A/N: Just another quick DW one-shot. This one's for BrattyAngel1980, who requested a sequel to "The Sky, How High It Is" and got me thinking, which led to this. 'This' is probably not what they were thinking of-it surprised me too, but now I kind of like it. Read and review!
If you recognize it, I don't own it.
Rose Tyler was really done with not understanding aliens when they talked to her.
If anyone had asked her why, she would have said it was because the language barrier made her job more difficult, was all. She worked for Torchwood; she was supposed to be an ambassador for Earth to any aliens that happened to be in the neighborhood. Ha. These days, Torchwood didn't even wait for an attempt at negotiation before they charged in, guns blazing.
It still haunted her, the first time this had come up. In she'd sauntered, all confidence, long brown coat swishing comfortingly around her ankles, and told the Banthazine war party where they could get off, because she, Rose Tyler, was Defender of the Earth. She said this in English.
In retrospect, this was a terrible idea, but retrospect didn't hit for another five point two seconds, which was how long it took for the Banthazine war leader to finish laughing at her and answer back in his own growly, mumbling tongue. It sounded vaguely insulting, but she would never know, because of course she didn't have a translator.
The Doctor was gone, the TARDIS wasn't here, and there was no translation matrix inside her head. Stupid of her not to reach that conclusion before, really, except that whenever her brain had wandered in that direction before, it had only gotten as far as "The Doctor is gone" before either shutting off or running in the opposite direction.
The Doctor was gone, and she couldn't take his place because of a language barrier of all things.
Rose knew better than to voice the full extent of her frustrations to her family. She'd seen the way they looked at her, striding about in trainers and the coat she'd moved mountains to get her hands on, occasionally letting an 'Allons-y' escape her lips. They worried, Mum and Pete and Mickey did, worried that she was turning into him, that she wasn't moving on.
She wanted to tell that the Doctor wasn't someone you could move on from, that turning into him was the only way she could keep a piece of him with her. But that would only make them worry more.
So she held it in and gritted her teeth when alien invaders spoke languages she didn't understand, and when Torchwood shot them down instead of talking.
This past week had been particularly awful, and Rose was in no mood for further provocation. So when, during her morning walk, she encountered a flashily-dressed man who rippled out of the air with a strong smell of teleport and tried to flirt with her in absolute gibberish, there was only one thing to do.
She caught him with a solid right hook and laid him out on the pavement.
Shortly afterwards, another man, wearing a muddy bathrobe and with a bone stuck through his beard, also rippled into existence in the same spot. He seemed to know the man Rose had just punched, as he immediately dropped to a crouch and started shaking him.
"Ford! Hey! Wake up and tell me where we are!" The man in the bathrobe looked up at Rose. "What did he do?" He said it rather wearily, as though expecting it to be something truly stupid.
"He was gettin' flirty. In some alien language," Rose said. She blinked. "Wait a minute. Are you an alien, or human? 'Cause I'm pretty sure you're speaking English, yeah?"
"Um," said the man in the bathrobe. "Yes. I'm a human. But I thought..." He shook his friend harder. "Ford! Wake up! Where have your stupid eddies in the space-time continuum gotten us this time?"
The flashily-dressed man groaned softly and sort of shook his head. "Arthur?" he muttered.
"Yeah, that's me. Look, we seem to be on some kind of Earth, but not destroyed...and with more zeppelins," Arthur added, looking around. "So did we eddy in time, or space?"
Rose shook her head. He couldn't be talking about what it sounded like he was talking about.
"You blokes travel in time, then? And space?" she ventured cautiously.
The alien, evidently called Ford, tried to say something to her. Rose gritted her teeth.
"Look, I can understand your friend, but I can't understand you," she said evenly. "And let's just say I'm not in the mood for language lessons, all right? Sorry I punched you," she added. "Shouldn't have done that."
Ford rolled his eyes and reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a vial of something. Arthur looked concerned.
"Should we be doing this? I think the Guide said something about those things starting wars."
Ford said something incomprehensible, apparently to the effect that he would rather start a war than get punched again, and moved closer to Rose, uncorking the vial. Before Rose could protest, he'd caught her by the shoulder and tipped the vial's contents into her ear, producing a distinctly slithery sensation.
