“Books!” the Doctor declared, jovially. “People never really stop loving books.” He threw the doors to the TARDIS open. “Fifty first century. By now you've got holovids, direct to brain downloads, fiction mist, but you need the smell. The smell of books, Donna. Deep breath.”
“Where are we?” Donna asked.
“The Library.” Lilith grinned. “The Library. With a capital ‘L’.”
“It's like a city!” she marveled, looking around at the vast area of buildings and rails.
“It’s a world, literally. The Library is a planet. The core is the index computer. Biggest hard drive ever.”
The Doctor gestured around. “And up here, every book ever written. Whole continents of Jeffrey Archer, Bridget Jones, Monty Python's Big Red Book. Brand new editions, specially printed.” They looked over a balcony onto the roofs below. “We're near the equator, so this must be biographies. I love biographies.”
Donna rolled her eyes. “Yeah, very you. Always a death at the end.”
He looked at her. “You need a good death. Without death, there'd only be comedies. Dying gives us size.” Donna picked up a book, but the Doctor took it from her. “Way-a. Spoilers.”
Lilith froze. “What did you just say?”
The Doctor frowned at her. “I said spoilers. These books are from the future. You don't want to read ahead, spoil all the surprises. Like peeking at the end.”
“Can’t tell you.” She winked. “Spoilers.”
Donna raised her eyebrows. “Isn't travelling with you one big spoiler?”
“I try to keep you away from major plot developments.” The Doctor paused, thoughtfully. “Which, to be honest, I seem to be very bad at, because you know what? This is the biggest library in the universe. So where is everyone? It's silent.” He used the screwdriver on a nearby information screen, bringing it online.
“The planet. The whole planet.”
“Maybe it's a Sunday,” Donna suggested.
Lilith made a face. “No, we never land on Sundays. Sundays are boring.”
“Well, maybe everyone's really, really quiet.”
“Yeah, maybe,” the Doctor murmured. “But they'd still show up on the system.”
“Doctor, why are we here? Really, why?” asked Donna.
The Doctor shrugged. “Oh, you know, just passing.”
She crossed her arms. “No, seriously. It was all let's hit the beach, then suddenly we're in a library. Why?”
“Now that's interesting,” the Doctor muttered.
“What?” Donna questioned. “What are you doing?”
“Scanning for life forms. If I do a scan looking for your basic humanoids— you know, your book readers, few limbs and a face— apart from us, I get nothing. Zippo, nada. See? Nobody home. But if I widen the parameters to any kind of life…”
The screen read ‘Error 1,000,000,000,000 lifeform number capped at maximum record’.
“A million, million?” Lilith read, incredulously.
“Gives up after that. A million, million.”
“But there's nothing here. There's no one.”
“And not a sound,” the Doctor agreed. “A million, million life forms, and silence in the library.”
Lilith shivered, and not just because of her father’s ominous words. Something, aside from other humanoids, was missing. The feeling of memories bouncing around in the back of her mind. She didn’t know this story.
Her parents never told her.
Donna looked around. “But there's no one here. There's just books. I mean, it's not the books, is it? I mean, it can't be the books, can it? I mean, books can't be alive.”
Both the Doctor and Donna reached slowly for a book. A voice made all three of them jump. “Welcome.”
“That came from here.” Donna pointed in the opposite direction
The Doctor nodded. “Yeah.”
They returned to the mostly empty room where they had left the TARDIS. A vaguely humanoid sculpture by a curved desk turned its head and spoke with a female voice from a small face on its surface. “I am Courtesy Node seven one zero slash aqua. Please enjoy the Library and respect the personal access codes of all your fellow readers, regardless of species or hygiene taboo.”
Donna stared at it. “That face, it looks real.”
“Yeah,” the Doctor said, “don't worry about it.”
“A statue with a real face, though? It's a hologram or something, isn't it?”
“Really, it's fine, Donna,” Lilith insisted.
“Additional,” the node continued. “There follows a brief message from the Head Librarian for your urgent attention. It has been edited for tone and content by a Felman Lux Automated Decency Filter. Message follows. Run. For God's sake, run. No way is safe. The library has sealed itself, we can't. Oh, they're here. Argh. Slarg. Snick. Message ends. Please switch off your mobile comm units for the comfort of other readers.”
