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 taking 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 / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven
Altered History: Time Trials
Started November 3, 2018
Finished December 27, 2018
Chapter Eight: A Remembered Prophecy
From Chapter Six:
“Doctor, what are we going to do?” River asked.
“Hey, who turned out the lights?” Dave's neural relay said.
At the same time, they heard, “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.”
But the Doctor remained silent, numbed to his surroundings and trapped within his own mind.
River finally had enough and fired her squareness gun at a wall as Skeletal Proper Dave continued his last words. Once the gun did its job she yelled, “This way, quickly. Move!”
They rushed through as they heard, once again, “Hey, who turned out the lights?”
The Doctor recovered enough awareness to shout, “Reform the wall!”
River paused in her rushing. “What?”
“You mean you've only used it for destroying things?!”
She looked at the weapon, fiddling with the controls. And started when the Doctor grabbed it out of her hands.
“Here,” he said, modifying it and reforming the wall. “Proves you're not as smart as you think, if you don't now what it can do. Now, move!”
They hurried into another large room after the Doctor had to use it again – both to cut a square in the wall with River's gun and to reform it.
River looked around at the light mostly from the large moon hanging high in the orange sky. “Okay, we've got a clear spot. In, in, in! Right in the centre. In the middle of the light, quickly. Don't let your shadows cross. Doctor-”
“Leave me to my scans,” he snapped, stuffing the gun into his satchel.
“That's also mine!”
“Given your predilection for items that are not to be used lightly, I'm keeping it,” he stated as he scanned. “Never mind that I can tell that it spent time in the TARDIS in my future. It also has a signature not consistent with you, which means you pinched it from my TARDIS without bothering to learn all its features.”
She clenched her fists but made no further protest or even an attempt at denial. Although her mental face-palming was evident for all to see. “There's no lights here. Sunset's coming. We can't stay long. Have you found a live one?”
“Maybe. It's getting harder to tell. What is wrong with you?” he snapped at his sonic, tapping it with his hand.
“We're going to need a chicken leg,” River planned aloud. “Who's got a chicken leg? Thanks, Dave,” she added as Other Dave drew out his lunch box and offered one. She threw the meat into the shadow the Doctor was scanning, and once again it became just bone before it hit the ground.
The room was silent, and River took a step back. “Okay. Okay, we've got a hot one. Watch your feet.”
The Doctor shook his head. “They won't attack until there's enough of them. But they've got our scent now. They're coming.”
River motioned the others back away from the shadows, trying to regain her composure. So she was not ready when Other Dave asked a question clearly on all three of their minds.
“Oh, yeah, who is he? You haven't even told us. You just expect us to trust him?”
“He's the Doctor,” she simply said, keeping quiet.
“And who is the Doctor?” Lux demanded.
“The only story you'll ever tell, if you survive him.”
“How very flattering,” the Doctor said, proving that he could hear every word despite the lowered voices. “And completely ignoring the times when many do survive.”
Anita spoke next to River. “You say he's your friend, but he doesn't even know who you are.”
River paused a few seconds to find the right words, and it took much longer than she liked. “Listen, all you need to know is this. I'd trust that man to the end of the universe. And actually, we've been.”
“He doesn't act like he trusts you,” Anita continued. “If anything, he knows enough to think you're not to be trusted.”
“Yeah, there's a tiny problem,” River admitted reluctantly. “He hasn't met me yet.”
The Doctor's head popped up, looking into the shadows but not quite seeing them. Something in her hesitation was pushing against what felt like a door in his mind, and something behind it was trying to push its way out. He put an effort at opening the door, but felt like something was holding it closed. Something he knew he did not cause.
He heard her walk over to where he knelt, and he stood to keep a little distance between them.
“What's wrong with it?” she asked.
It was obvious she meant the sonic, and he decided to be honest. There was no reason not to be about it. “There's a signal coming from somewhere, interfering with it.”
She frowned. “Then use the red settings.”
He returned the frown, although deeper. “It doesn't have any red settings.”
“Well, use the dampers.”
