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“So where are we now?” Rose asked eagerly. She was always eager. It was one of the things he liked so much about her. Nothing dampened her for very long.
“Well, Rose,” the 9th Doctor smiled, “I’ve detected a tiny discrepancy in the timeline. Very minor, nothing that will end life as we know it—”
“That’s a relief.”
He grinned. “But it will have an important and negative impact on some old friends of mine, not to mention a number of individuals associated with them.”
“One is an old friend—the other will be an old friend, only he doesn’t know it yet. Ready?”
“Time and place, Doctor?”
“Oh, yes. Delaware, the East Coast of the United States, 1996.”
“Well, that’s not as much of a jump as I expected. Still, America is fun.”
The door of the TARDIS opened. They were in a long, dark corridor, cut by a few shafts of smoky light. It all smelled of stale smoke.
“Doctor, is this place safe?”
“If you mean it won’t come down around our ears, yes. Other than that, no.”
He grinned. She grinned back. “So what exactly is it we’re doing here? This isn’t exactly how I would have imagined Delaware.”
“We’re underneath Delaware, twenty-seven levels below the surface of the Earth. It is a top-secret installation—”
“Of course it is. They all are.” Rose tripped over a burned beam, and his hand caught her and kept her from falling. “Thanks.”
“And in the original timeline a man held unjustly here for thirty years escaped yesterday.”
“Is he the one who is the old friend or the one who will be the old friend?”
“Will be. We are supposed to meet in two years. Something’s gone wrong with the timeline, though, and he hasn’t escaped. We have to find out what went wrong and make sure he escapes.”
“All right! Let’s find him. Where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, great. If this is twenty-seven levels below the surface, this place must be big. Does it all look like this?”
“No. This level burned fourteen years ago, but it’s well cut-off from the rest of the Centre.”
“Then how do we get out?”
The Doctor gave her a mischievous look. “Look up.”
There was a grate in the ceiling, a very dark hole. “Ventilation?”
“Ventilation. Take the sonic screwdriver and give me your foot.”
The Doctor boosted her up, and she used the screwdriver to release the grate. With a grunt he pushed her up into the square hole, then jumped and pulled himself up after her. “Torch?” he said, pulling two small torches from his jacket pocket.
“Ugg. It’s filthy in here. Big, too.”
The ventilation shaft was easily large enough to allow a tall man to crawl in it. They crawled until they came to a shaft that went up. Then the Doctor showed her how to activate the Van der Waals force in the shoes they had picked up on Ioppas, and they climbed the shaft as easily as two geckos.
Almost as easily. “Getting a workout,” Rose gasped, “was not what I had in mind when I joined you. But then, neither were zombies. Doctor, are there going to be any zombies in this story?”
“Good. I’m sick of zombies.”
They kept going up for a long time, up nine or ten levels. Finally they stopped to rest in a horizontal shaft. Light came through a nearby grate. Rose jumped when she heard the voices.
“That’s very good,” said a slow, accented voice. French, maybe?
“Belgian,” the Doctor whispered, as if he could read her thoughts.
The voice was continuing. A male voice, an older man. He sounded nice. “Now, can you solve this puzzle?”
As silently as she could, Rose maneuvered herself to the grating and peered out. They were high above the floor of a large, utilitarian grey room, laboratory-like. Two little boys sat at a table facing each other over papers laid out before them. A man stood watching them. He fit his voice, a tall man in his late 50s with grey hair swept neatly back, a gentle, intelligent face, bright, deep eyes. He watched the children intently, and when, at the same moment, they put down their pencils and gave him their papers, he smiled as if they had given him a gift.
“Very, very good, boys. We’ll have to have a little talk about how you do this.”
“How they do what?” came a voice directly below the grating. This voice was distinctly creepy, low and rasping, interspersed with very audible breaths.
“Oh, hello, Raines.” The man left his students and moved toward their side of the room. The Doctor was sharing Rose’s grating now. They looked down onto the top of the man’s head as he spoke with his invisible questioner. “It’s a study into the possibility of psychic connections between identical twins. These two are quite remarkable. They are each given half of a mathematical puzzle, and simultaneously they come up with the complete solution.”
“Well, you’re going to have to put them away for now. We’re still having problems with Jarod.”
Rose felt the Doctor’s hand clasp on her arm. Your friend? she mouthed at him. He nodded.
Anger came into the Belgian man’s voice. “Raines, I strongly deplore the methods you chose to get Jarod to cooperate while I was gone. You know how stubborn he is. You should have let me deal with him. He always gives us what we want when we give him something he wants. Now you might have ruined everything.”
“We got the results we needed, Sydney.”