Lilith cocked an eyebrow. “Something tells me that’s why we’re here.”
“Any other messages, same date stamp?” the Doctor asked the node.
“One additional message. This message carries a Felman Lux coherency warning of five zero eleven.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine, fine, fine,” the Doctor dismissed. “Just play it.”
“Message follows. Count the shadows. For God's sake, remember, if you want to live, count the shadows. Message ends.”
The Doctor scanned the room, warily. “Donna? Lilith?”
“Stay out of the shadows.”
They walked down an aisle between bookshelves. Rows upon rows of books reached across the colossal room. “So,” Donna said, conversationally, “we weren’t just in the neighborhood?”
“Yeah. I kind of, sort of lied a bit,” the Doctor admitted. “I got a message on the psychic paper.” He showed the paper to the two gingers. ‘The Library. Come as soon as you can. –R’ “What do you think? Cry for help?”
“Who’s ‘R’?” Donna wondered.
“No idea.” He looked at Lilith, expectantly.
She shrugged. “What? I can tell you who it’s not, but that wouldn’t be very helpful.”
“If you don’t know, then why did we come here? Why did you—?”
“Um, guys?” Lilith said, warily. The lights on the far end of the room started to go out, the darkness moving towards them. “Run!”
They ran until they reached a door. The Doctor tried to open in, but it was stuck. “Come on!” he shouted.
“What, is it locked?” asked Lilith
“Jammed!” the Doctor hissed. “The wood's warped.”
“Well, sonic it. Use the thingy,” Donna suggested.
“I can't, it's wood.”
“What, it doesn't do wood?”
The Doctor started sonicing the door. “Hang on; hang on. I can vibrate the molecules, fry the bindings, I can shatterline the interface…”
“Oh, get out of the way.” Donna shoved him to the side and kicked the doors open. They rushed inside, Lilith slamming the doors close and the Doctor bolting them with a book. Lilith leaned her head against the wood. What the hell was that?
“Oh. Hello. Sorry to burst on you like this. Okay if we stop here for a bit?”
She turned around to see the small metal globe that her father had been addressing fall to the ground.
“What is it?” Donna asked.
“Security camera. Switched itself off.” The Doctor picked up the globe and ran the sonic over it. “Nice door skills, Donna.”
“Yeah, well, you know, boyfriends. Sometimes you need the element of surprise.” Donna shrugged. “What was that, what was after us? I mean, did we just run away from a power cut?”
“With the darkness headed directly for us right after we were told to stay out of the shadows?” Lilith snorted. “Not likely.”
“Are we safe here?”
“’Course we’re safe,” the Doctor scoffed . “There’s a little shop.”
Lilith rolled her eyes. “Right, because no little shop equals homicidal cat nuns and getting possessed by bitchy trampolines.”
Donna looked at her. “Now that’s a story I need to hear.”
“Gotcha!” The Doctor had managed to open the camera’s lens. A screen on the camera lit up, displaying the words ‘No! Stop it! No, no!’ “Oh, I’m sorry. I really am, I’m so sorry.” He put the camera down. “It’s alive.”
Donna frowned. “You said it was a security camera.”
“It is. It’s an alive one.”
The screen lit up again. ‘Others are coming. The Library is breached. Others are coming.’
“Others?” Lilith repeated. “What others?”
The Doctor seemed just as confused as she was. Donna went over to a node in the room. “Excuse me, what’s it mean, ‘others’?”
“That’s barely more than a speak your wright machine, it can’t help you,” Lilith dismissed.
“So why’s it got a face?”
“This flesh aspect was donated by Mark Chambers on the occasion of his death,” the node said.
Donna gaped at it. “It’s a real face?”
“It has been actualized individually for you from the many facial aspects saved to our extensive flash banks. Please enjoy.”
“It chose me a dead face it thought I’d like? That statue’s got a real dead person’s face.”
Lilith tilted her head to the side. “Kinda looks like Josh Dallas, to be honest.”
