|[Doctor Who] Fugue (Ace)
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Warning: violence, angst, metaphysics.
Contrary to appearances, she decided it was thinking that always got her into a trouble. It could get anyone into a fine fix, really. First you could remember something you had seen or heard or experienced or fought. Then you might consider the event more philosophically after the shrapnel littered the ground. You might think about how a certain species would use and slaughter another, for a piece of rock, or a bit of writing, and no matter how powerful, educated or wily you were, there was nothing to be done. All you could do was watch and let a few, few hundred, few billion, people die.
That was the problem with traveling with an alien whose sciences were so vast and incomprehensible that they could be mistaken for magicks. Well, no, the real problem was that you might begin to think of him as a warlock who could solve problems with the wave of an umbrella. You could forget that his knowledge came from an ancient databank and that by his peoples' legal and moral standards he was a criminal and reprobate, respectively.
She had to stop debating things she couldn't change. First it would make her feel ill, then the nausea would churn around a bit in the pit of her stomach until it filled out into a sort of righteous anger. At that point, she would need to destroy something - if not the problem itself, then a substitute. She had found rooms in the TARDIS where she could do just that, but they were still empty, silent white rooms underneath their technological glamour.
She thumped her head against her bed, wishing she had more tapes to which she could listen. The music helped drown out useless thoughts which developed from a lack of conversational opportunities. She blamed that lack of company on the Doctor, these days more than ever. She had never expected him to force a choice between continued travel or marooning on an alien planet when she had asked him to bring her back to Earth. She wondered, hesitantly, if he would force her to choose between his way or the highway ever again. I was just lonely.
He had holed up somewhere in the nothingness beyond the mutating corridor maze that reflected his mind as much as where the TARDIS decided Ace ought to be that particular timespan. She hadn't found him for nine days now. She pulled a cassette tape out of her radio deck and began tossing it into the air, catching it flat. If she missed it, it would hit her nose but the slap of the plastic against her palms broke the silence. Catching was trickier than it seemed because the pattern of the throws could lull her into negligence.
It could only do that because it was a small pattern, unlike the repetition of the corridor pathways. While they were in constant flux, the mathematician in her had noticed large, complex sequences repeating over the span of weeks. It simply meant that the Doctor was working on a problem of some sort. The TARDIS would form a clutter, but each time it came to the same result. The answer's obviously not the one he wants.
The chemist in her, then replied, that if a certain sequence repeats itself under controlled circumstances, it is most likely the correct -
The tape cracked against her nose and she jerked upright, hissing and swearing at herself. Needles of pain jabbed up into her skull and she felt the barely perceptible, warm trickle of blood. She sighed, disgusted, and wandered off the bed, out of her room, periodically wiping the blood off her lip. Maybe if she gave the Doctor a bloody nose he would remember he had a crazy-with-boredom human aboard his ship.
Knowing it was past the first week of corridor jumble she followed, without looking, the pattern that was developing. For a self-pitying minute she concluded that he wouldn't notice if she died. Besides, even if he did, he'd just fix me. It made her feel like a tinker toy. Why, if she broke, ran out of batteries, her voice circuit malfunctioned, or perhaps suffocated on the moon, he could just jimmy the wires, replace the bits or make a new one. So not only was trying to save people often futile, even death was irrelevant.
What if I'm not the real me? What if the real me bloated up and hemorrhaged out on the lunar surface? He probably wouldn't tell me for my own good even if I asked him straight out. She doubted the truth would matter. Reality, in the Doctor's world, was a matter of perception. According to psychology, reality was just that, regardless of Time Lord machinations.
For instance, she perceived that the TARDIS flew through the Vortex. It did not fly at all. It existed in another dimension that intersected with her accepted dimensions. Even the internal changes were a matter of mathematically generated symbolic architecture. The TARDIS reflected the mind of its owner, binding both in a feedback loop. She knew that it also held a bond with her - with any traveler foolish enough to enter. It reflected her back.
