The Doctor and his small entourage stepped out of the sealed basement stair into a narrow, mazelike landscape of sticky, faintly incandescent blue glop that seemed to seep from the walls like some sort of natural glue.
“Huh,” he murmured, popping out his glasses and sliding them onto the bridge of his nose. With one finger he swiped some from a liberally coated railing, then pressed it to his tongue after a thorough sniff.
“Ahah. Chock full of reproductive hormones. And I should know... ”
He gave a wide, self-indicating gesture for effect. But then a shiver took him and he bent double, panting and holding himself and trembling with intense cold for about a minute before the odd spell ended and he straightened to full height again.
“Oi! That was different, bit of an electrolyte drain.”
Martha and Jack were staring at him, their faces paling at that last word.
“Oh, I’m fine. Nothing I can’t handle. I really shouldn’t do that again, though. Anyway, it... well, it’s definitely some sort of infant, vaguely reptilian, I’m guessing... and newly-hatched or hatching, judging by the effect its fluid had on my physiology. Anyway, let’s go further in. I need to gauge its level of psychic activity so we can know whether it wants us to play or just sit tight and pretend we’re lunch.”
He took another few steps into the hallway, stiffened, then made a calculated half turn, purposefully drawing Lao-Tsen’s steady gaze from the corner of a dark blue eye.
“Tell me, Martha... was Private Rin here a recent transfer?”
But Martha had no time to answer, because Rin Lao-Tsen was already moving toward him, blocking his path back to the stair.
“Do not delay the inevitable, Sword Dancer. I will make everything clear. And, you need not tax yourself in telepathic translation, for as all have seen, I am quite at ease speaking any sort of Earthian.”
He turned to Martha and Jack, who were poised, attentive, their muscles readying to fling them in front of The Doctor at any moment should he suffer distress.
“You see, he has suspected my nature from the moment we met.”
His body shimmered, becoming insubstantial for the tiniest of moments before it solidified once more, having morphed into the lithe, slight form of a silver-white lizard. His deep eyes, though blue like the Doctor’s, were dark cabochons of goldstone set on either side of his slender head, his tiny, semi soft white scales smooth and tapered against his sinuous shape. His hands were narrow and articulate, bearing six elegant, elongate digits instead of the average, stubby human five. But then, he was never human to begin with.
“Listen.” the Time Lord said softly, rubbing his stomach with one hand and gesturing rather unsuccessfully toward the reptiliform with the other.
Then he stuffed his free hand into his pocket and sighed.
“I’m sure you have your reasons, but you really shouldn’t be here. I can order you to leave under the authority of the Shadow Proclamation, or I can... I can... I... oh not now!”
He closed his eyes and sagged, but before he could slump to the floor the reptilian had crossed to him, wrapping wiry limbs about his waist and taking great care not to do that area injury.
“I am not here to do harm to you or any of your precious humans, Sword Dancer. I am here only for the Child that was lost.”
It smiled down at him, a large, slender grin full of shining white points and a black tongue that flickered like onyx.
“You must rest now.”
“Theta!” Jack snarled, lunging forward.
He’d latched on to the nickname like a lifeline, anything that would bring him closer to the alien. If he lost the Time Lord now, with their children on the way...
“Calm down, Jack,” the Doctor whispered, opening one smoke-blue eye and grinning, “... I was gauging his reaction, seeing what he’d do.”
His face lifted to the reptilian.
“I am sorry, Lao-Tsen. But I had to be certain of your intentions without invading your mind.”
Lao-Tsen said nothing, but continued to lift him to his feet.
Martha never flicked an eyelash. She was glaring at him.
“And if you’d been wrong?” she breathed, arching an eyebrow at him, “... that was dangerous, even for you. As your doctor, Doctor, I advise against any and all future acts of heroism until you’ve delivered these babies. You hear me, Mister?”
She rushed to him and pulled him into a hug as an excuse to check his vitals, even slipping a hand under his turtleneck to palpate the bump.
“This may be my last day with UNIT, but until then, you be more careful. And that’s an order!”
He straightened and stretched, then tossed her a wounded puppy glare as false as she had ever seen.
