Doctor Who: Panic Moon Ch. 12

byKurokami©

Shit.

He picked up his pace, shoes clicking as lightly as he could make them across the floor. Sander had to admit, even in the privacy of his own head, that Mara wasn't the only frightened person here. His own heart was pounding, it was a conscious effort to keep his hands from shaking. Questions pounded through his head.

Had he changed? Did it matter? Would it be worse if he had changed, or if he had stayed the same? How could they possibly handle him a second time? Now that he was on top of his game, now that he had the upper hand, he might as well be unstoppable. There might not be a way to wrest control of the situation back from him. It might just be that this is the place where he really would-

'Aw, fuck!' Sander shouted as a group of five soldiers rounded the corner ahead of them. There was a moment belonging to a highly specific subset of moments that Sander was all too familiar with. It was a moment of thin, horrified silence, like blood dripping on glass. It was the moment the invaders raised their rifles, and once again Sander's life was in the hands of someone who really didn't want him alive. It was the moment he faced down prospective death again, and it turned his guts to water.

In a subsequent moment he would later be very, very proud of, he stepped between Mara and the rifle-wielding men, almost automatically. And he was glaring.

'Hackett!' Roared one of the men, voice laden with hate as he stared down the barrel of a gun at him.

'He really was alive!' Quavered another, gun swaying dangerously in his hands.

A third piped up, 'Boss doesn't want him dead. He wants to see him first.'

'Fuck the boss!' Snarled the first, trigger finger frighteningly tight. 'We've got him! He's right here in front of us! Let's take him out!'

'And the girl?' The third cut into this torrent of invective, apparently contriving to be the voice of reason.

'We know what happens with the girls,' Said the first. 'The ones with the collars stay alive, the non-humans and the Half are shoot on sight, the human girl working for Hackett gets to live if she doesn't resist, and she,' He waved his gun at Mara. 'Gets taken to the boss.'

'Oh god...' Mara quavered, clinging on to Sander so tightly.

'Fuck it!' Sander snarled. 'Jerry!'

'Hey!' The first man yelled, hefting his rifle to his shoulder and aiming down the sights. But Jericho's voice was already floating on the air.

'Sander...' He said, virtual voice tinged with concern. 'I can hear you, but I cannot see you. My sensors are... damaged. There are intruders, more people here than there should be, and I can only assume a hostile intent. They used the time before Kanaria could repair my internal sensors to hit my hardware, damage my targeting and firing systems. A pinpoint assault.'

'Marduk works wonders,' The first man grinned, every second seeming to bring him closer and closer to pulling that trigger. Sander's eyes were locked to him. 'Although I assume you've already killed him, the boss wanted to play with you. Stop your defenses firing, but don't target them to you. He wants to see you people running. But not me.'

The next moment was a complex one, as several simultaneous actions happened at once. The world bloomed in wonderful, impossibly coincidental life. For one single, shining second, Sander experienced his own personal eleventh hour, as once again the universe contrived to save his life.

In the beginning of it, the first soldier fired his gun, aiming for a lethal shot at Sander. One bullet, from the weapon of a trained soldier, travelling right at Sander's head. All that rage and hate, a trigger pulled inside his head long before he pulled his.

For a further moment, Sander believed that he was truly going to die. Everything in him shuddered around his true belief that he had only a second to live. Thoughts flooded his mind; losing Mara, losing his battle with the Doctor, perhaps today, on the anniversary of her death, getting to see Elsa again. He wondered what would happen to Amy, Christina and his Eternity Engine.

And then the wall exploded.

Debris rained inwards, with the sound of a scream, a battle cry. Three battle cries. Something blurred as it dashed into the room, resolving into a human figure as it stood tall in front of Sander, one arm already up and swinging a buzzing, long bladed sword in a practiced, curved arc. It came down, and with the sound of screeching metal it...

Cut. The. Bullet.

There was a resounding metal clang, and two half-bullets flew off in opposite directions. The whole exchange only took a moment, a mere second for Sander's eleventh hour to come and go. But sometimes a second is enough.

'Em!' The figure shouted, girlish voice taking on a metallic edge through the smooth, transparent contour of her helmet's faceplate. She pointed, hand gloved in a large metal gauntlet cast in the same black as the rest of her strange, unfamiliar bodysuit. Two other figures, clad in similar attire, leaped through the newly made impromptu door.

