The Hidden Well by Kalleah

Summary: A sequel to The Calm Before The Storm and Voyages of Discovery. Knowledge of those two stories is not necessary to follow this one. The Doctor and Rose land on an alien world, and a mystery involving a strange telepathic communication begins to unfold.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Tenth Doctor
Characters: Rose Tyler, The Doctor (10th)
Genres: Action/Adventure
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: The Process of Becoming
Published: 2007.07.11
Updated: 2008.03.13


Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Chapter 31: Chapter 31
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
Chapter 34: Chapter 34

Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Ladies and gentlemen ... I come bearing fic. I do not mean a one-shot or a PWP. I mean a full-fledged, multi-chapter, plotty fic.

This is a sequel to The Calm Before The Storm and Voyages of Discovery. taking place an indeterminate amount of time after the events of Voyages. I've written this story with the intention of having it be readable for someone who hasn't read the earlier stories, but there are references to them here and there.

I won't be posting at the breakneck speed I have previously. This story is much more plot-intensive than the other two, which were more focused on character development, and the chapters are longer. Consequently, it's taking me some time to get everything nicely settled. I'll probably post twice a week.

Thanks so much to my betas, ivydoor, np_complete, platypus, and sensiblecat, who've put up with endless tweaking of the first two chapters in particular and my whining about never getting into another multi-part fic. (Incidentally, as I keep saying that, I keep having more ideas.) Spoilers: Through Doomsday, and some very vague references to S3.

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Rose sat on the captain's chair, bundled in the Doctor's long coat, with her knees folded into her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She shivered involuntarily and the Doctor gave her an apologetic look as he gestured with the sonic screwdriver in one hand and a bristling, many-pointed metal part in the other.

"Sorry," he said, for perhaps the fortieth time since the climate control had gone wonky a few hours ago. "Do you want me to get you a blanket?"

"No," she said from between chattering teeth. "Just keep working."

With a grin that looked more like a grimace, he knelt to scoot under the console with the screwdriver and the rather threatening looking part that he swore would fix whatever it was that had broken. Rose distracted herself by eyeing his bum, aimed skyward in her direction and shifting slightly from side to side as he worked. It was, she considered, a very nicely shaped bum, framed well by tight trousers, and her hands would fit quite nicely around —

Well, those thoughts might distract her indeed from the cold, but if she kept thinking them, she suspected she might have to do something about them, and then no one would be fixing the climate control, would they?

The Doctor emerged from under the console and rubbed the back of his head with a somewhat pained expression on his face. "What did you say?" he asked. "I'm trying to concentrate on analyzing the climate control to see what fizzled out."

Had she said something out loud? "Fine, concentrate all you want," she told him. "I'll get a blanket."

"Fine," he echoed, sliding back below the console. "And I am not coming with you."

She grinned.

The walk to their room was longer than normal, and she could hear a slightly discordant, disapproving hum from the TARDIS. The ship seemed to enjoy Rose keeping the Doctor on his toes, but she did have a tendency to object when Rose kept him from his usual maintenance or repair work. Well, she considered, I'd object if the TARDIS kept distracting him when he was working on me … She giggled again, and sighed as the corridor seemed to draw out twice as long as it had before. "Sorry, girl," she said repentantly, playing her fingertips along the coral wall as she walked. A faint prickling buzzed up through her hand, almost like a shock from static electricity. The TARDIS is not amused.

Rose finally reached the door and stepped inside. When she had settled back into life in the TARDIS, her old room had simply, astonishingly expanded to suit the needs of two. The room itself was larger, with a comfortable, high-backed armchair in the corner where there had not been one before, and her bed, formerly a twin, was now easily twice that size. The Doctor had raised one elegant eyebrow at the transformation, apparently as surprised as she, and dropped onto her bed with a puff of pastel blankets.

"Trainers," she had squeaked in protest, and he had kicked the offending shoes off and pulled her down into bed with him. She had quite forgotten about the shoes then. Much later, she noticed that he had knocked over her waste paper bin with one and toppled a mess of crumpled paper and other detritus onto the floor. And then, she hadn't truly been bothered at all.

She searched through her clothes to find a long scarf, which she wound around her neck, and a knit cap, finding both items more manageable than a blanket. Rather than returning to the console room, she sat cross-legged on the floor and pulled a box of photographs out from under the bed. She had sorted some of the items the Doctor had retrieved from her mum's flat after Canary Wharf, but she never seemed to manage more than an hour or so at a time.

Rose was quickly lost in her task, adding the photographs to several stacks arranged around her on the floor. She wanted, with her mum so untouchable in the other universe, to frame a few photos for remembrance. Jackie had been great at taking photos, but hadn't really done more than put a few in frames and toss the rest into a great unsorted mess in a few boxes.

She laughed when she found a series of photos of the two of them, from right after she'd first started at the shop, trying on hats. In one, Jackie struck a fashion-model pout under a bright purple pillbox hat that barely fit over her wild hair. It was so precisely the kind of hat that an aging dowager would wear to church, and incongruous on her mother to the point of absurdity.

A noise in the door interrupted her, and she looked up to see the Doctor, with a bemused look on his face, looking down at her. "Purple is a good color for both of you," he said.


"Purple." He gestured to the photo in her hands. "You ought to wear it more." He smiled gently and came to sit down beside her.

"Did you fix the climate control?" she asked, leaning against his side.

"Yep," he said cheerfully. "Should be back to normal in a few minutes." He tugged at the end of the scarf. "Pity though. I rather like this."

She removed the hat, felt her hair crackle with static electricity, and ran her hands through the long strands to smooth them down. "Can we go somewhere warm next?"

"Certainly," he said obligingly. "Where do you have in mind?"

She didn't point out to him that her knowledge of the universe was a trifle smaller than his, and she might not be the best person to make recommendations about their next trip. But, she supposed, she could give him some guidelines.

"Warm," she reiterated. The cold was rapidly dissipating, as he had said it would, but she had had enough of it for the time being. "How about … somewhere with a nice sunset? And some good food."

"Sunset, good food, warm," he repeated, letting his eyes drift to the ceiling. "I've got it," he said triumphantly after a moment. He hopped up, pulling her with him. "Lycoras. Brilliant sunsets — they have two small suns — and there's a little restaurant right on the western edge of their largest continent with great views and even better omelets."

"Omelets?" she queried, a little amused.

"Trust me," he said enthusiastically, and towed her back to the console room.

Rose's teeth clicked painfully together as the TARDIS landed with a thump, and she unceremoniously landed on her bottom. She glared at the Doctor, who had been holding onto several levers and had avoided a similar fall. He smiled sheepishly at her and extended his hand to help her up.

"Sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck and raising his eyebrows, trying to gauge her reaction.

That was apology number forty-one for today, she thought with amusement. "I ought to know better by now. Maybe we can put in some sort of safety harness?"

"Aw, where's the fun in that?" He winked and pivoted around dramatically, snatching his long coat off the captain's chair where she had discarded it earlier. Without giving it any thought, she helped him into the coat. It was part of their routine, so easily re-established after her unexpected return.

The Doctor threw the door open and stepped outside, his walk confident and a little swaggering. Rose followed with slightly more caution and squinted into the bright sunlight. It looked like her own sun, yellow and white and radiating warmth onto the top of her head and her shoulders. There was, notably, only the one sun visible, which meant that the Doctor had once again missed his mark. It was also not sunset. As a matter of fact, it appeared to be almost exactly noon.

There was also something off about the cloudless, pale blue sky; it shimmered and seemed to gently undulate above them, like a transparent sail.

"Not Lycoras, then?" she said, stating the obvious.

He squinted up at the lone sun and then around at their surroundings, looking a little betrayed. "Just a slight miscalculation somewhere along the line," he protested.

"Your miscalculations usually end up with us stumbling upon some dire plot and running for our lives," she said, still smiling.

"I never stumble." He leaned in and kissed her, his lips thoroughly exploring hers. She reached up to tug on his lapels while his hands settled on her hips. "Want to go back inside?" he asked in a soft voice.

"What, and miss out on all the fun here?" she teased. She kissed his cheek with a loud smack and withdrew long enough to take an appraising look around. The landscape was starkly beautiful. The ground beneath her feet was dusty, crumbly pale red soil, which might have had the loamy texture of clay if it had been at all moist. In the valley below them, she could see some buildings arranged in neat, geometric lines, all with large dark tiles on their roofs. She did not see so much as a bit of scrub or a clump of grass anywhere in sight.

