(What you do when you're terrified.)
The Doctor had been working on recovering the TARDIS's lost memory for less than ten minutes when the phone started to ring.
Martha, who was on her mobile with UNIT, froze. The Doctor blinked.
Martha pointed frantically, yelling for him to pick up. The Doctor lunged across the console and grabbed the mobile she had given him all those years back (it seems ages back these days) and flipped open against his ear. Seeing how Martha was just about the only other person with his phone number and she wasn't the one dialing, it made sense to pick up. Also, it's rude to ignore ringing phones.
"Doc?!" the Doctor cried. "Is that you? Jack?"
"-hear me?" his own voice was shouting. "Martha? Doctor?"
"Doc? Doc where are you?" the Doctor demanded, circling the console.
"– hear me now? Hullo?"
But before either of them could get a proper bead on the other there was a sudden shriek of static and a screech that made the Doctor whip the phone away from his ear and hold it at arm's length from his body. It continued to screech and hiss hideously. Then the signal was cut and the connection ended.
"But that's impossible," Martha said, flabbergasted. "That phone gets reception everywhere, any when."
The Doctor experimented by dialing another number, then another, and another. When he's successfully dialed up four different pizza delivery joints from four different points in Time, he hung up. His expression was dark.
"Something's blocking them. Them specifically. S'not interference on my end so that means where ever they are, something's distorting temporal stability, but –!" he shouted, leaping to a nearby panel and slotting the mobile into what looked like an I-pod interface. "If Doc is anything like me, I know he is because he is mostly – well, about half at least – me, then he knows I'm clever and I can do this." He hit a button and the TARDIS began emitting a nice pinging sound, like a submarine using sonar detection. "Bada-boom-ah!" he crowed. "Got a location. Ha! I love having another me on the other end! Makes everything so much simpler."
"Narcissist, you!" said Martha. "UNIT is en route to contain this site. I've gotta go, Doctor. They needs me. Doc and Jack are on the other end and I've got people to come in and examine the temporal feedback, get an idea what happened. I'll call you if anything turns up in the data that I think might help, but for now I've got a bunch of terrified parents and military morons rolling in. Someone's gotta mediate."
He grinned. "Then I'll see you on the flip side, Martha Milligan."
She saluted sarcastically. "You'd better."
Martha stepped off the TARDIS, closing the door behind her. She heard it vanishing behind her, its song like a fading hum in the distance as UNIT cars rolled in and UNIT soldiers spilled from UNIT vans. There was a peculiar murmur in her heart, a long ago girl who stood staring into a tiny blue box and wondered as its wide open spaces, who'd stood before the raging madness of a Gallifreyan psychopath and laughed in his face because she/they/the human race had won with a story. There was niche in her heart where the TARDIS key would probably always remain…but that was girl named Martha Jones.
"Doctor Milligan, you're the primary contact for this operation," said a private, dashing up to her with her badge and credentials. "What are your orders?"
"What do you mean improperly parked?!" barked Doc for what felt like the eightieth time. "How was it improperly parked? It's a bloody phone box. Who reports a phone box for being improperly parked?"
The better question was 'Who reports a pan-dimensional spaceship with a perception damper for being improperly parked?' but that was a can of worms Jack didn't want to contemplate. He and Donna and six exhausted kids were piled in the lobby of a Venusian DMV, the kids lying about on the sofa, on each other and propped against their adult supervisors. They'd been waiting for the better part of an hour now, not including the half hour they'd spent tracking down the towing company that had been called to impound the TARDIS that morning. Then, after tracking them down, they'd been redirected to local police authorities, traffic control, then the DMV. Doc's mood worsened incrementally with each new bureaucratic redirection and he was looking very Donna Noble like: keen and ready to smack someone upside the head very soon.
