Chapter 20 - Change
In his panicked state, the Doctor registered movement out of the corner of his eye. Rose leapt forward and crashed into the Zelshae, and the Doctor fell onto his back. After a stunned moment, he gasped for breath and got an elbow under himself.
Rose was on all fours, staring at the Zelshae as it scrabbled to right itself. It turned towards both of them, still glowing from the Doctor's energy, and put its front legs up.
"Forgive Zelshae! Zelshae feed. Forgive!"
Rose backed away, collapsing next to the Doctor and fussing over him like a mother hen. "God, Doctor, for being so smart, you can be really stupid! Don't do that to me again."
"No promises," he replied in a small voice and winced.
With Rose's help, the Doctor got to his feet and looked down his nose at the little Zelshae. He struggled with the idea of helping a creature that had just betrayed his trust. Its reaction to its own mistake, however, supported the idea that it had been acting instinctually, saw the Doctor as capable, and wanted to remain on his good side. The Doctor was in a tight spot as his best course of action was to gain their cooperation through his offer, and he didn't make a habit of making promises he didn't intend to keep. "You know I can help," he shouted over the whine of the generator. "And you know what I want." The Doctor pointed at the generator. "Leave the reactor alone, and the Zelshae don't harm anyone else. Then we'll talk."
The small Zelshae didn't fade as every one of them had previously. Blue lightning continued to swirl around it, sustaining its presence in their reality.
"Doctor?" Rose spoke into his ear, touching his arm. "Why isn't it disappearing?"
He stared in wonder, his eyes wide with excitement. "Something about my regenerative energy allows it to keep feeding. Is it self-replicating? Fascinating! It's a shame other Time Lord biologists no longer exist to study this phenomenon. That Zelshae must be exhibiting tremendous willpower to keep away from me, which means it's hopefully very serious about saving its species."
"Doctor... catkind... slaves... safe," the nearby creature scratched out. "Zelshae stop."
The four people looked up as the swarm of glowing Zelshae began to crawl upwards off the generator and onto the ceiling in all directions.
"The Zelshae coexisted peacefully in a parasitic relationship with a species affected heavily by the Time War," the Doctor began, watching the creatures crawl further across the ceiling and become dimmer as they went. "It wiped them out. The few that survived had to search for a new source of power. A small number of them happened upon this tiny humanoid outpost. They immediately rendered Paurin's communications and power sources useless in their haste and desperation to survive. The people here didn't know how to cope." He remembered back to a book he had read. "I found out from Icha's library that catkind possessed a different brand of technology. It must have been more resilient, less affected by the Zelshae's introduction, and with the Zelshae's preference to manipulating the feline mind, they quickly came into power over the other races."
The Doctor met Icha's eyes. He could see fear in her earnest gaze. "Had the Zelshae not interfered, the humans would have remained dominant." He turned to Drewsen. "The Zelshae struggled to survive, lacking the strength to leave the planet for greener pastures. Attempts by the people to call out for help from Paurin were thwarted by the paranoid Zelshae. They even convinced a scientist to release a quarantine satellite to ward vessels away--all except the slave caravans, of course, which were in on it. The Zelshae worked on the minds of men like Drewsen, convincing them the lesser species must be enslaved to toil here at the plant so they could keep the Zelshae alive."
Drewsen turned his eyes downward in guilt, and the Doctor again looked to Icha.
"Not all humanoids other than themselves were suitable for working here, however, and the altered catkind mentality was strong, so some were kept as pets and breeders." The Doctor pinned Icha with a knowing look, and Icha swallowed guiltily. He turned to Rose. "By the way the catkind nuns demonstrated reasoning on New Earth, it's no wonder they could be pushed this far."
Rose nodded. "No kidding. I don't get it, though." Rose looked at their Zelshae contact. "How did people forget you? We've seen you several times and we haven't even been here a month."
