“Are you injured, Lady?” asked an Olympian with long, strawberry-coloured hair, and emerald eyes. Her voice was soft and melodious as she reached out to place a hand on the Alpha’s shoulder.
The Alpha felt a nudge at the edge of her consciousness, and jerked away from the contact. What the hell was wrong with these people that they so freely entered the minds of one another? Hadn’t they ever heard of privacy? There were bloody rules! You had to ask for permission! She’d never encountered another telepathic species that behaved so wantonly with everyone and everything! Damned uncivilised, if you asked her.
“No!” She tried to shrug it off with a smile. “No, jus’ shaken up a bit, y’know? Thanks—er—for gettin’ rid of him. I’m not from around—er—this city, so could you tell me where you’re goin’?” She schooled her features into a mask of sincere curiosity as she addressed the woman speaking to her.
“Surely, you have midday devotions in…? From which city did you mention travelling?” The Olympian cocked her head, and offered a hand to help her to her feet.
She didn’t take it – trusting the touch about half as far as she could throw the woman – stood on her own, and looked around at the group surrounding her.
The majority of the crowd had entered the temple, save the four who had hauled the Doctor away, but thirteen remained behind.
Seemed like too many.
Their charade must not have been very convincing. She would need to do some serious thinking on her feet if they were going to trust her enough to talk, and not simply arrest her too. She already had the disadvantage of a closed telepathic link. That would likely seem a bit dodgy if they were so keen with one another all the time.
“Oh, right, yeah,” she hedged distractedly, “we do ours differently… Let’s— let’s go in, shall we?”
“What do you call yourself, Lady?”
A concession would have to be made if she wished to make any headway.
Sighing involuntarily, she carefully opened her mind a very controlled fraction, and touched the woman addressing her to demonstrate the truth of her words. “Selene. An’ yours?”
The woman’s suspicious demeanour softened and took on an unsettling, reverent quality, “Lady Selene Luminous, I am Nymph Clytie. It is an honour to have you among us. We have been waiting.”
Probably not good.
“‘Course you have…” she muttered.
Did she unknowingly impersonate some celebrity? Was she about to crash a party she had no business attending? And, what if the real one showed up? What then? Did they think she was the moon goddess – or Titan…Titaness? – or—er—whatever the moon was to the Greeks? She really wished she’d paid more attention to the Earth mythology, but with so many conflicting stories, and no opportunity as yet to go and see it for herself, she was floundering. She’d just have to fake it. It would help if they trusted her, but she had a feeling she wasn’t going to pull that one off for long.
She hated the sudden overwhelming wish the Doctor were back to help her through this… mess… even if he had just left her to it. She didn’t care for being out of control of the situation when she’d said she could handle it.
“Er—oh, well, lovely,” she smiled, trying to recover her composure and self-confidence. “I’m—er—here…”
Not so smooth.
Right. It didn’t count as utterly failing if they continued looking at you like you hung the moon, did it?
…Which… maybe they thought you did?
“Erm… Devotions then?”
She made to move through the ring of golden, silk-swathed women, but they only smiled, and barred her exit.
“I believe something far more important awaits you. We should not linger. We have waited so very long for your return.”
“Have you now? Don’t actually remember ever bein’ here before, but, you know,” she waffled, her adrenal response kicking in and running for her life seeming like a good option if it continued much further, “such a long life an’ all, memory’s goin’ a bit. What’ve you been waitin’ for again? There a—a moon ceremony soon?”
“If you will, yes. Please follow me. The Others will be waiting as well.”
Fear, and the beginnings of anger coursed through two fluttering hearts.
“Yes, with the other wolves.”
“The others of your kind.”
Oh, sod it all.
“Right.” Fully angry, and adrenaline channelled for a fight rather than flight, she challenged the ginger Nymph with all the menace of a cornered animal, “You will be givin’ them back. I do not ask twice. When did you know then?”
Nymph Clytie smiled sweetly, undaunted by the Alpha’s posturing. “Perhaps ruses are better suited to lesser races,” she returned with a small bow. “We have seen into the youngest wolf, and your name is known to me. I thank you for relinquishing the pretences. Will you now follow us, please?”
Better bloody aliases. When on a planet of telepaths, one must use better aliases. Perhaps ‘John Smith’ wasn’t daft after all. ‘Sally Woolfe’ would’ve only exposed her as well.
Maybe – and she’d be buggered before she admitted it aloud – she was coming to understand what Jack had said about her compulsive planning. What she needed then was not a plan, but the ability to improvise. She felt like a spectacular idiot.
And she was supposed to be the responsible one!
How the hell was she going to get them all out of this in one piece?
They either knew what she was, or thought she was something weird, and neither option inspired a lot of confidence.
She shifted from foot to foot, and huffed indecisively.
She was physically smaller than the Olympian women. Not drastically, but enough to make all the difference. They ranged from near her height, to just over two metres, and, though lean, they were muscular and athletic, each carrying at least two stone on her skinny, adolescent-boy frame. She’d never overpower them, even if she went for the element of surprise. There were too many, all intent on watching her every move.
She’d just have to suck it and see what they wanted, then give them the slip when she could.
At least, she now had an idea what happened to her brothers.
And it wasn’t bloody chatting up girls. Prat, she thought, smug in the knowledge that, though they were getting cosy with the Doctor, she still knew them best.
