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Altered History: Time Trials (5/11)

Title: Time Trials
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 / Chapter Three / Chapter Four


Altered History: Time Trials

Started November 3, 2018
Finished December 27, 2018



Chapter Five: Book of Song

From Chapter Three:

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.

“You.”

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 Donna hear such venom in his voice.



The Library
51st Century


The newcomer stared at him in disbelief, her mouth slack.

Before anyone could speak, the Doctor did, voice as sharp as broken glass. “Leave. All of you, now!”

“Doctor,” Donna cautioned.

“This is too important,” he tossed over his shoulder as he moved past the woman and addressed the others. “All of you. Turn around, get back in your rocket and fly away. Tell your grandchildren you came to the Library and lived. They won't believe you.”

No one even moved in response. Except for the woman leading, who composed herself and casually said, “Pop your helmets, everyone. We've got breathers.”

“How do you know they're not androids?” another woman asked, in an American – Californian, if the Doctor's information was right – accent, through her helmet.

“Because I've dated androids. They're rubbish,” the first woman said after pulling off her helmet, revealing tightly pulled back blonde hair that would probably be fluffed up otherwise.

One man took off his visor impatiently. “Who is this?” he demanded of the leader. While he spoke he others all removed their helmets, provoking the Doctor to rub his face. Two men and two women revealed their faces. “You said we were the only expedition. I paid for exclusives.”

“I lied, I'm always lying. Bound to be others,” she said with a smirk.

“If that is the truth, then even that statement is a lie,” Donna said, drawing a startled look from the woman. “How can we trust someone who says that? How can we know what's a lie and what isn't? You're not putting yourself forward well, are you?”

The man turned to the third of the women. “Miss Evangelista, I want to see the contracts.”

The blonde, the first woman, walked towards the Doctor. “You came through the north door, yeah? How was that, much damage?”

He ignored her, walked away and addressed the man. “Please, just leave. I'm asking you seriously and properly, just leave.” He paused in his rant. “Wait, wait, wait. Did you say expedition?”

“My expedition. I funded it,” announced the man, imperiously.

The Doctor groaned. “Oh, you're not, are you? Tell me you're not archaeologists.”

The blonde's amusement radiated like a sun. “Got a problem with archaeologists?”

“I'm a time traveller,” he answered tightly, barely giving her a passing look. “I point and laugh at archaeologists. You're always getting things wrong and destroying far more than you 'save'. The chief identifying feature of archaeology is that you destroy a site to reveal a ruin. Not even modern scanners in this century are enough; too many of you still want to dig the site out, regardless of the cost to the site by yourselves or visitors. Pompeii was turned into a tourist attraction before the research was even halfway done. Uluru, for another example, is a native temple and non-natives were walking all over it and left rut marks across the top before the Native Council said that was enough and got legal backing to keep people out. The Druids needed to do the same for Stonehenge. And the only thing that annoys be more than archaeologists are historians who fabricate and/or misinterpret the evidence to suit their own ends.”

Donna watched him, eyes wide and a tiny awed smile on her face.

The first woman of the expedition looked askance, but kept up her smile. “Professor River Song, archaeologist,” she said, offering a handshake.

He frowned, ignoring the hand. “River Song, eh? Interesting name. I know I've heard it before.”

“I doubt that.”

The Doctor shook his head. “No, it's on the edge of my mind. Surely I'll remember where I've heard it before soon enough. But I do remember your face. We nearly ran into each other about a month ago according to my timeline, although I couldn't figure out what you were because you were masking yourself.”

Her sudden paling expression brought a tiny smile to his face, but he had no time to enjoy it. Instead he addressed the group. “As you're leaving, and you're leaving now, you need to set up a quarantine beacon. Code wall the planet, the whole planet. Nobody comes here, not ever again. Not one living thing, not here, not ever. Stop right there!” he cut himself off as he saw the older of the other two women coming too close to a shadow. “What's your name?”

“Anita,” the American answered.

“Anita, stay out of the shadows. Not a foot, not a finger in the shadows till you're safely back in your ship. Goes for all of you. Stay in the light. Find a nice, bright spot and just stand. If you understand me, look very, very scared.”

No one reacted much.

