Title: Going Fishing.
Author: Silver under glass (lj: silver_u_glass)
Recipient: sparcck
Featured character: The Doctor (The Authority)
Summary: It's been a days since the events of Human on the Inside, but have the Erinyes really finished with the Doctor?
Author's notes: Takes place after Human on the Inside and prior to Coup D'etat
Rating: R (violence, language and drug use)
Spoilers: Some for Human on the Inside, a nod towards Earth Inferno.

Jeroen stared out of the windows into the unremitting, arterial red of the bleed. Uncomfortable, he adjusted his weight, the cushion of mystical force that was holding him above the floor adapted, flexing to support him perfectly.

He would never say this to the others, but he hated passing through the bleed. Spending time in different dimensions was starting to become familiar, but getting to them, that was another thing entirely. Maybe it had something to do with being in a place where there was no Earth, parallel or otherwise. Being the shaman of an entire planet has its advantages but maybe it also ties you to the place in more subtle ways than any of the past Doctors had realized. Whatever the reason might be, passing through the bleed always made him twitchy.

Twitchy or not, being in the bleed didn't stop him being the Doctor, so after a deep breath Jeroen closed his eyes and began to probe into the infinity between universes. They were out there somewhere and he would find them, he just had to listen. Everything from Earth, everything that was his had a very specific energy, he just had to find it, it would be out there, that's the nice thing about energy - it is always there.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed, that is a basic rule of physics, there's another one that says more or less the same thing about matter. If he could have been bothered, Jeroen might have looked up who first claimed to have discovered those two. Actually he didn't even need to look anything up, a quick headmail to Angie and he'd know. More than likely he'd not only know who claimed credit for those neat little phrases, he'd also have a list of anyone they ever worked with, copies of the mathematical proofs and a list of any publications related to those proofs.

Angie can be really thorough when she thinks it might piss you off, unless you're Jack, and even then she only holds back occasionally.

But why bother? Whichever physicist thought he made an astounding discovery was just putting into words something that every Doctor has always known, all magic follows those two rules; after all, all that magic is, is change.

To some extent magic flows around everything that lives. For some people, and if they weren't thinking clearly they might call themselves the lucky ones, magic flows through them. Almost everyone he shared the Carrier with was wrapped in magic, one way or another, even if they could never see it. Instead they would tell themselves stories. Tales about comet effects that let you grow wings, being rebuilt by aliens or by biggest bastard the world has ever known. What they wouldn't admit to themselves was that those stories didn't make any sense; they would talk about advanced technology that lets a man convert light to laser beams and alien biotechnology that permits a connection with a metaphysical abstract like the spirit of a city.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It is another rule, or better still, a law. Angie might argue how concrete this one is, of course, since it comes from a science-fiction writer not some graying or long-dead scientist. She would be right too, high technology and magic may look alike, but the Earth's Shaman would know. Being around magic has its own buzz, sometimes it might scream, almost to the point of drowning out everything else, or it could be as soft as music playing three rooms away. That's not a great description; it's not a sound, any more than it's an odour or a flavour, but how do you explain a unique sense when language doesn't even have similes that suit it, let alone a verb? However you try to articulate it, if there was magic around Jeroen could always tell.

Watching the red-in-red of the bleed flow past him, Jeroen smiled. He had not been the only person having a hard time explaining things lately.

*

"So, just to recap, we still don't know why the Erinyes chose that particular day to go after posthumans, or whether they're coming back. We haven't even had a week to get back on balance after saving the future, yet again. We still don't know what happened to Shen while all that stuff was going on."

"Right."

"But despite all this we are about to charge off to another dimension?"

"Yes."

"Because the Doctor can't find his fish?"

"Yes."

"Well that's just fucking stupid"

"Ye- look, Midnighter I realize it's bizarre but we have to deal with this."

"Deal with what? Someone steals a few fish and we go chasing after them into the bleed, when the hell did we start catching shoplifters?"

Angie sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, before waving a hand at the display floating above the metallic table of the Carrier's "meeting room."

"Not a few fish, all of them, as far as the Carrier could detect there isn't even one left on the planet. Do you have any idea what that could do to the global ecosystem?"

The Midnighter slumped back into his chair, arms folded across his chest.

"I still say it sounds ridiculous."

"Noted" Jack replied, with Angie's briefing finished he resumed control of the meeting. "And normally I'd say that if you don't like it you're welcome to stay on the Carrier with Jenny, but right now all we know about the guys we're going up against is that they have access to the bleed and the ability to make millions of animals disappear in seconds. If the last few days have taught us anything it's that we can't take anything for granted, so right now I'm assuming we are going to need everyone, which brings me to the next question; are you up for this, Doctor?"

"Of course" Behind his lenses Jeroen blinked, he very rarely said anything during these meetings. He might ask or answer the odd question, but most of the time he just let the others get on with things, they were the professional heroes, after all, he had just inherited a dead man's powers.

"Sure? Because if you're just going to stand there and watch the rest of us work we might as well not bring you along, you haven't exactly been full time lately."

"You're right Jack." He tried to keep his tone mild. "I've spent almost as much time off the field in the last few days as you have."

"I was paralyzed, remember?" Jack snarled his hands flat against the table, braced to push him to his feet. "Someone snapped my back while you were standing around pissing in your boots. Then, when the fight was over, you could have fixed me up with a wave of your hand, but instead I spent two days flat on my back, while you hid inside a needle."

