Time and Tide: Understand the Boat Part 13 in the TIDERAKER series, which will be completely in 6B and Parallel Time.
Summary: The Sontarans are still in Space. The Time Lords are planning. The Third Zone is very unhappy. Guess who has to clean up the mess?
Characters: Second Doctor, 2nd Doctor, Jamie, The Two Doctors, unspecified Time Lords, CIA, Sontarans, Ice Warriors, Shobogans, Outsiders, Xenobia. Ties in with The Two Doctors; Trial of A Time Lord; The Invasion of Time; The Time War.
They lucked into a knot of cowering technicians hiding under and behind furniture and a disconnected light-fountain.
"Oh, my word!" The Doctor exclaimed. "Is everyone all right?"
They didn't look all right. They looked terrified.
"Who..?" A tall, skinny man spoke for the rest. He had the resigned look of a man to whom was doomed this fate. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor. Now listen. The Sontarans are putting grapples on the Station and planning to tow it away. We need to stop them. Does anyone have a passkey for the Lift so I can get to the Conduit Buckle?"
Sometimes, Jamie forgot just how quickly Time Lords could think. Alarm flashed across every face as they realized what he was saying. The Speaker all but forced his passkey into the Doctor's hands.
"Oh, thank you!" The Doctor paused before running again: "You might want to get your people as deep into the axis of the Station as you can! Things might be a little unpleasant in a bit—oh! And make sure you have plenty of manual Fire Suppression Implements!"
And they took off.
"That was easy!" Jamie cheered.
"Yes, amazing." The little man had a definite spring in his step as they pelted away. "Once in a while someone actually listens! It's refreshing!" He braked to a stop; Jamie all but ran into the wall. "Here we are!" He said to the wall.
"That's a wall."
"Yes, it is."
"Where's the lift?"
"Right here." The Doctor ran his fingertips over the wall with a scowl. He found a button on the passkey and clicked; the wall's Chameleon Circuit turned off and a Lift was there. "There!" He pushed the passkey into a slot and the door opened. "No, let me go first...there's still the chance of security..." The Doctor pressed a code into the wall, paused, and put the passkey into a hole, turning it sideways. The lift began to move.
"Doctor...assuming we get out of this alive..." Another Boom, muffled by the protection of the Lift, vibrated their bones.
"Just a moment, Jamie, here we are."
"Praise be." Jamie followed him out of the Lift with indecent haste.
The "room" was an open storage space, one of those "leftover" bits in construction that Jamie found the standard to most buildings, be they proud or humble. The facing wall cured up like the prow of a ship; this must be the last wall before Outer Space. Pipes thicker than a tall man stretched through the walls like roofing-timbers. A slender metal ladder stretched from the floor to a catwalk that stretched every ten feet up. Jamie counted in his mind: four catwalks. Forty feet up...fifty feet in height and...
He checked the rest of the dimensions as the Doctor ran without pause to the ladder.
"Stay on the ground and keep a lookout." The Doctor ordered. "It just very well may be that you'll be safer on the ground. If you see anything bigger than a cybermat, yell!"
"And if it is a cybermat?"
"Break all available laws of time and space and get up here with me!"
Jamie put his back to the ladder as the Doctor scampered up the rungs. He tucked his faithful dirk inside his right hand and shifted his weight to his left foot for a moment, reminding his body where his other weapons were hiding. There were days when he terribly missed his old sword...not to mention any decent firearm. He glanced up. The little man was already twenty feet straight up. "Are ye sure Time Lairds are na descended from monkeys?" Jamie shouted up, knowing the comparison between primate and Time Lord invariably turned any Time Lord into a spitting cat (Jamie thought they probably had some feline in their blood). "Or at least clever wee squirrels?" No answer. "Doctor?"
"I'm letting the lady have the last word, Jamie!"
"Och! One day! Ye couldn't let one day pass wi'oot makin' a jab at mah kilt!"
Jamie was so relieved they were back to jabbing he could have hopped up and down for joy. Then he saw what the Doctor was doing. "ODoolally! Ye've finally gart yer peace wi' sanity!"
The little fellow had made it to the ceiling and was preparing to walk across the connecting pipes that depended from the ceiling by no less than six feet...and no more than forty feet straight up from the ground.
"Tut, LAN-guage, Jamie!" The Doctor scolded. He spread his arms out level like a ropewalker, and took a deep breath. "And calm down!" He shouted to the panicky man below. "You'll distract me and I need to keep m'balance!" He added in a quieter voice, "They really need to clean up here more often...there's enough space dust on top of this to build sandcastles!"
"I heard that!" Jamie shouted up. He was bathed in a cold sweat at the sight of the Doctor risking his neck—again-for people that didn't give a rat's bottom. Jamie gnawed his lip, dirk at hand as he caught the first rattle of feet. "Someone's coming!" He yelled. With a need for preservation, he ducked behind the metal ladder—pitiful as the protection was.
Outsiders and Ice Warriors dashed in, weapons on hand. "Where is the Doctor!" A young girl demanded with her bow leveled straight at his throat. She had waist-length smooth hair an angry ginger hair color bound in a head-band and she wore animal skins.
"He's noo here!" Jamie shouted back as the young warriors spread out, looking about them. They couldn't see the Doctor even if they looked up—the pipes were that broad. "Ye'll have to wait till this is over to get him back to the Trial!"
"We're here to help!" The youth with the girl exclaimed. "Just tell us what to do!"
"Aye, ye'r helping?" Jamie shot back, wanting to hope but knowing Gallifreyans weren't the most trustworthy of people.
"We are helping." The Ice Lord said simply. "After ssuch a long sspeech on honor, I can hardly make mysself a liar." He paused. "How did you transsmat my craft to the Docking Bay?"
"Later! We need to get the Time Corridor open!" The Doctor yelled down from above. Jamie would have laughed at how all heads instantly shot up—save the heavier Ice Warriors, who creaked from the effort. "If we can do that, we can send the Sontarans shooting out of here and far enough into their Core territory that they'll have to explain to their leaders what they were doing out here without their permission! And if they manage that, they'll have to go through the Magellan Cluster to get back over here—and it's swarming with Rutans!"
"That iss good." Axor hissed. "What do you ssuggessst?"
"It will be tricky if they try to tow the Station. Can your warriors commit to a bit of deception against the Sontarans, Axor? We need for them to have a completely mistaken notion on Ice Warrior abilities."
"It iss not our fault if they practiccce arroganccce. What ssort of trickery?"
"They're locking grappling tows into the Station! Can your men act as though it is completely out of your power to stop them? If they concentrate on grappling, they'll spend much less attention on damaging the Station."
"Eassily." Axor was smiling. "You are thinking of a modern verssion of Ssandak's Run?"
"I am." The sound of laughing Ice Warriors was just as alarming the second time around. Jamie vowed he would get used to it. "I like thisss." Axor lifted his wristcomm to his lips and whispered to it. "My men are prepared." He made an odd, throat-clearing sound. "But how may we escape being towed into the Time Vortexxx with the Ssontarans?"
"We'll let Lady Ara manage that." The Doctor said firmly. "I gave her a rather detailed message on what to expect, and what could happen. All she needs is to see the energy readings at her station return to normal and she will act!"
"The Time Corridorss are under many defensess." The Ice Lord mused. "The Sontaranss have re-boarded Xxxenobia with ten of their warriorss and are attacking the Sstattion from the Bay asss they did Chimera."
"They're not very bright." The Outsider girl retorted. "We can help you, Ice Lord. Let us lead to the Docking Bay. They'll see our primitive weapons and have a conflated image of their own abilities when they attack us."
"You will be cannon fodder."
"We're Outsiders." A young boy snarled. "The Sontarans killed our families in the Invasion of Gallifrey. This is our chance to fight on our terms."
"Do as they say, Ice Lord!" Jamie urged. "Outsiders are the best o' the lot as far as fightin' goes on Gallifrey."
"We will place your names in the Eternal Shrine."
"If this works there won't be anynames on anyEternal Shrines! All I need is time!" The Doctor was on his tip-toes, wrestling with a hexagonal metal plate above his head. He was just barely tall enough for the job. "Let me get in here and see if I can adjust the—ouch!-atmospheric controls. If I can, I can adjust the lighting to give you all an advantage. Sontarans hate the dark! Get down to the Invasion Point at the Bay. Hold them off and keep them confused and off-balanced! Shoot out their lights at every chance! They'll be too mad to think straight! If I can jump the Station's defenses we just might prevent a bloodbath!"
"Who's protecting the people of the Court?" Jamie thought to ask. "They'll need more than the Time Lord guardsmen!"
"I left half my people for that." The Ice Lord answered. "Commander Ssshriker is in charge. He will follow good advicsse."
"My father is with the other half of the Outsiders and the Shobogans, Doctor." The Girl called back up.
"Did I see Markhall in that lot?"
"Markhall and his brothers are all there."
"Oh, dear. If we survive this, I'll have to buy them all drinks!"
"You know the Shobogans?" Jamie gawked.
"They taught me everything I know about lying, cheating, stealing, drinking, pickpocketing-" The metal plate came off with a bang. "Ooof!" The Doctor staggered back, his shoes slipping on the frictionless dust on the pipe. All drew in their breath, expecting to see the little man fall to his death, but he righted his balance just in time. "-setting traps, forgery, computer hacking, counterfeiting molecules...palming pandaks...sword-swallowing, drinking cobra venom, jumping in and out of the Grey Zone, calculated acts of small vandalism against the Techno-Plutarchian Industrial Complex..."