Jack was tired. Donna was too if the lack of shouting and railing against 'stupid bloomin' futuristic tosh was any indication. Mary and Jill were sleeping on either side of Donna, snuggled into the space under her arms. Marsha was playing with a small Martian flax doll. Chen and Eli were practicing tricks on a stringless yoyo and Billie was attached permanently now to the back of Doc's knee. She was looking around with great interest while the half Time Lord fumed at the paper-pusher behind the counter.
"Look, I gave you my paperwork. I need the release forms so I can get my ship," he explained yet again, through his teeth. "It's very important."
"I'm sorry, sir," said the man not looking very sorry at all. "But this processing thing takes a while."
"Look. I can see our file. It's sitting right there. Can't you just stamp it and be done with it?"
"Gotta wait for clearance by my supervisors."
"Where are they?"
A shrug. "Dunno. Called 'em but there's no reply. Sick day I suppose."
"So what you're telling me is we're stuck here indefinitely until your missing supervisors turn up again?" Doc clarified.
"Sir. Please take seat and…"
"What? Wait for your supervisor?" he snapped.
"RRRRRrrrrrgh!" Doc made violent gesticulations in air next to his head. "C'mon, Billie. Before I do something un-Doctorish."
Jack looked up from his lethargic slump. "No luck?"
"Bureaucracy, like a virulent strain of the common cold, has evolved over the years to achieve ever more fantastic ways and means to be a complete pain in the neck," he said, looking rumpled and displeased. "No. No luck. His supervisors – all five of them – have gone missing since this morning, which is peculiar in and of itself. All five going missing at once. Also, given the sheer improbability of our own situation in conjunction with their going simultaneously AWOL, I'm gonna have to say I don't believe a word of it. Sod's Law indeed. Bloody rotten…."
Donna, who was sleeping with her head on Jack's shoulder, mumbled and stirred slightly before resuming peaceful sleep, which effectively distracted Doc from his muttering. Even while unconscious her brow was furrowed with displeasure that was, quite honestly, rather adorable. Doc stared blankly at her.
"Hey," said Jack, interrupting his obviously dark train of thought. "If she hasn't yet, then she won't. Focus on getting us outta here."
"Psychic paper's a no go. The tow company is Martian owned. Slightly psychic won't work."
"Damn telepaths," said Jack flippantly.
Billie grinned at Jack. "You said bad words," she pointed out.
"Doc," said Jack flatly. "What happened? Pocket dimensions don't just blow up. They don't have enough to 'em to just blow up. Theoretically, it can be argued they don't even exist properly. So how can one blow a hole big enough to drag us and your TARDIS through Time and Space?"
"I don't know."
After a pause Jack tilted his head a bit and said. "You know you and the Doctor really aren't the same."
Doc looked up, startled.
"…You're absolutely crap at lying."
The Other Doctor blushed hotly. "Watch it, Space Captain. I'll throw you into another wall."
"Throw me all you like. Doesn't change the fact you know something you're not saying."
Doc blew a noisy breathe of air through his lips and picked Billie up so he could sit on the coffee table. It occurred to Jack that he did it with the air of someone comfortable with children and confirmed it by absently producing a knickknack for her to look at. "Billie, love? Solve that puzzle for me won't you? There's a clever girl. Thanks."
Jack's expression brooked no distractions. "You told the Doctor to run," he said softly. "Before that dimension blew, you told him to run. Like you knew what was coming through because we both know pocket dimensions can't just pop. They aren't bubbles. They're fixed sub-realities and they don't blow up." The ex-Time Agent leaned forward so the half Time Lord couldn't avoid looking at him. "So why did it blow up, Doc?"
"Because," mumbled Donna, who was still completely and soundly asleep, "there's somefin' in there…disruptin' tha' temporal…thingee… Dumbo…"
Then she made a very refined 'snork!' sound and snuggled her head into Jack's shoulder. The two time travelers stared at her with overwhelming amounts of highly concerned and exchanged looks that said similar things about how that did not bode well for the immediate future of Donna Noble's brain. Doc muttered things in Gallifreyan that Jack was willing to bet were foul and dragged his hands through his hair.
