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Cold Comfort for Change

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Koschei took off the aviation goggles and dismissed his aeronaut henchmen. Their prisoner wasn't going anywhere now that he was safely stashed within the bowels of Koschei's war zeppelin. The Doctor could break his bonds, if he put his mind to it, but the only thing waiting for him outside was a thousand-kilometer plunge into the methane lakes of Al-Murzim VII.

"I know how you're going to be about this, but I can assure you that this time it was for the best. All of them were miserable. I took them traveling for their own good."

"Really."

"Indeed."

"Really."

"Yes! Really!" The Doctor made a valiant attempt to throw his hands up in exasperation, in spite of the fact that they were cuffed securely to the bars behind his back.

"My dear Doctor, am I correct in my understanding that you've got--" Koschei paused to check his datapad. Heaven forbid he get the Doctor's collection of primitives muddled. "-- Adelaide Brooke and the Twenty-Third Chief Executrix of the Google-Exxon Imperium stashed somewhere aboard your TARDIS?"

The Doctor shifted his weight. "Not all of us have problems meeting new people," he said.

"I'm more concerned with the problems that will develop if any of your pets die or get lost. Doctor, you have got to stop stealing these people from their timelines. The CIA does not have an infinite supply of robot doppelgangers."

Koschei's insinuation that the Doctor might neglect the care and feeding of his curiosities went over about as well as could be expected -- which was to say, not well at all. Koschei had long since given up on trying to make the Doctor understand that he, Koschei, was supposed to be the indignant one in these situations. Working around an anarchist hippie carried unique occupational challenges.

"As though you've any room to lecture me about morals!" The Doctor huffed. "Now see here, old chap: I'm certain that if you put your mind to it, you could find more productive things to do with your time than nagging me across time and space. Don't you have a pack of murderers to brainwash? Rogue Time Agents to torture? Surely somewhere, in this very galaxy, there is a badly-organized totalitarian regime that is in desperate need of your consulting services. I hear the Judoon have been letting themselves go."

Now it was Koschei's turn to be annoyed. He lit one of his cigars, and let the soft roll of smoke soothe his fraying temper.

Koschei was a simple man, and he liked to think that he was a good one. All he wanted was a nice, orderly cosmos, bound by a nice, orderly timeline; the universe needed laws, a master to create and enforce them. Yet the Doctor, who should have understood his interventionist leanings better than anyone else, worked instead to complicate his mission at every turn, and insisted on painting him as some kind of beard-stroking villain. The man was absolutely impossible.

"Parole on Earth didn't work, and you won't see sense about becoming my partner. You won't even touch the side projects I set up. What am I to do with you?"

"What you always do," the Doctor proclaimed, as though it were obvious. "Confiscate my companions and let me go. Unless you'd care to see me executed by the High Council for what we both know is little more than petty theft."

"And you'll promise not to do it again?" Koschei said, flatly.

"Oh, yes sir! Anything you say, mister officer sir." The Doctor smirked. "You've really taught me a lesson, cuffing me to this nasty fence." He waggled his eyebrows and shifted the weight of his hips, playing the mock-harlot. What a marvellous jest. Ha ha.

The flirting was, of course, part of the script. Koschei knew his part. Only this time, he didn't feel like following stage directions. He wasn't sure that he'd be able to play along for very much longer.

"That's enough. Recall your position." Koschei blew a ring of smoke in the Doctor's face, and let his free hand wander down to the Doctor's left thigh.

"Rough year keeping those Cybermen in line? I'd've thought those drones would be your sort of people, though I can't imagine they're terribly good conversationalists." The Doctor leaned into Koschei's touch, for a moment, before he realized that he was being patted down rather than felt up. "Now hold on a minute, I--"

Koschei checked the Doctor's thighs, then his calves, before hitting upon the biodata ring that was stuffed in his sock. He set the ring on the ground so that he could check it with his laser nightstick without putting down his cigar. Supply runs to mid twentieth-century Havana inevitably ended with Koschei spending weeks on posh hotel patios, drinking rum and reading too much Hemmingway, so he tried to keep his trips spaced out. It was bad enough that he couldn't remember how he'd picked up the paso doble.

