One Cage for Another
The opening of the shoppe had come with the daylight. Eli was settled within her pile in the corner, probably still staring at him as she had been all morning. He looked over at Eli. Yep.
Trying to ignore her, the Doctor decided to watch Vicks instead. The cat man had come in a short time ago, switched on some sleepy alien shoppe music, and now appeared to be busy with paperwork. Sure enough, the wretched remote lay not far from reach on the counter.
The Doctor could take his share of strong electrical currents, and this wasn't the worst by far. There was something about the disabling effect of the shock that created a sort of mental block that discouraged him from speaking. He was stronger than this, wasn't he? Could he really let them alter his advanced mental capacities like this? Why wouldn't his anger override it?
If only the Doctor could somehow disrupt its signal. Of course, to do that, he needed his sonic screwdriver. It had probably been thrown out or sold, along with his clothes. Once the shocker was nullified, he could disengage the locking mechanism on the cage, which also, sadly, required his sonic screwdriver, and get out of here without fear of being shocked. Then, he could find out what happened to Rose.
He really, really needed his sonic screwdriver.
"Mummy, why do they only have fur on their heads?"
It was a little girl with black fur out on the street, leaning at an angle against the pull of her mother's hand as she gawked at the Doctor and Eli.
"Most two-legged pets don't, sweetheart. It's not their fault. Come along."
The Doctor looked to Eli for her reaction, but she didn't seem to have even heard the passersby. He sighed, looking at the ceiling instead. With enough thought, he'd figure a way out. He fantasised that there had been some sort of mix up. They had held Rose up somewhere, and she was on her way to the empty cage in a transport right now. Then he could at least know she was safe, and they could then find a way out.
He sighed again. Wishful thinking.
Pinching the metal loop around his neck, the Doctor stuck his tongue out, bored. He could only catch it with the tip of his tongue, which didn't give him much to go on. It tasted coppery, but if Eli's collar was anything to go by, it was silvery in color. It was some sort of alloy he couldn't place.
An electronic bell sounded. The Doctor looked up. A white-furred lady walked in from the street, a shiny silver handbag draped from one arm. She wore a fancy deep blue suit that hugged her curves as she walked. The Doctor's eyebrows drew upwards.
"Ah, welcome, miss," Vicks greeted her in a tone completely different than what the Doctor was used to. "How may I serve you today?"
"Do you have any pet types?" the lady purred.
"No pets as such, but feel free to take a look and see if any takes your fancy."
The lady took the pair of them in, both lounging in their blanket piles. "Just the two, then?"
Vicks was apologetic. "I'm afraid so, miss, but we're expecting more in soon."
The Doctor perked up at Vicks' words. Maybe Rose was on her way?
"Mm, what can you tell me about the small female there?"
"Ah, that one is a breeder, raised in captivity. Probably pregnant."
The Doctor frowned.
"Oh, I don't want her, then," the lady said with dropped interest. "What about this other one?" She looked him over, appearing hesitant. "You feeding him properly?"
"Ah, yes, of course, but we just got him in yesterday, wild. We have no reason to believe he's malnourished, however. I think it's just common for his species."
"And what species is that?"
"Erm... well actually, we haven't been able to identify him. He's either rare or one heck of a mutt."
The Doctor looked away and rolled his eyes.
"Any special traits?"
Vicks seemed reluctant to go on. "He's somehow managed to pick up Rudeese. I'm thinking he must have come from another family somewhere with a lot of exposure to it and somehow escaped. Forgive me, miss, you asked about special traits. I'd hardly call that one."
The cat lady's eyes sparkled. "Ooh, really? I would think that would make him easy to train, don't you think?"
"Um," stuttered Vicks, "Err, yes, I suppose so." Despite his words, he didn't appear to agree, scratching at his ear, which twitched.
"Stand up," the lady waved a fur-coated hand at the Doctor eagerly. "Let me have a look at you."
Even though it was a command, she had addressed the Doctor properly instead of asking Vicks to make him stand, so he decided to comply. He also didn't want to be shocked if he didn't. Fixing his most somber expression, he pulled himself up out of the blanket pile. The Doctor felt awkward being studied by this woman, especially since he wasn't wearing much. Regardless, her eyes roamed over him anyway. All he could do was glare down at her, and when her eyes finally locked with his, he could see a flicker of something in response.