"You see? She keeps saying things like that. The longer she's around this stuff the worse it gets. We need to get her home. Now. Before she realizes she's actually saying those things for a reason and starts trying to remember."
Jack whacked him on the arm. "Oi, no you don't. Red herring tangent's not gonna work. What's she talking about? Is that was you meant? Did something follow you through from the other…?" Jack stopped. A series of important facts and figures clicked into place. A tinge of horror worked its way into his voice. "Christ. Doc, what the hell did you bring with you?"
Doc managed to look unshakable and serious for exactly three seconds. Then he sighed and ran a hand through the flaming mess of his hair, looking bone tired all of a sudden. The transformation startled Jack because up until then whenever he looked at Doc, he saw another Doctor – a being strange and alien as dark nebulas. But at that moment Doc became wildly and startlingly human. He appeared all of twenty-eight, but such an exhausted, battered, and wrung out twenty-eight it made Jack wonder what the five year interim had contained for the half-Time Lord.
Doc looked away. "I don't know. I can't… it's possible. When I crossed the dimensions it stands to reason it could have followed me. It's not impossible just… really, really, improbable. But if there's a poster boy for improbable…"
"You know what it is," Jack interrupted flatly.
Doc looked at him with eyes that refused him everything.
"Fine," Jack spat. "The way I see it we'll just have to steal the TARDIS back."
"We have children with us," Doc said admonishingly. "If it was just you, me, and Donna we would have been breaking and entering an hour ago. Kids make things complicated. I thought I could sort things the normal way without nicking time machines."
"But now…." Jack said, sensing a dependant clause.
"But now I think someone's trying to slow us down," Doc said tensely. "First I can't contact the Doctor. Then someone reports my perception filtered ship. It's towed by the only Martian tow company on Venus. Five supervisors going missing at once. I'm all for improbable, but that draws the line. I think we need to get out of here Jack. We've wasted too much time now."
Jack watched Doc's face carefully. "You're afraid," he said softly.
Doc got to his feet. "Get Donna up. We're going. Now."
He'd done this before. Donna didn't have the advantage of thieving history to call upon, but after watching Doc manually override three security doors, scale the side of a building with his bare hands, and then pull her up after, Donna had begun to think that the skinny ginger boy was a lot more than a time traveler. H.G. Wells, she thought, has nothing on this bloke. He caught her hand as they raced across the roof together. Through his palm, impossibly, Donna thought she could feel the pulse of his heart like a bass line from some deep internal stereophonic system rooted in his bones, humming into hers. She didn't like how this stranger made her feel, namely – like he wasn't a stranger.
"And why," hissed Donna while Doc was hacking the door lock on the roof entrance, "can't we just wait for the paperwork to go through?"
"Nah!" he hissed back, loudly. "What fun's that? You come all the way to Venus just to be well-behaved? That's like going to Europe and not getting steamed raging pissed and throwing a barstool at pedestrians. It's practically a right of passage. Hold this won't you?" He handed her the length of rope he'd used to pull her the side of the building and it was only then, with all thirty feet of it in hand, that she realized he hadn't had it on his person when he'd climbed the wall.
"Where'd you get this rope?" she demanded.
"My pockets. S'what they're for aren't they?" He used his sonic screwdriver (Donna blinked, because she couldn't remember whether or not he'd told her that was the instrument's name) on the door interface and it buzzed busily. "Bah. I'll have to do this manually. Semi-sonic's just not cutting it today."
"How'd this fit in your pockets?" Donna demanded in a whisper.
Doc blinked at her. "Why are you whispering? There's no one up here."
She glared. "Pockets, Dumbo."
"They're bigger on the inside. So's my spaceship by the way, so please, please don't do the whole: 'Ooooh, but that's impossible! Run around the phone box' routine. Okay? It's really not that big a deal; just think special Spaceman trick and – OI! Hands! Hands! What are you doing, Donna Noble!? Because you're making a move now is really not the time and GAWD there are so many reasons why we are not going anywhere near there –!"