"You're keeping Mahatma Gandhi in there?" Koschei arched an eyebrow.

"I assure you that it was entirely voluntary. Young Mohandas has a strong appreciation for the wonders of the cosmos. I'd hoped to spare him the indignity of being carted home like a stray cat." Now the Doctor looked properly put-out. It should have cheered Koschei up immensely. His next move would ordinarily involve rattling off the details of the Criminal Non-Linearity Act as an excuse to bask in the Doctor's protracted sulk.

Instead Koschei stood, pocketed the ring, and turned to head for the exit.

The Doctor tugged at his restraints, and if Koschei hadn't known better, he might have detected the beginnings of a whine in his expression. "You don't mean to leave me here like this, do you?"

"You dare to make demands?" Koschei said, as something snapped in his breast. He was meant to keep control, always had to keep control, but he couldn't stop the words from leaving him in a great thundering rush. "For you, I have made a mockery of the law! And I am the law! I have tried, time and time again, to show you how easily a pardon could be secured in exchange for minimal assistance to the CIA. And all I have to show for my efforts is your continued vexatious behaviour and the lost respect of our people. You will honour what I have given up on your wretched behalf!"

Silence fell upon them both, as their pretensions stretched thin and threadbare. For a moment, they were not an iron-fisted lawman and an infamous criminal; they were a pair of overgrown schoolboys in funny costumes who'd just realized they'd stayed out past the curfew bell.

"It's your choice. You've always had a choice. You chose to become like the very worst of those pompous old blowhards. And I'm supposed to laud you for acting upon the occasional echo of independent thought? Hah! I think not." The Doctor said. His frown settled somewhere between pity and anger, and the mixed expression didn't suit his current face one bit. "There was a time when you knew how useless their laws are. You used to be someone worth honouring. Now you're just a tool of authority, and an exceptionally dull one at that."

Whatever Koschei used to be, it hadn't been enough to keep the Doctor from leaving him behind. He'd understood for centuries that the Doctor saw no value in his work or his ambitions. But it was one thing to know, objectively, that his desire to see the Doctor set right was unreciprocated. It was quite another to feel the Doctor's lack of respect cut him straight to the bone. This impact was all too familiar.

Koschei did not like to think about what might have become of his younger self if the CIA hadn't seen his situation as a recruitment opportunity and taken him firmly in hand. As it was, his own hands were nearly shaking with rage.

"I grew up," Koschei rumbled, stabbing the air with his cigar. "Perhaps you ought to consider following suit."

Koschei wasn't certain how the Doctor was going to escape from the Sky Pirates of Al-Murzim VII, and frankly, he didn't care. The Doctor could go hang. Koschei had intended to turn the primitives over to the local authorities once they were no longer of use to him. Whatever chaos the Doctor brought down on their heads would serve as a substitute punishment.

When Koschei stalked out, the Doctor did not call after him.

+++

A full two hours had passed since the man in the Red Baron costume disarmed them and marched them back to the TARDIS, and Adelaide still had no idea what was going on. You expected certain things when you were was taken hostage. Threats, for instance. Violence too. But this nutter could barely be bothered to glance in their direction, once he had them trussed up in the console room. He stormed around the TARDIS like he owned the place, rifling through shelves and opening wall panels. It was though he sought to press his presence into every corner of the Doctor's time machine.

The whole thing was a bit boring, to be honest. Not exactly what Adelaide had envisioned when the Doctor offered to fulfill her dream of exploring the universe. She hoped that Mo was having a better time of it in that ring.

Adelaide was wracking her brain for ways to contact the Doctor, when she felt thin, metallic fingers curl around the sleeve of her lab coat. She glanced down to see her youngest traveling companion looking wildly about the cabin.

"404 error! The Doctor is not found!!"

"Stay calm, Executrix Gamma." Adelaide patted the girl's shoulder-plating -- a gesture that was as much an order as it was a reassurance. "He'll have this sorted soon enough."

Executrix Gamma made an unhappy squawking noise and buried her face in Adelaide's side. Adelaide took that as her cue to get a grip on the situation. Luckily, their captor had chosen that moment to return to the console room and begin fussing over the main time rotor. He made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat and started ripping the duct tape off.

