By Michael Weyer
Dollhouse owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Doctor Who owned by the BBC.
It helps if you've already read my story "Active Status" to fully understand this. In the Doctor Who timeline, takes place shortly after season four, before "The Next Doctor." All comments are welcomed.
There were some places in the universe and time stream the Doctor had long ago decided he never wanted to visit. Rangoss 5 during that nasty civil war was one. Skaro was obviously another, no matter the time period. And he never could stand being around Neirtu in the Obsidian Age.
Early 21st century Los Angeles, however, was a place he particularly always wanted to avoid.
It wasn't that he disliked the city. He'd been there a couple of times in the 1940's and '50's and liked the whole noir feel of things. But by 2009, the charm had gone by the wayside, leaving a town that left him feeling more than a bit left out. But, as happened far too often, the TARDIS seemed to have a mind of its own as it dropped him off here instead of London for Victoria's Jubilee. So the Doctor decided he might as well make the best of it.
One advantage of this time and place was that for a change, he didn't stick out. In Los Angeles, a man in a long brown coat over a suit with tennis shoes was perfectly normal if not downright banal. He was also sure no one would pay the TARDIS any heed in its place in the corner of a local park as L.A. was filled with odd sights. It freed him to enjoy the sights of a relatively cool day in the city.
The Doctor had no destination in mind but that was never a priority with him. If there was anything ten long lives had taught him, it was that simply wandering was a good way to find some excitement. He'd long ago resigned himself to the fact that a simple, quiet vacation was almost never going to happen to him. Every time he'd tried, something had come up from alien invasions to monster attacks to living mannequins. It wasn't his fault, it was just the universe's way of action around him.
So he was thus not at all surprised when the dark-haired woman in a gorgeous red dress came crashing through the window of a shop and landed on the street right in front of him.
She rolled to her feet, glass flying off her outfit and her long lush black hair. She was rather attractive with dark eyes and her body was a mix of athletic style and nice curves, the dress enhancing her generous bosom. She was backing up staring at the window as she bumped into the Doctor. She whirled around, her fists raised in a defensive posture. The Doctor responded with his standard smile. "Hello, there. Bad service?"
The woman looked back to see a pair of men in suits coming at her with guns in their hands. At the sight of them, the Doctor let out a tired sigh, realizing once again his vacation plans were being put on hold. He glanced at the woman who was getting back to her feet. "I suppose it's too much to ask for a clear answer up front as to what this is about?"
The woman didn't reply but shoved him aside as she moved toward the two suited men. Her leg lashed out to kick one in the chest and knock him back. Spinning, she kicked the gun out of the other's hand and came around to punch him in the face. She turned back to see the Doctor standing there with a smile on his face. "Very nice form. You Americans always have a knack for adding art to violence."
She glared at him before turning to start running down the street. The Doctor saw another man coming out of the building, a gun aimed at him. "Oh, dear," he muttered before turning to race after the woman. Gunshots were echoing as they turned into an alleyway. The woman was holding a hand to her ear and hissing in a strong voice. "I really, really need a pickup here!"
She came up to a metal door of a warehouse, tugging on it to find it locked. "Allow me," the Doctor said as he stepped forward, his sonic screwdriver in hand. He pointed it, allowing its energies to undo the lock. He turned the handle and swept his arm out into the warehouse. "After you."
The woman gave him only a cursory glance before heading inside. The Doctor followed, locking the door behind them as he went after her. "I take it this is a serious thing?" he politely asked.
She turned to face him, her hands on her hips. "I'm sorry, who are you?"
"Oh, I'm the Doctor. And you?"
She held a hand up to her ear again, listening. "Got it." She turned to look around the area. It was more of a garage area with a pair of vans nearby and various shipping materials about. The woman raced toward one of the vans, opening the door. "No keys. Okay." She closed her eyes and took a breath. The Doctor could see fluttering behind her lids before she opened them. She reached inside, stripping off the protection under the wheel to expose the wiring. In seconds, she had managed to spark two wires together to start the car up. She got into the driver's seat before turning to the Doctor. "Thanks for the help but this is where we part ways."
The Doctor knew he really, really should not be listening to that annoying little voice in his head. It had gotten him into trouble more times than he cared to count over the years. But that damnable curiosity that retained over each regeneration was too much for him to pass up on. "Actually, I think I should come with." He reached into his coat and flashed his always-handy piece of psychic paper at her.
She blinked at it as her mind processed the paper's unique qualities. "Oh…Um, wow, didn't expect one of you guys here." She paused and then opened the passenger door. "Well, okay, come on in. I'm sure Adelle will want to be talking to you."
