Note: You guys, with the reviews? Yeah, you're awesome. Thanks for reading :) There may be a few days between this update and the next because I'm moving house and losing my internet. Oy!
The Mark of Ishara
1.i – Lost in Translation
Over a small back-alley in the middle of London, it slowly started to rain. Litter lay caked in grime and muck, nudged at by stray animals hoping to get lucky for their next meal. The alley itself was somewhat unremarkable and much the same as any other: dingy, looked down on by a row of flats, wind-gusted, abandoned. In the summer it was just large and open enough for children to play in, but the dampness of autumn had long since chased any visitors away. Except one.
The alley held within it a secret. Periodically, with no sense of rhyme or reason, a box appeared. This would not have been especially peculiar had it been an ordinary box – many things in the city tended to appear or disappear at their own whim. But the box was far from ordinary. For one thing, it was a bright, alarming blue. More unusual than its colour was its build, an old relic of a distant earth that had long since evolved into something new. It was tall and topped with a cylindrical light, faint windows set into the doors at the front. Those that could remember would have wrongly called it a 'police box', and would have found the sight curious due to their supposed extinction some decades before. But while the box resembled an old treasure, it was in fact much more precious, and far older than any passer-by could have guessed.
What was strange about the box was not its colour, nor that it appeared to be a little out of time. The eccentricity of it was in the tingle you might feel if you got too close, in the unerring certainty that there was more to it than you could see. It was in the thrum of the wood beneath your fingertips, in the pulse of your heart as you pushed open the door. It was in the slightness of your breath as you caught a glimpse of what was inside. It was in your footsteps as you ran from the slammed door behind you.
The box was magnificent, as was the man to whom it belonged. But, like him, it was also terrible, and never to be fully understood. Its proud form struck those who knew it with warmth, with a sense of belonging – those who did not with awe and uncertainty.
That particular afternoon, the box appeared gradually, becoming steadily visible in the falling rain as though blinking into existence through a haze of sleep. It brought with it a fierce wind and the sound of the universe taking its first wheezing breaths. Its ethereal shape became more and more solid, until eventually it stood firm against the canvass of rain as though it had never been absent, patient like the oldest of things. It remained undisturbed for just a moment or two before the noises of conversation bubbled up through its surface and, out of it, there stepped two remarkably ordinary looking people.
A man with military buzzcut hair and kind eyes pulled the doors closed behind them and looked up into the sky. His face and clothes became steadily damp.
"It's raining," he said, his accent Northern, his voice belonging to somewhere else entirely. He turned to his companion, bemused.
"You don't say," came the tart reply from the mouth of a blonde with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humour. "I'll be a few minutes, yeah? Need to grab a couple of things. And I want to give her this before I forget." From her pocket she dug out a delicate glass phial. "How long has it been?"
The man in black arbitrarily looked at his wristwatch. "A day, maybe two. Hard to say with time travel."
"Right." Despite the droplets pelting down on them, the blonde made no attempt to move. Instead she kicked her toe against the tarmac beneath her feet. "Sure you won't come up?"
"And risk a slap in the face and an earful? No thanks."
She grinned, pocketing the phial. "Just checking. I'll see you in a bit, then."
Heading off in the direction of a pair of double doors that led to a long flight of stairs, she was watched by a set of ice-blue eyes. Then, without a word, the owner of them turned and disappeared back into the box.
The flat was quiet. It was a quiet like that of a place waiting to be used, rather than the quiet of a place that had been abandoned. The blonde smiled as she closed the door behind her.
Shucking her jacket, she threw it towards a hook in the fashion of one who has done so countless times before. Her footsteps were light as she stepped through the narrow hallway to open a door a that led to the kitchen.
"Mum?" she called to the silence between the walls. "I'm home."
When she was met with no answer, she shrugged and set about searching the rest of the modest rooms. After a few minutes it appeared that the place was empty, so she dug out the small glass vial from her pocket and penned a quick note to explain her visit. Leaving it in full view on a table by the front door, she turned and grasped the handle of the only door she had not opened. She paused for a moment before she went inside.
The effulgence of pink that met her as she entered was quite a contrast to the rest of the undecorated flat. All along the walls were pasted photographs and posters, and a bed lay tucked away in one corner. The room smelled of fresh linen and perfume, with the barest hint of incense from long ago. The floor was clear, the desk was tidy and it looked for all the world like the most ordinary bedroom that ever existed.
Fastened to one of the walls was a large metal sculpture. It proclaimed the word 'Rose' to the rest of the room and had been adorned with a trail of fairy lights. The blonde's features softened into a smile and she reached out to trace the curve of the letters with her fingers. When she pulled her hand away, dust fell from her fingertips. She frowned.
It was then that she noticed the package on the bed.
It was plain, wrapped in little more than a paper bag, and about the size and shape of a large book. Even though the flat was empty, she looked around herself guiltily before settling next to it and pulling at the edges of the beige coloured paper.
The wrapping came away surprisingly easily. It hadn't been fastened with tape or string, so really it was only superficial. A number of objects sat in the centre of it, each one more curious than the next.
