Previous Chapter: 26 here, or here
Characters: the Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness
Author's Note: In which homecomings give way to leave-takings, and Rose says what has to be said. I thought this was the penultimate chapter, but have since realized it was not. Not quite. But soon, soon.
Edited by: the irreplaceable dr_whuh, without whom none of this would be possible.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole property of the BBC and their respective creators. I take no coin or credit, but do thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
Note: Because this is a long chapter, Live Journal may eliminate paragraph breaks, so you might want to read it over on Dreamwidth.
“Anyone want more tea? Sandwiches? I’m heading to the kitchen, and I’ve plenty of egg mayo left. Pickles, too.”
The look Nico gave Jack as he got ready to exit the library for the kitchen was priceless, but Jack kept his laughter to himself. That had been hard for the few hours they’d been back in the TARDIS. He wanted to laugh, to jump, to dance, to — you are one crazy conman, Harkness.
Yeah, and you don’t care.You really don’t, not today, not today, when everything is glorious. “I’m still hungry,” Rose said. “I’ll go with you.” She was fighting her own smile, probably out of consideration for the Lizhbauans, all of whom were dealing with their impossible escape in different ways.
“Wait, Rose,” Hilda said, half rising from the settee she’d settled on. “Don’t—” Then she stopped and looked around her, at the tall wooden book-cases, and the parquet floor, up at the similarly patterned ceiling in the blue shadows above her, and took a shaky breath. “How much longer?”
Jao looked up from the book he was reading. Something on military strategy theory, Jack noted. You’re the perfect maitre d’, darlin’. The old soldier seemed to be handling the TARDIS well, probably because he could ignore it by focusing on one minute at a time, Jack thought. Soldiers did that. “It’s only been, what, little more than a standard hour. Relax.”
Hilda sat down, but didn’t look as if she’d be relaxing any time soon. Nor did Nico, although he was sprawled in what was normally the Doctor’s favorite chair, legs kicked out in a remarkably Doctor-like pose in front of the fireplace.
Fahrar looked up from her own book, gave her inadvertent companions a visual once over, then went back to reading. She’d spent the first half hour after their escape obviously trying to figure out how best to get out of her impossible surroundings. After being informed that opening the doors was impossible, and that they were what was keeping her from being spread, atom by atom, into the Vortex, she’d decided to appropriate Jao’s attitude, nabbing something off the library shelf and reading. Jack was glad to hear nothing from her at this point.
Salvha sat on the huge leather couch next to Nico’s chair. He’d been obsessively cleaning his rust-stained knives for the first half hour after he walked into the TARDIS. He’d put them away and now sat, head bent, with Filomena’s jacket bunched in his hands.
Filomena herself was in one of the medlab’s isolation pods next to the one the Doctor had fallen into with Jack’s help, once he’d ensured that the young woman’s chamber had been programmed into a basic healing mode.
Can’t heal her mind yet, Rose. Need to heal my own, the Doctor had said, one hand on Filomena’s head, and the other still clasping Rose’s hard tightly. I’ll try then. This’ll keep her alive ‘til I can.
When Rose had asked how long he had to be in his pod, he’d shaken his head. Jack had assured Rose that the Doctor knew what he was doing with his own equipment, an assurance he definitely wouldn’t have felt had the TARDIS not been humming around them, had the Doctor not let go of Rose’s hand and reached for Jack’s, holding it hard enough to hurt.
Patience is a virtue, Rosie, he’d said, splitting his attention between her and the Doctor. Practically the only virtue I’ll admit to. She’d grinned at him, nodded at the Doctor and said, If you can do it, I can. But don’t be too long, Doctor; we’ve already been too long apart, yeah?
The Doctor had swallowed once or twice. Yeah. That was it, and he’d motioned to Jack to close the pod. But the look he gave them was bright with tears. Jack hadn’t been able to decipher that, but he’d had to fight his own tears, equally hard to decipher. He’d decided not to think about it at all until the Time Lord was back on his feet.
