the bastard points for trying. “Just stop it. You know you’ve lost.”
Inverno finally looked up. He stared at the Doctor, looking, unaccountably, like a child betrayed. “You promised me!”
The Doctor almost felt sorry for him. “I gave you everything I said I would. I just gave you a little more.”
The Doctor turned to the emperor. “How long, Serenity, before court is due to convene?”
“About 25 minutes.”
“That’s where we are.”
“Then that’s all we need.” He turned and gestured. “Nico. Hilda. Here, now. Give him what you have. Tell him how you can end silk.”
David turned his glare from Inverno to the Doctor. “Be very careful about what you say, xeno. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.”
That look was one the Doctor was sure had silenced thousands. He wasn’t cowed, because he knew the contents of files he’d arranged to have the TARDIS insert into the emperor’s hidden Black Throne system.
“You’ll have something on your screens now, or will within the next few moments, that will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt what this man and woman will tell you. You can decide if you trust what you learn,” he said, making sure he caught the emperor’s eye as he said it.
“How?” The one word encompassed a universe of questions. Only David’s imperial training kept raw hope out of his eyes and voice.
“Because I’m an alien with the right kind of tech,” the Doctor said gently.
“Because he’s here to see justice done.”
The Doctor started.
Jack had come up behind him. He put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder, warm and solid. Rose came up on his other side, putting her smaller hand on his other shoulder.
“He’s the Doctor. He heals things,” she said. “Not … not everything, not everyone.” She stumbled a bit; the Doctor was sure everyone could hear the tears she was forcing herself not to cry. “A lot of people die, because he’s not God, yeah?”
The tears won. “He c-couldn’t s-save Luisa or F-Filomena. I couldn’t save them, I know, but he tried to. He tries. He tries when n-nobody else will try.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “We were held prisoner with silk, but even if we hadn’t been, he would have wanted to stop it. That’s what he does.”
She didn’t say anything more. The Doctor felt Jack reach for her behind his back. Jack’s arm seemed to cradle him as he did so.
“It’s OK, Rosie,” Jack murmured. “It’s alright, love.”
I am not jealous when I hear him say that. He understood what simmered in his hearts as much as he understood the hope in David’s eyes.
From an unexpected corner: “Whatever this xeno sends to your screens, Serenity, whatever Nicola and Ghildau tell you, I will attest to. It’s on my honor as a soldier. Whatever honor I have left.” The Doctor looked back, to see Fahrar drop to one knee.
“Majesty, everything the Doctor says is true. He and his companions, they helped us get into Inverno’s laboratories,” Jao said, close on Fahrar’s heels. He, too, was on one knee. The Doctor beat back the irritation he felt. Patience. In a few centuries, it becomes a different, better civilization. And for now, at least it’s in the hands of a decent human, so don’t be such a Time Lord about it all.
“You’re Jao Neves?”
Jao did so, and the Doctor saw awe soften the hard planes of the man’s face. “What would you have me do?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let me see what this Doctor has sent me.”
David gestured to the entire group, save Inverno, to follow him, walking back to his seat as he did so. He sat down, touched one of the screens next to the chair and intently read whatever had come up when he keyed it on. No one spoke, or even moved. He looked up twice, once to eye the Doctor with surprise, and a second time to send a hard look at Nico while he closed the display.
One of the guards stepped forward, one hand fisted across his chest. “Serenity.”
“Tell Mordomo Aleixo that court is delayed by one hour. Imperial business. No one is to come in here until that business is completed.”
“Serenity.” The man, Dado, bowed his head, then touched some electronica in his ear. The Doctor could see his jaw muscles moving minutely. “It’s done.”
“Thank you, Captain.” David smiled at the head of his guard, and the Doctor knew he meant the smile. Good man. It’s too bad he’s emperor.
“And Captain? Take Ser Inverno to a holding cell. He’ll stand trial —”
“Excuse me?” The emperor was not pleased.
Salvha walked jerkily toward David and the two soldiers holding Inverno upright. He dropped to one knee, as Fahrar and Jao had, but he raised his eyes to David.
“Majesty, are you saying that this man will stand trial for his crimes?”
David nodded, and the Doctor knew he thought his answer would comfort Salvha. “He will. And it appears that he is accused of countless of them.”
“What will happen if he’s found guilty? Will he die?”
David looked shocked. “No. We do not kill.”
“But he has, Serenity. He deserves to die!”
There was a long and uncomfortable silence, as those in the room digested Salvha’s near intolerable — to the emperor and his subjects, at least — insolence.