'Got it!' The figure in the blue tinted suit gave an emphatic thumbs up before pulling two guns of her own- sleek, shining black things- and fired on the intruders. They scattered, returning fire with a series of angered shouts. Em chuckled and danced, flowing around the shots directed at her seemingly with ease.

'Alpha! Cover Hackett!' The first helmed figure shouted to a hulking, ebony robot that stood in the hole it had made seconds before.

'Acknowledged,' It said, in a thrumming, deeply artificial voice. It broke into a run, dense metal feet clanging on the ground as it took its place in front of Sander, hunkering down so that the bulk of its body stood between him and the fight currently being waged. Stray rounds clanked harmlessly against its armored carapace.

'Nat! Help me take these fuckers out!' The lead figure screamed as she held her sword- her sonic sword- aloft and dove forward into the heat of the battle. The last remaining girl, clad in a green tinted suit and holding a single, frighteningly large, scoped rifle, flew into the fray herself. 'Kill 'em all!'

The roar of pure, burning fury the lead girl burst out with made Sander take a step back; he and Mara watched as best they could from behind the great black bulk of the robot, eyes wide and mouths hanging open. The three strangers displayed remarkable teamwork while fighting together; Em and Nat kept the soldiers at bay with a curtain of bullets, expertly placed, as the leader spun between them, high-tech sword curving in graceful arcs that, more often than not, ended up cutting through some very important places. And it seemed very painful.

Still, it only took a few moments, which spoke volumes about the relative quality of both groups of combatants. When it was over, blood flecked the walls and dissolved off of the still buzzing blade of the leader's molecular-cutting sonic sword. She wiped a tiny droplet from her visor, hard eyes visible through the transparent polymer shell. She thumbed a trigger at the hilt, and the blade faded away; the handle was clipped to her waist, and she retracted her helmet.

Again Sander blinked as long reddish-blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, suddenly free of the helmet. Blue eyes swept him up and down, mouth set in a hard line, youthful features filled with resolve. Her pale skin provided a striking counterpoint to the dark metal suit she wore; she couldn't have been more than seventeen, and to fight like that...

Two other helmets retracted back into the collars of the other suits, revealing the faces of the remaining strangers. Nat, in the green suit, was a redhead with a bright, bouncy expression and lively eyes. She was practically luminous, radiating energy and a troubling amount of joy given she'd just been shooting at strangers. Her gaze switched from Sander to Mara and back again, shuddering with intense interest.

From her blue suit, brunette Em gave Sander no more than a cursory glance, but it was easy to see that this was intentional. That she was very pointedly not looking at him. She toyed with the ends of her shoulder-length hair instead, taking in the rest of the corridor as though searching for additional threats.

'Mister Hackett,' The leader said crisply, back straight as she rounded the bulk of the robot to stand in front of him. 'So nice to finally meet you.'

'Who... the hell are you people?' Of the many questions swarming through his bewildered brain, this seemed to be the one that would fastest cut through to the heart of the matter.

'We're friends, I assure you,' She answered quickly, giving him a placating gesture. His frown deepened.

'Not that I'm ungrateful, you did just save my life, but why the hell should I trust you? Because you also just broke my wall and killed five dudes.'

'Her name was Elsa. You loved her very much.'

He gasped, more a strangled intake of air than a genuine sound of surprise. He didn't speak, couldn't find the words.

'There. There's only two kinds of people who would know that, and since I'm too young to have been on Vesperia at the right time, I have to have learned that from someone you trust, right?' The blonde stranger smiled. 'You can call me... Nothing at all, Mister Hackett. My friend in the blue is Em, the redhead is Nat, and our robot assistant here, who provided you with such nice cover a little while ago, is called Alpha. We're here to protect you.'

'Protect me?' Sander said, voice filled with head-tilting levels of incredulity. 'That's a lie I've never heard before, I'll give you that.'

'It's not a lie, P-' Nat began, stopping as her leader's head snapped around, shooting her a poisonous glare.

'Nat!' She shouted, as Em shoved the redhead forcefully. 'Remember the fucking timelines! He's Mister Hackett, not... Not that other thing. Not even close. Not yet.'

Nat's eyes went wide at the vehemence of the nameless girl, the way her hands clenched into tight, shaking fists. She seemed to shrink inwards; it really hadn't been very long before her first mistake, 'I'm sorry, Se-'

'And before you even say it, remember that he can't know my name, either. D was very emphatic about that,' The girl in black snapped, glaring at Nat.