"What do you think you're doing?" Adelaide tried to pitch her tone as something close to commanding. It didn't work out as well as she'd hoped -- she was a postdoctoral fellow, more used to bossing around undergraduates than confronting enemy combatants -- but at least it got the man to do her the courtesy of looking her in the eye. "I'll warn you that this TARDIS is a highly unique vessel. It won't be as easy to fly as a dirigible."

This seemed to break their captor's dark mood. He chuckled, and returned to his work. "You think I intend to pilot this dismal excuse for a time machine? Hardly. I'm merely tidying up. This console room is practically a disaster area -- I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy."

Adelaide turned that over in her mind, examining the statement from every possible angle. She had a hunch that 'tidying up' wasn't exactly their captor's primary goal here.

"So you're not one of those air pirates?"

"Indeed, I am not."

Adelaide nodded. "Then I suppose you must be the traffic director."

The man's hands stuttered to a halt. "Pardon me?"

"Temporal traffic director. The Doctor said you'd come 'round." The Doctor had seemed so invigorated by the prospect that Adelaide hadn't imagined their meeting would involve being held captive by a deranged housecleaner. She had a sinking feeling that she ought to have known better. When it came to evaluating danger, the Doctor's standards were highly skewed.

No matter. Adelaide wasn't about to be cowed just yet. She shouldn't feel nervous. She shouldn't, so she wouldn't. She'd seen the sterilization wars in live broadcast. She'd lived through a Dalek invasion and the genmod grain riots. This, by comparison, was a very small disaster.

Executrix Gamma finally peered out from behind Adelaide's coat. "You are a temporal traffic director," she piped up, hopefully. "This job is not listed in our career-buzz linksystem; therefore, you are acting as an autonomous contractor. Would you like to provide your social networking geneprint and connect with my personal profile hub as a friend? I have four friends and over ninety billion subfriends who would like to make professional connections!"

"That's Lord Inspector Koschei to both of you," the man said, darkly, ignoring Executrix Gamma's offer. "And I have 'come around' with the intention of repatriating you young people to your rightful timelines, which I can assure you is a task of much greater import than mere traffic direction."

Executrix Gamma made a sad little squeaking noise. Adelaide decided that, whatever this Lord Inspector bloke was up to, she was not impressed.

"But it's not hurting anyone, is it? We saved a whole planet just last week. I can't see how any harm could ever come of venturing out to see the stars."

"The harm, Dr. Brooke, is that the Doctor only extends boarding invitations to the most select and extraordinary people." The Lord Inspector turned to remove some spare wiring that had gotten stuck underneath a lever, and Adelaide couldn't catch his expression. "You happen to number among them. And should you undergo a radical personality shift due to post-traumatic stress disorder, or perish while the Doctor indulges in disaster tourism, it will do incalculable damage to the history of your regrettably fecund race."

Adelaide stared at the Lord Inspector's back. "You can't be serious."

"I am many things, most of which are beyond your limited comprehension. Seriousness happens to be amongst my better qualities." Lord Inspector Koschei took a strange, glowing vase out of his messenger bag, and well as a bunch of plastic daffodils. Then he set about diligently arranging them next to the big red dial. In fairness to the Lord Inspector, Adelaide had to admit that he appeared quite engaged and meticulous. The wafer he was attaching to the bottom of the vase seemed to require a lot of complex wiring.

But for all his gravity, Adelaide was sure that this self-proclaimed Lord Inspector must be flattering her in an attempt to win her co-operation. Her? That important to history? It didn't seem like a reasonable claim. Hundreds of millions of accomplished people lived their whole lives without making it into the history books. It was true that she hoped to do great things one day, but nothing about her life felt all that weighty. She had an underachieving boyfriend and roommates who couldn't be relied on for rent. Her sister teased her about her impractical degrees. The biggest contributions she'd made to interstellar travel involved handing the Doctor test tubes and calling him brilliant.

"No results found for search query: Lord Inspector Koschei." Executrix Gamma said, before Adelaide could give voice to her doubts. "Did you mean: Lord Inspector Cossak? Did you mean: Lord Inspector Kojak? Did you mean--"

The Lord Inspector topped his work off with a small, rectangular card, before turning to give Executrix Gamma a heavy glare.

