Amy glanced at her watch.
"Ten minutes," she said. "There's no way we can make it."
"Even if there was a bus now, it couldn't get us there in time," Rory said. He stamped on the ground, blew into his hands, and looked around. It might be three centuries in the future, but a bus station, however much it varied in the details, was still a bus station. Most of the stages were deserted at this time of night; a couple were host to stationary double-deckers, none of which showed any signs of going anywhere. Rather than smoke, these were emitting gentle puffs of steam, which blended with the wisps of fog drifting along at ankle height. Overhead, the clouds seemed almost low enough to touch.
"Should've taken the tube," Amy said. Though she was determinedly making no mention of the cold, it was obvious that she was feeling it; Rory couldn't help noticing the way she was shivering. In that skirt, it wasn't to be wondered at, but she'd already refused the offer of his coat twice. "But it's too late–" She cocked her head suddenly. "What's that?"
"Probably just another bus coming in."
They both looked up at the clouds. A greenish light was dropping towards them, accompanied by the hum of antigravs.
"No," Amy said, not taking her eyes off the approaching light. "It's not big enough." She gripped his arm, as the vehicle in question emerged from the clouds and drifted gently down, landing not more than twenty metres from them. "Come on, we've still got a chance!"
The two ran, as fast as they could given their chilled limbs, to where the vehicle was setting down. Like the buses, its outline and colour were familiar, its purpose equally unmistakeable. The black, bull-nosed outline would have been enough for instant recognition, even without the illuminated TAXI sign on the roof.
Rory pulled the back door of the cab open and dived in, with Amy hard on his heels.
"Can you get us to Wellcote Spaceport?" he asked. "As fast as you can."
Amy glanced at her watch. "It's 10:42 now. That gives us eight minutes."
"Not a problem," the driver said. She was a blue-skinned woman, slightly piscine in appearance, and (by human standards) no bigger than a child. "Strap yourselves in."
Amy and Rory pulled the straps around themselves. Almost at once, the taxi lifted, to the sound of a dull thudding noise from whatever served it as an engine, and a skull-jarring vibration.
"Do you want the monologue?" the driver asked. "Only that's extra."
"Monologue?" Rory repeated.
"You know." Her accent changed from neutral upper-class to an excruciating faux-Cockney. "'Bloody tourists. If they like it so much on their fancy planets why do they want to come here. Bloody aliens. Coming here and–'"
"–stealing our jobs," Amy broke in. "I think we'll do without that."
"Fair enough." The taxi accelerated, with enough force to push Amy and Rory back into their seats. The low cloud closed around them, swallowing twenty-fourth century London from their sight. "Only you looked like you weren't from around here, so I thought I'd ask."
"People pay you to say bad things about them?" Amy asked.
"All the time. It's part of the London experience, or so I'm told. Like the fog." She took both her hands off the controls to gesture at the murk surrounding the taxi. "You don't think that stuff gets there by itself, do you? It's all done with weather control satellites."
"It's a good thing we're not tourists." Now that she was sitting in a warm taxi rather than watching precious time drain away on a windswept bus station, Amy seemed to be relaxing slightly. "You'd be ruining all our illusions."
"Who knows? I might confirm one or two. Just as long as I don't have to quote the relevant parts of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, As Amended."
"You're an alien," Rory said. "I mean, you are, aren't you? You're not just someone in a costume?"
"In a costume? Of course not. If I wasn't driving I'd let you take a closer look at me. I'm used to it."
"Sorry, I didn't mean..."
"I'm not offended. Honestly. People like having their picture taken with me, specially the children."
"So, what planet–" Amy began. She was cut off by a shout from Rory and an imprecation from the driver; the taxi swerved violently, banking as if to avoid an obstacle. Something that looked like a large sphere, studded with lights, flashed past the right-hand side of the vehicle and disappeared into the fog.
"What was that?" Rory asked, sounding shaken.
"Warning beacon. Looks like we'll have to take the interesting route." The thudding of the engine increased. "Don't worry, we'll still make it in time. Sick bags are under the seats, if you need them."
Amy looked decidedly pale. "I wish you hadn't said that."
