By Michael Weyer
I know the initial reaction to this wasn't huge but I felt like adding another chapter on at least to see if there's more interest. All comments welcomed.
"Easy…easy…that's it…" The Doctor made motions with his hands to the trio of men carrying the very large box into the lab. "There we go, set her down gently…"
Topher was entering the lab but stopped and stared in disbelief at the huge blue box being carted into the corner by the men. "What the hell?" he blurted. "What…what is…" He waved his hand at the TARDIS in the corner. "Why are you putting a giant phone booth in here?"
"I needed somewhere to put it," the Doctor said as if it was normal. "Hope you don't mind, but it seems to fit in well in a lab."
Topher looked around the generally clean laboratory with its tan carpets and walls and back to the Doctor. "Really."
"What is going…" The Rani stopped as she entered, staring at the box before rolling her eyes. "You still haven't fixed the Chameleon Circuit?"
"I like it like this," the Doctor said in defense. "A lot easier to find. Haven't you ever had a problem figuring which tree or column was yours?" The Rani had to give a conceding nod as the Doctor checked the TARDIS over. She was wearing a looser outfit than usual, a business skirt that showed off some leg with high heels and a dark blouse with jacket but still showed her inner strength. "The old girl still has a lot of life left in her."
"Oh, please, not the 'it's really alive' theory again!" the Rani scoffed. "I've never understood your need to assign intellect to these things."
"You never had a touch of sentimentality in you."
"I never wasted time with it," the Rani snapped. "And why is it even here? You honestly believe I'm going to let you leave now?"
"Leave?" the Doctor frowned at her. "Why would I want that? Things are just getting interesting around here. You know I can't resist studying what you do."
Topher glanced from one to the other. "Um…was there something going on between you two?"
The Rani fixed him with an icy gaze. "Do not make me have to kill you." She sighed. "Fine, it can stay in here but believe me, I'm having it watched in case you decide to go jaunting about.."
"No worries on that just yet," The Doctor said. "So, what are you up to now, Rani?"
"Ms. DeWitt when we're here, Doctor," she snapped at him. "As for what I am doing, I am arranging a meeting of the various House heads, in order to set up the new guidelines."
"You still haven't gotten all the Rossum heads?" Topher frowned.
"Rome wasn't burned in a day, Mr. Brink," the Rani answered. "Getting to each Rossum leader is a bit more complicated than I had expected." She pursued her lips. "I remember now why I detest bureaucracies."
The Doctor nonchalantly ran a finger over one computer monitor as he studied the readouts on a screen. "Have you ever given any thought to what happens to these…Actives when you're done playing around, Rani?"
"They signed the contracts, Doctor," the Rani remarked. "They knew what they were getting into."
"I somehow doubt they understood the full extent of it," the Doctor coolly said. "Half of the female Actives are being forced into situations where they honestly believe they're in love with clients and have no idea they're being used." He shook his head. "I knew you had little scruples, Rani, but this is still pushing it hard."
The Rani simply looked away. "This system was in place long before I arrived, Doctor. Nothing I do would change it."
The Doctor kept staring at her. "All this time, Rani," he softly said. "All you've been through and you still can't see these humans as anything more than lab rats?"
"Please, Doctor," she sniffed. "These people have been killing themselves for centuries. They don't give each other consideration, why should I?"
"They're not animals, Rani. There's a spirit in them, a nobility, a strength that will span the stars…"
"And nearly end them a dozen times over," the Rani snapped. "You always see them in their best, Doctor, never their true nature."
"And you never let yourself see them as anything other than animals," he retorted.
Her eyes narrowed angrily as she leaned in. "Are you going to start lecturing me, Doctor? Because I hardly feel I'm alone when it comes to horrific actions." At his frown, she sniffed. "Come now. Did you really believe I wouldn't figure it out? The only way you could survive when everyone else died is if you had been the one to set it off."
The Doctor's face fell. "I didn't have a choice," he half-whispered.
"Is that what makes you feel better at night?"
"You know what?" Topher spoke up, raising his hands. "I'm gonna…leave right now and….just leave." He slowly backed out of the room as he moved away. He let the door shut behind him, leaving the Doctor and the Rani staring at each other. The Doctor's face slowly fell as he let out a sigh. "What are we doing?"