She pointed. "What's with the sky?"

The Doctor raised a hand to his forehead to shade his eyes from the glare and followed her gesture. "Atmospheric shell," he answered. "Keeps the nice breathable air in and all the nasty radiation out, like a bubble." He took her hand in his and gave a jerk of his chin toward the cluster of buildings. "Shall we?"

She grinned and they set off down the hill. The soil shifted perilously underfoot in parts, almost like soft sand, and Rose had to concentrate on her footing to avoid a fall. Even the Doctor trod carefully and remained quiet during their trek.

When they arrived at the fringes of the settlement, she sighed in relief as the ground firmed up. There was a noisy crowd in two queues, humans as far as Rose could tell. She poised on tiptoes to see what they were waiting for, but couldn't see around the people in front of her.

A few people were still coming down a long, clear tube that led through the edge of the habitation dome to a large, battered-looking spaceship. She studied the ship intently. Two levels of round portholes dotted the sides and the stubby wings looked rather too short to bear the weight of the whole contraption. It looked rather like an oversized, ancient panel van with wings.

"Arkwhite carrier ship," commented the Doctor. "Looks like a class 3." He sounded a little impressed.

"A little worse for wear," she observed dryly.

"They're the workhorses of deep space travel," he corrected her. "Reliable as an old soldier and virtually indestructible."

A short distance away from the adults impatiently shuffling their feet and waiting their turn, a group of children energetically played tag. In the manner of small, overexcited children, someone stumbled and fell. There was a sudden puff of red dust in the air where the child had fallen.

"So where are we, anyway?" she asked. It looked like their arrival had coincided with the arrival of the carrier ship. He didn't answer, and she found he was no longer paying any attention to her at all.

"Blimey," he muttered, almost to himself. "What was that?" His eyes were round and wide as he scanned the crowd, whites of his eyes showing at the tops and bottoms. If he'd had an antenna, Rose thought, it would have been sticking straight up.

"What?" she asked the Doctor, but his answer was interrupted by a woman's commanding voice.

"Can I have your attention, please?" The voices around her gradually died down and everyone turned in the direction where the voice came from. Behind her, a child laughed and was shushed quickly by an adult. "Welcome to Arisbe."

Rose shifted around until she could see the speaker, only a few paces away from her, a tall, stately woman with her dark hair wound into a bun. She wore a dark green jumper and a dusty pair of khaki pants tucked into sturdy boots.

"I'm Emelia Trabane, the operations manager," she said. "If you have any questions about your living arrangements or any other issues while you're settling in, please come see me or buzz me on the comm. Not in the middle of the night, please, unless it's an emergency."

Her severe face softened appealingly as she smiled. "We're very, very pleased to have you here with us. This project has been badly in need of new workers and I welcome you on behalf of the company and your coworkers. Thank you."

A handful of people clapped, and the attention shifted from Emelia back to the head of each queue. Rose looked back at the Doctor, who now had the sonic screwdriver out and was scanning in a slow line from the back of one queue to the front.

"What is it?" she whispered to him.

"I heard something," he told her. "Telepathic. It was — unfocused. Very primitive." He scowled at the sonic screwdriver. "Very odd, and not a trace of it now."

"Dangerous?" She felt a stirring within her, not quite fear, but definitely excitement.

He followed the line of people with his eyes as well as the sonic screwdriver. "I'm not sure," he said, distracted.

"Excuse me," interrupted a voice. Both of them looked up with a guilty start and discovered that they were no longer alone in the crowd. Emelia Trabane was glaring furiously at the sonic screwdriver. "What the hell is that?"

"Sonic screwdriver," said the Doctor politely. "Hello, I'm the —"

"Give it to me," she interrupted, holding out her hand. She was clearly used to giving orders.

"Absolutely not," he said indignantly. He was clearly not used to taking orders. His spine straightened and his eyebrows shot up toward his hairline. "It's mine."

"I'd like to know who you are and what you're doing here, gesturing around at the crowd with a scanner." Her eyes narrowed.

Alarm bells began clanging loudly in Rose's head, and she decided that the Doctor's somewhat unconventional form of diplomacy might not be the best course of action. She inserted herself just slightly between the two of them, offering a hand to the other woman. "Nice to meet you," she said, smiling in her most convincingly unthreatening way. "I'm Rose Tyler, and this is the Doctor."

Emelia shook her hand, possibly more out of politeness or reflex than anything else. "Emelia Trabane," she said, and folded her arms across her chest.

"We were just sightseeing," offered the Doctor, but he subsided when he saw the look on Rose's face.

"Well, that explains it," Emelia said crisply. "Sightseeing. On Arisbe. Right." She held out her hand, palm extended upward. "I'll need some identification."

The Doctor obligingly handed over the psychic paper, taking the opportunity to tuck his sonic screwdriver into a pocket, and waited. Emelia studied the paper and then gave him a resigned look. "Fine," she said, and handed it back. "Those bastards always second guess us. Come on, I'll get you a habitation assignment."

She spun around with a small puff of red dust and marched off without waiting to see if they would follow. Rose took the Doctor's hand and tugged him along. Emelia led them to the head of the queue, where she spoke a few words that Rose didn't hear to the man who was apparently checking new arrivals in. He entered something on a handheld device, produced two white cards from his pocket, and swiped them through.

"Section 4, Habitation D," he said, handing them each a card. "Welcome to Arisbe."

"Thanks," said the Doctor cheerfully, studying his card with interest.

Emelia's look now seemed more resigned than alarmed or irritated, as she had been earlier. "We're having a welcome gathering for senior-level staff in my flat, Section 1, Habitation A at 19:00," she told them. "I'll see you then."

Not quite an invitation, thought Rose. "Thank you," she said, and smiled. Emelia gave her a ghost of a smile back and then walked away into the crowd.

"Section 4, Habitation D," murmured the Doctor, looking around with interest. "Well, let's find it, shall we?"

Rose gave in and followed him. "Who the hell does she think we are?" she whispered to him. "And where are we?"

He discreetly produced the sonic screwdriver as they walked and gave his card a quick scan. "Ah," he said significantly, nodding in understanding. "Let me see yours." Rose handed it over and his eyebrows lifted in surprise as he scanned it.

She pursed her lip and resisted, with some difficulty, the urge to smack him.

"This is a planetary modification project," he continued. "The planet is HD 121504-C, otherwise known as Arisbe." He put the sonic screwdriver away again. "According to this, I'm an engineer who's rechecking their work on the atmospheric converters." He grinned proudly and tapped his temple with one long finger. "Apparently, I'm brilliant."

"What am I doing?" she asked. The Doctor shifted uncomfortably and she shot him a hard look. "Wait. I'm not a dinner lady again, am I?"

"Oh no, not a dinner lady," he said, visibly relieved. "You're working in the nursery."

Back to index

Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Author's Notes: Rose has time to question the Doctor about the telepathic communication he heard, and the two of them attend the welcome gathering at Emelia's flat.

The colony's living quarters were arranged in neat rows on the opposite side of the compound from where the ship had landed. The buildings themselves were modular, with rectangular windows cut in the pale metallic walls alongside clear paneled doors. Short fences lined off what would have been a small yard in front of each door, except for the fact that the yards themselves contained no grass, only clods of the red, dusty soil.

The doors to most of the units were thrown wide open as people moved in. Three or four children had drawn boxes in the dust between two of the sections and were playing hopscotch. A few units showed evidence of occupation — a welcome mat in front of one door, a few bright ribbons wound around the fence on another, and a set of neatly hanging curtains in the window of a third. Rose presumed, from the activity around them, that many of the units would soon be occupied by people just off the carrier ship.

"Habitation D," said the Doctor, grandly gesturing to a door much like the others. She swiped her card in a slot above the door and heard a soft snick as the lock released. Just like a hotel room, she thought.

The door opened and Rose stepped into a disappointingly ordinary-looking flat. There was a furnished front room, with a functional couch along the back wall and two matching chairs on either side. An empty bookshelf, two end tables, and a coffee table occupied the remaining space. Everything was in shades of browns and grays, neutral and somewhat unappealing to the eye.