Perhaps it mixed all the minds it knew together, reflecting them back to all and sundry. If, maybe.... She doubted it would work. The average human only used twelve percent of their brain, and she was no exception, latent abilities or otherwise. She would never be able to affect the TARDIS in any meaningful way and therefore was at the mercy of the Doctor's mood swings.
"Where are you going?"
"Oh. Hi, Professor." She called him that because he reminded her of one, always trying to teach her things she didn't want to know. Her original reason was his stodgy dress sense, barring the gaudy red question marks littering his pullover. That fashion was soon apparent as a human affectation, a costume of sort. She also called him that in an attempt to irritate, curious to know how long he would tolerate the title before calling her 'Dorothy' in a return volley. "I was following, is all."
He eyed her from beneath his creased Panama hat. He seemed to be frowning, but it could also be argued that his facial expression was at norm. Cocking his head to the side, he reached up swiftly - too swiftly for her to dodge - and brushed a knuckle against the dried blood on her cheek. His body temperature was lower than hers; his skin was cool. She saw his eyes narrow a bit as he asked without a word.
She tried for a disarming smile, but it wouldn't come out because it occurred to her that she'd seen him control minds with a touch. So she shrugged, masking the urge to hunch her shoulders and sidle away. Too many thoughts like that could spoil their friendship. "'S'nothing. I wasn't paying attention." She glanced down the corridor and the Doctor matched her direction.
"It's not working," he murmured.
Ace shrugged again. As far as she was concerned, it was working, but not the way he wanted. "Are we going to land soon?"
"Mm." He pushed his chin down against his collar, clasping his hands behind his back over top the brown coat he favored. She watched the corridor begin to shift again, exactly where she expected. "Yes."
She made no move to stop him from leaving again, knowing she lacked the power or authority to force him. Instead, she wondered what "soon" meant from an alien who had a lifespan of millennia and headed back down into the pattern.
The energy beam crackled, hissing past and bursting into sight as an unbearable bright yellow light. It left behind a black oily mass, fat mixed with flesh, crumpled metal and melted plastics lying under bits of ceramic alloy armor. The smell of burnt meat, the acrid choking of plastic, the ozone atmosphere overpowered all the sounds of battle, until the noise became a blur of static. The smell rose up in gusts of dark gray smoke, winding its way through the Special Weapons Daleks, the living tanks.
The sky was so full of oily smoke, it refracted back the yellow and blue glows of energy weapons, the orange and red of fire, so that her whole world seemed reduced to a multicolored haze. The domed shadows were surrounding her, glimpsed through the smoke. As she gasped, almost methodically, she began to cough and wheeze dropping her gun.
Circling, circling, her knees were melting. They must be, or else why was she falling down like this? She reached out with her hands, half-feeling the black slime, jagged bits of shrapnel, splattering up at her. She tried to see something she recognized, a corporate logo, a federation emblem, a flag ship but only shadow people were visible.
They had to be shadow people, moving so jerkily, indistinguishable all around her, like puppets on fire. The whine, that high pitched whine, she would go deaf if it didn't stop. She tried to cover her ears, already masked by a helmet. Clenching her eyes shut, she slid down into the human waste, so she didn't have to see the soldiers circling and falling.
She couldn't see the horizon that never ended or the Daleks hovering, so obscenely shiny compared to this. She could not see them cull the opposition, her friends, like so much cattle without a flicker of an electronic eye. She could not hear them with their tinny voices, shrieking commands, their weapons fire invisible until it struck a target.
But that smell would never go away because smells were forever. She had thought she could do this, fight with fists instead of game pieces but instead she curled up tightly, hoping the cybernetic beings would fail to notice her heat signature in the dross. She had thought her anger would sustain her, but emotions....
It wasn't supposed to be like this. On Maire's advice, she had signed on with an IMC trading vessel, as one of their personal thugs where she was paid to do what she did best. All she had wanted was safe passage, a routine until she got bored, a way to save a bit of money without anyone prying to deeply into her identity or past. She was supposed to be there, up in the sky, not conscripted into Spacefleet.