There was a small, glassy globe that emitted a pale blue light when looked at directly; a tiny golden pyramid, barely the size of a thimble; a roll of paper tied with a red ribbon that bore an unfamiliar wax seal; a gemstone locket laced on a silvery chain; and a plainly decorated hand-mirror, whose glass bore fractures which spidered across the surface like cracked ice. Picking it up, she stared into several pairs of her own dark eyes before her brows furrowed, and she placed it back among the rest of the treasure. Next she examined the locket. It was cold to the touch, the metal weighty in her palm, and adorned with a single gemdot in the centre. She tried to flick the catch on the side, but it wouldn't give. The globe held a vortex of colours that whirled together when she shook it, while the pyramid seemed little more than a useless trinket. As she surveyed the objects before her, a curious line appeared between her eyebrows.
Seemingly having made a decision, she got to her feet and slipped noiselessly out of the flat, leaving the artefacts where they were. Several minutes later, she returned, this time with her companion in tow. He brushed a few droplets of rain from his leather jacket then examined the objects she had left on the bed.
After a few moments of silence, she said curiously, "Any idea?"
He seemed surprised to see Rose standing there, despite them being in her old room.
"Practical joke courtesy of Mickey the Idiot?"
That earned him a slap on the arm. "Be serious," Rose rebuked.
"All right, all right. Ow." He rubbed his arm in an exaggerated manner. "So you just found these here? As they are?"
"Yeah. No note or anything. Mum's not around, otherwise I'd ask her, but … "
His rough, calloused hands traced the outline of the delicate pyramid in his palm. He levelled it with his eyes, crossing them as he focused on it. Then he looked up, meeting Rose's gaze.
"Clearly they were meant for you," he informed her, dropping it back to the puce duvet cover. "Being on your bed, and all."
"Yeah, but," she replied as she took a seat beside him, "what are they? They don't look like anything Mum would've picked up for me. They look – you know." She swallowed, lowering her voice as though the word had power over her. "Alien."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Neither does a box that's bigger on the inside," she returned with a piercing expression. "Doesn't stop you from wandering around with one."
"I do not 'wander around'. But point taken." He went back to examining the exotic collection on the bed.
Rose's expression clouded as she picked up the mirror, turning it over in her hands. "Who would give me a broken mirror, Doctor?"
'Doctor' was one of the man's many nicknames, though it was also the most common of the lot. It had been used to name him so often that he had somewhat grown into it, like a pair of boots that start out uncomfortable but become one's most reliable footwear over time.
"The correct question to be asking is who would give you an Orasphere?" He flashed a toothy grin, tossing the glass orb between his hands as though it were nothing more than a rubber ball.
"Catch." He threw it to her, where it pulsed aquamarine in her hand. "Orasphere. I haven't seen one of those in years. Hundreds and hundreds of years, and never with these eyes. They're like a kind of life force preserver. Orzonite, the compound it's made up of, is regenerative. Have one of these on you when you lose an arm and you'll grow one back in a matter of hours. Fascinating stuff. Only works when you're looking at it, though. Something in the quantum mechanics of it, observation being the key to motivation and all that. I'm sorry, am I going too fast?"
He said this last in comment to Rose's expression, which had slackened a few moments before.
"Regenerative thingamajig." Her hand closed on the Orasphere protectively. "Got it. I'm guessing Mum didn't pick just this up from some old market stand, though."
"I doubt this has anything to do with your mum at all. Those are really rare – that one didn't make it here by accident."
Rose sighed. "I'm betting none of this stuff did."
"Have you thought about looking at the note?" the Doctor suggested. His fingers twitched towards it as he spoke, as though they had a life of their own. "Might give us some clues."
Rose didn't need to hear the suggestion twice. Carefully, she slid the ribbon over the end of scroll and pulled the wax seal apart. It sprinkled a few maroon crumbs over her lap as, slowly, she unfurled the paper. She found herself staring at five words, crafted in crimson calligraphy:
Follow the mark of Ishara.
"So much for clues," she muttered, passing it to the Doctor.
The Doctor squinted at the commandment. "Mark of Ishara? Never heard of it. That fact alone should send alarm bells ringing."
"But what does this all mean? What is this stuff, why is it in my room?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, Rose." The reply came through a sigh and a tired rub of the eyes. "We're probably not going to find out much sitting here like a pair of lemons wondering about it, though." He got to his feet and stretched, his lean frame lithe with the modesty of youth.
"Wonder a lot do they, those lemons?"
He grinned down at her. "More than they'd ever let on."
"So, what now?" Rose asked, waving a hand over the items on the bed. "Take these with us and hope for the best? Can't you – I dunno – scan them and trace their origins, or something?"
The Doctor struggled to keep an expression of injury on his face. "Rose, this isn't Star Trek. Even with my brilliant and vast pool of knowledge, there's only so much I can do."
"And here I thought you was supposed to be the best," she teased, tossing a grin in his direction.
"I am the best. But this isn't fiction and I don't have any aces up my sleeve." He grimaced. "Sorry."