Everyone around the table became very still. Hawksmoor was half out of his chair, poised to leap at the Doctor, who was sitting patiently, fingers steepled in front of his face. After a moment he spoke:

"Fine, I was hoping to let some time pass before we had this little talk, but what the hell, I guess a couple of days will have to be enough, right? Yes, I lost it during the fight with the Erinyes, they were fucking gods Jack, the only reason the rest of you weren't freaking out was because you didn't know what you were up against. The only thing that could take them was a machine, because they have no jurisdiction over machines."

He paused briefly; distracted at the way the Engineer slumped in her seat.

"You still should have-"

"No, Midnighter, just for now, I'm talking, you listen." As he spoke he leaked a little force into the room, not much, just enough to remind his teammate that there were some things his fight computers had not been programmed to handle. In truth, however, it was probably Apollo's light touch on his partner's wrist that allowed the Doctor to continue.

"Engineer, look at me. Please, Angie. Look." Jeroen let the magic slide over him, switching out of his "working clothes," green eyes replacing unreadable red lenses. "I know what they told you, when the others were fighting. I heard them. Don't believe them, Angie, gods lie too. If what you fear is true they wouldn't have been able to touch you, they only have jurisdiction over sinners, and you have to be human for that. Think about Danny, even after he kicked one of them into next week, they still couldn't touch him."

Angie didn't say anything; she barely moved, just broke eye contact, dropping her gaze back to the table.

"OK." Jeroen fished a pair of red sunglasses from a pocket. "Well, it's something to think about."

"So you were scared during a fight, it happens, still doesn't excuse going back on the smack, does it?" Jack had returned to his seat but still seemed moments away from loosing his temper.

"No, it doesn't. I'm sorry it happened, but I can't explain it, any more than you can explain what it was like for you to step into Moscow just after the Gammoran attack; there are some things you have to experience to understand." Jeroen replied, his eyes once again hidden by red glass. "You're a physical person Jack, so that's where they broke you; I don't have that, so they shattered my spirit."

"That's it is it?" Hawksmoor was leaning back into his chair at this point, arms folded across his chest. "Sorry I left you hanging everyone, I was feeling a little depressed?"

"If that's how you see it Jack, then yes, OK, I was a little depressed. This isn't achieving anything, and we have more important things to deal with, so why don't we move on? "

"He's right, Jack" Angie said, still staring at the table. "We don't have time for this right now."

"Fine," Hawksmoor shrugged, "but we will come back to this. Back to business then. Shen, if anyone can follow these guys through he bleed it's you, head up to mission control and see if we can get to them before they leave the bleed. Angie do you think you can lend her a hand?

"Sure."

"Apollo, Midnighter we're going to need you fresh for the fight; go get some sun, play with Jenny, do whatever you do."

"Sounds easy."

"Doctor, take a nap, go to your garden, do whatever you need to do to get your head in the game."

"I'll be ready, if you need me I'll be on the observation deck, I'm going fishing."

*

Jeroen shrugged, bragging aside there are some things he can do that Shen cannot, but they would be better off working together. Without his consciously willing it, the cushion of magical force gently returned the Doctor to his feet and he made his way to the bridge.

When he got there he saw Shen standing at the flight controls, almost doubled over with laughter.

"Shen."

"Huh? Oh, sorry Doctor, Angie was just – Never mind, is there something you need?

"I just," the Doctor began, before having to stop as Shen collapsed in a fit of giggles.

"One second, Doctor." Shen said, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

[Sorry Doctor.] Even across the radiotelepathic link Jeroen could hear the laughter in Angie's voice.

"Right," Shen was composed now, but still smiling. "What can I do for you Doctor?"

"How are you getting on with the search?"

"Checking up on us? I never had you down as a control freak, Doctor." She seemed to be in far good a mood to be annoyed, but Jeroen decided to play it safe. He had not been on the receiving end of much good natured teasing in a while, not since Jenny Sparks died.

"No, not checking up, I just wanted to see if I could help."

"Doctor, relax. We're chasing a bunch of intergalactic poachers across the gap between universes to save the world. Like Apollo said earlier: it's nice to get back to normal after everything that's happened lately."

Jeroen nodded, in a strange way he could see what she meant. "Uh, about that, look, I know you don't want to remember what happened, but why won't you let me fix you up?" He waved a hand towards the bandage wrapped around Shen's bicep. "I wouldn't need to, you know, examine you or anything. If that's what you're worried about. I could just make you whole."

"I told you, Doctor." Shen turned back to the flight controls, when she spoke again there wasn't a trace of the playfulness of moments ago. "I'm fine."

I should have left it alone, she almost let me in, it was almost like it was back when Jenny kept everything light but I had to push things. I'm never going to know these people am I? It was supposed to be rhetorical self pity, a mental kick in the ass before getting back to normal, but the Earth's Shaman is never alone in his own head.

~It is the way it has always been, the shaman lives outside the village, little doctor, separate from his tribe.~ His predecessor's voice was almost as familiar to him now as his own internal monologue. ~You can protect them, guide them, but you will never really be one of them.~

~Are you saying they're always going to be this distant?~ As soon as he replied the world shifted, the metallic grey of mission control replaced by the mindscape of the Garden of Ancestral Memory.