"Catkind have a difficult time enough," the Doctor replied. "They usually stay hidden away so as not to be seen by the slaves. Generations have gone by, and sightings in the past have been attributed to slaves going mad, which has become considered an uncommon but natural affliction. That doesn't explain the recent increase in sightings, though, does it?"
The Zelshae bobbed a foreleg at him, still quite visible. "Brothers... careless... Doctor is power..."
As the last of the Zelshae moved off the reactor and stopped, the Doctor could see hundreds of incandescent eyes waiting, watching, and slowly fading out of sight. Suddenly, a familiar old sound resonated within his mind. He looked about in sudden haste.
"Doctor?" Rose queried. "What is it?"
"Oh, yes!" The Doctor grinned and ran across the platform and everyone chased after him, even the little Zelshae. The height of his excitement coursed through him as he circled halfway around the reactor, feeling completely alive. They came to a door, and the Doctor turned. "Mr. Drewsen, open this door!"
The man bristled once more. "Why should I? That area is none of your concern!"
"Oh, but isn't it?" he shot back in open accusation. "It's not even yours! When did you acquire it? About twenty days ago, am I right?"
Drewsen's whiskers twitched in discomfort. "How can you know that?"
The Doctor fixed him with a withering look and kept his voice firm. "Mr. Drewsen, if you want the Zelshae to leave, you'll open this door. The lives of every person in this settlement are in your hands. If I'm to transport the Zelshae, I need my ship."
Rose brightened, catching up with the Doctor's excitement. "Oh my God, it's here?"
"Mr. Drewsen!" Icha said crossly. "You learn slower than the thickest of pets! Do as he says!"
Drewsen's eyes bugged in surprise. The Doctor and Rose hid their mild amusement. Drewsen met each one of them in the eye and huffed, marching to the door and swiping his pass card.
As the door opened, the Doctor's blood ran cold.
The silhouette and paneled lines of a 1950's police box were clearly visible through the transluscent forms encasing it. The Zelshae glowed more brightly than the Doctor had seen yet as they fed off the TARDIS' energy. He couldn't imagine what would happen were the TARDIS to be active. Cables snaked around the small room in every direction.
The Doctor rounded on the lone Zelshae. "Get them off! Now!"
The Zelshae hissed at him.
"Don't give me that. This is my ship. It's how you're getting off this planet. Trust me, you're not flying her without me!"
There was a pause before the room became deafened with the angry hissing of Zelshae as they crawled off the TARDIS to wait restlessly along the walls.
The Doctor stormed forward and began throwing cables clear. "Look at this mess! Not a clue what you were doing. Where did you find her?"
"Came in with the last slave ship," Drewsen muttered. "Paid a small fortune for it. Same caravan you came on, I'm guessing?"
The Doctor nodded. "Sounds like it. Don't worry, Mr. Drewsen, your small fortune just saved your entire population on Paurin."
"No more food..." the little Zelshae complained. "Doctor help Zelshae now!"
"Working on it! No need to get tetchy." The Doctor circled the blue wooden box, checking to make sure everything was in order. He stopped before the double doors that made up the front side and patted where his right trouser pocket should have been out of habit. "Ah. Right, um." He looked to Rose sheepishly. "Don't suppose you have your key on you?"
The Doctor strolled into the shoppe, triggering the electronic bell. Vicks blinked into the morning rays slanting through the doorway and recognised him, Rose, and Icha. His eyes widened when he saw Drewsen, and he about fell off his chair at the sight of the Zelshae.
"Wh-what's this? Mr. Drewsen? N-no collars? What is that?" The brown-coated man pointed a shaking finger at the Zelshae.
"Oh, don't mind him. I named him Rover." The Doctor paused for effect. "Nah, I'm being facetious." He leaned forward, enunciating profusely. "Zelshae don't make proper pets either!"
"Good sir," Drewsen implored impatiently. "The Doctor claims you have something of his. It's of the utmost importance you return it to him!"