The Rani frowned as he went on. "It's just us, Rani. We're the only ones left and here we are bringing up old wounds."
The Rani turned away. "I don't wish to discuss this."
"You can't tell me you don't feel anything, Rani," the Doctor said. "Despite all your disdain for our fellow Time Lords, you must have something in you when you heard. Even the Master was affected."
The Rani seemed interested in a nearby data readout. "He let emotions govern him far too often. That's one thing you two always had in common." She shook her head. "Honestly, I could never understand how you let a childish rivalry get to such a ridiculous degree."
The Doctor just stared at her somberly. "You used to be happier. I remember you actually smiling back in school."
"We were children, Doctor," the Rani said, her back to him. "We all grew up. At least some of us did."
"I suppose," the Doctor mused. He frowned as he looked at her. "I've already figured that we are in the same timeframe and all. That is, this isn't a past incarnation of yours. But I do have to ask, how many are you up to?"
The Rani made a small smile of actual amusement. "Really, Doctor. You know a Time Lady never tells the number of regenerations she's had."
The Doctor sighed. "It's a different time, Rani. A new universe, new possibilities. You don't have to keep on the old path."
She turned to him with a soft smirk. "Always the kind heart, Doctor. I wager you even offered a refuge to the Master."
"I did, as a matter of fact," he replied as he leaned on a table. "I didn't feel it right to let him pay too harshly. But…he let himself die." His face was downcast as he remembered the moment all too well.
The Rani turned to him, frowning. "Really? That doesn't sound like him at all."
The Doctor shrugged. "Apparently, he decided it was better to cheat me out of victory, leave me all alone."
"Still…" the Rani mused. "Just giving up and dying? The man did everything possible to keep living. Are you sure he's dead?"
"I burned his body."
"With him, that rarely means much," the Rani pointed out. "I'd double-check if I were you."
"Maybe another time," the Doctor shrugged as he turned to a console. "Seeing as how I'm here for the near future, I might as well try to soften some of the moves you'll be making."
The Rani scoffed. "Always trying to put the genie back into the bottle, Doctor. This technology was around a long while before I came along, it won't be going away." She turned to head toward the door. "I'll be in my office. Do try not to make too large a mess around here if you can avoid it."
"You make it sound like it's always my fault things happen to me."
"One way or another, it often is," the Rani said as she exited. The Doctor pursed his lips before nodding in agreement.
For centuries, the Rani had taught herself to always keep her emotions in tight control. Personal feelings far too often got in the way of the vital work she needed to complete. True, she'd had a few shifts now and then (her fourth regeneration was a period she much preferred to ignore if she could) but she did her best to maintain that cool control. She certainly wasn't going to show any weakness before her underlings. Yet, the Rani had always tried to be honest with herself (if no one else) and knew the Doctor's words had gotten to her. As much as she had turned her back on Gallifrey, she was still a Time Lord, renegade or not. To find out that she and the Doctor were the only ones left did hurt her. To be an outcast was one thing but to be one of the few survivors was an altogether different animal.
She tried to brush that aside as she entered her office. The past was the past, even a time traveler had to adhere to rules on that. She had the future to consider, a future of quite a few challenges, represented by the man waiting for her in the office. "We've had some difficulties with the Paris House," Boyd Langton stated in his usual cool manner. "Two more unauthorized contracts taken in the last week."
The Rani pursed her lips. "I told Topher he needed to work better on the translation for the signals. Wiping minds is easy enough but sending the new commands makes no sense when they can't understand them." She moved to her desk. "Make sure they understand the consequences of such unwanted actions."
Langton seemed to study her. "What about this Doctor person? Why give him free rein?"
"I have my reasons, Mr. Langton," the Rani replied. "Anything else?"
"Some new contracts recently composed," Langton said. "I put them on your desk."