“Yeah,” she managed, sensibly nodding to the ginger woman with the jewel-bright eyes, “lead on.”
The ladies maintained their perimeter around her as they led her through the temple where the rest of the townspeople went about their devotions – which seemed to consist of a lot of drinking the amber liquid the Doctor had called Ambrosia, and slipping into trances. Selene suspected they were tapping into a unified consciousness. A Hive-mind. They undulated to an unheard music and seemed to flit around the temple, preparing offerings, and rose garlands.
The Alpha was nearly bowled over by the force of the telepathic assault. It was enormous. No wonder they couldn’t resist. It wasn’t malicious, only inviting and intoxicating in its seductiveness – and terribly, terribly overwhelming…
…and, not getting inside her. Bollocks to that. She knew how easily a group of people could be tricked, or influenced act in atrocious ways if they engaged in this kind of activity – especially with regularity. The spectacle seriously alarmed her.
She was first led into an ante chamber, where shimmering white and gold robes were laid on a small, marble altar. The women began tugging at her tattered, blue ones, and Nymph Clytie came forward with a basin of rose-scented water, and a sea sponge.
“Oi!” She slapped at their hands and clutched at her rags. “No! No, no, no. None of tha’. Not necessary. Really. Please, jus’ leave me be.”
She backed away into the waiting hands of two Olympians behind her.
“The Wolf Goddess has touched you, yet your glory is covered,” Clytie cajoled. “We must remedy this.”
Oh, bloody hell!
Disguise was just stupid, she decided. The Doctor never bothered himself, so why did she think it was so important? She’d still ended up in trouble! She’d never do it again. Completely mental to trust paint and a few wisps of cloth. She yearned with both her hearts for her leather jacket.
“No!” she insisted vehemently, as if it would do any good. “You don’t understand, it’s all covered for a reason!”
They just stared at her silently with expectant eyes, and eerily placid smiles.
She growled, and scrubbed her face with her hands. “Look, I’m not happy ’bout it— in fact, I’d love to show you jus’ wha’ I think of your intrusive behaviour with more’n words— but you were in my brother’s head, yeah? I know you know wha’ I am. Oi! Back off, Red!” She shoved once more at the green-eyed Nymph, and clutched at her ragged robe. “You know tha’ I know you lot don’t care for Time Lords. I know tha’ you know tha’ I’m not a normal one either. An’ you know tha’ I know tha’ you know enough to know tha’ this could be very bad for me, so, please, can we jus’ skip it?”
Again, the tugging resumed, and she had to duck under many limbs to back herself into a clearing.
“Wait! Jus’ wait! I’m willin’ to help your people, yeah? But I need to stay bloody covered until I can get home an’ put my regular clothes back on!”
“Lady, you claim to be a Lord of Time, but you are clearly our goddess returned to us!” Clytie admonished in a silky voice. “The Lords of Time do not burn as you do, are not touched by celestial prophesy! I was under the assumption we had dispensed with pretence.”
The Alpha was thunderstruck. She had no idea what to say to disabuse them of such gross notions. She stood motionless for a few moments with her mouth hanging open like a fish while they closed in. “Look, tha’s—er—brilliant an’ all, but ‘s definitely not me. I am a Time Lady, an’ I can’t do… whatever it is you’re expectin’,” she spluttered. “I don’t—I’m not a god! ‘S no burnin’ in me. I’m not—I mean you don’t really believe in magic, or divine intervention, do you? Tha’s rubbish! Really, I gotta get my brothers an’ my friends, an’ we’ll jus’ go. We’ll go! We don’t belong here, an’… an’ I’m sorry, but… but I can’t help you like tha’.”
Their expressions tore at her hearts, but she didn’t know how else to get them to let her go without a fuss.
Then, almost as though some force grabbed hold of each of them and shook them loose of their senses, their faces slackened, and the hands on her tightened. They looked at her once again like she was the singular hope for their futures. Clytie moved in closer with glazed eyes, and stroked her face with a rapt expression.
“Lady Selene Luminous, why would you ever leave us again?” The green-eyed woman whispered. “Your coming has been foretold, you must not leave us.”
For a Death Engine, it was elegant.
An incredibly deadly piece of artwork.
Humanoid – or rather Olympian – in shape, it stood five metres in height, and though it had legs, it didn’t walk. It flew, causing a vibrating hum that reverberated through the marble of the city as it approached. The blue fire propelling it trailed in its wake, catching on the overgrowth. The heat must have been so intense, proximity alone set the creepers and detritus ablaze, cutting off any escape in that area, and, once again, burning the still-proud ruins of Olympia. Its body was entirely shining gold in colour, and it was faceless. Instead of a visage, it had a scanner which alternated between glowing screen, and weapon functions. It was perfectly sculpted into the Olympic ideal of bodily perfection, each part made of segmented metal bands which appeared to reform into any multitude weapons with ease…
…as one of the arms was doing just then.
The Doctor aimed his sonic at the Titan, and pushed the button at the bottom. It turned its massive head in his direction, and changed its trajectory from Harkness to where he was standing, but nothing else happened.
Well, one never knows unless one tries, does one?
Disappointed it hadn’t fallen apart or exploded, but not an idiot, he tore after Jack.