After they’d closed the pod, Rose took time to get a shower and change into some clean clothes — black jeans and shirt, an unusually sepulchral color scheme for her. Jack had resisted joking about it. After that, they’d played host to their guests. That included assuring them constantly that they could stay in the Vortex as subjectively long as needed before the Doctor could direct the TARDIS to any specific time they wanted. Both of them had carefully avoided mentioning the many times that She had overshot whatever mark he’d pointed Her at.
Rose had led Fahrar, Nico and Hilda on a quick tour of the most accessible corners of the TARDIS. In addition the bedrooms Nico and Hilda had seen before, Rose introduced them to the library and the homey kitchen, (much larger and even more comfortable than it usually was, she’d whispered to Jack.) The TARDIS had also cooperated in the public relations tour by making one of the Doctor’s laboratories available. Rose told Jack that Hilda had become visibly awestruck at that point.
But there was only so much a guided tour could do to set someone’s mind at ease; Jack had gauged Rose’s expression when she’d brought the three Lizhbauans back to the control room, and had decreed that everyone should head to the library to await the Doctor’s return. The library had always seemed like a soothing retreat to him, and he’d discovered that Rose felt the same way. Perhaps, he’d thought, She’d let the room work some of its calmative influence on Her guests.
For the most part, it had worked. Now, however, Salvha was barely able to contain himself — the hands holding Filomena’s jacket were white and trembling. Only Nico had been able to keep Salvha from bolting when he was introduced to the TARDIS in the first place. Jao might look as if he were calmly reading a book, and he might be the one admonishing Hilda to be calm, but Jack knew he, too, was laboring under the weight of too much that he’d never seen before.
Hilda’s unease was at least tactical, Jack thought. It was her obsession over the damned worms. They were still at the underground lab; the plan, such as it was, had been to rescue the Doctor and then hope his genius and the TARDIS could get into Inverno’s labs and effect the switch, even if Filomena’s codes weren’t usable. Hilda wanted to get the miserable things into the TARDIS, show them to the mysterious alien that Jack (and the TARDIS) had convinced her could help change her world, and get the deed done.
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like when you need to move, and you can’t. Just a little longer, oh bartender who is so much more. He looked at the assembled company, jerked his head to get Rose to come with him, and headed out of the library. “Back in a flash, folks.”
As they approached the kitchen, when Jack was certain they could speak without the words carrying, he turned to Rose.
“Once we’ve fed them a few more sandwiches, I’m going to go back to the medlab, maybe see if there are any readouts I can understand. Maybe I’ll get a handle on when he’s due to wake—
“You don’t have to, Captain. Here I am.”
The voice coming from the kitchen was still a little thready, but much stronger than they’d last heard it.
Rose reached him first, but only by a hair. Both she and Jack threw their arms around the tall Gallifreyan, which almost knocked him out of the kitchen chair he was sitting on.
“Whoah, whoah … careful. Still not up to snuff, me.” He didn’t sound too upset, but Jack and Rose gingerly unentangled themselves anyhow.
“Sorry Doctor.” Rose sounded embarrassed, at which Jack frowned. She didn’t need to —
“Don’t be,” the Doctor said, smiling at her, then glancing at Jack with the same expression. “I liked it. From both of you. Just can’t deal with it physically yet. So give me time to let this cuppa do its work.” He nodded at the mug in front of him, which had narrowly escaped his and Rose’s hugs, Jack saw.
He liked it. He liked it from both of us! If he hadn’t already been so damned glad he thought he might burst, Jack might have tried to kiss the Doctor … Oh, that’d go over well. For the love of all that’s holy, smart boy, stop it!
He tried not to look at the Doctor, irrationally certain that the latter knew exactly what he was thinking. To cover his embarrassment, he spoke. “Doc, you sure you shouldn’t be back in the pod?”
“She knew when to wake me up,” the Doctor said. “It was time.”
“Why? I mean, She knows best. I know that,” Rose said, looking around herself and talking to the air in a way she might not have done before they’d come to Lizhbau. "I guess I’m just … I dunno … afraid for you.” Then she grimaced a bit, before smiling and saying “But I imagine She’ll keep an eye on you, yeah? Let us know when we have to tuck you back into bed?”