~You are not like them; they are warriors and drones, you have become an aspect of the hive itself. They sense it about you and it makes them uneasy, aren't you wondering why you hardly see your old friends any more, the ones who knew you before you became the Doctor?~

~Jenny never seemed to have a problem with me.~ Jeroen replied, watching a tiny hopebird dancing across a field of souls in potentia, each sleeping through their nine-month wait.

~Jenny Sparks was like you, one of a long line. She was the zeitgeist; just as the Earth has always had her Shaman, the century has had its Spirit. Are you surprised that she would find you easier to cope with than the others do?~

~Are you seriously trying to tell me that if I want a drinking buddy I've got to wait for little Jenny to grow up?~ Jeroen snapped. ~You're wrong. Jenny Sparks wasn't nice to me because we've got some deep mystical connection; Jenny got on with me because she was an alcoholic old woman with a nasty streak a mile wide and bad taste in jokes. All that crap about "living apart from the tribe," it's elitist bullshit like that, that keeps you distant from people.~

Unceremoniously the Doctor broke off the conversation, letting the intense colours of the Garden fade back to the gleaming metal of the Carrier.

Where a hand was waving in front of his face.

"Doctor? Doctor?"

"If you're going to tell me a Doctor joke now, I should warn you, I think I heard them all when I did Leno's show last year."

"Oh, you're back." Shen walked back to the flight controls. "What happened? You were... catatonic or something."

"I was in my Garden; the last Doctor had something he wanted to talk to me about."

"You can do that? Go to the Garden and still be here?" Shen looked over her shoulder at him, she seemed interested. "I thought you had to physically walk through the dimensions, like that time you were hiding Baby Jenny."

"It's... complicated."

"... Fine, whatever."

"No," Jeroen held up his hands, palms outwards, "I'm not trying to be mystical or obtuse; it really is just a little hard to explain. Basically, I can walk there, it is a real place, but it is a real place that only exists in my head, or everyone's head to be more precise." He gave a brief laugh, "I'm not doing too well avoiding mystical obtuseness, am I?"

"Well, at least you gave it a go." Shen smiled back at him, "that counts for something. Anyway, Doctor-"

"Jeroen."

"Excuse me?"

"We're on the Carrier, Shen; you don't have to use code names here. Call me Jeroen."

"Awwww, that's, like, so sweet!" The Engineer was leaning against the door frame, twirling one of her metallic dreadlocks, around her finger. Her usual Brooklyn accent had vanished, replaced by an airheaded Valley-girl squeak. "Are you two, like, going steady now?"

"Shut up, Angie." Shen looked around for something to throw.

"Do people still say going steady?" Jeroen wondered aloud.

"Who's going steady?" Apollo strode into the room, the Midnighter close on his heels. "Angie, don't tell me you've finally seen the light and dumped Jack for Shen?"

"Hetrophobe." Jack was smiling, last to arrive. "So we've found them, then?"

"Found who? When?"

"The guys we've been trying to track down for the last hour, at least that was what Shen's headmail said; why else are you up here Doctor?" Jack sounded genuinely curious.

"I thought I could help look, I wasn't having any luck down on the observation deck."

"Suuuuuuuure."

"Shut up Angie." Shen and the Doctor said in chorus.

"They've even got that talking at the same time thing!" Angie said, refusing to let up.

"Enough. Work now, annoy the Doctor later." Jack interrupted, looking far more relaxed than he had earlier that morning. "If we've found them why are we still in the bleed?"

"We're ready to go," Shen replied, hands hovering over the Carrier's interface. "I just thought it would be a good idea to have everyone together and ready before we got started. You said it yourself this morning; we still don't know what we're up against."

"Only one way to find out."

"That being prepared and cautious thing didn't really last long, did it, Jack?" Angie looked stern, but her tone wasn't fooling anyone.

"You two behave yourselves. I've already had to explain to Jenny why Uncle Jack and Aunt Angie are so fond of wrestling; don't make me go through that with the Midnighter as well."

"You can explain all you like, that will never make sense."

"Since no-one seems to have a better idea," Shen interrupted, "I'm moving us out of the bleed, Angie can you get the Carrier's defenses ready, please?"

Passing through the walls of the bleed is never as dramatic as it sounds. The vivid red simply fades darkening to the star dotted blackness of space, and, as so often happens the Authority found themselves looking at:

"Earth."

"No surprise there then," Apollo folded his arms across his chest, "you know for superheroes we don't really go into space as much as you'd think."

"Apollo, we live in space."

"Jack," Angie was looking at readouts from the Carrier's sensors. "You should see this, there are no cities, none."

"What?"

"I've scanned every continent, even Antarctica. There are no houses, no roads, no shops, nothing."

"There's consciousness down there," Jeroen closed his eyes behind the red lenses of his uniform, "I can feel it."

His eyes still closed, Jeroen tried to ignore his mundane senses. He blocked out the sound of Jack and Angie talking about communications chatter or some other nonsense; recognized, then ignored the sweat and leather smell of the Midnighter mixing with the hint of ozone caused by the air ionizing against Apollo's corona.

