Behind the blast door, there was a sharp gasp, and then the sonic screwdriver clinked to a stop on the hard flooring. Major Kusanagi shot a ruby frown dark with concern at their reptiliform guide, who had heard the clatter and spun, his thin black tongue poised halfway between his teeth. The Doctor did not move, did not speak, not even through the uplink; instead, he merely closed his eyes and braced himself while concentration shone in the fine sheen of sweat now beading on his pale skin.
“These backaches... they wrack him at intervals,” Lao-Tsen said softly, with a clicking snap of his narrow jaw.
His body was nervous, hungry to move and full of flighty tension, yet he stayed fixed where he stood, wringing his hands as if he were the father of the Time Lord’s children and not the man called Harkness they’d left with Doctor Jones behind the blast door.
“It seems his time is nearing.”
“Oh. I, erm... I rather hoped no one would notice that,” the Doctor murmured, shifting himself slightly in the Major’s grasp before a long and fluttering sigh tore free of his chest.
“Was that man the father?” the Major asked, casting a kind look down at him as he writhed in silence against her pseudoflesh and metal bosom.
His nod quickly grew into a grimace, so she bent and lowered him to the floor, which thankfully was free of the salt sapping blue glop.
“Ugh. It wouldn’t be hurting like this if I were full term. Agh! Lovely. These children are coming whether they ought to or not. I might be able to quicken myself a little, but... I’m worried that this might be too early. I am 905 this year, you know... ”
He looked up at Lao-Tsen, who was hopping slowly from foot to foot, but saying nothing. Then he squinted up at the Major, who had knelt beside him and was holding his hand, holding him up.
“And, one of you will have to... help... help me get my trousers off. Oh this is going to be a nightmare! Neither of you are allowed to... tell the others, do you hear me? No one except Jack and Martha must know about this. The UNIT kiddies don’t count, but Mickey, loveable idiot that he is... he’ll never let me live it down. In any case,” he paused just long enough to suck in a breath, then continued on the rant, “... Major, Lao-Tsen? It’s time for me to push, so could one of you help me with these buttons? I can’t quite manage them.”
Soon the trousers were removed, along with a pair of teddy bear boxers he swore weren’t his, and as he pulled one smooth knee close to his chest and leaned on the Major’s sturdy biometal arm, the first of two watery birth plugs gushed from his body. Clear fluid flowed from his swollen opening, and slowly, as he strained against the cyborg’s unflinching grasp, a wet and tiny movement showed there.
“Oh, I can feel a hand! Oh Rassilon, it’s happening isn’t it? I’m going to be a father again!”
Every cell of his nethers seething with birth ache, he strained against Kusanagi’s reassuring presence and heaved, pushing his musculature beyond itself as he strove to expel the first of his still-growing twins. His stomach was slightly larger, due to his constant mental attention; for he had managed to feed his little boys enough of his own substance to catapult their growth another two months along, enough to ensure their viability should anything force his body to attempt delivery again. The pain and stress of it showed clearly on his face now, in the deep, muddy purple bruises that hung beneath his eyes like leeches, and most threateningly, in the yellow gray hue his skin had taken on. But even through this, he had kept a bright smile on his face for the two of them, as if they were the ones suffering through every violent spasm, every stealing of breath as pain lanced through flesh in a discomfiting cacophony of hot needles. As if they were children. So they were.
Feeling his hand slacken in hers, the Major tightened her grip and cast a quick glance up at the reptiliform Lao-Tsen, who was standing a bit away from them by that time, sniffing the air for the scent of the egg.
“We must hurry if we wish to prevent calamity; still, I fear for Sword Dancer’s health.”
His voice was soft, though the bright of his lizard eyes danced manically between hunger and progress as he watched the Doctor’s body drool milky birth water onto the cold sub level floor. Then it just stopped flowing, and he stopped shaking as the color returned to his face and limbs.
The Time Lord opened his eyes then, his stare burning through everything as though his face were a dying sun.