A cutout window in the wall to the right showed part of a small kitchen, which had a few cabinets and two dark circles set into the countertop that Rose assumed were burners. A small box with a clear door and some dials sat next to the circles. She didn't see a refrigerator.

Behind the front room was an equally austere bedroom, with a moderately sized bed in the center and two end tables on each side. The closet was delightfully generous, however, with more than enough room for Rose to stand inside and an abundance of shelves. A door to one side led to an en-suite bathroom, which contained a small shower stall, toilet, and a cabinet to one side. Rose studied it for a moment, her subconscious telling her something was odd about it, until she realized there was no sink. Instead, there was a switch and nozzle in the wall above the cabinet.

She popped out of the bathroom, full of questions, and found the Doctor standing in the middle of the front room with his hands in his pockets and a broad grin on his face.

"Always the domestics first with you," he observed wryly. "Do you want me to explain all the gadgets?"

She put her curiosity aside and sat down on the couch. "No, I want you to tell me about what you heard out there." She paused. "And why I'm going to be changing nappies while you're an engineer."

"Well," he began, sitting next to her, "in this context, 'nursery' doesn't just mean babies or toddlers, but older children too. There's a very real need for good caregivers in an environment like this. But I do see your point," he added quickly as she frowned at him.

"So what did you hear?" she prompted again.

"I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "I've never heard anything like it. Telepathy isn't properly language, but a direct interface between minds. The mind of the receiver may interpret the communication as words, images, sensations, and so forth depending on how skilled the telepath is and how compatible the two brains are."

She thought of the times she had been inside his mind, so alien to her, and the colours and sensations she had felt. His mind felt, to her, like a warm, soft-but-slightly-scratchy wool scarf, winding around her and stretching out into infinity. She smiled at the memory and leaned against him, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder affectionately.

"So," she theorized out loud, "the telepath's brain is either very different from yours or he isn't very skilled."

"Or she," he added. "Yes, that's exactly right. I can usually make sense of most telepathic communications if the message is clear enough. I've had plenty of practice communicating with the TARDIS, and she's as different from me as a being can be. So I'd say this is a fairly primitive form of telepathy, except that it was so powerful." His voice drifted off as he continued the train of thought. "It was just — well, I'll come back to 'unfocused.'"

"Human?" she asked. After all her adventures, her heart still raced at the thought of proper aliens, something with tentacles or green skin or eight arms.

"I wouldn't think so." He made a small, dismissive wave with one hand. "True telepathy is incredibly rare in humans. Precognition and clairvoyance, oh, sure. But then again, most of the people on this colony are only partly human anyway."

"What are they?" She hadn't seen anyone who looked out of the ordinary back in front of the carrier ship.

"Hybrids. Remember New New York? There's quite a mixture of species out there. Appearances can be deceiving."

That was true enough, especially considering the present company. "All right, so you'll keep listening and scanning, and I'll get to know the locals by wiping snot off their kiddies. And you'll go and play with those converters."

He shifted slightly on the couch and looked a touch guilty. "I've never seen one close up. Of all the things humanity took on, the transformation of an entire planet is one of the most ambitious and those converters are key to the whole project."

"So this planetary modification thing, it's a little like what they wanted to do to Mars?"

"What they did do to Mars," he corrected. "Granted, with that, they used robots to do the bulk of the work and it took centuries to get everything done. Now, it's all fairly routine. Corporate contractors buy the rights to a planet and then end up with a planet's worth of real estate for sale."

"Real estate?" said Rose with incredulity. "You're joking."

"No joke. It's a little more large-scale than building houses, but it's the same concept. You humans call it 'terraforming,' although that's awfully self-centered, as if everyone wants their new planet to be just like Earth." He grinned at her. "All those people getting off the ship today? That's the work force. They're all getting parcels of land along with their salaries."

Rose gestured around them at the bland, neutral-colored walls. "Doesn't look like much to me."

"Actually, these are quite a bit nicer than the usual standard issue, but they're just temporary living quarters while the project's under way," he assured her. "Think of the opportunity for a family to get a ticket off an overcrowded, industrial planet and build a future. It's brilliant."

She smiled at his enthusiasm, and thought of all the people in the queues today in a different light. "Wait," she said, mentally backing up in their conversation. "Didn't you say you'd never been to one of these projects?"

He wrinkled up his face in confusion. "Did I? I don't think so."

"You said you'd never worked on an atmospheric converter," she pointed out.

"Ah. That's true enough, but I have visited one of these projects before." He pulled on an earlobe, a little self-conscious. "I sabotaged one, actually, but I didn't get anywhere near the converters that time."

She waited patiently, and as usual, she won out.

"All right," he said with a touch of reluctance. "I crash landed one of the mirror arrays onto the surface. They were modifying a planet that already had life on it. An oxygen-rich atmosphere is toxic to many life forms, and besides, that's just rude. So, I made a mess of the infrastructure and the company withdrew its financial backing from the project."

"Jeopardy friendly, you are," she said with a knowing smile. "Is there anything like that going on here? An outraged telepathic local, perhaps?"

"No chance," he said firmly. "Arisbe had primitive life on it eons ago, but they're all long gone. It's just scenery these days."

"Good to know. I suppose I can put up with the nursery for a couple of days." She was, truth be told, as curious as he was, and she was quite certain that he was aware of that fact.

He brightened. "And I wouldn't mind getting a close look at those atmospheric converters, either."

Rose groaned and flopped her head back in a dramatic display of exasperation. The Doctor, who knew her too well to be fooled, leaned in and nuzzled her exposed neck. She didn't move, and he trailed his nose up her neck to her jaw and then her cheek. "I do love it when you deduct," he murmured against her skin.

He followed the caresses with a few soft-lipped kisses. She might have replied to him, but neither one of them were paying particular attention to the conversation at that point.

The first thing Rose noticed about Section 1, Habitation A was the colourful, lived-in feel of the place. On the outside, it didn't differ much from the other units except that there was no door where she had expected to see one for Habitation B. Instead, there were two more windows. When she stepped inside, followed closely by the Doctor, she smiled in genuine pleasure at the comfortable, welcoming feel of the place.

The front room was easily three times as large as the one in 4-D. There were two couches, set perpendicular to one another, and several comfortable-looking chairs arranged around them. Several plump pillows and a fuzzy throw provided welcome contrast to the bland couch and chairs. The walls were also the same drab background, but framed, abstract artwork in primary colors made them seem less institutional.

There were already around a dozen people standing or sitting around in the room, holding glasses and talking quietly to one another. As Rose and the Doctor entered, curious eyes shifted in their direction. Rose offered a tentative smile toward the group, and one woman came over to greet her.

"Hello dear," she said enthusiastically. "I'm Frances Wittener. We're so glad to have some extra help in the nursery, even for a while, you have no idea, with all the new arrivals." Frances was shorter and considerably rounder than Rose, with a broad face and a ruddy complexion. Her curly hair was close-cropped and not a natural shade of red, at least, not in any nature that Rose had yet visited.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Rose Tyler." She glanced over her shoulder for the Doctor, but he had taken up an animated conversation with a serious-looking man with a bushy moustache.

"I'll introduce you to everyone," said Frances, taking Rose's arm in a motherly way and rattling off names at a speed that Rose couldn't possibly hope to follow. She smiled, nodded, and repeated "Nice to meet you" several times, hoping fervently that no one would be offended if she didn't recall their name later on.

Someone handled her a drink, and she gulped most of it down without taking the time to figure out what it was. White wine, perhaps? She didn't know much about wine, but it was cold and wet, and very welcome indeed.

"You might want to go easy on that," said the Doctor quietly into her ear. "It's rather potent stuff." She hadn't realized that he had made his way back to her and she slid her arm through his, determined that he shouldn't wander off without her again.

"Where did you go?" she whispered.

"Just over by the kitchen," he answered. "I see you've met Frances, then. I hear she's the resident busybody." For once, he was tactful enough to keep his voice low.

She suppressed a smile. "She's taken me on the rounds, yeah. I don't remember anyone's names."

The Doctor continued in a confidential tone. "That stout bloke over there is David Gammut, who supervises the mirror arrays. That woman next to him is Lisa Condrake, the head of —"

"Stop it," she hissed. "You're as bad as Frances." He took the glass out of her hand and finished her beverage.

