Two versions of the same man, each one convinced that not only was he the superior of the two, but that the humans currently keeping their company would be ultimately to blame for their current crisis, waded through the men in uniform and UNIT berets filling the corridors on the way down to the archives where the secret organisation kept all their most dangerous and classified objects. The military had never been his favourite, and the response to the situation seemed overblown without having all the facts. Neither of him liked it. It reeked of bloodshed and disaster waiting to happen. Panicky apes were notorious for behaving like, well, panicked apes. He needed to defuse this ticking time bomb.
He also needed to know what they were so worried he’d find that they took precautions like sonic-proofing their locks, and TARDIS-proofing their building. It didn’t sit well with him at all. It smacked of Torchwood.
And he’d always considered UNIT the good guys… Bloody humans.
Kate Lethbridge-Stewart was no fonder of the situation she faced than the Doctors were of theirs. Angry superiors, angry Doctors, threatening aliens, soldiers stomping through research spaces; all in all, not her best day as a scientist. Her father had been absentee most of her life, chasing extra-terrestrials and the very man she walked behind, and her own career within UNIT had been spent not only deep in research and development, but fighting against any favouritism or bias having the Brigadier General for a father unwillingly bestowed. At the present, she was well-respected and working hard to change the attitude and stance UNIT assumed whenever and wherever possible. She hoped “science leads” could one day become the new motto for the organisation. She was not about to lose ground on any front when it had been so hard-won. She was determined to keep things friendly with the Doctor, but she could not let him assume complete control and compromise Chaudhry’s trust. She still had no idea how to manage it.
Assuming complete control was exactly what the Doctors intended, as it would happen, the younger positively itching to have a go at any who challenged his right, and the older dead set on avoiding any extreme measures to which the twitchy humans might prematurely resort.
Kate was sure Chaudhry would be less than appreciative of his stance.
“Where was the breach found,” the Doctor in tweed asked the anxiety riddled Kate. “How are they getting in without detection?”
“We aren’t sure yet. We have a general location where the creature disappeared on the scan, but no one has found the actual entrance point,” she answered with a frown and knitted blonde brows. She stopped them in front of a solid stone wall and motioned toward it.
“Perception filter, d’you think?” the Doctor in leather asked his counterpart. He rubbed a rough hand along the wall looking for a hollow point.
“I assume they’ve thought of that,” he answered in an offhand tone as he pulled out his sonic screwdriver. Then he stopped short and turned to Kate with a sceptical expression. “You have, haven’t you? You can’t be that stupid.”
Kate met his jibe with a scornful click of her tongue. “Yes, we are an intelligence agency after all. Really, Doctor. I’m surprised at you.”
Both shrugged simultaneously and went back to running their own battery of tests, mostly involving pointing their sonics and frowning.
Their eyes met, and the Doctor who once was nodded curtly to the Doctor he eventually would be.
“Kate, have you replaced the stones in this area? To expand or renovate maybe, or is it all considered original?”
“Some of these stones weigh upward of a tonne, Doctor,” Kate answered in bemusement. “How would you suggest we managed without moving the entire structure first?”
“Well,” he took a half-second to be very impressed with himself, “they are not in fact, the original stones that were laid in ten seventy-eight, my dear Miss Stewart. These stones may look like they belong, but their composition is that of limestone,” he announced to the room at large.
Every pair of eyes remained riveted to him as he spoke. That the two men had derived any clue about the mysterious entrance point was as baffling as the situation itself.
“Limestone was used in the original build, Doctor,” Kate said, still confused by what he could possibly mean.
“Ah,” chimed in the younger, unable to resist the urge to bask in his own reflected brilliance, “but not exclusively, was it? No, these’re new. An’ not pure either, I’m gettin’ traces of electrolytes, mucus, glycoproteins, an’ enzymes. Water’d jus’ evaporate, wouldn’t it. But what’re they usin’ to harden it so fast?”
“Exactly.” The older grinned and looked around expectantly. Only Kate seemed to cotton on and look as shocked and impressed as he’d expected. “Oh, come on, he just told you everything you needed to know!”
“Humans,” Ears chuckled, “don’t bother knowin’ anythin’ about the world around you, do you? No, you jus’ work here with your guns an’ your salutin’ an’ then go home to telly for your celebrity gossip—”
“Saliva.” He’d forgotten how often he used to get on the Stupid-apes Soapbox. “These blocks were formed to cover the holes in the original foundation by a combination of masticated lime dust and gluey saliva! Terribly clever actually! I wonder if they found a nearby subterranean quarry or they produce it themselves. Clever creatures whatever they are, don’t you agree?”
