29 August 5192 (Earth Standard Date)
(Four Standard Days Previously)
The signal led deeper into the Library. They left the sun behind, until the only light pushing the shadows aside was the magical one floating above their heads. This place wasn’t right, and yet they kept following the detector down and down. Past shelves of books that no one had touched in at least a century; desks where students and academicians had once sat, taking in the simple joy of reading what those books held.
Had Merlin ever come here, at the height of the Library’s prestige, before the Vashta Nerada had completely hatched from between the pressed pages of the books that had been so lovingly copied and preserved? Had his hands touched any of the books or papers that were lying about, waiting for time to slowly wear them into shades of the very knowledge they’d once contained?
This place had been a marvel and an act of terrible hubris. The Lux family had taken it upon themselves to build up this planet, to collect all of this art and knowledge and history into one location for the betterment of everyone in the Empire and its allies. It might have once been a treasure to the universe.
Now, it was dead.
The only living things there were the microscopic predators that the Luxes themselves had put there, unknowingly. They hadn’t meant to bring the Vashta Nerada there in such quantities, but they had.
The outcome could have been so much worse, although one death had been one too many.
And yet, technically, there were the ghosts in the machine, the ones that had survived on within the Data Core. They were not alive, and yet not dead. The Doctor had put one of them there himself, and he couldn’t bring himself to regret a single thing for very long.
River was dead, and yet there was a part of her alive, just as immortal as the machine that contained her.
They were now in a section of the Library that the Doctor hadn’t been to during his last trip there. The air around them was stagnant, the circulators having long gone out. The cold light threw the shelves into even sharper relief, and the Doctor didn’t think it was his imagination when the shadows beyond looked as if they were moving on their own, despite the fact that the life sign detector wasn’t showing that the Vashta Nerada were even in this area at all.
A hand on his forearm had him pulled to a halt. The Time Lord looked at his companion, who had the device turned off and was pointing forward. The Doctor let his eyes follow in the direction Phillip’s finger indicated, and he thought he could just make out the faint glimmer of a light coming from underneath a door several meters ahead.
He once again glanced at Phillip; the immortal nodded, and he slid the rucksack off, putting the scanner inside it, and then pulling the stun gun out of his belt.
Hiking the rucksack back across his shoulder, the Director of Torchwood stepped forward. The Doctor followed, wondering what sort of plan they had because, honestly, if it was up to him they’d simply burst into the room and gain the element of surprise. It would allow Phillip to take them out with his stun gun, and then maybe they could find out what had happened to Merlin.
Phillip held up a hand, showing two fingers; the Doctor interpreted that to mean that the detector had registered two life forms within that room. He nodded in acknowledgement, and in step they continued toward the door.
Was one of those life forms Merlin? Was he about to find the son who’d gone missing? The Doctor didn’t want to even consider that Merlin was there of his own free will. There really was no reason for him to be, despite the fact that his mother had died there. No, if it were Merlin he would have been down in the Data Core, where River’s body would have remained all these years…if it was even still there. The Vashta Nerada would have…well, he didn’t want to think about that. And yet, there wasn’t anything left within it, and the insatiable little eaters wouldn’t have let good meat go to waste…no, he wasn’t going to think about that, either.
The Doctor could be horribly pragmatic, but there had to be a line drawn somewhere.
He really was quite irritated at his Tenth self for a lot of things, but leaving River’s body behind was quite possibly the biggest sin his former regeneration had committed. Intellectually, he knew there hadn’t been much of a choice; the Vashta Nerada had given them a time limit, and if they’d hoped to get everyone out of the Library before that had ended it had to have been all hands on deck. Still, he’d tried to help Donna find the young man she’d met in the Core, even though that had been a failure. Certainly, he could have done something more than to leave his wife – and Ten had known, because River had been forced to reveal that she’d known his true name in order to get him to cooperate.
When all of the personal timelines had finally converged, Merlin hadn’t even had a grave to grieve over.
Well, there wasn’t anything he could do about that now, and he really needed to get his head in the game. They were at the door now, a large, wooden, ornately carved thing with a small golden plaque beside it claiming that it was Secure Archive 109. The Doctor frowned; secure for what? He hadn’t heard of anything here that needed to be held secure, although that did make a bit of sense. There were works that would have been kept here that would have been considered illegal on some worlds, and they would have been kept behind lock and key to avoid any sort of diplomatic or religious repercussions.
And, this door’s lock had been broken beyond repair.
He couldn’t hear anything going on within, but the Doctor suspected that was more the case of good soundproofing than the intruders sitting down quietly and reading. He looked over at Phillip, who had his back to the wall on the other side of the door, his pale eyes intent as he held the stun gun at the ready. His free hand was at chest-height, and a soft, blue glow surrounded his fingers; he was calling upon his ice magic, preparing it for whatever they’d find once that door was opened.