The Zelshae hissed in anxious agreement.
"My clothes. I'm told slaves are delivered as is, which means you have them. Brown coat, brown suit." He waggled a finger at Vicks. "All stripey like you, remember? The suit, not the coat."
"Um..." Vicks swallowed nervously as he worked to get his brain to cooperate. "Um, I don't have them anymore. I sold them!"
The Doctor groaned. "Who to?"
Vicks winced, uncomfortably aware of the mob of angry people in his shoppe. "The clothier! I send her all the rubbish--err, very fine clothing from... err, some poor, some very nice like yours, I'm sure... slave stuff, she takes it all at a discount price!"
"Where?!" they all shouted at once.
The TARDIS rocked sharply to one side, throwing Rose to the grillework. The Doctor managed to stay upright only by clinging to the console's wormhole refractor at the last moment. The TARDIS stabilised, and he blew out a breath and looked down at Rose, offering her a hand up. "You all right?"
"Yeah." Rose accepted and stood, dusting herself off. "Still can't drive, I see."
The Doctor frowned. "I'd like to see you try flying her with four hundred phasmic kinetivores chewing on her plasmic shell."
"I'll pass, thanks." Rose tugged her top straight. "At least you got your clothes back."
"We got lucky!" The Doctor beamed and looked down over his slim striped suit, which fit him like a glove thank you very much. "My key was right where I left it. Can you believe the woman hadn't gone through the pockets yet?"
"Yeah, if she had, she probably would have had to open up another shoppe just to sell off everything in them."
The Doctor narrowed his eyes. "You saying my pockets are full of rubbish?"
Rose cocked her head as if he had stated the obvious. "Laa-Laa the Teletubby?"
The Doctor glanced sideways. "Apart from that." Rose threw her hands up, and he scowled. "What's wrong with being prepared? You never know when a can of jet fuel will come in handy. What if you needed a getaway vehicle and found a jet, but it had no fuel?"
"And what if while being knocked about in your pocket it, I dunno, exploded?" Rose asked offhandedly.
Rose sighed. "Why didn't she have my clothes there, too?"
"Let's be honest, Rose," the Doctor said matter-of-factly. "Yours are less important. They don't have dimensional pockets." He looked her over. "You've got plenty more in your wardrobe just like the one you've got on." The Doctor looked down at her shoes. "You even have extra trainers! If you really want that same outfit, I'll buy it again. Where was it from, Henrick's?"
Rose raised her eyebrows. "You mean the one you blew up?"
The Doctor gestured at the time rotor as if instructing a child. "Well then we'll go to before it blew up."
"Right." Rose nodded curtly. "Just make sure it's in the morning before I went to work. I wouldn't wanna run into myself."
"Fine!" the Doctor exclaimed as if it was settled. Rose leaned casually on the console and stared at him. He frowned. "What now?"
She gazed at him imperiously, and he suspected she had been leading him on and never intended to drop it in the first place. "Don't you think my TARDIS key in the hands of ignorant cat people is just as important as your dimensional pockets?"
The Doctor tugged at his ear in thought, then sighed. "We'll go back for them," he drawled in defeat.
The TARDIS shook, and this time, Rose hung on.
"No, no, no! Stop it!" The Doctor growled as his ship continued to shake violently. "Gluttonous fools, they're throwing off the time differential." He wrestled with the controls, and it was clear a soft landing wasn't going to be an option. "Hold on tight!"
The TARDIS reeled, and despite expecting it, even the Doctor was thrown to the floor. He promptly picked himself up and peered at the monitor. "There now, off you go," the Doctor murmured softly and watched as the Zelshae scattered across the plain. Rose sidled up next to him and peered at the screen. "Don't repeat history and kill the locals and you'll all get along just fine."
"What if they do, though? Kill the locals."
"Then I'll be back to slap their wrists." He met Rose's eyes. "They're beasts, megafauna. They can handle it. The Zelshae should fill a niche quite nicely here."
