Series: Altered History
Genre: Doctor Who
Rating: T/M (dark Doctor, character death, extreme danger)
Summary: Eight does not want to answer a mysterious – and diverted – call to come to The Library, but Donna won't let him shirk his duty. Yet the dangers there echo ones from the past, and the Doctor has never been so close to sinking into his darkest elements. Never mind the time stalker he's barely missed meeting before. Or did he?
Disclaimer: Utterly not mine. Just talking things from canon, mixing in Big Finish stories, and a healthy dose of my imagination.
Dedication: cassikat, for getting me interested in the Eighth Doctor in the first place. tardis_mole for being an awesome beta. And bas_math_girl for encouraging me to continue the series and keep posting.
Author's Note: Started during NaNoWriMo when I suddenly found “Echos on Oodsphere” finishing two chapters sooner than I expected (leaving one flashback bit out in the original draft), and to keep me going. I had to figure out on the fly what else I needed to write, and figured out later where the ideas would fit.
Once again, please make sure you've read the earlier installments: The Runaway Bride, Prophecies and Pompeii, and Echoes on Ood Sphere. Otherwise, you'll have no context for why Donna is travelling with Eight.
One other challenge for me was to ensure that I was not going overboard in my treatment of River Song. In full disclosure, she has rubbed me the wrong way since the first time I watched the Library episodes. I've made efforts in writing to make myself like her more, and I find that at a fundamental level she is someone I would not want to know or have in my life. (Even with the occasional instances where I almost want to root for her.) In this story I also hit upon what I feel is the biggest reason to not trust her, but... to quote her, “Spoilers”. Keep reading to find out. I have made some effort to include Big Finish info, but even that adds to the reasons I cannot like River. (Hey, no one will like every Doctor Who character. We can make an effort to accept that they exist, and that may be the best anyone can ask of us.)
And as always, a big thank you to tardis-mole for beta reading. You keep my historical info on track, and help me weed out those Americanisms that stand out like Six's coat in a sea of... any color. Never mind stop me when I need to be stopped on some tangent.
Altered History: Time Trials
Started November 3, 2018
Finished December 27, 2018
Chapter One: History Section
The TARDIS was quiet, waiting for her Thief and Heartfire to return. Her systems were running normally and she kept alert to any threats. All seemed in its place, even if they were taking longer than expected.
Suddenly the inner doors burst open and Donna marched in, her heels al-but stomping. It echoed all over the Control Room. “You are bonkers!”
The Doctor came in so quickly behind her, pausing only to push the doors into closing, that he looked like a gust in a hurricane. “Me?! Did you have to behave that way toward the Prime Minister of Katta Flo Ko?!”
Donna whipped around on a ha'penny, the golden flex of her eyes flashing like gunfire. “It was part of the plan, wasn't it? He needed to be distracted so that his plans for dominating the tourism for the Coral Reefs could be stopped. And he deserved to be shocked into his place. His plans ruined a perfectly good scuba diving trip! Making all the boats return early on a pretext. The sodding git required a good slap. Are you going to scold me for doing something that the women of the planet cheered?”
“Hardly,” Eight snapped. During her rant he paced around the controls, trying to run scans before starting the dematerialisation sequence. “Men like that are the scourge of not just women but people in general. But did you have to choose that... that... that dress?! I told you that he didn't deserve to see that much of you, and you deserve better than to have to be treated like someone trussed up to be leered at like meat.”
“Oi, are you getting at the stereotypes surrounding gingers?!”
“What?! Pazithi, no! No, no, no! You covered yourself with that cloak. If I'd seen what you were wearing under that-”
“You might be an alien who's old enough to be the father of my particular species, but you aren't my dad! And what's so wrong about this dress?” she demanded as she glanced down at it, waving a hand from her shoulders toward her legs. “It did the job and it's not like I'm exposing myself!”