"Hold on!" Jamie's heart was pounding at this portfolio of skills. "Are ye saying ye used tae jump in the Grey Zone? The Grey Zone that was used as a model for the Death Zone? That Grey Zone? For fun?"
"'Fun?'" The Doctor stared down at them, up to his arms in dangling wires. He looked quite shocked. "Jamie! No one sneaks into the Grey Zone for 'fun!'"
"Then why would ye want to do such a daft thing!"
"I needed spare parts for my thesis." The Doctor explained. "And I couldn't afford the Post-Vampire War-Era logic circuits on the market." He managed to convey centuries worth of grudge-making in the statement: "Old Tonclay knew I was poor as a cobblemouse and halfway to homeless as it was." He began ripping wires as if they were the hairs on that old Academic's beard. "He was determined to make me fail in his class, that puffed up old waterslig. He gave me that assignment with a smirk on his lips and told me to save my receipts!"
"Ye jumped into the next-most dangerous part of the most dangerous planet in the most dangerous Galaxy...tae loot old junkyards fer a passing grade?" Jamie was having trouble believing this. "Even fer you, that's a bit cracked."
"Jamie, had I failed that course, I would have been sent to Close Approach Meteroid Removal Inspection, and that was not my idea of a decent career." Something went PING as it popped out, and the Doctor crowed in triumph. "What's the risk of a deranged robot compared to scrubbing black diamond dust out of a hydrogen catalytic for five hundred years?"
"Oh, aye. Sounds much more boring than living as a renegade."
"That's sarcasm, isn't it?" The Outsider girl mused. Above their heads, something black, metallic, and shiny went SKEEEEK as it shot off into space, bounced off a wall, and clattered into space. "Hah-hah! That's done it!"
"Here we go." Jamie sighed. "Ge' ready. The madman's about to pull a verra large rabbit out of a verra small hat." The lights dimmed.
"Perfect." The Ice Lord added a soft hiss of satisfaction. "We follow you, Outssiderss."
"Good luck and be careful!" Jamie called after them. "Doctor, will ye get doon from there?"
"I'm afraid I can't, Jamie!" The Doctor shouted back down.
"Why am I not surprised?" Jamie groaned.
"No, no. I can, but there's a portal to the Access Ducts up here, and it should lead straight to the Conduit Buckle; it could save time!"
"Hold on..." Jamie put his dirk back in its sheath. "Yer not goin' anywhere daft wi'out me, Doctair." And he began to climb the ladder. Under his breath, he grumbled: "Tuig thus' an t-eathar, 's tuigidh an t-eathar thu." Understand the boat, and the boat will understand you... It wasn't the best description of the Doctor's genius/madness, but it was close. The Doctor was never so much as like his old, smiling self as when he was up to his neck in a puzzle or a problem. It made him happy the same way a man inside the right workings of his own destiny is happy. And Jamie only wanted that smile to cross that careworn face at every available opportunity. So he pretended to growl, and grumble...but he followed.
He did hope that Zoe would go easy on him when she found out about this...he already knew Victoria wouldn't.
Once you've been in a few air ducts, you may think you've been through them all. Jamie's normal cynicism was firmly chastened by the CIA's concept of air duct. The tunnels were dark with only the low glow of emergency illumination in the form of tiny blood-red lights speckled evenly in all directions. For an air duct, the airflow was actually working, but it smelled of metal and dust and plastic. In his experience, air ducts were often large enough to permit the passage of technicians, but only just. That only made sense because if something went wrong with an air duct, an entire station or ship could suffer quickly. But this duct was smaller than most, and the narrowness was enough to make the Piper a little short of breath and slightly claustrophobic.
"Idiots," The Doctor snapped more than once as they had to slither like salamanders through a portion that was worse than the rest. "And they call me a buffoon! It takes one to know one, you know!" That last was shouted at the top of his lungs into the ceiling, which was about half an inch from the Doctor's silver head.
"Doctair," Jamie wheezed, "Why are these things so narrow? And why are some parts smaller than others? It makes nae sense!"
"It makes plenty of sense, Jamie, if you're a cracked-in-the-head CIA architect!" The Doctor flattened himself further down and started pulling himself forward with his hands. "These pompous bureaucrats design everything according to budget to save money for the present and skimp the future, when they should design it right the first time, and be efficient for a few thousand years! The less likely a section is to need repairs, the less accessible they make it!
"And people think size is such an advantage," he growled unkindly as they made their way past a section that had, to all appearances, been built by badgers. "I'd like to see the CIA Council crawl through their own handiwork!"
"They'd probably just find another way." Jamie pointed out. "Besides...I dinna ken they got to the CIA for doing their own work."
Normally this brilliant commentary would be rewarded by the Doctor trying desperately to think of something even more clever to add to it, but the little Time Lord was in a fell mood.
"Big, clumsy giants!" The Doctor paused and raised up just enough so he could turn sideways like a key in a passage that had suddenly turned...keyhole. Sweet Son of Mary, the Piper thought. He's right. The CIA is daft as a winter cowslip. "A Dalek trap? Well at least they thought of something right. Right." The Doctor had bonelessly poured himself through the keyhole. His silver head popped over the edge of the opening. "Your turn, I believe, Jamie."
Jamie groaned, already mourning the loss of his knee-skin. "Coming." He complained. The Doctor held out his arms; Jamie grasped the small hands, feeling the strength within but worried of trusting it; the Doctor was hundreds of years older than he had been when they'd first traveled through space. The Piper had to turn sideways, exhale, and squeeze through by not breathing. Spots danced over his eyes at the end and the little Doctor held him in his lap, calming the animal panic that wanted to take over from the sensation of being slowly squashed to death.
"Are you all right, Jamie? Can you go further?"
He nodded as he gulped for air. "Bad memory," he explained, knowing the Doctor wouldn't press it. "Won't...happen again, I promise."
"Well if it does, tell me." The Doctor let it drop, mercifully. When it came to matters like this, he was always solicitous. He patted Jamie on the back with a worried smile and kept going.
Jamie was glad the Doctor could lead the way; he never minded the dark, being more used to it than its absence in his original life. And tight spaces normally didn't bother him either—space was a luxury as much as illumination. He relied on his limited senses and instincts to get him through. The Doctor's vision let him lead when they were in the dark. His green eyes would glint like a cat's, catching reflections, and with his insatiable curiosity there were times when Jamie had a hard time keeping his smile to himself. Sometimes the man did remind him of a dusty old barn-mouser, his whiskers twitching with curiosity.
They crept carefully, ears filled with deadening silence alternating with the queer hum of machines on the other side of the duct-walls, or sometimes, a panel made its own noise. The Doctor seemed to dislike those intensely, and tried to get past them as fast as possible.
"It shouldn't be much longer, Jamie." He paused to speak over his shoulder. They were back to standing upright again, thank the mercies. "If I'm right, this is going to wind up in the Station's version of a dusty old attic. There's no telling what will be there besides the broken Conduit."
"Well, we hardly ever know what we're going into anyway."
"Quite right..." The Doctor stopped long enough to fish a handful of sweets out of his paper bag. Jamie could see his outline from the red lights that went out: he was standing with his head down, back to the duct. The paper bag rustled and rattled. "Would you care for one?"
Jamie was always willing to grab food on a mission. "Thank you." They rested for a moment, eating some sort of sweet fruit confection that melted in the Piper's mouth. "What's wrong, Doctor?"
"Just thinking, Jamie." The Doctor said softly.
"Ah, out with it if it's the only way it'll leave your mind."
"Later, perhaps. If there is a later..." The small man sighed and rolled up the paper bag, putting it back in his pocket. "I can't hear anything new, and that may not be a good sign."
"And here I thought you were stopping just for a break."
"That too..." His voice dropped. "Well, let's get on with it. Time's passing." He pressed his fingertips against the walls of the duct and started walking with new caution, one foot after the other slowly and carefully. Jamie copied his movements, figuring he'd know soon enough why.
The red lights grew more and more common, until the Doctor's small outline was clearly defined before them. His silver hair began to shine under the illuminations, and without warning, he stopped in his tracks, tilting his head to one side. Jamie nearly ran into him, but this was a skill that only improved with age. "What is it?"
"I think I hear something..." The Doctor whispered. "Shush, I need to listen." Jamie did one better; he stepped backwards to keep the Doctor from hearing his heartbeat or breathing. "Hmn.." The Doctor turned to one side of the duct, running his fingers along a metal seam. Jamie heard him hiss softly as his burned skin caught on a groove. "Yes, I think that's it..." He murmured to himself. "Quite right."
Jamie watched patiently as he poked about his pockets and pulled out a non-sonic screwdriver. Tap-tap-tapCLINK! He chuckled softly, gleeful to have found his quarry, and with a single twist of his wrist, the entire panel came out and landed loudly at their feet. A brilliant glow of tiny lights from inside the wall scalded the Piper's eyes after so long with the dull reds.
"What's that, Doctor?"
"Something that will give us a hand." The Time Lord put his hand in the mass of buttons, switches, wires and knobs and flipped something. Light bloomed from outside the duct, flooding into their dark world. Jamie blinked. They were less than ten feet from the grilled opening that led to outside.