“I don't think they believe you, Doctor,” said Donna quietly. Then she added aloud, “I'm sure he means more scared than that.”

There was a slight change in the youngest woman's expression, who had responded to the first man's demands for contracts. River Song merely increased her smirk.

“Okay, that will do for now. You. Who are you?” he asked of one of the men.

“Er, Dave.”

“Okay, Dave. Then-”

The man interrupted, “Oh, well, Other Dave, because that's Proper Dave the pilot, he was the first Dave, so when we-”

The Doctor dragged him toward the way the six people had come. “Other Dave, the way you came, does it look the same as before?”

“Yeah. Oh, it's a bit darker.”

“I'm not surprised. How much darker?”

“Oh, like I could see where we came through just like a moment ago. I can't now.”

“Seal up this door,” the Doctor commanded, walking back to Donna's side. He felt easier with her nearby. “We'll find another way out. Now-”

“We're not looking for a way out,” interrupted the first man sharply. “Miss Evangelista?”

Evangelista approached the Doctor and Donna timidly. “I'm Mister Lux's personal everything. You need to sign these contracts agreeing that your individual experience inside the library are the intellectual property of the Felman Lux Corporation.” She handed them each several papers.

The usage of paper in this age was a bit surprising, but the Doctor calmly replied, “Right, give it here.”

“Yeah, lovely. Thanks,” said Donna at the same instant.

As one, the Doctor and Donna ripped up the contracts down the middle.

Lux spluttered, “My family built this library. I have rights.”

“You have a mouth that won't stop,” River said before turning to the Doctor. “You think there's danger here?”

“Something came to this library and killed everything in it. Killed a whole world. Danger? Could be. And that cavalier attitude is not sitting well with me. Especially in light of my seeing this sort of danger twice before. Everyone else died the first time, and only one other person survived last time.”

“That was a hundred years ago. The Library's been silent for a hundred years. Whatever came here's long dead,” River insisted.

“You're assuming I meant the Library, and I wasn't. I just told you that I witnessed nearly everyone else die twice before and you still bet your life?”

“Always,” she answered confidently, after a second's pause because of his correction.

“Well, I won't say 'I told you so' right before you die then.”

“What are you doing?” Lux demanded of Other Dave, stopping any reply River was ready to make.

Other Dave looked almost sheepish. “He said seal the door.”

“Thank you, Other Dave,” the Doctor said, pulling his torch back out and turning around the room to inspect it visually.

“You're taking orders from him?” Lux demanded.

“Spooky, isn't it?” The Doctor walked around the room, eying the recesses and carefully noting the shadows. He motioned for Donna to stay near him, and thought aloud. “Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they're wrong, because it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada.”

Donna, having heard the basics already, decided to focus on the one thing pushing the Doctor's buttons. “Spaceman, doesn't that mean the Vashta Nerada are in front of us as well as behind is? And isn't that woman the one we saw from a distance at Issus, Athens and Katta Flo Ko?” she whispered.

“Yes, I'm afraid it does mean we have danger coming from multiple directions. Yes, I fear she is. And yes, I want you to stay away from her. She feels like a demon come out of the dark. Lights!” he blurted out, getting animated. “That's what we need, lights. You lot have lights?”

“What for?” River asked.

He spared her a pointed look, his patented 'are you from the Planet of Idiots' look. “Form a circle. Safe area. Big as you can, lights pointing out.”

“Oi,” River said, shifting gears and slinging off her sack. “Do as he says.”

“You're not listening to this man?” Lux asked incredulously.

“Apparently I am,” she said, walking to a well-lit area and unzipping her bag. She sifted through it as she gave instructions. “Anita, unpack the lights. Other Dave, make sure the door's secure, then help Anita. Mister Lux, put your helmet back on, block the visor. Proper Dave, find an active terminal. I want you to access the library database. See what you can find about what happened here a hundred years ago. Big Dipper, you're with me. Step into my office.”

Donna's eyes went huge as soon as she heard the nickname. She looked at the Doctor, who acted as if oblivious.

Lux put his helmet on, but stopped short of putting down the visor. “Professor Song, why am I the only one wearing my helmet?”

“I don't fancy you.”