“It doesn't have dampers,” he snapped, in his 'how stupid are you' tone that he only used when someone said something that seemed utterly silly.
River showed her sonic. “It will do one day.”
Once again, the Doctor startled River by taking an object right from her. He looked at the design that looked like a version of what he saw his Tenth and Eleventh selves using. He turned a dark look on her. “So, some time in the future, I just give you some version of my screwdriver.”
“Yeah,” she said, going for a smile but failing in the face of his palpable distrust.
“And why would I do that?”
A scowl finally crossed her face, like she thought he was being unreasonable. “I didn't pluck it from your cold dead hands, if that's what you're worried about.”
“And why should I believe you given that by your own admission you're always lying?”
River recoiled, but pressed her case. “Listen to me. You've lost your friend. You're angry. I understand.”
“How can you?!”
The force made all four of the others blanch and lean back. River nearly stepped back from the weight of his fury.
“Do you even appreciate what Donna did for me? I lost another friend a long time ago, along with a family member. Did you know that?”
River opened her mouth as she thought. “Um... no.”
“Ah! So, for all those times you say we spent together I never trusted you with that bit? That is proof that you cannot know my pain right now! Donna was very like my other lost friend, and she came into my life when I needed someone to help me remember joy and delight. No slight on Lucie, but Donna was the very best friend I've ever known. She never demanded anything of me that I couldn't do or give, and never asked me to break the laws of time. She also had the strength of character to stand up to me when she felt I wasn't respecting her views or when I was missing something important!”
“But you need to be less emotional, Doctor, right now,” River interjected.
Her words made him shake. “Less emotional? I'm not emotional. I'm facing my own death now!”
River knew enough to be worried. From her wild expression, she had never seen him like this. “There are five people in this room still alive. Focus on that. Dear God, you're hard work young!”
Something in her words and eyes made him still. Even as whatever was behind that door in his mind was slamming hard, desperate to get out. “Young? Who are you?!”
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” Lux shouted. “Look at the pair of you. We're all going to die right here, and you're just squabbling like an old married couple.”
When a Time Lord shouted, it could cause glass to vibrate enough to shatter and even rattle items out of place. The Doctor's shout actually made River step back.
“How dare you give that association between us,” the Doctor snapped, his voice lowering from a shout to a loud speaking voice. “A creature who fits everything bad about my people? Who deceives at an instant's notice? Who is masking her true nature from my scanners? Who makes the smuggest Time Lord I've ever met look humble? Who doesn't respect the rules about spoilers enough to not attempt to compare notes? Who treated a women she claimed is the most important in the universe dismissively? I would never marry someone like River Smug. And if I were to marry a Human, the last one I could consider, the one who meant the most to me, just died because this creature summoned us here!”
River swallowed hard. She could see only one way to make him see. “Doctor, one day I'm going to be someone that you trust completely, but I can't wait for you to find that out. So I'm going to prove it to you. And I'm sorry. I'm really very sorry.”
As she moved closer, the door within the Doctor's mind suddenly burst open. His eyes went wide and he held up a hand. “Don't come any closer!”
“But I need to give you proof!”
“Proof that you can only whisper in my ear?! I can only think of one thing that you could possibly need to whisper in my ear, and there is no chance I would ever willingly tell you that secret. More likely you found some way to force my hand.”
“But, Doctor, I need us to be good! We're a fixed point, you and me!” River cried, rushing forward.
But the Doctor's hand whipped into the satchel and drew out the squareness gun.
River stopped as she saw him aim it right at her head. “Doctor, you're not that sort.”
“Not what sort? I'll tell you what sort of man I am. I'm the sort who does not take being tricked into things lightly. My own people have done it to me for long enough, and another creature with horrible temporal smells tried the same years ago. She burned me, changed me into a sort of warrior with a holy mission to stop her for good. Your actions make me wonder if somehow she's influenced you, or made it easier for you to wipe my memory of my previous encounters with you.”
She gasped. “But... you weren't supposed to remember. I learned that you had no memory of me prior to your Eleventh face. That's why I did it.”