Her head was pounding with a steady rhythm, a noise she could hear, so she counted the notes and discovered her heart beat. She only had one and she'd thought she was dead to pain and how foolish was that? The world, the universe, life, it all continued and why did he always have to be right? So she was suddenly very concerned with the fact that Culls were approaching and she was now, surely, behind enemy lines.
Ace struggled up to her hand and knees, like standing on spaghetti, covered in tar. She dared reach no higher, though even so, the Culls would spot the heat signature. The enormous flat machines were visible, wavering in and out of sight, creeping over the fields and swallowing both corpses and living victims. She started to hyperventilate again, but she had to pick up the blaster, any blaster and rise. She had been part of the cannon fodder, therefore the real soldiers would be arriving. Soon, hopefully soon, in human terms.
There, that's a good girl. Pick up the gun. The goo doesn't need it anymore but if the infantry find you lying down -
Billows of gray surrounded her, dotting the landscape as the second wave dropped. They were from her side, the human side that didn't entomb themselves in tin cans to preserve their biological state. She could not hear them, but the Spacefleet Infantry melted in and out of the shadows, some passing her. It was okay now, everything would be fine.
One of them stopped in front of her, grabbed her shoulder, shaking. She tried to tell him not to do that, that she would fall down again but instead, dropped her gun. Again. The sergeant struck her, once, twice and she did fall down. He seemed to be shouting something; she could see his mouth moving, teeth bared. The blue flare that sizzled the goo beside her ear galvanized her.
He was pointing his blaster square at he chest-plate now, but she was already moving, staggering on autopilot, fumbling for a weapon as she stood, moving forward. Because, she could not hear anything, could not see anything for the smoke and the smell had permeated her lungs she lunged aimlessly. She felt no pain due to her combat suit, no heat, no cold. But then again, the real Ace was dead, right? Probably.
She felt a tug at her scruff, redirecting her so she lashed out, only to be boxed on the helmet by the butt of a gun. She whirled towards the sergeant but could barely see him. Even the sound of blood in her ears was fading as they were about to meet, obliquely, with the Culls.
She stood there dumbly long enough to watch him flare yellow white, stiffen and melt, so much more sludge on the ground before she remembered the digital display in her helmet visor.
"Ace, is it?" Commander Wittek seemed to chew the question, eyeing her in a way that instantly made her want to get up out of the hard-backed chair, leave his office and the Academy altogether.
"Yessir." Instead, she planted her hands firmly on the arms of her seat and waited. It wasn't as if she wanted to be here in officer training. She had survived almost two years of combat on frontier worlds. It had virtually ensured her rise in rank during wartime because she couldn't bear to see people mill around like sheep when in danger. That didn't mean she liked leading people to death. It was just a mess.
"I'll cut right to it. Your commanding officer sent you here because she thought you deserved a chance and would make an upstanding officer but there has been a certain lack of information surfacing in regard to your personal history."
He laced his fingers together on the desktop and leaned forward, a placid expression on his face. "Upon scrutiny, you seem to have no registered birthdate, no citizen ID, no biological origin, no recorded name - hence my question - and to put it simply; you don't seem to exist as of two years ago. Would it be possible for you to explain this to me?"
She swallowed. "Er." I'm dead. They'll say I'm a spy, vaporize me and hand over my gaseous remains to the Daleks. Or maybe they'll be gruesome and toss me out an airlock.
The door opened with a brush of air and a man entered the office. He nodded tersely at Commander Wittek, invited himself to a chair and settled in. Crossing his leg over his knee, he smiled politely at both of them.
Ace took one look at his formal gray suit and decided she should not have joked about being vaporized.
"This is Agent Farnin from the Office of External Operations. He's been helping us with our investigation."
"Um. You know. I've been in fixes like this one a lot of times, so can I ask you a question?" She could feel the cavalier fatalism taking control of her responses.
"Are you going to try to kill me?"
"No, but you may leave with a dishonorable discharge," Wittek replied as blandly as yogurt.
