A/N: So, this is a little piece of work that fits directly into my story, Splintering, in between chapters 12 and 13, and it is written for the interested Questfan who admitted to being curious and wanting to know more. Although this tale is separate because it is a story in and of itself, it will not make a whole lot of sense unless Patchwork and the first twelve chapters of Splintering are read first. That said, this is a crossover with Doctor Who, set prior to Deliver Us from Evil for the Evil Leaper Project and post Blink for the Doctor.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, and I make no money from this work of fiction!
The Doctor set the time circuits and entered the spatial coordinates, dashing round and round the console as he readied himself for take-off, hitting buttons and twisting dials and flicking switches as necessary—and some that he wasn't entirely sure really were necessary, anymore, but that he used anyway, just for good measure—before pulling the one lever to set it all into action. He grinned as the time rotor started, gripping the controls for an instant more before racing around to check on something else. Shields—check. Safety feature 1021—appropriately disabled. Where was the fun in discovering another world or another time if you were automatically scheduled to land on a Sunday? Or at least whatever the planet's equivalent of a Sunday was. That was the only thing he could ever say against the old Type 40s, really. He could've said a thing or two to the designers who, in their infinite wisdom, had thought that that was appropriate. Nonsensical, really. But everything else seemed to be right on.
Except for the chronon stabilization loop fixture. Thing kept slipping on him, and no amount of hammering would make it stay. Still, one good bang now and then did help. Well, there was that and the chameleon circuit, but he was fond of her shape now. Well, that, and one of the times he'd tried to fix it, with the way events had built up, he'd ended up regenerating. But even if it made for a rougher flight, getting out of here was tricky anyway. Getting out of a pocket was always tricky. But, well, he enjoyed a challenge. Relished one, in fact.
One of the lights caught his eye. He watched the flickering sequence, grinned, and acted accordingly. The TARDIS lurched to one side, and he spun around the console to check the stabilizers. Still functioning. Well, the essential ones, at any rate. Looked like he'd nicked a periphery one coming out of the conjunction point of the pocket. Ah, well, the TARDIS was compensating, and it wasn't anything he couldn't fix when he landed. He was sure he had the parts. Somewhere.
A few minutes later, the time rotor ground to a halt. The Doctor left the TARDIS without his coat, figuring he didn't need his friendly welcoming committee from the Project trying to go through his pockets, even if he didn't think they'd get very far and only manage to peel off the top layer. He wasn't quite sure what he was getting into, to be perfectly honest. All his information was second-hand, after all. Well, technically, most of it was third-hand. But the point still stood. Then again, with him, he never really knew what he was getting into, did he? That was part of the fun.
The Doctor grinned, pulling the door tightly shut behind him. Sure, there was a lot at stake. Fate of a parallel. Well, two parallels. His other self would splinter, and the splintering itself would create quite a mess that could very easily affect other timelines, which would put a whole lot more on his plate, because if he didn't deal with it, something else would, and he knew he wouldn't like how anything else would deal with it. So, yes. Mounds of pressure. One slip-up, and he'd lose everything; he didn't get a second chance.
But he knew what he had to do. How hard could it be, really? All the pieces were there. He just had to put them together. Correctly. And preferably quickly, if that were possible, since technically he was racing the clock, more or less, except with the conversion rate, he still had plenty of time—more than a couple of weeks, linearly, from this here and now. But if he fell within that deadline—whatever was left of the three point six hours Ziggy had given them back at the Project, the time until the parallel which he was currently occupying would terminate—and he succeeded, it wouldn't really matter how long it took him, since the end result would be the same. Not that he expected it would take him more than a week, at a stretch, even when it did involve working his way into the heart of the other Project. He could be persuasive when he needed to be, and he really didn't fancy spending so much time in one place. Still. He loved a good challenge, and he worked so well under pressure.
He reached into his breast pocket and found the psychic paper. Step one: infiltration. Always a good step, that one. And it determined so much. It was rather like a first impression. If it went well, everything would go well. If it didn't, he'd have a lot more trouble sorting everything out. He'd still sort it, of course. It would just take a brilliantly clever idea on his part to pull it off, generally one thought up on the spur of the moment. Bit trying, those moments before he came up with that immensely clever idea, but always so much more fun.
Still grinning like a loon, the Doctor started off towards what the good people at Project Quantum Leap had dubbed the Evil Leaper Project.
Alia had long since had second thoughts about joining this experiment, appealing as it had been at first. She cursed her naivety. She knew what they planned to do now, what all the training had been for. Not just to prepare her for the stresses of time travel, as they'd claimed. To break her, to bend her to their will, so that she would do what they wanted her to.
She would, though. She had to. She didn't have a choice.