"Oh, that's better!" He approved.
"Yes, I thought so too." The Doctor tapped his fingers together as he rocked on the balls of his feet thoughtfully. "Hmmmn...all right, Jamie, we need to get to the Buckle and fix it as fast as conceivably possible! The Martians have been fighting too long in space and then there's the children at the Bay! Let's go!"
"So long as you know where to go."
"If they're still unimaginative slobs, yes." They came to the grille, which was locked differently from the opening the Doctor had jacked to get in. He whistled softly through his teeth in surprise, then fell silent before finding his sonic screwdriver. "Normally I'd be able to use the regular one," he explained, "But this has been magnetized. Could hold an elephant in place and I don't think I have the wrists for a manual job!"
"Doctor, why is it you're the only Time Lord I know that carries a sonic screwdriver?"
"Because I'm the one who invented it, Jamie."
"Well why don't other Time Lords use something this handy?"
"Because I'm the one who invented it, Jamie." The Doctor repeated patiently as he adjusted the settings. "Time Lords are the most egotistical, pompous mix of vanity you ever saw. They'll carry around something they invented for themselves, but use something another Time Lord made? That's...well...bigamy." He tasted the unfamiliar, Earth word in his mouth thoughtfully. "Mind you, Jamie, if my future selves choose to use a sonic screwdriver, it will be completely different from the one I've got. We take individualism to a high art."
Jamie blinked fireballs from his vision as the last screw popped out, and grabbed the grille before it could tumble into space. The weight of the metal pulled him down and he overbalanced. Behind him he heard the Doctor gasp and a strong hand grabbed his jacket with a grip of iron.
Just in time.
Jamie stared frog-eyed at a sixty-foot drop if it was an inch. Pipes and cables and catwalks stretched to infinity in the new lights. Jamie suddenly wished he couldn't see it so well.
"Jamie!" The Doctor sounded like his hearts were doing the work of four.
"Thanks, Doctor." Jamie said quickly, and grunted as he yanked the grille back.
"Yes. Well." The Doctor took a deep breath and mopped his forehead. "Where were we? Yes. Do you see that catwalk right across from us—the third one down?" He pointed.
Jamie counted the third catwalk down from the metal ceiling. It stretched parallel to a gigantic cylindrical pipe colored the shade of white paint he knew meant "water" to Gallifreyans. "Aye, the one by the water pipe?"
"Yes, but I'm betting it isn't water at all. It's far too big to be practical for the minimum 24 cfs to make the water move itself throughout the Station." He tapped his chin, eyes narrowed. "That would be the black pipe further down, which makes more sense because that one is much closer to the floor—less damage if there's a break." He sighed. "We have to get over there somehow."
"When we were younger, we could just take a flying leap, ye know. I'm willing tae try."
"I'm not." The Doctor said flatly. "It's been hundreds of years for me, Jamie. I'm just not up to that sort of nonsense anymore."
Jamie was looking up. 'Ey, look at that thing up there." He pointed. A large metal pulley hung from the ceiling, a thick silver cable stretching from the floor to the top of the pulley's spool, and looped over to for the other side of an upside-down V. Large plastic tickets stuck to the cables; markers telling the technicians how far to rise or drop the cable to deliver goods according to department. "I bet we could jump to that, and it's halfway."
"That looks more doable." The Doctor admitted. "We jump out, grab the cable, and from there the catwalk."
"Let me go first." Jamie said firmly, and didn't wait for an argument. He just jumped. The Doctor swore loudly in his wake, panic ringing his voice. The Piper grimaced at the pinch of metal in his hand, but held on for dear life. He twisted, slightly, but the cable was thick and heavy against his weight. With a gleeful relief at surviving, the extending his hand. "Ready?"
"James Robert McCrimmon..." The Doctor scolded. Oh, that was a bad sign when he used his full name. The little man's eyes narrowed to slits. "Ready." And he jumped into the air. Jamie met his hand with his own and they clutched each other with a held breath as they twisted many storeys in the stale air.
Deep inside the heart of the Xenobia Station, the prevailing attitude was tense. Everyone was glad to be in a relatively safe postion, but not so grateful that they must wait for rescue. The Ice Warriors were proud of their duty as guards of the Third Zone, but sad to be missing out on an interesting time with the Sontarans; likewise the handful of Outsiders who lost the toss, and the Shobogans, who liked to fight but were finding a lot more amusement in watching the Doctor and Jamie plough through both Sontaran and CIA confabulations like so much wet paper. The expressions on the faces of the Time Lords added to the enrichment.
Surveillance was through temporal-lock cameras and as soon as the Sontarans had hauled off their two recalcitrant hostages, the Tribunal had invoked following them with those cameras. That was standard Gallifreyan High Council behavior, for nothing convicted the guilty as easily as their own actions. The Tribunal of course, was mortal enough to be be worried about the hostages' safety and it showed in the mild disruptions upon their serene expressions.
The Tribunal had been the selfsame Tribunal to declare the Doctor to death at first, and then listen to his reasons for interfering. They had said nothing about the CIA's meddling into their lawful decision to execute his incarnation and send his new one into Exile, but it was only a matter of time. The Tribunal was an old-fashioned sort and one the CIA felt was much less, to be crass, worldly about Universal affairs.
Madame Supervisor hoped she was imagining the amusement she could be seeing coming off the Tribunal at the CIA's discomfort. Every present member of the Agency was fervently and secretly wishing The Doctor had not been one of the Sontaran hostages. They had a terrible suspicion what the cameras would show the rest of the Galaxy.
And the suspicions were soon well-proven.
Hearts sinking slowly but surely in her ribs, Madame Supervisor as well as her fellow CIA officers watched as a tiny little man who was sitting somewhere in status between "the kitchen help" and "skeleton in the closet" broke out of a Sontaran cell in record time at the same time he was charting out circumstantial evidence and spinning it into logistical proof there was a treaty between Daleks and Sontarans. She wasn't certain she would have believed a verbal report; what they saw on the screens was alarming enough.
The Doctor's hard-headed belief that there had to be a design flaw in the holding cell illuminated more than anything the rocky nature of his relationship with his own people.
And from there, they broke out of the Commanding Sontaran's ship with nothing more than a primary school knowledge of engineering and his SRD.
And manage to do what Xenobia could not: analyze an horrific Dalek truce; discover an invasion that the CIA really should have known about, Contact Gallifrey, encourage a Transductional Barrier Technician to transmat over just before the power grids were scrambled, improvise a plan to compromise the Sontarans, challenge the Sontarans, decimate a 48-unit attack fleet with a TARDIS that was older than some of the rocks on Mount Perdition, anticipate the Sontarans's plans, rescue Axor from a firey death against the station's force fields, slip through the remaining barriers of the Station, re-unite with Axor, direct the Martian Fleet's tactics, and was now jumping about the air ducts like a moth-eaten shrew in the hopes of fixing a damaged Conduit.
The CIA had long known about the Doctor's less-than-charitable opinions on their capabilities, higher sensibilities, intelligence, personalities, and morals as well as their inability to carry a tune, dance a jig or brew tea. He took a juvenile satisfaction in throwing his comments into the air at random, aimed at the spy devices. It was part and parcel of dealing with him (his medical profiling records had long warned that without an immediate outlet for his energy, he would seek a much less pleasant outlet than bureaucratic name-calling).
But the CIA had been the only ones aware of the Doctor's scath until now.
The Shobogans, Loom them back to their misbegotten Houses, had settled back with a cheerful attitude and stood with the Ice Warriors and Outsiders in a loose box around the Courtroom. They were taking an unholy glee in watching the little Doctor's capers and taking notes (critical ones), which no one understood until the Doctor explained his past history with Markhall and his brothers.
Madame Supervisor wished she had known about this dark chapter in the Doctor's past. She felt her cheeks chill in horror as the little man's list of sins collected at the feet of Shobogans, kept going on and on.
"Now, now!" A burly woman exclaimed. "He left out the part about how to vomit up the venom!" She wagged a finger. "That's a separate skill all it's own!"
"He was probably distracted, Eci." Markhall said kindly. "He was trying not to fall to his death."
"Hmph. Careless. Finish what you start and don't get distracted!"
"Now what, Madame?" CIA Councilman Chep muttered.
He needn't have asked. Almost as soon as the words left his lips everyone was treated to the sight of the Doctor and his human take flying leaps from the Duct to the supply-hoist's cable.
The Human's reaction to their combined impact and spin must have been interesting; his heathen language burst through the air with fervor and calculation. The Doctor reached up with one hand and smacked him on the top of the head.
"Might I remind you I know what some of those words mean, Jamie?" The little man asked acerbically.
"Och! Now when did ye pick up Bretagne, I want to know!"
"When did you?"
"I asked you first!"
"Later...assuming we survive this."
"Oh, no ye don't. I want an explanation even if we don't survive this!"
"Jamie..." The Doctor rolled his eyes as they coordinated rocking back and forth to swing to their goal. "We've had this talk before about human reincarnation and Time Lord reincarnation."
"Aye. Human's are much better!" Jamie said firmly. "Now what's the next step?"
"The usual. Stop the people trying to kill us." With a puff he let go of the cable and landed on his feet in a narrow walk locked into the wall.