A tall man, his hair bleached almost colorless and his skin tanned and weather-worn, walked purposefully toward them. "Connor Trabane," he said by way of introduction, shaking hands with the Doctor. "I gather you're Dr. Tyler?"

"Sorry?" said Rose, startled, looking from the Doctor to Connor and back again.

"Dr. Tyler and Rose?" Connor said, a little slowly. "Didn't catch your first name."

"Ah," said the Doctor, scratching the back of his neck in visible consternation and cutting his eyes briefly in Rose's direction. "Just the Doctor, thanks. And yes, this is Rose."

Rose shook Connor's hand in turn. "Nice to meet you," she said. "Any relation to Emelia?"

"Her husband," he said. "She handles the logistics, and I'm in charge of the conversion project. I understand that you —" this part was aimed at the Doctor — "are from the company, come to monitor our work on the atmospheric converters."

"I'm sure everything is quite in order," said the Doctor with an amiable smile. "Just a formality."

Connor's expression shifted slightly, and Rose studied him closer. He was ruggedly attractive, the kind of man that would have been quite at home with a pith helmet on his head and a pickaxe in his hand. Confidence radiated out from him, but there was a trace of something else underneath. Nerves? Rose wasn't sure.

"Of course," Connor continued smoothly, "It's always a good idea to have another set of eyes on a large-scale project of this kind." Rose wondered if she was imagining the challenge in his tone of voice.

"Quite," agreed the Doctor blandly.

"I'll personally take you through the converter setup tomorrow," said Connor. "You'll see that we're running an efficient operation here."

"I'll look forward to it." She looked from the Doctor to Connor, and saw that they were quite obviously sizing each other up. Men, she thought with some annoyance. Marking their territory.

Frances chose that particularly awkward moment to reappear. "Dr. Tyler!" she exclaimed. "I met Rose a few moments ago but didn't have the chance to introduce myself."

The Doctor assumed his most charming smile. "Ah, just the Doctor, please, Frances. It's lovely to meet you. I've heard so much about you already."

Connor, with courtesies to both women and a final measuring look at the Doctor, ducked away from them. Rose took advantage of his departure to take the wine glass away from the Doctor and fetch a refill. She drained the glass and deposited it onto an end table nearly full of other discarded glasses.

When she returned, the Doctor's expression had glazed over slightly, although he still had the smile pinned into place, and he looked at Rose with visible relief. "Rose! I was just telling Frances that we have had rather a long journey and will be calling it an evening fairly early."

She saw a chance to have a bit of fun with him, and couldn't resist. "Oh, I wouldn't want to miss our first real chance to get to know everyone," she said in her most disappointed voice.

His right eyebrow twitched. "I wouldn't want you to be overtired," he responded solicitously.

Frances patted Rose's shoulder. "A very good catch, that one," she said approvingly. "You should run along then. We'll have plenty of time to get to know each other later on."

The Doctor offered Rose his arm and gallantly escorted her to the front of the room. "So. Dr. Tyler?" she whispered against his shoulder.

He coughed. "Well, yes, that. I needed names for our identification, and it seems silly to give you an alias when you're already used to your own name. It's a very good name after all."

She chuckled. "Very modern. We wouldn't want to be silly, would we?"

"Of course not." He screwed up his face briefly. "It's practical."

Rose grinned and searched the crowd for Emelia, who was emerging from the kitchen with a wine glass in her hand. "Let's say goodbye," she said to the Doctor. "It's her party, after all." He patted the pocket where he kept his sonic screwdriver before nodding his agreement.

"Emelia," said Rose, smiling. "Thank you for inviting us."

"Of course," said the other woman. Before she could say more, a small face appeared around her leg, peering up shyly at Rose. Emelia's face immediately softened and she put her hand on top of the little boy's dark head. He was probably no more than five or six years old.

"Mummy," he stage whispered, eyes fixed on Rose. "Brandon said I could have a biscuit." He blinked up at his mother. "Can I have a biscuit? Please?"

"Just one, and take one back for him and Jonah," Emelia told him. He bolted off without another word, and Emelia sighed.

"That's Ian," she said with a touch of exasperation and pride. "He's my artist." She nodded at the abstract art on the wall. Rose hadn't paid much attention, but once she looked closer, she saw that she had been fooled by the formal frames and matting. In the bright colours, she could see the whorls of fingertips and an uneven child's signature in the bottom right.

"He has a good eye for colour," said the Doctor approvingly. Rose smiled up at him in pleased surprise.

"When he gets older," said Emelia with a trace of wistfulness in her voice, "I'd like to send him to a really good art program. Maybe if this project goes well —" She cleared her throat. "Thank you for coming," she said in a firmer voice. "Rose, I'll see you tomorrow at the nursery."

"What time should I be there? And where exactly is the nursery?"

"07:30, and it's in Section 11," Emelia responded.

"Thanks," said Rose, trying to sound as if she meant it.

Back to index

Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Author's Notes: The Doctor and Rose settle in, for the moment, on Arisbe. For those intrigued by Emelia and Connor, a brief glimpse of a conversation.

Once outside the Trabanes' flat, the Doctor steered her away from the path back to Section 4, Habitation D. "Back to the TARDIS," he explained briefly, letting his palm press into the small of her back. "I'd like something a little more robust than the sonic screwdriver to look for our telepathic friend."

Rose once again floundered up the loose, shifting soil, her calves burning, and wondered if there were any snowshoes in the wardrobe room. The Doctor, predictably, seemed to be having much less trouble than she was.

The first few steps on the hard floor of the TARDIS felt odd after the soft ground, and she straightened up with her hands on her hips, sucking in air. The Doctor shot her a single, curious look and began fiddling with controls on the console.

"All right," he said with enthusiasm, "just need to get a resonance field established to scan for Kirlian waves." He scrunched up his face. "They would be Kirlian waves, wouldn't they? Surely something that powerful …" Rose gave him a wide-eyed look in response and he trailed off, lost in thought.

She came over to stand next to him, eyeing the display. The technobabble that streamed out of him was foreign, but she loved to hear him talk. When he stopped talking, she bumped her hip against his playfully in encouragement. To her delight, he bumped right back and winked at her. However, the glasses came out after that, and that indicated a transition from silliness to science, at least for the moment.

Watching her favorite mad scientist intent on a project was entertaining for quite some time, but Rose eventually lost interest. She wandered off to the wardrobe room and began to search for clothes that seemed appropriate for her first day of work tomorrow, and for good measure, a few days after that. Granted, she wasn't quite sure what was "appropriate" for a nursery full of hybrid humans on a planet that was being terraformed, but the TARDIS made a few helpful suggestions.

At length, she settled on an outfit similar to what Emelia had been wearing, although the jumper she selected was a muted violet instead of camouflage green. Even on an alien planet, a girl could allow herself some vanity. The Doctor had said she should wear purple more often, after all.

She held up the jumper in front of her and pivoted back and forth in front of the mirror. Behind her, she heard a loud clatter and a low curse. She turned to find the Doctor tangled up in pair of snowshoes that she hadn't seen earlier, and she burst out laughing before she could stop herself.

"Where did those come from?" he grumbled, tucking them back behind the rail of one of the gracefully curving staircases.

She ignored the rhetorical question. "Did you find anything?"

"No," he responded, running a hand through his hair and leaving it sticking up in all directions. "Just a lot of normally functioning, mostly human brains thinking mostly ordinary human thoughts. I'll have to catch the telepath actually transmitting to find anything."

She leaned against the railing and nodded. "That makes sense. Like trying to figure out what language someone's speaking when they're not talking?"

"Something like," he agreed. "I'm leaving the scanners online, so I don't have to be here every moment."

Rose yawned, and immediately put her hand over her mouth. "I'm not sleepy," she said, and yawned again.

The Doctor came over and took the garments from her. "Better start adjusting to local time," he suggested. "Why don't we get you packed and head back so you can get some sleep?" One hand came up and gently smoothed her hair back from her face, his touch lingering and tender.

Back in the flat, Rose changed into some nightclothes while the Doctor put his supplies from the TARDIS away in the closet. When she returned, he had folded down the covers and was sitting on the edge of the bed, unlacing his trainers. She climbed in behind him and slid underneath the sheets.

They had settled into this routine after they had become lovers and before their separation. He would come to bed with her, where they might make love, or simply snuggle close and talk in low tones until she fell asleep. She was never sure how long he stayed after that; he was agile and quiet as a cat when he left.