Both Time Lords resumed searching with the sonic screwdrivers, blue and green lights and whirring sounds filling the room amidst the sounds of shifting bodies and whispering.
“Sir, do you mean they eat the rocks, sir?” asked a nearby female soldier with flaming red hair.
“Give the girl a medal!” he beamed. “An’ it’s jus’ the Doctor, not sir. Not sure if they eat ‘em exactly, or if it’s an excretion from burrowin’. Still, pretty genius way of coverin’ their tracks if I do say so. Make a hole, seal it when they’re done… ah!” He stopped at a point near a secluded corner before pushing a hand into an apparently solid stone. A portion fell away in a muddy puddle. “See? Fantastic!”
Disgusted faces littered the corridor, contradicting his excited assertion.
“Doctor, kindly step away and leave it to us from here,” came an authoritative order from the entryway.
A pin drop could’ve been heard in the ensuing silence as each soldier stood at stiff attention and the Head of the British Division of UNIT strode purposefully into the room.
The Time Lords drew themselves up to their full respective heights and adopted a stubborn set to their jaws.
“Emily Chaudhry, I was wondering when you’d show.”
“It’s Colonel Chaudhry, Doctor, as you well know, and a salute is in order. You still work for me.”
“Ah, technically true,” he conceded, narrowing his eyes at the proud woman before him who had travelled in the TARDIS and later eaten a Christmas dinner together with him and other important friends, “but as you know, I don’t do salutes. No saluting is sort of a rule I have, you see. I’m against it on principle. Saluting is…”
The corners of the Colonel’s mouth twitched.
“Permission to hug instead?” he asked spreading his arms wide with a hopeful tilt of the head.
The younger Doctor’s eyes went from angry to ready to bug out of his head. Just who the hell would he become that he would ask that while she was in front of subordinates? And hugging in general? He didn’t do that! Well… he hugged Rose, but Rose was Rose, all pink and yellow and huggable. He didn’t just hug anyone else, even if they were former companions, it was so… domestic. He ignored the implication that this also made hugging Rose domestic. It just wasn’t the same.
“Permission denied,” Emily replied, the corners of her mouth twitching with the hint of a smile.
“Ah, well,” he chuckled and raked a hand through his locks, dropping the other limply to his side, “thought it was worth a go at least.”
“It’s been a long time, Doctor, Doctor.” She stretched out a hand to them both in turn which they each took happily. Emily Chaudhry had always been a good friend despite the earlier standoff.
“It has, but it appears the years have been kind to you Chaudhry. They must not work you too hard.”
His former companion shook her blonde head at his antics, still not allowing her stern facade to drop away completely in front of her junior officers. “You’re very kind, Doctor, but I’m sure you know as the Head of UNIT, my job is never done.”
“Head of UNIT now?” the younger piped up. “I’m impressed. When’d tha’ happen?”
“A year ago, actually. Now, both of your faces are new to me so I’m assuming I can’t say the same about the years and their kindness.”
“Ah, well, y’know how it is. Same old life,” the younger man grinned. “But tha’ brings us back to why we’re down here, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” she nodded once then turned to her subordinates. “Set up a perimeter. Nothing in or out. Kate,” the senior scientist was at the Colonel’s side in an instant, “You’re with us, so get someone on the analysis of the hole and I want another sweep. Anywhere and everywhere you find more of this substance, I want to be informed immediately. If these things so much as dribbled on another stone, I need to know its location down to the millimetre and its position relative to the vault.”
Kate nodded and was on her mobile immediately.
“Doctor, Doctor,” Chaudhry nodded to each, “would you care to join me in the Archives?”
Osgood’s mobile buzzed in her pocket, but she was too engrossed in the story Torin was telling to notice it. The sound, however, was perfectly audible to her companions’ superior hearing. Torin chose to ignore it in favour of continuing to talk about being invited to see the seven seas of Rhye by the alien musician they as siblings had wanted to meet more than almost any other in Earth’s history – Mozart and Ungår Stanik being first.
“So, he was an alien?” Osgood repeated before puffing on her inhaler and giving a small cough. “Did anyone know?”
“Well, Rhye was his home planet, and he wasn’t exactly keeping it a secret, was he? But humans never see what’s right under their noses, do they?”