Just in time too, as the ground behind him exploded, and heat bathed his back as he ran. The shock wave nearly sent him sprawling, but he kept his footing and sprinted faster, his hearts threatening to escape through his throat with little encouragement.
He glanced over his shoulder, saw the Titan’s arm was now a golden cannon, and its targeting scanner had a firm lock on him. Its head followed his every movement.
This was really, very, extremely bad, in the most-absolutely-not good sense.
Maybe, he just needed to find a different setting on the sonic? After all, the thing wasn’t made of wood. If only he knew the alloy which made up the blasted thing! If only he had half a second to think!
He made a sharp turn to the left, and the ground where he’d been exploded into hell-fire once again.
Time! He just needed a little time!
A large chunk of debris struck the back of his left shoulder, and he winced as he felt warm blood soaking through his shirt, and trickling down his back under his clothing.
Hiding then! Hiding was good. Hiding could buy him the much-needed time! Less running in plain view and more hiding was definitely the ticket.
“Jack!” he screamed as he scanned the devastated scene for any place offering some semblance of shelter.
Jack was twenty metres ahead of him, all arse and elbows.
He’d have to get to him first. He wasn’t sure if even Fixed Point Jack Harkness could come back from being blown into a million bits, and had no intention of putting it to the test. Jack had too much to do in his own future, and the Doctor’s past.
Supremely stupid idea bringing him along, really. He’d really, absolutely had to learn to firmly say “no” to Rose-Tyler-eyes— especially as they didn’t even belong to the right Tyler woman!
With no small amount of effort – he’d call it Titanic, but now wasn’t the time for puns – the Doctor closed the distance separating them, grabbed Jack’s arm, and pulled him down a crumbling alley as another explosion demolished the last wall of a building which had been precariously standing at an angle beside them.
They ducked down low, and crawled to the end of the stone alleyway where the Doctor had seen their only hope of escape.
He ripped up the corroded, brass sewer grating, and threw himself down into the hole. Jack fell on top of him a moment later. They suffered through a pregnant pause as the vibrations increased to the point of pain in their heads.
The Titan seemed to be hovering just above them, scanning for signs of life.
Jack frantically yanked on the Doctors arm to get him moving – which was difficult as the pressure in his cranium was making it difficult to stand, let alone think – and they ran farther down the tunnel as fast as they could manage. Not a half a minute later, the area behind them caved in with burning bits of street and rubble, before the thunderous vibrations moved off.
They both gave mewling sounds of relief at the passing of the danger and pain.
“So…” the Doctor grinned as Jack panted. “That was aerobic.”
“What the hell was that thing?” Jack huffed. Sweat glistened on every visible portion of his skin. The gold paint was running, making him look like he was melting.
“A Titan,” he replied in his professorial manner, grateful for his superior body’s ability to cope with and recover from exertion better than Jack’s knackered lungs. “Big weapon-ish thingy bent on killing anything vaguely humanoid— or, rather, Olympian actually, but you must have worked that one out on your own. If not, Jack, I—”
“Is it what destroyed everything?”
“That’s the likeliest answer, yes.”
He paused. “Are there more?”
“You tell me,” the Doctor retorted, unimpressed. “It was chasing you.”
Jack bent over double with his hands on his knees and bum resting against the wall, then stood, leaned his head back against the cool stone, and closed his eyes. The chase had been much longer for him, and his heart was still racing.
“I only found the one,” he offered after he had sufficiently caught his breath. “I was exploring when I stumbled onto it, sitting dusty and lifeless, in a yard full of broken ships. I thought it was a statue, so I climbed up on it to have a better look. I guess that wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Well, it’s answered some questions, honestly,” the Doctor returned, benevolently, “and we had a good run! Love a good run. Also, we’re not dead. Always like the not-dying part. All in all, not too shabby, I’d say!”
Jack grinned at the old man’s enthusiasm for danger, and nodded. It was true that nothing compared to making it out of mortal peril alive.
Not that he would necessarily stay dead, but dying was usually less than pleasant in the best of circumstances.
“How’d you get here then?”
“Got arrested,” he shrugged as though the question was ridiculous. “You?”
“Same,” the Doctor nodded. “On purpose, of course. I certainly wasn’t doing, well, whatever you were doing.”
“Mhm, on purpose. Sure.”
“What? I did!”
Jack put his hands up in a placating gesture. “Whatever makes you feel better about your life, Doc. Don’t let me rain on your parade.”
“I’ll have you know, your new best mate was in on the whole thing! She even—”
“She’s better than ‘okay,'” the Doctor looked at Jack sideways, he still didn’t like how chummy the two had become – in fact, he was considering a ‘hands off the brunette’ rule, though with an entirely different internal motivation from ‘hands off the blonde,’ “she’s playing spy.”
“So, she’ll be arrested and sent this way soon for slapping some poor woman.”
“Rassilon, I hope she has more sense than that.”
“It was a close call a few times on our way in,” Jack chuckled, “she has less patience for people than you did when we first met. Where do you think the Titan went?” Jack mused. He hoped that it would assume it had killed them, and just shut down again.
“Probably back to where you found it, but we can’t risk it leaving the city now it’s awake. We’ve got to shut it down, or it could slaughter the women too.”
The Doctor was pacing with a mad gleam in his eyes. Thrill and adrenaline were coursing through him, and his senses were primed for more action.
“Huh?” Jack cocked his head. “The women too? What do you mean ‘too?'”
