||[Jun. 14th, 2008|12:34 am]
The Universal Constant
TITLE: The Universal Constant, Part 10|
AUTHORS: infinitenesmith & hauntermooneyes
RATING: Mostly PG-13 with occasional spurts of R-rated language
PAIRINGS: Desmond/Penny (pre-established), Dan/Charlotte (hints of)
DESCRIPTION: A post-Island Lost/Discworld crossover fic. It's been a little less than a year since all the problems have been sorted out with the survivors of Oceanic 815, the mysterious island on which they were marooned, and its other inhabitants. But Desmond Hume is finding it difficult to re-adjust to life. He's plagued by nightmares and disturbing visions. He always feels as if he's being watched. Is it paranoia, or something far more sinister? Only Ms. Hawking and the History Monks know for sure...
NOTES: Helpful Discworld wiki entries for this part: Lobsang Ludd, the son of Time; and Susan Sto Helit, the granddaughter of Death. And don't forget to watch out for spoilers if you're not up-to-date on season 4!
The universe rocked gently, like a boat going over an unexpectedly large wave. Metaphorically, it moved every day, bobbing and floating on the tides of the changes that occurred within it; but, every once and a while, the movement was literal.
This movement wasn’t as drastic as the one caused by Desmond’s desperate suicide attempt. It was more subtle, like the explosion of a dandelion clock, but still very significant.
In the halls of the History Monks, a spot on the Mandala bloomed crimson and began to spread.
Rules were being broken. Ancient, rigid rules that had to govern all life or else chaos would reign. The rules were bent all the time, but once they were actually broken, something had to be done. Oftentimes in the past, a broken rule had sparked war in the universe between things that humans don’t even know exist.
Broken rules lead to chaos. Chaos means uncertainty, even for the most certain beings in the universe.
In the shadowy domain of Death, one among the rows and rows of sand-filled lifetimers began to sputter erratically.
“…should have kept a closer eye on him…”
“Nothing could have predicted this.”
“But he saw a pattern…”
“Of course he saw a pattern. The man’s mind is built to recognize patterns. The question now is: what pattern did he see?”
The voices filtered into Faraday’s mind as if from a long way off. Grey and pink mist swirled in his head, and his chest felt as though there was an anvil sitting on it.
“I think he’s awake.”
What had happened? He couldn’t remember. Something…something bad. Something painful, certainly. He’d been doing some calculations, and Charlotte had been there, and his secretary, and…his secretary?
Daniel Faraday’s eyes popped open.
“Did anyone write down the results?”
“Ah. He’s fine, I see.” The voice was more recognizable now, and Faraday turned his head to find Ms. Hawking and Brother Campbell standing by his bed.
Bed. Bed, bright lights, blinking machines…he was in a hospital. That—well, it wasn’t good, but it was better than being dead, right?
"He's awake," snapped another voice, much nearer. "That doesn't make him fine."
"When he starts asking about results, Miss Lewis, he's fine."
"Did anyone write down the results?" Faraday repeated, starting to sit up. His lungs clenched inward on themselves and he sucked in a sharp breath.
"No," Ms. Hawking replied as Charlotte brushed his hair from his eyes. "You were much more of a concern."
"I'm all right," he muttered. "But I had the answer..."
"The answer to what?"
"I don't remember! It's gone again! I had it..."
"Someone didn't want you to have it," she informed him quietly. "Under any circumstances."
“But it was the answer to everything!” he exclaimed desperately. “The pattern I saw…the calculations…Desmond and the Auditors…it all made sense! Why didn’t anyone write it down?”
Charlotte gave him a politely exasperated look. “You were bleeding to death, Dan.”
“This was more important!”
“More important than your life?”
"Can't you do it again?"
"I don't know how!" He slumped back onto the bed. His chest wrenched in protest. "I don't remember!"
"You'll remember eventually."
"What if I don't? It was important!"
