๐“๐‡๐„ ๐Œ๐€๐ ๐–๐‡๐Ž ๐‘๐„๐†๐‘๐„๐“๐’ โ—ฆ แตˆแต’แถœแต—แต’สณ สทสฐแต’ [ยน] โœ“

xxxiii. forest of the dead (part 02)

๐ฏ๐ข๐จ๐ฅ๐ž๐ญ ๐ฃ๐จ๐ง๐ž๐ฌ

THE GROUP RUN THROUGH a high level walkway to another library skyscraper, and itโ€™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. โ€œProfessor, go ahead. Find a safe spot.โ€

โ€œItโ€™s a carnivorous swarm in a suit,โ€ River stresses, the desperation clear in her voice. โ€œYou canโ€™t reason with it.โ€

โ€œFive minutes.โ€

โ€œOther Dave, Violet, stay with him. Pull him out when heโ€™s too stupid to live. Two minutes, Doctor.โ€

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. โ€œHey, who turned out the lights?โ€

โ€œYou 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. Thatโ€™s a manโ€™s soul trapped inside a neural relay, going round and round forever,โ€ the Doctor almost growls, utterly fed up with the shadows. โ€œNow, if you donโ€™t have the decency to let him go, how about this? Use him. Talk to me. Itโ€™s easy. Neural relay. Just point and think. Use him, talk to me.โ€

โ€œHey, who turned out the lights?โ€

โ€œThe Vashta Nerada live on all the worlds in this system, but you hunt in forests. What are you doing in a library?โ€

โ€œWe should go,โ€ Other Dave decides. โ€œDoctor!โ€

โ€œIn a minute. You came to the library to hunt. Why? Just tell me why?โ€

โ€œWe did not,โ€ the Vashta Nerada says with Proper Daveโ€™s voice, the voice jumpy and fumbled.

โ€œOh, hello,โ€ the Doctor says with a delighted look on his face.

โ€œWe did not.โ€

โ€œTake it easy, youโ€™ll get the hang of it. Did not what?โ€

โ€œWe did not come here.โ€

โ€œWell, of course you did. Of course you came here.โ€

โ€œWe come from here.โ€

โ€œFrom here?โ€ Violet whispers, her fear getting the better of her. โ€œWhat do you mean by that?โ€

โ€œWe hatched here,โ€ the shadows reply.

โ€œBut you hatch from trees,โ€ the Doctor says in confusion, trying to understand. โ€œFrom spores in trees.โ€

โ€œThese are our forests.โ€

โ€œYouโ€™re nowhere near a forest. Look around you.โ€

โ€œThese are our forests.โ€

โ€œYouโ€™re not in a forest, youโ€™re in a library. There are no trees in a-โ€ The penny drops. โ€œ-library.โ€

โ€œWe should go,โ€ Other Dave repeats. โ€œDoctor!โ€

โ€œBooks. You came in the books,โ€ Violet says, almost breathless. โ€œMicrospores in a million, million books.โ€

โ€œWe should go. Doctor!โ€

โ€œOh, look at that,โ€ the Doctor marvels. โ€œThe forests of the Vashta Nerada, pulped and printed and bound. A million, million books, hatching shadows.โ€

โ€œWe should go. Doctor!โ€

โ€œOh, Dave! Oh Dave, Iโ€™m so sorry.โ€

Violet hesitantly turns to face their companion, only to see that Other Dave is also a skeleton now. Proper Daveโ€™s shadows revert back to their usual โ€œHey, who turned out the lights?โ€ while the ones with Other Dave continue with their โ€œWe should go. Doctor!โ€ 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 Doctorโ€™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.

โ€œYou know, itโ€™s funny,โ€ the blonde muses. โ€œI keep wishing the Doctor was here.โ€

โ€œThe Doctor is here, isnโ€™t he?โ€ Anita asks, thoroughly confused. โ€œHe is coming back, right?โ€

โ€œYou know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but itโ€™s from years before you knew them. and itโ€™s like theyโ€™re not quite finished. Theyโ€™re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctorโ€™s here. He came when I called, just like he always does, but not my Doctor. Now my Doctor, Iโ€™ve seen whole armies turn and run away, and heโ€™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.โ€

โ€œSpoilers,โ€ the Doctor mimics, startling them all. โ€œNobody can open a TARDIS by snapping their fingers. It doesnโ€™t work like that.โ€

โ€œIt does for me,โ€ Violet says softly just as River replies, โ€œIt does for the Doctor.โ€

โ€œI am the Doctor.โ€

โ€œYeah,โ€ the blonde archaeologist replies. โ€œSome day.โ€

โ€œHow are you doing?โ€

โ€œWhereโ€™s Other Dave?โ€

โ€œNot coming. Sorry.โ€

โ€œWell, if theyโ€™ve taken him, why havenโ€™t they gotten me yet?โ€

โ€œI donโ€™t know. Maybe tinting your visorโ€™s making a difference.โ€

Anita has two shadows. โ€œItโ€™s making a difference all right. No oneโ€™s ever going to see my face again.โ€

โ€œCan I get you anything?โ€

โ€œAn old age would be nice. Anything you can do?โ€

โ€œIโ€™m all over it.โ€

โ€œDoctor. When we first met you, you didnโ€™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.โ€

โ€œSafe,โ€ the Doctor says, springing up like heโ€™s been electrocuted.

โ€œWhat?โ€ Anita asks, more confused now.

Violet grins at River. โ€œFuck weโ€™re stupid, Riv. How didnโ€™t we see it?!โ€

โ€œSafe. You donโ€™t say saved. Nobody says saved. You say safe,โ€ the Doctor declares. โ€œThe data fragment! What did it say?โ€

โ€œFour thousand and twenty two people saved,โ€ Lux repeats, just as confused as Anita. โ€œNo survivors.โ€

โ€œDoctor?โ€ River asks. โ€œVi?โ€

โ€œNobody says saved. Nutters say saved,โ€ the Doctor rambles. โ€œYou say safe. You see, it didnโ€™t mean safe. It meant, it literally meant, saved!โ€

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