“All the male Olympians were killed by those things. I’m assuming we’re dealing with more than one. Would take a fair few to wipe out a population the size of—”
“All the men on the planet, or just this city?” he gaped in abject horror.
The Doctor shook his head and frowned. “I’m not sure yet. We should try teleporting into some of the other inner cities to check after we’ve dealt with the Titans here. I’m quite good with teleports, I’m sure I can get us wherever we need.”
“As long as you’re better with them than landing the TARDIS.”
Jack grinned, then grew serious again, “So, this sewer probably runs all through the city, we just need to find our bearings, and I haven’t the foggiest clue about this place.”
“Luckily, I have. I’ve even used this very sewer system to escape once.” The Doctor preened, then added as an afterthought, “Much cleaner now.”
“Thank God for small favours,” Jack said fervently. As far as sewer escapes went, this got top marks for cleanliness in his opinion, and he’d made a fair few in his lifetime. Though, being an abandoned city probably had something to do with that.
“How far away was the landing yard?”
“I’m guessing two miles east of here, hard to say with the path I had to take through the rubble. Didn’t really have time to make note of distance or landmarks, you know.”
The Doctor didn’t seem impressed by the captain’s lack of observational skills. Clearly, he was abusing humans as a species in his thoughts, even if he didn’t voice it to Jack… this time.
“Okay. That puts us… Yep.”
He scanned the walls with the sonic, checked the results, and pushed back his fringe.
“City centre should be about eighteen kilometres to the west of us, and, so long as it’s standing, the mainframe computers will be in the judicial building there. Come along.”
He made to go in the direction they’d come.
“Right. Well, not that way.”
“Not inspiring confidence here, Doc.”
“Shut up. We just have to backtrack a bit what with the caving in and all.”
“Uh-huh. Let’s go stop a Titan, shall we?”
Torin rummaged through the cupboards in the temple above the basement where they’d been held. Beetroot was apparently not something used on this planet, and he was searching for an acceptable alternative. He needed it to be similarly sweet and alkaline.
Lios kept his stoic vigil, blocking the door from opening while his brother tried different foods to metabolise the toxins from the inebriating fruit. Though his face betrayed little of the tumult within, he was of the opinion Torin was being too picky, and wasting time. He needed to find Clytie before anything happened to her. They needed to get to the Doctor. Nothing was right on this world, and the Doctor would know what to do.
“Think the Alpha’s come looking yet?” he asked as his thoughts strayed to how easily Selene would’ve gotten Torin’s arse in gear were she the one having to keep watch while their brother faffed about in the larder. Her success would probably have hinged on threats of using his empty head for target practise, but Lios doubted Torin would take it seriously if he tried.
They had been gone a long time, and it was unlikely such an extended absence would go unnoticed, even while she was avoiding the Doctor. He didn’t like to think about her reaction to the mess they’d landed themselves in, but he cherished a small hope that she might be out there helping sort it, and coming to get them.
…He also wondered how she’d like Clytie…
…She couldn’t dislike her, right? Although, she wouldn’t be happy with the situation, and it might muck up her attitude towards Clytie and her people as a rule… He still wanted them to meet and get on…
…but mostly he wanted his big sister to help them escape.
Torin shrugged indifferently.
Despite their circumstances, he was still a bit tossed, and thoroughly enjoying himself. The Alpha would only bring him down.
He put a piece of a strange blue-green vegetable in his mouth, chewed experimentally, then vigorously spit it out.
“Don’ see whyshe’doo. Hasn’ commoutin dayz.”
“She is getting a bit out of hand, isn’t she?” Lios cringed.
Lios hated that Selene had withdrawn so much. She had lost anything gentle she’d had in her first body with her regeneration, but his beloved sister had still been accessible emotionally— to him… until they’d left in the TARDIS with the Doctor.
Now, all his pleas and admonishment fell upon deaf ears.
She didn’t ask for advice from anyone but Jack – that hurt – and he hadn’t even been able to engage her in a debate since he’d persuaded her to ask the Doctor to let Harkness come along. He hadn’t foreseen how attached to the captain she’d become when he suggested his immortality might allow them to get closer to their ultimate goals.
Not that he minded Jack’s influence – he didn’t… ish… he even thought it was more than good for her to be talking candidly with someone who hadn’t always been a part of their immediate circle – it just rankled that she was shutting her family out.
She’d promised him that she would talk to the Doctor, and he’d believed her— had been quite relieved, in truth. He was so tired of the three of them being alone in all this. Instead, she poured her heart out to the immortal man, and continued evading the one with the most applicable experience and wisdom.
After they had awoken from their encounter with the Untempered Schism, their lives had never been easy, or carefree. Their mother had been terrified when she beheld her altered sons and daughter, and their father was… gone. Their mum could make nothing of the symbols, and his and Torin’s grip on Gallifreyan was tenuous at best. Selene had taken to the language a bit better – if only by virtue of her tenacity when it came to her studies, but was by no means a master, so they’d spent countless days mapping the markings all on paper. They were incredibly difficult to decipher. The tiniest golden dot or line could make a word something else entirely.
As far as they could tell, they were words of binding… and yet, they weren’t. When you arranged, and read them another way, they were words of death. Rearranged again, they were of life. Rearranged still – and, most often when they’d done it, this was their success – it was all total, Carrollian gibberish. Where he and Torin had joined hands with Selene, they each bore marks on their forearms. These were identical, and more easily translated. They read: I am the Bad Wolf. I create Myself.