"Oh you wish, skinny boy," snapped Donna waspishly.
Donna had decided she didn't believe him and without a word jammed her arm all the way to the elbow in his right jacket pocket. It felt as though she'd shoved her hand into a very crowded handbag, strange objects of various textures and knobbiness banged into her elbow. There was something furry near the bottom where her fingers were. Doc's jacket obviously did not have room for a space of size and depth, but from her point of view her arm was lodged deeply and impossibly far in. She'd shoved her hand into some big nowhere space inside his jacket.
"Hold still," she ordered, extracting a baseball from his pocket. It was autographed by Babe Ruth Mach 5.
Doc, extremely displeased it seemed, glowered. "Couldn't just take my word for it?"
Donna, deciding this wasn't the weirdest thing she'd seen so far, just glowered. "No. You got that door yet?"
He muttered and jammed the screwdriver between his teeth, stripping and crossing several wires which sparked unhappily and caused the interface to chirp and turn green. Doc pocketed the screwdriver and grinned foolishly.
"I do now. C'mon, Donna. In we go."
They'd left Jack with the kids nearly ten minute ago; a move Donna had protest vehemently until Doc explained that Jack was the only one with a functioning teleportation device. (Vortex Manipulator.) A small wristband that – after Doc fiddled with it – would take Jack and the kids to safety if something were to go wrong while they stole back the phone box. Doc also left him the modified mobile phone so he could call rescue once he'd cleared them from the interference zone on Venus. Donna had demanded who 'rescue' was, but Doc and Jack just looked at each other and something in their faces said if she'd been anyone else they would have told her.
'A friend' Jack had told her.
'My brother… sorta,' Doc had said.
The logical part of Donna's brain knew she shouldn't trust either of them farther than she could dropkick them, but for reasons she couldn't explain, improbable emotions she knew nothing about, she felt she and the children were in good hands. If she were to try and put a finger on it precisely, she knew she wouldn't be able to do it, but she decided it lay primarily in the way Doc looked at Billie and Eli – the way fathers look at other children and see their own sons and daughters in their faces. She trusted him.
Obviously, hijacking ships from local authorities was not big on her to-do list, but Doc insisted they had no choice and it was the fastest way to get the kids to safety. Besides, stealing a ship from a tow yard didn't strike her as particularly dangerous. She could manage that. Certainly not if all they had to do was find the TARDIS and… and… Donna frowned at the back of Doc's head. He was scanning what looked like a fire-escape map to get a bead on the layout, chewing his thumb absently in a habit that seemed unfamiliar on him – as if she had some previous knowledge to compare him against.
"Yeah? We've got to go to ground floor. My ship's probably still in processing. We can get it before they…" He glanced at her. "They… Ah, what? What are you looking at?"
"Your ship," she said suspiciously. "What's it called?"
"Called? Whaddya mean called? I don't call it anything. It's a ship. You think I name my ships and call them things? No, sorry. I'm perfectly fine with not –"
"TARDIS," she said. "You called it a TARDIS, didn't you?"
Doc didn't react. "Oh, yes. I suppose I did."
He hadn't. She was sure of it now. "Time And Relative Dimensions In Space," she said, jumping on a fly-by acronym that rushed without warning into her brain. "That's what it stands for, right?"
Doc kept walking. There was tension in his shoulders that hadn't been then until she said 'TARDIS'. "Right. Good for you. That made sense. Can we focus on stealing my ship back please? It's sort of important."
"Where do I know you from?"
"Donna. We went through this already. You don't know me. Now leave me alone while I think of something very clever. Oooh, lookie. Another door. Let's fiddle with it shall we?"
"Why," he cried, jimmying the lock interface, "is everyone so keen on calling me a liar?"