Charlotte laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Calm down, Dan.”
“You need to rest.”
“I had the answer!” Faraday nearly wailed. Why couldn't they get it? “If I don’t get it back—if I lost it—it could be very bad!”
"I don't know!"
"Calm down," Ms. Hawking snapped. "Mr. Faraday, at the moment, we want to know exactly what happened."
Charlotte looked up. "I told you what--"
"Yes. Now I want him to tell us."
Faraday lay back, wincing. The parts of his life that didn’t involve his calculations and experiments were often a bit fuzzy in his mind, but the ordeal in the lab was especially so. His brain didn’t seem to want to remember, which made him even more desperate to do so. What if it wasn’t fuzzy because of the trauma? What if something didn’t want him to remember?
"I figured it out," he muttered.
"Figured what out?"
"I don't remember. I told you. But I figured it out, and...my secretary..." Right, what about her? She had come in... "She came in and I asked her to go and she didn't."
There was a pause. Eventually, Ms. Hawking prompted, "And?"
"I know there was a knife involved," he said at last, weakly. "But that's all I remember."
“It wasn’t his secretary,” said Charlotte. “There was something…wrong about her.”
Ms. Hawking looked up sharply. “Inhuman wrong?”
Charlotte’s eyes widened. “You don’t think—”
“The Auditors.” said Ms. Hawking, nodding gravely. "They must have gone after him."
She paused. "I--"
"They can't get to Desmond and Penny," Faraday muttered suddenly. Charlotte saw the light in his eyes and looked around the room for a notebook--pencil--anything. "So they...came after me. They came after me! They want--thank you, Charlotte--" He flipped the notebook open and started writing, practically on top of another cluster of incomprehensible notes. Every once and a while, he flipped back a few pages to look at something, nodded to himself, and went right on writing.
“I knew I saw something on the chessboard,” he said at last, tapping the notebook with his pencil. “Something…different. After that one man—Abaddon, was it?—after Abaddon’s piece disappeared, there was something…I just wish I could remember the results…” His forehead wrinkled in frantic concentration. “Desmond and Penny were almost the same piece, and the Auditors…there was this blue streak, like a tether, and the Auditors couldn’t go near them…”
“Dan, you’re babbling,” Charlotte murmured.
"No, I'm not! It makes sense! I just have to make it make sense..."
"That doesn't make sense."
Ms. Hawking and Brother Campbell exchanged a many-layered glance. Ms. Hawking gave a very slight nod and Brother Campbell’s eyes widened.
“Do you really think—” he began, but Ms. Hawking had already turned to Charlotte.
“We’d like to take Mr. Faraday with us when he’s able,” she said.
“But Ms. Hawking,” Brother Campbell said frantically, “you’re the one who said—”
“I know what I said!” she snapped. “Things are different now! If we don’t do something, we’ll be leaving him open to more harm.”
Brother Campbell’s eyes looked ready to pop out of his head. “But—but that’s blatant interference! Think of what the abbot would say!”
“The Auditors are breaking the rules!” Ms. Hawking exclaimed, rounding on him. “Don’t you understand that? When the most dangerous beings in the universe start fighting dirty, it’s not time to start worrying about the details!”
"What do you want him for?" Charlotte demanded.
"I don't know yet. But he can help us and we can keep him safe."
"Then I'm coming with him."
"I mean it."
"Charlotte, maybe--" Faraday saw her expression and looked to Ms. Hawking. "She goes if I go."
The old woman rolled her eyes and sighed. "Right, of course, who am I to stand in the way of love? Fine. But you're going at your own risk," she warned, pointing at the redhead. Charlotte snorted. "As for the Auditors...I think we may have to tell the abbot again...and perhaps Lobsang..."
Brother Campbell went white. “Oh no, not—”
“Only if it goes too far.”
“I got the impression that it’s going too far already.”