Jack was pretty sure he wasn’t imagining the way the kitchen lights flickered slightly, turning a warmer gold.
The Doctor eyed the ceiling fixtures and grinned. “You’re right, Rose Tyler. But we have work to do, Her and I.”
“The silk,” Jack said.
“Filomena,” Rose breathed.
The Doctor nodded. “Both. But your Filomena first, Rose.”
Of course the Doctor would care about the little silk-damaged soldier, Jack thought, loving him the more for it. He’d have cared about her even if she wasn’t potentially important to any plan for derailing the silk trade.
“Do you think you can save her?” Rose asked the question as if she already knew the answer, and she didn’t like it.
The Doctor reached for his mug and took a swallow, then put the mug back on the table. When he spoke, his mien was somber.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how Inverno used the silk on her, for one thing, but I can guess that it was a drastically more extreme process than what he used on me, and I almost …” he trailed off momentarily. “You saw how I was when you rescued me, and I’ve had training in how to deal with mental attacks. She’s human; she’s had someone else’s psyche forcibly planted inside her skull, which I saw for certain when I first programmed her pod has done a lot of physical damage to the brain. I can only guess at the psychological damage. In fact, her entire body’s obviously suffered as a result. That’s all … let’s just say it’s far worse than what happened to me.”
He stood up slowly, putting one hand on the table to steady himself. “I’ll try to save her. But I might not succeed. You understand that?”
Instead of arguing or insisting that the Doctor engineer a miracle, which Jack had heard Rose do more than once, she nodded. Jack could see unshed tears in her eyes, but they didn’t spill over. “If you can’t save her, can you at least make her more comfortable? For whatever time she has left?”
Rose’s face above her dark clothing was pale as chalk. Her brown eyes were tired, the skin around them bruised with weariness; by rights she should be close to collapse. Jack knew she’d had precious little good sleep since this nightmare began; she’d told him about the awful night in the alley, the few hours in Luisa’s home. Despite her weariness, though, she wasn’t falling apart. She was exhibiting a strength, even in sorrow, that he hadn’t seen in her before.
I love you, Rose Tyler. Jack felt the pride in this girl — this woman, he amended silently, this human, force-grown by horrifying circumstance into victorious maturity — fill his heart. He wanted to be worthy of her. And for the first time in ages, he thought he stood at least the ghost of a chance of doing so, if only because she seemed to think so.
“We can make her comfortable, if it comes to that. I promise,” the Doctor said, looking down at her. Unsaid, but plain as the nose on his craggy face and the shine in his blue eyes, was his approval of Rose’s words. “Rest and surcease from pain. But let’s see if we can save her. Shall we go and talk to our guests? Ought to let them know what we’re planning, before we head back to the med lab.”
“Folks, this is the Doctor.”
Jack was going to say more, as he walked into the library ahead of the Time Lord, but he didn’t get the chance. That worthy brushed past him, and loped over to where Nico was sitting. As Nico looked up, the Doctor held out his hand. Nico raised an eyebrow, but extended his own.
“Welcome to the TARDIS, Nico Machado, son of Dehde Bohlver and palace revolutionary,” the Doctor said, grasping Nico’s hand and shaking it. Then he turned around. “And welcome, Jao Neves and Hilda Ghildau, his lieutenants.” His eyes narrowed initially as he looked at Salvha, but his expression gentled as he took note of the jacket Salvha still held close to himself. “Salvha Adao, too.”
He merely nodded at Fahrar, but Jack thought there was a certain respect in his wordless greeting. She nodded back.
Jack, who’d whispered the Lizhbauans’ names to the Doctor as they headed toward the library, would have been impressed with the Doctor’s easy mastery of the room, had he not seen it happen at least a dozen times before. It was enjoyable to watch; he caught Rose’s eye, and she pursed her lips at him in a successful attempt not to smile.
“Hello,” Nico said. “What am I to call you, besides Doctor?” He was polite, curious. “I assume ‘Smith’ is not your real name.”
“Right. It’s not. Just Doctor. That’s it.” The Doctor sat down in the barrel chair across from where Nico sat. “I’m sure my companions told you that.”