The Doctor's eyes bulged at the visual cue to look back at her. Donna was wearing what could only be described as THE dress. The lower three-quarters hung freely from gathered high waist to the flared hem at half-thigh, in complete contrast to the upper-quarter, which hugged her like a second skin around her ample bosom. In fact, it not only enhanced the fact that Nature had smiled on her, bust-wise, but showed off a good portion of it to anyone unfortunate enough to have been facing her direction. He still could not figure out how that neckline could possibly be holding them in. And, the dress was black, which meant that anyone who wasn't facing her, looked anyway because orange and black together were attention-gatherers. The fact that it had a back to it offered the barest relief to the most offended, if that was the right word, man in the room: the Doctor himself. And he was suffering from what felt like sea-sickness just with the amount of thigh it granted his vision access to.
He once again took in the neckline and more words spilled out, like he thought she should have been. “That dress makes the wedding dress cleavage look tame. If anyone had thought you had a sizable chest before, that dress makes it look even bigger. I thought you didn't want to be looked at, given how you disguise your figure in your clothes.”
“Don't you deny it! You've been so conditioned to think of yourself as bigger than you are that you hide your figure within clothes that don't flatter you. Or fit. I've seen what you wear between our adventures. Your figure was once the height of beauty on your planet, and the obsession with being so skinny that you cause paper-cuts if you're hugged will harm many in your time. Was there anyone in Chiswick who didn't make you feel like nothing?”
He could not understand why it was provoking so much emotion from him. Or why he was breathless. Or why his endocrine system had suddenly shifted up a couple of gears and was at peak performance.
“That's not the point here, Doctor!”
“Then what is, Donna?!”
“What right do you have to complain about what I wear? I've seen what you wore in earlier bodies!”
His eyes grew huge and his face slipped into panic. “How-How-How in Rassilon's name did you get to see those?! I didn't show you!”
“Your ship showed me.”
Donna shrugged. “I was looking up information in your library system about Gallifrey and you when she interrupted me with images that I think she had to have somehow taken. I doubt you would've wanted photos taken of you in those instances. Not that it's anywhere near the point. Why would you be so worried about what I wear? Didn't you say before we went on this little mission that Lucie used her flirting skills on some Swedish guard in the later 19th century?”
“Yes, but she was modestly dressed and the time-frame enforced good behavior. I pretended to be her guardian. All I had to do was glower at him for being alone with her and speak protectively toward Lucie.”
Donna rolled her eyes. “It's not like he actually got to touch me; I learned enough to know that he wouldn't as long as I remained in public, and I did.”
“And you've been doing this a lot lately, getting snappy when I seem to be in danger. Even before the Ood Sphere. Like when we met the so-called Alexander the Great. He was an obnoxious, pigheaded teenager on a hormone rampage!”
“He also had the right people serving him, and enough sense to listen to them. Although he nearly didn't where you were concerned.”
“Or how about when we landed in Greece during the 1920s revolution, where we had to work both our gobs to get Prince Phillip's family to safety?”
“They don't see many gingers there, and you were risking yourself needlessly!”
“Well, you kept limiting what I could do, and that made things harder for us all! Never mind when we had to intervene to prevent NASA from getting hold of a photo of an Ice Warrior!”
“Yes, and I've very nearly failed there at least three times on three separate and unrelated incidences. Well, if you're going to bring that up, how do you explain why you nearly married Prince Rudolph?! I told you something wasn't right about him!”
“If you had been listening to me, you would've realised that I respected your suspicions. I insisted that you accompany us to the Palace, didn't I?! And I only agreed to the whole thing because I suspected it was the only way we could figure out what was threatening the kingdom! And I was right! So what was all that about me leaving? I told you that I suspected something, and I didn't intend to remain there!”
The Doctor, flummoxed by her reminding him about their discussion, opened his mouth to retort nonetheless. But before any words came out, he shook like he got a sudden electric shock and his hand went to one of his pockets. “What the hell-?!”
“If you're trying to avoid this-”
“No, Donna. I felt a message come to the psychic paper,” he explained, drawing it out.
Her face relaxed into confusion. “I thought you said it only showed what you wanted people to see.”
“Or whatever they will believe,” he clarified as he opened it. His eyes narrowed. “What-What-What is this?” he breathed.
Donna, seeing that he was still from surprise, walked over to read it over his arm. When she did, her confusion turned into a mocking scowl as she read the words. “'The Library. Come as quick as you can.'” She then grabbed it from his hands. “A cry for help with a kiss?”