"Thank you," the Doctor said as he got into the van, curious as to who this Adelle was. He watched as the dark-haired girl set the van into drive and raced it toward the far end door. "Ah, the door's closed," the Doctor pointed out.
"I know it," the woman replied. "Hang on."
"Oh, dear," the Doctor muttered as he gripped the seat tightly. The girl pressed down hard on the accelerator to send the van racing forward, smashing through the metal doors with a screech of metal on metal, sparks flying as it exploded out into the street. The Doctor gasped as the woman pulled into traffic and raced down the streets of Los Angeles. The Doctor swallowed as they drove along, realizing just how much he rather missed England right about now.
The trickiest part of using psychic paper was going along with whatever cover it gave you with people without letting on you had no idea what was happening. For a man who had a tendency to stand out wherever he went, the Doctor was able to blend in rather well, managing to roll with what came his way. He was doing so as the van pulled up in an underground garage and he stepped out.
A tall, black-skinned man in a suit was exiting the elevator, frowning. "You're late, Echo," he stated.
"Things went haywire," the brunette woman stated. "But did pick up a big Rossum big-wig."
"Hello," the Doctor smiled as he flashed his psychic paper at the man. He blinked and straightened. "Oh. I see. Well, sir, we'll be more than willing to give you the full tour of the Dollhouse."
"Dollhouse? Oh, yes, the Dollhouse." The Doctor smiled. "Yes, well, that's why I'm here. Lead the way, my good man."
"My name is Boyd."
"Boyd, good name, good man." The Doctor followed as they entered a nearby elevator and began to ride up. He whistled along to the soft tune playing in the elevator as he glanced between the woman named Echo and the man named Boyd. "So…how are things at the…Dollhouse?"
"We've been handling the new methods rather well," Boyd said in a confident voice. "It was tricky making it work at first but Topher believes he's been able to replicate the success with Echo well."
"That's good to hear," the Doctor nodded, giving no indication he didn't have any idea what the man was talking about. The elevator opened into a quite spacious open room. It was done in mostly wood with various windows around showing side rooms of various types. There appeared to be a cafeteria, a massage parlor and a place for arts and crafts. The people around were a mix of men and women in suits like Boyd and people Echo's age. The latter were dressed in loose sweatpants and shirts as they mingled about in various tasks. It took only moments for the Doctor to see that these people appeared rather distracted, wandering about with open eyes and blank faces.
One young woman came by and smiled. "Hello, Echo," she said in a light voice devoid of any real emotion. "It's time for my treatment."
Echo made a small smile. "I'm sure it won't be long before you don't need those regularly."
"But I like them," the woman said, confused. "Don't you?"
Echo sighed as she headed toward a side room. "I need to shower. I'll see you for a debrief in a bit."
Boyd nodded as she went and then motioned to the stairs. "Up here, sir." The Doctor followed, his face getting a bit more sober as he took in the area. He followed Boyd to a room overseeing the large area. Inside, a lanky young man with blonde hair in a sweater and jeans was going over a large wall of computers. The room was dominated by a reclining chair where another young man lay, his eyes shut. The head of the chair was an electronic apparatus that formed a halo around the man's head that was flashing blue as the Doctor entered.
The chair began to move up as the man in it blinked his eyes. "Did I fall asleep?" he asked, his voice carrying the same monotone as the people downstairs.
"Yes, you did," the blonde man said. The man rose from the chair, nodding as he headed out the door. The Doctor watched him go with a frown before glancing at the chair. His eyes took in its design and then flickered to the computers on the walls. "So…what exactly is it you do here?"
Boyd entered the office at the top to see the familiar female form looking out the window at the cityscape of Los Angeles. "Echo's back."
"And not alone," Adelle DeWitt stated in her clipped British accent as she turned to face him. "Just who is this new arrival?"
"A VP of Rossum, Special Development," Boyd said.
Adelle frowned. "I was unaware we had any such guests coming. And Rossum doesn't make moves I don't know about regarding this House."
"That's what his ID said," Boyd told her. "He must be someone important, doesn't even give a real name. Just tells us to call him the Doctor."
Adelle was reaching for a pen on her desk but froze. She looked up at Boyd with a disbelieving expression. "The…Doctor?"
He nodded. "Yes."
Adelle walked toward the bank of monitors and focused on the one showing the lab. She took a long look at the man pacing the area, at the way he moved and took everything in…and a smile came to her face. "Well, well….Auld acquaintance has not been forgot."
"Ma'am?" Boyd asked in confusion.
Adelle turned to him, a small smile on her face. "Bring him here at once, Mr. Langton." She headed over to her desk. "I think this requires a special conversation."