Some mornings, she would wake to find him sleeping next to her, and those were the moments she treasured most. She would watch his face, unguarded in sleep and looking impossibly young, and listen to his regular breathing.

After her return, he had taken to staying with her more often than not. She didn't need to ask why.

"Oi! Cold feet," she cried, as he joined her under the covers, and then squeaked even louder. "Cold hands, too."

He chuckled and rolled onto his back. Despite her protests, she curled against his bare side and slung her leg over his. "Doesn't seem to bother you too much," he observed. He lifted his arm and she tucked her head into his shoulder. A small, contented sigh fluttered past her ear.

Despite her earlier tiredness, she was now too keyed up to sleep. A new planet, a new adventure, even a new bed. The Doctor's light touch as he stroked up and down her back helped, but she felt restless.

He rolled over on his side to face her, and she shifted to rest her head on his upper arm. His hand came up to stroke through her hair, gently down her neck, and back up past her cheekbone to her temple. "Can I help?" he asked quietly. She nodded.

His fingers pressed against her skin, and his eyes met hers, to invite her in and share his mind.

She fell, as she always did, into his coffee gaze and felt the scratchy sweet warmth of his mind surround her. A hundred swarming images and sensations danced wildly around her until he forced them back and away. As she relaxed, her breathing slowed to a rhythm to match his, and a sense of blissful well-being settled over her. Her Doctor's enfolding mind, his warmth and affection around her, calmed her even more than his physical presence in the bed did.

"Sweet dreams," he whispered.

In Section A, Habitation 1, Emelia Trabane sat cross-legged on a virtually identical bed and brushed her long, dark hair, wavy from having been twisted in a bun all day.

"You think he is actually an inspector from the company, then?" she asked.

Connor, clad only in blue striped pajama pants, stuck his head around the bathroom door and pulled a face at her. "I have no idea, Em. What I do know is that neither one of them were on the passenger manifest for the carrier ship."

"Well, if the company was sending a flunky to check the converters, I'd expect them to be discreet about it," she pointed out. "Wouldn't do much good for them to have the whole project on ready for his arrival. And if he is involved with the sabotage, why not just fake some normal credentials and blend in?"

"True enough," conceded Connor, joining her on the bed and tucking his hands behind his head. He exhaled a long, huffing breath of frustration and gave his wife a measuring look. "You assigned her to the nursery, of all things?"

Emelia's face darkened and he immediately saw he had made a mistake. They were colleagues and spouses, and it was all well enough to discuss his work life and decisions, but she was incredibly prickly when it came to her own authority.

"I put her where we had the most need," she stated flatly. She put the hairbrush down on the end table with a sharp thwack. Suspicion was one thing, apparently, but the operations of Arisbe Project came first. "I've paired her with Brandon. I trust him to keep an eye on her."

"Brandon — but Em, that means —" Now, his parental obligations came into play, and he could not sit back idly, regardless of whether it risked Emelia's temper to question her decision.

"Yes," she interrupted. "She met Ian earlier. And I have a good sense about her."

"A good sense!" Connor burst out, unable to restrain himself. "This is our son. And not to mention Jonah. You're putting them both in the hands of a perfect stranger!"

Emelia folded her hands in her lap and regarded her husband with a stony expression. "I am doing no such thing. Brandon is there, remember? I trust him completely."

He relented slightly and shook his head in resignation. "I assume you prepped him?" The icy look she gave him assured him that she had in fact taken care of that, and probably a good bit more beyond.

Connor sighed and considered moving to the couch in the front room for his own health. In the end, he stayed where he was, and turned off the light.

Back to index

Chapter 4: Chapter 4

Author's Notes: Rose's first day at the nursery, which begins with a certain amount of culture shock, includes bananas, furmots, and a silent boy, and ends with a mystery sandwich in the nursery cafeteria.

Adjusting to local time meant waking up a good bit before Rose's body had intended to. The Doctor, fully dressed, sat in the chair across from the bed and presented her with his most dazzling morning-person grin. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," he said cheerily.

She sat up and rubbed her eyes, resolving for once to put a good face on the morning. She stumbled out of bed and closed the door behind her. The Doctor had learned enough about her attitude in the morning to stay where he was.

After a moment, she re-emerged from the bathroom and stood with hands on hips. "How do I get the shower to work?"

He stood up and came to stand with her in the shower stall. "See here?" He pulled a door back and revealed two large sponges and a trio of dispenser nozzles. "Soap," he said, pointing to the first nozzle. "Water, and then a powder shampoo. Rub it in your hair and it brushes right out." He ran a hand through his own hair and waggled his eyebrows at her.

Perhaps, she thought wearily, I should have had him show me the gadgets last night. "So it's not a proper shower?"

"Water's entirely too precious here to waste like that. Oh, don't make such a long face, Rose. Think of the exfoliation! Sponge on the right's mine." With that, he left her standing a little forlornly in the stall, staring at the nozzles.

The little water she could use, at least, was warm, and the dry shampoo was much more effective than she had supposed it would be. She couldn't figure out a way to get any water out of the nozzle where the sink should have been, though, so she went back in the stall and cleaned her teeth with the warm water.

Despite the problem of the not-shower, she was significantly less muddle-headed when she emerged back into the bedroom. She tossed her damp towel onto the bed (which, she noted, had already been made with near-military precision) and ignored the soft cluck of disapproval from the chair behind her. When she finished pulling on the clothes she had selected the night before, he had retrieved the towel and hung it carefully on the hook behind the bathroom door.

"Breakfast," he said. "Most important meal of the day." He fished in one pocket and produced a banana, which he handed to her.

"You're as bad as Howard," she told him, but she peeled and ate the banana anyway. "What time is it?"

"Time," he said in a singsong voice, "is a never-ending, interconnected web —"

Despite her earlier resolution, she wasn't quite up for his sense of humour yet. "On Arisbe. Outside. Now. What time is it?"

He pretended to look at a watch he wasn't wearing. "7:14," he told her.

Sixteen minutes until she was due to be confronted by hordes of small part-alien children. "I need another banana," she announced. He handed over another one without comment and put the peel from the first one carefully in what she had come to think of as his composting pocket.

Just before they left the flat, he whirled around and caught her up in an unexpected, crushing hug, and she laughed and squeezed him back. "What was that for?" she asked, a little breathless.

"Oh, come on, it's always a good time for a hug," he responded, smiling broadly. "Do I need a reason?"

"Well, no, but that doesn't mean that you don't have one," she pointed out.

He shrugged, letting his arms drop. "I just won't see you all day, and I wanted to give you a hug. Is that reason enough?"

"Yes," she said, smiling back at him. She kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger on his freshly shaved skin. "Always."

"Good," he said, and held out his hand for her second banana peel.

They parted company in front of Section 11, which differed from the other sections in several ways. Instead of a row of paneled doors, there was a set of double doors in the middle of the building, flanked on either side by a series of boxy windows. The fence lined off a yard that ran the entire length of the building, and there was a small sign to the right of the double doors that read "Nursery" in plain block letters.

Hands in pockets and whistling a merry tune, the Doctor headed off toward where they had met up with the carrier ship the day before. Rose pulled open the right-hand door and entered cautiously into a brightly lit entryway.

To her right, there was a clear door that led into a small office. Beside the door, a sign read "Office," quite unnecessarily. To Rose's left were a solid door and a corresponding sign that read "Staff Only," with a card reader along the side. She supposed she was staff, but she stepped forward and looked down the long hallway on each side. There were several open doors along the hallway and she could hear bustling, busy sounds coming from one direction in particular. She shrugged and set off in the direction of the sound.

She ran, almost quite literally, into Frances Wittener, who flew out from one of the doors with her arms full of books.

"So sorry," they said in unison, and laughed together.

"You're right on time," said Frances. "I'll show you around in a few minutes. Could you help me with these?" She handed off several of the books to Rose, who followed her back down the hallway and into the office.

The office was furnished plainly, with a large desk sitting at an angle in one corner and a couch along one wall. Frances busied herself putting away books in a shelf next to the desk for a moment.

"All right," she said, sitting down behind the desk, "we'll get the day started, then." She shifted some papers on the desk to uncover a display set down in the surface, which she lifted up to a comfortable reading angle.