"Be silent," he commanded her.

Executrix Gamma wavered in place, her lips shaping words that never made it through her supplementary voice processors. Her cybernetic eye-displays blinked once, twice, three times over, until the icons widened into great big zeroes.

Adelaide was sure that Executrix Gamma was about to burst into tears. It wouldn't be the first time she reacted poorly to having her search string interrupted. But to Adelaide's surprise, the Executrix smiled hazily and stayed quiet.

"Executrix Gamma?" Adelaide nudged the girl with her hip. When that produced no response, her eyes widened, and she whipped her head up to take a good look at her captor. "What did you do to her?"

The Lord Inspector shrugged. "This is becoming tedious. You will be silent as well, Dr. Brooke."

And with that, Adelaide had her answer as to what had happened to the chatty young monarch. The Lord Inspector's eyes were dark, so dark, like looking out into a black hole, and she could wander up to the pupils and trip right in, oh yes, dive forward and wouldn't that be comfortable, warm and peaceful, with no pesky stars to worry about.

"Oh, I'd--" Adelaide flinched, shaking her head to clear the clouds out. "I think I'd rather not."

"I see," the Lord Inspector said, with a sound that was more bark than laugh. "Typical. Quite typical. Though not so typical as the Doctor would like, by half. You have a strong will, Adelaide Brooke." He un-holstered a pistol-like weapon and pointed it at Executrix Gamma's belly. She beamed sedately down at the pistol's barrel.

"But I'm still the man holding the, ah, 'gun'. And it can cause a great deal of unpleasantness for both of you without causing irreparable damage."

Adelaide nodded. She was inclined to believe him. If this little man could throw a sweet girl like Gamma off then there was no telling what else he was capable of.

The Lord Inspector inclined his chin towards the TARDIS doorway. "The Doctor will fight his way back here soon. It's time we were off."

+++

Koschei shrugged his leather jacket off, and sat down in a straight-backed chair. It was easily the least comfortable piece of furniture that his TARDIS could produce, and thus, it set the perfect mood for his secured communications room, which regularly played host to a cavalcade of subtle torments. Koschei wouldn't tolerate his ship wasting anything better on this place.

"You always push for more than I wish to allow you. Even you, it appears, have no concept of my authority," Koschei sighed, not without affection. The communications room might be set for maximum angularity, but that hadn't stopped his sympathetic TARDIS from conjuring him up warm, cheery fireplace, and a mug of hot mulled wine. The video port to CIA headquarters was disguised as an ugly brass monkey statue, and his official uniform had been locked out of his reach, within a large, foreboding wardrobe.

Koschei would accuse his TARDIS of mothering him, but his mother had been far too baffled by her brilliant, demanding son to ever bother with coddling.

"Engage line encryption program," Koschei directed the TARDIS. "Manual input."

He closed his eyes for a split second, and when he opened them, an antique wooden touchpad sat on the table in front of him. Koschei used the attached stylus to draw the curves and whorls of this week's modifier algorithm. When he was done, the glowing lines rose up off the page, and reconfigured themselves into an image of his handler's desk at CIA headquarters. A flashing alarm went off, and in due course, the officer rushed over to greet him.

"Lord Inspector."

"Lord Superintendent."

"You must be in right off the field, if you're still wearing those primitive rags. Status report."

Koschei took a sip of his mulled wine. Watched the Lord Superintendent fidget some invisible wrinkles out of his robes. Took another sip. And then began talking.

"The Doctor was detained, briefly, but he effected an escape via the unorthodox use of a Venusian trans-mat beam." It sickened him, to recognize how accustomed he had grown to debasing himself. The words came to him easily, but the spark behind them was gone. "This would cease to be a problem if you would grant me the surveillance resources I've been requisitioning for the past fifty years. I grant you that the incident with the SIDRATs reflected badly on the Agency, but I maintain that the Doctor would be a great asset, if he could simply be tracked more closely and convinced that the CIA has the means and motive to guide the universe on its allotted path. If this combat-TARDIS is the only equipment you'll allow me then I'm afraid--"

"Yes, yes. Your rationalisations have been duly noted, Koschei. We're sure you'll kill him next time," the Superintendent said, indulgently. As though he had no expectation of Koschei ever being competent enough to carry out the Doctor's death sentence, and had made his own peace with the situation.