"Oi! What was that?" Rose demanded, resisting the urge to dig a finger in.
"That," said Ford, "is a Babel-fish."
"You put a fish in my ear?" Rose began. Then it clicked. "A fish that...what, translates? Is that how you two understand each other?"
Ford appeared to be sniffing the air and grimacing. Arthur answered. "Yes."
"You've got fish. In your ears. That translate for you. Instead of some piece of technology?"
"Yes," Arthur said.
Mad, she almost finished.
Brilliant, a small part of her supplied, along with memories of an electric smile and really great hair.
Actually, kind of brilliant, she found herself thinking, mind racing suddenly.
"Does the fish translate when I talk?" Rose asked abruptly. "Or only what I hear?"
"Just what you hear. It might translate speech if you put it in your mouth, but nobody's figured out a way to do that yet," Ford said. He inhaled sharply through the nose. "That's it. Arthur, we're in a parallel world. Should've been obvious, really-the chips smell all wrong, and there's too much carbon in the air. Well, that explains everything."
Arthur sighed sort of resignedly, as if to say that that explained nothing at all, but he was used to that by now. Rose felt a small stab of pity for him.
"You look like you could do with a proper cuppa, you do," she said. Arthur's head snapped up, his eyes wide.
"You...you have tea?" he said, voice tinged with the sort of awe and reverence typically reserved for cathedrals and signed first editions.
Rose smiled. "You bet I've got tea. Tell you what. I think we could make a deal here."
"D'you want to come with us?" Arthur asked, later that afternoon. "I don't know when we'll happen across another eddy, but maybe it'll take you closer to home." Rose had ended up telling Arthur and Ford her story over a very large pot of tea and a dozen sandwiches, and Arthur had listened with the sympathetic ear of someone else who is very far from home.
Rose laughed, a little sadly. "S'not like I didn't think about it," she said honestly. "But seems to me if I come with you, I could end up further away from the Doctor as likely as finding my way back to him. Besides," she held up the vial Ford had just given her, "now I've got this, I can do a proper job of things right here, keep my own Earth in one piece."
Shortly after that, another shimmery spot opened up in the middle of the living room, with a woman's voice calling through it for Ford and Arthur. Ford was on his feet and running for it in seconds, saying something about "bless the improbability drive", but Arthur paused, just long enough for Rose to toss him a small box.
"Teabags," she said, by way of explanation. Arthur smiled incredulously, hugged the box to his chest, and plunged through the shimmery spot, which promptly vanished with a slight 'plip'.
Five days later, the Axons showed up.
Rose strode through the panicked mess of Torchwood-under-attack, coat swishing around her ankles, fish in her ear, and vial in hand. Considering all the chaos, it took her a surprisingly short time to find Pete-only about five minutes, and none too soon.
"Don't fire on them," she said, pulling him aside in the control room. "The Doctor told me about these ones, or at least how they were in my world. I know how to handle them."
Pete looked at her pityingly. "Rose, love, they're not going to understand you. This isn't going to be any different from the other times."
"Yes, it is," Rose said firmly. "I've got a secret weapon. An alien one. I'm gonna need the emergency diplomatic teleport."
It took some more arguing, but Pete finally agreed to let her teleport onto the Axon ship. The Axons looked as surprised to see her as Pete had-at least, the ones in golden humanoid form did. She wasn't sure about the others, but their tentacled heads did seem rather tilted to one side.
Fortunately, the leader was one of the ones with discernable ears. Rose marched up to him, and without preamble, tipped the contents of the vial into his right ear-a second Babel fish.
"Right, then," she said, backing up a few steps. "Let's just talk a bit, yeah? Why are you here? What do you want with this planet?"
The startlement on the Axon's face turned to something like wonder, and Rose knew her plan had worked. Finally, she had a means of communication.
"You speak Axonic?" the leader said.
"Nope. But I'm loanin' you a translator, sort of-I'll want it back. No telling how many more times I'll have to do this." Rose crossed her arms. "So, why don't you tell me what you want here, and we'll see if we can't work something out."
A/N: And that's "Babel"! I'll be on a posting break for a couple of weeks after this, but will be back for a Twelve Days of Christmas ficathon, which will span several fandoms but will include Doctor Who.