"Yes, he'll do. Eight thousand. Fair price?"
The Doctor was suddenly alarmed. What did she want him for? He didn't want to be bought, not if it meant leaving his cell mate all alone. He also wanted to be around for if Rose was brought in.
Vicks seemed surprised as well. "Eight thousand! I mean, err... yes, you have an eye for value to be sure! Fair price."
"You really don't want me," the Doctor advised, pulling a face as both heads turned towards him. "I'm sick. Rabid, even-" the Doctor yelped the last word out as he was shocked.
He, um, rambles nonsense quite often," said Vicks, apologetic. "I don't think he's quite grasped the intricacies of Rudeese. We're trying to train him properly. He needs regular shocking."
Didn't he just? Since he had first spoken up, the Doctor's remote was never out of reach.
The lady ran the delicate claws of one hand through the well-groomed fur on the side of her face. "Mm, that's fine," she drawled significantly, "I always keep mine at hand, anyway."
The Doctor swallowed hard, noting the woman's eyes were drawn to the movement of his throat as he did. He opened his mouth to protest, but thought it better for his health if he didn't. It was all he could do to keep his mouth shut as the two filled out paperwork at the counter.
"Miss... Icha Nubien, is it?"
"Yes, payment in full. My credit will cover it."
Vicks responded with a noise of one rather impressed. The Doctor looked behind him at Eli. "Take care," he whispered to her. Eli showed no response, continuing to stare at him.
If the cat people at the desk heard, they didn't show it. Vicks was rummaging through a box of something behind the counter.
"We have 'Ruby Red', 'Sparkling Silver', 'Gleaming Gold'..."
"Oh, I have my own, thank-you." Icha produced a deep blue cord-no doubt 'Brilliant Blue', the Doctor mused-from her handbag, and it took a moment for him to realise it was meant to attach to the hoop around his neck. A proper leash and collar. He bit his tongue, holding in his pride as he took deep, measured breaths to calm himself. The color of the cord matched that of her suit perfectly. How fitting.
Vicks pressed a button and the cage door popped open. He reached for the leash in Icha's hand. "Here, allow me, miss." Vicks approached the cage, looking the Doctor in the eye briefly before attaching the thing to his collar. The Doctor didn't resist. He thought long and hard on ways of punishing the lot of them for their crimes against other species and marveled at how they could be so bloody thick, but he didn't resist.
Vicks handed over the leash and the dreaded shocker remote. Icha turned to leave, and as the Doctor felt the hoop lift slightly off his collarbone, he moved forward to follow her. He was a good head taller than her, and he could see out over her cat-eared head into the street, curious as to what he would find out there. Before he could find out, however, Icha stopped and turned, and the Doctor stopped short of running into her.
"By the way, what's his name?"
Vicks shrugged at her. "He doesn't have one. Give him whatever name you want."
The sunlight felt good. It was a bit odd to be standing outside barefoot, but at least the pavement wasn't too hot. Icha stopped him just outside the shoppe, and while she looked him over again, the Doctor took in the sights of the street. There were feline types walking about, going on with their daily lives. He noticed most weren't dressed nearly as nicely as Icha was. That made sense-only the wealthy would be able to afford slaves. A few post-tech cars droned by above, but it seemed a pretty quiet area. The buildings that lined the street were obviously modern to the age but were decorated with a mix of rustic and stucco designs.
The Doctor frowned. He wasn't positive, but it certainly didn't look like it belonged on Gestaapa. It fit the time period of the system they'd landed in, however. What planet were they on?
Something teased at his hair, and he turned to find Icha fingering it fondly. "Your name shall be Marwari," she told him with a warm, cat-toothed grin, her fine whiskers bunching up slightly. "Your fur and colour remind me of the wild Marwari of my homeland. Yes, that will do." She moved away from him, ready to move on. "Come along, now." At the insistence of the leash, the Doctor had no choice but to follow.