“You know, Martha... an eyebrow can mean a thousand words. Ha! But really... ”
His eyes drifted off into nothingness again, and he turned away. “... at the rate this day is unfolding, we may not have long to wait. Course I for one have no intention of giving birth five months early. The children, however, may yet have other plans.”
With that, his fingers began to unbutton Jack’s coat. He tossed it back to the man, who caught it easily. His body was still so very lean, despite the bulge of the twins beneath his dark grey turtleneck. His long, pale ginger hair was so straight, so soft...
Suddenly Jack could hear the man’s voice in his head, a clear admonishment that cut through his sexually inclined thought processes like a hot knife through transition metal.
“Jack! Stop slobbering over me. We’ve got a baby to find!”
The irritation in the Time Lord’s mental voice was almost unbearable, and Jack found himself wishing he could kiss the man.
“Captain Jack Harkness, you naughty boy! We mustn’t let on to the Posse. Now loosen up, right now, or I’ll give you a headache.”
He opened his eyes. The Time Lord was standing right in front of him, staring through to his bones with every ounce of black malice he could muster. But there was a secret smile on his face, a smile that screamed ‘maybe later’, so Jack felt inclined to snap out of his reverie and rejoin the search party. Was that a snicker he heard from Martha’s direction?
Satisfied that Jack had heard him, the Doctor caught up again with Lao-Tsen and said, “Lao-Tsen. Do you think you can lead us to it? Because I’m having a bit of trouble locating it psychically, and that in itself indicates that the egg is giving off some sort of dampening field. Do they normally do that?”
The reptilian nodded, indicating the constant and thickening presence of the blue glop as they walked together.
“The fluid acts as a conductor for energy and fuels the egg’s travel through space. Also, due to the functions of the fluid, the unborn within the egg gains a sense of the world upon which it has landed. I am sorry your comrades were appropriated for study... ”
He looked down at the Doctor’s feet, which were bare of shoes.
"You may wish to be carried from this point forward, as the conductive fluid has collected on the flooring in this area. I would not wish for you to become ill from the electrolytic drain you experienced earlier.”
A soft thud echoed behind them, and both aliens looked up in surprise as Major Kusanagi dropped down from a grate onto the floor, clad in blue fatigues and black combats.
“I thought you might need an extra pair of hands, so I’m volunteering. Doctor?”
She held out her hand.
The Time Lord blinked, then smiled, then held out a hand to take hers. They shook, held each other’s shoulders.
“Brilliant! Of course, Major. You can carry me across the threshold. Though, I am so very sorry I didn’t find the proper shoes before I left the TARDIS. I was in a hurry... ”
Major Motoko Kusanagi only smiled back as she picked him up effortlessly.
“It pays to have a custom cybernetic body, Doctor. No need to thank me. It’s an honour to serve with you again, especially on a mission meant to prevent bloodshed.”
Lao-Tsen hissed and hung his head suddenly.
“I thought I was... forgive me, Sword Dancer.”
“Oh, don’t be that way, Lao-Tsen! You’re doing something very important. You’re serving as our guide! So lead the way. Remember what you’re here for. Where’s that egg of yours, eh?”the Doctor quipped merrily from his perch in the Major’s arms.
“And Motoko-kun! By the by, how’s that, er, virtual tactile modification program I cooked up working for you? Are we practicing our origami?”
She chuckled at his enthusiasm, then whispered something in his ear, at which he smiled and added gently, “Good to hear it. Sorry about that activist friend of yours. He was a man apart. Wish I could have stopped that. A nasty business. Could you retool your left arm’s integrated tension compression mechanism a bit? I feel a dreadful backache coming on... ”
She made a minute adjustment in the artificial tension bundles of the pseudo metal limb in order to lower it, easing the strain on his back.
“I apologize. Better?” She asked, one violet brow arching a little.
“Quite! Thank you, love. Now where were we?”
He scratched his head, playing with a long strand of pale ginger up close to his face as though he expected it to come alive and kiss him.
“Oh yes! Tally ho! Into the deeps with us. Lao-Tsen, onward we go to rescue the erstwhile offspring, eh?”