“If you think this is the worst they can do, Brother Campbell,” said Ms. Hawking solemnly, “then you haven’t been paying enough attention.”
"But they tried to kill someone!"
"Tried to," she replied. "They didn't succeed. Even if they meant to."
"So we're going to wait until they do?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. We're going to wait until it truly goes too far."
Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Charlotte, it’s fine,” Faraday insisted. “It’s…it’s important.”
“Forgive me if I don’t quite trust your priorities, Dan.”
“No, Charlotte, this really is. These things are trying to destroy the universe!”
"You still haven't explained to me exactly how they plan to do that!"
"Yes I did! They want to kill Desmond. Or at least get rid of him. If they do, time'll stop and everything will just cease to exist."
"Why would that be? Why is he so important?"
"We don't know," Ms. Hawking interrupted. "But we aren't going to wait around to find out."
“I could work on—” Faraday began.
“The only thing you should be working on at this point, Mr. Faraday, is recovering.” Ms. Hawking’s voice was firm. “We’ll come and get you when the time is right.”
"I'll get you a couple of extra notebooks, Dan," Charlotte assured him. "It'll be fine."
Faraday sagged. He hated sitting still. He couldn't think properly when he was sitting still. It was impossible to come up with a conclusion lazing about in chairs or beds. Even in dreams you walked around. But his chest really did hurt…
He lay his head back on the pillows and, ten minutes later, was sound asleep.
Strange things were happening in the domain of Death.
In the endless hall of lifetimers, the sand in the hourglass inscribed with the name “Daniel Faraday” had begun to flow smoothly again. But, all along the shelves, other things were happening. A few lifetimers had developed spontaneous nimbuses of grey haze, some of which faded almost immediately, while others lingered for hours. It was a soundless change in a room already full of the steady hiss of sand pouring from future to past.
The dark, foreboding hourglass belonging to Matthew Abaddon had shattered into thousands of tiny shards. It was just as well. He wasn't needed anymore, by the Auditors or by the Universe.
"Why won't you tell me what's going on?"
PLEASE DON'T SHOUT.
"Answer the question!"
Death heaved a sigh. BECAUSE EVEN I DO NOT KNOW.
"How can you not know? You're Death!"
He didn't answer. Instead, he finally located the shelf marked H and peered along the line of gleaming hourglasses. Finally a thought seemed to occur to him and he snapped his fingers.
Susan was still muttering darkly to herself when he handed her two hourglasses. "What are you giving me these for?"
THE AUDITORS ARE AFTER THEM, he told her. IF THEY RUIN HIM, he added, tapping Desmond's hourglass, THEY RUIN TIME. SHE-- Here he tapped Penny's-- KEEPS HIM SANE.
"How does that work?"
I DO NOT KNOW. BUT THAT IS THE WAY IT IS. IF LOBSANG IS EXPERIENCING TROUBLE--
--THEN THIS IS WHY.
Susan, unwitting and unwilling granddaughter of Death, eyed her grandfather critically. “You’re not going to interfere, are you?”
I MAY, IF NECESSARY.
"Then it must be important."
VERY. ER...YOU SAY LOBSANG IS ILL?
"Not terribly," she snapped, not wanting to seem too worried. "Just a bit...off. He says he's fine, of course."
AH. AND YOU DO NOT BELIEVE HIM?
"He walked into a wall."
"He doesn't walk into walls, he walks through them."
THAT IS A PROBLEM.
"And he fell over."
"Just once. He was standing looking at a cherry blossom tree and he fainted."
WHY WERE YOU WITH HIM THEN? He saw a blush rising from her neck. I SEE.
"That's not the point!"
NO. THE POINT IS THAT THERE IS DANGER IN THE UNIVERSE. Death paused, thinking about this statement, and added, MORESO THAN USUAL.
There was silence for a while, apart from the hissing of the sands. Somewhere in the distance, an old timer popped out of existence and a new one took its place. Then, incongruously, there was the tinkle of breaking glass. Death glanced up.
