Standard disclaimers. SWEAR this will go out unbeta'd if my beta doesn't stop playing Guild Wars and beta this thing…
So, we reach the end of another tale. Thanks to Erica, Em and Krypto for beta help throughout this fic, and for your superior awesomes. And yes, Em, we're closer to Jack, AND the Ultimate Goal. Promise and swear : )
Seriously tho, all of you folks reading are both swell and awesome with feedback and such. It's always helpful to know what you're enjoying, so I know to do more, because it's actually being effective. It's also very encouraging to write more.
I might be taking a brief hiatus to spit out a 9th Doctor story (you know me—brief hiatus usually means like a day or two LOL). So other than that… on with the show, y'all!
Grabbing Violet, the Doctor discretely headed behind the nearest barrels that weren't on the fire. They'd been spotted, but it seemed like the dandelions were taking their sweet time surveying the cavern.
Crouched semi-safely behind the copper barrel, he took the opportunity to look Violet over. She was doing far from well. Her jaw was white. The streaks extended from her shoulder across her collar bone, and were probably working their way down, but he couldn't see further than the collar of her shirt.
Despite the intense heat of the sweltering cavern, her skin was cold. Somehow she was still sweating profusely and her eyes seemed to go in and out of focus, as if she was with him, then leaving then returning very quickly now.
Keeping an arm around her, he kept her upright. She was entirely unsteady now, and he wasn't entirely sure what to do with her. He certainly couldn't leave her here, to be…whatever-ed by those things. But she wasn't up for running, and carrying her would not work out well, either, if he actually was going to follow through with any plan he hoped to concoct on the spot to get them out of this.
Which meant this was it. Whatever he was going to do, it was going to be here, and it was going to transpire very shortly.
There appeared to be about fourteen of them. Where had the others come from? He'd only seen six on that rock. Were there more of those things waiting out there? "That's…all of them," Violet muttered into his shoulder. "Wantta go home now."
He rubbed her wet, sweaty head and then brushed the hair away from her forehead. "Working on it." Alright. So she'd lead them down here, for some reason known only to herself, some possibility only she'd seen. "Open to suggestions."
She didn't have any, however. Her breathing became shallow, and he knew she was asleep. It was probably for the best—looking down at the bulky, misshapen mass that had been her arm, he saw that she had to be in a great deal of pain right now.
He probably should have kept Violet awake, though. He had no idea how these fungi affected non-plant life forms, and he'd probably have to see what was happening to the 'foreigners" in the population in order to judge a course of action and concoct something that'd take care of this—all of which was going to take more time than he had right now.
Looking around at the unused barrels, he realized exactly what he needed for the girl—he knew exactly what would get rid of this in a non-plant without killing it. Of course, he wasn't sure the priests had been planning on having to 'save' their non-native visitors as well as the city's rightful inhabitants. He needed to get her back to Anil's salon.
Something shiny and sharp went whizzing past his head, cutting into the metal of the barrel. He only just barely pulled himself and Violet out of its path. Landing on his back, he looked up at the long golden blade as the humming metal vibrated back and forth from the impact—it was a five-foot petal from a dandelion.
Looking up slowly, the Doctor saw that the dandelion in question had plenty more where that had come from, too. "Uh… hi," he started nervously, trying to shield Violet with his arm. "So, how're things?"
Bracing his shoulders on the ground on either side of the unconscious girl, he rolled with her past the leg-like roots of the dandelion, just barely escaping as two more petals of doom came flying at them.
First thing was first, he needed to get them out of immediate danger before he worked on the other problem. Even so—as he dragged her past the whip-like reach of another dandelion's vines, he couldn't help noticing how pale her lips had become. With the pigment drained, it made the blue that remained stand out all the more.
Scurrying between two barrels, he dragged her behind a group of containers. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. He had nothing that'd kill the ugly, resistant creatures that sprung up on walkways and in cracks in retaining walls. If only these guys had been mushrooms, then he could have done something.
A tentacle-like vine slithered over one of the barrels, feeling for them. He had nothing to kill these things with, but he needed to. He could feel Violet's breathing becoming shallower and the seeming-hesitation of her heart beats.
They'd never discussed regeneration in anything other than the biology lesson sort of way, and knowing her, with her enormous capacity for denial, she wouldn't be able to accomplish it, simply because she didn't believe she could. That was—if she even could. Who knew what the effect of this…infection would be on her system?