"You're assigned to the room with Brandon Turner. You'll like him. He's so very good with the children. And single, but I guess that doesn't matter to you." She gave Rose's left hand a look, and Rose wondered self-consciously for a moment if the lack of a wedding band had any deeper significance on this world. "Let's go and meet him, then."

Brandon, as it turned out, was probably only a bit older than Rose, with dark hair and softly slanting dark eyes. When they came into the room, he was sitting behind the teacher's desk in the corner, writing studiously in a large notebook.

"Morning, Brandon," said Frances, and he started slightly at the sound of her voice. "This is Rose."

He shook her hand and offered her a gentle smile. "It's nice to meet you," he said.

"Nice to meet you, too." There. She said it again.

"I'm going back up front for check-in," said Frances. "We should start seeing the children any minute." She sailed out of the room, leaving Rose and Brandon looking somewhat awkwardly at one another in her wake.

"So," said Rose, to break the silence. "What can I help with?"

"Nothing really until the kids get here," he told her, shifting his eyes downward. "I was just writing out some lesson plans." His voice was pitched low, almost musical.

"Don't let me stop you. I'll just get myself settled, yeah?" He nodded hesitantly back at her and took his seat again behind the desk.

She explored the room around her, which was decorated with the art projects of small children. She recognized one or two of Ian's paintings, which with their graceful lines and light touch stood out in the middle of the crayon scratching and line drawings like masterworks. In time, she thought, they might well be.

In the middle of the room, miniature chairs stood around a large round table that only came up to about her knees. The left side of the room was lined with cubbies filled with toys, art supplies, and other items. Short bookshelves divided off the back corner of the room, opposite where Brandon's desk sat, into a dedicated reading area. The floor was strewn with soft cushions and a few leftover books.

To make herself useful, Rose picked up the books and looked at the ones already on the shelves. "Brandon?" she asked. "How are these sorted?"

"Alphabetical by author, in theory, but it's a bit of a mess right now," he responded. He sounded apologetic. She started to explain that she wasn't being critical, but their first arrival of the morning appeared before she could do so.

For several minutes, they were both busy, with small children saying goodbye to their parents and putting their day packs away in cubbies. Rose said "Nice to meet you" to a procession of adults and tried to learn the names of their offspring. The children seemed perfectly normal, all around five or six years old and chattering animatedly with one another.

She looked up to see Emelia Trabane in the doorway, and she smiled in relief at a familiar face. Emelia smiled back, seeming a little less intimidating this morning. Ian streaked past her. "No running, Ian," called his mother, and he subsided into a brisk walk.

"Rose," she said, bringing another small figure forward, "this is Jonah."

The boy was older than the others, but still small, with short, dark ringlets of hair surrounding a serious, pale face. He was the most perfectly beautiful child Rose had ever seen. His features were graceful, not effeminate, but striking, and she couldn't help but wonder how he would grow into that face.

"Hello, Jonah," she said to him. He seemed to take no notice of his name, and his gaze drifted just past Rose's face to a point in the distance.

Brandon had come to stand beside her, she realized, and he reached down to take Jonah's free hand and tug him into the room. "Let's go and sit down, Jonah," he said with his soothing voice. Emelia let the small hand drop with some obvious reluctance, and the boy let himself be led into the room, seemingly taking as little notice of Brandon as he had of Rose.

"He doesn't speak," said Emelia evenly. "He may or may not react to what happens around him." She looked at Rose with a mother bear's fierceness. "His parents died and Connor and I took him in rather than let him go to some institution."

Rose answered carefully, recognizing that her response to Jonah was incredibly important to the other woman. "I'm so sorry. Is that why he doesn't speak?"

"No, but it couldn't have helped, either." She looked Rose straight in the eyes. "Be careful with him. And Ian." Rose just nodded, and Emelia whirled in her dramatic way and headed back down the hallway.

Jonah was sitting on a cushion in the reading corner, carefully arranging blocks in a row. The other children clustered around Brandon, who had transformed from a shy, almost bookish young man into a commander.

"Everyone," he said, in a carrying tone. The children immediately subsided. "I want you to meet someone." He gestured at Rose, and a dozen small faces turned to look expectantly at her. She smiled back and waved. "This is Miss Rose." He mouthed what she took to be "All right?" at her and she nodded.

"Good morning, Miss Rose," chanted the children in unison.

"Hello," she said tentatively. Her experience with children, for all her past posturing to the Doctor, was rather limited to a few cousins. Brandon, however, took charge and Rose was perfectly content to let him do so. For the rest of the morning, he led the children in working on their letters and numbers and other basic lessons, and Rose fetched supplies as needed. She kept one eye on Jonah, who seemed absorbed in his work. She couldn't describe his careful alignment of the toy blocks as "play," not with the seriousness on his face and the precision of the stacking.

Late in the morning, Brandon spoke quietly into her ear as the children chattered and cut shapes out of paper with blunt scissors. "I usually read them a story before lunch," he told her. "Would you like to read today?"

"Sure," she said. "What book do they like?"

"I hope," he said with a smile, "that they like all of them, but here's a popular choice." He handed her a thin volume with a happy, somewhat unusual looking creature on the front cover. Freddie the Furmot Goes Adventuring. She wasn't quite sure what a furmot was, but she figured that one children's book about a small adventuring furry animal was probably much like another.

She was right, and Brandon was as well; the children were delighted to see the book make an appearance. They all clustered into the reading area, leaving a small empty circle around Jonah and his blocks.

Rose read dramatically, pausing to turn the book toward the admiring group and show off the illustrations. To the best of her abilities, she tried to vary her tone and pitch for Freddie and his friends, furry or scaly animals of uncertain species. The children listened to her with rapt attention.

After she finished, Brandon designated Ian as the leader, and the children formed a somewhat winding queue behind him and pattered off down the hallway toward the cafeteria. At the end, Rose and Brandon walked, both holding hands with Jonah. The little boy's hand was warm and soft in hers, and she squeezed gently. He didn't squeeze back, and his attention wandered as they walked.

Inside the cafeteria, the children squealed and fussed, and finally sat down at their scaled-down tables and chairs to eat some sandwiches alongside several other classes. Brandon made sure Jonah was settled in a chair and put a sandwich in his hand. The little boy began to eat the sandwich slowly, seemingly without paying any attention to it at all.

Rose followed Brandon to the counter, where they took sandwiches and two glasses containing some pale, watered-down looking liquid and then sat at a slightly larger table in the corner with some other staff. She studied her sandwich, which appeared to be some sort of brownish paste. She took a bite, and while she still wasn't sure what it was, it had a lightly meaty flavour and was considerably better than she had expected. The liquid was something akin to apple juice.

"How long have you been here?" she asked, wanting to make conversation.

"Since the project started," he answered readily. "That would be, what, about two standard years?" He took a bite of his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully before continuing. "It doesn't seem that long, but I enjoy my work."

She smiled. That much was obvious, watching him interact with the children this morning. "How did you end up on Arisbe?"

"Opening for a teacher, and the chance to get off Orinous Four." He winced at the memory. "Once the project is done and the real estate sales start, we'll need some proper schools. I'd like to keep working with the younger ones, and maybe to specialize in some art programs."

"Ian's your ideal student, then," she observed with a smile, and took another bite of her mystery sandwich.

Brandon's face lit up. "You can tell he's a genius, even at his age. The other kids have fun, and it's a great way for them to learn through play, but Ian — well, Ian is talented." He took a long drink of his juice. "And how did you end up here?"

Perhaps she should have been better prepared for that rather inevitable question than she was. "My — uh — well, the Doctor's an engineer, working on the atmospheric converters. I'm just along for the ride." Not exactly true, but not exactly untrue either.

Brandon accepted her answer for what it was worth, and for a moment, the two of them let the conversation of the other staffers wash over them.

"Jonah," Rose began again hesitantly. "How much is he aware of us?"

He focused his attention back to her and nodded. "I don't know," he said sadly. "I've had a few moments where I felt like I almost broke through to him, but I'm not sure if they're real or just wishful thinking."

Her eyes drifted across the tables, across the bouncing, happy children and the messy lunch plates, and settled on the child who was so alone in a crowd. He had finished his sandwich and was sitting stock still in his chair, staring out above the heads of the other children. For a moment, his head cocked to the other side, and his eyes moved, and she thought that he might meet her gaze.

Then, as Brandon had said, the moment passed, and Jonah was again a small boy lost in his own world.