Rose fussed at her lip. "You don't know that they will. What if it goes wrong?
The Doctor straightened. "If the Zelshae muck it up, I'll be back for them, and they'll have to answer to me. I don't think they're eager for that to happen."
"But the damage will already be done."
He took Rose by the arms and regarded her seriously. "This is what I do, Rose. And no, I'm not perfect, but what other option is there? I do the best that I can." Rose nodded, knowing what he said was true. "We'll check on them later and go from there. Okay?"
"Yeah." She offered him a small smile, and he smiled back.
"Good! Now, let's go see Icha."
Rose moaned as the Doctor began flipping levers and pushing buttons. "Do we have to?"
"Aren't you interested to see how they're getting on without the Zelshae? Let's say... ooh, a week's time?" The Doctor pumped the helmic regulator, and Rose shrugged and cheered a bit.
"Yeah, I guess I kinda am. I just don't wanna be a slave again."
"You and me both."
The TARDIS materialised on Paurin much more softly than it had their previous destination. The Doctor stepped out into the shade of a nearby thicket of trees. He looked down at his trainers in the purple grass, remembering what it felt like under his bare feet while chasing Rose across it. While it was a bittersweet memory, he was satisfied to keep his shoes on for now.
Rose slipped out the door behind him and smiled as she recognised their location. She pointed at the stand of trees. "Is that...?"
"Yep." The Doctor smiled at her and took her hand in his. "Shall we go take a proper look?"
The Doctor and Rose strolled between the two trees at a leisurely pace, the familiar sight whispering to the Doctor that they shouldn't be there, but with no collars, the little voice held no threat. They stood in the short pink plants and gazed at the fountain around the tree roots, watched the fish, and again attempted to catch sight of the elusive bird that also favoured the small grove. The Doctor waited contentedly until Rose was ready to leave, and they walked back out into the garden, hand in hand.
Icha was stood next to the TARDIS peering anxiously at it. She smiled in relief at the sight of them, but her expression grew muted as they drew near, and the Doctor thought she seemed rather self-conscious. The Doctor and Rose stopped before her, and for a moment, none of them knew what to say.
The cat woman was dressed for outdoors. She pulled at her handbag and looked the Doctor up and down. "Hardly recognised you," she finally admitted. "It suits you."
The Doctor offered her a crooked grin. Icha had learned at some point how to maintain compliance in her pets without resorting to cruelty. She showed him she could accept change, even when it hurt and was against everything she knew. It was enough that the Doctor had come to even respect her.
"Why did you buy me?" Rose asked, breaking the silence. Both Icha and the Doctor looked to her, surprised. "You didn't want to, but you did." Rose shuffled her feet. "How come?"
Icha looked back and forth between them. "Well, I suppose..." She fidgeted a moment, but then she apparently decided time was too short to be coy. "I wanted Marwari to be happy. I couldn't bear to see him lose the one he loves, even if it meant sacrificing..." she stopped herself, and the Doctor read the rest in the look she gave him. Icha glanced away, shaking her head as if she were upset with herself. "I don't know why I cared so much for you. I wanted so much to give you what you wanted. I hated disciplining you. And I suppose..." She breathed in a cleansing breath and met his eyes again. "Giving her to you was a way of appeasing my heartbreak over my Ureg." Icha lowered her eyes, collecting herself, and gazed off into the distance. "We used to spend time here. Since he's been gone, my gardens have been a lonely place. But now," she grinned wistfully at the Doctor, "I have new memories of young love to replace them."
The Doctor decided not to correct Icha on her opinion of his age, feeling a bit self-conscious himself. He shifted his weight and sighed, nodding towards the house. "I've been meaning to ask you, what happened to all the people here? You didn't always live here alone, just the two of you, did you?"
