Previous Chapter: Twelve
Summary: Love, silk and memory, in shades of cold and dangerous blue.
Warnings: For more brutal language and situations than in previous chapters, and for possible triggers caused by descriptions of extreme imprisonment.
Edited by: the incomparable dr_whuh
Previous chapters: Prologue and One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve.
Author's Notes: In which Rose does what must be done to hide in plain sight and, perhaps, to escape thereby.
Disclaimer: While I wish it were otherwise, with a great yearning, The Doctor, Rose, Jack and the TARDIS are part of the Whoniverse and belong to the BBC and their various creators. I take no coin for playing in this world, and mean no copyright infringement.
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Once, when Rose was 13, she and Jackie had gone on holiday. Jackie had scrimped and saved — Rose learned only later that her mother had put aside money for more than a year, and had borrowed more from friends — to take the two of them on a coach tour. They'd been to Wensleydale, visited Hardraw Force, Gaping Gill and the like. It had been a mixed success; she had been sullen and loudly wronged at having been pulled away from Shareen and a long-planned party, so she and her mum had clashed repeatedly for the first few days.
Eventually, though, her surroundings silenced all the whinging. She'd succumbed to the landscape of the dales, so unlike south London. The low green hills, rolling into and away from ravines that bracketed waterfalls and were themselves girdled by forest — they were like nothing her city-bred self had experienced before.
Especially the waterfalls. A dumbfounded Jackie had had to drag her away from the waterfalls, and the sounds of them flowed and tumbled through her dreams from that time on; the airy rush of freshets above ground, the ancient thunder of them in the darkness of subterranean caves, the hiss and plash of water in an unending and ever changing torrent of never-quite-white noise.
She felt now as she had at Hardraw Force, but what roared through her head in the darkness was not cascading water, but tumbling and terrified minds, gushes and torrents of half-formed thoughts. Even when she could block the words — and she couldn't, not well — the inchoate terror and confusion beat at her own consciousness like tons of water onto her unprotected shoulders.
Only the presence of someone else kept her moving. Focus on her, focus on keeping her calm, focus on the arm you've got around her waist, focus on - oh, god, focus on how to get both of you out of here. Rose pulled one hand away from Luisa's, and wiped her nose. Then she sniffed, hard, to force the smell of the place, and her new charge, into her brain; into the places other peoples' thoughts were trying to take up in her head.
"Gah." She was right. It still stank like a tip behind an abattoir, next to an overflowing portaloo. The internal voices and pressure receded, and she could think a little more clearly. Alright; next move.
"Come on, sweetheart. We're leaving."
Luisa's only answer was a soft whimper, but Rose was willing to put up with that, as long as it stayed soft enough not to attract unwanted attention. The girl's earlier deep sobs had died down, and Rose thought she might be willing to move with a friendly arm around her. She maneuvered the two of them up and toward the door, keeping a wary eye on the cages and the material draping them as she did so. She didn't want to risk touching the cloth. She tried to coax Luisa across the refuse ditch, but stopped when Luisa tugged against her.
"Not that way. This way."
Rose almost dropped her arm from Luisa's waist as she stared at her. The crisp clarity in the girl's voice was at complete odds with her demeanor up until now. "Luisa?"
"What? This way. Past the containment stacks. Over here."
Containment stacks? She looked where Luisa was pointing. She didn't see it at first, but peered and realized that another, smaller, door was set into the opposite wall from the one through which she'd entered. She hadn't initially seen it there because it had been partly shielded from her immediate view by a cage. "Luisa, where does that door go?"
The other girl didn't answer. She started breathing quickly, and whimpering again. "What ... what?"
Rose fought the urge to hyperventilate herself. "The door."
"You just told me we should use that door."
"I ... I don't know what you mea— yes. This door. It goes out."
There it was, that different sound in her voice; Rose looked into the girl's face, trying to figure out what it was, but the rush and babble in her head swelled again, and she couldn't fight it while still focusing on both Luisa and any possible sounds of discovery from the outer hall. "Right, then. We go that way." She refused to think of how many ways this could go wrong, closed her eyes for a moment. "Ready?" Luisa didn't answer; she was panting again. Rose answered her own question. "Ready. Here we go."
Opening the door was, she discovered a moment later, unnervingly easy. It slid open - no lock, no alarms, almost no sound — and light poured through the door frame. Rose tensed, prepared to see someone, or a lot of someones, on the other side, when it stopped moving. She gasped in relief when that didn't happen; wherever this was, she and Luisa were the only people here. She stepped forward, and found herself on what appeared to be an unused loading dock. Almost all of the stench disappeared in a gust of cold air which meant — oh my god, Doctor, I'm out, I'm out, I'm heading home to Jack, and we'll come back to get you — they were outside.