“Yes, and now you may never get results again! Don’t you understand, Raines? You’ve destroyed Jarod’s trust in us! You’ve ruined everything I have built up with him over his lifetime! Now he will dig in and refuse to cooperate. He doesn’t even trust me anymore.”
“You’d better reestablish trust and get him to cooperate, Sydney, or we’ll have to try other methods. There’s a simulation we need him for tomorrow. Send the kids back to their room. The sweepers are bringing him here now.”
Under cover of the bustle of people coming in and out, Rose whispered, “Doctor, what is this place?”
“It’s a think-tank. They think up answers to problems and sell them to the highest bidder. Usually the United States government, but not always.”
“Who thinks up the answers, Doctor?”
His face in the semi-darkness was grim as he only allowed it to be on rare occasions. “Prisoners. Brilliant slaves. Like Jarod.”
Two large men had come into the room through the door in the wall under the vent. They had a man by the arms, a tall man with dark hair, pushed him down into a chair with his back to the door. The Belgian man—Sydney (what kind of a French name was that?)—nodded to them with a dark weariness on his face, and they retreated. The tall man in the chair crossed his arms and stared at the floor.
“How are you today, Jarod?” Sydney asked.
“You tell me, Sydney. You’re the psychiatrist. How do you think I am?” His voice was low, angry, his words precise, not quite touched with the accent of his questioner.
“I think you’re confused and disturbed. And angry, too. Are you angry with me, Jarod?” Sydney spoke very evenly, like a good psychiatrist.
“I don’t know, Sydney. But I am doing no more simulations. This place isn’t to be trusted.” And he folded his arms more tightly yet and refused to move or speak, no matter how much Sydney talked to him.
Sydney finally sighed and made a motion that summoned the two large men back into the room. “Please, Jarod, for your own sake, do the simulation tomorrow,” he said, his calm voice almost a plea. Jarod didn’t answer as he suffered himself to be led away. Sydney stood in the middle of the room, staring after him, his own arms folded. “Curse you, Raines,” he muttered. “Look at what you’ve done to him. Curse you.” He stalked out of the room.
Rose sat back and stared at the Doctor. “There’s something really, really wrong going on here, Doctor.”
“I know, not the least of which is that Jarod should have escaped from here in the early hours of the morning today, and he hasn’t.”
“Doctor, tell me exactly what’s going on. Who is this Jarod?”
“I’m not sure, Rose. He’s a genius. He can learn anything, be anything. He gets inside the heads of anyone he meets or learns about and effectively becomes them. But no one knows who he really is, least of all himself. He was kidnapped as a child and brought here, and he has lived here ever since, doing their simulations, solving their problems. He has recently learned that his simulations have sometimes been used to injure and kill innocent people. He has always believed he was doing good, until now. They’ve done some horrible things to him, Rose, and they’ll do worse things yet. Especially now that he hasn’t escaped as he should have. A lot of people’s futures depend on him—depend on him escaping. A lot of nobodies, the sort of people no one cares to help.”
“The sort of people we help?” Rose said softly.
“Yeah. He cares, and he will help many of them, if we can get him out of here.”
Rose suddenly jumped and clutched his arm. “What’s that?”
There was a sound very much like the sounds they had been making, the sound of someone crawling in the ventilation shafts. A shaggy head popped around a corner several meters away, and round eyes stared at them. Then the head disappeared, and the crawling sound started again.
The Doctor’s wide mouth spread in a grin. “Come on,” he said and started crawling rapidly after the figure.
“This is ridiculous,” Rose muttered.
They followed the figure up another level, he climbing with ease, as if he were a gecko himself. Finally he came to a stop in a large, round metal tube that ended in another grate looking out into a large, empty grey room much like the one they had just seen. Rose could see him clearly, an ungainly figure in a green shirt, his face round, his eyes rounder yet, his expression…strange. Somewhat dull, as if the world was bewildering; somewhat blank, as if he didn’t know how to change expressions. But after staring at them a moment, he put out his hand and touched the Doctor’s arm.
“Doctor?” The word seemed to be an effort.
The Doctor put his hand over the hand on his arm. “Yes, Angelo. It’s me, the Doctor. I look different than I did the last time we met, but it’s me. You can feel that, can’t you?”
Angelo’s lips pulled back from his teeth, and Rose realized he was smiling. “Doctor!”
The Doctor reached forward and hugged him. “It’s great to see you again, Angelo. Rose, my old friend Angelo. Angelo, this is my friend Rose.”
“Hi, Angelo,” Rose smiled. There was something very strange about Angelo, but she had met so many strange people in the last year that it hardly mattered.