"S'alright. Even you can't be perfect." She gave a beleaguered sigh, as though he had just told her he'd smashed all the kitchen plates. "Guess I'll have to start looking for my Spock elsewhere."
Rose was careful to re-roll the scroll and fasten it with the ribbon, though she gave it a long stare before she tucked it away inside the pocket of her jacket. She also kept hold of the pendant, the mirror and the Orasphere.
"Do me a favour and let me see that for a sec, would you?" the Doctor asked as her hand closed around the tiny pyramid. She complied, handing it over to him. His mouth became thin. "I've seen one of these before."
"Yeah. Don't remember where, though, just looks … familiar. Mind if I hang onto it until we get back?"
Rose shrugged. "If you think it'll help, oh knowledgeable one."
"Careful." The Doctor's mouth pulled into a simpering smirk. "If you can't keep that tongue of yours in check, maybe next time we go somewhere I'll leave you inside, with your sci-fi and your handsome captains."
"Who says I don't get enough of that with you?"
With a small smile, the tips of his ears went a little pink.
They left the flat in unison. Rose stopped to make sure the glass tube hadn't rolled away anywhere in their distraction. After a moment's thought she added a telephone number onto the end of the note she had left, with the instruction for her mother to call.
The rain had eased off a little outside. Splashing through puddles, the Doctor reached into his pocket and revealed the most ordinary looking silver key. It seemed incongruous next to the oddity of the blue box, but he slid it into the lock and turned it nonetheless. It was a perfect fit, and he and the blonde stepped inside the shelter.
Ordinarily, anyone who tried to use the Police Public Call Box as a real telephone box would have been in for quite a surprise. For though the exterior could span a man's outstretched arms on each of the four sides, the interior told a different story altogether. Simply put, it was bigger on the inside than it was on the out.
The main door led to a piloting chamber, which on its own was several times larger than the outside suggested. In the dim lights the walls looked bronze and tarnished. They were adorned with rows and rows of titanium circles, which spread over the walls of the machine like a disease. The grille floor echoed loudly underfoot, and gave way to glimpses of complicated wiring and mechanics buried deep under the surface. The ceiling arched high into the chambers above, with coral beams winding down to the floor like fingers coiling together. Wires hung at strange angles, and at least one wall-plate had been removed, exposing so a nervous system of wires and tubes. In the centre of the room was the main control unit, a mushroom of buttons, dials, levers, makeshift hammers and a calm, azure light that radiated from its core. It was topped by a long glass column that pulsed like a ventilator every time the ship was in motion.
For a ship was what it was. Time And Relative Dimension In Space, the type-40 TARDIS was the best of her kind – the last of her kind, too, if the stories were anything to go by. When piloted correctly, she could take the inhabitants anywhere they wished to go, any location in space and any time within that location. She was a magnificent creation, powerful in any hands who touched her. She was also unlike anything planet Earth had ever seen.
More impressive than the piloting chamber were the corridors that spanned off in every direction, a maze of heres, theres and everywheres. They twisted and turned, went up and down, bent around corners and changed from hour to hour. There were things lost in the depths of that ship that had been there for millennia, old and forgotten, lost amongst the walls with no way of being found. Walking the corridors was like passing through time itself. One moment the ship's walls would stare down a harsh metallic bronze, and the next they were lined with wood panellings, the floor with plush carpets, gothic candlesticks mounted every few feet. Every now and then, the rooms and corridors changed places, as though an idle mind, with nothing better to do with its time, amused itself with mischief.
When she had first started travelling, Rose had very often ended up somewhere entirely different from where she had been trying to get to. Once, embarrassingly, she opened a door to what had previously been the laundry room only to discover it was now the Doctor's changing room. She had got an eyeful of bare chest before she squeaked an apology and dashed away.
"She's just playing tricks on you," the Doctor had explained a little later, fondly trailing his fingers along the wall. He said it as though it was the most perfectly normal conclusion to draw. "She likes doing that with newcomers."
"Yeah, well, tell her to stop it," Rose had demanded, looking uncomfortable.
At the time, the moving of things was not restricted just to rooms. Very often items of hers would go missing when she needed them most, and turn up in the most bizarre of places – the garden, the swimming pool, the Doctor's study. On one particularly mortifying occasion, the TARDIS removed all the towels from the bathroom she was showering in. She had been forced to ask the Doctor for help through the protection of the thin wooden door. It was frustrating to the nth degree.
Then, one day, one adventure, one chance out of many, the Doctor came face to face with his most loathed enemy in all of existence. It had driven him nearly mad with grief, nearly turned him into something he had never wanted to be. It was Rose's patience – Rose's compassion – that finally drew him out of it and kept him just this side of humane.
Things moved around much less often after that.
In the console room, the Doctor disappeared through one of the doors before Rose had even shut the door behind them.
"Oi!" she yelled after him. She didn't fancy ending up as one of those lost things in the corridors. "Where you going?"
"Where else?" he tossed back over his shoulder as he strode ahead. "To the library!"