xxxiii. forest of the dead (part 02)
THE GROUP RUN THROUGH a high level walkway to another library skyscraper, and it’s getting closer to pitch black by the second. Violet has always been afraid of the dark ever since she was a little girl, but even more so since she returned home from centuries of travel in time and space. Her right hand, still encased in a light purple cast, comes to rest atop her left wrist where her Vortex Manipulator from the Time Agency remains, under her long sleeves and away from prying eyes.
The Doctor slows to a stop and turns so he is facing the direction that they all came from. “Professor, go ahead. Find a safe spot.”
“It’s a carnivorous swarm in a suit,” River stresses, the desperation clear in her voice. “You can’t reason with it.”
“Other Dave, Violet, stay with him. Pull him out when he’s too stupid to live. Two minutes, Doctor.”
River briefly kisses her first wife on the cheek before running off with Anita and Lux, leaving Other Dave and Violet with the Doctor.
Zombie Proper Dave barges through the doors. “Hey, who turned out the lights?”
“You hear that? Those words? That is the very last thought of the man who wore that suit before you climbed inside and stripped his flesh. That’s a man’s soul trapped inside a neural relay, going round and round forever,” the Doctor almost growls, utterly fed up with the shadows. “Now, if you don’t have the decency to let him go, how about this? Use him. Talk to me. It’s easy. Neural relay. Just point and think. Use him, talk to me.”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?”
“The Vashta Nerada live on all the worlds in this system, but you hunt in forests. What are you doing in a library?”
“We should go,” Other Dave decides. “Doctor!”
“In a minute. You came to the library to hunt. Why? Just tell me why?”
“We did not,” the Vashta Nerada says with Proper Dave’s voice, the voice jumpy and fumbled.
“Oh, hello,” the Doctor says with a delighted look on his face.
“We did not.”
“Take it easy, you’ll get the hang of it. Did not what?”
“We did not come here.”
“Well, of course you did. Of course you came here.”
“We come from here.”
“From here?” Violet whispers, her fear getting the better of her. “What do you mean by that?”
“We hatched here,” the shadows reply.
“But you hatch from trees,” the Doctor says in confusion, trying to understand. “From spores in trees.”
“These are our forests.”
“You’re nowhere near a forest. Look around you.”
“These are our forests.”
“You’re not in a forest, you’re in a library. There are no trees in a-” The penny drops. “-library.”
“We should go,” Other Dave repeats. “Doctor!”
“Books. You came in the books,” Violet says, almost breathless. “Microspores in a million, million books.”
“We should go. Doctor!”
“Oh, look at that,” the Doctor marvels. “The forests of the Vashta Nerada, pulped and printed and bound. A million, million books, hatching shadows.”
“We should go. Doctor!”
“Oh, Dave! Oh Dave, I’m so sorry.”
Violet hesitantly turns to face their companion, only to see that Other Dave is also a skeleton now. Proper Dave’s shadows revert back to their usual “Hey, who turned out the lights?” while the ones with Other Dave continue with their “We should go. Doctor!” However, neither the Doctor nor Violet move, one too terrified, frozen in fear, and the other still talking.
The Doctor opens a trapdoor with his sonic screwdriver and both Time Lords drop. They hang onto a support strut and inches their way along, screwdriver clenched between the Doctor’s teeth, and Violet struggling with really only one arm to work with. By the time they rejoin the group night has fallen. River and her remaining team are in another round room. She is checking the shadows with her screwdriver.
“You know, it’s funny,” the blonde muses. “I keep wishing the Doctor was here.”
“The Doctor is here, isn’t he?” Anita asks, thoroughly confused. “He is coming back, right?”
“You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them. and it’s like they’re not quite finished. They’re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctor’s here. He came when I called, just like he always does, but not my Doctor. Now my Doctor, I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away, and he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop, everywhere.”
“Spoilers,” the Doctor mimics, startling them all. “Nobody can open a TARDIS by snapping their fingers. It doesn’t work like that.”
“It does for me,” Violet says softly just as River replies, “It does for the Doctor.”
“I am the Doctor.”
“Yeah,” the blonde archaeologist replies. “Some day.”
“How are you doing?”
“Where’s Other Dave?”
“Not coming. Sorry.”
“Well, if they’ve taken him, why haven’t they gotten me yet?”
“I don’t know. Maybe tinting your visor’s making a difference.”
Anita has two shadows. “It’s making a difference all right. No one’s ever going to see my face again.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“An old age would be nice. Anything you can do?”
“I’m all over it.”
“Doctor. When we first met you, you didn’t trust Professor Song. And then she whispered a word in your ear, and you did. My life so far. I could do with a word like that. What did she say? Give a dead girl a break. Your secrets are safe with me.”
“Safe,” the Doctor says, springing up like he’s been electrocuted.
“What?” Anita asks, more confused now.
Violet grins at River. “Fuck we’re stupid, Riv. How didn’t we see it?!”
“Safe. You don’t say saved. Nobody says saved. You say safe,” the Doctor declares. “The data fragment! What did it say?”
“Four thousand and twenty two people saved,” Lux repeats, just as confused as Anita. “No survivors.”
“Doctor?” River asks. “Vi?”
“Nobody says saved. Nutters say saved,” the Doctor rambles. “You say safe. You see, it didn’t mean safe. It meant, it literally meant, saved!”