Summary: Post-Doomsday; Rose's life has undergone another drastic upheaval, but she hasn't changed a bit.
Word count: ~2000
Notes: For livii in the Rose Tyler: Girl Adventurer ficathon, whose request was "'I save planets, mostly'; an all-encompassing sense of bravery; and girls with guns". (She also said "I'm happy with any new or old skool characters you want to use", and I kind of went to town on that one.) Massive thanks to wishfulaces for a fantastically helpful beta.
She could see Mickey through the diamondsteel window of the airlock, one finger pressed to his left ear, lips moving soundlessly.
Why do you always do that? she asked him as she activated her collar, forcefield helmet shimmering into place around her head.
Pretend it's a radio. She smiled at him.
Because the thought that my brain is full of alien nanotechnology making me effectively telepathic really creeps me out. So thanks for reminding me. Now are you ready?
Rose gave him a thumbs up to match the ones that Dot and Izzy had been holding up patiently for over a minute now. Mickey thumped the switch that made the floor start to retract.
The planet seemed huge, filling most of their vision, yet they were high enough up to see its surface curving away at one side.
Now, Rose said to her two teammates, and they jumped.
The fall was slow at first, the planet only gradually growing larger beneath them. Rose turned to either side. McShane was grinning, Sinclair wearing the same look of grim determination as ever. She never spoke about what had happened at Lumic's prototype labs in Stockbridge, but Rose knew that Izzy had only escaped, only been able to alert the Preachers to what was going on, by pretending to have died already. Rose found it hard to imagine what it must have been like to lie absolutely still, listening to the blood-curdling screams of her friends as they were cyberised. Found it even harder to imagine when she thought that the process had been even more brutal and drawn-out in the early stages of development.
Glancing above, she caught the sleek outline of Torchwood Five, discernible only by the absence of stars in the patch of sky it occupied. Their ship, their temporary home, their embassy to the rest of the universe.
Rose felt doubly responsible for her crew. It had been she would had put them in harm's way in the first place: convincing her father to support her project to widen Torchwood's recruiting pool, identifying each of them in painstaking searches through reports of exceptional individual actions during the Cyber-crises, tracking each one down personally and persuading them to join the organisation. And it had been she who had brought them here, so far from home.
It was over a year now. Fourteen months since the Special Ops division had discovered the seemingly derelict ship. Fourteen months since Rose's innocent brush against a console had reactivated the systems and catapulted them two spiral arms spinward of Earth. Fourteen months of learning to think in such wholly outrageous terms about place and distance. Fourteen months in an alien spaceship whose only navigational control they'd been able to work out seemed to be the "take us to the next planet in trouble" button, all the while trying to get back to Earth. Fourteen months that, Rose was sure, would have sent them all stark staring mad, if they hadn't had each other.
Sometimes she wondered if they were all stark staring mad, and just hadn't noticed.
The light around them changed subtly, the deep midnight blue of the uppermost atmosphere. Rose saw McShane's ponytail whipped up suddenly by wind as she allowed the tiniest fraction of the air around them to percolate through her fieldsuit. It was behaviour like this that really tended to make Rose worry about their sanity levels, until she remembered that McShane had always been this way. She'd blown up two Cyber-factories with her homemade explosives, and both times she'd stayed on the scene until she was sure the job was done.
Farspeak voices began to filter through from the bridge. Trajectory matches perfectly. That was Jake. No unexpected meteorological events.
Confirmed. This universe's Sarah Jane had never been a journalist, but Rose had discovered she still had that urge to double check everything. Bang on target, Rose.
The target was the Hegemonarch's Palace, a mile-high spire erected by the dictator as a monument to nothing more than his own hubris. It was protected at ground level by a gigantic, sprawling fortress -- more a complex of fortresses really, stretching for ten miles around, an ugly scar of straight lines and harsh angles on the planet's sinuous surface only just becoming visible as they plunged into the stratosphere. But through some quirk of culture or history the people of this world had never even reached orbit, for all their high technology. The Torchwood Five crew had spent considerable time debating how this could have happened, but no explanation had seemed fully satisfactory. But whatever the reason, the practical result was that the Hegemonarch had never considered the need for defence against assault from above. Once the rebels they'd made contact with had overcome their own two-dimensional biases and realised this, the solution had become clear.
Jake spoke again. Commence deceleration in three ... two ... one ... Now.
As fast as thought, their antigrav boots engaged and began to apply enough counter force to bring them to a stop exactly at the designated coordinates. Rose saw McShane checking the readouts on her plasma cannon, a cube about a foot on each side bristling with dangerous-looking boxy attachments. Izzy reconfirmed the charge levels of her positron pistols. Rose contented herself with feeling the reassuring weight of her rifle strapped to her back. She had stripped and reassembled it three times in the docking bay.
The spire itself was just coming into view now, feeble against the immensity of the sky, for all it looked imposing from the planetside perspective. Am I going to have that window, Bush? Although the tower wasn't secured against fliers, it did have a forcefield to keep the high altitude winds at bay.
Of course you are. Mel was remarkably good at inflecting her farspeak, and sounded positively snappy. The bug's working perfectly.
Planting the bug -- really a distributed subset of the consciousness of a robot called Kamelion they'd encountered early on in their travels and who had willingly come with them -- had been far too much fun. Rose, Mel and Trix, their undercover specialist, had infiltrated the fortress complex disguised as maintenance specialists and planted it close enough to the forcefield control for it to worm its way into the right subsystems. This was what was now allowing Mel to manipulate the interference patterns of the generators and create a hole for them to fly through.