Her phone began buzzing insistently again, but she just gave a small laugh and an incredulous shake of her head. “That is so cool! And did you go? Did you visit his planet? Blimey, that’d be amazing to actually step foot on another planet!” She pushed her heavy-framed glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. “And you talk about humans like you aren’t one yourself. Funny way to talk, that. S’pose you’ve been travelling a while and just get used to it.”
“I suppose we have,” interjected Lios before Torin could stick his foot in it, “and your mobile has been ringing for the last few minutes.”
“Oh! Oh-oh, thank you! Tha-that could’ve been bad.” She scrambled to pull the device from her lab coat and checked the call log and text messages. “Miss Stewart needs me down in the basement right away.” She looked up at the brothers. Lios nodded and Torin gave her a blazing grin. “I guess you should just stay here for a bit…”
She made to leave and Torin caught her arm. “Do you think the Doctor will be down there?”
“I-I don’t know. I’d guess he’ll be wherever Miss Stewart is…” she looked around uncomfortably. “I shouldn’t…”
“But we won’t be in the way!” Torin cajoled. “And we just want to find the Doctor without being arrested by the goons with guns, yeah?”
“Torin…” Lios warned. “How’s that going to look for her, being trailed by unidentified civilians?”
“Sure. Alright. I understand…” Torin smiled, still wheedling with his eyes. “Wouldn’t want to compromise you, Osgood. You’re a fantastic girl and you’re brilliant. Bright future ahead and all.”
Lios kept his face impassive as his brother inveigled the poor young woman. Torin had stepped into leadership, and he would follow, whether he agreed with the methods or not. They were playing the game now, and Torin was proving to be better at it than he’d ever given him credit for.
“I just don’t see how I can work it,” she said, snatching up her bag and stuffing it with some sampling instruments and supplies from a few of the surrounding shelves, “or I would. I don’t want to leave you stranded.”
And there it was.
“What if we put on lab coats and posed as interns with you?” Torin asked with hopeful eyes and a smile that could be described as blinding. “We are brilliant actually. Wouldn’t be a stretch, and we really could help!”
“Of course, you’re brilliant,” Osgood smiled and tilted her head in a way that suggested she was a little impatient, “you’re Time Lords, but what if they find that out? What would we do then?”
Torin’s grin slid off his face like mud and he gaped while Lios snapped his attention in her direction with wide eyes and an impressed smile of his own.
“When did you know?” Lios asked with new-found respect.
“Sentient mildew?” She smirked. “I had my suspicions when I opened the door.”
Torin moved his jaw up and down like a fish out of water.
She puffed her inhaler and continued packing her bag. “‘Humans look Time Lord,’ ‘humans don’t see what’s under their noses,’ the Doctor trying to hide you at all costs in a cupboard, not being able to immediately call yourselves companions… flirting with someone like—well, like me; you blokes are nice, but you’re not that good.”
Lios gave a small nod of admiration with blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “You are though. That good, I mean, and for what it’s worth, this prat would’ve flirted with you even if he didn’t want something.”
She tossed her head in dismissal, brown ponytail bouncing, and kept at her task.
“Osgood, we can’t just stay in here,” Lios said quietly.
“If the Doctor wanted you to hide, would he want you to go racing in after him, do you think?”
“Probably not,” he agreed while Torin still stood gobsmacked and floundering, “but he’s kind of an idiot when it comes to these things. I do think we should go with you, so I’m asking. Straight out. Will you please help us?”
“Wouldn’t’ve pushed you lot in here if I didn’t want to, would I?”
“So, you’ll take us?”
She hesitated a moment, then nodded and went to a locker containing the necessary disguises which she threw at each of them before shoving her bag of sampling supplies into Torin’s arms. She went to the door and pulled it open a fraction before exiting with only a single backward glance.
Lios walked over to his unusually silent brother and shot him an amused look.
Torin looked down at the bag he was holding, then at Lios. “I think I’m in love with that girl,” he squeaked.
Lios gave a bark of a laugh, and clapped him on the shoulder. “And you don’t stand a chance in hell, Brother.” He walked to the door. “Not a chance in hell.”
“Let’s go, you git.”
“Access requested. Atkins, isn’t it? Pleasure to meet you,” Chaudhry said to the balding, older man at the entrance to the Archive, flashing her badge. Kate followed suit.