Icha shook her head and followed his line of sight, inviting the change of subject. "We had quite a few pets, hosted lots of parties for families that worked at Zel Power. They needed more and more slaves, started accepting those less adept for the tasks, and we sold many of them to help where we could. After Ureg was killed," she paused, "I was melancholy. I didn't find joy in socialising as I once did." She smiled at the Doctor. "I was drawn to your energy."
The Doctor smiled back. "Well, the Zelshae are partly at fault for that. Everyone here should find themselves a bit peppier without their draining effect." He nodded to Icha. "You should get out more. Socialise again. Let friends help you overcome your sadness." He shook his head. "You don't need slaves."
Icha nodded readily. "The quarantine has been lifted. Anyone of any race who wants to leave Paurin is being offered free transport. Those that wish to stay are being given equal rights. People are being given wages to work at Zel Power, to help shut down what's no longer needed and convert it to what it should be. It's going to take some time, but Mr. Drewsen is already doing a fine job of teaching others about how Paurin was really founded, what we can be again." Icha opened her handbag and pulled out a book, giving the Doctor a cheeky smile. "I thought you might like this."
The Doctor looked at the book in surprise and took it, sporting a broad grin. Paurin, a History. "I would, yes!"
Icha winked at him. "You were wonderful, Doctor. I'm sorry for the sorrow we've put on both of you. I loved having you here, but you know what?" Icha's face lit up, her expression more excited and beautiful than the Doctor had ever seen. "You're even more incredible wild!"
The Doctor beamed.
"Oh, you have no idea," Rose added. The Doctor chuckled, rubbing the back of his head uncomfortably.
Icha stepped forward and gave the Doctor a hug. He returned it, daring to give her a squeeze of encouragement.
"Be brilliant. Live life to its fullest."
"I will," Icha promised into his shoulder. "For you."
The Doctor pulled back, resting his hands on her shoulders. "No. For you."
Icha faltered, then nodded. She then turned to Rose and hugged her. Rose accepted it politely, and Icha drew away, addressing them both. "Will I ever see you again?"
The Doctor put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe. Probably not."
Icha nodded somberly. "Well then, I won't wait, but I will hope."
The Doctor nodded. "Goodbye, Icha."
Without hesitation, the Doctor turned and stepped into the TARDIS, Rose following closely behind and closing the door. The Doctor bounded up to the console and tossed the book onto the captain's chair, fully intending to read it later. He circled around flipping switches, back in his element. The TARDIS groaned and whined, disappearing from Icha's sight somewhat like a phasmic creature would, but unlike the Zelshae, the ship left Paurin altogether. It left a flattened patch of grass the size of a phone box and fell into a comfortable spin through the Time Vortex.
"I'm surprised she didn't ask how we knew her language."
"Yeah." The Doctor looked up from the controls with a grimace on his face. "You think telling her I'm omni-lingual would've come off as a bit conceited?"
Rose trailed a finger along the console's edge as she sauntered towards him. "You, conceited? Nah."
The Doctor watched her, appreciating how Rose curved in all the right places. He flashed a look that made her stop in her tracks. Coming around, the Doctor crowded Rose against the console, lifting her onto its edge. He only just allowed her to gasp in a breath before besieging her mouth in a smothering kiss. The Doctor lost himself in their connection, expressing with every fervent motion how much she meant to him. Rose responded heatedly in perfect counterbalance, each of them physically testing the other.
It was clear neither wished to acquiesce, and while harboured safely within the Vortex, there was nothing to break them apart. The Doctor's immediate perception of time was fuzzy, and even though they were likely going on ten minutes, he felt perfectly content to continue just as they were. By the time Rose discordantly prodded him away, the pair of them were panting heavily, and every pull of her now sweetened scent through his nose threatened to compromise all cognitive thought.
Rose rested her forehead against his. "Doctor," she managed huskily between breaths, "There's something we need to do."