Not quite, she decided after a closer look. The dock itself was semi-enclosed, but she could see beyond the heavy chain link fence into what appeared to be a huge car park that was itself enclosed by a much more substantial wall. The park was fairly industrial; commercial floaters, lorries and juggernauts. Rose wondered if any of the drivers might have been foolish enough to have left keys in the ignition. Don't press your luck, Tyler, she admonished herself.
Walking out of the building proper afforded her more than fresh air, Rose abruptly found, with another rush of surprised relief. The voices in her head fell silent, the mental pressure disappearing so quickly she felt as if her head might float from her shoulders without that weight.
Luisa might have felt the same way, because she shook her head slightly, blinked rapidly, and stood up straighter. "We're outside."
Rose nodded, still keeping the other girl's hand in hers. "We have to get away from the building, Luisa. We could still be spotted."
"It feels better out here."
"Yeah." Rose tried to keep her voice calm while she looked behind her and around the small dock. No one yet, not that she could see. A screen — it looked jerry-rigged to Rose, as if it had been put up in a hurry — extended from the stone wall of the prison to the end of the loading area and blocked her view. She thought there might be more docks beyond the screen. Were there people, too? She couldn't hear anyone, at least, and she was fairly certain she would have, given the racket the guards made inside.
"No silk close by." Her charge seemed to be working very hard at forming consecutive thoughts and voicing them. "That's good. It makes it hard to think."
"The silk does." That was agreement as much as anything else on Rose's part, but she returned to what was more important. "Luisa, I know this is hard for you, but I need your help. Can you remember anything about how you were brought here? Anything about the way in? We need to leave before people see us."
Luisa didn't say anything for a moment, and her breath grew ragged; Rose feared she was going to lose her companion to the recurrent fugue state, but instead, the girl deliberately slowed her breathing down, and whispered, "Lady, it's hard for me. I have a lot of things in my head and they're jumbled ... but I want to go home, I really want to go home. I'll try to remember."
Rose gave her a quick hug. "There's a good girl. Call me Rose, OK?"
"Rose. Vella loved roses." For a moment, her dirt encrusted face opened up and revealed a delicate loveliness, before it slipped away with whatever memory revealed it. But she nodded. "I'll call you Rose." She heaved a sigh and spoke again. "I remember the truck. It was ... crowded, it was crowded. Lots of us. I think ... I think, I think, think ... locked. It should be a simple lock for the fence. Not the wall, though, that'll be hard."
Luisa disengaged herself from Rose's arm, and shuffled closer to the end of the loading area, then pointed. Rose stepped over, followed the finger with her eyes through the chain link fence again at the outer wall, and groaned. Her second look at the wall showed her that it was considerably more than substantial. She saw movement in what seemed to be a guardhouse next to the lorry exit. "Bloody hell."
As if that weren't problem enough, she heard clatter and clamor from beyond the screen.
"Shift change." Rose wouldn't have believed that matter of fact acceptance could mix so completely with abject terror in someone's whispered voice. "Maybe a shipment." Luisa stopped speaking; her face went slack, her mouth hanging slightly open. Rose grabbed her and moved both of them back against the stone wall and tried to keep from sinking to the ground in despair. She didn't have the slightest idea what to do next. All she could think for the next agonizing moment was how tremendously unfair the world — this world — was being to her.
Don't you dare. Don't you dare think like that. The flare of anger cleared her head of self-pity the same way one of the Doctor's level stares could, the way Jack's quiet analysis did sometimes. Analysis, I've gotta get better at analysis she thought. Analyse the situation right here, right now, then!
Shift change, eh? After another 30 seconds, during which she kept her arms protectively around Luisa at least in part to prevent her from moving and drawing attention to them, Rose realized that could be the only source of the noise she was hearing. In a way, they'd been lucky to have walked out and had their initial conversation with no one in earshot, she supposed.
Rose could now hear lots of voices beyond the screen. Some people were chatting and laughing as they came into hearing, presumably from some interior entryway, but their conversation was increasingly eclipsed by the soft grunts and occasional curses of other people who seemed to be wrestling items from inside the building onto the dock. Whatever they were dealing with clanked, scraped and thudded across the floor. The staff definitely wasn't taking any care with their unknown cargo.
"God, it's good to be out here," someone said. "I can turn off the damned buffers, for one thing - I hate having to talk like I'm at a fucking bar."
"Nah, I always keep 'em on," someone else replied. "Turning them on and off too many times burns them out, Supply won't give you new ones until the end of the month, and they make you pay a fine for burning 'em out. Bastards. I had to go without for 10 days, once; went nearly barking, all those voices in my head."