"Now, what of the mission objective?"

"All three targets are in my custody. One is being decanted from biodata storage, and the other two are detained in my second-best study until I can program more suitable accommodations. I've decided to keep them all on board until the biodata situation is resolved. The human female is resistant to psychic intrusion and will therefore require some delicate surgery before she can be placed back in her natural habitat. The presence of her companions will help her remain calm."

"Biodata?" The Superintendent frowned. "Your Doctor's never resorted to psychic storage technology before."

"As I have reported, Superintendent, the Doctor is a highly adaptable criminal, and is not to be underestimated by this office."

The Superintendeant cleared his throat. "That's Lord Superintendent, Inspector."

"Yes. Lord Superintendent," Koschei grated.

The Superintendent blinked myopically at him, appearing to be at a bit of a loss. He was evidently used to Koschei being in a better mood after taking a few weeks off to hunt his personal white whale.

"Give yourself fourteen days to get the loose ends wrapped up, Inspector. Once you're done with this routine business, we need you to disgrace and eliminate a group of temporal physicists working for the Rubiyat Court. You know you're the best man we've got for that kind of work. We'll be expecting your usual efficiency and, er, creative flair," the Superintendent attempted an encouraging tone. "You don't need any spare parts? An extra EMP modifier?"

"No."

"Good man. My assistant will send you the dossier files."

The Superintendent's image flared out, and Koschei was left gripping the body of his mug so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.

Of course the Doctor didn't respect him. Nobody respected him. Oh, they liked him well enough when he was killing people, but did they listen to him? Did they grasp that he was capable of operations which were much more complex than insert-bomb-a-into-problem-b? Did they understand how important it was to keep the Doctor in the forefront of all their considerations? No. No, they did not. Their disdain showed in the way they insisted on editing his operational plans. To them, Koschei was a janitor of the timelines; a necessary drudge.

Koschei stood and tossed the mulled wine into the fireplace, where it was destroyed in a satisfying burst of blue flame and shattered clay. The TARDIS let the fire gutter after that. Apparently, she felt that his petulance was both unseemly and uncalled for.

"Yes, I'm aware." He ran a gloved hand through his hair. "I know."

Koschei left the communications room and walked five hundred meters down the hallway, until he reached an unassuming door with a worn chrome handle. The hinges swung back at the touch of his fingertips, revealing exactly the room he'd been looking for; his first, best study, with the overstuffed chair, and the sabres over the fireplace, and shelves laden with stacks of handwritten manuscripts.

It was never hard to find specific chambers in Koschei's TARDIS. Unlike some gentlemen, he made sure to regularly prune her excess territories.

Kochei closed the study door behind him and began listlessly scanning the various titles. During the first days of his CIA training, Lord Inspector Koschei had been introduced to a variety of emotional management techniques. He could close his eyes. Count backwards from ten. Excite his periphery aetheric neurons such that the link between his left and right brain assumed a state of psychic grace. But none of those methods could fully occupy a mind as active as Koschei's, and so he'd turned to more creative pursuits. Each one of the thin, unbound books in this place represented a proposal that the CIA would never approve of -- a project of visionary scope and ambition.

In his working life, Koschei was a professional agent provocateur, and rather a good one at that. Yet in his pipe dreams he was a mastermind, imposing law as he saw fit and slicing through the universe's Gordian knots. The man who lived in Koschei's books was a master of tactics and deception; a man who had summoned immeasurable powers and set traps of unparalleled intricacy. He was a man who demanded respect and brooked no opposition.

Koschei was not required to report his location for the next two weeks. Sorting out the Doctor's strays would hardly be an all-consuming task.

He located a forest green folder, and pulled it down.

+++

Adelaide paced back and forth within the confines of their prison. She guessed that she should be happy to have been placed in a room straight out of an Alan Quartermain film, instead of the traditional concrete brig, but mostly she was worried for herself and for Gamma. The Executrix had barely said a word since Lord Inspector Koschei locked them up in the belly of his machine. And what kind of police officer didn't bother to keep a regular holding cell? The kind who didn't usually keep live captives?