"What was that?"
"I understand that! Which?"
Death stared up at the shelves and snapped his fingers again. Desmond and Penny's hourglasses vanished. Another hourglass, chipped and emptying fast, appeared in one skeletal hand. HMM, he said, peering at the inscription. HE IS NOT DUE TO DIE FOR QUITE A WHILE YET. EXCUSE ME, SUSAN...
There was a knock on the door.
Penny looked up from her book and exchanged a long look with Desmond. "You get it."
"Come on, Pen."
"I just sat down," she reminded him. "After doing your laundry."
There was another knock, more forceful. With a good-natured roll of his eyes, Desmond got up and went to open the door.
Ms. Hawking looked calmly up at him from the step. "Hello, Desmond."
"You--" he gasped, taking a step back. Penny came padding up behind him.
"Des, what's--Ms. Hawking! What's the matter?"
"There's been an...incident," the old woman replied, looking first at Desmond and then to his constant.
Penny was immediately on the alert. “What kind of incident?”
“The Auditors are on the move,” Ms. Hawking replied shortly. “They’re…not playing fair.”
“You mean what they did before was playing fair?”
“Wait, what’s going on?” Desmond interjected, looking from one woman to the other. “What incident?”
"Listen," the History Nun replied, shutting her eyes for a moment. "We know Desmond has a friend named Donovan--"
Desmond stiffened. "What happened?"
"I'm getting to that! The Auditors--they went after Faraday first, and thank God they didn't kill him, but--"
Desmond seized the front of her stupid little shawl and snarled, "What happened?"
She stared at him, apparently unfazed, and brushed his hand away. "They attacked Donovan. He's at the hospital now. We thought you ought to know."
“You thought—” Desmond began, and broke off when the full realization hit. “What’d they do to him?”
For the first time, Ms. Hawking’s expression softened. “We’re not sure.”
“Is he all right?”
Desmond stared at her. “What do you mean, should be? Is he all right or not?”
"Desmond! We don't have time," said Penny, touching his arm. "What hospital, Ms. Hawking?"
"I'll take you there," Ms. Hawking replied, all business again. Drawing herself up, she turned on her heel and strode down the walk. "Oh, and don't look around," she muttered as they hurried after her.
And so they strode in silence, Desmond and Penny following Ms. Hawking like hesitant ducklings.
They took a bus to the hospital. Ms. Hawking spent the entire time staring intently out the window and trying to ignore three men in grey business suits who were sitting several aisles away. Desmond didn’t see the men get off at any stops, but they must have, because they were no longer on the bus by the time it reached the hospital.
The woman at the front desk presented a bit of a problem, mostly because she wasn't too keen on the idea of letting anyone outside of Donovan's immediate family in. Once Ms. Hawking explained, however, that Desmond was unstable and who knew how he’d react if he didn’t get his way, she was all too happy to oblige them.
Donovan was asleep, and paler than Desmond had ever seen him. His parents kept a wary eye on Ms. Hawking, speaking in low voices to Desmond.
"What happened?" Penny murmured, standing in the doorway with the History Nun.
"He was having lunch with his parents when a man in a grey suit attacked him."
"In broad daylight, just like that?"
"They were at home. They don't know how he got in." Ms. Hawking looked grim. "We do. An Auditor posed as Faraday's caretaker attacked him the same way, except it stopped at one slash. If Donovan’s parents hadn't been there..."
Penny’s eyes widened in horror. “My God, they’re trying to murder people now?”
“They tried to kill Desmond,” Ms. Hawking reminded her. “Only now it seems that they’re taking matters more directly into their own hands…”
“Is Faraday all right?”
“He’s stable. We’re keeping an eye on him.”
Penny chewed her lip and watched Desmond for a while. Then, “Why are they doing this?”