'Timelines?' Mara spoke for the first time. 'Am I being told you girls are fucking time travelers?'

'Time Agency. Special mission,' The teen answered. 'That's all I can tell you, though.'

'The Time Agency? Weren't those guys shut down?'

'Brought back, just for this. It's complicated.'

'For us? What the fuck?' Sander took a step forward, gesturing up and down Sera's matte black suit. 'And what manner of deal is this with the power armor?'

'Power armor? What is this, a bad sci fi show? You and I both know that powered exoskeletons are only useful for breaking bones,' The strange teenager deadpanned. 'These are Chronosuits. Experimental time machine tech. More efficient than a vortex manipulator, and all our required destinations are pre-programmed in, so it's all nice and streamlined. And besides, it's dead stylish, yeah?' She grinned, seeming to relax for the first time since her sudden appearance. Sander had to admit, this tiny gesture of humanity did put him at ease.

'So... What? You're here to help us through this whole thing? What happens now?' Mara asked, placing her hand firmly into Sander's.

'Well, I'd tell you to run, but I already know you won't. You've got that machine at the center of the planet... Wonderful piece of technology, and you waste it,' The girl identified as Em spoke up with a sneer. 'Look, a lot of people who normally wouldn't have teamed up specifically to send three elite agents and a robot back in time to save your criminal ass, and more than once, too. The worst part is, you won't even grasp the full extent of the effort that's gone into keeping you alive until later, so proper gratitude is a no go.'

'So instead of saving the Sander Hackett, we get shunted across time and space to save the life of a kidnapper, among other things,' Nat said miserably.

'Captain, we've reached the end of the script. Any more talking and we're off the map, risking major divergences. We need to move on,' Em told the girl in black, who was evidently properly their leader. 'Alpha, get ready for temporal shift.'

'Acknowledged,' The large robot stood, before moving to stand between Nat and Em, heavy feet clanking across the floor.

'Alright, we out,' The Captain nodded. 'Listen, Mister Hackett, you need to keep moving. Go and find your crew. It's going to be hard, but you'll live,' She turned to walk away, but stopped, shifting uncomfortably. 'And... Keep Amy Pond safe, okay? Because she really doesn't deserve this.'

'What?' Sander tilted his head further. 'You think I'd let her get hurt?'

The teenager closed her eyes, exhaling explosively, 'We didn't have any choice in coming here. This is an ontological paradox that's been observed, so we have a script we have to follow here. Little blue books, just like Doctor Song. I just... I need some proof that you're worth fighting for. A gesture to show me that you're the same wonderful, kind Sander Hackett that exists in the future. That all this effort isn't just to save the asshole your recent history paints you to be. You and your crew. So do me a favor and you keep Amy Pond safe, Alexander Evan Hackett. You just keep her safe.'

'Aw, full name?' Sander's mind wandered for a second. 'And seriously? Amy's my responsibility. So long as I'm alive, she'll be safe.'

'How noble,' Em deadpanned.

'It's what she asked him to do, Em,' Nat replied.

'Good,' The Captain nodded. 'We're leaving. Ready, everyone?'

A chorus of affirmatives led the girl to stand with her group, taking their hands in hers, gauntlet on gauntlet as they stood in a chain. Oddly, each girl, in the moments before their helmets clicked out of the collar of their suits to enclose them, looked as though they desperately wanted to say something more, and were holding it in through sheer force of will. In the last moment that they were visible to him, all three girls smiled at Sander and Mara.

'We'll see you again in a few hours,' Nat said, faceplate giving her voice a hollow, metallic edge. 'But you two need to take the long path, 'kay?'

'Who are you girls?' Mara asked softly.

Em smiled helplessly through her visor, eyes sparkling in an oddly happy way, 'Spoilers.' She lilted. A series of colored nodes lit up along the length of all four of the strangers, light building and building with a sound eerily similar to that of the TARDIS, in a way that made Sander shudder reflexively.

And then, they were gone, faded away, as insubstantial as air. Off to... Somewhere else. Silence. Sander blinked.

'... The fuck?'

'Your middle name is Evan?' Mara said slowly.

'... Yeah.'

'That's no good. I don't like it.'

'I think...' Sander worked his jaw thoughtfully for a moment. 'I think that we have a job to do, now.'