"Because you're rubbish at it. Try the installation protocol."
The door popped open. "Oh yes thank…" He froze. "Stoppit! Stop that right now!"
He darted through the door and launched himself down a flight of stairs to the lower levels. She followed close behind. They'd entered into a giant warehouse facility inside which an expansive variety of impounded vehicles were parked. Donna felt that she were in a sci-fi movie. Then she felt that she was really thick. Doc reached the bottom of the stairs and pulled out what looked like a perfectly ordinary Yale key on a chain. He pointed his sonic screwdriver and it, looking busy and highly focused. Presently the key began to pulse a soft golden light, flashing to a slow revolving rhythm, like a light house.
"It's like that Hotter and Colder game. It gets faster, we get closer," he said loudly, ignoring her. "Off we go."
He set off randomly down the nearest row of parked vehicles.
"Doc," she repeated, jogging to catch up with him.
He reversed abruptly and shot past her going the opposite way. "Colder!" he announced. "This way, Donna Noble."
"Stop dashing about!"
"Sorry, kinda urgent. Blogging later. Running now." He turned sharply to the right, then back to the left. "This way!"
"Doc," she hissed.
"Donna," he retorted.
"Something is happening to me and you know why!" She dashed after him, whisper-screaming in an attempt to maintain some level of discretion. "What's going on? You showed up in that park and I knew your face. Then all this happened and everything's… it's all so familiar. Like déjà vu and it has something to do with you. The longer I'm with you the more I… I… I dunno. I feel something and you're right in the middle of it and I want to know why!"
Donna lunged forward and grabbed his hand –
He holds the door shut against the pounding, a single fist beating against the grain. He stands with his aching hand pressed to the dead bolt, holding it closed because he knows she can force the door if he's not careful, if he doesn't do this right. He exhales once, slowly. The pounding stops. Through the door he feels her hand align with his, feels her lips brush the battered TARDIS door and her words ripple through him like rings off a penny hitting water. Motion and liquid. Comfort and carnage. He ignores the raw ache in his ribcage and tries to make himself deaf.
"Run, run as fast as you can."
The door rattles violently and his bites the inside of his cheek.
"You can't get away."
He tastes old metal and salt.
Her laughter is like a child's, high and beautiful and wicked.
"RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"
- and suddenly Doc was standing with his arms around her, hugging her against his chest with intensity that didn't exist between strangers. She didn't know what she'd just seen, couldn't understand it, but without knowing why she was in tears. There was that baseline of heat again, louder and clearer than ever before, a double drum line like a heartbeat that could never be thrumming through her head and it felt like home. Doc looped his arms around her shoulders, rocking her slightly and whispering with uncharacteristic gentleness:
"Oh Donna. Shh. I didn't mean it. That was mine. I didn't mean it, please, just don't. Stop asking me. I can't…I'm really bad with telepathy. I'm rubbish. I didn't mean it, please believe me. "
She reeled. Her brain felt like bran mush. "What…what was that?"
"Contact telepathy," he said quickly, steadying her. "Doesn't usually happen, but you're special and my… my ship makes it hard. Low level psychic field messes with the body's electromagnetic waves, brainwaves, lots of waves get messed with, funny frequencies flipping out and I guess she thought we were better off the on the same wavelength for some reason. We got close, she amped my brainwaves and you got a hit off the residual and I didn't mean for that to happen. Really. Are you okay?"
"That was…your memory?"
"But it was awful."
Doc didn't say anything.
And it was just then she noticed the red phone box was right beside them, parked less than ten meters away. The lamp on the top of the phone box was flashing a soft yellow light. The key dangling against her shoulder from Doc's hand now glowed a steady, luminous gold and there was a… a sound in her head. Like a song, just a murmur somewhere in her thoughts and she knew without knowing that Doc was the reason she could hear it. Touching him, like a radio dial tuning in. His eyes on hers were impossible bright, plutonium radiation green and he was utterly inhuman.