Mum had been beside herself, and Selene fought to stop letting her read the translations she slaved over day in and day out.
Still, the only one who could definitively make sense of it all was the Doctor.
And she’d promised.
But she hadn’t followed through.
And she wouldn’t talk about it! She just kept saying, “soon,” and shutting him down. It was making him desperate. His only sister’s life might depend on letting the man she had so obstinately decided to dislike help them.
More than that! They could change the fate of an entire people – and they would try no matter the cost, he knew – he just needed her to stop being so determined to do it alone!
Torin had no such feelings, however. He trusted the Alpha’s judgement implicitly on the big stuff – she had never given him reason not to do – and if she thought the time was wrong, it was. The Doctor was a good man, and he certainly liked and trusted him already – why wouldn’t he? – but she was never wrong about these things. Her time sense was strongest, and she knew these things intuitively.
It wasn’t that he didn’t care. He cared more than he’d ever let on, but having never been the brother turned to for advice, never looked to for keeping situations from spiralling out of control, and never being asked to contribute to plans, had taught him to trust himself less than others. He therefore gave his support in more tangible ways. He followed orders. He kept the baby alive. He kept the Doctor out.
He squashed his rebelliousness…
Torin was also a firm believer in creating destiny. Or, perhaps, more accurately, that destiny was shite. One might glean something about direction from probability – he was a Time Lord, after all, and probability was as woven into his senses as sight or smell – but true prophesy was crap. The universe was inherently too chaotic, too closely influenced by choice, and their will was strong. They would make the right choices. They would create the right path through logic, and probability. His sister would win and they would keep the power bound like they had seen when they looked into the Schism, and that was it.
They had seen other outcomes, and the resulting consequences to all of existence, but they weren’t the strongest time-threads. As long as they fought for the right outcome, and made sound choices, they would have it.
He wouldn’t let it happen any other way. It was that black and white.
It really didn’t occur to him that she may be letting emotions cloud her judgement, so every time Lios argued with him that they should go to the Doctor without her, he dismissed it out of hand.
“Aha!” he cried as he pulled out a veined, yellow borble with the same chemical balance as beetroot.
He immediately began gnawing on it, and felt the toxins massing together in his gut. He gave a great belch and expelled them successfully in a great, gaseous cloud.
“Blimey, that’s better! I can properly talk again!”
Lios rolled his eyes. That was wizard. Just what they needed. Torin’s gob in top form.
“A proper copper coffee pot.” Torin bounced happily on his heels while he rolled the words around in his mouth. “The sixth sitting sheet slitter slit six sheets. Irish Wristwatch, Swiss Wristwatch. Pad kid poured curd pulled cold. Peggy Babcock.”
“What?” Lios rolled his eyes in a manner worthy of his sister. “You’re daft. You haven’t metabolised, or you’ve gone nutter.”
“Shut up! It’s hard to say!”
“You’re wasting time.” Torin deflected impatiently, which was a bit rich. “Shouldn’t we be looking for your bird?”
“Oi!” The younger man blushed, and ducked his head to hide it, suddenly finding his unshod toes very interesting. “She isn’t my bird,” he muttered. “And don’t call her that! She’s not some scrubber I met down at the pub!”
Torin rolled his eyes, and pushed past Lios into the corridor. “Isolate her timeline, would you? I don’t fancy going room to room.”
Lios regarded his brother with surprise. “Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?”
“‘Cos you’re an idiot,” Torin replied with an affectionate shove.
“Yeah, but… oh, never mind!”
He closed his eyes, and focused on the signature he had noted when he’d first met Clytie….
She was… here! On the very same level of— wherever they were, and in a room with twelve – no, thirteen others. That last timeline was flickering in and out a bit, which was weird, to be honest, but he let it go. He did still have a massive headache after all.
“I know where she is.” He pointed to their left and they set off. “Wait a tick! They’re on the move!”
The mass of shimmering timelines, and the flickering one, left whatever room they were in and were moving their direction.
Right, they should hide, or at least be less conspicuous. He shared what he had picked up with his brother through their open connection, and they ducked through a nearby door.
After a few minutes, a large group of the golden women seemed to float gracefully past, and Clytie led their number in her diaphanous, draping cloths, and elegantly plaited coif.
Lios didn’t know what to make of it. He felt as if someone had hit him in the gut – although, that analogy was lacking because he had a respiratory bypass, and a blow to the abdomen would be painful, but wouldn’t wind him, and, oh, he was definitely experiencing a distinct lack of oxygen.
Was she not a prisoner too? Was she… Was she responsible for his imprisonment?
He felt sick.
Was he so distracted by a soft voice and pretty face, he’d thrown all his better judgement out a window? What was going on?
Torin touched his arm, sending him a wave of concern. His brother’s hearts-break was evident, and he didn’t want to be insensitive… They played, but when it came to it, he’d never want him to be so hurt.
That’s her in front, Lios sent back.
Torin didn’t respond. He just let his jaw hang open as he stared at the girl in the centre of the group.
A girl wearing creamy white silks, with cropped, black hair, and pale, ivory skin covered in gold Circular Gallifreyan trailing up her arms to her neck and all across her chest. All thoughts of being sensitive went flying out of his head as protective anger boiled up within him.