The tentacle passed directly over the Doctor's head just as she let out a breath fully, and there was a long pause before she began slowly drawing in another. It didn't matter if he had no plan, it didn't matter if he had no CLUE. The time had come for the Gadarene headlong rush; there was nothing left to loose.
Of course, a few swine really WOULD have made a nice distraction right around then.
Gently propping Violet against the cave wall so that she was sitting upright, hopefully giving air the clearest possible passage into her lungs, the Doctor pulled his knees to his chest then kicked outward at the barrel. As soon as it hit the ground, the force bent the soft metal of the copper, causing the lid to pop off, throwing fungicide everywhere.
The four closest dandelions slithered back from the spillage, until they determined that it was nothing that could harm them.
The others were removing the boiling barrels away from the flames and stopped what they were doing for just a moment, attention turning directly to him. All proceeded forward, realizing that the Doctor was going to be a threat.
Looking at Violet, he knew he had to get the focus away from where she was hidden. Scrambling to his feet, the Doctor charged into the liquid, right through the middle of the pack with yell of bravado.
On the other side of the group, on the edge of the burning coals, in fact, he stopped, looking around. Weed killer, weed killer, weed killer…
He was drawing a blank, until more of those weird petal-blades come firing in his direction and he had to leap over some hot coals and practically do a dance to get around to the other side of the cauldron. Oh yeah. He was a complete and total idiot. He'd been far too hooked on pesticides to see the obvious.
Backing away from the cauldron, he waved. "Here, fishy fishy fishy…" They weren't fish, per say, but 'weedie weedie' didn't quite have the same ring to it.
Didn't matter to them—the dandelions approached, slithering around the red coals cautiously, surrounding him on either side. This'd work. Probably.
There was the whole 'insane amount of steam' thing. Then there was the whole part where said steam was the product of super-heating the remaining barrels of pesticides. What it came down to was two things; it was really hot, and the air wasn't what you could call…breathable.
After giving the dandelions the run-around, quite literally, by distracting them with a bit of sparks and magic thanks to the sonic screwdriver and the chemicals on the floor, he climbed over the barrels and snatched Violet up. Heading for the enclave the girl had tumbled out of, he had to dodge the killer petals and shake off the dandelion's vines, their barbs sticking into his coat, neck and the backs of his hands.
The tunnel was narrow and short, which meant he wouldn't be able to go up the entire way, he just needed to have a pocket of air, for when he solved his 'little problem.'
Reaching behind him with the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor scrambled the signal controlling the regulator for the iron cauldron. Hearing a crack, a glub and a deafening hiss, he turned back around, trying to stuff the hole behind them with his back, trying to stop any of the toxic fumes from getting near Violet. Her breathing was shallow enough—he didn't need to deal with poisoning her as well.
With that much liquid drawing the heat away from the coals and the copper, it wasn't very long before the hissing quieted, and he knew it was safe to go back down. Backing up, he slid out of the enclave, looking around at the handiwork.
The floor was covered in who-knew how many inches of cooling copper. The dandelions were frozen like statues in a park, their limbs and leaves twisted into painful, writhing abstract shapes. Their petals had melted, the metal-organic mixture apparently having a lower melting point than that of copper, which was already pretty low.
He didn't look at it too much, there were other things to attend to. He'd just needed to do a 'head count' as it were, and be sure he'd gotten all fourteen dandelions.
The rest… was just not important now.
Realizing that they hadn't gotten the barrels down those narrow shafts, the Doctor found a lift in an adjoining chamber. It was quite welcome—Violet was heavy. She was quite thin, which as amazing, considering how much she ate, and she certainly wasn't tall (or even average height) for her age, but she was hardly light. The barbs in his neck also burned every time he shifted her weight in his arms as the elevator rose.
At the surface, he sighed, looking at the damage. Smoking plumes rose up from the city. The fires were out, but the damage had been done. Some of the trees were skeletal husks, others that had been homes or business had been entirely burnt out. He couldn't see the people from there, but he had enough of an imagination to know what had become of the population. Fortunately they'd be safe now.
The fungicides, with the proper tweaking and recombining, would be absorbed by the population and would run through their sap and other fluids, basically acting as an immunization against future attacks. They would rebuild. It would be a natural consequence, but he still regretted the loss of the city's innocence. Perhaps one day they'd get it back.