The Doctor found himself somewhat nervous as they walked along the side of the street. Icha had wanted a pet type of slave. From what Vicks had said, there were laborers and breeders, too. If the term 'pet' was any indication, he hoped he was lucky in what he should be expected to do. At least he hadn't been received by someone who liked to beat slaves. At least, it didn't appear he had. Icha was ignorant and well acquainted with the expectations of a higher status, but she seemed kind enough. He sincerely hoped her geniality wasn't just a facade for the outside world and he was in for a terrible surprise once they got to their destination.
Icha also seemed used to having people as pets. The Doctor wondered how many she'd had, and if she had any now. She very obviously liked the fact that he understood and, from her perspective, could speak her language. From Vicks' response, it seemed she was unique in this appreciation. This was good for him. Wouldn't it mean he'd be treated well?
On second thought, it was possibly very, very bad. Maybe she was strange and lived alone, keeping a bunch of pets sequestered in a tiny old house, never seeing the light of day.
Then again, maybe being one of many was good for him. He could get through to the lot of them, and the whole band of them could escape!
The Doctor's musings on slave max exodus were interrupted when Icha again stopped in front of him. At first, he thought she was waiting for a crossing at the intersection they had arrived at. It became clear, however, that she had recognised someone, her attention fixed to a point on the other side of the street.
"Tress!" she called, raising a hand, then beckoning with it. The Doctor couldn't make out who it was she was calling to until he spotted a tawny-coated woman with a speckling of dark spots trotting towards them. She was finely dressed like Icha, and the Doctor noted her seafoam-colored attire fit more loosely than Icha's. Tress met his eyes and approached with a big cat smile.
"Oh, Icha," Tress exclaimed with excitement, looking him over as if Icha had obtained a fashionable new outfit. "What have you got here?"
"His name is Marwari. I've acquired him just now," said Icha, more than happy to show off her prise. "What do you think?"
"Marvelous. Simply adorable." The Doctor resisted the urge to roll his eyes again. Tress' voice dropped somewhat, less sure as she looked up at him. "Although he seems a bit tall to be a proper pet, wouldn't you say?" As his gaze hardened on her, Tress' words all but stalled and her smile faded. "A bit... intimidating?"
"Oh, don't be silly," Icha waved it off, unaffected. "You think I can't pick a proper specimen after all these years of experience? Can't control him?"
"Of course you can, I'm sure," Tress agreed politely. "I just would've thought he'd fit better as the laborer type."
"I should say not! He's much too thin, wouldn't last a week."
The Doctor, a bit tired of being described in the third person by two chatty female cat people right in front of him, lost hold of his tongue. "Now, ladies," he implored with a self-conscious smile and raised hands, "this isn't really the type of thing-"
Tress took a step back and gasped. The Doctor jumped as he felt a buzzing around his neck, its intent as a warning quite clear. He swallowed, any thoughts of speaking forgotten. Interesting little feature Vicks had left out, the buzz setting. Icha showed no surprise.
"Oh, and he can talk."
"Icha!" Tress breathed. "Where did you find such a thing?" A look of horror passed her face, as if she'd thought of something even worse, and gripped Icha's arm. "You're not taking him to the party, are you? What would that be like!"
"I am taking him. Don't worry, he'll be well behaved, you'll see."
Tress proceeded to moan about the breaking of social graces with outbursts from a slave, and after Icha assured her she would sort him out and that they had best get a start on it now, they left Tress at the street corner.
As they traveled further down the street, the Doctor's patience wearing to bared threads, the feeling of utter helplessness began to get to him. It was obvious his being able to understand her was more important to Icha than his ability to respond. He didn't want to go to a party if he couldn't talk.
Certainly he'd offend someone at a fine gathering if he walked in wearing nothing but shorts, though? They weren't big shorts, either. Hopefully pets were given more to wear when going out. Better yet, maybe these were just issued pet shoppe clothes and he'd be given more just because he was owned now.
The Doctor shuddered. He didn't want to be a slave. There were better things to do, like finding Rose. And, frankly, doing whatever the hell he wanted. He'd lived a long time, however, and knew when to fight and when not to. Now was not the time to pull at the reins. When the time did come, however, he would be ready. That didn't make his uncertainty about Rose's condition any easier to live with, though.
The street wound upwards into the hills, the buildings lining it taking a definite turn towards the residential. Not only were there only homes in sight, but almost all of them appeared to belong to the affluent. They had arrived at the aristo-cat district. The Doctor grinned at his play on words.