Back to index

Chapter 5: Chapter 5

Author's Notes: The Doctor's winning way with the atmospheric converters, if not with Connor, and the rest of Rose's first day at the nursery.

Connor Trabane was having a very, very bad day.

He gave a bleak look at the portable display in his hand. Hexafluoroethane production was up by nearly two tenths of a percent over the week before. Normally, that would make his engineer's heart leap with joy, but today, he couldn't credit that improvement to his team.

It just had to be the company flunky, didn't it?

"Just look at this," continued the flunky in question excitedly from his position behind one of the main exchange consoles. "If you raise the temperature of the fluorination catalyst by point-oh-oh-three-eight degrees as it enters the first exchange unit, you'll get another point-oh-one-seven percent increase in production." His head popped out from around the console and he gave Connor what was most likely meant to be a winning grin. "How much chlorotrifluoromethane are you adding per second?"

Connor provided a number, suppressed a sigh, and waited for the inevitable flood of helpful suggestions. Somewhat to his surprise, it didn't come.

"Exactly," said the other man, adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "All right then, what's next?" Connor was reminded briefly of the look on Ian's face when he had finished unwrapping one birthday gift and was eagerly anticipating the next one.

Patience is a virtue. "We have samples of the regolith from outside the atmospheric shell," he said. "The oxygen release is steady. We're quite pleased with the warming from the mirrors focused on the north polar cap." He handed over his portable display with another suppressed sigh, which he possibly suppressed less successfully than the other one. Or two.

His opponent looked up at him and shook his head. "Am I really that bad, Connor?" he asked in a somewhat injured tone.

"Dr. Tyler?" he asked with some surprise.

"I'm not the enemy, you know. I'm actually trying to help."

"You're here to look over my shoulder and second guess my whole operation!" The statement burst out despite all his earlier resolutions to hold his temper.

"I'm not, really I'm not. And stop calling me 'Dr. Tyler.' It's just the Doctor."

As if there's only one, thought Connor, but the matter wasn't worth pursuing. He took a moment to compose himself. "My impression," he said stiffly, "is that you are here to double check the efficiency of our operation. You've done nothing but suggest petty adjustments all morning. I'm sorry, Doctor, but we run a pretty damn efficient operation as it is and I'm not particularly happy about some outsider coming in and telling me what to change!" Well, he had started out holding his temper at the beginning of that tirade at least …

"Continuous process improvement is incremental," said the Doctor mildly. "Connor, I'm not here to one-up you and I'm not here to bully you out of a job. Come on, aren't you having any fun at all?" He scrunched up his nose. "Even a little? All this chemistry?"

Connor gaped.

"Oh, you love it," said the Doctor, waving a hand dismissively. "You wouldn't be as good at what you do if you didn't. Admit it."

"Well," he said with some reluctance, "hexafluoroethane production is up by nearly two tenths of a percent."

"And you're dancing on the inside about it." There was a teasing light in the other man's eyes. "Let's go and take a look at the regolith measurements."

Connor shrugged, and gave in with a grin. Perhaps the day was looking up after all.

Rose had considered herself to be in good shape, with a high energy level and good stamina. She did, after all, journey on adventures across time and space with a hyperactive alien genius. After the day she'd had, though, she'd be grateful for a nice, soothing angry mob or even a mythological beast or two.

"It's my turn!" cried an indignant little voice, and Rose hopped up from the miniature chair she had been sitting in to mediate a dispute between two of the girls. Someone, it turned out, was not happy about someone else's having sat in the blue chair when it was clearly not her turn. Although she had pegged him early in the day as quiet and shy, Brandon Turner was an effective disciplinarian. He waited until Rose had restored some peace to the world and then sent both girls to sit facing the wall for a time-out.

"Why don't you go back with Jonah for a bit and try finger painting," suggested Brandon. "There's some paper in my right-hand cabinet for him. It's the textured stuff."

Rose gathered up the paints and paper, which was gently ridged like very fine, flat papier-mache, and sat down in the reading corner next to him. Jonah was sitting on his feet, leaning forward and focusing steadily on his blocks. He had arranged them in a series of precise equilateral triangles.

She spread out the paper just to the side of the blocks and tried to get his attention. "Jonah," she said in a normal voice, "I've got some paints. Want to help me?" He let her gently steer him away from the blocks, and to her surprise, he reached out quite readily to trace an invisible circle on the paper.

Once she had the jars of paints opened for him, he put one index finger into the purple jar and then made a light gesture across the paper. Rose beamed at him, thrilled to see him taking an active notice of something. She put another sheet down next to his and dipped her finger in the green paint. "I'm going to paint a flower," she told him. "What are you painting?"

He didn't reply, but his finger continued to dab paint onto the paper. She painted and watched him, adding commentary to her work as they continued. "It's a rose," she said. "It's my name. Have you ever seen one? It's a big flower, lots of petals all bunched together and smells really nice."

His finger hesitated for the briefest moment, almost undetectably, before he added yellow above his purple square, and then to the sides. As she reached for the pink, he did, too, and their hands bumped. She let her hand linger against his and watched him cover his finger over with the pink paint. A smudge of the previous colors worked its way into the paint's surface, and Rose skimmed it off with her thumb. "We're making a right mess, aren't we?" she said, laughter in her voice. "It's fun. I haven't done this in years and years."

A commotion from the front of the classroom caught her attention and she snapped her attention back to where a very familiar form stood opposite Brandon.

"Nice to meet you, Brandon," he said, shaking hands vigorously. "I'm the Doctor." He spotted Rose and his face lit up with delight. Her stomach still turned over when he looked at her like that. She gave him a slowly unfolding smile in return and a small wave. Brandon, who clearly recognized a force of nature when he saw one, went back to the table with the children, and the Doctor wandered over to the reading area.

"Hello," he said, easing onto the floor with them and stretching his long legs out in front of him. "I'm the Doctor."

"This is Jonah," explained Rose. "He's the strong, silent type." The Doctor gave her a brief, barely perceptible nod of understanding.

He smiled at Jonah and spoke to him in quite a normal tone, or at least, normal for him. "That's my girl you're painting, you know," he told the little boy seriously. "I'll take all comers."

Rose's mouth hung open as she studied Jonah's paper and realized that the Doctor was quite right. She could now see her face, her yellow hair, even her purple shirt and khaki trousers. "Jonah," she said, taken aback and moved beyond belief. "That's really, really lovely. Thank you." She emphasized the last two words, wanting so much to make a connection with him, and realizing that he had, in his own silent way, already done so.

Rose held back a grin and stroked Jonah's back gently as the Doctor adjusted his glasses and continued his dramatic reading of Further Adventures of Freddie the Furmot.

"And what do you think happened next?" he asked the wide-eyed circle of children seated in the reading area. One little girl's hand shot up so hard that her bottom actually lifted off the ground for a moment. "Yes, Rebecca?"

"Freddie sees a girl furmot!" cried Rebecca excitedly. Several boys made groans of protest and one put his hands over his eyes.

"So he does." The Doctor angled the book toward the reading circle and made sure everyone saw the illustration of Freddie getting his first glimpse of his lady love. He continued reading, assuming a high, squeaky voice for Felicity the furmot and provoking a fit of giggles from the children.

Rose listened, fascinated at this new aspect of him. She had seen him interact with children before, but never so deliberately and, well, happily. When he put down the book, she too let out a tiny sigh of disappointment.

"All right everyone," said Brandon, assuming his commander persona, "let's get ready to go." He hustled everyone out of the reading area, where there was a fairly efficient flurry of cleaning and packing activities.

Jonah went back to lining up his blocks. "Will you stay with the Doctor?" Rose asked him.

The Doctor edged over and surveyed the careful lines of blocks. "We're fine," he said without looking up at her. "Mind if I help?" The question was directed to Jonah.

Rose left the two of them to whatever mad designs they could plot and tried to help Brandon with the end of day activities. He had everything well in hand, but she did greet some incoming parents and assist a couple of children with gathering up their packs.

Emelia wasn't the last parent to arrive, but she was the last one to leave. She gave Ian a hug, exchanged a few quiet words with Brandon, and finally came over to peer over the shelf separating the reading area from the rest of the room. "Hello, Jonah," she said.

"Sorry, hold up," said the Doctor, without looking up from the blocks. "We're almost finished."