He reached out with the same unnamed sense he had tried to use in the bleed. This time pushing past the mystical white noise caused by his companions, each as distinct as their personalities, but always there. This legacy from his predecessor meant that he was always connected to his teammates, knowing where they were was as natural to him now as feeling hot or cold, and just as involuntary. Only the Midnighter was hidden from him. Knowingly or otherwise, Harry Bendix had not used any magic when he was creating that particular super soldier, just lots of technology, some bio-enhancements and a fair amount of sadism. After a few breaths the Doctor had tuned out the rest of the Authority and reached towards the planet below.

This wasn't his Earth; there was a familiarity to the place, more than just the arrangement of landmass or its position in space but it still wasn't his. Jeroen waited a couple of heartbeats, trying to understand where the differences lay, and which ones mattered. The planet knows what it is like to bring forth life, and there was a species here that had developed consciousness, he could feel the pride about that.

There was magic here too, strong magic. He recognized it from the residual traces he had felt just after their fish had been taken. This spell was keeping the stolen fish tied to the planet, even if they wanted to they couldn't have used doors to collect the animals and go home, they would have to stop the spell first. There was something about the spell, like the planet itself, it was familiar but not a working quite like his own, or like any magic he had come across before, there was something so completely single-minded about it. The advantage to that was that it made it easy to trace, it was coming from a specific spot in the Pacific.

"He's back."

"How can you tell?"

"I heard his heart rate change."

"You're a very scary guy sometimes, Midnighter."

"I know where we need to go."

"It speaks."

The Doctor opened his eyes. There were monitors everywhere, at first he did not recognize what was on screen, after a second the shapes and colours resolved into images that almost made sense.

"Jesus, how many teeth do those things need?"

"It needs to shut up for a minute. Angie picked up some transmissions from the planet, she just finished the translations; we can talk to whoever these people are and find out what's going on. Ready, Angie?"

"Yep, go."

"This is Jack Hawksmoor for the Authority, breaking across all known frequencies and languages, including your own. We know you can understand us, we know you have something that comes from our world. We want them back. That's all, return them to us, give us an assurance you will leave our world alone and we'll go in peace. You have half an hour to respond. Hawksmoor out."

"What do you think?"

"I think they're going to fight. Look at them; they're sharks with opposable thumbs. Somehow, on this world, a species designed to swim and eat became the dominant sentient species, that doesn't stop them being basically hunters.

"Jack, have you ever seen Chimpanzees make a kill?" Shen had her arms folded across her chest; her wings were not-quite resting against the flight controls. "Watch Animal Planet sometime, the species closest to Gandhi's will chase monkeys across trees, herding them into ambushes, and they look like they enjoy it. Our ancestors are nothing to be proud of."

"Hell, Swift, if anything you just added weight to my argument. I'm not making a judgment. They come from predators, I say they'll fight. We come from hunters and I know given the same situation we would fight."

"Jack, I think we're getting a reply."

The picture on all of the monitors had changed to show the same image. A hugely muscled creature covered in coarse grey skin, its mouth open to show row upon row of serrated teeth.

"This is a message for Jack Hawksmoor and his Authority. You come here seeking the return of a group you have been systematically exploiting, massacring and poisoning. Left to you they would be wiped out in a few generations, maybe less. With us, given time, they will survive, even thrive. We recognize your technology and we are prepared for it; you cannot use it to abduct them. Go home Jack Hawksmoor of the Authority, there is nothing for you here."

"So much for diplomacy."

"I can't say I'm surprised." Jeroen began.

The Midnighter gave a brief grunt of agreement, "I'm starting to wonder why we bother, when has that ever worked?"

"It's more than stubbornness here, imagine you looked through the bleed and saw some bunch of aliens torturing your ancestors. People complain all the time about vivisection, half the time those scientists have the same worries as abortion clinics in the bible-belt and that's just when scientists use fluffy things like puppies and bunnies. Imagine the problems if they were allowed to use apes again. Now think what these things must have thought when they saw the state of our oceans; over-fishing, mercury dumping, depletion of species like cod or any variety of shark.

"You sound like you agree with them." Jeroen has noticed there are essentially two Midnighters. Jenny's "Daddy Midnight" may have a measured baritone but in the Shaman's pantheon has "Night's Bringer of War" and he growls. It's a sound that reaches past the civilized brain, down to the bits that are leftover from an earlier time and flicks the switch marked "utter terror." Jeroen didn't need some enhanced psychopath to press that particular button though, anticipating the fight they were about to go into was doing that all on its own. Somewhere in his already crowded mind a voice started whispering to him:

Who are you to do this?

He tried to ignore it, focus on answering the question that didn't come from three voices speaking as one.

"Part of me does. Humanity has pretty comprehensively fucked up our planet; it's something I should have been doing more about. Not just over-fishing either. Pollution, deforestation, climate change; pick your disaster movie. When we get back it's something I'm going to look into, that doesn't mean we're leaving without what we came for."

You agree that a sin has taken place but you absolve your people of it anyway? Who are you to claim this right?

"You said we had our punishment. We passed your trial, leave me alone."

"What was that?"

"Uh –"

"Angie, Midnighter, incoming!"

Throughout the room, monitors switched away from images of grey-skinned creatures doing everyday things, like talking and eating, changing to show a swarm of missiles speeding from the planet towards the Carrier.

"Should I go outside, thin them out a bit?"