Ms. Hawking took a deep breath. No point hiding it from her now... "We believe--and Faraday believes this, as well--that if Desmond dies, time will stop and the universe will come to an end. Don't ask why. We don't know why. But it is what it is. The Auditors know it too, and they'll stop at nothing to get rid of him."
"But why go after them?" She ran a hand through her hair. "What have they done?"
"Faraday was helping us. And Donovan...I don't know. But they can't get to you or Desmond for some reason. They must just be going after the ones nearest him."
"This is mad."
"It's the way it is."
“You said something could be done if they broke the rules,” said Penny. “Does this count?”
Ms. Hawking nodded gravely. “Yes.”
“Are you going to do anything?”
“We’re not sure how to handle it yet,” Ms. Hawking admitted. “But as soon as we are, we’ll act.”
“A lot of good that does people in the meantime.”
Desmond came over, looking pale and worried, and twined his fingers through Penny’s almost as if he didn’t realize he was doing it.
“He’s all right, but they said it took a long time to get him stable,” he said quietly. Penny made a soft sound in the back of her throat and leaned against him. He looked hard at Ms. Hawking, eyes blazing. "What's going on?"
She sighed. "Let's start with your recent problems..."
It took a bit of doing to explain, and ended with the three of them sitting in the hospital cafeteria with cups of what passed for coffee. Desmond’s expression had passed through several stages of shock and anger before finally setting on deep concern.
“How do we stop them?” he asked.
"We're working on a plan. It's not in its final stages yet. Is there anyone else that they might go after?" She saw his hand tighten over Penny's. "They can't touch either of you, remember."
"Then--I don't think so..."
"Good. We'll let you know when we figure something out, and we'll keep these two under close watch."
"What are you supposed to do if the Auditors go after them again?" he retorted. "Play time games with them?"
"We can kill them," she replied, calm as ever. "Guns, knives, blunt objects..."
“But does that actually get rid of them?” Desmond demanded. “Or does it just delay things?”
“Delays confuse Auditors. It makes them wonder where they went wrong, and we get more time to work while they regroup,” Ms. Hawking explained.
“Regroup and get stronger,” Desmond guessed.
"Sometimes. But Desmond, it's better to hold them off while we think something up--"
"Not if they come back worse than they were!"
“I’m not going to just sit around waiting until these things try and kill my best mate again. Or anyone else.”
“It would be far more dangerous for us to rush in without a plan,” Ms. Hawking pointed out. “Desperate people are bad enough; desperate Auditors are ticking time bombs. If we went at them with all we’ve got without knowing where to aim, we could destroy ourselves. We’d end up doing their work for them, and that’s exactly what we don’t want.”
Desmond raked his hands through his hair, eyes wide and worried. “But—but if they’re attacking my friends, people who have helped me, what if they…break down all the defenses? What if they get to a point where they can come after Pen? We know they know she’s important to me…”
“Oh Des, don’t start this again,” Penny murmured, but gently. “There’s no sense in worrying yourself over something that’s probably not going to happen.”
“Pen, a month ago I wouldn’t have believed that any of this could happen!” Desmond exclaimed. “Things outside the universe attacking people? Driving them crazy? I saw a lot of weird things on the island, but bloody hell, this is insane.”
Penny reached over and smoothed his hair. “It’ll be all right, Des.”
“Not if this keeps happening,” Desmond murmured. “Especially not if they come after you.”
“Don’t go worrying about me. The universe isn’t going to end if they come after me.”
"Unfortunately, he's right," Ms. Hawking murmured. "Your pieces on the chess board are almost linked, and your hourglasses...when something goes wrong in yours, Penny, it goes wrong in his. And vice versa. That’s a very big deal. I assure you, however, that they will not be able to get to Penny. We'll figure something out before then."
"What if you don't?" Desmond insisted. Penny's grip on his hand became subtly painful.
"We will. There isn't any don't."
“Where was this attitude when I was putting a gun to my own head?”