“It’s the 51st century,” the Doctor said, as if that explained everything. “That’s basically like donating a park bench.
“It’s donating a face!” Donna backed away from the node in horror.
“No, wait, no!” The Doctor grabbed her to prevent her from walking into a dark shadow behind her.
“Oi!” she protested.
“The shadow, look.”
Donna looked at the shadow, then back at the Doctor. “What about it?”
“Count the shadows,” Lilith quoted, quietly.
“One. There, I counted it.”
“Yeah. But what’s casting it?” They surveyed the room. But there was nothing there that would be casting the shadow.
“Oh! I’m thick!” the Doctor shouted, causing Lilith and Donna to jump. “Look at me, I’m old and thick! Head’s too full of stuff, I need a bigger head!”
“The last thing you need it a bigger head, Dad.”
Donna noticed that the lamp at the end of the hallway was dim. “Power must be going.”
Lilith shook her head. “This place runs on fission cells. Those things can out burn a damn sun.”
“Then why is it dark?” the other ginger questioned.
Donna turned back to ask the Doctor what she meant and noticed that the shadow they’d seen had disappeared. “That shadow. It’s gone.”
“We need to get back to the TARDIS,” the Doctor said.
“Because that shadow hasn’t gone. It’s moved.”
The node spoke again. “Reminder: the Library has been breached; others are coming. Reminder: the Library has been breached; others are coming. Reminder the Library has been breached—”
A door blew open in a flash of bright light, and six spacesuited figures entered the room. The leader adjusted her polarizing filter so they were able to see her face, a very familiar face. “Hello, sweetie.”
Lilith’s jaw dropped.
“Get out,” the Doctor said. “All of you. Turn around, get back in your rocket and fly away. Tell your grandchildren you came to the Library and lived. They won't believe you.”
The woman turned to the rest of the group. “Pop your helmets, everyone. We've got breathers.”
One of them took off their helmet. It was a young woman. “How do you know they're not androids?”
“Because I've dated androids. They're rubbish.”
“Who is this?” a man demanded. “You said we were the only expedition. I paid for exclusives.”
The woman shrugged. “I lied. I'm always lying. Bound to be others.” She returned her attention to the Doctor. “You came through the north door, yeah? How was that, much damage?”
“Please, just leave. I'm asking you seriously and properly, just leave.” The Doctor paused. “Hang on. Did you say expedition?”
“My expedition,” the man said, pompously. “I funded it.”
“Oh, you're not, are you?” The Doctor made a face. “Tell me you're not archaeologists,” he whined.
“Got a problem with archaeologists?” the woman asked, one eyebrow raised.
The Doctor sniffed. “I'm a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists.”
Lilith made a squeaking noise.
“Er, is your friend okay?” The woman nodded at Lilith, who was gaping at her, wide eyed.
“Hold up,” Lilith said, “you don’t know who I am?”
She frowned. “No.”
“You don’t recognize me at all.”
“No, should I?”
Lilith smirked. “I have been waiting for this moment for over sixty years. Oh, Pond,” she broke into a wide grin, “spoilers.”
The woman stared. “Lilith?”
“Aunt River.” Lilith crushed her in a hug and she reciprocated quickly.
The Doctor cleared his throat. “Lilith, introductions?”
River’s eyes gleamed. “Professor River Song, archaeologist.”
He shook her hand. “River Song, lovely name. As you’re leaving, and you’re leaving now, you need to set up a quarantine beacon. Code-wall the planet, the whole planet. Nobody comes here, not ever again. Not one living thing, not here, not ever.” The woman who had spoken earlier stepped towards the shadows. “Stop right there! What’s your name?”
“Anita,” she answered, a bit annoyed.
“Anita, stay out of the shadows. Not a foot, not a finger in the shadows till you’re safely back in your ship. Goes for all of you. Stay in the light. Find a nice, bright spot and just stand. If you understand me, look very, very scared.”
They all just stared at him. River was smiling; the others gave him blank looks.
“Ooh, they look terrified,” Lilith snorted.
“You,” the Doctor pointed to one of the men, “who are you?”
“Uh, Dave,” he replied.