The Doctor shared a disgusted look with Donna, not surprised to see Lux take his helmet back off. He turned to Lux and almost smiled. “Don't look so angry, Mr. Lux. I can feel your relief from here. In your shoes, I would be feeling the same way. Okay, I can help you,” he said to Proper Dave, turning towards him.

“Big Dipper. With me, I said,” River said, a bit louder than before.

He started, face pinched. “Oh, I'm 'Big Dipper'?”

“Yes,” Donna said instantly, blushing deeply a second later. “Ooo, that came out a bit quick.”

His mood softened slightly, moving closer to find answers. “What does that name mean and why does it make you blush?”

Donna thought about her options, and found nothing to say that wasn't somehow incriminating. As in admitting she had ever looked in that direction of his body. Or that she had ogled his bum – in front of her fiancé no less! – when he went up that ladder the day they met. But his innocence surprised her. Even if she couldn't meet his eyes. “You don't know?”

“No.”

If things weren't so dire, Donna might have hesitated more over answering. Especially since she was wondering what River meant by 'big', and worried about how she knew given the Doctor's suspicions about the woman.

As it was, her answer rushed out of her mouth in a whisper. “It's a reference to the size and length of a man's... appendage.”

Eight's eyes went bigger than Four's ever did, for a split second. He was still mostly ignorant of innuendos but when he did notice them aimed at him he was never happy. And given who said it, he was absolutely furious. Yet he held it in. “Don't let your shadows cross,” he called out to everyone. “I mean it, don't even let them touch. Any of them could be infected.”

“How can a shadow be infected?” Other Dave asked.

“Set up the defences and then I'll explain,” the Doctor said, not moving an inch from Proper Dave's side.

“Oi! Big Dipper!”

“I didn't hear anything other than an order, and I don't take orders from stalkers,” Eight retorted. “Especially ones who make claims about me or use inappropriate names for me in public.”

That brought wide eyes to the whole room. River's were the most incredulous. “I need to speak with you.”

“Given that I'm positive you're the one I've sensed has been following me throughout several of my most recent adventures, you cannot possibly have anything to tell me that you can't say in front of the rest of this lot. And if you think you do, then I'm not going to listen to you until you stop acting with the worst of my people's smugness.”

River went silent, mouth slack.

Evangelista addressed Anita and Other Dave, who were no working together. “Excuse me, can I help?”

“No, we're fine,” said Anita.

The young woman's face contorted in obvious hurt. “I could just, you know, hold things,” she added weakly.

Other Dave was just as firm and blunt. “No, really, we're okay.”

Evangelista walked away sadly. Donna, with nothing else to do, walked right up to the pair, being careful about the shadows. “Couldn't she help?”

Other Dave shook his head and talked as if Donna was asking something stupid. “Trust me. I just spent four days on a ship with that woman. She's er...”

Anita finished the sentence. “Couldn't tell the difference between the escape pod and the bathroom. We had to go back for her. Twice.”

With nothing else to do, Evangelista joined her boss for a quiet conversation. Lux clearly had plenty to say. Meanwhile, Donna – disappointed in Anita and Other Dave – moved back toward the Doctor, slowly. Although her attention was half on the shadows and half on Professor Song.

By then, River had taken a battered book from her backpack. Its blue cover had eight squares on it, and the sight of it made the Doctor and Donna still. It looked frighteningly like the TARDIS. The Doctor had still not moved from beside Proper Dave, although the only help he got to give was to use the sonic to speed up the search.

With no other choice, River approached the Doctor carefully. “Thanks.”

“For what?” he asked, glaring at her in a silent warning against coming any closer.

It worked. River stopped a few feet away, clearly unnerved by his reaction. “The usual. For coming when I call. Even if it is far too soon in your timeline.”

“Oh, that was you? That explains a lot.”

“It was meant for a much later you.”

“And it was originally going to go to a later me, but someone even later shifted it to me. And if a later me has allowed that nickname then I'm disgusted with them. And you for telling it to me here.”

That news made her pale and shake her head. “You're doing a very good job, acting like you don't believe me. I'm assuming there's a reason.”

He was convinced that it was not what she wanted to say, but she held back for whatever reason. “A fairly good one, actually. And although we did not meet the last time I'm suddenly certain that we have met before. Now why can't I recall the details?”