As they slowed to a hover directly opposite the grand window of the Throne Room, Mel interpolated a false-colour image into their heads up displays. Rose saw a confusing blur of traffic light colours representing the forcefield's strength -- little splotches of red, amber and green -- until the generators swung round into the correct alignment and a large patch of safe green appeared directly ahead.
Go, Rose said, and all three unconsciously made a kicking motion as they impelled their boots into action. McShane, you're up.
I told you to call me Dot, came the reply, but even as she broadcast the thought, she brought the plasma cannon to bear and shot a bolt of blue fire that shattered the stained glass window into a million fragments.
The trio flew into the throne room directly behind the explosion of glass, before the Hegemonarch or any of his high-powered but ultimately ornamental guardbots had time to react. Izzy scrambled the circuits of all the drones within a second, while Rose unslung her rifle and aimed it squarely between the tyrant's eyes.
Everything was going perfectly.
"Hello again, Miss Tyler," said a voice from behind the throne, and a cowled figure walked out to stand next to the ruler, hints of golden skin visible beneath the dark folds.
"You!" Rose breathed, the first word she'd spoken out loud since the operation had started. It was Ortisio, a strange creature with near-mystical abilities the Torchwood Five crew had encountered several times, most recently on Simmina, where he'd been trying to manipulate both sides of a cold war into a full-scale confrontation for little reason beyond his own amusement.
"Me indeed. I've been the power behind the Hegemonarch's throne for quite some time now."
"I don't think you're meant to take it that literally," Rose replied.
The Hegemonarch spluttered. "You know this ... this ... terrorist?" he demanded of his advisor.
"I'm afraid to say we've crossed paths -- and swords -- before. I'd suggest you surrender now, to be honest."
"The Hegemonarch never surrenders! I shall fight to the death! I--"
"OK, have it your way." Rose pulled the trigger and the Hegemonarch disappeared in the broad beam of light.
Our friends confirm receipt of the package, Sarah farspoke.
Rose smiled. It was nice to be the one using the beam-weapon-that's-really-a-teleport trick rather than falling victim to it. The rebels were very keen that the Hegemonarch stand trial for his crimes, that the new regime should commence with the openness and fairness that his had lacked.
Looking round, Rose saw that Ortisio had disappeared up the spiral staircase at the back of the room. "Well, this changes things," she said to her compatriots. "Dot, can you set the charge by yourself?"
"'Course I can."
"And you're sure you can make it vaporise completely? No civilian casualties below?" They'd agreed with the rebels that the total destruction of the top of the Palace would send a resounding signal to the population at large that the reign of terror was over.
"I may not be a professional, but if I'm an amateur I'm an Olympic-standard one," McShane grinned.
"There's going to be about a thousand dronesoldiers here any second. I'll cover McShane."
"Dot," Dot growled, even as she was unpacking explosives.
"OK, good, good teamwork guys. I'll go after Laughing Boy."
"Eight minutes," Dot warned.
Rose automatically subtracted ninety seconds, and headed off after Ortisio. She finally caught up with him in a small circular room -- an entire floor of the Palace as it tapered almost to nothingness -- full of tapestries. He'd removed his hood to reveal his bald golden head, and was staring intently at the pictures around him.
"Planning your next holiday?" she said sarcastically. Ortisio had the strange, incomprehensible power to travel into the scene depicted in any picture he could see, as long as it had been based in reality. Liz had spent months trying to untangle how it might work, without even the tiniest hint of success.
"Did I mention, it also travels in time?" Ortisio said. "This knack of mine. I can go to when the picture was made as well as where. If you've got anything from home, I could take you back there -- all of you -- before you'd even left. Think of it ..."
But Rose was no longer listening, thunderstruck by the realisation that the echo in his words was deliberate. "How are you in my head?" she demanded.
"Oh," he said. "Of course. I upgraded my nanites recently. They now have -- what would your Bush girl call it? -- administrator privileges."
"Get out of my brain," Rose said, voice level and deadly calm.
"But it's so fascinating in there!" Ortisio protested. "From another universe entirely, eh?" He paused. "The offer was genuine, you know. I'd happily take you all back to that little planet of yours, if you'll just show me a picture of it ..."
"And the only price is letting you loose on Earth? I don't think so."
"Well, that's what makes you the hero, I suppose." He smiled, a thin expression that went nowhere near his eyes, which were still riveted on the scenes around them. "I trust you won't be offended if I say that I hope I don't see you again."
And with that, he vanished, the only trace of his ever having been there a few tiny extra yellow stitches in the background of one of the tapestries.
It wouldn't take him long to get back to somewhere more to his tastes, Rose knew. Ortisio carried a little flipbook of potential destinations with him at all times. Going into the tapestry had been grandstanding, a piece of theatre for her benefit.
One minute, Dot farspoke.
Rose opened the door that led out from the tapestry chamber onto the battlements and engaged the boots, shooting upwards at near maximum velocity. She was three hundred metres above the spire before she even remembered to activate her fieldsuit.
As she looked down, the tower exploded, blossoming into a perfectly symmetrical fireball that, as promised, consumed all the fragments that flew upwards and outwards from the blast.
She felt rather than heard or saw the other two rising up behind her. Nice firework display, Izzy said grudgingly.
Thanks, hon, Dot replied.
Tyler to Torchwood Five, Rose butted in. Mission very much accomplished. We're coming home.
She always said that, always intended the double meaning, the reinforcement of their hopes to see Earth again.
And they would get home.
But she was damned if she was going to take a shortcut.