“Well, Other Dave,” he amended, “because that’s Proper Dave the pilot, he was the first Dave. So when we—”
The Doctor cut him off by dragging him to look at the door they came through. “Other Dave, the way you came, does it look the same as before?”
“Yeah. Oh, it’s a bit darker. I could see where we cam through just like a moment ago. I can’t now.”
“Seal up this door,” the Doctor ordered. “We’ll find another way out.
“We’re not looking for a way out,” the pompous man said. “Miss Evangelista?”
The second woman, Miss Evangelista, handed the three travelers each a piece of paper. “I’m Mr. Lux’s personal… everything. You need to sign these contracts agreeing that your individual experience inside the Library are the intellectual property of the Felman Lux Corporation."
“Right, give it here.”
“Yeah, lovely. Thanks.”
Lilith crumpled her contract and stuffed it in her pocket. The Doctor and Donna ripped theirs up.
“My family built this Library! I have rights!” Mr. Lux protested.
“You have a mouth that won’t stop,” River corrected. She turned to the Doctor. “You think there’s danger here?”
“Something came to the Library and killed everything in it, killed a whole world. Danger? Could be,” the Doctor said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
River shook her head. “That was one hundred years ago. The Library’s been silent for one hundred years. Whatever came here is long dead.”
“Bet your life?”
River winked at Lilith and smiled at him. “Always.”
“What are you doing?” They turned to look at Mr. Lux. He was yelling at Other Dave, who was closing the doors.
“He said seal the door.”
“You’re taking orders from him?”
The Doctor snatched a flashlight from Mr. Lux’s hand. “Spooky, isn’t it?” He walked to the other side of the area of light and started to look around, using the flashlight to light the dark corners of the room. “Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong. ‘Cause it’s not irrational.”
Lilith’s eyes widened. “Vashta Nerada.”
“What’s Vashta Nerada?” Donna asked.
“It’s what’s in the dark. What’s always in the dark.” The Doctor went back to the group. “Lights! That’s what we need, lights. You got lights?”
“What for?” River questioned.
“Form a circle, safe area, big as you can, lights pointing out,” he ordered.
“Oi! Do as he says,” River shouted at the group.
Mr. Lux looked at her incredulously. “You’re not listening to this man?”
“Apparently, I am. Anita, unpack the lights. Other Dave, make sure the door’s secure, then help Anita. Mr. Lux, put your helmet back on, block the visor. Proper Dave, find and activate a terminal. I want you to access the Library database, see what you can find about what happened here a hundred years ago. Pretty Boy, you’re with Lilith and me. Step into my office.”
“Aunt River, your Nine is showing,” Lilith said, jokingly.
They went over to a desk with an information terminal; the Doctor didn’t follow. “Pretty Boy, with me I said.” He looked a bit confused, but came over anyway. River was taking things out of her bag. She pulled out her TARDIS journal. “Thanks,” she said.
“The usual. For coming when I call.”
The Doctor frowned. “Oh. ‘R’ is you?”
She didn’t look up. “You’re doing a very good job acting like you don’t know me. I’m assuming there’s a reason?”
“A fairly good one, actually.”
“Okay, shall we do diaries, then? Where are we this time? Uh, going by your face, company, and lack of Lilith’s mum, it’s say it’s the early days for you, yes? So,” she flipped a few pages in her journal, “crash of the Byzantium, have we done that yet?”
Lilith snorted. “Wrong body, Aunt River.”
“Right, um, oh. Picnic at Asgard. Have we done Asgard yet?” she asked.
He just stared at her.
“Obviously not. Blimey, very early days, then. Huh, life with a time traveler, never knew it could be such hard work.” She studied the Doctor’s face and looked a bit surprised by what she saw. “Look at you,” she whispered. “You’re young.”
“I’m really not, you know.”
“Nah, but you are. Your eyes, you’re younger than I’ve ever seen you. Doctor… please tell me you know who I am.” When she got no response, she looked to the young Time Lady with pleading eyes. “Lilith?”
Lilith shook her head. “Unless he met you while I was with Uncle Jack, I’m sorry Aunt River, this is his first time.