“It’s all right, now. I’m fine. I’ve temporarily halted the process, an added side effect being that you don’t have to carry me any longer. We ought to get moving soon, though. Once the changes I’ve set in place wear off, the primal need to give birth will hit me fast and hard.”
He rose, asked for his clothing, then dressed without even a hitch in his breath. But the vigor in his step seemed somehow false, as though a dark certainty had settled on him and would not be shaken.
What had he done? The Major found she could not keep herself from asking him. He must have prodded her, in that. She frowned at him mentally in the secure space of the uplink and opened her avatar’s mouth to speak her mind. This regeneration needed a lesson in cyberprivacy law.
“Doctor.” She muttered the moniker under her breath, then used the uplink to finish her thought, “... you may look better for the moment, but even the Imprimatur must be hard pressed in dealing with what you almost went through. Perhaps you should take a moment to-”
“No!” he said, his voice overtaken by a roughness that hadn’t been there before, “... I just need to get this over with, give birth and leave the planet for a while. These last seven months have been grating on my nerves. I would have gone mad without Jack and these unborn babies of mine for company.”
He sighed, running a hand across his face.
“Being on the slow path for too long, it tends to dredge up portions of my life that are better left buried. I’m sorry if I snapped at you, love.”
The Doctor paused long enough to drop out of the uplink, then looked over at the reptiliform, who was busy washing his maw with his long black tongue.
“Lao-Tsen... we should move. Which way is the egg from here, and can you tell if it’s hatched yet?”
The white-scaled lizard blinked twice, once for each silvery wet lid, then nodded, turned on a claw sharpened heel and stood on point, his slim, sinuous form taking on the eloquent finality of an ancient Roman statue.
“The egg lies this way. It is quite close, perhaps only a room or two from our location. And yes, Sword Dancer... the scent seems to indicate its readiness to do so, though from the spiky flavor of the fluid here, it has yet to accomplish this.”
“Well, I could have told you that,” the Doctor said drearily, ignoring Lao-Tsen’s polite, huffish snort as he scrubbed a hand through his long reddish hair. It clung to his fingers, making a stream of pale ginger that crackled slightly in the air.
“Do you feel that?” said the Major, reaching out to touch his girlish tresses. The hairs leaped toward her hand.
“Your body is generating an altered electrostatic charge... you’re practically glowing with energy. Is it because of earlier? What you did to yourself to slow your labor?”
His face erupted in a boyish, beaming grin, distinctly reminiscent of a one year old who’d just done a face plant in the birthday cake and enjoyed every second of it. “Bravissimo! Exactly. That scene back there, that was pure sub-molecular stress, brought on by the excess of blue glop, the whole interconnecting mass of which possessed a certain charge when I touched it. So, I gradually reversed my body’s overall charge and negated the effect, using the extra energy to grow my boys here toward a later, safer stage of gestation.”
He gave a stretch and smiled, tossing his head from side to side in excitement.
“But it won’t last. I’m already beginning to depolarize, to even out. So we’ve got to find that egg before it hatches, or at least calm the child down once it’s out, else we’ll all be steak tartare for little Lizzie, won’t we Lao-Tsen?”
His smoke-blue eyes flew like spears in the reptiliform’s direction.
“Indeed, Sword Dancer,” Lao-Tsen rasped, his white-tufted head bending downward in submission, “... but that is unlikely.”
He edged toward the end of the hallway, which was blessedly free of the blue fluid, and motioned for them to follow. Then, he wrapped his long smooth digits around the pull-down lock and tugged. Tugged again.
“Major?” he asked tonelessly, indicating the thick coating of blue that had rusted the heavy door in place, “... it is safe to assume that the egg is within this chamber. But I am unable to jar the mechanism. Perhaps together, we could... ”
With a small grin, she laid a hand on his shoulder, pulling him out of the way of the door as she reached to grab the handle. One slow, easy wrench later, and the door was off its hinges with hardly a squeal.
“Lao-Tsen? Care to lead the way a little longer?”
“...my pleasure, Major.”