He frowned but felt no need to argue as he turned to walk out. Adelle faced the monitor again and her smile broadened. "Ah, Doctor…This is a fine treat."
"So, we've really been improving the wiping procedure," the young man named Topher was saying in an excited tone, his hands moving about quickly as he spoke. "I mean, way I see it, we can increase not just the power but also the signal input so we may actually be able to imprint two personas at once. You know how amazing that can be? Shifting the mind so they can go from one engagement to another, no having to come into the House at all?" He laughed, not seeming to notice the somber look on the Doctor's face.
"You're planning to rewrite minds at an easier pace?" the Doctor asked.
"Well, yeah," Topher said with a nervous laugh. "Kind of our reason du jour here, you know? Giving our clients what they want?"
"And the…Dolls have no say in it?"
Topher shrugged. "They signed the contracts, remember?"
The Doctor fixed Topher with a glare that made the man step back. "I'm really taking a dislike to you. I feel it's important you know that."
Boyd appeared in the doorway. "Doctor?" He turned to face the black man. "Ms. DeWitt wants to see you."
"And I do believe I want to see her," the Doctor said as he followed Boyd out. He threw a glance over his shoulder at Topher, who shivered a bit, unsure why this man made him so ill at ease.
Adelle was facing away once more as the Doctor entered with Boyd. The Doctor looked around to take in the office, nodding. "Very nice. I see manipulating people's minds pays quite well for oneself."
"Still so judgmental," Adelle smiled as she turned around. The Doctor felt a bizarre feeling come over him as he took her in. He'd never seen her before, never met her…and yet he couldn't shake the feeling he knew her quite well. The way she gazed over him with a clinical eye was bizarrely familiar as was the smile on her face.
"Thank you, Mr. Langton, you may leave us now." The man frowned but nonetheless complied. Adelle leaned back on her desk as she waited for the door to close, looking over the Doctor carefully. "Hello, Doctor. It's been quite a long time."
"I'm sorry, have we met?" he asked, frowning. "I'm bad with faces…"
She giggled. "Having seen a few of your past regenerations, I can attest to that." She smiled more at the Doctor's look of confusion. "Go on, Doctor….I can wait."
He studied her, that cool arrogance, the way she held herself so strong and proud. He listened to her clipped tones and then looked at her eyes, at how they took in everything and gave nothing back, at how cool and efficient they were, at how the mind behind them…
And he knew.
His eyes widened and his jaw fell open as he stared at her. "Rani?"
She let out a small laugh and nodded. "You always get there in the end, Doctor."
He shook his head as he tried to recover. "How..I thought you were dead."
"Not for the first time, I'm sure," the Rani replied. She looked him over and shook her head. "I do think this new face is an improvement but that's not saying much. At least the hair is a lot better and I never understood that patchwork quilt of a suit you wore."
The Doctor just stared at her in wonder, a goofy smile actually on his face. "Rani…I can't believe it. You're still alive."
"I believe we had established that, Doctor." She crossed her arms as she studied him. "So…what do I owe the honor of this visit? Just passing by or on another errand for the Council?"
The smile faded from the Doctor's face. "You…You don't know."
The Rani frowned. "Know what?"
The Doctor's face grew somber. "They're gone, Rani. The Council, the Time Lords, Gallifrey...They're all gone."
"Gone?" The Rani became confused. "What do you mean, gone? How can Gallifrey be gone?"
"A Time War," the Doctor answered in a flat tone. "With the Daleks. It…burned away." His memories were filled with the horror, the screams, that horrible final choice…
The Rani stared at him in disbelief, obviously not able to believe what he was saying. She stared at the Doctor's eyes, looking for any sign of deception. At his strong and steady gaze mixed with pain, she shook her head. "I…I didn't know."
She turned to walk to a nearby cabinet, opening it and removing a bottle of brandy. She quickly poured it into a glass and took a long sip, downing half of the glass in one gulp. She poured again before turning to face the Doctor. "And…what about the Time Lords? The rest of us?"
The Doctor pointed at her and then himself before letting his arm drop. The Rani stared at him. "That….that's it? The most advanced race the universe has ever known and…no one else survived?"
"Just you and me." The Doctor paused and shrugged. "Well, and the Master."
The Rani rolled her eyes. "Of course. He always was the most remarkable survivor."
The Doctor looked down. "Not anymore." He could feel the Rani's frown. "He was Harold Saxon."
The Rani sipped at her drink as she sat heavily into the chair behind her desk. "I didn't know…I never imagined…"
The Doctor carefully walked forward to take the chair on the other side of the desk. "What happened to you?" he softly asked.