For many reasons, everyone in the Courtroom hoped the Doctor was successful. The CIA was the only group that just wanted him to finish so the Tribunal would stop recording his misdeeds for posterity.
"Oh, good heavens!" The little vagabond was exclaiming over a handful of parts and wires he had ripped out of the wall. "There's the problem!"
"Which is...?" The Piper asked patiently.
"We've got a leaking capacitor!"
"That can't be good."
"It's bad. We can't do anything else until we fix it-Bother-ation!" The Doctor swore words (mostly in Terran languages) that would have impressed his third incarnation. "What lumpish joke of a dropout designed these open circuits?" Appalled at the lack of common thermodynamic decency, the little man yanked an ohmmeter out of his pocket and started hacking away. "Magnetized!" He swore again, stuffed the screwdriver between his teeth and found his latest sonic screwdriver in his other pocket. A quick burst of power and the screws de-magnetized, unspiraling themselves from the hard plastic casing. The Doctor caught them hastily in his palm before they could fall, and, lacking a third hand, popped them under his chin before forcing the casing apart. "As if I ever doubted the CIA owns this junkheap." The Doctor blinked at what he saw, utterly disapproving.
"Do ye need any help, Doctor?"
"I don't think so, Jamie." The Doctor muttered back. "At least not yet!" He stuffed the casing in a pocket. "The ohmmeter is saying the capacitor is not leaking!"
"You said it was!"
"It is! A pinhole leak often doesn't show up on faulty capacitors! Now I've got to disconnect the doupling capacitor on the low voltage side. That means...oh dear, hand me the voltmeter—thank you—and Jamie, I'll need you to do this while I work on that."
The Piper crowded in. "Just tell me what to do."
"Connect the voltmeter between the free end of the capacitor, ground the set, and turn it on..."
Jamie was long accustomed to jackleg repairs with the Doctor, but this wasn't the TARDIS. He tuned out some of the riper words floating from between the Doctor's teeth (how he could talk with a screwdriver in his lips was a wonder), and did as he was told.
"Well, no wonder." The Doctor pulled out a little black box with a red button and about sixty wires looped around its bottom half. "There's half the problem right there."
"What is it?"
"Dimensional adjuster It's...well, it's like a ruler for the Conduits—essential for measuring the calculated dimensions of the Tunnels and compensating for error. Not in very good working order, I should think." He smacked it with the handle of his screwdriver. "Looks like someone was making do with spare parts. I'll bet they were fixing this back during Borusa's Grand Audit. Couldn't so much as lose the filament out of a lightbulb without signing a square kilometer of paperwork!" He shuddered at the thought, and put the device to his ear with a thoughtful expression. "It does work, but it's lost it's full charge. Down to its last sixty yards I'd bet. Not practical in a station this size." He shook it hard, and put it back to his ear, listening. "Beamsun's Model. The Equalizer went bad, and started draining the other parts of the Conduit...tsk! Now it's nothing more than a tiny time loop—sends events on the other side into a temporary halt by repeating the last three seconds over and over. Better than a forcefield...when they work." He gave the little box a bad look. "They must have lost the real bit, and didn't dare go explaining to Borusa they'd slipped up, so they hopped up an obsolete part..." He stuffed it in his pocket.
"Ey, what are ye doing?"
"Might need it."
"Ye said it's obsolete."
"People say the same thing about the TARDIS. Maybe I could turn it into something useful."
"Like what, an exhibit in yer ongoing 'How-I-wouldna'-Design-Gallery?' Are we ready to go?"
"Almost." The little fellow's hands were flying across the mechanical intestines of the Conduit Station. "Without a working Conduit, I'm going to have to trick the remaining six bits into thinking there really is seven..."
"Och." Jamie's head hurt. "Now how are ye gonna trick a machine?"
"Easily, I hope. They're not bright, and never as smart as me. They only do what they're told to do...and a conduit is really little more than a—ouch!-fancy GO light for a busy—ow!-traffic intersection—ahhh! Ouch, ouch, OUCH!" The Doctor yanked his much-mistreated hand out and blew on his fingertips. Smoke steamed from the inside of the wall, and Jamie hoped he imagined the smoke coming off the Doctor's hand. "Just have to turn on all the signals so the Conduits read GO—FINALLY!" He cheered.
"Hold the casing while I put this back...if it all goes wrong the plate can at least hold some of the explosion in."
"Och..." Jamie groaned. "Thank ye, Doctor. I've always wanted to be a mostly-intact corpse."
A few quick bursts and the plate was bolted back into the wall.
"Now to get out of here."
"Aye, but how?"
"By any means necessary!"
The Piper frowned, caught his eye on the cable that they'd jumped from...but getting down quickly might be a problem. He looked harder. At the top where it met the ceiling, the cable looped around a large mechanized pulley with a spool of cable attached. Welllll. He stretched to tug. He finally had to just take a risk and jump into space, grabbing the loose end. For a few terrifying seconds he spun like a top, but the cable corrected and stopped. He hand-over-handed himself up to the top where he could snap on the WEIGHT DISENGAGE control. Now his weight was enough to un-spool the cable, if slowly, and he swung his legs in the air, steering himself to a sturdy pipe about twelve feet away from and slightly below the Doctor.
"Ready?" The Doctor stuffed his tools back in his pockets.
"Ready as we'll ever be." Jamie braced his toes and gripped the cable, glad that he hadn't lost his heavy callouses in this soft place. "Climb aboard fer the scenic route through the undeveloped parts o' Xenobia. Be certain tae smile: Yer on CCTV. Probably. Age before beauty." He held out his free hand to the Doctor.
"J follows D." The Doctor took a flying leap into space just as sparks spat from the battered plate. Jamie got his left hand; the Doctor spun into the torque and wrapped his arms around the Piper's waist.
"Craig an Tuire!"
The two swung off from the wall.
"Yer losin' yer touch, Doctor." Jamie scolded as the cable sent them swirling through the Well. "Back in the day we'd be a lot closer to death than that!"
"Age happens to all of us." Something large exploded behind them. The heat of expended energy scorched the atmosphere. "Oh, my giddy aunt!"
"What did ye just do?"
"Not a thing! That has nothing to do with me!" The Doctor shouted back. "It's the Sontarans!" He gasped out loud and went briefly pale; Jamie clutched him tightly against his chest, just in time. For a terrifying moment the little Time Lord forgot his grip around the Piper. The small, clever eyes went dull and flat and glazed as though in death. Jamie tasted death for himself in the horror as he held on to the solid little body with all his braw.
"Doctair! What happened to ye just now?"
"Lady Ara.." The Doctor wheezed. "She just sent the Sontarans into the Tunnel...the Martians are safe. But she couldn't send them before they sent a last salvo."
Jamie swore. "Some days it's stoaner tae be an optimist."
"When were you ever an optimist, Jamie?" The Doctor asked curiously as they spun fifty feet down to the floor.
"The next time I complain about escapin' death by a larger hair, smack me." The Piper groaned.
"Look on the bright side! They're not Cybermen!" They landed on the bottom with a jarring thud.
"Och! That's always your answer tae EVERYTHING!"
"Well, it's true! They're horrid!"
"If they're so bad why d'ye keep runnin' intae them?" Jamie shouted over an exceedingly noisome chain of explosions. The floor didn't touch their feet too soon. "Ye knoo what yer Sixth self calls ye?"
"An antediluvian old fogey?"
"He says yer the Poster Child for Cybermen target practice!"
"Blame it on the TARDIS! I think she does it on purpose!"
"Och! Doctor the only thing that steers true on that machine is yer sense o' right and wrong!"
"Incoming!" The Doctor grabbed Jamie's head and pushed him down. A large chunk of alien machinery missed them by inches. "Well! Lifted the hairs on that one!" The little man exclaimed. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
"Would love to. How?"
"Hmn. Have to wait and time the run between the explosions, hoping in the meantime we don't get shredded into bits by flying shrapnel. Which will probably happen."
They watched the hissing maelstrom of a gauntlet that sparkled between themselves and freedom.
"Well, it looks hopeless."
"Yes, it does."
"I should have ye knoo, it's against my religion to just give up and nae gae doon fighting."
"Mine too. Look on the bright side, Jamie. All the innocents are out of the way. If anyone gets killed it'll only be us."
"Aye, true." Jamie nodded. "Well, let's not be late tae our own funerals. T'would be rude."
"Wait for it..." The Doctor silently counted down. "Now!"
"Craig an Tuire!"
Behind them explosions burst right and left; Sontarans were safely in the Time Corridor now, shooting back to Coreworld but their effects on the station were still there. The bursts grew faster, and louder. And closer. And harsher. Jamie felt burning metal sting his bare legs. The Doctor yelped as something hit the nerve cluster in his shoulder and stumbled, his face grey with shock. Jamie grabbed him up and tried to recover their lost speed. He slung him over his shoulder, hoping he didn't jolt the sharp bit of metal sticking out of the Doctor's back. The little man had gotten heavier with age, but the Piper was full of adrenaline and prayers. "Hold on, Doctor!" He panted. "We're almost...there!"
"Save your breath!" The Doctor groaned. He was in a lot of pain and trying to hold it in. Jamie felt him struggling with his pockets with his bad arm and good arm alike.