Hilda, who looked as if a weight had been removed from her shoulders when the Time Lord walked in, shook her head. “The Captain hasn’t told us much, except that you’re supposed to be my equal in genetic manipulation. And that you can help us kill the lamia trade.”
“Your equal? I’m pretty sure I’m not your equal,” the Doctor said, with just the slightest hint of asperity. Jack would have welcomed it as a sign of the Doctor’s returning health, were it not for his own recently-renewed aversion to insulting new allies. He raised an eyebrow pointedly in the Gallifreyan’s direction.
“Doctor.” Rose, who had chosen to perch herself rather uncomfortably on the tiny arm of his chair, glared at him.
He looked up at her, then over at Jack, and he smiled, all asperity gone. “No, I’m not belittling anyone. What I’m sayin' to Hilda is that I’m sure she knows more about silk than I do. That makes her my superior in the lab when we’re talking about lamia.
“But that’s not why you need me, at least not immediately, so for now, let’s put that on the back burner.” He jumped up from the chair, and if he swayed just a little as he did so, only Rose and Jack noticed. “We’ll need to get into Inverno’s labs, am I right?”
“Correct,” Nico said.
“And to do any good once we’re in, we need your friend’s codes,” the Doctor said. His smile disappeared, but he still looked gentle. “Let’s talk about her, shall we?”
“Is she alright?” That was Salvha, looking up from the jacket for the first time since Jack had returned to the library. Fahrar put her book aside, listening almost as intently as Salvha.
“No. I’m going to try to save her, but you should all know that might not be possible. From what Rose, here, tells me, she was injected with huge amounts of lamia. Inverno may well have hit her with the silk in other ways, in order to force her neural pathways to accept the other girl’s psyche recording.
“I don’t think any of you will be surprised when I say that the damage I saw on the readouts when we put her into the medipod is severe. I’m going back to the lab to try to program some repairs, but—”
“Is she going to die?” Salvha was doing the calm-demeanor-mad-eyes thing that had unnerved Jack back at the safe house. You know she’s not your wife anymore, don’t you? Jack didn’t say it aloud, because he knew the answer; it was the reason Jack was very kind to children about Gray’s age. Stop, don’t think about that.
“The Doctor will do everything he can,” he told the little man. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything more.
“But she could die,” Nico said, looking at the Doctor as he spoke. “That is what I’m hearing, yes?”
The Doctor nodded.
Nico sighed. Jack saw the weary grief in his eyes, knew the rebel leader had seen too much death already. Then he continued. “And — I do not mean to sound cold, but I must — we need to get the codes from her. If there is any possibility of doing so ....”
“Glad to hear you’ve got such sympathy for the girl,” the Doctor said, glowering. Jack winced.
“Do not presume, Doctor,” Nico snapped. The Doctor blinked. Nico continued. “If I do not sound sufficiently sympathetic, it’s because I don’t have the time to mourn everyone that silk has killed. It has killed, and ruined, and become a nightmare that I want to stop. That is what I’ll try to do, with your help, if you are quite done sounding self righteous.
“Incidentally,” he said. “One of the lives it has ruined is my father’s.” He stood silent and Hilda reached for his hand. He took it; Jack saw how tightly he held it, how Hilda put up with the painful grasp. Then he spoke again. “I will never be able to say goodbye to my father. What I saw with Inverno was … a shadow of who — of what — he once was. He was never a good man, but there was a time when he was, perhaps, open to salvation. He is no longer. And I cannot spare him any time, either. So you can help me, or you can lecture me.”
Jack held his breath. He caught Jao’s eye, but the old soldier just shrugged. He knew his leader wouldn’t give an inch. Hilda eyed her lover and did not let go of his hand. Jack risked a look at the Doctor. Would the Oncoming Storm break?
To his relieved surprise, the Doctor grimaced. “I deserved that. Sorry.”
“You did,” Nico agreed. “Apology accepted. And now, can you tell me if Sera Meireilles will be able to pass on her codes?”