The hillside was treacherously steep, especially when carrying semi-dead weight. The Doctor was glad for the first bits of dawn breaking in the artificial horizon, or it would have been worse. He couldn't go as quickly as he'd like, but the girl would never get sorted if they fell or worse. She trembled in his arms, pale and cold. He regretted the loss of her innocence as well.
The town had been in chaos. No one noticed or cared him hauling one more victim to somewhere within the city limits. He'd headed for Anil's shop. She'd probably have everything he needed there. The shop was in disarray. She was instructing several people on things to combine to get rid of the remaining 'pest' problems. The 'zombies' themselves had had their senses restored, but they had burns, cuts, lacerations…
When she turned around to see who else had come into her shop for help, Anil's face was dirty and smudged, the green pigment having run from her skin, leaving her pale and pink, like a sad, mournful fairy. The Doctor could see her heart breaking when she glanced at Violet in his arms. All he could do was ask to be pointed in the direction of the chemicals, promising that the situation was solvable—he could tell she had her hands full.
She dug through the pockets of her now smudged and dirty dress, pulling out a key made of the same crystal as the dome itself. "The workroom," she informed him. "Everything for animal-based life-forms is there."
The Doctor nodded, managing one more flight of steps with his heavy, fading charge.
Grenar dead on the floor, partially liquefied. He had no idea whether it was the cure or the disease that had killed him, or something that Anil had done. It did not matter; she had the haunted eyes of someone who'd lost a loved one. Dead was still dead, regardless of how it had come to be. For her own sake, however, he hoped the plant-woman hadn't been forced to take drastic actions that had resulted in what he saw before him.
Setting Violet in the chair made of vines, the Doctor set to work. It was two hours before he had her vitals stable, another hour after that before color began returning to her lips and face. It was all a tricky process; the cell structure of fungi and humanoids was exceptionally similar, both being Eukaryotes and all.
Fortunately, without even knowing it, Anil had been working very closely toward a polyene antibiotic that could 'tell the difference' between the fungal cells and human cells. Well, it couldn't, really. This culture was very far off of nano-technology, which really COULD tell, but was capable of binding with the ergosterol in the cell walls, leaving the 'animal' Cholesterol alone, thus effectively sorting fungus from person. He made a few modifications of his own to speed up the process and basically just hoped for the best.
Eventually, the cell walls broke down and the foreign cells liquefied. Seeing it happen, the Doctor understood what had become of the attendant—he'd had the appearance of a willow, but apparently had more animal genetics in him than was safe. The Doctor still had no idea why the priests were hybrids. That was probably something only the trees could answer. Anil might have been trying to help Grenar, but had ended up killing him instead. Not that the disease wouldn't have gotten him eventually—but he knew the young woman would always carry the guilt with her. There were some thing that the Doctor knew only too well.
Still asleep but finally stable, the Doctor bandaged Violet's broken skin. He wrapped her up tightly in his coat then departed for the TARDIS, leaving Anil to aid her people.
He thought back to Gwyneth in Cardiff, and how upset Rose had been that no one would know of her sacrifice. It was likely that history would never remember what this hairdresser had done—but Violet would remember, as Rose had. He knew that the girl was like her mother in that regard—that appreciation for the individual and for those small moments in time that he might have otherwise overlooked.
An entire civilization saved by the meddlings and contraband of a beautician. It was fantastic, really.
Of course, the young woman wouldn't see it that way—she'd lost what the Doctor guessed to be the love of her life. All the people she helped now were probably no consolation.
He wanted to talk to Rose again, just to hear her voice and know that she was out there. He wasn't sure how he could manage it; it was almost certain that he'd blown or destroyed something with the power surge that had knocked them there. He'd put Violet to bed, then begin working on it again. She deserved some small piece of happiness for this whole trip. Especially since they were leaving without saying goodbye to her friend.
Anil had work to do, though. And they needed to get on. Violet needed properly looked after in the TARDIS, and they really should be on their way. The reasoning was sound, but he still felt guilty that Violet wouldn't be able to have her goodbyes. He felt guilty for a lot of things; the way this had turned out (even if, ultimately, it had been for the best) and the painful lessons she'd carry with her. Innocence was a luxury for his kind and perhaps had never been meant for her.
Violet said that this was supposed to happen in a thousand years, with a larger, more docile population. They had been entirely unprepared for an invasion; entirely unaccepting that anything bad could happen, so long as they were nice and fair in all of their dealings. Perhaps…in some ways…innocence wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. It still didn't make him wish it for the colony, or for the girl any less.