"Angie what do you think?"

"I wouldn't bother; it's nothing the Carrier can't handle on its own."

"Then ignore them, Apollo. This is all taking too long, the last thing I want to happen is for us to be distracted here when something happens back home. Angie, can you tell which fish came from our Earth?"

"I think so."

"Good, fill a couple of the empty cargo bays with water then start opening Doors. Try to avoid taking any that weren't ours originally, but if it happens, it happens."

"OK"

"That's not going to-"

"Apollo, Midnighter, I doubt those missiles are all they've got. Get down to the junction room; be ready to break a few heads."

"Wait! Jack, something weird is going on. Every time I open a Door the fish all disappear. They're not swimming away, they just vanish and reappear somewhere else."

"I was trying to tell you, we can't just scoop them up. There's something down there that is protecting the fish. I felt it earlier; I think it's concentrated around the Marianas Trench."

"In that case we do this the old fashioned way. Down to the planet, break their little toy, scoop fish and go home. God this has to be the most complicated fishing expedition I've ever been on. Junction room everyone, let's make this quick."

"Not you though, Jack." Angie stepped in front of Jack blocking his way out of mission control. She sounded almost apologetic. "Whatever is down there is all wrong for you. If there are cities, they are nothing the carrier recognizes, I doubt those alien organs of yours will either. I know there's more to it than just a need for pollutants and buildings, but you still need those things and whatever they've got down there is not enough to keep you alive."

"Sorry Jack, no fighting fish-people for you. Don't worry," the Midnighter smiled, or all of his teeth were visible, which was close enough. He cracked his knuckles, "I'll bring you back some sushi."

"We're not fighting fish people."

"We're not? What's the matter Doctor, pussying out again?" Despite Jack's good mood the earlier argument had apparently not been forgotten.

"This is another time where you don't know the reality of what you're going up against Jack." Jeroen waved a hand at the monitors. "There's someone down there with a lot of magic, enough to not only steal millions of animals, but to hide them from me as they moved through the bleed. That’s magic on a global scale."

"You're saying they have a Doctor."

"They may not call it that but yes; the Earth always has a Shaman. If we want to stop the spell *that* is who we have to fight."

"Oh great," Apollo rolled his eyes. "Because we all know how well that went last time."

"That was the five of you against the old Doctor, you had no mystical support. This time I'll have magic too, hopefully we should cancel each other out."

"Hopefully?"

"The two Earths are not identical; it stands to reason there will be differences between the shamans who represent them."

There's more to it than that though isn't there, does your cowardice run so deep you cannot even tell them that truth?

"Then here's the plan, the Doctor goes down there and breaks the other guy's wand or whatever the hell he has to do. Angie, Apollo, Midnighter; your job is to keep him alive long enough to do it. Shen, you stay in the junction room, if anyone looks like they need evac that's down to you."

"Are you sure that's wise, Jack? I mean with the trouble we had last time and you staying on the Carrier, why keep me up here too?"

"Shen, I know you can fight, but we're doing this the smart way for once. You're a flyer, I'm not putting you into a fight in deep water for the same reason I wouldn't send the Midnighter to fight someone five thousand feet up - you can't stay there as long as the others. If this is anything like the last time there *will* be problems and you'll probably have way more to do that you want."

*

The difference between the warm glow of the junction room and the almost black water deep beneath the surface of the planet was profound. Apollo's corona pierced the water, illuminating the oppressive darkness surrounding the four post-humans.

[Darker down here than I expected] For a moment, Jeroen was surprised at how concerned the Midnighter sounded over the radiotelepathy. [Apollo, have you got enough stored charge for this?]

[I'll be fine, we spent yesterday on a beach in Rio remember?] Apollo winked at his husband before looking into the darkness. [Can any of you see anything? I thought this was where their Doctor was supposed to be?]

He was right. Jeroen looked into the darkness; despite the Engineer adding some powerful lights to the pressure suit she had grown around herself there was barely a sign of life. To his left was the sandy expanse that made up the wall of the Trench, everywhere else was nothing but water.

[Engineer to Hawksmoor, Jack are we in the right place?]

[You're where the Doctor said to put you, which is about half a mile South of where those missiles left the surface.]

Have you failed your friends already false Doctor?

[I didn't fail! This is where the magic was coming from when we were in mission control, it must have just moved!]

[Calm down, Doc! I wasn't accusing you of fucking up; I just thought that spell that stopped the transporter working on the fish might have affected us]

[We go North then, keep your eyes open everyone.]

They didn't swim, it was more like flying. Apollo took point, gliding ahead holding onto the Midnighter, so they looked like a star trailing a shadow. The group had been working together for long enough now that it had become almost instinct to form a wedge. The Doctor unconsciously paused, just for a moment before moving, putting him in the perfect spot just behind and to the left of Apollo. He did not have to look to know that the Engineer was keeping pace on his right.

They moved in silence for a while. The Doctor took the opportunity to run a finger along his collar, trying to get used to the sensation of his freshly-grown gills.

[Doctor?] Angie's thoughts broke the silence.

[I'm still here]

[The others can't hear this; I'm only talking to you right now, so listen carefully. I know earlier, up on the Carrier, I was joking around with Shen, but here and now I'm telling you: give it up, you haven't got a chance with her, save yourself the grief.]