They weren't going to make it. The door was close, but he could feel the heat of the fireball behind them, and it was closer. And faster. It sucked the oxygen out of the air; he could smell melting metal, plastic, and the unmistakeable scent of their own clothing as it scorched...
If I can just get close enough, I can throw him out of the doorway... the blast would get him, but the Doctor would have a chance...
And then the air behind them rippled, bent, twisted...and the flames burst upon contact against its looping last three seconds.
The Doctor had found a practical use for the dimensional-adjuster after all.
They collapsed upon the floor of the first non-fatal looking room they could find. The Doctor simply folded up like a doll and flopped upon the carpet face-first. Jamie collapsed with only a tiny bit more dignity, using some sort of ornamental sculpture for a backrest. He couldn't lie down on his front or his back, much as he'd like to. The shrapnel had shredded the skin off his legs and something nasty and small had somehow managed to slice open his shirt at the ribs—a shallow cut but amazingly painful, like a foot-long papercut.
He also had what felt like radiation burns all over his skin—probably the effects of the explosions. Ouch.
"I feel like I just went throo a week-long dance contest wi' Yeti." Jamie groaned. At least the pain in his legs hadn't kicked in yet.
"I feel like I just took the High Council spelunking in the Shullcolbert Cave System in the height of blindworm season."
"That's bad, isn't it?"
"Shouldn't we be getting' up?" Jamie was finally starting to breathe normally.
"No." The Doctor had his face in the fold of his arm. The one not attached to the injured shoulder.
"Ey, Doctor." Jamie poked him in the ribs. A muffled sound—possibly rude—was his answer. "Ey, Doctor. Can ye get up?"
"Dzsn't mttr. M'not gttnup."
"Ye might want to get up."
"'VI get up, 'll ge' 'nvlved. I'm not getting involved in'nything f'rest of...day."
"You said you were gunna have a talk with Lady Ara's parents if we survived this."
"Don' think I won'!" The little man exclaimed indignantly. He lifted his head up, then quickly thought better of it. "Later." He gasped. His forehead hit the bone of his forearm and he went still.
Jamie sighed. The shard of metal sticking out of the little man's shoulder blade looked quite nasty. A small pool of orange-red had collected in the coat before the Doctor had managed to biofeedback the bleeding. "Want me to get that out of your back?"
"Might as well... 'f you don't...th't id't quack...slvrll...have to..."
"I'd best do it now, while I still have some strength in muh hands." Once his body finished off the war-haze, he would be a nervous wreck. If it was in the bone, it could easily be bent. The trick would be to pull it out in a way that conformed to the already sliced flesh without aggravating the rest. He used his sleeve to grip the edge of the metal and, far too experienced in dealing with the Doctor's injuries than any sane man would like, he pulled it out in a slow, smooth stroke. The Doctor only flinched once before going still, so the Piper figured he had fainted. Time Lords were really just too sensitive there, he shook his head. All those talents their bodies possessed, but a blow to the clavicle or shoulderblade made them weaker than kittens. It was another reason to be glad to be human.
Luckily, there was only one gush of blood to come out of the surgery, and that was small. Jamie found a sterile packet in his sporran and managed to slide it under the layers of the Doctor's coat and shirt to press it down on the wound. Yet again, he was glad the little fellow wore loose clothing. That made things so much easier.
That left the scalp wound at the base of his skull and the slice at his bare neck just below the scalp wound. Jamie shook his head and found more sterile pads. It wasn't a perfect solution—the pads would sterilize and keep the wounds hydrated. He'd need real medical attention soon. He caught sight of the Doctor's supposedly uninjured limb and frowned. The hand was curled loosely in on itself. He leaned over with a grimace of pain and gently opened the fingers. The contact burns from the telepathic circuits were small but nasty-looking, boring deep within his neurons. Well, that made sense. He'd needed a bridge between the brain of the TARDIS and his own brain...his own nervous system would have been a perfect path.
"I found them!"
Jamie wearily looked up. He blinked. His eyelids were sticky with sweat and blood—when did that happen? The Outsider girl with the bright red hair had scuttled in like a beetle, her bow at ready. "Are you all right, Piper?" She asked him, and for the first time, the Piper caught that she was speaking his language.
"Och, I will be...the Doctor needs help." More were coming in, brightly colored Outsiders, Shobogans, Ice Warriors...Xenobian guardsmen; a tall, furious man in dark robes...and the lights in the room were dimming up again. Or was he just on the edge of fainting? Sometimes it was hard to tell...
They were guiding him to his left side, where it hurt less. The Doctor was lying very still, rumpled silver hair falling over his closed eyes like a sleeping child. His mouth was slightly open, and Jamie felt a prickle of dread at a sudden thought.
"Doctor, wake up." He fought against the helping hands trying to ease him back. "Doctor! Wake up! Someone wake him up! He's go' a concussion!"
"It's all right, Piper." The Girl held his head in her lap, the movement making all spin in circles. She smelled, he thought with ridiculous clarity, of the wilderness, and real oxygen.
"He'll need medicine."
"He'll get it." She smiled. "You both will. I promise you." Around them people were bashing about, yammering, and shouting and there was some sort of quarrel, but Jamie's mind had had enough nonsense for the night. It turned off and let him sleep.
Jamie woke up in a hospital bed in a room adjusted to warmer Terran bodies. He blinked a bit at the cool white ceiling, and the assortment of strange plants in even stranger pots, letting his mind trickle back his awareness in stages.
It was quiet. Soothingly, blissfully quiet.
The Piper's eyes snapped open. He knew he was being paranoid, but he didn't care. With utmost consideration he struggled upright, wincing at his complaining ribs, and then something shot fire up his leg. He clutched at it in reflex. Bandages met his fingers.
He looked around the room slowly. It was a small private ward-room, and he was alone.
Jamie sighed, resigned, and pulled back the covers. He was dressed in the two-piece universal suit common to the Low Born Gallifreyans but that didn't bother him. It was comfortable. He stretched, limb by limb, and risked leaving the bed.
"Oh, you're awake!"
Jamie turned his heavy head. The angry-hair girl was coming in with a pitcher of water. She grinned at him.
"Oh. Aye. Hello."
"Hello yourself." She said merrily. "Would you like some water? They're awfully free with it here, but they do have enough to drink."
"Oh, yes. Please." He sank back to the edge of the bed and gulped the wonderful liquid. His eyes closed.
"The Doctor." He wrenched his eyes open. "Where is he?"
"Be calm, he will be fine. Would you like to see him?"
"Aye, that I would."
The Doctor was sleeping. A thin metal circlet rested on his head, wired to a box in the wall. His hand was in a healing glove and the Piper could see that even in sleep, his left arm was stiff and awkward at his side. Jamie gulped. "Now what are they doin' to him?" He wanted to rip him free from all the metal but couldn't risk it; it might be actually helping him. His fingers clutched at his side helplessly.
The Girl was puzzled. "It's a neural knitter. He did have a concussion. Also, we're told he hadn't spent enough time in the Zero Atmosphere before this mission started. So it's healing that too."
"Och. I dinnae know what to believe." Jamie mumbled. His shoulders felt two hundred pounds heavier and he sank into a chair against the bed, head handing down.
"Piper? I don't understand. It's to help."
That's what they always said. He tried not to look as heartbroken as he felt; perhaps she was telling the truth. Maybe this time he wouldn't wake up with his memories gone. "I'd like to stay with him, if I may."
"I don't see why not. My father let me stay to watch the two of you."
"Aye? How is that?" Jamie was curious despite himself—or hoping to learn some tactical information that could be useful later. "Why are the Outsiders involved in this mess, Miss..."
"Oki." She smiled at him. "Oki, Piper." She squeezed his hand and stared into his eyes with her own, which were a deep violet. "It's very simple, really. The Outsiders refuse most forms of technology, but mostly we refuse the technology of the Time Lords. But the Time Lords do on occasion, work with us when there are matters needing our attention."
Tired, Jamie found the nearest chair to the bed and sank in it; he reached up and gripped the sleeping Doctor's hand in his own, reassured by its coolness.
"On occasion, one of us wishes to seek a life of our own away from Gallifrey. The Third Zone has been hospitable to our needs, and there are many Colony Worlds that let us seek life in their territories. It is difficult because once they leave they can never return." The girl glanced down once, her face clouding. "Just before the Sontarans killed everyone on Xenobia, my father had been in talk—negotiation-to bring a cadre of our people to the Station. They wanted to try living with technology."
"I'm glad they didn't get to go." Jamie said honestly. "It was a terrible thing."
"I'm glad you survived." Oki smiled.
I like her. Jamie stared down, his cheeks going red. "I wasn't brave." He said quietly. "The Doctor told me to save myself. I wanted to stay with him. But I ran."
"But you did, and you lived, and you were able to save him and if it weren't for you being alive, I doubt this Station would still be here now." Oki was practical. "And I'll say you were brave because you obeyed an order that went against your grain."
Jamie breathed deep. He hadn't spoken of this to the Doctor, but eventually the time would come. He didn't look forward to it, for when the Doctor was hurt and defensive, he snapped worse than ever.
"Aye, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth." He admitted.
She grinned at him. "I understand. I don't always agree with my father's words."
Jamie blushed, glancing down. "Well...are ye one of the people who wants to leave Gallifrey?"
It was her turn to shrug. "It would be easier for me to leave than it would be for others. I'm not full-blooded Gallifreyan."