"Oh." She shrugged. That wasn't so bad. She could always get a menial job somewhere, or hook back up with IMC. The pay wouldn't be as good, so her financial plan might need some scaling, but life should still be tolerable even if owned by a corporation. Still, the notion stung.
The Commander leaned back in bemusement. "You don't seem terribly concerned."
"Nah. Guess not. I know I'm good at it, but I didn't want to be here. I just needed to kill things for a while there." She threw another look at the Agent waiting in silence. "Look, you really want to know who I am and where I'm from? Because I can tell you the truth, but you'll definitely need an open mind." She screwed her face up trying to sort up which facts she could and couldn't give them, deciding the situation was fairly hopeless. There was little she could tell that wouldn't allow OEO to get their hooks into her.
"Unless you tell me you popped into existence two years ago."
She couldn't help the snort of amusement. "Well, yeah. I kinda did. I was traveling with someone and we had a row over some orders he should have given me but didn't which ended up in hurt feelings all around," she admitted ruefully, surprised how easy it was. "I left, he left, and here I was."
He opened his mouth, another question clearly incumbent.
"I was born in 1970, but those records probably don't exist anymore what with the Dalek invasion a while later." A while, as if it was next month. I'll never get rid of that habit. If there were crickets in this century, she would have heard them. Her foot fidgeted against the carpet. After a singular moment passed, she clapped her palms down on her knees, making to rise. "Right, well, I'll go pack my things and - "
Agent Farnin cut in, abruptly. "Was this person who brought you here a time traveler?"
The surprise on her face must have shown because he gave her a dismissive glance and pulled an digital tablet from his pocket. "The human race has encountered several species with time travel technology besides the Daleks. For the time being, I'll consider the possibility. What was this traveler's name?"
Nonplused, she sat back, trying to judge the current situation. She was too accustomed to people disbelieving in such things as time travel. Commander Wittek had steepled his fingers in front of his face, his eyebrows arched over suspicious eyes.
Farnin flickered into motion, reading his data pad, repeatedly touching what she guessed was a scroll command. He kept doing this for a few minutes until it became apparent that there was more information available than could be perused in the time given. He turned his head towards Wittek. "She could have found references to him on her own. I'll need to read all of this and - "
"Maybe someone took some snapshots."
Both men swiveled to stare at her and she remembered, belatedly, that they both ranked over her, so she was speaking out of turn. Not wanting to compound the error, she bit her tongue and stared at the desk in front of her. Consequently, she jumped when Farnin half-stood, leaning forward to hand the data pad to Wittek.
"It's not conclusive. I'll need to read the rest, as I said before."
Wittek looked sidewise from the pad, to her, and back again. "Do you have any of the clothing and paraphernalia in this record?"
"Maybe." She scratched the side of her nose in the realization that she would not be leaving as soon as she had assumed. "I left my jacket behind though and that'd probably be the most useful bit, just 'cause it stands out, 'y'know." She had the Agent's attention now and answered his unspoken question with a dry response. "I'm not stupid either. I reckon you want to date my stuff, maybe check the chemical compositions for textiles that aren't made anymore."
Farnin smiled faintly. "Yes. Either they'll prove to be antiques, or anachronistically new using compounds no longer in use. In either scenario, your financial record shows no ability for you to obtain either."
"That's 'cause I got them when they were cheap."
Wittek grunted. "In either case, Sergeant, I want you to cooperate fully with Agent Farnin. In the meantime, return to your duties."
Cyraturic, the moon of Groclamor, contained a natural mineral that produced light and heat. It lit the way for the Federation colonists, provided warmth, and a metabolic source for crops. It also seemed to be restricted to this particular moon. Quite naturally, several trading companies desired to acquire rights to the resource, despite the fact that doing so would endanger the lives of the colonists.
In the shell of a residence, she crossed her arms tightly behind her back, holding her wrist steady. The people had fled into their homes, under the ground, to escape the guerilla warfare erupting around them. Flashes of weapons fire were easily visible in the dim atmosphere of the city, blue darts of light crisscrossing streets, alleys, from building to building.