She'd as good as signed her soul away the minute she'd signed that contract.
A deal with the devil….
The Project was well underway, but they'd run up against an unsolvable problem, and it was holding them back, stopping them from realizing their power over time. They'd been trying to reverse engineer the handlink they'd recovered—the 1945 Anomaly, as she'd secretly begun calling it. She hadn't been around when they'd found it, or even when they'd realized what it was and what it meant, so she didn't know its story. All she did know was that they were still running trials, trying to dissect it without ruining its components, fitting pieces together to format their own handlink, one that was compatible with Lothos.
Alia shivered. She stopped thinking about it. About him. It was better that way. She had to occupy her thoughts in other ways. She'd be punished if she disobeyed. She didn't want to be punished.
Zoey had convinced Lothos that she had potential.
She still had to be grateful for that. Potential meant that she wasn't expendable. Yet. If she lived up to it.
Her rest time would be finished soon. They'd run their tests, and Zoey would take her out to the shooting range again. Not as a friend. At best, as a companion. But she was there as a supervisor, as an observer, a reporter, an assessor, judge, evaluator—a constant critic. They didn't trust her. They didn't trust anyone. She doubted if they trusted each other. But that didn't matter to them; they weren't building their precious experiment on trust. They were building it on fear, on greed, on evil. Pure, manipulative, devious, cunning evil.
The worst part was, she accepted it. And she chose it, time and again. And she feared she always would. The instinct of self-preservation was too strong, too raw. Them, or her. And she always chose herself.
As much as she hated to admit it, she doubted that that would ever—could ever—change.
"Doctor John Smith," the Doctor said, flashing the psychic paper at the guard. "Scientific adviser." He paused. "I was…informed of the situation. Through my…connections."
"Sir, I do not—"
"Oh, no, you do," the Doctor interrupted, his voice cold. "Believe me. You do. You don't really think that you lot can figure this out without someone with experience, do you?"
"E-experience?" the guard stuttered.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Do you really think that I need to answer that question?"
The guard swallowed. "I trust you know where to go, sir?" he asked.
"I've a vague idea, yes." The guard buzzed him through, and the Doctor grinned. "Brilliant. Thank you."
The Evil Leaper Project had some basic similarities to Project Quantum Leap. Security being one, and guards who could be fooled with psychic paper being another. But, more to the point, the Evil Leaper Project was also secreted away. Not in some stretch of desert land in New Mexico, true, but just as easily hidden from passing prying eyes. But, the Evil Leaper Project was privately funded. True, the Doctor suspected a good portion of those funds were raised illegally, through scams and swindles and stock market fraud and whatnot, but he wasn't here to correct that. Unfortunate, really. This project probably had a steadier cash flow than Sam's project.
Even so, there was clearly some corner cutting going on—but not in the security department. He'd spotted no fewer than ten hidden cameras on his way into the building, and he hadn't been able to peg a definitive blind spot inside yet. Because he wasn't certain which level the computer, Lothos, would be located on—and thus where they'd be trying to sync the handlink—he took the stairs. He could always poke around each level at his leisure and insist that he had to inspect their handiwork. Though he did feel they'd be doing some checking up on him themselves, seeing how paranoid they were bound to be. Which made perfect sense, considering what they were doing. Or trying to do. Or would be doing. He wasn't entirely sure where he was in the creation of the Project, but he certainly wasn't right at the beginning. They'd had that handlink a while now.
He didn't have to be deep in the Project to realize that. For one, they'd created Lothos, Ziggy's evil counterpart. And he knew they had, because otherwise their security would not be so tight. And he would've encountered a few more questions when he first came in. Still. Funny name, Lothos. It seemed like a corruption of logos. A corruption of logic, of fact, of reason, or the means of displaying it—fitting for a computer. A corruption by a certain loathing, perhaps, though the Doctor couldn't guess what, exactly, it would be a loathing of. Society, perhaps. Politics. Some form of religion, even if it was just a set of principles. Something along those lines. Imagination was not something the Doctor associated with anyone—or anything—he met who was set on destroying the world, whichever one it happened to be.
But, to build Lothos and have him functioning properly, controlling everything that went on in the Project and accessing data from the last fifty or so years and whatnot, they would have needed to work out the basic functions of the handlink and some of the intermediate connections. But what he was concerned about was the more complex workings that were hidden beneath simpler functions and within delicate circuitry. There was one underlying function in particular that he was going to keep from their attention. One that was distinctly related to the direct connections between the leaper and the parallel-hybrid computer rather than the roundabout ones through the designated observer.
He may have arrived too late to push them past the basics, but not when it came to guiding their extrapolation of the higher functions.