“You might want to speak to her now. I can wake her for a little bit, but after that, I’m going to program some neural pathway repair into the pod’s reconstructive program. That means a deeper controlled coma than what I put her in when I was simply trying to physically improve her, and she won’t be accessible for awhile. I should know within an hour whether the reprogramming will help her,” the Time Lord said. “Neural repairs aren’t normally dangerous, but at the level she might need … well, they’re iffy. “If you need those codes — if we need those codes — now is the time to speak with her. I can give you 10 minutes.”
Salvha almost shot out of his seat. “I’ll talk to her.” As everyone stared at him, he frowned, and repeated himself. "I’ll talk to her. I’ll get the codes.
"I want to be there for her,” he said, in a lower voice. “Let me do it, Nico.”
“I’ll go with him, Nico.” Hilda got up and reached over to touch Salvha’s shoulder, looking past him at Nico. “You don’t need to.”
“Nonsense; of course I’m coming.” Nico had stepped out of his momentary vulnerability, and was as controlled and brusque as Jack had ever seen him.
“I’ll go, too,” Rose said.
“Seems like everyone wants in on the action,” the Doctor said. He wasn’t smirking, or irritated, Jack saw. “Good thing there’s room for all of you.”
“Not me,” Jao said. “Don’t need me.” He went back to his book, with an intensity that dared anyone to change his mind.
To Jack’s surprise, Fahrar refused to come. He knew she’d felt some sort of responsibility for Meireilles, and he thought she would want to come to the lab. “No. I’m not needed there. You get what you can from Meireilles, but I … am satisfied that the Doctor will care for her.”
Well not everyone deals with things the same way. Jack remembered people who wouldn’t step inside a hospital, even to see their dying kin, and chalked her response up to something similar.
Everyone else followed the Doctor to the medlab. Once inside, they clustered together, watching him from a slight distance as he stood over Filomena’s pod, long fingers dancing over the control panel as he opened the cover and temporarily brought her out of the pod-induced coma. But when he turned around to beckon them over, Jack saw deep concern in the Doctor’s blue eyes.
“She’s gonna be fragile. Don’t talk to her all at once; that’s a stressor. Choose one of you to ask her for the information, someone who can speak calmly, slowly, and clearly,” he said, one eye on the readouts, the other on the supine figure inside the pod. “And don’t take too long; she’s got to go back under as quickly as we can manage it.”
“Doctor?” Rose spoke softly, putting her hand on his arm. “Should we wake her at all?”
“We need to.” Nico was all business, but he, too, kept his voice low. “You said 10 minutes.
” The Doctor shrugged. “I looked at the readouts. I was wrong. You’ve got five, tops.”
“It probably won’t take that long, frankly,” Nico allowed. “Can I suggest that Sera Tyler be the one to speak with her? She has spent the most time with her.”
“Nico —” Salvha stopped himself from saying anything more, but Rose seemed to understand. She held out a hand, and gestured wordlessly to the little man as she moved closer to the pod. He nodded to her, and took the two or three steps necessary to reach her side.
For a moment, as Rose looked down on Filomena, a look of terror flashed across her face. Jack wondered if the girl had died. Before he could ask anything, he saw Filomena’s chest heave. He could almost feel Rose’s tension recede as the little soldier’s eyes fluttered open.
“Rose?” She struggled to rise.
Rose was leaning over the pod in an instant. “I’m here, shush, don’t try to get up. Stay down. The Doctor’s taking care of you.”
“I feel so much better!” Filomena insisted. “This is amazing! My head doesn’t hurt, Rose!” She tried again to sit up; this time Rose let her.
Jack looked at the Doctor who saw him doing it. He was out of Filomena’s immediate sight, so he looked at Jack and shook his head. The others caught that. Jack saw Rose risk a side glance at the Time Lord. Her face shifted slightly, just enough that Jack knew she understood. I’m sorry, love .
“That’s great, yeah?” she said brightly. “But the Doctor says you need to rest for a … a few more hours — no, really, he knows what he’s doing —” as Filomena started to object. “So don’t worry. It’s good that you’re feeling better; I’m so glad, Filomena! Just a little longer …” She stopped, took a breath. “We weren’t even going to wake you, but … well, we need the codes.”