“Ma’am,” the man nodded, “Miss Stewart. Going in then? First day, didn’t expect to see anyone!” He looked at the two Doctors then at his superiors who nodded their assent.
The Colonel pulled out a key she wore around her neck and handed it to the man who immediately turned to use it in the old-fashioned looking vault-door.
“The Black Archive has the highest security rating on the planet. The entire staff has their memories wiped at the end of every shift. Automated memory filters in the ceiling,” Kate reassured the Doctors in a low voice.
Atkins pulled the heavy door open and the group stepped inside.
“Atkins thinks it’s his first day, but he’s been here for years,” Chaudhry confirmed. “We take every precaution, Doctor. This is the safest place anywhere on Earth.”
“Pfft, right. Unless someone gets their hands on tha’ key an’ a shimmer,” the Doctor in leather growled. “An’ your bloody staff wouldn’t even know ‘cos they wouldn’t remember at the end of the day. No, you lot have it all figured out, don’t you?”
“I assure you, I’m a hard woman to access, let alone take down.”
“Oh, I’m sure you think you are,” he snorted. “Look at this mess. D’you even know wha’ half of it is?”
“Doctor,” Kate mediated, “We take every precaution. In the event of any alien or terrorist incursion, the contents of this room are deemed so dangerous, all of it will self-destruct in five minutes. We have a nuclear warhead twenty feet below us. All it takes is one command from either the Colonel or myself. We aren’t stupid.”
Both Doctors winced, but only the elder spoke. “A nuclear warhead under a room filled with things that could potentially destroy the planet surrounded by subterranean creatures that have escaped your notice for at least ten to twelve months. Please, explain to me again how that is not stupidity? I need a good laugh.”
“Whether you like it or not, Doctor,” Emily Chaudhry replied coolly, “these things have found their way onto Earth soil. What would you have us do with them? Try and dispose of them when we don’t know what that might do? Hand them over to alien allies and hope for the best when our most trusted ally leaves for sometimes decades at a time?” She shot them each a pointed look. “This is the best solution we have found, and we do everything in our power to be responsible and circumspect.”
“An’ if you get ahead of yourselves a bit in the technological area, it’s just another perk, eh?” Leather admonished. She wasn’t getting off the hook so easily. “Don’t try an’ tiptoe around it, Emily. I know how UNIT works, excellent memory, me. This isn’t altruism, it’s tactical reconnaissance.”
“I won’t pretend we haven’t made good use of the opportunity to learn from the artefacts we’ve acquired, but I refuse to allow you to demonise the whole operation. The fact remains that we are in possession and do everything humanly possible to keep it all out of the wrong hands.”
“Humanly possible…” he scoffed. “Tha’s wha’ worries me.”
Both women looked affronted again and made to argue.
The Doctor stopped listening. His younger self had the whole argument well in hand, so he wandered a little way away to a wall of bulletin boards full of pictures and notes. Many were of him in various incarnations, but a great many more were of former companions.
Ace smiled up at him in her decorated bomber jacket as she sat next to Winifred Bambera. Peri Brown in her tight, pink lycra top and shorts, posed blithely next to Turlough. Tegan and Nyssa stood together with a pair of soldiers behind them. Donna, Wilf, Romana in both incarnations, Adric, Charley, Martha, Mickey, the Brigadier General, Grace Holloway, Melanie, Amy, Rory, Fitz, Jack… Rose… a good number of photos of his beloved Rose were grouped around heavy notation and River seemed to have an entire board dedicated to her alone with cheeky pictures of her mugging for the photographer as well as candid photos of her from their adventures. UNIT had been keeping tabs on him and his companions for a long time. It did little to improve the way he was currently feeling toward them.
It was in that moment while he was steadily internally becoming a hurricane of rage and resentment, that the air around him quivered and stretched, pricking uncomfortably at his time senses, and diverting the storm from unleashing unholy hell on the two UNIT directors.
A time fissure shimmered into existence not five metres from him.
In seconds the younger Doctor was at his side with a black look upon his features as he gazed upon the tear in the fabric of time.
“You want to explain wha’ the hell you lot are really gettin’ up to down here?” he yelled at the two women who had followed closely behind.
Kate was the first to voice vehemently denial, anxiety dripping from her tone. “That isn’t ours, Doctor. I don’t know what it is, but we had nothing to do with it.”
“It’s a time fissure,” the elder Time Lord responded with more calm than he felt, “a hole in space and time, and I doubt you could have accomplished it even in a few thousand years.”