“Time Lord minds aren't easily suppressed. If anything, our three brain stems and multiple chambers were an evolutionary measure to prevent such meddling. Only a Time Demon capable of meddling with my mind and timeline could make it possible, and I just broke through the mind lock. You've been following me through my lives, and wiped my memory of meeting you each time. Why should I trust you if you didn't trust me enough to modify my memories with each regeneration? Or when I had a prophecy about a creature who ought not to exist the way she does trying to force a false fixed point on me? Oh, the rest of you can relax a bit. I'm no danger to you. Only to her.”
River started shaking, and her eyes only looked away enough to see if any shadows were near her. “Doctor, please. You do trust me!”
“I trust my sonic screwdriver,” he said, putting hers away and getting his back out, all with one hand as he kept the gun aimed at her. It said something about how little he trusted her that he kept her own gun aimed at her the whole time. “And do you know what's interesting about my screwdriver? Very hard to interfere with. Practically nothing's strong enough. Well, there are some hairdryers, but I'm working on that. And I detect that there is a very strong signal coming from somewhere, and it wasn't there before. So what's new? What's changed? Come on! What's new? What's different?”
Other Dave was the first to find the voice to speak. “I don't know. Nothing. It's getting dark?”
The Doctor narrowed his eyes. “It's a screwdriver. It works in the dark.” His eyes glanced at the slowly moving moon. “Moon rise. Tell me about the moon. What's there?”
Lux was quick with a nervous answer. “It's not real. It was built as part of the Library. It's just a Doctor Moon.”
“And what's a Doctor Moon?”
“A virus checker. It supports and maintains the main computer at the core of the planet.”
The Doctor checked the readings without letting River out of his sights. “Well, still active. It's signalling. Look. Someone somewhere in this library is alive and communicating with the moon. Or, possibly alive and drying their hair. No, the signal is definitely coming from the moon. I'm blocking it, but it's trying to break through.”
Suddenly an image of Donna appeared. She was not wearing the same clothes as before, but her eyes fixed on him in shock.
The Doctor gasped. “Donna! Donna, where are you?!”
But her ghostly image disappeared.
“No, no, no!” the Doctor shouted. He had to lower the weapon enough to use both hands to adjust the scan.
River did not dare step closer, but she instantly clung to the hope sprung within her. “That was her. That was your friend! Can you get her back? What was that?”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” he commanded. “I'm trying to find the wavelength. Oh, come on! I'm being blocked.”
“Professor?” Anita suddenly said, her voice filled with tension.
“Just a moment,” River said.
“It's important. I have two shadows.”
That got the Doctor's attention as well. “Oh, no,” he breathed.
River swallowed. “Okay. Helmets on, everyone. Anita, I'll get yours.”
“It didn't do Proper Dave any good,” Anita whimpered.
“Just keep it together, okay?” River said, picking up the helmet as the others out theirs back on.
Anita let out a dark laugh. “Keeping it together. I'm only crying. I'm about to die. It's not an overreaction,” she said as River put the helmet on her.
“Hang on,” the Doctor said, stepping forward and sonicked the visor black.
“Oh God, they've got inside,” River cried.
“No, no, no. I just tinted her visor. Maybe they'll think they're already in there and leave her alone.”
“Do you think they can be fooled like that?” she asked, incredulous.
He shrugged. “It's a swarm. It's not like we chat. But it's better than doing nothing.”
“Can you still see in there?” Other Dave asked Anita.
“Just about,” she said, managing to hang on to a shred of composure.
“Everyone, just, just, just stay back from Anita. And prepare to move. I can hear Proper Dave's relay, so grab your things. Professor, a quick word, please.”
River looked hopeful as she came closer. “What?”
“Remember my warning. I have your gun, and if you're lucky I'll use it if you come any closer, Professor Snog.”
“My same is-”
“I know what you say your name is, but I've heard stories about you and hallucinagenic lipstick. Not that I knew it was you at the time. I say it's even odds whether your proper last name is Smug or Snog. If I had been going to choose a Human as a wife, Donna would've been her. Because she would never tell me something that would leave me no choice but to marry her later on. That alone is enough reason to not trust you. You just attempted to entrap me into marriage, and the Time Lords are the only people who might take a dimmer view of it than I do.”