David himself showed restraint as stark as his dress. “I can tell that you have lost someone to silk, Ser Adao. So have I. And I might personally agree with you about what he deserves. But — and I repeat this only because I share some of your heartache, since you should know this as well as I do — this empire does not kill. It re-educates, it alters memories, it imprisons. It does not kill.”
He chose to ignore Salvha’s continued lack of response, turning again to Captain Dado. “Remove this man.”
The Doctor felt was was about to happen before it happened. Everything in his brain slid in four dimensional directions, and he felt the timeline change ever so slightly, the pitch and yaw of entropic waves making the universe shiver.
He puts out a hand, too slowly. He opens his mouth, and nothing comes out in time.
He sees Salvha dart forward — so fast, when everything else is so slow — eluding everyone in the room before they even know he is eluding them, or that they should try to stop him.
He sees Salvha reach Inverno.
The taller man is so focused on the emperor that he has no chance to turn his head at the commotion about to begin behind him.
The guards bracketing him are slightly faster, but still so painfully sluggish. Their heads have just begun to turn when Inverno’s is jerked back, Salvha’s powerful fingers grabbing his hair.
The knife is thin and almost lovely. It catches the light, then caresses Inverno’s throat, drawing an equally thin red thread behind it.
The red thread widens. Red pearls depend from what is now a ribbon. Within the ribbon, thinner bands of white, yellow, and black appear before the red pearls drop and transform into rivers.
He sees Inverno’s hands move from trying to get Salvha’s fingers out of his hair, to his throat. His fingers twitch in slow motion, and become as red as the pearls and ribbons.
He sees Inverno’s eyes, and his mouth, as they open and close. He sees Salvha push Inverno’s head away, as if it is something distasteful to touch.
He sees slow lightning erupt from the muzzles of the guards’ weapons.
He sees the lightning reach Salvha.
He sees Salvha smile, grateful as a weary child being taken to bed.
He sees Inverno topple one way, Salvha another.
The timeline stutters and rebalances ever so slightly off what has, until now, been the true. The new line quickly becomes the true. The change, small as it is, tugs at the back of his mind just as Salvha’s fingers had tugged at Inverno’s head.
Time speeds up and everything takes place as he has seen that it will.
He was the first to reach Salvha, who was still breathing. Behind him, he heard Fahrar’s muffled curse, and those of the imperial guards.
The little man looked up at him. “Had to,” he managed. “No apologies.”
The Doctor, still trying to regain control of his time sense as the timeline steadied, could say nothing. He didn’t have to; Nico and Hilda dashed to Salvha’s side, both of them stricken.
“Salvha, Sera Lumina … sangre ….” Nico was shaking as he pulled Salvha’s head onto his lap. “You fool.”
Salvha drew another ragged breath. “It hurts.”
“Of course it hurts.” Nico could barely speak himself.
“You’d … you’d have done it … if it’d been Hilda,” Salvha finally got out.
Nico glanced at Hilda, who was crying unashamedly, then back to Salvha. He didn’t lie to his sworn man; he couldn’t bring himself to, the Doctor saw, but he bowed his head, and Salvha’s face lightened enough that it was obvious he chose to believe that his captain agreed. He coughed, and red froth bubbled out of one side of his mouth.
The Doctor saw the burn marks around the hole in Salvha’s jacket, just above his heart, and looked away. It wouldn’t be long now. He saw the guards start to move in and, with a wave fully as peremptory as David’s had been, halted them in their tracks. “Let them be.”
They looked to David, who nodded wordlessly. Even rulers of world-spanning realms weren’t immune to the shock of unexpected violence, the Doctor saw.
He turned to Jack and Rose, whose shock was visibly less than that of everyone else in the room. Jack dipped his chin in the Doctor’s direction, then at Rose, who had tucked herself under his arm.
“Is he gonna —” She stopped herself.
“Yes.” Rose closed her eyes; that was the extent of her emotional tell. He looked at Jack, who was equally stone-faced.
He wanted more than anything to take his companions away from this place, but there were still a few more tasks he, and they, couldn’t escape.
Just as he thought that, he heard a gasp from Salvha, a frothy rattle from his lungs, then nothing more. He turned and saw Nico shut the little man’s eyes, as Hilda wiped her own.
For moment nobody said anything. Then David cleared his throat.
“Well. Where does this leave us?” the emperor asked, eying Nico and Hilda, who held hands over Salvha, then looking down at Inverno’s prone body as its head gained an increasingly dark and sticky corona of blood. His imperial mask was once more firmly in place, the shock replaced by degrees with anger. “Two are dead who should still be alive. Does this change what you, Ser Bohlver and Sera Ghildau, have to tell me? Shall I now have all of you taken to the cell instead of that man?”