The mist outside swirled, and bluish streaks of light zipped past. Leaning back against her seat, Amy closed her eyes.
"So did you come to Earth, or were you born here?" she asked, mainly to take her mind off the vibration and the disturbing feeling that she was leaving her stomach behind.
"Came, or was brought." The cab jinked, and a sound like a foghorn filled the air. "Ha. Teach him to leave an airship there. Honestly, these people think you can just turn the hazards on and that'll somehow stop it getting in the way. Where was I? Oh, yes. I was found in David Jarvis Spaceport with a suitcase of clothes that didn't fit me and a bag of trinkets. A well-meaning family took me in and waited for me to grow up. I think they got tired of waiting, in the end."
"And you don't know any more than that?"
"Oh, the authorities did all sorts of tests, but they couldn't even work out what planet I'm from. I look like a Mikorian, but apparently the DNA's all wrong. And as for how I got here, they haven't a clue. I must have just fallen through the cracks."
"What?" Amy's eyes snapped open, and she tried to sit bolt upright. "What about the cracks?"
"It's just a figure of speech." The driver looked over her shoulder at Amy, the curiosity plain to see even on her alien features. "You really aren't from round these parts, are you?"
"Sorry," Amy said. "It's just, well, weird stuff happens to us all the time. You reminded me of a bad bit, that's all." She closed her eyes, but the memory of Rory dissolving in white light was so vivid that she opened them again. For a few moments, nobody said anything.
"How're we doing for time?" Rory asked.
The woman pulled out an antique-looking fobwatch on a chain, and snapped it open.
"A bit behind," she said. "But we'll make it up."
The cab banked again, then began to climb. The fog above seemed to be getting thinner. A renewed burst of juddering ran through the frame of the taxi.
"Is it supposed to make that noise?" Amy asked, trying her hardest not to sound worried.
"Don't worry, I built her myself. I know all her little tricks." The driver poked at a switch on the dashboard; with a final defiant tremor, the vibration stopped.
"You did all this by yourself?" Amy looked around. There was none of the chaotic air of improvisation that she'd become used to in the TARDIS; everything was arranged neatly and tidily. Probably because it had been designed by a woman, she decided. For all the Doctor's excellent qualities, he still had the male tendency to take something to pieces and leave it spread all over the nearest available flat surface.
"I've had the cabin done professionally," the driver replied. "When I could afford it. Engine, antigravs, navigation and so on are all my own work."
Rory glanced nervously out of the window. In between the wisps of vapour, he'd seen occasional glimpses of a large winged outline. At first he'd thought it was a glider or some other aircraft, but it wasn't carrying lights; and he was sure that at least once, those huge wings had flapped.
"There isn't any risk of anything hitting us, is there?" he asked.
"Only if I do something stupid," the driver said cheerfully. "Don't worry. Sometimes I think this old crate knows what she's doing better than I do."
As if to demonstrate, she took her hands off the controls again. The taxi promptly lurched sideways, whether by design or chance heading directly away from the flying object – creature? -- that Rory had spotted.
"Steady, there," the woman said. She took hold of the controls once more, running her hands over them as one might soothe a startled beast, then turned and called over her shoulder. "Nearly there now. We're on final approach."
She grasped a lever beside her seat, and pushed it forward. The cab dived, causing both its passengers to draw their breath in sharply and clutch at nearby grab handles. The fog thickened around the windows. Red and orange lights flashed past, as if the taxi was diving between rows of tower blocks. Rory glanced across at Amy. Her face was pale and her teeth clenched, but she was still resisting any inclination to reach for the sick bags.
Abruptly, the swirling mist parted, as the taxicab broke through the base of the cloud layer and swooped in for a landing. Ahead was a range of buildings, half-timbered and thatch-roofed. At the front, an arched doorway was protected by a verandah, which bore a sign with the heartening words WELLCOTE SPACEPORT. At one end of the range was a clock tower, again half- timbered, its four clock faces illuminated. As the taxi skidded to a halt before the verandah, Amy nudged Rory and pointed. Standing quietly to one side of the entrance was the TARDIS. The cabbie seemed to notice the gesture, judging by the thoughtful expression on her face, but she confined her remarks to more obvious matters.