“Des,” Penny chided.
“I’m sorry, Pen, but it just seems kind of weird.” Desmond sighed.
"That attitude saved your life," Ms. Hawking muttered. Raising her voice, she said, "I promise we'll keep you safe. It just takes time to get everything in order."
"Do we have time?"
"We have all the time in the world."
“Maybe you do,” Desmond muttered, getting to his feet. Louder, he said, “I’m going to go check on Donovan.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Penny asked, looking up at him in concern.
He shook his head. “You don’t have to.”
Penny got to her feet anyway. He slid an arm around her waist, nodded to the History Nun, and vanished down the hall.
Charles Widmore was pacing.
He didn't often pace. Pacing, as far as he was concerned, was as useless as jumping up and down. It got you nowhere and distracted the brain from what it was supposed to be thinking about. The current situation, however, seemed to warrant it.
Abaddon was gone. Not just gone from his office, but gone entirely. Widmore knew every trick in the rich man’s book, every place and time to wave money if he wanted to find something out, and just how much to wave. But no amount of bribery had turned up anything on Abaddon. Penny’s accusatory statement, it seemed, had been correct: Matthew Abaddon had simply vanished. And that was infuriating.
No one vanished from Charles Widmore's sight without his say-so. No one. The lost ones had been paid generous sums of money to stay out of his way, the islanders had been disposed of, and Desmond...well. Desmond was an anomaly. So what the hell had happened to Abaddon? How dare he take off, or, if he was dead, how dare he get himself killed?
He stopped pacing and turned. There was a...thing...floating near the door of his office. It was small and shrouded in a grey cowl, without any legs or apparent face. It didn't look menacing, but it felt powerful. He heard its voice almost without hearing it, as if it simply bypassed his ears in favor of shooting straight at his brain.
"Who are you?" he snapped.
We have no name. Most humans call us…Auditors.
“Ah.” The Auditors, of course. Abaddon had made mention of them, in this and in past…business endeavors. Widmore had never seen them himself, at least before now, but they were supposed to be methodical and ruthlessly efficient. Charles Widmore liked ruthless efficiency. It had always served him well. "What do you want?"
Not for. Against. We wish to assist you against Desmond Hume.
We wish to see that things are…made tidy.
“Tidy.” Widmore’s voice was carefully emotionless.
He is an anomaly that is proving very difficult to remove. We wish to remove him.
“I thought that’s what Abaddon was having you do.”
There was a silent but definite bristling in the air, and the robe said, We do not work based on the whims of humans.
Charles smiled. Now he knew where he stood. "You want a human to work based on your whims."
"And what would you want that human to do?"
We cannot reach Desmond ourselves. Something blocks us. We have changed our target to those around him.
"What about my daughter?"
We cannot reach your daughter either.
It is risky for us to continue attacking humans. There are...rules. However, such rules do not apply to you.
“If you are suggesting I eliminate Hume myself, that’s precisely what I’ve been trying to avoid,” Widmore replied coolly. “That sort of thing can greatly upset people.”
We understand that the exchange of money often makes things smoother for humans, said the floating Auditor.
“Many things, but not all things.”
We are not asking you to attack Hume, it said at last. We are asking you to assist us in attacking those close to him.
"I've never liked playing assassin."
But you could.
There was a moment of thoughtful silence. Charles Widmore held the thing's gaze or, at least, what he thought of as its gaze.
Finally, it said, We can provide you with...compensations.
As much as you want. We have many connections.
Widmore thought about this, then nodded slowly. “All right. An alliance. On one condition.”
Conditions are untidy.
“This one is necessary. This will not involve my daughter in any way.” Widmore’s glare was like a beam of ice.
The girl Penelope?
She will not be harmed.
"Then you have a deal."
(Crossposted to lost_fanfic, desmond_fans, des_pen, desmond_penny, infinitenesmith, and hauntermooneyes)