Lios was still staring at Clytie as the women continued to move away from them when Torin kicked him sharply.
He tore his eyes away from the beautiful girl – who wasn’t a prisoner in this place where he’d been held captive, and who really didn’t need his rescue… or want his hearts – and glared at his git of a brother.
Torin ignored the blond man’s wrath, and pointed at the Alpha. Lios made a choked sound, and blanched.
Your bird seems to be in charge.
Lios heaved a sigh, and his face went stony.
Well, he’d give her a chance to defend herself, but this really didn’t look good, did it? And had he the choice between a pretty girl, and his blood, blood won out every time.
He allowed the sick, wounded feeling to fall away and he focused on his righteous anger.
Torin touched his shoulder gently in consolation, careful not to put pressure on the weeping sores that soaked through the tattered linen rectangle Lios wore.
The Alpha, he reminded.
Let’s go, was all Lios managed, and they slipped back out, and silently stole after them.
The Doctor poked his head up every so often to covertly check their location, and it only took them an hour and twenty-three minutes to reach the city’s centre.
Jack gave him a leg up through the sewer grate – after offering to support his bum instead, and being refused. The Doctor then heaved Jack up by the arms, and they began looking for the right— well… set of ruins, to be honest.
Nothing was whole anywhere, and the Doctor just hoped they would be able to amass enough working computer parts that he could cobble something together to suit their purposes.
He’d have a whole plan after he’d seen what was available.
At the moment, it was an almost-plan… sort of the start of one— the plannings of a plan! Which, if one thought optimistically, was as good as half a plan, and half a plan was better than no plan.
Although, half a plan wasn’t technically a plan.
Technically, it was still no plan.
So, yes, he had no plan. Just an idea. Ideas were good! And he’d worked with less.
Jack didn’t need to know that though.
They walked silently, staying close to cover as often as possible, and keeping a wary ear and eye out for any sign of the Titan. They rounded a corner, and were astonished to find the building they were looking for was surprisingly whole. A few columns missing from the front, and a couple of holes in the roof, but the building itself was sound.
They stole their way to it, pausing before the heavy bronze doors. They would make one hell of a noise.
“Maybe we should try around back?” Jack whispered cautiously.
The Doctor shook his head. Wouldn’t be a back entrance on a building like this. One way in, one way out, for security.
Instead of sharing his thoughts with his companion, he pulled out his sonic, aiming it at each of the hinges to remove any corrosion and minimise the sound.
They heaved at the door on the right, and it swung open heavily, reverberating in every direction with the sickening groan of ancient metal.
They hurried inside without closing the door behind them, only to be greeted by the vibrations of many reawakening engines.
The Doctor saw twenty-eight silver view-ports flicker into life. The Titans lined the walls on either side of the cavernous main hall.
Well, now they knew why this building hadn’t been destroyed, didn’t they?
He seized Jack by the arm, and, using the few precious moments the Titans needed to fully boot, they ran for the stairs leading to the upper level.
They were halfway up when the first shots hit. Jack was struck in the right arm and shoulder, leaving him with gaping wounds that went straight through, but the Doctor had dropped fast enough to avoid further injury.
They were using bullets. They didn’t want to damage this building. That was good, and it meant there was something here that they’d had a directive not to destroy.
It would keep them alive.
They used the stone balustrade as meagre cover, and crawled, painfully slowly, on their stomachs while bullets whizzed overhead, and bits of marble rained down around their ears.
When they finally reached the upper landing, Jack heaved himself into the nearest corner, and tore off strips of cloth from his garment to wrap around his gushing wounds. The bullets made holes large enough to take down elephants, and the pain was excruciating. Bleeding out meant he’d come back whole, but it was a delay they couldn’t afford.
“Think they can fit through that?” He winced nodding to the archway they’d just crossed to get into the marble corridor. It was only three metres high, and two wide.
The Doctor helped Jack back onto unsteady feet, and pulled him quickly along. “Doubt it, but we should move in farther in case they start shooting through it.”
As if speaking the words had called upon them to do just such a thing, a giant golden head poked through, immediately followed by a torso, and arm.
“Crouching! Didn’t consider crouching!” he nearly choked, as he and Jack ran into the first unlocked room which presented itself.
The chamber, thankfully, had a large bronze door which closed heavily, and the Doctor sealed it quickly with his sonic. He then bolstered the hardness and density so that the otherwise malleable metal wouldn’t give way immediately under pressure. It wouldn’t stop them for long, but maybe with the tight squeeze, it would slow them down.
“You know, for the smartest man I know, you’re a goddamned idiot,” Jack informed with a grimace as he dug a new slug out of his shoulder with blood-grimy fingers. “‘Didn’t consider crouching.’ Unbelievable.” He threw the bloody piece of metal at his friend, squeezed his eyes shut, and took slow breaths to manage his pain.
“Oi! You didn’t either!” the Doctor defended hotly as he swatted ineffectually at the bloody bullet. “Now, shut up a minute and let me think.”
It was quite dark, save the light filtering in from two large, gold-framed windows. The glass was thick with debris, dust, cobwebs, and dirt, choking the rays which might, in better days, have lit the room.
A single computer mainframe filled the otherwise empty area, and the Doctor immediately went to try to start it.