Everything about her was calling to the selfish part of him, but as he spared a moment to think, the Doctor forced his blood to a low simmer. "You're right," he agreed, his voice graveled. He pulled his head away to look into Rose's eyes. "Really though, what's a couple hours' wait in a time machine?"
He knew it was a stupid thing to say the moment he'd said it. The Doctor groaned in annoyance as Rose gave him a critical eye. He knew what she was thinking because the same thing was bothering him. Carefully, the Doctor set Rose's feet on the floor and willed his mind to task as he busied himself with setting the TARDIS on a new course. "I know, we're not finished yet. Here we go."
Rose was watching him as the TARDIS began to move with purpose. She gave him an impish grin. "You're cute when you're bothered."
The Doctor flushed. "Right, we're doing this. Then we're making use of this bigger-on-the-inside TARDIS and playing a proper game of tag." He leveled a finger at her, his tone emphatic. " And then, young lady, there's not a corner within this ship from which you can hide from me!"
The sun was setting, so it was difficult to make out the two people on the overlooking hilltop. Eli squinted. It had to be them! She couldn't get any closer to make sure, but the man was wearing a brown suit just like the one she remembered.
The distinctly feline wail of a child drew Eli's attention to the small figure running towards her.
"I fell down!" Shasa cried and pointed to her spotted knee.
"Oh, there there, come here. Let me see." Eli took the child in her lap and made a show of scrutinising Shasa's fur. "Where are you hurt?" She pointed. "Is it this spot? Or maybe this one?"
Shasa stopped crying, fighting a smile.
"Or maybe it's all the spots! Oh no, look at all the hurts you have, all over your body!"
The little girl giggled. Eli hugged her and smiled. "Your father will be home from work soon. Go play for now, and when he gets here, you can show him all your spots, okay?"
"Yes Miss Eli." Shasa hopped down and ran off.
Eli looked back up at the hill, but the two people were gone. She sighed and wondered if she would ever see them again.
"Mummy?" Eli looked down to see Getch peering up at her with excited eyes. "Is my birthday yet?"
"Almost!" Eli exclaimed. "Tomorrow, sweetie! How old will you be?" Getch grinned widely and held out his little hand. Eli held up hers to match. "That's right, five!"
Getch jumped up and down. "Then I protect you!" he announced and pointed carefully to one of the spikes on his face.
"And you'll do a wonderful job at it, too," Eli agreed and nodded behind him. "Just remember, play gently with the other children so you don't hurt them. They need your protection, too."
The little Vemenor boy puffed up his chest and turned on his heel, marching back towards his mates. Eli grinned proudly and surveyed the scene, making sure everyone was getting along.
Eli sighed happily as she watched. Getch was lucky to be alive. So was Eli, all thanks to the Doctor. According to Mr. Drewsen, everyone owed him their lives.
One of these days, she would find the courage to tell someone she had met him his first day as a slave. It was embarrassing to acknowledge the Doctor had turned down her request for a child, and Eli was quite sure no one would believe her anyway.
In a way, though, the Doctor had given her a child. Eli grinned in amusement as Getch ran across the yard, chasing a flying insect away from a group of girls. She would always remember what the Doctor did, and in his honour, Eli would pass on his love through Getch.
Wow, big day for me! This story is inspired by the infinite number of sources within my past, but I can think of a few that stand out. Tardis-mole's "Revenge" version 1, Zephyrhawk's "Behind Closed Doors, "Fayth3's "Games of the Orally Fixated" and "Koherence", .sheep's "Changes", and Spoon1899's "Connection" all hosted on the Fanfiction dot net website, and the official audiobook "The Feast of the Drowned" read by Tennant himself. Also of course we have to thank the classic Planet of the Apes. If you're curious about the fic references, I invite you to ask about them, or go read them yourself. =)
It's common to take one's freedoms for granted. I dedicate this story to Kyle, and all other members of armed forces that put their lives at risk to help keep civilized countries safe from people who challenge their freedoms. Kyle, I hope this story has helped you through some difficult months. =)