It sounded more like a threat than friendly concern. He wanted to tell her that she had the wrong idea, explain to her that he and Shen were being friendly, that was all, but for some reason what came out was:

[What's the matter, Angie, jealous?]

[You wish, you just can't let that go can you? Listen carefully; you have as much chance with me as you do with Shen, fuck all. I'm serious Doctor, back off.]

Before he had a chance to correct his mistake, or dig himself in deeper, which he was willing to admit was the more likely outcome, the Midnighter broke across the radiotelepathy.

[We've got movement up ahead]

Just at the edge of the darkness grey shapes could be seen powering their way through the water. Apollo and the Midnighter were further ahead than either the Engineer or the Doctor had realized; they must have slowed down when they were arguing. As the two post-humans raced to catch up with their friends, the midnight-blue of the water briefly became as brightly lit as bikini atoll during the nineteen-fifties.

Blinking away the after images, Jeroen saw Apollo as a white blur speeding away from the sliced corpses of a group of huge sharks. The light from his corona showing rank upon rank of the creatures patiently waiting ahead of them, blocking their way forward.

[I'd say we're getting close] Jeroen could picture the Hollywood-perfect smile that always went with a dry remark like that.

[Hitting these things is like punching steel wrapped in sandpaper]

[Complaining, my love?]

[Just an observation]

Off to Jeroen's right it seemed like someone had just set off a strobe. The Engineer had "grown" a pair of strange looking cannons, and was blasting at something that had been trying to sneak around them.

[On the carrier it looked like these things had evolved into bipeds] she said.

[Why what are you seeing?] Hawksmoor's voice sounded concerned.

Jeroen started as something huge glided silently towards him, almost brushing against the wall of the Trench, the force of it's tail causing clouds of silt to leap up behind it.

[Think of Jaws' bigger, nastier, uglier brother, Jack]

Swallowing hard, he tried to bite back the urge to scream. He could deal with this, he just needed to focus.

Pathetic, they're animals. You've faced down horrors from other worlds, you helped kill what you call "God" and you're scared of a few thousand pounds of fish.

Forcing a gulp of water through his gills he reached out to the magic, looking for the places were reality joined.

[Midnighter, remember that looser Hawkins? I wonder if he would appreciate this.]

Carefully taking hold of the seams of the universe, the Doctor got a good grip and... twisted. Purple runes glowed around the Doctor's wrists. Where there had been row upon row of menacing grey shadows there was now a scattering of white, pale against the black water, like snow falling on a wet road.

[Tiger sharks to tigers, Siegfried and Roy can kiss my ass]

[I've always been fond of cats, that seems a bit cruel, Doctor] Angie's voice had started to echo. Just as the Doctor realized that was because she was duplicating herself he saw more strobe-like flashes light up the water. Five Engineers were blasting into a fresh wave of attackers. This time there were responding flashes of light, from the glimpses the Doctor got this group looked more like the shark-men that had been on the monitors in mission control. [I think they've realized we're here, and they're ticked about us killing their guard dogs]

[Stop pissing about Doctor, we can handle this stuff. Apollo, grab him and push through, find their Doctor and end this]

As the Doctor felt someone grab the back of his tunic he heard Apollo's voice across the radiotelepathy.

[It's times like this I miss Jenny, Big Jenny that is, saltwater and a few thousand mutant shark things to kill? She could have cleared this place out with a nine volt battery.]

[I like the personal touch myself] The Midnighter thought back, Jeroen could see him stabbing a sharpened rod through an eye of one of the sharks and driving it in until it severed the brainstem.

With the assurance that his husband was enjoying himself, Apollo shot north, eating up the distance between where they were and where they needed to be. Their "flight" took them past sharks and shark-men, usually pale grey blurs as Apollo dodged around them, but at one point there were just too many.

[Going through!]

The Doctor just had time to will a protective "skin" into place before there was an impression of teeth, a flare of light, a sickening crunch and a *lot* of blood. Strangely, despite the cold water there was also a burning sensation running across the left side of his chest.

[Doctor]

They had stopped moving. Jeroen looked down; there seemed to be some white spots and black lines staining the purple of his tunic. He brushed at the marks and red lights burst across his vision, he opened his mouth try to screaming but he couldn't get the sound past his gills. It did not make sense; nothing should have been able to hurt him.

He tried to push magic into his skin, willing the bones to fix themselves and the flesh to knit. It was simple magic, but something was resisting him, all that he could manage was to block out the pain.

[The other Doctor must be close, it's stopping my spells]

[Just a guess Doc] For the first time since the stepping through the Door, Apollo sounded subdued. [But my money is on that thing]

Apollo's white gloved hand was pointing at several shark-men that were floating in front of a temple-like structure jutting out of the wall of the Trench, but it was easy to tell which one he really had in mind.

It was huge; easily ten feet tall with muscles that put every cape and mask Jeroen had ever met to shame. Its mouth was open, presumably to suck water through its gills, but it might just have been to show off an impressive mass of serrated teeth. Around it were four smaller shark-men. Each was holding a kind of ceremonial weapon; a club, edged with something white and jagged. Some part of his brain wondered what kind of creature stuck its own teeth onto a club; the rest of his mind however was focused on not soiling himself.

[You can block its magic too, right?] Apollo was looking at him.