River's eyes watered. “Sweetie, please. Just let me-”
“Professor, one more 'sweetie' or attempt to whisper in my ear, and you will be lucky if I don't push you into one of those hot shadows over there. I told you that I sensed you following me and Donna, and I have enough stalkers already.”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?”
At the sound of Proper Dave's voice, the Doctor shouted, “Run!”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?” followed them as they left the room. Although the gun never left the Doctor's hand.
But during the group's run through a high level walkway to another library skyscraper, the Doctor stopped suddenly. He had an idea and had to use it. “Professor, go on ahead. Find a safe spot.”
River could not believe his actions, even with all her memories. “It's a carnivorous swarm in a suit. You can't reason with it.”
“I have to try.”
“Then let me have my sonic back so I can scan for danger!”
He grimaced but quickly located it in his satchel and tossed it to her. “Fine, fine, fine! Now, move!”
“Other Dave, stay with him,” she commanded. “Pull him out when he's too stupid to live. Two minutes, Doctor.”
With that she led Anita and Lux out.
“Follow them,” the Doctor commanded.
“You need backup,” Other Dave insisted.
Proper Dave's swarm-filled suit barged through the doors. “Hey, who turned out the lights?”
“You have a better chance of living if you follow them,” the Doctor quickly said before beginning his plan, and making sure he was standing firmly in a well-lit area. His choice was easy, so he addressed the swarm as he tucked the gun into his satchel. “You hear that? Those words? That is the very last thought of the man who wore that suit before you climbed inside and stripped his flesh. That's a man's soul trapped inside a neural relay, going round and round forever. Now, if you don't have the decency to let him go, how about this? Use him. Talk to me. It's easy. Neural relay. Just point and think. Use him, talk to me.”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?” Proper Dave's relay said, still moving forward.
“The Vashta Nerada live on all the worlds in this system, but you hunt in forests. What are you doing in a library?” the Doctor demanded.
“We should go. Doctor!” cried Other Dave.
“One minute,” the Doctor insisted. “You came to the library to hunt. Why? Just tell me why?”
Suddenly Proper Dave's suit stopped. “We did not.”
The Doctor stilled. It was Proper Dave's voice, but the tone was not. “Oh, hello.”
“We did not,” the voice repeated.
“Take it easy and you'll get the hang of it. You did not what?”
“We did not come here.”
“Oh, of course you did. Of course you came here.”
“We come from here,” said the voice.
“From here? How?” the Doctor asked.
“We hatched here.”
The Doctor shook his head. “But you hatch from trees. From spores in trees.”
“These are our forests,” the voice insisted.
“You are nowhere near a forest. Look around you.”
“These are our forests.”
“But you're not in a forest, you're in a library. There are no trees in a library.”
But as he spoke the penny dropped.
“We should go. Doctor!” repeated Other Dave.
“Books. You came in the books. Of course! Micro-spores in a million, million books,” the Doctor thought aloud.
“We should go. Doctor!”
“Oh, of course! The forests of the Vashta Nerada, pulped and printed and bound. A million, million books, hatching shadows.”
“We should go. Doctor!”
The Doctor turned, and his hearts sank as he saw that Other Dave was now also a skeleton. “Oh, Dave! Oh, Dave, why didn't you listen?”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?” said Proper Dave's relay again.
“We should go. Doctor!” cried the neural relay of Other Dave.
As shadows extended from both of them, the Doctor grabbed his sonic. “You know I'm constantly accused of being stupid. People say I talk too much and always babble on. But do you want to know the only reason I'm still alive? I always stay near the door.”
The Doctor opened a trapdoor with his sonic screwdriver and dropped out of sight. And out of reach of the shadows. He had to grab part of the building structure, having stuck his sonic between his teeth, and climb.
And stay in the light. Not an easy ask.
Chapter Nine: Dueling and Other Fighting Methods