The Doctor stopped on level ten, one corner of his mouth twitching into a smile. They were more similar to Project Quantum Leap than they knew. He could hear the hum of the machinery, the high-pitched frequencies so many humans could block out so easily. And he could hear voices. They were, as he'd suspected, watching him. They'd been watching him since he'd come in. He supposed he was lucky that they'd figured they were better off seeing exactly how much he knew and if he could be of any help to them before they threw him in their equivalent of the Waiting Room.
Normally, he'd walk in grinning, acting like he owned the place. But that was probably not the best strategy now, and he had more than enough sense to recognize that and realize that, for his purposes, ignoring that fact wouldn't make what he had to do any easier. Pausing at the door to the tenth level belowground just long enough to school his features into a neutral expression, he left the stairwell behind and headed towards the Control Room.
"He's not exactly hard on the eyes, is he?" Zoey mused, watching the video feed.
"He's lying through his teeth," Thames pointed out shortly. "Lothos can't find a trace of him in any unofficial records in either the UK or the US, let alone in the official ones."
Zoey chuckled. "All the better, isn't it? I could have so much fun finding out how he got past that first guard."
"I get to deal with him," Thames cut in.
Zoey spared him a quick glance. "Of course, darling. We can't let the instruments in the Holding Chamber get rusty, and it would set such a good example. We can even see how he fairs on a test run if you like, once you're finished." She looked back at the screen with a sly grin. "But this one is all mine. So fit. Probably quite flexible. And agile. Just look at his—"
"Aren't you supposed to be with Alia? She's your special protégée, isn't she?" Thames groused, not caring that he was interrupting.
"Oh, never mind her. Disruption to schedule is always more effective in training them."
"You mean variable-interval scheduling."
"I don't care what it's called, so long as it's effective." She straightened up. "Do let our new plaything in, Lothos. I'd rather like to see how much he knows."
"And if it's too much?"
Zoey glanced at Thames. "I'll take great pleasure in ripping his head off so that he can't share his knowledge. Once we find out how he acquired it, of course. I imagine that will result in several splendid days examining some of the finer points of a few choice instruments we have on hand."
Thames grinned. "And if he's making everything up?"
"He can't be making everything up," Zoey replied. "He did manage to find us. But if he's just here to glean information from us, oh, I'll have such fun." She shot a pointed look at Thames. "Why don't you run off and attend to the little problem at the gate?"
Thames snorted. "He'll have to be pretty dim not to see that your honey's laced with vinegar." He shook his head, but did as Zoey asked. Not because she'd asked—which was, for her, a rarity, even if it was simply a command phrased as a question, like this was—but because he knew Lothos favoured her. And he knew what crossing Lothos would mean. And, frankly, he'd rather keep all his internal organs right where they were, thank you very much.
The door nearest Zoey slid open to reveal the self-proclaimed Dr. John Smith before Thames had cleared out of another doorway, but she didn't let any of the annoyance show on her face. Instead, she looked their…guest…up and down before smiling her approval. "So much better in person," she murmured appreciatively.
Dr. Smith cleared his throat, and she looked up to his face to meet his gaze. "Shall I assume that you've been informed as to who I am," he asked, "or shall I tell you anyhow?"
"Oh, it's always better to hear things first hand," Zoey replied, letting her gaze wander downwards again. Her smile grew as the feet shuffled. The man was nervous. Oh, this would be a positive delight.
"Doctor John Smith," he said, making a point of sticking out his hand.
She looked at it, and then met his eyes. "Of?" she asked bluntly.
"Shall I show you my identification, then?" Dr. Smith asked, withdrawing his hand and reaching into his breast pocket.
"Not yet." Zoey smiled as the hand faltered. She suspected that he had multiple papers—all false, of course—and was waiting for a cue from her to figure out which to use. A cue she wasn't about to give him. "It's only a simple question."
"It seems that way, doesn't it?" Dr. Smith agreed. His stance shifted, signs of nervousness gone, and he leaned nonchalantly against a piece of highly specialized equipment whose purpose she couldn't recall at the moment and didn't really care one whit about. "But, really, when you think about it, it's not. Of what, you ask? Everything, I answer. Anything. Because, when it comes down to it, I am. Bits and pieces of most anything I come across—some of it's bound to make an impression, you see, and it has. Because I'm not from any company. I'm not beholden to anyone. I am who I am, and sometimes that's more what you make of me than what I've made of myself." He paused, then added, quietly, "For as long as I keep to that impression of yours, that is."
Suitably evasive, Zoey noted. Their trial leapers could learn a thing or two from him. Not that anyone they'd tried leaping had survived so far. But it didn't matter, really. The end negated the means. There were more things to tweak, that was all. Something not yet deciphered in that infernal handlink, or something interpreted incorrectly. They would get there in the end, no matter what it took.