The Rani twirled the liquid in her glass, staring into it. "I ran into a…spot of trouble on Rangoss 5," she began.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess. One of your pet projects backfired on you?"
"They never backfire," the Rani snapped before controlling herself. "There was just a…difficulty with the local populace. They didn't take to my work as well as I had anticipated."
"Yes, odd how people can take inhumane and invasive treatments poorly," the Doctor dryly said.
The Rani shot him one of those icy glares that remained the same no matter what face she had. "I had to leave quickly but my TARDIS was damaged too badly and I was forced to land here about a decade ago. I knew the populace had some off-world connections, enough to have someone hunt me down. So, I created a new identity for myself, impeccable credentials…"
"And then used the Chameleon Arch to become human," the Doctor finished.
"Which had to be undone a few weeks ago after an…incident here."
The Doctor glanced about. "I must be getting slow…"
"Mind manipulation, twisting people about, the creation of all new personalities?" He shook his head. "This had you written all over it."
The Rani threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, Doctor. All this time and you still haven't lost that faith in these Earthlings." She supped her drink again. "I hate to ruin your disillusions….actually, no, I don't…But this Dollhouse was set up long before I came along."
"Dollhouse?" the Doctor asked. "An interesting name."
"I didn't choose it," the Rani shrugged. "Basically, the rich and powerful hire an active for any engagement they want. Hostage negotiator, mid-wife, research assistant…And more…personal needs."
The Doctor narrowed his eyes. "You never struck me as one for catering to others, Rani."
"Adelle DeWitt was," the Rani returned. "She's gone now. Now, I'm attempting to control the genie that's been let out of the bottle." She put her glass down. "I don't think I have to tell you what the ultimate end of this technology will be, Doctor."
He nodded, his mind already working on the probabilities. "That Topher is working on a way to wipe out minds from a distance…It's only a step and a jump to be able to wipe out the minds of an entire city from a distance with just a few phone calls."
The Rani nodded back. "By my calculations, left unchecked, this system would lead to the utter downfall of human society within twenty years, perhaps less."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Since when did you care about society?"
"I've never been a true fan of chaos, Doctor," the Rani explained. "Especially seeing as how I'm stuck on this world for the foreseeable future, I might as well make sure it runs well."
The Doctor smiled. "Taking on control? Sounds more like the Master than you."
The Rani looked downward. "If what you say is true, Doctor…then perhaps we shouldn't be held back by our pasts anymore."
He mused over that as he sat back. "So…what happens now?"
"That is the question," the Rani said as she also sat back in her chair, studying him. "I really had no idea I'd be playing host to you, Doctor. Quite frankly, I'm not used to holding prisoners."
The Doctor seemed calm. "Perhaps add me to your doll collection?"
"The thought had crossed my mind," The Rani confessed. "But we both know a Time Lord's mind may not react the same to the process." She placed her glass on the desk. "And if we truly are the last ones…Well, the idea of wiping out the only other Time Lord isn't exactly appealing to me."
She reached forward to press a button on her desk. The door opened to let a man in a suit in, his dark hair cut close to his scalp as she glanced at the Doctor. "Mr. Ballard," the Rani said, her voice shifting to a slightly cooler tone. "Doctor…Smith here will be a guest for the next few days. Make sure he's settled in comfortably…But under no circumstances is he to be allowed access without an escort."
"Understood," Ballard stated. The Doctor stood up and looked to the Rani. "For what it's worth," he began, his face impassive. "I'm sorry."
She looked down at the desk. "Apologies are a waste, Doctor. It's far too late for that."
"If there's one thing we should both know by now….It's never quite too late for us." The Doctor turned to follow Ballard. The doors shut as the Rani slowly turned her chair around to look out the windows. She stared out but it wasn't the skyline of Los Angeles she saw in her mind. It was the towers of that grand city…the plains…the oceans…The world she had so long dismissed and the people she had considered beneath her were all long gone….
And for the first time in years, the Rani felt pains of loss tearing at her two hearts.
"So, you're sure we're set?"
"We have to be. She's making moves on the entire corporation, trying to take over. If we want to maintain control over the Dollhouses and the company's plans, we have to move now."
"All right. The squads will be there tomorrow morning. Be sure to pave the way for them."
"I formed this company. Trust me, I know how to handle things." Boyd Langton shut off his cell phone as he glanced at the office above. He let a smile come to his lips as he considered how by this time tomorrow, Adelle DeWitt and her plans would be only a distant memory.
Might have more if enough interest is given. All comments welcomed.