The Rani turned to the papers. "I really should look into getting my own assistant. I have far too much on my plate to bother with such minor matters. I wonder if we can imprint someone to-"
When she would have the time, the Rani would reflect on the irony of what happened. Had this occurred a few weeks earlier, when she was still Adelle DeWitt, she would have been easy prey. But the sense of danger instilled in her by a few lifetimes of risk blared out, telling her it was time to move. As such, she was able to whirl around, avoiding the whisp of air indicating something was being fired by her neck. The Rani barely noted the dart buried into the leather seat behind her desk. She was already moving fast, reaching for a bottle on her desk.
Langton was jarred at the speed the woman showed. He had expected to be able to tranq her with no problem, he certainly didn't believe she'd be able to dodge that. That surprise was enough of a distraction for Adelle to hurl the bottle of brandy off her desk right at him. It struck the gun in his hands, knocking him back as she moved quickly to slam her hand on a button.
However, it was her turn to be jarred as the loud blaring alarm that should have been activated failed to register. "I already disconnected it," Langton said as he raised his regular pistol, aimed right at her head. "I'd prefer if you didn't make this messy, Adelle. I'd rather hate to mess up that pretty body with a bullet in a joint."
The Rani froze, her eyes focused on him, her mind whirling quickly to figure out her options. "I'm to assume, Mr. Langton, that a coup is in effect?"
He smiled darkly. "Actually, Adelle…it's more taking back what was originally mine." He moved toward the desk, his gun never leaving her as he pressed some buttons on the console built into it. The Rani felt herself glancing toward the nearby wall of monitors as a quartet of vans made their way into the parking garage. They disgorged a pack of men, most in black jumpsuits, some in regular business suits, all packing firepower. "If you truly value the lives of the people here, I'd suggest you order them to stand down now," Langton stated, his voice still cool and firm. "Otherwise, their blood is on your hands."
He couldn't help but feel a bit thrown when she simply smiled at him. "Mr. Langton…They wouldn't even be a blemish."
The Doctor was making his way down one of the hallways of the main room when he heard the sounds of gunfire echoing down the hallway. "Oh, drat," he muttered under his breath. "I knew things had been too quiet for too long." His hand dived into his coat pocket to grasp his sonic screwdriver as he began to move toward the stairs. He was bounding up to the second flight of them when the lower level doors burst open and a pack of black-suited men with automatic weapons stormed in. One fired a blast at the ceiling and it took the Doctor a moment to realize it was more than just a scare tactic.
In normal circumstances, with normal people, the sound of gunfire caused instant screams and panic. In a building of Actives, men and women whose minds had basically been placed into a childlike state, the effect was far more dramatic. To many, gunshots were a completely foreign concept, like thunder taken to the tenth level. Thus, reacting to their basic instincts, they fell to the ground, holding hands over their ears, some crying out but too terrified to move. The regular workers weren't that much better, diving for cover or frozen in place. A few suited people went for weapons but the gunmen, with no hesitation, opened fire, killing three handlers instantly. The Doctor could see two ducking behind a couch to exchange fire but the odds were definitely against them.
As one who had been in situations like this far more often than he cared to remember, the Doctor decided to listen to his own instincts as he raced up the stairway toward the lab. One of the men below saw him and fired a stretch of bullets that raked the wall right before the Doctor. He froze and looked down with annoyance. "Oi! That was original hand-carved Mandali there! You just don't shoot that up!"
The gunman seemed surprised at the rather blasé reaction to his attack. Another volley of gunfire erupted but this came from the landing before the Doctor. The gunman went down as the Doctor turned to see the handsome man named Paul Ballard firing his pistol at the men below. Next to him was Echo, her face set as she opened up with a sub-machine gun of her own. The Doctor noted that while Ballard had no qualms aiming at the men below, Echo seemed more interested in scaring them back rather than hitting anyone.
He moved to where they were, making a smile. "I rather hope this bloodshed isn't a common occurrence around here."
"You know what the hell is going on?" Ballard demanded.
"Nope. As per usual, I'm just the random bystander in these things." He peered over the stairway as he saw the gunmen start to move down the stairs. The Doctor's eyes trailed over to the side of the staircase where it was bolted into the wall. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver, aiming it at the bolts and activated it. The whine rang out as the bolts began to spin at high speeds, pulling themselves out of the wall. Just as the gunmen started to reach that section, the staircase gave way under them, causing a loud ruckus as it smashed to the floor with a few of the black-suited men falling on it.