[In theory we can cancel each other out, why?]

[Well if it's anything like you, as long as you can stop it protecting itself, I should be able to fry it]

The Doctor nodded and stretched out his fingers; he could see why he had not been able to heal himself, there were points where the flow of energy through him was being dammed.

[Doc, the other ones are moving]

Concentrating, he gripped his aura and began to expand it outwards, extending it until he felt the resistance that signified the other Doctor's aura. When that happened gritted his teeth and pushed hoping to drive the creature's aura into itself and weaken its ability to send energy into the outside world.

As he expected the other Doctor realized what he was doing and began to fight back, which gave him the opening he was looking for.

[Apollo, it's distracted; if you're going to do it, do it now!]

The man did not need to be told twice, for a split second Apollo's eyes glowed before powerful lasers blasted towards the alien Doctor, boiling the water they passed through. Before the light beams reached their target, however, they hit a shield of familiar purple light.

Even with the help of another man-who-would-be-a-god, you are not even close defeating one who should be your exact equal

Jeroen balled his hands into fists and pushed harder, trying to force a chink in the creature's armour. Apollo, for his part, kept piling on the juice, burning through more and more of his stored solar charge, but it was having no effect. It was taking all of the Doctor's concentration and magic, yet he could barely force a stalemate.

Unexpectedly the beams vanished. Everything plunged into a near-blackness, the Doctor span towards where Apollo had been floating, his heart in his throat. The relief when he realized that he could just make out a faint coronal glow was almost enough to make him forget what was going on.

[Shen, open a Door and grab Apollo, he needs to recharge]

The shifting orange and yellow glow appeared almost immediately, a pair of hands reached out of the light and dragged Apollo out of the water.

[Sorry, Doctor] Apollo's normally upbeat voice sounded fragile. [There's just not enough light down there, I couldn't keep going]

Jeroen didn't reply; the four guardian creatures had started to move towards him. He had just realized that with Apollo gone and the others still fighting to hold off reinforcements he was on his own, and he was going to die.

You are the latest of your line, you should be the greatest of them all but instead you are a mewling coward, too busy pissing yourself to do the job you stumbled into.

[SHUT UP! You're just putting on too much pressure!]

The "skin" of purple light changed, forming a sphere around the Doctor, expanding rapidly until he was suspended in an orb of force several meters across and empty of water. The four club bearing guardians were close enough to have been caught when the sphere had grown. They were gone, disappearing into a fine mist of blood as the sudden decompression caused their bodies to burst.

[No-one said anything, Doctor]

[Not you, Engineer. I'm talking to her, to them]

[Uh, OK?]

They think you're insane, they have always suspected it but now you are proving them right. Your allies doubt you, your predecessors have offered you no help, why do you bother?

He took a deep breath with his newly restored lungs, wincing as he stretched the torn muscles in his chest; the pain was starting to come back.

[I know you, you may have killed a few capes back in Milwaukee but that's not what you do best is it?]

You waste time talking to a voice in your head, when you are overmatched by a true shaman; that is the posturing arrogance of your kind

Jeroen stared at the hulking creature that was floating in the water opposite him. He could feel of its mind; its outrage at what it had seen taking place on Jeroen's Earth. It did not care that it had put all life on another planet in jeopardy; in its mind they all deserved it for how they had treated their oceans.

It was waiting for him to act; it did not seem to want to attack first. He could feel it reaching out towards the spells he has already cast, trying to understand how he worked, like a boxer getting a feel for his opponent by soaking up a few punches. That sort of thing never lasts for long, once it knew what it was up against it would fight back, and when that happened Jeroen knew he would loose.

The Erynies were right, for his powers to work he needed focus and clarity of thought. Instead he was bleeding, he could feel his ribs scrape against each other as he tried to breathe, his guts were twisting, his hands were shaking almost uncontrollably and his mind was racing so fast he couldn't settle on a single thought. Normally that would have been as bad as it got, but today he also had three ancient goddesses of vengeance trying to put him off.

But there is more to it than that isn't there? Even on your best day you know you could never win, not here.

That was the other thing, the home field advantage. The other Doctor was literally surrounded by the source of its power, whereas he was separated from his by the thickness of the bleed. Under any other circumstances drawing on power a dimension away would cause so little difference as to be unnoticeable, against another global shaman it could be the difference between stalemate and death.

You lack the courage to fight a stronger opponent, yet you sit with those who claim to be heroes. You have no right.

[You keep talking but I can't see you doing anything. You don't kill people, not the ones you really want to break like Orestes, Oedipus or Alcmaeon. It's so much more satisfying to hound them into madness and let them destroy themselves, isn't it? The thing is, I've tried madness; I've been there enough times now, it's one of the few things that doesn't scare me]

[Hawksmoor to the Doctor: Now is not the time for a psychotic-break, don't make me come down there]

[Jack, Angie here; stay where you are, he's smiling, I think he's doing... something. Standby]

[Distract the big fish everyone I've got an idea]

On one level, a detached part of him watched as the other Doctor shrugged off a blast from the Carrier's cannons, but the majority of his mind reached out for the planet. Starting out with a gentle wave to get her attention, he quickly moving to a dialogue, convincing her she did not want the fighting was easy, the next step was more of a gamble.