He blinked. “Is that what that 'X' means?”
Her lips twitched. “Well, that proves you don't know who sent it. And how many might be able to do that?”
“In theory, my people could, but they prefer a more direct method. Like a telepathic call or materialising inside my ship – no matter how briefly. And none of them would ever use that kind of emotion in a message.”
“There's not even coordinates or a date. And which library does this... person mean?”
A chime came from the TARDIS, like a bell ringing. The Doctor turned to the screen and paused as he brought up the readings. “She got the coordinates and the date already. Whoever sent the message sent those to the Old Girl directly.”
“Again, who could do that if it's not your people?”
“I don't know!” he snapped. “Whoever it is, it has to be a trap.”
“But what if there is some big danger and many are at risk? Would you let people die?”
“What if it means that I lose another companion?! I wasn't ready for you to nearly marry that Prince Rudolph, and I'm not ready for you to die!”
Donna's mouth popped open in a silent 'oi!', but no words came out.
Yet she was saved from answering when the TARDIS chimed again. This time they both turned and stilled at the sight of another message, this time through the screen:
'Sorry to divert her message to you. It was meant for me, and I was originally supposed to send it to a different you – all because I had to keep the original time lines intact. Now to keep the new ones intact I must divert it even further back. You're the only one who can keep her at bay, and keep the future on course.'
“'A different you'?” Donna repeated, disbelieving. “Does this person mean a future you? Who could it be?”
“I have a bad feeling that it's a future me. But it doesn't sound like someone I've met yet. Or have a memory of meeting. Time crashes seem to create memory blocks or I forget deliberately.”
“So this means in his past, you went to this place. Let me go and change before we're off.”
“What?!” she squawked.
“You heard me. I can't trust whoever this person is who sent the cry for help. In fact, if it's who I think it might be, I definitely do not want to meet her.”
She grabbed his arm and tried to make him face her. The action shocked him enough to give her time to talk uninterrupted. “But saving someone; that's what you do. You never deny a call for help, and when someone is reaching out for you specifically then they probably have a flipping good reason. Even if they're some Time Lord git with an agenda or some flirt who thinks they're special to you. You've shown me that your mission is to preserve Time, that it's in your very essence thanks to how your people were formed. If you can really see all that is, all that will be, and all that must not be, then prove it. Tell me, what do you see about this upcoming event? If there's another you, then you will survive it somehow. And if somehow it means I have to go-”
“I won't risk that!” he blurted, shaking his head.
“-then it's a price I'll accept to save you and the universe,” she continued over his protest. “It's a risk I accepted when I decided to change my mind and travel with you. You put yourself at risk because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
He slowly turned to look at her, sinking in his boots. “Are you quoting Star Trek against me?”
“You appreciated and respected Spock's choice to sacrifice himself for the crew, even though you hated that it had to be done. Now, your other talent is snatching an alternative way out of an impossible situation. And you have me to help you spot the key details, put things together in ways your mind don't. So, I'm going to change clothes. When I get back here, I expect we'll have landed wherever and whenever this... suspicious messenger wants you to come. Run a bunch of scans while you wait for me, if that makes you feel better. Because you can't go about hiding from your fears; you can't run from yourself forever.”
He had no words as she marched into the corridor. He had enough experience to know that protesting further would not help. “If anything, protesting might earn another slap,” he muttered to himself. “I can't believe she didn't right then. She seemed mad enough for it.”
When he heard her close the door to her room he sighed as he began to send them to their destination. “What choice do I have? She's right. I do have a duty. But how can I keep her safe?”
After a few seconds of working at the controls, he paused. “And why is it so important to me?”
Donna finally returned, feeling better for feeling more like herself. Not that she didn't enjoy dressing up and feeling beautiful, but it wasn't easy overcoming the habits of a lifetime. She also wasn't ready to confront the Doctor on how stunned he had looked when he saw her black dress, which did have a rather daring neckline accentuated by a bow under the cleavage. Because there was a chance he would ask her why she had not shown him before, and being that way in front of him was unnerving for her.