He pulled the two banks of computer screens closer to himself, effectively blocking others from physically reaching him. A touch at one screen, and the screens moved down and out like the petals of a flower, allowing him to look over their tops at those in front of him.
Nico looked briefly at the Doctor, who studiously ignored him. This is yours to tackle, revolutionary.
“Serenity, I … can’t say that I am sorry about Inverno. That would be dishonest of me.” He stopped momentarily, considering his next words. “I am sorry that it took place in your throne room. And I am sorry that Salvha is dead. He was a good man driven past a point of no return. There are many like him on Lizhbau.”
David cocked his head, looking a little like a raptor as he caught Nico in an unblinking gaze. “At the hands of this man. And of your father.”
Nico bent his head in acknowledgement. “Yes, Serenity. But my … my father … has been punished by his own sin.”
“This would be why our Ser Doctor —”
“Just Doctor.” When the emperor looked at him, the Doctor decided not to interrupt again. Even he occasionally knew when to shut up.
David resumed. “This would be why this ‘just doctor’ referred to him as silk-addled?”
“Yes.” Nico said.
“Why should that excuse him from official judgement?” Bladed steel in his voice.
“It doesn’t, Serenity,” Nico said, his own voice rough. “But I don’t believe he will ever be well enough to face judgement — no, Doctor, don’t say anything. I know you’ve fought to make him better; you’ve undone what damage you could, and that’s more than the empire’s doctors could do for him. But he is … broken beyond repair.
“My father is dead, even though his heart continues beating.”
Jack had told the Doctor that Nico insisted on proclaiming his disinterest in the governor; Jack had also told him that the disinterest was patently false. Anyone paying attention to Nico Machado Bohlver in this moment could clearly see that. Yet the man didn’t shy from the truth, the Doctor saw, even when it caused him agony.
He was relieved; the last review he’d done of Dehde Bohlver’s vital signs clearly showed that when he awakened — which he would, thanks to the Doctor’s repairs of most of Inverno’s immediate damage — he would most likely have the cognitive abilities of a six-year-old. He’d saved the man from the physical death Inverno had tried to booby-trap him with, but not much more. “Nico’s right, Your Majesty,” he said. “Your current Lizhbauan governor won’t rule again. Victimizer turned victim … it’s not justice, not really, but it’s balance of a sort.”
“I see.” David looked tired, but schooled his face back to impassivity. “It falls on me, then, to strike his name from the gubernatorial roll, and to name his successor. That will be easy, of course.”
Most around the Doctor looked blank; Nico abruptly looked horrified. “Serenity, no. No … not —”
“What I decide will not — not — be subject to debate,” the emperor said flatly. “You may refuse, and continue as an official enemy of the crown. Or you have can acknowledge that your family’s appointment is still in full force, and that you have the ability to recover your family’s honor by rescuing your world.
“Don’t fight this, Nicola Bohlver. I’m burdened already with the empire’s future; do not weigh me down further by adding uncertainty over the governance of one planet. Do I make myself clear?”
After one panic-filled look to Hilda, Nico reluctantly sank to one knee and bent his head. “As you command, Serenity.”
“Good. Very good.”
The Doctor could feel the TARDIS doing Her own version of holding Her breath. There’s still something needs uncovering, but You won’t tell me more than that, will You?
David pointed to the Doctor. “This man says you have a weapon to destroy the silk trade forever. I’ve read some of the files I find in my system — my security chiefs will probably want to know how you did that, Doctor — and they have convinced me to hear you out. There are people in my court who will be far less than pleased if what you have proves to be true. What you show me must stay here until I say otherwise.
“So here is what we will do. Captain Dado, summon Aleixo. He will deal with closing court for the rest of the day; appointments can be rescheduled, and it will be put down to my usual ailment. We will remove to my salon to go over this further. You and he will also see to it that these bodies are taken care of with no one the wiser. If Ser Bohlver desires that his man’s body be removed to the … to that —”
“It’s called the TARDIS,” the Doctor said. “My TARDIS.”
“To the TARDIS, then,” David continued. “If that’s Ser Bohlver’s wish, do it.”
Nico took that as permission to rise. He nodded at Captain Dado, who ordered two of his men to pick up the body of the man they’d killed.
“Jack, will you help them back to the medlab?” the Doctor asked. Jack smiled his assent, and the Doctor felt his hearts shiver at the trust he saw in that smile. “You know how to operate the pods. Put Salvha in the one next to Filomena.”
“Will do. Rose, you want to stay here, or come with me?”
Rose looked at Jack, then at the Doctor. “I’ll stay here, if that’s OK.”
