Characters: Nine, Rose, Jack, Slitheen (various)
Chapter Three: Fried
Author's Notes: The story gets told in a lovely locale; it still gets darker, and sadder, at least for a bit. As always, the BBC owns the Whoniverse, and, via benign neglect, allows me to play - for free, mind - with the marvelous creations therein. Thanks, Auntie Beeb! My Best Beloved did the edit, and any mistakes are mine.
(Still another note: many of the Raxcite names I used here are taken, in whole or in part, from a chapter of Captain Jack's Monster Files, a BBC production available on the Web, in which we see some of Torchwood's files on Whoniverse villains, narrated by the Captain. I'll note that, while Torchwood appears to have some of the family genealogy correct, their operatives don't really know or understand the planet and its regular inhabitants well.)
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"Mr. Havreem, this is, truly, absolutely gorgeous."
Rose gazed about, breathing deeply in delight. The four of them stood in a little garden grotto not far from EF Havreem's office building. It stood at the quiet end of a city park, surrounded by an old stone retaining wall lush with flower-heavy vines. Tall green bushes, crowned with blue trumpet-shaped flowers, stood like sentries lining gardens that bordered the space in front of the walls. Below them grew bushy plants whose star-shaped green blossoms shouldn't have shown up against their leaves, but did. Everything exuded an aroma, and Rose could tell, from looking at EF Havreem's face, that he was indulging in the same olfactory feast she was.
"Most people visit the new gardens at the park's other end," the little man said. "Nice as they are, I like this older section, not least because it is largely ignored, especially during the week. I often come here to let the cares of the day slide away," he said. "Or at the very least, I can put them in perspective. No matter what I go through, these blossoms will smell sweet at the end of the day. I take that as a lesson."
He gestured to a set of chairs and benches at the foot of the grotto. "If you please? I have one more piece of history for you."
The Doctor took one bench for himself, sitting with his long legs outstretched on the seat. Jack and Rose took the stone bench opposite him, and EF Havreem settled comfortably into a round stone chair.
The Doctor spoke in a tone that brooked no more delay. "Like you said, I've been patient. But time's wastin', EF Havreem, and that makes me uncomfortable."
His target put up both hands and said placatingly, "No more wasting time, Doctor, of that you can be certain. Here is the story which leads to our little abandoned baby.
"The Slitheen entered our history about a century and a half of our time ago," EF Havreem said, his voice once again taking on a singsong cadence. "Again, close enough to your Earth measurement as makes no difference. They began with one woman, the daughter of two well-off parents in the Huspick province of the Plomeen Confederacy. Her mother was a merchant, her father was a professor at Huspick City Academy – a place of learning that is only now recovering its reputation in the civilized world because of this woman, mind you – and she seemed destined for greatness herself. She was a poet, and a writer of the most trenchantly powerful pieces of that century."
Rose leaned forward. "What was her name?"
"She is known now only as the Huspick Degenerate. Her other names were stripped from her. They are recorded in our history, but we do not speak them aloud," EF Havreem said, his voice flat. "Her clan name was Slitheen, of course.
"She was about 30 years of age, and an author of great renown, when her writings began to reveal a disturbing element of ... hmmm ... yearning for an imagined purer past. She decried the cities, and the successes of modern life. She dismissed the arts and the gentle graces of Raxacoricofallapatorius as weaknesses which would have been eschewed by our ancestors. She praised the lives of hunting beasts, of merciless carnivores, as the lives most truly lived, in a constant battle for primacy, for purity of the race."
He shuddered, but went on. "Psychiatrists have since theorized that this woman's determined worship of the past, which most Raxcites just as determinedly ignore, for all the reasons of which I've made you aware, was a twisted and dysfunctional way of dealing with the ... self-respect issues that we as a species must face. A coping method that turns our failings into strengths, and that which we most despise in our history into praiseworthy things."
"You didn't have folks like that before?" Jack gnawed on his thumb as he spoke, dividing his attention between the Raxcite and the Doctor. His focus was almost as intense as the Doctor's, Rose thought; nothing seemed to intrude onto his observation of the two aliens. Must be a function of being a former Time Agent, she thought; that, or perhaps being a conman. But it doesn't explain why he's chewing on his thumb.