"Then enlighten me," Zoey drawled. "What is my impression of you, pray tell?"
Dr. Smith grinned. "Right now, let's say scientist. A very, very clever scientist. Brilliant, in fact. Genius, even, if you don't think that's too much."
Zoey laughed. "Darling, you're going to have to do better than that."
"No, I don't think I do," Dr. Smith corrected. He nodded to the schematics of the handlink Thames had been going over with the man who had, until very recently, been their head scientific adviser—though they'd managed, in the weeks leading up to his death, to get much more out of him than just advising. "Right there," Dr. Smith continued, "you've got a set of drawings representing a remote terminal to a central unit, but since those look a bit unclear, I'd say you haven't figured it all out yet—haven't pinned down what does what, why this is here, and what changes if you move it there, that sort of thing—and therefore you're working off a prototype of something you didn't invent, meaning that you're reverse engineering a nice complex example of someone else's hard work, am I right?"
"That is correct."
Dr. Smith looked up towards the speakers. "You've been awfully quiet until now." He paused, very briefly, before adding, more loudly, "So you're the AI, then? Parallel-hybrid, I'm assuming?"
"To say that Lothos is merely an artificial intelligence unit is degrading," Zoey broke in, knowing how quick Lothos was to anger and not quite ready to lose the good view yet. Besides, Dr. Smith intrigued her, and he clearly knew things. He could be useful.
"You understate the feat I represent," Lothos agreed.
Zoey could sense the undercurrent in the tone, but she doubted Dr. Smith would pick up on it. Graciously deciding that she'd better speak up before Dr. Smith put his foot in it, she put in, "You've surely not seen something as astounding before. In your…previous work." Perhaps he would let something slip.
"Well," Dr. Smith admitted, looking thoughtful, "I suppose you could say that. Though it depends on your definition of before, really. All relative, that. Still. Considering the year, I'll have to say that you are the most impressive feat of humanity I've come across. Linearly speaking. For now, at least. Comparatively, and all things considered, of course."
Zoey would have puzzled over Dr. Smith's hidden meaning, for she knew evasion and partial lies and astounding, if blatantly careless and foolish, use of ambiguity when she heard it, but she was more interested in Lothos's reaction. He was in a remarkably good mood, all things considered. He didn't aim to kill, either instantly or slowly and fittingly painfully. Still, Dr. Smith leaped backwards, letting out a yelp, just managing to avoid the bolt of electricity sent at him. He was quick, Zoey noted. Nimble. She couldn't suppress a smile. It gave credence to her earlier musings.
"Oi," Dr. Smith said, lifting one foot as if to check for burns. "For humanity now, yes, you are an impressive feat of engineering ingenuity, as I've said, but you've got to know that someone's bound to top it sometime. That's all I meant."
"Well, if you're such a brilliantly clever scientist," Zoey mused coyly, "then do tell us how to perfect our work."
Dr. Smith withdrew a pair of thick-rimmed glasses from his pocket. Balancing them on his nose, he walked over to get a closer look at the papers. He studied them for a moment and then looked up at her. "And what do I get out of it?"
Zoey moved closer, leaning in to speak directly into his ear. "I'll personally make sure," she said, very slowly and deliberately, one hand creeping up his arm and around to the opposite shoulder, "that you have a different fate than our last scientific adviser."
Dr. Smith pulled away before she could tighten her hold. "Doesn't sound like much," he countered.
"Dr. Terrance Fletcher," Zoey informed him coldly, tired of playing games, at least for the moment, "burned—very painfully, judging by the screams—from the inside out after he found himself testing his supposedly foolproof experiment. Unless you would care to be the subject of a second trial, I would suggest that you take my offer."
"Funny," Dr. Smith said, slowly pulling his glasses off of his face and pocketing them again, "but you didn't ask me why I came here."
"Oh, but that doesn't matter now, does it? You're here, and you clearly know something. And we get to milk that pretty little mind of yours for all it's worth." Zoey smiled. "Lothos, seal the doors."
A/N: My characterization will likely be a bit off, so I'm accepting suggestions and in the meantime claiming that these are the QL characters before they ever appear onscreen, so it's perfectly acceptable that they're a bit different. Also, if I have my way, Lothos is not going to get another line in this entire story. As for the Doctor, well, he will probably be making some comments that refer to Splintering even when he knows very well that none of the QL characters will have a clue what he's on about, so if you don't remember the story very well, it may not be a bad idea to reread it. Or you could just skim over and ignore those parts, I suppose; it may not make much of a difference. It's a bit hard to say at the moment.