The Doctor was going from place to place on the Controls. A frown marred his face, making the lines brought on by the stresses of his years since the Moment nearly killed him more evident.
“So where is this library?”
“Not a library. THE Library. It's a planet dedicated to books.”
“A whole planet?!”
“Yes,” he said, a bit of enthusiasm returning to his voice and face. “They have everything, including real books. There's nothing like that smell, Donna.”
“I agree. I worked in Hunslow Library for a while. Learned the Dewey system backwards and forwards. The newer books just don't smell right; they use different materials. When are we?”
“The 51st Century.”
“So... what's going on? Any signs of why we're here?”
“I'm not sure. The Old Girl's scans aren't showing me much more than that we arrived at Noon locally. I've been trying to figure out why and nothing seems wrong?”
Donna stilled. “So could be something interfering?”
“Most likely. But what?”
“It... couldn't be... She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”
His lips twitched into a smile. “Read Harry Potter?”
“I have young cousins. Took them to the movies that've come out so far in my time. You must've seen them all, then. Even the ones not yet made.”
“Actually, not yet. Read them all, though. But as far as I can tell she can only influence certain things related to the TARDIS, and attempts to influence my thinking and what I'm aware of. But I know she's making the effort, so that doesn't work for long.”
“So... if we can't get more information from the TARDIS, is it time to investigate?”
He sighed. “Yes. Come on,” he said, putting on a brave face as he slung his satchel strap over his head and opened the doors for her. Still, he exited the outer doors first, just to be on the safe side. It also allowed him to be scanning with both the sonic and his scanner.
Donna took in the obvious reception area. “It looks like the most high tech library from my time, but on steroids.”
“A good description,” he remarked as he approached one computer terminal. “Let's see where everyone is.”
He ran the scan, and the results made them both start.
“Why does that say there's no one here? Is it a Sunday?” Donna asked.
“Well, that's if you search for humanoid forms or other similar life-signs, it comes up empty. But what if I expend it to any kind of life...?” His eyes widened as the number quickly rose and then halted. “At least a million million, but it's silent in the Library.”
“Doctor, you know that phrase about getting lost in a book? That's not literally possible here, is it?” she asked, a tremor in her voice.
He looked at her, and then they both looked at some nearby books.
“Ah!” they both squawked, turning to see one of the freestanding columns turning to reveal a male face in the white surface.
“What is that?!” Donna cried.
“A Node,” the Doctor answered.
“Why does it have a face?”
“This face was donated by Mark Chambers on the occasion of his death,” the face continued. “It has been selected from the databanks for your enjoyment.”
Donna took a step back, barely noticing that the Doctor was in her way and he had to grab her arms to keep her from falling. “It chose a dead face it thought I'd like?!”
“Donna, we'll talk about that in a bit. Um, hello, there! And you are?”
“I am Courtesy Node 710/aqua. Please enjoy the Library and respect the personal access codes of all your fellow readers regardless of species or hygiene taboo. Additional. There follows a brief message from the head librarian for your urgent attention. It has been edited for tone and content by Felman Lux Automated Decency Filter. Message follows. 'Run. For God's sake, run. Nowhere is safe. The Library has sealed itself, we can't... Oh, they're here. Arg. Slarg. Snick.' Message ends. Please switch off your mobile comm units for the comfort of other readers.”
“So that's why we're here,” the Doctor muttered, suspicions rising. “Any other messages, same time and date stamp?”
“One additional message,” the Node continued. “This message carries a Felman Lux coherency warning of 5.0.11...”
“Yes, yes, yes, fine, fine, fine, just play it,” he groaned.
“Message follows. 'Count the shadows. For God's sake, remember... if you want to live, count the shadows.' Message ends.”
The Doctor breathed sharply into his nose and grabbed Donna's hand at the same time.
“Doctor?” she asked.
“Donna, stay out of the shadows. Whatever you do, don't let a shadow touch you.”
“Why? You don't think whoever sent this has their own agenda?”
“No, but this isn't the last time I got a message to come somewhere with little information. Or the first time I've run into this kind of a threat.”
Chapter Two: Locum Doctor House Call