"Come on, Executrix, you're not all that soft. You can hear me, can't you?" Adelaide sat down on top of the fine mahogany desk.

"Mmm," Executrix Gamma hummed. She was kneeling on the floor with a froth of petticoats spread behind her. A stack of thick, creamy paper had been liberated from the desk, along with a monogrammed fountain pen, and Executrix Gamma was using them to sketch advanced fractal equations in the shape of bunny rabbits.

"Good. You're not talkative, but-- good. Okay." Adelaide said, mostly to herself. She drummed her fingers on the desktop. Fidgetsed in place. Wracked her brain. Tried not to panic. There had to be something she could do to get them out of this scrape. She refused to return to lab work, and boyfriends, and rationing, and bills, when she finally had the whole universe spread out before her. This Lord Inspector was going to drag her back over her own dead body.

"Gamma, did you ever add geneprints for the Doctor and his TARDIS to your social networking hub?"

Executrix Gamma looked coyly down at her doodling.

"Of course he wouldn't want that. But you did it anyway, didn't you. Because they're your friends."

The girl made a mechanical gesture that might have been a nod. Adelaide suspected that she hadn't had any proper friends at all, before the Doctor brought her aboard the TARDIS. She was clingy one minute and awkward the next; a lot like the boys in the nanotech labs, back at Cambridge.

"Can you put me through?" Adelaide pressed. "The Lord Inspector didn't order you not to put me through."

Executrix Gamma smiled -- first slow and cautious, then sharp and genuine -- and extended her left left hand. Beams of light shot up from her fingertips and coalesced into a cube-shaped holographic representation of the Doctor's console room. The Doctor did not appear to notice this, as he was busy spraying the Lord Inspector's daffodils with what looked like an acid-spewing fire extinguisher. His cape has been slashed to shreds and there was some strange green gunk in his hair.

Adelaide clambered off the desk and crouched down by the hologram. "Doctor? Hello, Doctor, can you hear me?"

The Doctor whipped around so quickly it was almost comical. Fortunately for him, the offensive bouquet was already disintegrating into a writhing, melting mess.

"Addie?" He blinked.

"Yes, Doctor. And Executrix Gamma as well. Mo is being re-corporealized in a tube somewhere nearby."

"But-- well, this is astonishing!" The Doctor strode up to the console. "I was sure he'd have made you forget by now. That petty blaggard will stop at nothing to fulfill his masters' orders. He's nothing but a dog of the secret police."

Adelaide didn't recognize the Doctor's pensive look, but she knew a speech coming on when she heard one, and she was in no state to indulge him. Desperation clawed at her throat. She felt as though she could barely breathe.

"Make us forget? And you didn't think to mention that this might happen!?" Her mind stumbled over the implications. "Is this some stupid codependant game you and your-- your little friend play with each other?"

The Doctor's expression slammed closed. "I should think not! Which is to say, it's all a bit-- well, it was never my intention, and it's not as though you'd have noticed after the fact, and anyway, as you can see, I am a bit busy here. He does like to leave a few presents to keep me occupied after he gallops off into the sunset; presents of the sort that can get people like you killed. And the TARDIS looks terrible. It's like piloting a decontamination room.."

Adelaide was two decades too old to throw a tantrum, but she was sorely tempted to grab a paperweight and chuck it through the Doctor's holographic face.

"I've touched the stars! I've seen Jupiter form from a cloud of cosmic gas, and I've fought the Ice Warriors on Tianzi Prime, and no one -- no one -- is wiping my mind! No one gets to take that away from me! So you had better come and get us, Doctor, or so help me, I will-- I'll-- "

"I didn't say I wouldn't, did I?" The Doctor said, waspishly. "I do what I like and it so happens that I value the free will of the sentients whom I associate with. You humans are terribly quick to spout off about a situation without knowing all the facts. I absolutely will track Gamma's quantum IP and rescue you. You hold on."

The Doctor did something to a switch on the TARDIS console, and Executrix Gamma's hologram fizzled into static.