After taking a good sniff of the surrounding air, the reptilian slowed his steps to match the Major’s, and he met the woman’s eyes with gravity.
“Sword Dancer,” he said, speaking quickly in Mandarin, “... the egg lies this way.”
Then Lao-Tsen jerked a sharp, narrow finger toward a hallway leading left. The Major looked down at The Doctor, and at his nod she followed Lao-Tsen down the lightless corridor, with nary a glance at the other two. The Time Lord was concentrating on something, so hard he had barely registered her gaze. At least it -had- registered. She frowned inwardly. The other two, Doctor Jones and Captain Harkness, were slowly but surely being left behind. Surely The Doctor had noticed this and thought better of saying anything. But then his head whipped around and he grinned up at her as if he’d known what she was thinking before calling after them. He didn’t normally peek at other’s thoughts...she remembered that, so why was he doing it now? Their footsteps became clearer in the thickened glop before she had a chance to ask, and so she didn’t, being careful to keep her mind closed to his sudden penchant for lurking.
“Is he all right?” Doctor Jones called out, running up to meet them.
Jack Harkness, however, stayed slightly behind, as though he already knew what trouble looked like, and was eager for a piece when the moment arrived.
A good soldier, the Major thought smugly.
“Sorry Major, but there is a very good reason for my piggybacking your secure neural uplink. You’ll thank me later,” came the Doctor’s reply, a small, quick pulse of mental presence from within her uplink.
It sounded thin and strained. He always did have trouble with the cyber brain’s intricate neural mesh, something about EMP. She would have to let down her barriers for him, then. How sly of him. Once she did this, his psycho-organic imprint seemed much stronger, almost energetic. Daren’t she say, relieved?
“Yes. Relief is a most appropriate term for it, Major.”
Suddenly his thoughts were there inside hers, drifting along her own neural pathways as though they were both jacked into the Net.
“Feeling better now that I’ve lowered my barriers?”
“Yes, Major, thank you. EMPs can cause my Gallifreyan physiology a lot of grief, even kill me, especially in my fragile condition. If it hadn’t been necessary, it would have been kind of you. Now, for my hypothesis as to the cause of all this...”
Jack watched this conversation intently, taking care to keep Martha and himself a good distance away, so as not to be noticed. There was a lot of nodding on the Major’s part, probably for the benefit of the human tagalongs. The reptilian alien Lao-Tsen, on the other hand, seemed to take no interest in it, choosing instead to hover far in front like the anxious guide he claimed to be.
“Do you think he’s really okay?” Martha said, picking her way to him across a drippy tendril of blue glop, “... he doesn’t look good. I think his iron levels might be low, or at least the equivalents thereof. I don’t like it.”
Swallowing a lump, the Time Agent stuffed both hands in his pockets, searching for evidence of the Doctor’s early morning jam fetish. Oh no. His brain refused to contemplate the truth.
“Oh no, Theta, no, no, no, no, no! Damn it!” he yelled, grabbing her hand and dragging her after the Major, who had broken stride and was now keeping pace with the nervesome Lao-Tsen, her artificial footsteps barely sounding despite the added burden of The Doctor’s weight as all three fell out of sight around a corner.
Martha was running too, at last, and as they reached that corner, they skidded around the wall, scrabbling in the blue glop as they struggled to gain their feet, just in time to hear the hum of The Doctor’s sonic at the blast door controls, followed by a barely audible apology. He was shutting them out. Why?
Martha touched the old, thick door and wheeled on Jack.
“What’s he thinking? If something happens, he could go into premature labor down there, and it might take hours to get to him using the vents! Wait... ”
Her dark irises dilated suddenly, and she spun toward the way they’d come.
“Captain Harkness... what was that sound? It sounded muffled, like someone trying to speak through a gag.”
He moved in front of her, casting senses honed from centuries of soldiering in the direction of the noise.
“Stay behind me, Doctor Jones. I think we’re in for some company.”
“So what are we waiting for? Let’s go see what’s goin’ on! We may have found the missing UNIT members!” she said, smiling at him as they made their first careful steps down the corridor toward, what they hoped was the source of the sound.