"Ye look it." Jamie said politely, even though it was usually impossible to tell the difference.
"My mother was half Tellurian. There are more of us out there than one might think..." He face clouded and grew sad. "But I talk too much. You should get your rest. You'll be needing it for later!"
"Later? What is later?"
"There will be a meeting to discuss everything that happened."
"Oh, no." Jamie moaned with full feelings. "Cannae we not just have the meeting wi'out us?"
"I'm afraid it doesn't quite work that way." But she smiled as she said it. "I am sorry. You will have time to rest first."
Jamie grumbled as she found another blanket. "They always have awful meetings." He grumbled. "Food-cubes and distilled water if you're lucky so ye can keep on going for hours past your endurance..."
"Outsiders and Ice Warriors will be present." Oki said firmly. "That means there will be flesh and fruit."
"Oh, that sounds better." But it was still a meeting.
"Shall we get this over with?" Markhall was asking. In the smallness of the conference room, his booming voice floated through the air and bounced off the rounded walls.
"By all means." A tall, beaky looking woman assured him.
Jamie grimaced and glanced to the Doctor. The little man was washed up with fresh clothes, but a sling bound his arm tightly to his waist. Without both arms inside his overlarge coat, he looked smaller than ever. His circuit-burned hand was wrapped in synthetic skin that crackled when he moved.
"Still up to your neck in the geothermals, you old rouge." Markhall had risen to his feet, and in a swish of leathery dignity, clapped the little man deep in his embrace. The Doctor winced at the sheer power of the grip-or maybe the stench of salt-cured animal hides on the huge man's person. "Didn't I say when we next met you'd be in prison or the High Council? I didn't think you'd try both! At least you're trying one at a time instead of both at once!"
"I'm more impressed that you're still standing." The little man grinned up at the huge one. "Still collecting cobras?"
"Everyone needs a hobby."
"Mine never killed me."
"Just that one time, you rouge." Markhall scolded. "Very well, let's get on with it...the sooner this is finished the sooner I can go home." He gave the Doctor a final pat that rocked him like a toy, and returned to his chair. It creaked.
"The CIA has been kind enough to permit us the use of this room for our discussion." The Tribunal had (of course) been present all along and chose to speak at that moment. Three serene, remote faces turned as one to the three CIA representatives and bowed from the neck down.
The CIA numbered Madame Supervisor, Councilman Jabor, and Councilman-Castellan Chep. Jamie had seen the last two on occasion, and usually had a hard time remembering them at all—which, the Doctor would be quick to add, made them dangerously typical CIAgents.
Jamie mused that the CIA did not look happy to be here, or loan their room, or be noticed.
"What exactly is the purpose of this meeting?" The Doctor asked tiredly. Jamie quietly guided him to the last available chair—doubtless left for his use on purpose. Everyone could see him as well as he could see them.
"This meeting is to informally come to a decision on the Sontarans." A tall, skeletal man with hard blue eyes slowly rose to his feet. "We have not been formally introduced, Doctor. I am the Viceroy of Xenobia."
"Ah. The new one." The Doctor nodded once and refrained from commenting about puppet rulers for shadow organizations. "Why are Jamie and I part of this meeting?" Skepticism hung a little thick on his voice.
Markhall chuckled softly. "While some might argue that you're well out of this mess, others were able to argue that you were already so involved with the preliminary, the beginning, and the end that you may as well sit through the epilogue." His eyes flashed wickedly.
"The biggest question is how you were able to anticipate the complex movements all around you, Doctor." The Viceroy began. "We were watching much of the events through our screens but we did not have your insight."
"Oh, that's hardly a mystery." The Doctor rolled his eyes. "I lived as a fugitive for how many years? One's instincts get a little sharper with the practice." A still-dark eyebrow popped up in additional commentary. "The disturbing bit's when you realize you've seen it all before."
"How did you know Vard was a renegade before we did?" The Viceroy was not happy.
The Doctor adopted an expression of patience. "Vard was hardly acting within the normal behavior for a Sontaran. Consorting with Daleks wasn't the half of it." He reached up with his free hand and tapped his chin. "He was Stike's Commander. Stike was until that point, the most atypical Sontaran I'd met."
"Atypical in what way?" Madame Supervisor asked sharply.
"To begin with, he actually expressed doubts for his actions that involved the partnership with Chessene and my necessary vivisection." The Doctor had by then become desensitized to that issue, but it still caused an emotional ripple throughout the room. Ignoring it, he continued: "He actually rationalized it to me that it was for Sontaran glory. Rationalization really isn't part of being a Sontaran." He leaned back in the chair with a momentary grimace at the press of cushion against his injured back. "But the real deciding factor? That was when he refused to fight me in a duel after I insulted his honor and challenged him on his treachery."
"Och!" Jamie groaned, hitting his forehead with his palm. "Choost like hoo Vard overlooked th' chance tae fight Axor in a duel to restore his honor! Ey, hold on noo! That's how ye got your cheekbone cracked, isn't it?"
"Yes." The Doctor said sourly. "If he was a true Sontaran, he would have broken my neck or accepted the challenge. I'd be dead and worthless to Chessene at the one, or I'd be free and on my feet—and heading straight for the Time Machine with the nearest bomb." He scowled. He caught on that they were staring at him. "What?"
Jamie closed his eyes for a moment. "Naething, Doctor." He said quietly. "They're just noo used tae the way ye think." As if anyone ever would be.
Once, the Doctor once yelled in a fit of forge-hot choler, that there was no such thing as an unimportant life. Be that as it may, his habit of acting as though every other life was more important than his left much to be desired.
"Anyway, Stike, like Vard, turned down a duel after a deadly insult, but he never quite...personally denied the insult!"
"That musst have been quite the inssult!" Axor lisped.
"I thought so too. I compared his treachery as natural to his alliance with the Androgums. But he also said something interesting. He refused on grounds that I wasn't a Sontaran. That's a new line, and one that Vard used. It caught my attention."
"Vard was Sstike'ss Leader." The Ice Lord hissed softly. "He would of coursse sspeak with Vard'ss wordss."
"Sontarans traditionally care about their honor and how they look. Non-Sontarans come in second-best, true. Each and every time, a Sontaran will put his race before anyone else's. If someone puts them up to their honor, they usually respond because it rather defeats the purpose of being superior if you can't demonstrate your superiority every now and then." The Doctor missed having both hands free. He tapped his fingers against his knee. "You see, if they permit lesser beings to mock them, it sets a bad precedent."
"Would Vard be the brains behind this show o' trade with the Daleks?" Jamie asked politely. He got the feeling Madame Supervisor didn't want him to be here at all, much less talk, but she couldn't risk the ire of the Ice Warriors.
"It's the only thing that makes sense out of the information." The Doctor smiled slightly. "Congratulations, Jamie. What's your reasoning?"
"Nae reasoning, just the facts." The Piper shrugged. "They had Dalek weapons and tools; they had Dalek cells." He picked up one of the odd little drinks and frowned at it. "Then there's the whole riddle with the Time Vortex." He took a cautious sip and was glad he could keep it down. Sometimes you never knew with Gallifreyans. "And I'm betting you weren't headin' back tae the Sontaran Coreworld a'all. They were takin' ye straight tae the Daleks."
"That is a wild leap of thought." One of the CIA agents—Chep—tucked his hands deep in his sleeves. Jamie saw the Doctor often do the same thing in agitation, and had a new perspective on why his Doctor adored his coats so large.
"When it comes tae the Doctor, the Daleks will actually condescend tae make treaty." Jamie scowled. "Not that they plan tae keep it. They're like Cybermen that way.
"The Sontarans were daft to work with the Daleks, because the Daleks only conquer and destroy everything that comes their way. Ye literally hae' ta sup wi' a long spoon at their table." Jamie saw the Doctor's hand trembling again and passed him one of the drinks. He needed something to do, and holding a glass would help. "I'm guessin' that both sides were playin' each other for what they wanted and pretendin' tae get along. The Daleks are always lookin' fer supplies in their conquests, and they've offered huge rewards for th'Doctor in the past. Then ye have the Sontarans. They're always needin' resources for their war, and they can travel in large parts o' the Galaxies that they cannae.
"At the same time, Sontarans badly want time travel. They probably ponied up wi' the Daleks because they were the only race they could find that do any sort o' time travel and not be allied wi' the Time Lords." Jamie made a face. "The Daleks gave 'em that Vortex Magnetron sae they'd spring that surprise on Gallifrey."
"Why would they give such uneasy allies something as valuable as a Magnetron?" The Keeper asked softly.
"Because both races have a very solid common ground." The Doctor answered dully. "They are absolutely confident of their abilities, and have no fear. Both are well-established in taking opportunity of a power vacuum when a war leaves an area weak." He closed his eyes for a moment. "If the Sontarans won, they would be distracted by their campaign and the Daleks would come in and take them over before they could refresh their numbers. If the Sontarans lost, the Daleks would find Gallifrey exhausted and unprepared."
"Aye, and they also gave it up because it was a small price to pay if they get their skookum tentacles on you." Jamie said sternly at the Doctor.
"The Daleks hate you that much?" Niven spoke with his eyebrows up. "I suppose congratulations are in order."