“Why d’you need them now?” The woman was obviously suspicious.
“Ehrm ...” Rose trailed off.
“You’re not going without me!” Jack could see how panicky the possibility made Filomena. “You promised me!”
“You’ll be in on the final assault,” Nico said, coming up behind Rose and Salvha. “You have my word.”
You could have been a conman. Jack felt a certain amount of admiration. Thanks for saving Rose from having to lie.
“You’ll make sure?” Filomena wasn’t looking at either Rose or Nico. She was looking at Salvha, who turned briefly to Nico, then back to the girl in the pod.
“Yeah.” He said nothing more, but Filomena appeared to be satisfied. Why question whatever weird bond had formed between the two of them, when it was working to the group’s advantage, Jack thought.
“Alright. I memorized the codes, just like I was told to. If you’ve got a read-write, I’ll give them to you now.”
Jack noted that Filomena was sweating, and he detected a tremor in the hand she reached out for read-write that the Doctor handed her. She kept talking as she wrote the codes down. “These are for the freezers where some of the eggs are. You can take them out quickly; I don’t think they’re as important as these ones, here, for his two stasis chambers—”
“He has stasis chambers?” Hilda sounded incredulous, and Jack wasn’t surprised. Stasis technology was part of First Empire science, but it was definitely inner core stuff, not something you’d expect to find on an outer colony planet. Nothing but the best for your top drawer drug trade.
“Only two,” Filomena said, before coughing weakly. “They’re really small, only big enough to hold the silkworm trays.”
“How many trays?” Hilda hunched her shoulders against the Doctor’s glare.
Filomena shifted her gaze to Hilda, but apparently didn’t recognize her, and turned back. “Rose?”
“No, that’s a good question,” Rose said. “Do you know, Filomena?”
“Don’t know fr’sher … for sure,” The other woman said, starting to slur her words. “Think I heard Inverno tell one of the lab techs once. Think he said 120 trays to each chamber.”
So few? Jack thought. This entire silk industry is dependent on 240 trays of psychoactive caterpillars?
“So many?” Hilda looked shocked. “We only have 150 trays’ worth of worms. Our intel was that he’d killed off most of what he forced the producers to bring him, to keep them under his thumb even more.”
Jack thought fast. “Do you have anything that can kill worms, anything that looks like a disease?”
“Yes, of course, there’s a fungus that does the job quickly. But we don’t want—”
“Then you and the Doctor can grow that fungus here in one of our labs. Introduce that to all the trays in one chamber; use the worms you have to replace all the trays in the other chamber. My bet is that they’ll work so hard trying to figure out how the fungus got past them in the first place that they won’t do anything more than be thankful the second chamber of trays wasn’t affected.”
“Good, Captain.” Jack resisted preening when he heard the admiration in the Doctor’s voice.
Filomena began to cough again, effectively stopping the conversation.
“That’s it,” the Doctor said. “I’m putting her back under.”
Filomena, wiping her mouth on a handkerchief that Salvha had given her, turned to look at the Time Lord. “You’re the Doctor. Thank you for saving me.” She looked uncomfortably close to worshipful.
The Doctor sighed. “Not yet. Don’t thank me until I’ve fixed what they did to your head.” Then, more gently: “I’ll do everything I can.”
Filomena put one hand to her head, touching it as gingerly as one might touch a live cobra. Her eyes, which had been clear, slid into vacancy as Jack watched. “I … I’m sorry, what was I saying?”
Rose looked away quickly, wiping her eyes surreptitiously.
“Hang on,” Salvha said. As Rose had done, he leaned over the pod. “Hang on. Please.”
Filomena let him take the hand she’d just put to her head. “I’m not her. You know that.”
“Yeah. But hold on. For her.”
“For myself.” Jack heard in her voice a bit of what Rose had told him was Filomena’s backbone, a bit of the military discipline he’d seen in the fight and flight from Central Command. Just a glimpse, though. She was actively shivering now, and her complexion, which had been ruddy with apparent health moments before, was now ashen. Her lips were almost as pale as the rest of her face.