The Doctor wasn't used to walking barefoot. At least Icha seemed to be enjoying the walk, as her pace seemed to indicate she was in no hurry, which helped.
They were passing a particularly sprawling estate on their right, and the Doctor couldn't help but stare. Great heavy pillars lined a set of double oaken doors at the top of a wide set of marble steps. Violet lawns stretched between various walks, a few of which led off into secluded gardens that, from the outside, appeared to be well kept. Great arches sweeping from the corners of the main structure pushed up to hold a gleaming dome of curved azure glass in the center.
It was then they reached the estate's access to the street, and Icha turned onto the walk. The Doctor groaned inwardly. He should've guessed this was Icha's home.
They passed under trellised arches of spade-shaped leaves, dappled sunlight filtering in to splay across their path. The Doctor wished Rose were here to enjoy it with him.
The Doctor sighed. He wished she was here so he could enjoy it.
As they began to ascend the rounded white steps, the Doctor set his sights on the door. He wondered who else he would find inside. Icha approached the doors and the Doctor noticed the distinct laser pattern of a retinal scanner. The doors swung inward at her presence, and she proceeded inside.
Two grand staircases rose up on either side of the foyer, leading to an open balcony above. The balcony rested on the first floor's three pointed gothic arches that framed panels of blue and green stained glass, the middle arch forming a doorway to the area beyond. The whole space was awash with light provided by the great dome of glass high above which, from inside, showed no signs of colourisation.
While the interior was richly furnished with thick warm carpets, rugs and tapestries, there were some decorative items that were, to the Doctor's taste, just plain gaudy. Many walls held shelves of odds and ends that looked out of place. He supposed that was due to the place being owned by a cat. They did like to collect things.
"Welcome home, Marwari," Icha said with a big smile and raised hands. Being last in, the Doctor assumed he was supposed to close the doors after them. As he turned to do just that, something caught his attention outside, all the way out in the street. When he stared at the spot he'd seen something, he found there was nothing there. After a few more moments, he decided it must have just been the sunlight glinting off of something, and closed the doors.
Icha dropped her purse on the ornate side table next to the door, but kept her remote secured at her wrist as she crossed the foyer through the arched doorway. The Doctor followed her into a lush sitting room. That was absolutely the best term for it, the Doctor mused as he took in its contents further. While the entire room was lined with different sorts of chairs and pillows, the center of the room was occupied by the monster of all sofas. He would have classified it as an enormous bed if not for its curved shape, giant cushion, and lack of sheets. It was, of course, a deep dark blue.
"Stay here until I return, Marwari," Icha instructed affectionately. The Doctor looked at her, eyes pleading. Wouldn't she let him speak? She must have translated his expression for confusion, as she added, "Do you understand?"
The Doctor dropped his gaze, nodding. Icha reached up and disconnected the leash from his collar, then exited back out to the foyer and began ascending one of the staircases. He peered back towards the grand double doors. Yes, he understood. No, he wouldn't obey.
Slipping back through the archway, the Doctor looked up towards the balcony to make sure Icha was out of sight. He had to find Rose and make sure she was all right. She was his responsibility, and he had stranded her on this planet, alone and probably enslaved. He had to make it right. Approaching the doors, the Doctor took hold of a great silver lever and pulled. To the Doctor's surprise, the door didn't budge. He applied more force, thinking perhaps it was stuck, then tried pushing, but there was still no movement.
Blast. This house was made for pets and was locked even from the inside. With another desperate yearning for his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor looked to the side, intending to fish through Icha's purse, but the purse was no longer there. She must have taken it up with her. Not to be discouraged and running out of time, he searched for a wall panel near the doors' supports, but there was nothing that looked accessible. Either the bypass ports were well hidden, or there weren't any.
The Doctor heard movement from above. He hastily padded back across the thick carpet and into the sitting room. Plan A, foiled. No matter, he would figure a way out, eventually. After all, he was a genius. The Doctor shook his head. Here he was, the last of the Time Lords, serving as a cat's pet. Icha had no idea she'd gotten quite a bargain.