The security forces of both IMC and Wright's, Inc, embroiled in modern corporate takeover, had scattered into each other when the Federation troop had landed. They had resisted briefly, as if unsure of the cause for presence of Spacefleet, then fallen back into defense when they saw a commissioned officer involved. It was understandable.
Her troop had fanned out, herding both corporate bodies towards the docking warehouses. She could hear them, echoes of voices shouting, electronics, past the low bulbous shapes of housing. Every now and then, a source of flashing light would cease to produce more and she wondered if it was one of hers, an IMC trooper - also one of hers, it could be argued - or a Wright soldier. They all had the same weapons.
She ground her teeth and gave in to the urge to check her wrist computer. Three signals out, blinking silently in acknowledgment of termination. Leaning forward onto the broken window ledge, she cursed the rank that kept here here, behind the line, on a different mission. There had been twice as many corporate raiders as the Office believed present and her experience would be useful on the field.
But IMC was also on the field, so her orders were to remain in the rear. She could hardly blame the Office for not fully trusting her. That's what this game was all about, because when a pawn made it to the other side, it became queen so it was her duty to guard the board and theirs to watch their pawn.
There was a soft tread behind her.
"What are you doing here Sergeant?" She asked the question gently, meaning, 'why are you disobeying direct orders and abandoning the troops'.
"Sir." There was a pause. "IMC will reach the munitions before us."
"Yes." They would, and they would probably slaughter both Wright and her troop. "That's the point." She watched her computer, the lights blinking on one by one and gripped the ledge that much tighter for each one. There was not much time left. Soon the corporate soldiers would be doubling back here, after her.
"I've signaled them our position. They'll be here as soon as they mop up the troops."
"Tell me something, Kristoph." It was time to confirm for him what he had probably guessed. The hairs on the back of her neck were rising but she knew there was no need to pull her blaster. "Does it bother you that some of those men and women are, were, your friends? That some of them probably even guessed what you were up to?"
She heard him hold his breath and could imagine him raising his firearm.
"Turn around. Nice'n' slow. Sir."
Turning, she controlled her own reflexes, her breath. He would shoot her regardless, predictably, but she had to be ready for the head shot if he went for it. He hadn't gotten his rank by aiming poorly.
"You're one of them, aren't you?" He answered her silence, "All right then, even so, I don't have to kill you, especially if I'm wrong and you're just being difficult. Keep in mind though that I'm the one here pointing the rifle at your head." His face was masked by his helmet and visor, the black and dull gray of his uniform blending with the dark confines of the room. Ace judged him average in every way, except for a natural authority useful on field. She hadn't thought of him as a person since she'd been given her objective and she didn't want to hear any speeches from him.
"Yeah. Exactly on time, too."
His chin dipped and shoulders rose, a natural fear reaction as he rapidly made mental connections. There was that split second before he straightened his aim. "Killed them all to get at me?"
"We needed proof." She obligingly looked down, raising her wrist to examine the readout. Using that motion, she dropped into a roll and subvocalised a simple command that passed through her computer to his ID chip. The flare of heat at he shoulder spoke of a hit, but she could take that. It wouldn't kill her. She doubted that was in the game plan.
She swiveled on toe in time to see Kristoph jerk and spasm, convulsing on the floor as a small pocket of oxygen released into his bloodstream sent him into cardiac arrest. Oxygen was neither toxic nor foreign matter therefore his allies, some that were hopefully dead now, had not detected it. That was a relief. The returning IMC security forces wouldn't be able to trace his death to her, conclusively at any rate.
He was taking a long time to die. She sank back on her heels, sliding down against a bulkhead. Only the scrape of fabric against metal was audible barring the receding gasps. Pushing up her visor so that only the darkness was visible, she touched a point above her sternum. She wondered if there was a kill-switch in her ID chip and would OEO ever use it. She wondered which side owned her. She wondered if it mattered.