“Is it the E.T.’s surrounding the tower?” Chaudhry asked with not a little alarm.
“I doubt it… No… no one in the universe could create such a thing except…”
He and his counterpart exchanged dark looks.
“Doctor, this is no time for playing coy!” Chaudhry exclaimed. “That thing appeared directly in the most secure place on the planet! What the hell is it, where did it come from, and who is responsible? Tell me or—”
“Or you’ll what?” He whirled and bore down on her like an enraged god of fury and thunder. “Take me into custody? Keep me locked in a little cell without hope of release until you’re satisfied with my answers? Please,” he spat as he glared at her, inches from her stony face, “better beings than you have tried, entire races have tried, and still, here I stand, defying your pathetic demands and threats. You may think you are so very, very clever with all your spying, your weapons and safeguards and stolen technology, but don’t ever for an instant think you have any authority over me. I am the authority, Chaudhry, and this? This has nothing to do with you. This is time bending to its master. It’s here for me, not you.” He turned his back on her and faced himself.
“Doctor,” Kate began in a softer tone but still riddled with fear and worry.
He held up a hand to silence her, and focused on the only other Time Lord in the room. Humans need not apply here.
“Wha’ d’you reckon?” his counterpart asked with his own brand of anxiety and concern. For all his older self’s talk of authority and mastery, a tear in time was a serious problem, and one that not only did he have no answer to, but which also did not bode well for the continued existence of the universe should it begin to expand or implode. Something or someone was behind it, and he they very much needed to find out who and stop them. Rock-spitting aliens, hoarded artefacts, and even nukes were far less important.
“Only, one way to tell.” He removed his fez and threw it with a flick of the wrist through the tear. When nothing happened except a faint, golden shimmer in the rip, the two Time Lords looked at each other and grinned. “Shall we?”
The younger stepped into the glimmering swirls of time as the two confused women began their objections.
“Doctor! What are you—” “No! Don’t! You don’t know—”
Without listening further, the Doctor straightened his bow-tie and followed suit.
“I suppose…” Torin said as he sidled up to Osgood, trying, without much success, to regain a place in her good graces, “well, I just thought, you know, once we got down here, that there’d be more, you know, people. Soldiers. I thought it’d be crawling with ’em, you know? Thought you could throw a stone and hit one, at least. So… where is everyone?”
Osgood swept her gaze around the eerily empty stone corridor and drew in a nervous, rattling breath before she fished her inhaler out of her pocket and dosed her bronchioles once more. “I… I don’t know. Should be, you’re right. But it’s like…”
“Like they’ve all just… gone on holiday, yeah.” Torin agreed emphatically. “Not right is it?”
It was true. The basement had been so thick with UNIT patrol that they had to push their way through to the lift, but once they got down to the sub-basement, you could have heard a rat sneeze in the unnatural silence.
“What did your message say exactly?” Lios whispered, reluctant to call attention to themselves and hoping Torin would take the hint and lower his own voice.
She pulled out her phone and did a quick scan over the message. “Troughton, he’s Miss Stewart’s lab assistant, was taking a team down to the third corridor before you get to the Black Archives, and I was to meet them with some equipment.” She indicated the bag Torin still carried before she continued in a hushed voice, “We were meant to sample every stone and tag its exact location before running a chem analysis on each one we took. Weird but straight-forward, don’t you think?”
“So, there should most definitely be a load of people mucking about down here then,” Torin concluded, still not troubling himself to be quiet. “Where have they all gone? Too late to be time for lunch, yeah?”
“And no one would just leave for lunch, that’d be silly,” Osgood agreed. “Especially not the soldiers, they wouldn’t leave their posts for anything.”
“I don’t like any of it,” Lios muttered, pulling out his sonic and doing a few scans.
“Ohh, what’s that?” Osgood asked as she looked over his shoulder at the incomprehensible readings he’d just taken with the whirring torch.
Torin cleared his throat loudly and pulled out his own, complete with claws, and extending them with a flick of his wrist. “Sonic screwdriver,” he answered. “We use them to take readings in the area to give us a better idea of—er—stuff.”
Lios rolled his eyes and continued his own scans.
“Like sonar?” Osgood asked him curiously as he preened and showed her his larger, cooler looking instrument.