"You're alien," she said with perfect certainty.
"Sort of," he replied.
"Right. Sort of."
He let go of her and stepped away.
"Tell me who you are."
"I'm just a traveling spaceman," he shouted, ignoring her completely and bounding over to the doors. "I'm Doc. I'm a traveler. I'm a fighter. I'm a thief. You don't know me. You can't know me. But lucky for you, well, maybe lucky for you, I'm a risk taker. OH! Bastards!"
Startled by the sudden invective, Donna jumped slightly. "What? Who?"
Doc was crouched on hands and knees examining what looked like a large yellow clamp latched to the corner of the police box.
"Tempora; anchor," he said in disgust. "That's awful. No wonder she's in such a tiff, having a great big stick poked in your eye is about how good a temporal anchor feels on a Type-40. Hold on a mo'!" He leapt to his feet dashed toward a computer interface kiosk near by. "Just take a second then then we'll be cooking. And, remember, once we get it unlocked: it is bigger on the inside. Don't whitter on about it." The sonic screwdriver hummed. There was a ding and the yellow clamp unlatched. "Brilliant! Now, Donna."
He tossed her the key.
He grinned like a loon.
"Why don't you open her up and let's see what happens. All or nothing."
"You hit your head, spaceman?"
"Nah, I'm jst through being careful."
Donna didn't know what he was saying, but something about the weight of that key in her palm and the look on the space man's face and the energy in the air around her made Donna Noble think – for just an instant – that something about all this was just…right. She turned to the strange red phone box behind her, put the key in the lock and started to turn.
And because that would be far too easy, there was a sudden deafening gunshot.
Donna didn't even hear her own startled cry. Her hands jumped to her ears, but the sound was gone. Startled, Donna whirled and saw two things most immediately. A: Doc was on the ground. B: there was a woman with the gun. She was standing between two large cars directly across from the TARDIS. She must have been there the entire time; her and the half a dozen monstrous rhinos in space suits. (Rhinos in spacesuits!) They swarmed out of the empty spaces between impounded cars, grunting and bellowing vaguely authoritative police sounds.
She heard none of them.
All she could hear with his heavy pounding heartbeat, like a drum through her bones, and Doc's voice saying with simply, genuine simplicity: "Because you're special."
He was also on the ground screaming at her to run.
"I'm not leaving you!" The words were out before she could really consider their stupidity.
"Gah!" snarled Doc – who'd had lots of time to consider such stupidities – and snapped his fingers. The doors she'd been leaning on gave way instantly and Donna toppled through them, landing on her backside inside the threshold. From her position ass end on the grating, she heard a second snap! and the doors slammed shut behind her. A dead bolt snapped in loudly and knew with certainty she was locked in. From the other side of the door she heard Doc say, "Works every time."
"You cheeky brat!" Donna hollered, banging her fist against the closed doors. "Open up! Open up!"
There was the sound of gunfire from outside the door and suddenly everything was very quiet. Donna tasted her own heart, the frantically pounding thing having jumped up into her throat where it didn't belong. She stood with her ear pressed to the door, holding her breath.
Then there was a knock on the door.
"Donna Noble," said a woman's voice from the other side. She sounded British, which struck Donna as peculiar. "Doc's fine," continued the woman. "I've got a gun – well, I say a gun, I mean several guns – pressed to his head, but other than that he's fine."
"You," stammered Donna, who was not good with hostage situations seeing how she'd never been in one before, "you leave him alone. We just wanted our spaceship back. You don't need to shoot us. Are you crazy? I'll call the police on you!"
There was a pause. Then a soft snorting sound which Donna recognized as laughter. Then: "Err, I am the police."
Donna realized they were in quite a lot of trouble.
Lies and shenanigans. I didn't update. I don't know when I will again, but I had this chapter on back up so I finished it and I'm posting it here. Apologies. Life is sweeping me away from our Doctor.