Suddenly the Doctor had a serious doubt that Phillip’s magic could cope with what was on the other side of that door. The immortal had claimed that the burst that had destroyed a large part of the Vashta Nerada had been on par with what Merlin could conjure up, and Merlin truly was the most powerful wizard in the universe. Compared to that, Phillip’s ice magic would have been like…well, like throwing snowballs at the heart of a blizzard. Fairly ineffectual, in point of fact.
The Time Lord realised that Phillip was well aware of that fact. But Phillip would still do what he had to do in order to bring whoever had set that burst off to justice. The Doctor also figured out that Phillip would have been quite ready to declare a Vow of Vengeance against their unknown killers if they’d done something to seriously hurt Merlin.
Phillip wasn’t even related to Merlin by blood, but he was family. And, if the Doctor had learned one thing about the Jones clan, was that they protected their family in whatever ways they could, and would damage – or even kill – if one of them had been injured or murdered.
He was forcibly reminded of that moment on the bridge of the Valiant, so many centuries ago. Of Ianto Jones, declaring vengeance on the Master for what he’d done to Jack, and that was even before they were even officially mated.
The Doctor often wished that he’d been on good terms with them both at the time, so he might have been invited to their mating ceremony. He mourned not being a part of that day.
Every member of the Jones clan was fiercely loyal to each other, and that included those who had mated into their midst. Phillip might have only brought a stun gun with him, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t rain vengeance down on anyone who’d done anything to a member of his family.
And the ones behind that door might very well have killed Merlin, or done something to him so terrible that he’d had no choice but to set off that magical bomb. The Doctor didn’t want to even consider that his son was dead, not before he at least tried to make up to him for practically abandoning him, even if it had been with people he trusted to look after his only living child.
Phillip’s eyes flickered down toward the door knob, and the Doctor got the hint. He rested his hand on the cool metal, moving his lips in an exaggerated count, so they would be able to move in concert.
The Doctor hit one.
He threw the door open, revealing a largish room lit by various electrical torches spaced about the place, resting on dusty tables and on a mantel that spanned an enormous fireplace along one section of wall. In one corner, a Node was turned away, its featureless back slightly bent, as if someone had tried to knock it over. Chairs were spaced around the room, and instead of bookcases there were glassed-in displays, all of them still, surprisingly, intact.
It looked as if someone had attempted to get into one of them, but what had first resembled glass appeared to be well-nigh unbreakable. Which made sense, in a Secure Archive.
There were two people in the room as well.
A blonde woman dressed in a red jumpsuit, and a dark-haired man in a blue, almost stylised uniform, were by the display, and it was apparent they were the ones trying to get into it. From what the Doctor could tell there were several mini-explosive tabs attached to the clear material, and the man held a control in his hand.
They had both turned when the Doctor and Phillip had burst in, and neither of them looked particularly surprised to see either of them.
The woman smiled. It was a sharp thing, as if it could cut deep into the Doctor’s soul. His left heart decided to skip a beat, because he was certain he recognised her.
The man with her didn’t smile. Instead, he shook his head, smirking, as his thumb stroked the detonator in his hand. “See?” he said, his accent flat against the Galactic Standard he spoke.
“You were right,” the woman purred. Her own accent was somewhere around New British; very posh, as if she was used to getting what she wanted.
“You are both under arrest,” Phillip snapped. “The charges are: trespassing into Torchwood’s jurisdiction; committing an act of near-genocide of a sentient race; and I’m fairly certain I can add other offences into that as well.”
To anyone else, he would have sounded completely in control of the situation, but there was a note of uncertainty in his voice that the Doctor couldn’t miss. It was as if there was something about the situation he recognised, but was unsure just why or how.
The problem was, the Doctor was feeling the same thing. It was as if he should know these people…well, the woman at least. She was familiar, and he didn’t know where he’d seen her before.
Before he could even react to that, something struck him, hard, in the back, tossing him forward onto the musty-smelling carpet. He tried to catch himself by his hands, but the agony along his spine overrode his instinctive action and he ended up face-first in the carpet’s knap, a nose-full of dust and who knew what else making him want to sneeze.
Every muscle in his body was on fire. The Doctor couldn’t help the involuntary jerking of his muscles, and without seeing he just knew that Phillip had suffered the same fate.
It had to have been some sort of powerful electrical shock, judging from the contraction of his body and the way his hearts suddenly felt heavy and sluggish in his chest.
Blackness nibbled at his vision, and the Doctor had no choice but to let it overwhelm him.
The last thing he saw was a pair of red shoes by his face. He heard mocking laughter, and then nothing more.