"I'm not sure if they hate me, so much as I offend them." The Doctor mused in his soft voice. "It must be dreadfully aggravating to yell "Exterminate" for so many thousands of years, and this one person just keeps popping up and not getting exterminated. Hmmn. I must be quite the rude fellow."
"I shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn't been rude to Vard." Markhall was serious as he looked at Jamie. "It provoked events ahead of his planned time. "
"Aye, well, do what yer best at." Jamie shrugged with a bashful smile.
"You're best at insulting people?" Markhall chuckled.
"Oh, no. That's his job." Jamie jerked his thumb at the Doctor. "I just keep an eye on him...make sure he only gets in trouble up tae his neck and nae over his head."
The Martians laughed. "Sso we ssee." Axor was smiling. "Every Mirror has a frame."
The Doctor jumped slightly, and gave the Ice Lord a sharp look but said nothing as he smiled. Jamie had the sense something was said beneath the words.
The meeting started to lag as the appointees dickered back and forth on various points. Jamie's eyes grew heavy, and when he glanced at the Doctor, he was envious to see the little man was taking a nap bolt upright.
"You have acted for the benefit of Chimera." The thin Minyian Ambassador cleared her throat. "We thank you for everything that you have done and we ask what we may do in return."
"I didn't do all this to gather a debt!" The Doctor snapped.
"Doctor!" Madame Supervisor barked. "Apologize at once!"
"I will not!"
"Calm down, Thete." Markhall lifted a hand the size of a frying pan. "Unintentionally unfortunate wording, I'm afraid. He's always been a little bit defensive about his motives." The huge Shobogan smiled at him. "The truth is, he doesn't have motives. He just does...what he does because he doesn't have a choice. If you think of him as a holy madman, you'll do much better with understanding him."
"It takes one to know on, Cobra Breeder." The Doctor grumbled.
"Just for that, I'm naming my latest subspecies after you. It's small, and a mottled green the exact shade of your maniac eyes, and hunts by ambushing with a false lure on the end of its tail. Oh, and when I say it's small, I'm also referring to the brainpan."
"I knew I'd live to regret beating you so miserably in that Sepulchasm Tournament."
"So were you. Ergo, I won the cheating contest."
Axor was enjoying the scene hugely—or perhaps the scene of the puffing and purpling CIA. Probably both. Ice Warriors were pragmatic. "We undersstand. Let us remove the debt before it startss. Requesst of uss."
The Doctor took a deep breath. "I have a suggestion. Only a suggestion." He waited a moment, collecting his thoughts as he pressed his fingertips together. "Chimera needs to exist. What happened to it was...dreadful. And what it has done is create a terrible vacuum of mental power. It needs to be healed...and restaffed." His eyes narrowed. "Without species like Androgums."
"This is not an unfair suggestion." The Viceroy nodded. The Minyan delgate also nodded.
"I'm not finished. There are two good people who would be ideally suited for helping Chimera restore its previous purpose." His fingertips pushed into each other so hard it was a wonder the whorls of his fingertips didn't catch with each other. "Two of my former Companions. Zoe Heriot, of the Space Wheel. Her intellect is easily on par with Dastari's, but she completely lacks the ability to go bad the way he did—she simply doesn't have the arrogance and ego involved. It would offend her sense of logic and order. If anyone could coordinate the Chimera and hold it together, it would be Zoe. Offer her a place with you, and for any family who would accompany her.
"Zoe Heriot is a Human? And she rivals Dastari's intellect?" Markhall blinked but Narvin grinned as though a very rich joke had just been sprung upon an audience too stupid to catch its beauty.
"Yes." The Doctor said flatly. "She's a multilevel calculator, able to receive, collate, summarize and triage large amounts of data on a daily basis. Her personal ethics are as strong as her mind. You will not find her swayed by dreams of glory and achievement for its own sake." And thank goodness her mental defenses had strengthened during her years on the TARDIS.
"We agree this could be done." The Viceroy said slowly.
"Her memory should be graphed first." Madame Supervisor spoke up. "She was memory-wiped in the past, as you recall, Doctor."
"Of course." The Doctor smiled slightly. "But I posit that even if there were issues with her memory, she would still remain a most useful contribution. Her current timeline is...to put it delicately...a waste of her talents and her timestream ends without note due to the well-meaning interference of the Time Lords that, when they erased her memories of traveling with me, also erased her natural development. Her era is now a Divergent Zone—a conduit into a Parallel Universe."
The temperature dropped about thirty degrees on the side of the room that held the Time Lords. The Doctor smiled at it. There was no warmth in his eyes at all.
"If you believe this young person is suitable for the Chimera, then by all means I will speak in her defense and work to bring her to Chimera." The Minyan agreed softly.
"Ass do we." Axor lisped. "A persson going to wasste is a double liability for the future. Chimera musst be resstored."
"And that leaves the other candidate; Victoria Waterfield." The Doctor kept his face cool and smooth, but his eyes were distant, looking through the wall opposite. "Victoria is an ambassadorial and diplomatic dream come true. She's highly intelligent, but her genteel personality misleads most people into misunderstanding her It is always to their dismay to be caught out in her cleverness. She is resistant to hostile minds and has survived long-term exposure to the Great Intelligence without damage to her psyche. She is resourceful, maternal, and able to get the most unlikely people to do what is needed to be done. Also, she has boundless compassion and gentle wording. She is a rare example of manners and intelligence, and even when sorely tested, she would never place her own value as more important than another's. She is a natural inspirer, a counselor, a mediator, and a communicator.
"Chimera needs this! Dastari was permitted to get as far as he did with his foolish schemes because there was an obvious barrier between his office and the rest of the station. He was entrusted with the care of the Station, but he didn't CARE about anyone in it! Anyone who wishes to be a part of Chimera needs to break down these barriers; lofty goals for helping the Universe aren't enough! The future Chimerans need to be able to LIVE together, WORK together, and ACT together, to bond closely and know when matters are out of true. That is the ONLY guarantee against this sort of tragedy ever again!" He struck his leg with his fist, ignoring the pain in his fingers from the action.
"You say little in way of describing her intelligence." Madame Supervisor's eyes narrowed.
"She had the best education of her era, which, I should add, placed a heavy emphasis on problem-solving and creative thinking. Her late father was intelligent enough to begin preliminary time-travel studies with primitive Industrial Revolution technology—fascinating stuff; much more organic than ours. Her mother was well known for her skill in politics. That requires an intelligence all its own, I would say." He smiled slightly. "She has never stopped learning and is well steeped in the non-temporal philosophies of Earth. Victoria is the best of her parents. She has the moral courage to stand for her beliefs. Even though the Daleks murdered her father and kept her a prisoner, she was resilient, protective of others, and never thought to strike out at the Daleks in anger. She values life, knowing full well that a life, once taken, cannot be taken back."
"So far, you have asked reasonably." The Minyan Skide tilted her head to one side. "But if I may, your requests are for the good of Chimera and the Third Zone. Do you ask for nothing for yourself?"
The Doctor's expression went from mild to almost blank, then almost instantly shuttered down. His eyes narrowed absently, and he still did not look at anyone in the room.
"There is nothing granted by the powers in this room that I could possibly want." An iceberg had more warmth than the Doctor's voice at that moment.
Jamie held his breath, thinking his heart was beating too loudly. "Aye, but there's still unfinished business on Earth. Perhaps we should make sure it's all settled?"
The small man's mouth suddenly twitched up. "Quite right, Jamie." He almost purred. "There is the small matter of the remnants of the Sontaran project. All under UNIT possession now. They're splendid fellows but I dislike the idea of advanced alien technology sitting about on a Level Five planet...even if said technology is a pile of burned-out bits in their Vault."
"Huh. Ye just cannae stand unfinished business." Jamie scoffed, folded his arms over his chest.
"It is my favorite failing." They grinned into each other's eyes. The Doctor looked at Skide dead in the face, still smiling. "That would work. Let us finish tying up those loose ends...see how far Dastari's tissue sample experiments got, and get the Sontaran relics back where they belong—in custody."
"My apologies, everyone, but the Doctor has gone over his authority." Madame Supervisor had risen to her feet. "The fates of his Companions are under the CIA's jurisdiction." She glared at him. "Your attempt to arrange their escape is quite transparent."
The Doctor rose to his feet wearily, and tilted his head up to look down his nose at the tall woman. "I wouldn't dream of manipulating events to get what I wish." He said evenly. "If you can find two better-suited candidates for the healing of Chimera, by all means do so. I for one, wish to meet these paragons of virtue with my own two eyes." His smile grew deadly. "And you'll note, I never asked. I merely suggested."
"At any rate, we have already unanimously decided in the Doctor's favor." Skide looked at Madame Supervisor with very little love. "If they are indeed under your authority, you must welcome the chance to be rid of more parolees."
"This is not decided!" She protested.
Everyone shuddered and looked at the Tribunal standing in the corner.
"For this matter the Tribunal waived our authority in order to give those most affected by the tragedy of Chimera, the power to heal. And the Doctor is correct about Zoe Heriot. In our attempt to restore the Timeline of the young human, we strangled her natural development, and that of her world. There are two 21st century Timelines now. Hers goes nowhere; it is inert. A Parallel Universe awaits on the other side of this Timeline by only the merest membrane. Placing her in a proper growth environment is an acceptable redress. If she so chooses to take this opportunity." The tallest Tribunal member tipped his head to one side. "If Gallifrey is to remain responsible for all of its citizens, it should see to the needs of the Outsiders and Shobogans, not just those who dwell in the Citadel. Chimera must be supported so that all of our peoples have the chance to explore the rest of the Universe."