Echo and Ballard stared at him in surprise as he let out a laugh. "You know, all these years, first time I've ever really unscrewed something with this thing!" He rose to his feet and ran toward the laboratory. Exchanging a baffled look, Echo and Ballard quickly followed him. Echo slammed the doors shut behind them and threw the lock before pulling a large table across it. "That won't hold them for long once they get up here," Ballard noted as he reloaded his gun.
Echo moved to a console, tapping her fingers across the keys. She cursed as she saw the screen going blank. "They've already locked the system up!"
"Ten to one, Topher's either dead or they have him," Ballard said. He turned to see the Doctor using his key to open up the TARDIS. "What are you doing? There's no way we can hide in that!"
"Oh, not hiding, dear boy," the Doctor replied as he opened the door. He turned to them and waved a hand in. "Come on then, alons-y already!"
Ballard and Echo once more exchanged baffled glances. Echo heard the storm of boots coming down the halls and looked over her shoulder to see a trio of black-suited men coming toward the lab. One was already firing his gun, the bullet-resistant glass shaking under the high-caliber rounds. "Shit," Echo hissed as she backed toward the TARDIS. Seeing few other options, Ballard decided to follow her inside.
The Doctor was already at the console, throwing switches to shut the door and activate the force field around it. He adjusted a knob to make sure the TARDIS was stationary for the moment. Right now, they just needed protection, not escape. He moved toward a nearby console to start pushing on a few buttons. "I don't suppose either of you have the frequency for the main communications lines for your House?"
Ballard and Echo were frozen in place, both staring with open mouths at the interior of the TARDIS. "How…what the hell…" Echo breathed while Ballard simply waved a hand around as if trying to make sure this massive space was really inside the small box. "What is this?" Echo finally demanded.
"No time for small talk," the Doctor said as he activated a scanner, watching a series of lines swing about. "I've got bigger fries to fish for!"
Echo slowly walked up the rampway to the main console, her eyes taking everything in. "What the hell is this?"
"My ship," the Doctor stated. "I'd love to chat about my personal life a lot more but we do have more pressing matters at hand." His hand froze as he slowly looked up.
"What?" Echo frowned at him. "What is it?"
"Me rescuing the Rani," the Doctor mused before chuckling. "Oh, this will drive her mad for centuries." He grinned. "All the more reason to do it."
Boyd Langton couldn't help but feel a bit nervous.
He shouldn't have. He had the Dollhouse completely secured with a minimum of bloodshed. The security forces had been defeated, the systems in lockdown and all the Actives rounded up and locked in their pods. He was in total control as he stood in the main office with a dozen men around him, all heavily armed.
And yet, Langton couldn't help but feel some nervousness due to the fact that Adelle DeWitt was showing absolutely no signs of being intimidated. She sat calmly in a chair, legs crossed, her wrists handcuffed to the chair but still making it look like a throne. Her face was utterly clam and almost seemed bemused at the circumstances around her. Langton had to remind himself that he the one in charge now. He just had to prove it to her.
"You had a good run, Adelle," he stated. "But you had to know this was going to happen in the end."
"Actually, I had a completely different idea of the end in mind," the Rani replied in a nonchalant tone. "I do have to congratulate you, Mr. Langton. I haven't been genuinely caught off-guard in quite a long time. I had almost thought surprises were beyond me but you proved me wrong."
"Happy to oblige," Langton smiled. He looked over as the doors opened and two men dragged Topher into the room. The young man had a split lip and a bruise growing under one eye as she was shoved into a chair next to the Rani. "Watch the arm!" he snapped, rubbing it. His eyes widened as he saw Langton in the middle of the group. "Boyd? What the hell, man?"
"While I would not put it anywhere near as in concise, I must agree with Topher's question," the Rani stated. "Just what is your course of action here, Mr. Langton? And, more importantly, exactly how are you capable of independent decision making?"
"You mean after you wiped my mind to follow your orders?" Langton smiled. "It was a good attempt, Adelle. Far more daring than I gave you credit for. But sadly for you, my periodic backups allowed me to have my mind restored and protected from more of your meddling."
Topher frowned. "Hold up. Since when do you have backup memory files? You're not an Active!"
