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 Ood Sphere” 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 Echos 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.
Chapter One / Chapter Two
Altered History: Time Trials
Started November 3, 2018
Finished December 27, 2018
Chapter Three: Horrible Histories
From Chapter One:
“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.”
Donna sucked in a breath and looked around.
“Back to the TARDIS!” the Doctor blurted.
“Doctor! Where did those shadows come from?!”
His eyes went to where Donna's were fixed on. A darkness was moving slowly through one of the aisles, and had come between them and the TARDIS.
“Thank the Eternals I closed the doors and added additional protections. Run!”
They rushed into a nearby corridor, out of the entry area. “What the hell is that?!” Donna gasped as they slowed in a well-lit area, although not as lit as the entry.
The Doctor drew a torch out and tested it. “Good. Strong light. Here.”
Donna accepted it in her free hand. “Doctor, answer my question.”
“I will, as long as you keep moving,” he promised as he drew out a torch that glowed even brighter.
They walked carefully, and he began his tale.
“Back in my Fourth incarnation, I was travelling alone and decided to go to a place called Funworld. What I didn't know was that it wasn't open yet, and all the workers had died. It used to be a forest world, and they cut down all the trees to make way for an amusement park.”
“That's awful! All of them?!”
“Well, I don't recall a single one remaining. They also took out all the life they could detect. Except they failed scan for life smaller than the eye can see. That's what you just saw. Vashta Nerada. I've encountered them one other time, in this body, when I answered a distress call too soon.”
“What does the name mean? What are they when they're at home? And where do they come from?”
He looked around for a clear path around the cloud, to hopefully make them leave first. “It's a transliteration into a language you can speak. 'The shadows that melt the flesh' is what the name means. No one knows for certain which world was their homeworld. I think some time traveler picked a few up and accidentally spread them across many worlds.”
“Not Earth, surely?”
“Yes, Donna. But they started as just scavengers, eating dead creatures in the dark. They used to avoid the light completely, and never swarmed like this. But after having the experience of bipeds destroying their habitat? They can spread knowledge and they have emotions, that much I know from the first adventure. And I think they're a hive consciousness.”
“Think?” Donna asked, sharply.
“That came from a psychic who came with the team that went to the first world, and she could sense them – with difficulty.”
“What happened to her?”
The Doctor's face fell. “Died. They ate her.”
Donna's breathing speed increased. “So they're like the Racnoss? They eat people?”
“Now they do. But there was a cordon placed on Funworld. Only one risk-taking woman dared to return, and she somehow collected some for experimentation and modification.”
“What the flipping heck did she think they would do?”
“She wanted to turn them into helpful beings for medical purposes, but someone sabotaged the experiments, which were being supported by my own people.”
“Believe me, I had words with Romana about it before we left. Ollistra had just returned, and I imagine that she had a lot of explaining to do. It was set in preparation for the potential Time War.”
“But you averted it. Didn't they stop it?”
“Not all of Gallifrey supported the peace created by my actions, Donna. You noticed that, surely.”
“Yeah, but wouldn't the Time Lords know the danger involved in working with those beings?”
“I think with my destroying the ancient weapons, they wanted something in reserve. They supported weaponising the Vashta Nerada.”
“Okay,” Donna breathed. “That is a bit-”
“Donna!” he cried suddenly, drawing her against him.
She looked where she had been. “Where's that shadow coming from?”
“Your shadow came too close to it. And it's coming closer. Run!”
They bolted through the halls, and this time a larger swarm followed. At length, they ran into a dead end. A closed double door.
“Open it!” Donna screamed.
“The sonic takes a while to do wood,” he breathed, fighting against the settings.
“Oh, move over!” she snapped, pushing him out of the way. She kicked the door at the connecting point and the doors flew open in response.
“Inside!” he cried. They rushed in and closed the doors. He used a book to block the doors.
“Will that be enough?”
“I hope so. I've seen them break through other things, but I doubt this swarm has that experience. Still, we're not staying here long. Oh!”
Donna turned and saw what had caught his attention. A ball floated in the air, a little light coming off it.
“Hello, I'm the Doctor and this is Donna. Sorry we burst in like that, but may we stop here for a bit?”
The ball suddenly fell to the ground.
“What is it?” Donna asked.
“A security camera. It switched itself off,” he answered as he knelt. He drew out the sonic and ran it over it. “Excellent door skills, Donna.”
“Yeah, well, you know, boyfriends. Sometimes you need the element of surprise.” She sighed. “Not to mention escape.”
“Why would you need either?” he asked, looking up in horror.
She shrugged. “So I made bad choices in my boyfriends. At least none of them actually hurt me. Back to the present. What is a little shop doing here?”
“Even Libraries have a little shop,” he answered. “Ha!” He got the camera open.
Not three seconds later, text scrolled across the screen. Donna could read it from her angle: 'No, stop it. No. No.'
“Oh, sorry,” the Doctor breathed, putting it down slowly and closing the little door.
“You said it was a security camera.”
“Yes, it is. And it's alive.”
Then the saw more text scrolling across: 'Others are coming. The Library is breached. Others are coming.'
“Oh, no,” he groaned. “This is just like Funworld!”
“Doctor, did anyone survive there?”
“Aside from me, no.”
Donna paled, her freckles suddenly looking much darker.
“And the last time only that other Time Lord and myself survived. Donna, I can't let you become one of them!”
“Reminder,” a Node said, turning to show a woman's face this time. “The library has been breached. Others are coming.”
“We have to find a way out of here,” the Doctor said, looking around.
Over his words, the Node continued, “Reminder. The library has been breached. Others are coming. Reminder. The library has been breached-”
The Doctor and Donna recoiled as a door on the other side of the room blasted open. As the smoke cleared, the Node stopped speaking. One by one, six figures in white spacesuits walked in. Their faces were concealed by a polarizing lens on each helmet.
One figure walked right up in front of the Doctor, who took a step back. Donna glanced at him long enough to notice his nostrils flare, as if he smelled something that set him on edge. As if the situation weren't bad enough on its own. But she wondered who these people were.
The figure reached up to touch a button on the helmet, and suddenly they could see a female face with a hint of curly blonde hair visible. She smiled, and opened her mouth.
She and Donna both started. It did not come from either of them. It came from the Doctor. Not even when he had been about to unleash the Oncoming Storm on her mother or when the Sybil's followers were about to kill her did he have such venom in his voice.
Chapter Four: Fish and Fights