"There we are," she said, pointing to the clock tower. "Plenty of time."
Sure enough, the ornate wrought-iron minute hand had hardly reached the 'IX' position.
"That'll be twelve thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two pounds, eight shillings and fourpence," she added. "Sorry, but this engine's a bit on the thirsty side."
Reluctantly, Amy dug out the moneypen the Doctor had given her, and handed it to the cabbie. There was a beep and a chime from the meter, and the pen was passed back. Despite the fact that its contents were entirely electronic, Amy was sure it felt lighter; she told herself firmly that she was imagining things. Then, she realised how short time still was, flung the door open, and headed for the spaceport at a run.
"Look, I'd like to thank you properly–" Rory looked at the sign giving the driver's name, and did a double-take. "Fred. That's your name?"
"I thought it would help me blend in," the driver said, with a smile that somehow emphasized all the ways she stood out.
"–But really, I've got to hurry. So thanks very much. You've probably just saved the world."
He climbed out of the taxi, closing the door behind him.
"Don't mention it," the driver called after him. The taxi began to rise again, gliding away. "Oh, by the way: don't tell the Doctor you saw me. He mightn't approve."
Before Rory could come up with a coherent answer to that, the taxi was above head height and several hundred yards away, accelerating back into the clouds.
"Amy?" He looked around. Amy was standing under the verandah, looking from her wristwatch to the clock tower and back. Rory hurried over to join her.
"Amy, you'll never guess–" he began.
Amy waved him into silence. "Look at that clock. What time is it?"
"Quarter to. Come on, if we don't find the Doctor in the next five minutes–"
"Hour and five minutes."
"Look!" Amy took hold of his head and aimed his line of sight at the tower. "And this time look properly."
Rory examined the clock again. This time, he saw it. The hour hand hadn't yet reached the 10. The time was 9:45 – almost an hour before they'd hailed the taxi.
"It's got to be wrong," was his first reaction. "Perhaps they're still on winter time?"
"If it's wrong, so's every other clock in this place," Amy said. She looked at her wristwatch. "My watch says five to eleven. It's got to be fast."
Rory checked. "No, mine says the same – and when we were at the bus station, it was right. Anyway, I was going to say. That taxi driver. She knows the Doctor."
Amy spun round. "She what?"
"She said not to tell him we saw her. I think she's up to something."
"Rory," Amy said patiently, "She's got a taxi that's a time machine. How else do you think we got here before we started? Of course she's up to something."
"You can't be sure."
"No... but if I had a taxi like that, I'd use it for–" she waved her hands vaguely. "Stuff. And I mightn't want the Doctor to know about it, in case he tried to stop me."
"Amy, you worry me sometimes."
"Good thing I've got you to make sure I keep on the straight and narrow. Anyway, I haven't got a time machine of my own. Yet."
Rory decided the subject was overdue for changing. "Shouldn't we see if the Doctor's shown up yet?"
"Hope he hasn't," Amy said with a grin. "It'll be nice to be ahead of him, for once. 'Oh, hello, Doctor. No, we've been here quite a while, actually, and here's that displacement core you sent us for.'"
"You have still got it, haven't you?"
"Here." Amy held up the gadget. "And stop panicking, Rory. For once we don't have to do everything at the last minute, and it's all thanks to that taxi driver... what's her name?"
"You're making that up."
Rory shrugged. "She's a blue alien and she drives a time machine that looks like a taxi. If she wants to call herself Fred I'm not going to tell her she can't."
"I wonder how she knows the Doctor. D'you think she's his wife?"
"You said you thought River was his wife."
"Perhaps he's got one on every world." Amy shook her head. "I reckon when the Universe got restored I wasn't the only one remembering people. The Doctor must have been doing it too. That's why she suddenly turned up and didn't know how she got there. You know, like you at Stonehenge."
Rory thought back. "She didn't actually say she didn't know. She just let us think that. In fact, when you think about it, there's an awful lot she didn't tell us."
"Maybe we should have paid extra for the monologue," Amy said, as they walked into the spaceport, arm in arm. "I bet you anything she'd have said 'I had that Elizabeth the Tenth in the back of the cab the other day'."
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