Unsaid but known was the sad fact that the technologically arrested Outsiders had all the freedom to leave, while the Time Lords and those within the Citadel did not. They were chained by their own noble caste to remain on-planet save severe circumstances.
"I'm sure I can explain it to her." The Doctor smiled. "I...and Jamie."
"Then it will be done."
Outsider Narvin and Markhall were smiling. "Never play Sepulchasm with a Deca," Markhall quoted to his duaghter. "Do you see, my dear?"
The Doctor stood slowly. Jamie helped him. "I shall leave you now and take some rest. What I have stated are my wishes, nothing more. It would be good to see Chimera restored. I bid you goodnight."
Neither man spoke on the way back to the oubliette. Jamie could have been floating on a cloud for all he cared. He bubbled, thinking of their reunion with Zoe and Victoria. He beamed. He could have skipped but he did have some semblance of dignity and they weren't alone just yet where he could start on the whooping and hollaring. A shivaree of dignity-free celebration was scheming its way through his mind before he realized his companion hadn't said a single word since leaving the Meeting-Room.
"What is it, Doctair? Are ye all right?"
"Right enough, Jamie—thank you." The little Time Lord smiled at him, shifting his arm in its sling. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine. Now that we're going tae see the lasses again—even better."
"Those 'lasses' would prefer to be called ladies, you know."
"Och, ye can get away wi' callin' em "Dear Child!" Why can't I call 'em lasses and lassies?"
"Jamie, I can call you 'Dear Child' if I wish—there are a few centuries between us!" The Doctor chuckled lightly as he held out his wrist to the scanner. They transmatted into their rooms and collectively shared a breath of relief.
"Thank the Lord. It's over."
"Until the next time." The Time Lord said gloomily. "I say we wash up and get some sleep. I want to be up and ready when they approve our flight plan back to Earth."
"I'll nae argue." Jamie said fervently. He promptly showered and threw himself into the heated water of the man-made pool. A few dozen laps and his entire body tingled from scalp to sole. Bliss.
The Piper closed his eyes and floated on his back in the warm, salted water (simulated to resemble the one and only "ocean" on Gallifrey, but if you asked him, it was more like a brown pond full of salt water—something perhaps suited to eels and oysters, but they had neither on Gallifrey. There was bacteria in this water that Gallifreyans were supposed to keep in contact with; Jamie had made an honest effort to study it, and finally realized that whilst humans ate foods like cultured milk and vegetables, Gallifreyans did neither; they simply kept up contact with the waters of their origin...
Where is he?
His eyes snapped open. Normally the Doctor would be here, submerged until Jamie would panic and dive down to yank him to the surface. It was a semi-serious game they played, but they always played it.
He probably forgot again, all caught up in his business... Jamie grumbled to himself and pulled out, dried off almost instantly in the Gallifreyan-arid climate, and shrugged into a pair of Tartan trousers, determined to track down the Doctor and see to it get at least took a trip to the steam-house before bed.
He was opening the door, mouth parting for a scold, when he froze up and backed into the shadows.
The little Time Lord was standing stock-still in the center of the room, head down and hands clenched about his temples. His eyes were closed as his face clenched shut.
And, heart pounding, Jamie actually heard the Cold Voice as soon as the door opened.
...You overplayed your hand, Doctor.
Jamie shook like a leaf at the feel of that mind in the room. He had never before sensed more than what a common human was capable of; this was different. What had happened? Had he changed?
The Doctor was far too tired to react quickly. He stopped and stood unmoving for a long moment as the moment slipped away.
"I am doing the best I can." He said at last in the cold air of the empty room. His voice was heavy as lead. "I don't expect you to understand it. But I am doing the best I can."
"You will have your rest, and you may have your dreren with you. But after this you will not see them again."
Deren. Toy children. Play children. The Time Lord-voice was accusing the Doctor of seeking a transparent solace in lesser beings because he no longer had his real children. Jamie's gorge heaved and it was all he could do to hold still.
"I rather expected that much." The Doctor said quietly. "The only thing I couldn't figure out was...the when." He bowed his head again.
You are clever, Doctor, but you are not as clever as I. I have lived many more centuries than you, and I know you far too well.
"Did I ever say I was more clever than you?" The Doctor snapped hotly. "Did I ever?"
...No. I grant you you did not.
And on that last note...the cold voice slipped away, like a ghaist melting in a sunbeam.
The Doctor turned his back from the emptiness and the two stared into each other's faces. The Piper impulsively ran over and wrapped the other man in his arms, feeling the strength tremble in that terribly tired body.
"Ye did it." Jamie said through his tears. "Ye did it, Doctair. They'll be free o' the CIA forever."
"At last." The Doctor said into the Piper's shoulder. "At long...long...last."
"But don't," Jamie scolded, 'Ye be thinkin' ye'll get rid of me so easily!"
The Doctor made a strange sound, a laugh mixed with a sob. "I don't think I could, Jamie." He said honestly.
"Och, I'm bein' foolish." Jamie choked. "They'll try tae get me away from ye, won't they?"
"So long as they need me to do their dirty work for them...no." The Doctor closed his eyes against the fabric of Jamie's shirt. "They're not so foolish as to take away their most reliable bargaining chip." He shuddered at the thought. "It's going to be dangerous, Jamie. More than ever."
"Ye daft little man, it's always been dangerous. Life is dangerous. It's not worth livin' if ye're not true tae yerself."
"Quite right, Jamie." He answered dully. But he couldn't bring himself to move. "I mean it. We've always been on borrowed time, but now it will be more than ever."
"It's worth it." Jamie said firmly. "Don't we all live on Borrowed Time?"
"Time Lords." The Doctor sighed. "We glimpse the paths of Time; we can sense outcomes and what-ifs."
"But lately..." The Doctor took a deep breath, still holding on to Jamie for all he was worth. "Jamie, I've never been very...aware of the Temporal possibilities. And this model's the least aware of all. I operate on a...subconscious level more than anything. It's kept me alive because it kept me from being too predictable. But lately..." He took another deep breath and held it in. "Lately it's gotten worse."
The Threads of my Time are Tightening.
Jamie heard the Doctor's soft voice in his mind again, and with it, an impression: a figure connected to the Universe with glowing wires made of light, opposing ends stretching in all possible directions and lengths. Most of the threads were vibrant; healthy looking and hummed a melody the Piper wished he could fully hear.
But not all the threads were healthy, and not all sang. A handful of lines were thin and small, their glow weakened and sickly. They had no music, but a low whimper of distress; a tuning fork off the true. They shivered and trembled and strained to hold on.
What are they? Jamie asked, afraid he already knew the answer.
The oldest Threads in my Timestream. If they ever Sunder, I will be changed from the...person you know."
Jamie's heart slipped halfway up his throat. He had almost heard the Doctor say, "I will be changed from the Doctor you know," but the little man had been afraid to use the word. He was afraid he would no longer be the Doctor?
How can this be? He asked.
The longer I work outside my natural Timestream, the more the strain. They're fully aware of this, and justify it as a means to the end. Very results-oriented. The Doctor swallowed hard; Jamie felt the movement against his body. They could completely sever me from my Timestream if they wanted...they could always put me back, heal the damage...but I can't believe I'd be the same.
They're using you up. Jamie realized.
Until I die.
What aboo' yer Future Selves? Won't they be affected?
The Future's already happened, Jamie. It's going on, even though technically I was force-regenerated centuries ago. I'm falling apart because they haven't let me return to merge with my natural events...and they can still influence what my future selves remember and feel of me. And to be honest, I doubt they can return me anyway. I've worked too long for them. Even with my memories wiped, if they put me back into the Temporal Stream, I risk contaminating my Future Selves on what I know...what I've done. They can't risk it. No, I'm dying, Jamie. It's only a matter of when.
Yer body, ye mean. But never yer soul, Doctor. Never your soul.
How much of a soul will I have left when they're finished with me?
Never say that. Jamie held on tight. The Doctor was not overly taller or heavier, but the sheer weight of his age made him feel that way. Explain this. What does it mean to be Sundered?
It means being cut away from my past and future selves save in the faintest terms. They'll remember me but in the same way you remember a half-forgotten dream...or a nightmare. That's all I'll be to them. A memory...of a memory...of a memory. If I'm lucky, a part of me has already survived so that I can live on, tap into this broken timestream I live on...and from there...connect to my selves.
But what about the you that you are right noo? What will happen to you?
I don't know. The Sundered are rare, Jamie. Rare and...pitied. An example to frighten children into good behavior. Most go mad or...they simply vanish.
But ye won't, will ye? Not ye?
Jamie, how do I know?
Jamie thought fast. Ye won't if ye can help it, surely.
But if I have nothing to anchor to...I can't help it.
Ye've got us. Jamie urged frantically. Doctair...please. Ye have us. Even if we canna remember ye, it canna last. And ye mean sae much to us all. Dinnae not say ye'll gae back tae the Cauldron tae be remade like so much iron.
What you're saying...I don't know if it's possible.
An' when has that ever stopped ye from trying?
For some reason, that got Jamie a laugh. He relished the victory and held tight.