Langton's smile grew. "Why shouldn't I have them, Topher? After all…I formed Rossum. I certainly should have taken part in the technology I helped create."
Topher stared in total shock, his jaw open. "Wow. I did not see that one coming."
The Rani simply raised an eyebrow, all the surprise she was willing to show at the moment. "All this time, you've been hiding as one of your own employees? You pretend to be an underling, pretend to allow me to boss you around, all so you can watch your power and influence spread and discover the true potential of the Actives?"
"Angry?" Langton asked.
"On the contrary, Mr. Langton, or whatever your name is, my respect for you suddenly knows no bounds."
Langton bowed his head before his expression hardened. "I wish it hadn't come to this, Adelle. I really do. But you've been out of control for far too long. While I deeply appreciate the new method of wiping minds, it's time to rein you in." He smiled but it was without mirth. "I'll give you a chance, more than you deserve. Give me the specs on the new tech and you'll be allowed to live."
"In the Attic, no doubt," the Rani said. "Sorry, Mr. Langton but I can't give it to you."
Langton sighted as he pulled his gun out from under his jacket. He placed it right to Topher's head and cocked the hammer back. The man let out a gasp and started to shake in his chair as Langton glared at the Rani. "Give it or his brains stain this rather lovely carpet of yours."
The Rani stared right back. "Do it."
"Excuse me?" Topher squeaked.
"Do it," the Rani repeated, ignoring him. "Kill him, kill a dozen, a hundred, it doesn't matter. I don't concede defeat, Mr. Langton and I don't give up my work. So it doesn't matter to me what you do, my methods are mine alone."
Langton blinked as he stared in her eyes and saw nothing but cool determination there. He realized this was no bluff or trick, she was truly serious about this. Topher's eyes were closed as he appeared to be having trouble holding back tears. "I'll give you until the count of five, Adelle…"
"Five," she stated. Her eyebrow went up. "Or was that too high a number for you?"
Before Langton could reply, a loud screeching sound came over the room. Everyone turned to see the monitors nearby switch to a blank screen one-by-one. Everyone was confused except for the Rani, whose lips began tugging upward. "What's going on?" Langton demanded.
A suited technician checked over the monitors. "It's some sort of outside signal…Very powerful."
"Where is it coming from?" Langton demanded.
"I believe it's far more important who it's coming from."
Langton turned to face her. The Rani's face was still impassive but her eyes suddenly seemed to gleam with a new energy. Langton frowned before glancing to one of his men. "Did you see someone called Doctor Smith in the ranks of the captives?" At the frowns around him, Langton sighed and looked to Adelle. "You're telling me that's your friend out there."
"I wouldn't go so far as to call us friends," the Rani replied. "But I do know him. And it's because of that, I'm giving you a chance to surrender right now."
It was Langton's turn to raise a disbelieving eyebrow. "Oh, really? In case you haven't noticed, Adelle, he's heavily outnumbered."
"That doesn't matter," the Rani brushed aside. "What matters is that you have this chance, Mr. Langton. This one chance and that's all you get." Her eyes narrowed and her voice became low and sharp. "Because any moment now, he is going to say four words. And in my long experience with him, Mr. Langton, when he says those four words, that's it. You're done. You're over. There is no hope left for you. When he says those four words, it doesn't matter how many guns or how many men or how much power you have, they are nothing against those four words. Those four words have defeated armies. They have destroyed the most monstrous dictators. They have brought down governments. They have transformed societies. They have set fire to planets and have chilled stars. There are entire civilizations that no longer exist because they have heard those four words. That's why you should take this one chance given to you, Mr. Langton because if you don't, you will hear him say those four words and at that point, you will have crossed the line of no return. Because when he says those four words, there is no force in all the heavens and all the earths that can possibly save you."
Langton had to stare at her speech. The buzzing cut through once more and everyone turned to see the screens come alive with the image of a man, his smiling, friendly face filling every screen as he made a short wave and spoke.
"Hello. I'm the Doctor."
The Rani smiled. "Too late."
Thanks for all patient for an update here. Hopefully, if I get more of a reaction, I can have it up a bit quicker. All comments welcomed.