“Exactly like that!” he nodded happily, putting it in her hands for a closer look. “Only, not really, because it also can tell me the chemical composition of the things it scans, tell the difference between organic and inorganic matter, find traces of biometric imprint, locate living organisms in masses of inanimate material, and boils eggs at thirty metres. Don’t use one near a chicken coop.”
Osgood giggled and examined it closely, pushing her glasses up once again. “I can’t read what it says. It’s just a series of numbers and circles.”
“Well, it’s Gallifreyan, ’course you can’t.”
“Is that your language then?” she asked curiously. Torin nodded enthusiastically and grinned. He was quite happy to be the centre of her attention once more. “Why’d you call it a screwdriver?”
“’Cos, I can also use it to put up a load of shelves if I need to.”
“Oi!” Lios interrupted, reaching behind Osgood as they slowly crept forward to swat at his strutting git-of-a-brother. “Got a bit of a situation here.”
“Right,” Torin said soberly, reclaiming his sonic and seriously scanning the area.
“There were people everywhere, and recently, so where the hell’ve they disappeared to?” Lios muttered as he frowned at his readings.
A scraping sound had begun shortly after they entered the stone hall and seemed to marginally increase the farther they travelled into its depths.
“Weird, these rocks,” Torin mused, and smacked his instrument a few times against his palm, convinced the readings were false. “They’re limestone, yeah? But both too pure and tainted all at once. There’s no trace of sediment. No mixture. The minerals are textbook, but they also have organic proteins woven into their base structures. It’s madness.”
The scraping noise increased in audibility, going from a scuffing on rough ground to more of a scratching at the back door.
“Li, is yours saying the same, or is mine in need of recalibration?”
“It’s the same.”
“Proteins? As in, the rock has been mixed with something living?” Osgood asked, enthralled with the mystery within the mystery they had uncovered. She stopped walking to pull out some of her swabs, files, hooks, bags, and petri dishes to take samples.
The scratching sound became more of a shifting-of-heavy-things noise.
Osgood collected a few of her own scrapings into vials and added a few different chemical solutions to each, observing the colour changes and frowning. “It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like they’re mortared rather than quarried.”
“Exactly! Weird! And they shouldn’t all be limestone, should they? I mean, the rocks came from all over Britain, so they should be a mix of marble and granite and loads of others! The only way this could happen is—”
“They’ve been replaced,” Lios concluded. “But by what?”
“Ye-p,” Torin breathed, his whole body suddenly tense and alert as he looked past the spot where both Osgood and his brother had stopped to get a closer look at the baffling rocks. “Though, I’d say the ‘by what’ is easy.”
Lios took one look at him and was out of his crouching position in half of a second just as Torin was grabbing for Osgood.
Her glass vials crashed to the floor as they pulled her up roughly and into a dead run.
“What?” she cried. “What is it? Why’re we running? Where are we running?”
“Mole-man doesn’t look very friendly!” Torin shouted back.
“M-mole-man? What—” She glanced over her shoulder as she wheezed and put on a burst of speed.
Running toward the sound of their thudding footsteps was a seven-foot, furry, black creature with sightless, milky eyes, and razor-sharp incisors, each at least ten inches in length. Its fingers had hooked claws at the ends of long rat-like fingers and toes, and Torin was right— it did not look like it wanted to cuddle. Viscid drool dripped out of its mouth and down the vicious-looking front teeth. And it was gaining on them. They could hear its scrabbling claws leaving nasty gouges in the stones as it propelled itself forward toward the fleeing group.
Quickly, Torin yanked Osgood’s arm hard and propelled her into a small, crumbling alcove in the corridor and covered her mouth with his hand. Lios Covered both their bodies with his own before each of the young men went as silent as statues. They seemed not to even need to breathe, even after all that exertion.
She couldn’t say the same. She frantically tried to still her ragged breath, but her traitorous bronchioles threatened to start contracting at any moment. She needed the air, or she would need her inhaler. Desperately.
The creature was within a few metres, the gouging of stone under razor-sharp claws intensifying her panic and inability to draw breath.
Torin could feel her body shaking with the need for air, and its inability to cope with the sprint they had just forced her to endure, and he did the only logical thing. He moved his hand to cover her nose, captured her lips with his own, and blew. He silently forced air into her spasming lungs then sucked it back out, letting his bypass filter the oxygen as he repeated the process again and again. She jerked against him at first, but the restoration of the life-sustaining molecule to her brain quickly allowed her to relax, and she let him breathe for her.