Salvha looked like he wanted to frown, but only for a moment. “For yourself, yeah. But for her, too. So you can both get back at Inverno.” He said it with that gentle and completely frightening tone of his.
Filomena laughed and Jack, only slightly surprised, thought that the two Lizhbauans were more alike than others might recognize. “OK, deal …” Abruptly, her face went blank, only to reshape into a grimace. She panted, then said, “Sera Lumina, my head’s hurting again —”
“Lie down,” Salvha told her. “Let this ... this Doctor … let him do what he needs to do.” He let go of her hand, giving it a quick kiss.
Filomena weakly flapped the hand at him. “You’re a fool,” she said, in between pants.
“I am,” he said, gruff. “But lie down.”
“Listen to your friend,” the Doctor said, even as he more or less politely shoved Salvha behind him, and nudged Rose away from the pod.
Before he could say anything else, just as he started to help Filomena back into a prone position, she started to cough, a painful choking that too quickly evolved into a convulsion. The Doctor cursed — at least Jack thought it was a curse. It was in some language the TARDIS didn’t translate — and thrust his hand into the woman’s mouth, to grab for her tongue. Rose lunged forward, and Salvha was shouldered yet further from the action as she held Filomena’s head steady.
“Hold her up — don’t let her chew her tongue —” The Doctor handed Filomena off to Rose, and dashed to a wall control.
“What’s happening?” Nico started forward, but Hilda held him back.
“She’s dyin’, is what’s happening,” the Doctor barked, not taking his eyes off the wall panel as his fingers dashed across it.
“No.” Salvha whispered it, stood stock-still.
The Doctor muttered something, again in that language the TARDIS declined to translate, then ran back to the pod, this time keying in more changes on its control panel. “It’s not workin’”, he said. “We have to get the pod closed, or —”
He got no chance to say anything more. Filomena, eyes open, seeing nothing, arched up, her back grotesquely curved, her head dangling as Rose lost her grip. One more convulsion, and her head snapped up. For a split second, those eyes were alive. She looked at Rose; Jack thought she was trying to say something.
She fell back, dead. The slack thud as her torso hit the pod seemed very loud.
“No.” Rose’s denial was a lament. She pulled Filomena’s body up, cradled the woman’s head to her breast and cried. “Sorry, sorry ... I’m so sorry….”
The others watched her mourn, unsure of what to do next. Salvha backed away from the pod, finding his way blindly to his two resistance comrades. Hilda put her arm around him, but said nothing. Even the Doctor was motionless.
Jack felt the TARDIS in his head, a grief that wasn’t human, and his eyes filled with tears. He struggled to fight off his hopeless frustration. Everything since they’d come to this planet had gone wrong; every plan had skewed; every move had resulted in violence and loss, from the frightened victim of the Maldads at the bar, to the little soldier the Doctor couldn’t save.
But he shook it off. If there was anything the Doctor and Rose had taught him, deliberately or coincidentally, it was that you didn’t give up. Hell, man, you’ve known it since the morning you woke up without your memories and kept going anyway.
As he calmed himself, Rose did the same, and carefully laid Filomena down in the pod, then turned to Nico and Hilda. “Did she have any family? She talked about an aunt, a father. Her mum was in the resistance, but I think she’s dead ... dead, too ....”
“I don’t know. Jao might,” Hilda said.
Rose nodded sharply, several times, looking around the medlab and wiping tears off her cheeks as if they were personally affronting her. She avoided looking at the Doctor. “Good. “After we’ve taken down these bastards, we’ll find them.”
The Doctor, hearing the same danger in her voice that Jack did, looked up from the floor. “Rose …”
Now she looked at him. Jack thought the Gallifreyan should be very careful about his next words. “No, Doctor. This has to end. You … you just want to sneak into the lab and switch off trays of insects? Then what? You wait until they do something magic, take away the danger in what they spin? How long’s that gonna take, eh?”
Rose’s voice rose only slightly, but it grew very sharp, and she advanced on the Doctor. “No. How many are gonna die while this takes hold? And didn’t you tell me this would throw this entire planet into chaos?