She looked at her book. “Okay, if it weren't so soon I would ask if we should do diaries, then. But I don't recall what I could talk about given which you I'm dealing with.”

“Then you've met earlier mes?” he interrogated, standing as tall as he could and letting the energy of the storm lift close to the surface.

“Doctor,” Donna cautioned. She kept to herself that standing tall wasn't going to work so well for him in this body.

He glanced at her and sighed after a few seconds. “Answer me,” he demanded of River.

“Blimey, very early days, then. Whoo, life with a time traveller. Never knew it could be such hard work. Spoilers, that's all I can say. But...Look at you. Oh, you're young,” she said, reaching out a hand to touch his face.

“Hands to yourself,” he snapped, stepping back. “I'm really not young, and if you know anything about me then you'd know I'm telling the truth.”

She recoiled in shock, hand held midair. “No, but you are. Your eyes. You're younger than I've ever seen you.”

He eyed her expression. “You're lying. You've seen me even younger.”

Before River could protest even weakly, a loud and familiar sound rang repeatedly.

Proper Dave winced. “Sorry, that was me. Trying to get through into the security protocols. I seem to have set something off. What is that? Is that an alarm?”

Donna shook her head. “No. Doctor? Doctor, that sounds like-”

“It is. It's a phone!” he cried in delight. “Someone's trying to contact us. Now, let's see what we can find out,” he said, taking over part of the controls and adjusting settings manually and with the sonic.

After several seconds working with the Doctor, Proper Dave announced, “I'm trying to call up the data core, but it's not responding. Just that noise.”

“But it's a phone,” Donna said.

“Let me try something,” said the Doctor.

Seconds later the screen changed its message to 'Access Denied'. The Doctor narrowed his eyes. “Okay, it doesn't like that. Let's try something else.” He worked at the controls for several seconds. “Okay, here it comes.”

Then the screen image changed. A girl of about ten was sitting on a couch, drawing paper in hand. She started at seeing them.

The Doctor smiled gently, hiding his surprise. “Hello?”

The girl sat taller. “Hello. Are you in my television?”

Intrigued by the answer, the Doctor shook his head. “Well, no, I'm, I'm sort of in space. Er, I was trying to call up the data core of a triple grid security processor.”

She plainly did not understand what he meant. But she remained calm and polite. “Would you like to speak to my Dad?”

“Dad or your Mum. That'd be lovely,” he agreed.

“I know you,” the girl suddenly said, eyes lighting up in recognition. “You're in my library.”

“Your library?”

“The library's never been on the television before,” the girl said, confused and nervous. “What have you done?”

“Oh, well, I just rerouted the interface.”

But the screen went back to before, saying 'Access Denied'.'

“What happened?” asked River. “Who was that?”

“I need another terminal,” the Doctor announced, moving away from Proper Dave to locate another terminal. “Keep working on those lights. We need those lights!”

“You heard him, people,” said River. “Let there be light.”

But the Doctor was eyeing where River's gaze was. The instant she turned away from him he rushed to the other terminal, where River had left her diary. In a flash he picked it up and slipped it inside the satchel, successfully dodging her attempt to grab it back.

“No, you're not allowed to see inside the book!” she cried. “It's against the rules.”

“What rules?” he asked, skeptically.

“Your rules!”

Suddenly, books started flying off the shelves. Everyone had to duck.

“What's that? I didn't do that. Did you do that?” the Doctor asked Proper Dave.

“Not me,” the man insisted.

The Doctor looked at the nearest screen, which said, 'CAL Access Denied'. “What's CAL?”

Instantly, the bombardment of books stopped. Donna took the opportunity to go over to Miss Evangelista. “You all right?”

The young woman was barely able to nod. “What's that? What's happening?”

“I don't know,” Lux said, even though no one was looking at him.

Donna focused on the young woman. “Oh, thanks, for er, you know, offering to help with the lights.”

Evangelista was near tears. “They don't want me. They think I'm stupid, because I'm pretty.”

That thinking was too close to what Donna had seen in some of the girls at school. “Course they don't. Nobody thinks that,” she insisted, not wanting to see someone else fall victim to that mental poison.