The lizard was drawling now, pulling his long narrow tongue over taut gums in expectation. He ducked inside, but as the others came to follow, there came a sudden scratching noise from within the big room, as if something huge was scrabbling about... as if something small was running from it. Suddenly, a sharp hiss resonated out into the hall, drawing The Doctor and the Major inside to assess the situation. But Lao-Tsen was gone. In his place, gaping rents marred the five-foot deep walls of what had once been a refrigeration room. The blue glop covered everything, and where it was thickest, there was a twenty foot hole that cut through to what seemed to be some sort of special containment. With a shiver, The Doctor glanced over at the Major, who was busy comparing streams of data with a secret contact via the uplink.
“I take it your... illicit friend... let’s call him SalingerFan17... understands we’re under time constraints?”
As she uplinked a bemused ‘yes’, his fingers skirted over his stomach, splaying across the hard bulge but never quite touching.
“We don’t have much time, either way. I can sense Lao-Tsen’s mental output, but the telepathic signal’s getting thinner, harder to place. What’s worse, the temporary charge I gave myself is fading fast, which means I’m losing the extra electrons I gained to the blue glop, and my stamina with them. We’ve got to get moving. In other words, Motoko-kun... I hate to even consider it, but... have you made the necessary neutralization preparations, as I instructed you?”
Placing a hand on his shoulder, she flicked her red photocell eyes toward the gash in the wall.
“Of course. Now take a deep breath. I’m going to lift you into the ventilation shaft first. Try not to go into labour while you’re over my head. Blood does things to my circuitry if enough of it seeps in.”
He grinned weakly and sucked in air as her firm arm wove itself gingerly about his waist and hauled him into the ceiling vent she’d opened.
“Speaking as a former grandparent and now, again, as a mother to be, I must insist you take precautions against injury, Motoko,” he murmured as he dragged his feet up the last few centimeters into the wide duct. “I know you’re operating that body remotely, but still... be careful, eh? Misfortune tends to find those who travel with me for too long. I don’t want... ” he trailed off, desperate to quell the flood of emotion that was filling him.
Nestled deep within the remote uplink, Motoko Kusanagi smiled up at the gravid Time Lord as he eased the rest of the way into the wide vent on his back, grumbling something about dust in his hair and disgusting human mites hosting a biergarten in his knickers. Of course, there were no parasites down here, and no dust. Everything had been sealed before the egg had been discovered.
“Feeling a bit hormonal, are we?” she murmured in uplink, her chuckle ringing like bells through its safe confines.
“No comment, on the grounds I may incriminate meself. But, needless to say, I want chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Plus, I feel buggy. Never liked parasitic organisms. They’re a bit like plastic wrap, you know how you can never get it off your fingers unless you pull it off with your teeth, and then you end up biting yourself and drawing blood and running to the bathroom to stick them under the cold water and then you’re all wet and lying on the floor, having fainted because you forgot why you were running your fingers under the cold water in the first place, so you just kept doing it until you bled too much and blacked out?”
He gave a mental snort, then a sniff, but then a sharp breath caught in his throat and his eyes threatened to roll into his head.
He clutched his side and withdrew into a ball, clenching his teeth to keep from crying out and revealing their presence to the creature they were tracking.
“Ohhhh not here, not here, not here, not here, not here, oh Lao-Tsen, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m so, so sor... ry... Motoko, the twins, they’re... uhhh... ”
He thudded softly to the floor of the vent, the sound clanging flat against the length of metal casing like a death toll.
Joining him in the shaft, the Major closed the vent behind her, then turned to consider his image in real time, concern flashing in her red eyes like the shine of a coin in clear water. The grimace etched onto his oblivion-glazed features was all the incentive she needed. She reached and grabbed him by the shoulders, then dragged his prostrate form away down the first marked corridor on the ventilation blueprint she’d downloaded from SalingerFan17.
“Try to get some sleep, Doctor,” she mouthed as his smoke blue eyes opened just long enough to focus on her face, “... I won’t shoot anyone unless I have to.”