She looked over at the Doctor. That queer glint was in his eyes again. And, while EF Havreem might never notice it, she could see his jaw working. Now she knew why Jack was chewing his thumb. This wasn't good, she thought, before tuning back in to the conversation.
"Of course they have surfaced occasionally. Usually, however, their families are ashamed of such people, or worried enough about their mental health that they are treated away from the public eye. The difference here was in this woman's prodigious talents, both as a writer and in terms of personal charisma," EF Havreem responded. "Her later books and poetry came to be regarded with disgust by most people, but to certain members of our society – the young, the disaffected, those with criminal tendencies perhaps, and certainly many whose mental stability was as suspect as hers without benefit of her brilliance – she was like a religious leader. Like moths to flame, they flocked to her.
"Her ever more inflammatory writings were eventually banned in Huspick, and she emigrated to a neighboring city-state – my own home of Fel-Havreem, as it happens. That didn't last long because here, too, she insisted on a ... most vocal protestation of her philosophy. When she moved the second time, it was to Lilianeen Est Abrel. There she made the connection which changed an unpleasant but ultimately controllable sect, into the Slitheen.
"Lillianeen Est Abrel is a research city, like those she had quit earlier. This woman was raised among academics, and was unhappy unless she was living in cities friendly to them, apparently. I find that ironic, but that's neither here nor there. And for a while, it seemed as if she had decided to live quietly there, to avoid the constant surveillance of authorities. About three years after her move, however, she met a geneticist. A gifted one, from clan Hamazeen. They had a tumultuous affair, during which he became as besotted with her philosophy as he was of her– "
"I can see where this is goin'," the Doctor growled.
Rose looked up, startled. It wasn't like him to interrupt someone so rudely. She didn't like the look in his eyes, and shot a worried glance at Jack. He raised one eyebrow, and looked just as worried.
The Time Lord was on a roll now. "She convinced him to put his talents to rewriting the personal DNA of her and her followers, didn't he? Beef them up, give them claws like knives, and the haunches of lions, the speed of cheetahs, make the DNA generationally replicative – perennials, not annuals, am I right?"
EF Havreem looked at him, surprised, and gave a stiff nod.
"And perhaps this Hamazeen had access to technology he shouldn't have had, and understood it even less than you think your creators did, all those years ago," the Doctor continued before surging to his feet. He looked as if he were forcing himself not to pace. "He used it, and the children he and this woman had, and those of their followers ... the change inside their genes changed their heads, too, didn't it?"
Another stiff nod.
Now the Doctor was prowling, crossing and recrossing the narrow grotto just like the great cats of which he'd been speaking. "They and their kids, they became violent and sadistic, and they liked it. They made it all part of their philosophy; made all the killin' and cruelty a religion, chock full of ceremonies and liturgies. Within a couple of generations, the Slitheen and whatever clans allied with them had trained we don't know how many children to live for death and fear; to love killing and frightening ...." his voice trailed off, but the sorrow and disgust on his face said all that needed to be said.
"Oh, my god," Rose whispered into the silence. "They deliberately did that to themselves?"
"Rose, honey, you have no idea what people will do to themselves," Jack said, soft and sad. He looked at the Doctor. "Doc, you OK?"
"What? Nothin' wrong with me, Captain." Those blue eyes snapped back from some vista Rose couldn't see, into the here and now. "Times when the universe makes me a little queasy, is all. An' what we have to deal with right now, seems to me, is a way of makin' a tiny part of the universe a tiny bit better. Right, EF Havreem?"
The Raxcite had been staring off into some vista of his own, but turned his liquid eyes back to his guests. "Doctor?"
"The reason we started listenin' to all this unhappy history to begin with, eh? A little baby Slitheen sittin' back in Security's incubator. So–"
He brushed past EF Havreem, rubbing his hands, crazy grin plastered across his face as if he hadn't been angry and sick at heart a moment before. "I think it's time to undo a little genome damage, don't you?"
The Raxcite's mouth dropped open – not for the first time, Rose thought of a hungry baby – as he turned to look at her, then Jack, before turning and following the Doctor out of the grotto.
"And away we go," she said. Jack nodded, and they took off in pursuit, past a small class of children whose teacher joined them in looking curiously at the strange parade.