The creature passed them, but bewildered that it had lost the sounds it had followed, it back-tracked, and made another three passes before turning back the way it had come and disappeared.
They stayed in the safety of silence for another four minutes before Torin released the dazed girl and gazed apologetically into her eyes.
She blushed involuntarily, and pushed him backward from her slightly.
“Sorry,” he whispered, his own ears going a bit red as he smoothed the curls down over them. “You just…”
“I couldn’t breathe, yeah,” she said with a small cough, bringing her inhaler to her lips, and giving herself the much-needed medication. “How-How’d you do that?”
Torin, shrugged. “I’m not human.”
“Well… thanks… How come it didn’t know we were here?”
“Its eyes—er—they’re clouded over, I don’t think it can see, and its nose is shaped like a scoop. I think it relies on its hearing mostly.”
“Oh, and we were talking pretty loudly, weren’t we?”
“I didn’t see anything but teeth when I glanced at it. How did you see all that? It’s like you knew just what to do, I…” she looked uncomfortable as she trailed off.
Torin let the second “I’m not human” go unspoken. Osgood didn’t look like she needed the reminder, and things were uncomfortable enough.
Lios looked back and forth between the two and made an impatient sound. “Talk about this later if you must,” he breathed into the awkwardness. “We’ve got to move.”
Torin took the girl’s hand and pulled her with him as they continued to move deeper into the winding halls.
“Can’t go that way,” Osgood whispered after they had backtracked a bit and made a few wrong turns into dead-ends.
“Why not?” Torin asked, turning to look down at her.
“Black Archive is that way, through another set of doors and a vault. Can’t get in. No one can unless they’ve the key.”
The brothers looked at each other and came to silent agreement before pulling her in just that direction.
“Wait, I said, we can’t—” Osgood said, a little too loudly.
A keening wail echoed and bounced from the cold stones.
“Right, that’s us running again!” Torin shouted.
They skidded to a halt just outside the door that separated the entrance to the Archive from the stone passageways. It was made of metal and wood rather than the traitorous rock.
Lios yanked at it and found it locked. He aimed his sonic at the handle, but nothing happened.
“Access!” Osgood shouted with a gasp followed by a bout of hacking coughs.
A few pregnant moments passed, filled with the echoing of claws on stone and screeches reverberating ever nearer, before the door opened and a balding man peeked his head out to blink at them owlishly.
Another high-pitched shriek resounded behind them, and the brothers shoved themselves bodily against the half-open barrier, knocking the man back so that they could all scramble inside the room.
Just as Torin was closing it behind them, he caught sight of the mole-creature as it rounded the last corner and raced toward them at break-neck speed. He threw his back against the door and screeched for Lios to do the same as the creature bashed into it, nearly sending him flying forward.
He aimed his sonic at the lock, but whatever they had used to make it rendered it useless.
The dazed Atkins jumped to his feet, scrambled for the key, and charged forward to lock the heavy wooden door.
The monster gave up its battering, but an ominous screeching floated in their direction, followed by an even more disheartening scraping of claws on wood. It would dig them out now that it knew where they were, and it was calling for friends.
Osgood coughed and spluttered, but kept her wits about her. “We need to get into the Archive, now!” she told Atkins.
As frightened as the middle-aged man was, he set his jaw, and resolutely denied her access. “No one goes in without the key an’ proper clearance. I’m sorry.”
“That thing is going to get in here! What do you not understand about this situation!” Torin shouted angrily.
“Then it gets in and we’re prob’ly dead, but no one’s goin’ in. More’n my job’s worth, tha’.”
Torin raked his hand through his hair and paced the small room, while Lios approached the man gingerly. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Atkins, how long have you been working down here?”
“First day. Still not lettin’ you in. That’s the Black Archive, not a hidey-hole, an’ no one goes—”
“In or out without the key and clearance, I was listening, I promise,” Lios nodded. “Do you have a family, Atkins?”
“No, an’ I’m not gonna fall for any of tha’ rubbish. It might be my first day, but I got this job for a reason.”
It was Lios’s turn to let out an exasperated groan and begin pacing.
At least another three sets of claws joined the first. They’d be through in less than five minutes, and if the party in the antechamber didn’t get on with it, they’d be mole-food in no time.
“Atkins, where’s Miss Stewart?” Osgood cried. “Can’t you just go get her and—”
“No need, Osgood. She’s here with me. What the hell is happening out there?” Colonel Chaudhry asked in a stern voice from the entrance to the Archive.