Well, he hadn’t expected it would, and they could only be so lucky, couldn’t they? Not being dead yet was good enough.
He ran around the back, and began pulling it apart.
A thunderous boom hit them from the direction of the sealed door. Then three more followed as the Titan outside tried to force its way in.
“Tell me what to do, Doc.” The captain abandoned the meagre first-aid he’d been administering on himself, and moved to the Time Lord’s side.
He loved that about Jack. Never doubted, never questioned, just did whatever it took to save their skins.
“Help me sort this mess of circuits. We have to get power again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to access whatever is controlling those machines, but I just might be able to hack into it if I’m very clever.”
He yanked at the hair that had fallen into his eyes, and went back to sonicking the exposed motherboard.
“Lucky for both of us, I am very clever.”
“How much time do you think we have before it gets in?”
The sound of creaking metal assaulted their ears as the Titan began trying to pry the door from its frame.
They washed every inch of her – hands, face, arms, legs, abdomen, chest – everywhere – and they didn’t allow her to just get on with it herself.
It was humiliating for someone as private and secretive as the Alpha, but they seemed to think they were being quite reverent and hospitable.
They anointed her with several fragrant oils, and dabbed gold dust at each of her temples, and the centre of her forehead. The silks of snowy white were draped on her with meticulous artistry, and fastened with brooches of gilded, pink enamel roses.
When they started faffing with the glittering gold sashes, and plaiting strands of her too-short-to-be-bothered-with hair with jewelled ribbons, she protested that she’d had quite enough, thanks, and it was time to be getting on with it.
When they ignored her, she started ripping off the ornamentation and throwing it to the floor.
This, they couldn’t ignore, and seemed quite put out, actually.
Well, she didn’t honestly expect to be making any friends, so what did it matter?
Eventually, she was led down a few marble corridors lined with intricately woven rugs, and murals on every wall. When they reached a heavy wooden door that bore carvings of roses surrounding a howling wolf, they stopped and waited a moment. The red-haired one, Clytie, must have silently been given permission to enter because she smiled sweetly, and pushed open the door.
The room appeared to be an audience chamber. It had a few posh chairs and settees upholstered in white brocade with dark, rosewood accents. Gold seemed to be something of an obsession here. This decor was no exception. It was abundant on surfaces, the cloth at the windows, and the intricate moulding on the walls.
The air of the room felt heavy, and wrong, and made her feel like she’d be sick all over the shiny white clothes they’d forced her into. She wanted to run back out the door with the mean-looking wolf’s head carved on it.
She wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t there.
Such feelings were only exacerbated by the sight of what awaited her inside.
In the centre of the room sat a lone woman. Her black hair artfully swept into a chignon and woven with jewel-encrusted ribbons. Her gown was golden, with red sashes, glittering with millions of tiny rubies. She shone, both literally and figuratively, but no amount of lavish sparkle could cover the horror upon which she sat.
Her throne seemed out-of-place with the regal beauty it supported, being made of an unidentifiable organic substance. It resembled some sort of living rock, or calcified wood. Selene was reminded a bit of coral, actually, but, without a scan, she couldn’t be sure. It was monstrous. Gnarled bits stuck out at odd angles, and – the nastiest bit – two splintering spikes jutted from the back of the sitting area, directly through the woman’s pale, silk-draped shoulders, permanently immobilising its occupant, and seeming to have spread like a parasite around the perforated areas of her once-golden skin.
It made the Alpha’s flesh crawl. What the hell were these people playing at?
“Leave us,” came a voice identified as belonging to the woman in the chair.
Clytie melted out of the room.
“Welcome, Young Wolf. We have long awaited your arrival.”
The woman never opened her eyes, in fact, she presented as slightly comatose. She breathed, and moved her lips when she spoke, but was otherwise completely still, and lifeless. Her voice was flat, and gravelly, as though it was rarely used, and the Alpha didn’t know how one went about addressing someone who was, for all intents and purposes, a living chair. Especially when said piece of furniture was keeping one against one’s will. This was a new level of strange. She was ill prepared.
“So, I’ve been told,” she began when she found her voice. “Seems like you know a load ’bout me, an’ turnabout’s fair play. How ’bout you fill me in a bit on you? I’d say start with who— an’ wha’, ‘cos…” she looked the chair-woman up and down in disbelief and disgust, “wha’ you are is somethin’ I’ve never seen, an’ tha’s sayin’ quite a lot, and then finish with jus’ wha’ the hell you actually want from me. Tha’d be grand. Ta.”
“You are in a poor position to be making demands upon the High Lady of this world,” replied the chair, without feeling.
“Tha’d make more of an impact if I knew wha’ a ‘High Lady’ was, I’m sure,” she scoffed with eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline, “an’ I’m sure you’re very impressive, but a bit gets lost in translation when one can’t back themselves up with, you know, movement.”
“We are what you are: both one thing, and another. We are symbiotic. We are one.”
“Cleared it right up, cheers.”
“We are eternal, and temporal. We are part of everything, everywhere, and every-when.”
“I was bein’ sarcastic, you know. I didn’t actually mean I understood wha’ you’re ravin’ ’bout. Can you jus’ reverse a bit, an’ tell me wha’ the hell a High Lady is?”
“The empress of this tiny world is called its High Lady. This body was once known as the High Lady Hera.”