Jack’s smile didn’t fade. If anything, it grew. “Always, darlin’.” The Doctor felt something warm and soft brush against his consciousness; She obviously cared for Jack. It made him feel better about his own feelings, although he resolutely put them aside for now.
David shook his head. “I ask that the young lady, Tenante-Coronol Neves and Tenante … Fahrar?”
“I ask that you all return to the TARDIS. You are no longer needed here.” He said it politely, but it was an imperial order. Once again, the Doctor put aside his irritation. Remember that they’re human, he told himself.
Jao bent his head in assent, then headed back into the TARDIS. Rose and Jack, hands clasped tightly and unselfconsciously, turned their eyes to the Doctor. He shrugged back at them. They both nodded, then turned to the sombre task of seeing the guards bring Salvha’s body back to the medlab. The Doctor was glad that David had not suggested Inverno’s body be dealt with the same way. It had been torturous for him to let the man into his beloved craft in the first place. Let the empire take care of what was left.
Suddenly, David put up a hand. “Wait. Tenante.”
Fahrar froze, then composed herself and turned. “Serenity.”
“Stay. You have knowledge of the workings of Lizhbauan authorities, correct?”
“Yes.” Fahrar definitely wanted to be somewhere else, the Doctor saw.
“Then you will be valuable to me.”
“No, Serenity.” Her voice was so low that the Doctor almost missed what she said.
David did not. He didn’t look displeased, quite, but his voice was sharp in response. “No?”
“Majesty, I am not …” Fahrar cast about for words. “I’m not worthy. That is no bromide. I truly am not worthy.”
The Doctor felt Her listening in. This? This is what you’re waiting for?
“You spoke about your honor earlier,” the emperor said. “Honor, it seems, that is at a premium, much as it is for the governor’s family.”
Fahrar looked to one side of herself, and then another as if searching for someone who would speak on her behalf. Finally, she raised her eyes to the emperor. The shame on her face was hard to miss. “I have none, Serenity. I obeyed orders I should not have; I ordered things that should never have been done. I allowed the sickness to continue, and I even tried to make it run more efficiently.”
The emperor accepted what she said in silence. Then he spoke again. “Did you join these people because you thought it would lessen your eventual punishment?”
That clearly knocked the woman off her pins. “No, Majesty. I … I didn’t join them. I just … couldn’t do what I was doing anymore.”
“Did you expect to face punishment?”
“I … yes.”
“Would you have defended yourself?”
This time she had no difficulty answering. Her face set, and the Doctor saw in it a hint of the steel she’d first exhibited to him. “No, Majesty. How could I?”
The emperor nodded in approval. “Then I have no difficulty in making use of your knowledge. Nor do I have difficulty in imagining that you could someday regain your honor.”
“Serenity.” She placed her fist over her heart, in salute. The look in her eyes spoke of renewed optimism and newborn faith.
In that moment, the Doctor felt two things; a surge of what could only be called elation from the TARDIS, and another slightly disorienting shift in his own head, as the timeline adjusted itself yet again. She’s the solution to the succession? Really?
There was no answer, but he was fairly sure he’d find confirmation in the library after all of this was over —
— after all of this was over.
The Doctor shut his eyes.
One weight left his shoulders, as he realized that in a matter of hours, he, Hilda and Nico would convince David that their work truly meant the end of lamia silk.
With what they had, and if the Doctor could persuade David that providing extra help to Lizhbau could prevent a planetary economic collapse, or at least minimize it … well, the rest was in the hands of the humans of the First Empire. Lizhbau might survive. And David might now have the strength to neutralize the planetary barons who currently benefited from the silk trade; cutting off the source in one fell swoop would give him the benefit of surprise. If any ruler could make use of what he’d been given, David was it, the Doctor thought.
It would be messy, and it would be tragic. But thanks to what he’d been able to add to the game, it might be a little less messy, and a little less tragic. It wasn’t every day that everybody lived. Most of the time, he was simply glad to help ensure that not everybody died. He’d take that today.
The other weight still lay on him. But it wasn’t as frightening as it had been. Maybe it’s less a weight than the feel of arms, steadying me.
He waited for another part of him to resist, as it had resisted so many times before. It was nowhere to be found.
When he turned around, Rose was there. Of course she’d pay little attention to an emperor, he thought, with something approaching giddy joy. Of course she would go where she wanted to. Of course she would come back to him. “Everything set up inside?”
“Yeah. The guards are coming out. They didn’t want to stay very long. She spooked them.” She grinned, just a little. “What about you? Are you gonna be long?”
He shook his head, and she nodded, satisfied. “Good. Come back soon, Doctor.
“Jack and I are waiting for you.”
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To Be Concluded