“No, they're right though. I'm a moron, me. My dad said I have the IQ of plankton, and I was pleased.”

Donna giggled. “See, that's funny.”

Evangelista shook her head. “No, no, I really was pleased. Is that funny?”

“No, no,” whispered Donna, all thoughts of amusement gone instantly.

The quiet murmuring amongst the group was silenced by more books shooting off their shelves.

River ducked more than one book as she called out, “What's causing that? Is it the little girl?”

“But who is the little girl? What does she have to do with this place? How does the data core work? What's the principle? And what's CAL?”

Strangely, the books stopped flying again.

“Ask Mister Lux,” River announced.

The Doctor turned to Lux, and stepped closer. “CAL, what is it?”

Lux was stubborn. “Sorry, you didn't sign your personal experience contracts.”

“Mister Lux,” the Doctor snapped. “Right now, you're in more danger than you've ever been in your whole life. And you're protecting a patent?”

Under the bluster there was a flicker of nervousness, and what looked to the Doctor like fear. “I'm protecting my family's pride.”

He laughed harshly, startling even Donna. “Well, I don't know about you, Mister Lux, but I don't want to see everyone in this room dead because some idiot thinks his pride is more important.”

“Then why don't you sign his contract?” River interrupted. “I didn't either. I'm getting worse than you.”

“Obviously that's easy for you to manage,” the Doctor retorted, disdain dripping like overflow water from a drain pipe. When she resumed her fish impression he addressed Lux again. “Okay, okay, okay. Let's start at the beginning. What happened here? On the actual day, a hundred years ago, what physically happened?”

“There was a message from the Library,” River said after a few seconds. “Just one. 'The lights are going out'. Then the computer sealed the planet, and there was nothing for a hundred years.”

“It's taken three generations of my family just to decode the seals and get back in,” Lux admitted.

“Er, excuse me?” said Evangelista.

“Not just now,” Lux dismissed her.

River carried on, almost as if there had been no interruption. “There was one other thing in the last message.”

“That's confidential,” Lux reminded her.

“I trust this man with my life, with everything.”

“You've only just met him,” he protested.

“No, he's only just met me.”

Evangelista spoke up again, a little less timid. “Er, this might be important, actually.”

“In a moment,” Lux snapped.

River drew out a data screen. “This is a data extract that came with the message,” she said, showing the Doctor.

He did not take it, but read it in an instant. “'Four thousand and twenty two saved. No survivors'.”

“Four thousand and twenty two. That's the exact number of people who were in the library when the planet was sealed.”

Donna was baffled by River's words. “But how can four thousand and twenty two people have been saved if there were no survivors?”

“That's what we're here to find out,” River said.

“And so far, what we haven't found are any bodies,” Lux said.

“Given the threat we're dealing with, what you're looking for are skeletons,” the Doctor muttered aloud.

Suddenly there was a loud scream.


Chapter Six: Shadows and Darkness

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
bas_math_girl
Jan. 26th, 2019 12:45 am (UTC)
I never felt that the book flying business was properly explained in the episode. Nor the unnecessary amount of cruelty shown by the crew (“I don't fancy you” was said to the person for them all to be there, for goodness sake); although it sort of explains some of the arrogance River displayed.

And I was in the dark about why 'Big Dipper' was the Doctor's nickname here, or what it's meaning was (my brain frantically wondered what the astronomy connection was). Having found out... EW! No wonder the Doctor was miffed.
tkel_paris
Jan. 26th, 2019 02:28 am (UTC)
You know what? You're right. I suppose the next time any of us (you, me or Moley) tackles The Library in a story we must come up with an explanation. And yes, there was a lot of meanness that didn't have to be there. I wonder at the story behind how that crew was formed.

All I knew when I got to that scene in my first draft was that "Pretty Boy" would not be River's nickname for Eight. What it would be, I had no idea. So I asked Moley for ideas. The two presented were "Sweet Cheeks" and "Big Dipper". I, not knowing, asked whether "Big Dipper" was insulting to Eight's size as a man. Nope. When Moley clarified we both quickly agreed that "Big Dipper" would anger Eight more. Besides, I could see River giving one of the Doctors that nickname. (And no wonder Donna blushed, right?)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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