He reached out his hand, and she took it and gave it a shake, but he did not release when she did. His brow wrinkled as he held on to her hand. “Rose…is angry. Confused.” He smiled. “Happy, too. Happy with the Doctor. Angry here.”
She wrenched her hand out of his. “Doctor?”
“He’s feeling your feelings, that’s all.” The Doctor put his hand on Angelo’s shoulder. “He has a great talent.” And his eyes were sad, his mouth grim. “He’s right, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s right. I am angry. What are they doing to that man? How can they have kept him locked up since he was a kid? This is the United States of America, not North Korea!”
“Jarod,” Angelo said. “Angry about Jarod. Rose wants to help Jarod. Doctor wants to help Jarod.”
“That’s why we’re here, Angelo,” the Doctor said. “Something has gone wrong.”
“Jarod didn’t escape,” Angelo said softly.
“Angelo! You know he was supposed to? Can you feel the discrepancy in the timeline, Angelo?”
“Jarod escaped. Jarod didn’t escape.”
“Why, Angelo? Why didn’t he?”
Angelo’s eyes narrowed. “Mr. Raines,” he said, suddenly menacing, his face that of another person.
Rose drew back, but the Doctor didn’t move. “Mr. Raines,” he repeated. “How did you find out, Mr. Raines? We’ll have to have a talk with him. But first we have to find Jarod. Do you know where they’re holding him, Angelo?”
Angelo nodded. “Holding cell.”
“A holding cell? Not his regular room? Angelo, do you know what happened? What did Raines do to him while Sydney was gone?”
“Angelo doesn’t know.” He screwed his eyes tight shut. “Experiments. Jarod doesn’t remember…has nightmares. Afraid. So afraid. And a simulation.” His eyes opened. His accent and voice changed. “How do I know what will be done with the results? I won’t do it!” Then he was Angelo again. “They hurt his friend. Jarod is angry. Jarod hurts. Afraid. He gives them the results. They kill his friend.” His face filled with an expression of deep pain. “No!” He clutched his head and rocked back and forth. “Hurt. Jarod hurts. Angry—guilty. He killed his friend. Afraid—what will they do with the results? So hurt. Escape! Jarod must escape. He can escape from his room.”
“But he’s in a holding cell instead of his room,” the Doctor muttered. “Raines knew he was going to escape from his room. How? There’s something rotten in the state of Delaware. Angelo, can you take us to his cell and provide a diversion long enough for us to talk to him?”
Angelo nodded and led the way.
Presently they were looking down into a hallway that looked like a prison, or a high-security psychiatric hospital. Heavy metal doors with tiny windows lined it. Angelo pointed out a security camera at one end of the hallway.
“Is there another in the cell?”
Angelo nodded. “Guards…watching. Always watching.”
He pointed to the door at the end of the corridor.
“A guard room through there? Can you get in there and cause a distraction until I can take out the cameras?”
Angelo grimaced his smile and nodded.
“I’ll give you three minutes.”
Angelo crawled rapidly away. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and made some adjustments. “Good thing I added a new subroutine,” he said with a grin. “Instant security camera feed looping. They’ll be watching an empty hallway for days.”
“Or at least until someone walks down it who’s supposed to be there and they realize they’re still watching an empty hallway.”
“Until then, yeah.”
He used the screwdriver to loosen the grating and set the metal aside very quietly. They waited a few moments, and then they heard Angelo’s diversion. A shout—“Hey! What are you doing here? Angelo—?”
The Doctor leaned down out of the ventilation shaft and aimed the screwdriver at the video camera. “Got it,” he grunted. Grasping the edges of the square hole, he rolled down out of it and landed like a cat. “Come on.” He held up his arms, and Rose slid down into them. “Good girl. Now I’ll have to do the same for the camera inside.”
In one swift motion he unlocked the door with the screwdriver, slipped in, detected the camera, and had it looping before the man sitting on the bed with his head in his hands could do more than look up. Rose slipped in after him and pulled the door closed. They grinned at each other.
“Nice work, Doctor.”
“Thank you, Rose.”
They looked at the prisoner in the cell. He was staring at them. The Doctor hadn’t mentioned how handsome he was. Strong-boned rectangular face, long, straight nose (not so long as the Doctor’s), very nice mouth pulled in a tight line, deep eyes that held more than she had ever seen in a man’s eyes—except the Doctor’s. “Hello, Jarod,” Rose said softly. Some peculiar impulse made her want to hug him.
His dark eyes were puzzled. They seemed to be trying to figure her out. “Well, you’re new.”
“Old, actually,” the Doctor said.
“Did Sydney send you?”
“Ah…no. Though…maybe someday. We don’t have much time, Jarod. I’m the Doctor; this is Rose Tyler. We’re going to help you escape like you should have done last night.”