'Yeah,' Mara nodded. 'I need to come up with a new middle name for you...'

********************

Kanaria squeaked in surprise as a hand disrupted her forward momentum, tugging her out from the access corridor and into an adjoining room. Acting on instinct, she fought against it, struggled, until a loud "Shh!" silenced her.

'Hey, come on, it's just me,' Tsugi laid his hands reassuringly on her shoulders. 'There are guys out there. Guys with guns, so I doubt they're fucking space Mormons, or whatever. Do you know what's going on?'

'Um, s-sort of...' Kanaria said unsteadily. 'It's... I think it's got something to do with Sander. He seemed really freaked out. He ran to find Mara.'

'Yeah, figures it'd be Sander...' Tsugi looked away, silently adding. 'Just so long as these guys aren't here for Ren...'

'We need to find somewhere safe to go,' Kanaria's hand was squeezing Tsugi's so tightly, the warmth of her skin oddly pleasant, even in this suddenly dangerous circumstances. And he knew she was clinging to him in fear, but still... Nice. 'Or to one of the weapon's lockers. If we're armed... If we're armed, we stand a chance. But we should find Ren. Or Dulsie. Or Ly. Or-'

'Hey, hey,' Tsugi soothed. 'Slow down. You need to be calm, I can't be dragging around a panicking person, okay? Listen, we need to find the rest of the guys, that's true. Ren first, she can help us. Let's go to her room, okay?'

'O-okay,' Kanaria nodded, all wide eyed and vulnerable. Tsugi experienced a strong urge to give her a hug, but quashed it. This wasn't the time. Regrettably.

'Come on,' He said, giving her hand an awkward, reassuring squeeze. 'You stick close to me, okay?'

*******************

'We've found the Half, sir. In her room, appropriately enough.'

'Lock her in. Deadlock seal the door. She's a bit of a threat, so we'll deal with her later, yes? Have you found Hackett yet?' Still that dead eyed look, as all around him his soldiers went to work. He himself lounged against a wall, remarkably languid, given the importance of this mission. If he failed here, if Sander Hackett's head couldn't be delivered to these men, they would turn on him without a doubt. And they had guns.

'No, sir. He's hiding from us, but that's hardly surprising. If we could access his A.I, we could-'

'No. That's not how we're playing this game. I want to see him run, Huxley. Why would you take that from me?' That little smile that always sent a shudder down Huxley's back. This was his employer.

'Yes, sir. The Dullahan is giving us some trouble. Reports indicate a total loss of the first group to find her.'

'Interesting species, the Dullahan. Cloaked in legend. People say they're immortal. I would love to test that theory,' His employer's smile deepened, cold eyes staring out as he idly toyed with his favorite knife. In all his time around this man, Huxley had never seen him without that knife. It was like a trusted friend to him. Huxley couldn't decide exactly how unsettling that actually was. 'See if you can lead her my way.'

'... Yes, sir. And the others? The technician and the programmer? The Trine-form?'

'If they resist, kill them. If they don't... Maybe I will. Who knows?'

Huxley bit down on a scathing reply as he turned to go do something far less frightening. It was good that he was here, doing this- assuming he even survived- But that man...

He couldn't help the thought, as it slid into his brain, fully formed and, he realized, utterly, terrifyingly true. It made him dizzy to think it, like sudden vertigo:

'Who knows? Certainly not you, you psychopath...'

******************

All in all, Tsugi considered, things weren't that bad.

Well, yes, he was being hunted, and yes he could hear footsteps getting steadily closer, resounding in an urgent and decidedly hostile manner. But he'd always at least been aware of the bright side in his head, despite his outer coating of cynicism. And currently, his bright side was Kanaria.

If he looked back, he could see her running. At all times he was aware of her hand in his, fingers wrapped tight around his own; the weight of it was incredible. Right now, she was his responsibility; keeping her safe was his only job. Not that he wouldn't have done this anyway, but he really didn't want to have to face Mara and Ren if their precious little sister got hurt under his care.

And so they ran, down the corridors of their home, avoiding hostile presences as they found them. Tsugi liked to think he wasn't easily spooked, but even he had to admit that this shit was getting to him; this was his home, and suddenly finding it filled with danger was profoundly shocking. He had walked these halls for a solid three years, but now every shadow seemed to conceal an enemy, every corner was laden with the sheer, disorienting malice of these intruders. It was the same as walking across an alien landscape.

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