"No, see, what I hate's the humidity—"
"Shut it, all of you." The gravelly voice sounded tense and brutal, and Rose shrank further back against the wall as she listened. "I want these crates ready for transport, no spills, no leaks, nothing, in 15 minutes. You want voices in your heads, I'll send you up to Fahrar. You want that? Eh? Thought not. The lorry's going to be here in 20 minutes; everything has to be loaded and ready for delivery 20 minutes later, because there's another lorry coming in, and we're on call for that one, too. Screenside. Understood?"
"Shit." Someone didn't care if the man in charge heard him.
"Did I ask you? I don't like it either. The bitch is already pissed about the prisoner escape and now she's pulled Third Shift off for some new damned thing or other. Swing Shift's gotten the shaft as usual. Get this done; once the special transport arrives, we'll pull the zombies quick as we can, and then we dump it in Day's lap. So keep your mouths shut, do the damned work, and we'll all get through it ... Javier, you've got the dock. I'll be in my office."
Rose stretched every nerve, waiting to hear some door slam. She heard none, but a rising tide of mutinous whispers convinced her the official man in charge had gone, leaving things to a straw boss. Well, you needed more information, and you got it, she told herself. I've got 15 minutes, 20 tops, to find a way off this dock, before we're found by the guards when they come over to this side. She didn't need to guess what the "zombies" were.
The answer, when it occurred to her, was horrifying but logical.
It could work, Rose thought, as she gestured to Luisa to move back toward the door, trying to figure her odds and, at the same time, keep from screaming as she realized what she had to do. Yes, it could definitely work. The men moving the poor souls from inside the prison might not move the ones in that stinking room back there, in which case hiding in plain sight would save them. On the other hand, they might actually be clearing the room, too — and that's when you start pretending to be a brain-wiped silk victim. Because if you want to get out of a place with guards, and running for your life is not an option, get the guards to take you out. She'd learned that on any number of occasions from the Doctor, who might actually, when it came to that sort of thing, give Jack a run for the title of brazen. He'd be proud of me, right?
When Luisa realized Rose was moving both of them back toward the room they had so recently exited, she stiffened. Rose wasn't surprised, but she couldn't afford to let the girl resist. She pulled her closer and whispered, "Do you want to leave here, Luisa? Just nod." Luisa, eyes wide, did so. "I will get you out, but you have to trust me, yeah? You have to do exactly what I tell you to, even if you don't want to." After a brief hesitation, Luisa nodded again. "Good girl. I promise that no matter what I make you do, I'm going to do it, too. And if I do it, it means you'll have someone with you ... a partner, yeah?" Another nod, although Luisa was starting to breathe hard. Rose hurriedly spoke again, trying to head off any rebellion. "Here's the important thing to remember. I promise - promise, right? I promise that what we do won't last long, and that it will get us out of here. You just remember that, right? You remember that, and don't be afraid. Can you say that? Can you promise? Will you say it? Please?"
Luisa looked at her a long time. She shivered visibly. "Promise." Rose looked at the dark circles under the girl's eyes, showing through all the caked-on filth, and wondered how long the voices in Luisa's head had been tormenting her, and whether she would ever stop hearing them.
Beyond the screen, someone dropped something on someone else's foot, occasioning enough curses and generalized discord to mask their retreat into the room. Rose held her breath as they stepped through the door, and tensed her shoulders, as the torrent of voices and almost voices and unformed, deformed thoughts thundered down on her once more.
"Stay here for a minute. That's right, by the door. Now shut your eyes, will you do that for me, sweetheart? Good. You do that, and you count to 100, alright? By the time you get to 100, I'll be back. Don't look, though."
Later, Rose promised herself, she would find time to scream; later, when she was safely out of this hell-hole, when she'd found Jack and the safety of the TARDIS, and they'd figured out a way to rescue the Doctor. Later would have to be time enough. She repeated the thought silently, raising her mental voice as a silent litany, a shelter from the internal pressure, and a way to put her next few actions on auto-pilot. If she had to think about what she was about to do—
She took out the screwdriver again, and walked over to the cage that had smelled the worst, the one with the frighteningly sweet stench. Light pouring in from the outside made it stomach-clenchingly easy to look into the cage now, and one look told her more than she wanted to know.
Without a moment's hesitation, Rose turned the screwdriver on the lock, as she had when she freed Luisa. The door on this cage sprang open just as obligingly. Do it. Scream later, cry later, later, later— Rose took off her jacket and used it to cover both her hands when she reached in and took hold of the body. It was revoltingly limp, but Rose was careful to grab it by the torso and not by some potentially separable limb, and it stayed together as she pulled it from the cage.