Ah. Mad woman who killed her people. Fantastic. That explained some things. Not many, but some. “Not dead then? Tha’s a bit surprising, which is impressive, to be honest. I’d’ve thought after killing a load of people, the rest might get a bit fed up an’ do somethin’ about it. Wha’ is it then? They drink tha’ mind-juice, an’ you control ’em with it? I knew somethin’ dodgy was goin’ on when I saw tha’. I’ve gotta say though, if this was the price you paid for power, you got a raw deal, mate.”
The High Lady Hera was silent. Selene figured a sense of humour was probably lost in her transformation into… that thing. And what a terrible thing to lose! She could zing one-liners at its expense all night. She only lamented not having an appreciative audience.
“Well, you might not agree, seein’ as you’re livin’ it, an’ I’m jus’ over here, you know, walkin’, an’ not really wantin’ to rule the world, an’ all. Why’d you say you’re like me? From where I stand, we’re not all tha’ alike, you bein’ a thing, an’ me bein’ a not-a-thing.”
“You are a child of time and space; a manipulation of the vortex. You exist as I exist, both on, and not on this plane.”
The talking, statue-like body continued to make the Alpha feel sick, and she was losing patience with its less than specific answers. “Child of time an’ space. Brilliant. So, you’re a Time Lady—er… were a Time Lady?”
“My form was never flesh before we became one.”
“Fantastic. So, why’ve you been waitin’ for me?”
“We have lost our ability to travel through time and space. This retainer is inadequate. We are decaying, and stagnant.”
“‘S wha’ we call a bit of an understatement, innit? Wha’ do you need me to do? Fix your legs? I’d say the problem’s comin’ from your upper half, actually. You’ve spikey bits runnin’ through your shoulders. ‘S keepin’ you in one place. There. Sorted. I’ll be leavin’ soon as my car comes ’round, yeah?”
“You will restore our form.”
“Oi, didn’t I jus’ say I can’t do anythin’ about the way you are? You did this! You had to know you’d be stuck, yeah?”
“In you lies the power of everything, and nothingness. You will be our conduit.”
“Oooohhh, oh, no, tha’s where you’re wrong. I’m not gonna be your bloody meat puppet. You’ve already a body on tha’ seat, leave me well out of it.”
“This vessel has served its purpose. We no longer have use for this world. You will return us to all of time and space.”
The Alpha scrubbed at her face with her hands, and tried to think of any way out of this situation. The conversation was at a stalemate, and that would mean the pawns would soon be back to force her submission.
She tried to assess the objects in her vicinity which could be wielded in her own defence. Flowers would do bugger-all, and she doubted the gold candelabra would fare much better against the powerful Olympians. She could crack the chair-woman over the head until she snuffed it, but thinking it, and actually doing it, killing, were two very different things. She’d never killed anyone before, and didn’t really want to start, even if the body she’d be ending was destined to be cut off like rot in the near future.
Presently, the only thing she could feasibly do was talk. “I won’t. I know you’re not askin’, but tha’s it. I won’t.”
“That would be unfortunate for your Wolves. They will be disposed of if you refuse.”
The Alpha glared—truly snarled, baring her teeth as she spat, “You touch one hair on either of my brothers, an’ I will personally see tha’ you quickly find your end as nothin’ but bits of gold dust, and smashed rock.”
“Such hostility, and useless emotion. The only truths which exist are suffering, and suffering’s end. We suffer in this form. We require your assistance in restoring the form the Lord of Time stole from us. As a Child of Time, is not this your responsibility to undertake?”
“Don’t ever threaten my family.”
“You will see our suffering ended, will you not? You will see justice done?”
“Always.” Her unspoken promise with the word was lost on the woman with no life of her own. “How’m I gonna do it? You chuck off the host you got, an’ take me instead?”
“You will hold time and space, and deliver it back unto us. We will slough the unnecessary retainer once we are whole.”
“You— you want me to wha’?”
This— this thing wanted the power of the Bad Wolf! She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Never mind people impaling themselves on weird rocks to rule planets, this was the real madness!
…And never going to happen.
She’d held the power of the Bad Wolf for all of thirty seconds when she’d saved her mother, and it’d killed her – almost permanently.
What did this thing think it was going to do? Control it? The essence of the Bad Wolf was too enormous for anything but a TARDIS to sustain.
And how the hell did it even know about it, let alone predict that her prat of a… the Doctor would land them there at all? Utterly mental. She had to get out. She had to get out, and find the Doctor and her brothers. Enough was enough of the reconnaissance— imprisonment, whatever – no force in the wide universe was going to make her willingly tap the Bad Wolf, and no gold woman was going to stand in her way of leaving either. She was done.
“Great. Yeah, stellar plan. I jus’ need to use your loo then, an’ we’ll get crackin’, yeah?”
“What is this ‘loo’ of which you speak?”
“Oh, you know, jus’—er…”
She never finished the thought. The door behind her opened, revealing two unconscious women on the ground, one of them the pushy Nymph Clytie, and a grinning man in a grey, tattered toga, with long, curly, brown hair, and a maniacal grin. He was silent, which was unusual for Torin. He simply held out his hand.
The mad-queen-chair… thing… started mentally calling for guards as the air grew heavier and stormy, making her feel like she’d be sick once again.
Wasting no time, the Alpha launched herself at her brother. They embraced for half a moment, before running for their lives.