*

[I know you can hear me.] The Doctor thought about trying a reassuring smile but showing his teeth would probably be a bad idea. [You're looking a little confused so I thought I'd explain what's going on. Everything seems so clear right now doesn't it? So vivid you could reach out and take hold the universe, if you only felt like it.]

The other Doctor looked at its hand, curling its webbed fingers into a fist and then stretching them open again.

[I had a word with your planet just now, it was feeling pretty stressed so I suggested something to calm it down, something that always calms me down. Only problem is, it messes with your willpower a bit, with your connection to the planet you must have noticed]

Translucent nictitating membranes slipped lazily across the creature's eyes, turning them white before once again exposing huge black pupils. The Doctor could feel the warmth of his own blood spreading across his side. It had spread down almost to his thigh, but he couldn't spare the concentration to stop the bleeding, he would just have to ignore the lightheadedness.

[The thing is: I'm not connected to your Earth. I come from the other one. One you completely screwed. There were loads of other ways you could have helped those fish. You could have killed the people, fixed the place. But no you picked the option that didn't just change the balance of life, you knowingly destroyed it]

He could feel ribs scraping together every time took a breath, for a second he thought about going back to using gills, instead he just continued.

[I could return the favour right now, we could certainly use the clean air and water, but I'm not going to. Our fight isn't with your planet, it's with you, and I'm not even going to kill you]

What he didn't say was that he couldn't have killed it; he didn't have the strength for any big magic. He did have the power to rearrange at one small thing, though, and now that his counterpart was distracted that was all he would need.

Gathering the last of his magic he forced himself into the mind of the other Doctor, it tried to fight him, but Jeroen was far more familiar with the chemicals flooding through the consciousness they were currently sharing.

Drawing on the experience of his predecessors, the Doctor soared over the lush fields of the creature's mind. He followed well trodden pathways of habit until he reached the core of the personality, where he did some rearranging.

Returning to his own body was almost too much for Jeroen; easing back into his mind he realized that he could already hear the terrified screams of the other Doctor. He grinned and lay back in the water.

A yellow glow appeared as the sphere protecting Jeroen began to fade; a winged silhouette appeared through the Door.

"What did you do to it?"

"Thinks it's Chief Brody, needs a bigger boat." Jeroen gave a little laugh and seemed to notice who he was talking to. "Never told you before. Your body. Magical." Little black blobs were floating in front of his eyes, getting in the way, but he thought he could see Shen's smile under her goggles.

"No, just expensive." Powerful, talon-tipped hands reached towards him. "I told Jack how much these boobs cost; I can't believe he kept it to himself. That boy might be good for something after all."

Jeroen tried to shake his head, but his neck didn't seem to want to listen to him.

"No. 's impossible. Wrong." He was trying to explain, he didn't mean magical as a euphemism. She shouldn't be able to do the things she does, but Shen obviously wasn't paying attention if she couldn't understand a simple point like that. To illustrate what he was saying Jeroen tried to reach for the place where her flight muscles were supposed to be. "Should be muc' bigger."

"Jesus, you men are never satisfied are you?" Something unbelievably strong gripped his wrist forcing his hand back to his waist. "Doctor, you've lost a lot of blood and you're not thinking clearly but try not to make any moves you won't live to regret, OK? Now, don't move we're going back to the Carrier. DOOR."

As Swift pulled Jeroen through the glowing portal, returning them both to the Carrier, and the black blobs started getting bigger he realized he could hear a voice:

"This is Jack Hawksmoor of the Authority breaking across all known languages and frequencies. We have what we came for and now we are leaving. Remember you brought us here; don't give us a reason to come back."

Blackness overtook him, Jeroen let it.

~You did well, little Doctor, you passed the test you set yourself.~

~What?~

~You succeeded, even now your pantheon are using your Carrier to collect that which was stolen, you won.~

~I didn't set any test. That shark-Doctor creature had nothing to do with me.~

~No, that was not you, that was just a catalyst, it brought on the judgment.~

~Of the Erinyes I know, I thought I'd seen the last of them already.~

~You had. The voices were just an echo of their power, a memory you inflicted upon yourself. But now it would appear you are finally accepting that you can protect your village in your own right. Now, return and awake Little Doctor, it seems your tribe may be coming to you.~

Jeroen opened his eyes; he was surprised to realize that he wasn't in the sick bay. Instead he was lying on his own bed, wearing a pair of sweat-pants and wrapped in bandages from his navel to his nipples.

"Doctor? Jeroen? Are you awake?" Shen was standing at the doorway to the Doctor's room. Barefoot but talonless she was holding a DVD and a jug of what looked like orange juice.

"Don't get excited, this is not a thing, whatever Angie may be fussing about with Apollo. In fact, put a shirt on, no-one wants to see *that.*" She found a clear spot on a bedside table and put the jug down. "Do you ever clear up? Anyway, you did good today, that's all; not just the big stuff either. What you said to Angie this morning got her talking to Jack, and that put her in the best mood I've seen in ages. So just... well, thanks. OK, shift up and create some popcorn or something; I'll put the movie on."

"Orange juice?"

"You lost a lot of blood; it's a good way to replace the fluids. Speaking of blood loss, that reminds me." Shen turned to him, mockingly stern. "No talking about bodies, magical or otherwise and anything you don't want to loose, you keep to yourself, understood?"