She wouldn't look at it, just hauled it along the floor, and around to the rear of the row of cages, where there was a narrow gap between the cages themselves and the wall. If they hadn't all been draped with the silk, what she planned to do wouldn't have worked, but the silk itself would act to hide the body. At least she hoped it would.
The next minute and a half seemed to take at least a year, as Rose wrestled the body into the gap without touching the cage silk, and threw her jacket in on top of it to provide some extra camouflage. With any luck, the men due to enter the room soon would be spooked enough by what they had to do — they'd certainly sounded unhappy at having to deal with "zombies" — that they wouldn't get closer than they had to to the silk.
One quick look into the now-empty cage convinced her there was nothing more she could pull out of it. Luckily, this one was right next to the one that Luisa had been in.
Luisa ... this was going to be the hard part. Before walking back over to the door, she stopped momentarily to stoop over the open sewer ditch. She dipped her hands into the noisome sludge on the bottom of the trench, then rubbed it over her clothes, into her hair and all over her face. Even a sloppy soldier might notice her if she was too clean. Then she walked back to her charge. Her eyes were still closed, Rose noted with relief.
"Luisa, you can open your eyes now. OK, here's what we're going to do. We're going to hide in the cages—"
Rose clapped her hands to Luisa's lips. She glared at the girl, and her heart leaped into her own mouth. Luisa had almost screamed that denial; surely everyone in the building must have heard it?
Now it was Rose's turn to count. When she got to 30 and no one had come running into the room, she sighed in relief, then spoke; this time, though, she wasn't gentle. "Not another word. I promised I'd get us out. I mean it. But you promised to do just as I told you. Don't you dare break your promise. I will leave you here, I swear, if you break your promise." God, where did that come from? Luisa closed her eyes and said nothing, but didn't struggle; Rose had to take that as obedience in the breach.
She closed the outer door as soundlessly as possible, still holding on to Luisa, then waited a moment for her eyes to reacclimate to the dark's return.
Once that happened, Rose walked the two of them over to the cages. "I'll get in first," she said, softening her tone and hoping it would convince Luisa to do the same. "And look, we can hold hands through the cage walls. Just until I say, though."
"What?" Luisa once more sounded clear-headed, and something niggled at Rose's hind brain as she registered it again.
"He'd been in the cage. That one," Luisa said said. She pointed to the now corpse-free enclosure. "Did the guards take him back to the lab?"
"He ... isn't there now," Rose said, ignoring the niggle for now and hoping that would be enough answer. "I'll get in that one. You can watch me."
Luisa stared at her, then whispered, "You promise we'll get out, I promise not to scream." It was as clear a restatement of the formula as Rose could wish for. She hugged the other girl, then took a deep breath, got on her knees and backed herself into the cage. Once she was settled, she pulled the door to, and gestured for Luisa to do the same. Her charge whimpered slightly, but complied. Once she was inside, still whimpering, Rose poked her fingers through the loosely woven chicken wire and used the screwdriver to relock both cages. She pocketed the tool and teached out again, this time wiggling her fingers in her companion's direction. Luisa offered her an extremely watery smile, and grabbed at them.
"See? Promised I'd be with you. Now, can you remember that we can't talk or say anything if the guards come in here and take us out of the building? Can you remember that?"
They fell silent, and Rose tried to ignore the mental pressure and the anticipation. She was almost happy to hear the foyer door click open; she spared one second to extricate her hand from Luisa's and put a finger to her lips, before looking at the floor to let her hair fall forward, and trying to make her face as blank as possible.
" ... swear to God, Sarge, I didn't know it'd been so long since someone inspected the room!"
"Just check the damned cages, and be glad I don't stuff you in one of them. If anyone's alive, haul 'em out and hose them down; we'll put them in with the rest of the zombies."
"But these were supposed to be the rejects. They've already been up at the la—"
"One more word out of you, you snot-nosed bitch's whelp, and you'll regret it."
Rose didn't have to see the the gravel-throated sergeant's face to imagine the rage disfiguring it. So he'd just realized what was in here, did he? Served the bastard right. She continued looking at the floor, and hoped that being hosed down wouldn't short out the screwdriver.
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The Doctor came to with the in-rushing sense of time and space that told him his internal temporal gyroscope had finally re-balanced. He opened his eyes, turning them from the ceiling which first greeted them to see a broad glazed window, through which very early morning sun poured in a blue-white flood of warmth.
"Ah, you're awake." The neatly uniformed woman sitting in a camp chair across the room smiled.
"Now tell me why I shouldn't kill you."
(to Chapter Fourteen)