“Wouldn’t a real palace revolution, puttin’ someone decent in charge, and then killin’ off the damned worms, replacin’ them with these new magic ones, be better? I mean, I don’t think much of kings and governors and such, but if you have them, wouldn’t it be better to get a good governor, someone who’ll do something once and for all? Go to war with the silk? Wouldn’t that be more honest?”
“Everyone’s been hidin’ in the shadows and doin’ things a bit at a time, blowin’ this or that up, or printin’ stupid pamphlets, or whatever it is they thought would change things on this planet, because they thought their precious Emperor would rather it be done quietly.”
Now she was raging, and she turned that rage on Hilda and Nico. “It’s not gonna work fast enough. You, Nico — you saw your father. He’s dyin’. You saw that. He’ll be dead in weeks, if not days, because of the silk. Then that madman with him will have control — because there’s no one that the Emperor can name governor in his place, since you’re officially a rebel, yeah? Sure, he’ll name someone, but it’ll take time without a proper heir, am I right? And by the time he does, Inverno will have everything under control again. You won’t be able to get at the silk, not like you can now. This is your one chance.
“If you’re a rebel, act like a rebel. Bring this down! Save someone’s life today! Not next year, not next week, not when your damned insects are bloody butterflies — now!”
She scrubbed at her face again, unable to stop crying as she spoke. “Go, do what you have to. Talk to that commandant in the library. Make her help you. I’m … I’m going to lie down. Call me when you decide whatever the hell you want to do. This place is sick, and my heart is broken.”
She stalked past everyone, out of the medlab.
The Doctor, his face as white as Filomena’s had been, looked once to the door, and then back at the Lizhbauans. “She has a point. Think about it.” He was out the door like a shot, following Rose.
Nico looked as unnerved as Jack had ever seen him, surpassing the shock when he’d seen his own father. He swallowed, put a hand to the wall of the medlab. “I —”
“She’s right.” Salvha walked out of the lab.
“Adao’s not thinking straight,” Nico started talking quickly, looking to Hilda for support. “And this Tyler woman knows nothing of what we’re … we can’t —”
“Sometimes you need new eyes to look at old problems,” Jack said. “Hilda?”
He couldn’t decipher what he saw on the older woman’s face. It had set like stone during Rose’s harangue. As she opened her mouth to speak, he wasn’t certain who she’d side with.
“I think we need a palace revolution. Nico, this has all happened for a reason. Sera Lumina —”
“Not you, Hilda, don’t you start with the spiritual nonsense,” Nico made as if to continue, but Hilda held up a hand. “Do not interrupt me.”
Right, that’s the second dangerous woman heard from. Jack held his breath yet again.
“You call this nonsense?” she continued. “When we are inside something that cannot be explained? When these people have come to us just as our plans were set to fail or — maybe — succeed? If not Sera Lumina, then the universe trying to cant back to the side of justice. Call it what you want to, Nico.”
She stopped and sighed. “It has been too long. I side with Rose Tyler.”
“I —” This time, Nico stopped himself. “It would be too difficult.” But something in his face had changed.
Jack, remembering Nico’s and Jao’s discomfort at the thought of taking Bohlver out, said, very mildly, “Your father is dying. You will not have to kill him. As for the Emperor … well, I’ve always said it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
“If we’re going to make this work at all, it needs to be total and complete change. You’ve been thinking strategically, good for you. But it’s time to change tactics to reach your strategic goal.”
“I —” Once again, Nico stopped. He bowed his head; Jack didn’t know whether it was in defeat, prayer, or submission to a higher power.
“We’re caught, aren’t we, love?” He reached his hand out to Hilda. “ I thought we could avoid — well, obviously there would be blood and sorrow, but I thought perhaps I could keep it to a minimum … I thought — never mind. I appear to have been wrong about a lot of things.”
Nico Machado straightened his back. “Then let us make some final preparations and do as Sera Tyler suggested. Be honest, even if it kills us.”
Behind them, the cover of the medlab pod whispered as shut as any coffin cover over Filomena Meireilles.
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