All was quiet up above again. The Doctor sat on the edge of the cushion, waiting innocently. It was a few minutes before Icha finally appeared in the doorway hugging a big brown pillow, eyeing him suspiciously.
"I told you to stay in this room. Disobey me again, and I won't be so forgiving."
The Doctor, eyes wide in bewilderment at being caught, nodded obediently, swallowing hard at the thought of narrowly missing being shocked. How had she known?
Staring at him, as if assessing his sincerity, Icha finally nodded and sighed. "Here's a present for your homecoming. Be good, and you'll get more." She held out the pillow to him.
The Doctor was hesitant. He didn't want to take anything from Icha. He wanted to resist and rage and tell her off for her audacity, and not cooperate in the slightest so she'd get tired of him and take him back to the shoppe. The Doctor knew he could be bad. It was all a misunderstanding, this one is no good, Vicks. Another, please?
He stared into Icha's human-like eyes, judging her. She wouldn't let that happen, even if he was on his worst behaviour. No, his best move would be to cooperate and gain her trust. Maybe he could even get her to like him enough that he'd be allowed to speak. The Doctor grew eager at this possibility.
The Doctor reached out and took the pillow.
Icha smiled. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up. Put your pillow down here. You can get it later. The Doctor stood resignedly, dropping the pillow onto the couch, and followed her towards the door on one side of the room. He noticed Icha had switched out her tight-fitting blue outfit for an almost sheer seafoam green dress, the same colour as Tress's but with long slits up the legs, showing off her short white fur. He watched her feline hips sway as she led him into a hallway with elaborate crown molding. Icha must think herself a queen in this place. The Doctor drew his shoulders back. She had nothing on what he could give Rose.
Many doors later, Icha stopped and pushed on the handle of one and entered. Inside, the floor, walls, and ceiling were pebbled, and a simple square pillar in the center held a bundle of shower heads. Clusters of ferny foliage peeked out from corners and drooped from high ledges, patiently waiting for the humidity to rise. The huge bathing room looked to be able to accommodate fifty people at once.
The Doctor stiffened as a domestically human image flashed through his mind. Skaro would build itself back into existence before he let Icha bathe him like some drenched dog in a tub. He'd take being shocked into unconsciousness before he'd let her so much as touch him.
"Whenever I ask you to clean up, this is the place you'll use," Icha explained, as if in response to his horrific thoughts, and the Doctor relaxed. "When finished, you're expected to always return to the lounging room. There's no need to rush, but don't keep me waiting too long."
Nodding dutifully, the Doctor watched Icha, waiting for her to leave. She smiled contentedly.
"Yes, I can see I will like you. It's quite nice having you understand so easily."
After enduring another bout of scrutiny, the Doctor was left alone again when Icha padded back down the hallway. He sighed and shuffled further into the bath to mill about the center, looking at the column with its four shower heads. He might as well get on with it and wash up. Did Icha think he smelled like 'pet shoppe', or suspected he would dirty her pillows?
With a touch of the waist-high panel below the shower head, the spray sprang to life. After testing the temperature, he touched the red indicator, and as the Doctor expected, the water heated up. He stepped into the spray and closed his eyes, letting it rain down his face. As he'd done countless times before, the Doctor imagined his worries being washed away with the pelting rhythm. It wasn't in his nature to stand by and do nothing when someone he cared about was in trouble, and he felt he might go mad with anxiety. He was trapped in a posh cat's mansion, and Rose could be anywhere from sitting in a ditch to... well, worse.
The Doctor didn't want to think about it.
Usually, he could let himself get angry and unleash himself on whatever was in his way. In this situation, however, it would do no good. He fingered the smooth curve of the metal hoop about his neck. Being shocked and getting nowhere for it would come to realisation all too easily if he didn't keep his head. And not just once or twice, but constantly, every time he was ordered to do something, punished for speaking up, or by simply thinking of Rose.
"What am I going to do," the Doctor murmured without thinking, then suddenly tensed. But of course, Icha wouldn't hear him, here. His words were drowned in the steady hiss of water around him. He relaxed, taking comfort in his spoken thoughts. It helped him to think, and he relished in the knowledge that he didn't have to fear any consequences for it here. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter.
"I'll find, you, Rose," he continued, determination in his voice. "Just hold on for me. I'll come for you."