Emelia shot a questioning look at Rose, who shrugged. "How was he today?"

"I don't know how he is normally," she said carefully, "but we finger painted this afternoon."

"He loves that," said Emelia with a smile. The two women stood companionably next to one another, watching the man and the boy precisely arrange blocks in rows of bright color.

Back to index

Chapter 6: Chapter 6

Author's Notes: The Doctor is absurdly pleased at being followed. Afterwards, a dinner date, and a conversation about children.

"How were the atmospheric converters?" asked Rose. They walked arm in arm at a leisurely pace back toward the flat.

The Doctor beamed. "Brilliant. We increased hexafluoroethane production by just over two tenths of a percentage."

"Ah," she said, trying to sound impressed. She didn't ask him what hexa-whatzit was, as she knew he would tell her all about it in painstaking detail if she did. "Aren't we going back to the TARDIS? You know, check your readings and all that?"

"Not at the moment. Don't look," he said in a casual, conversational tone, "but there's someone following us."

Rose gripped his arm a little more tightly and tried to act as nonchalant as he was. "Who?"

"One of Connor's engineers. He's not being at all discreet, poor bloke," said the Doctor in a pitying tone. "I imagine he's not used to sneaking about."

"What did you do this time?" she asked.

He let out a soft, put-upon sigh. "Once again, you assume I did something. I was very helpful, thank you very much. We had a really good day of male bonding, Connor and I, but he's not stupid. I'd have me followed too, if I were in his situation," he said with some degree of approval. "So you and I are not going to do anything at all out of the ordinary. Just a nice, leisurely walk back to our habitation unit after an honest day's work."

"An honest day's work?" she teased. "You?"

"Mmm," he said, his eyes twinkling at her. "It has been known to happen from time to time."

When they reached the flat, she flopped onto the couch with a groan. The Doctor retrieved some of his equipment from the closet in the bedroom and began assembling some complicated looking device on the coffee table. Rose curled onto her side and watched him work. "What is that?"

"Remote control for the scanners on the TARDIS, so I can keep an eye on things from here," he said. He frowned at the metal bit in his hand and disappeared into the kitchen. She heard a muffled bang and a metallic clatter, and then he returned with a grin and a new gadget. "We didn't need the right hotplate anyway," he said by way of explanation, and sat down on the floor to continue his work, his back to her on the couch.

She sank into a half-doze and was startled back awake some time later by the Doctor's cry of triumph. "All right then, let's see what we've got." He had the glasses on again. "Come on, come on," he mumbled.

"What is it?" She rubbed her eyes, trying to clear the almost-sleep from her head.

"Nothing," he said with frustration, and let his hand smack down on the coffee table next to the device. She reached over and ruffled his hair, a gesture that normally cheered him considerably, but he continued to scowl at his invention.

"Could you have been mistaken?" she asked cautiously. "I mean, is there anything else that could have sounded like that?"

"I am not imagining things." He turned slightly and gave her a wide-eyed pout. "There was some sort of telepathic communication, but whoever it was, he or she is being awfully quiet at the moment."

"Can they tell you're listening, or scanning, or whatever?" She reached out and rubbed his shoulders with one hand.

"Of course not," he said, but his voice didn't carry the assurance it had earlier. "I have to operate on the assumption that they can't, anyway, or why bother trying?"

"Well," she considered, "if the scanners work in the background, then there's no point in staring at them."

With the smallest nod of agreement, he turned around to face her and rested his head on the edge of the couch. She reached out and stroked through his hair, letting her fingers trail gently across his scalp. His eyes stayed fixed on hers, dark and deep and full of love for her. He didn't say so often, but she knew how he felt. He had shown her, helped her feel it, in the communion of their minds.

Her stomach, completely indifferent to the tender moment, rumbled loudly. The Doctor, with his head so close to the source of the sound, laughed and sat up.

"Time to feed the human," said Rose, rolling her eyes and also sitting up. "What do we do for food around here, anyway? I didn't see anything in the kitchen."

The Doctor bounded to his feet. "Out," he pronounced. "We'll go out."

That was fine with her, and she took a moment to clean herself up in the bathroom mirror before following him outside. "There's a restaurant in Section 6," he told her. "Supposed to be the best food on the planet."

Considering that the project settlement was all that there was on the planet at the moment, that wasn't exactly the ringing endorsement it might have been elsewhere.

The restaurant, it turned out, took up most of Section 6 and was set up cafeteria-style. Rose followed the Doctor through the line, grateful not to be behind the counter this time, and took his lead on the items she selected. He usually had reasonably good judgment when it came to items he intended to actually eat, rather than simply taste, although he did tend to go rather heavy on the sweets.

The Doctor paid with a swipe of the card that seemed to serve as house key, identification, and currency here, and they took a table in the corner. He tucked into his meal immediately but Rose took a moment to survey her plate before diving in. The entrée was a dark brown slice of a loaf of some kind, and she thought the pile of white mush might be potatoes of some kind. She did recognize green beans from a can, so she started on them first.

The mush wasn't made of potatoes, she decided after a few bites, but it was definitely a carbohydrate of some kind and thankfully not at all grainy. She rather liked the loaf, although she wasn't sure what it was and wasn't about to ask.

She had learned, in her travels across the universe, that she was much more likely to eat something and enjoy it if she didn't know precisely what it was. The Doctor had introduced her once to a crispy, sugary chew that was filled with what she assumed was some sort of nougat. She had loved them and made a point to pick up a few whenever she could. At least, she had until one day, a pleasant alien store clerk had commented on how unusual it was to see a human enjoying caramelized, fermented insect larvae. Rose had stopped in mid-chew and fixed an angry look on the Doctor, who wisely made a hasty retreat from the store just before she threw up.

As the sun set, the temperature dropped quickly. Rose shivered as they walked back from dinner, and the Doctor gave her his long coat. She bundled into it without protest.

"Are we still being followed?" she asked quietly as he took her hand. There were more people out, running last-minute errands or calling children in from play, but she hadn't seen anyone suspicious in her quick survey.

"Not at the moment, but we'll still just go back to the flat in case I've missed someone."

She felt a fleeting pang of worry. "Can we leave the TARDIS out there? I mean, a bright blue police box on the top of a red dune is a little conspicuous."

"You'd be surprised. Think about how few people have ever noticed her." He didn't seem at all concerned, so she let the topic go.

They continued walking, nodding in greeting to the people they passed. From time to time she felt his hand shift in hers as he rubbed his thumb against her skin. She couldn't help but smile. This was as domestic as the two of them were likely to get, walking back from dinner, hand in hand, to their (albeit temporarily) shared flat. Although it wasn't particularly thrilling, she rather liked the change of pace from time to time, and she suspected that despite his usual dismissal of domesticity, he did, too.

Back at the flat, he fiddled again with his remote control, pointing the sonic screwdriver at it from time to time and muttering under his breath. Rose retrieved a book from the pack she had brought from the TARDIS and settled back on the couch to read.

As usual, she lost track of time and the world around her, and the Doctor had to clear his throat multiple times before she paid him any mind. "I see you've been getting reading recommendations from Jacob again," he observed, sitting down next to her on the couch.

She glanced down at her book, The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. "What, did the Christian mysticism give it away?"

"It's a monk's autobiography," he responded. "Not a big leap to assume that our favourite monk might have given it to you." His tone wasn't precisely disapproving — he always encouraged the love of reading that she had developed in her time in the other universe — but he probably would have been more enthusiastic if she had been reading existentialist philosophy again.

"It's not quite as riveting as the adventures of Freddie and Felicity, but it'll do," she teased, then went a little serious. "You were wonderful with the children today. They loved you reading to them."

His expression shifted to slightly wary and his chin came up just a fraction. "Children always enjoy a good story, and I've always liked furmots. Did you know that they have more than 200,000 hairs per square centimeter and can hold their breath for well over ten minutes? Wait, I know," he exclaimed, hopping up from the couch and clapping his hands together. "We'll go see some furmots next. That's brilliant. Frolicking feisty furmots in fantastical forests of fun." He gave her the manic, saucy grin that always made her think of his earlier incarnation and bounced up and down on his tiptoes.

Rose put down her book and regarded him steadily. "Are you done?"

"Yes." He sat back down again. "What?"

"You're changing the subject. Why? I just gave you a compliment."

"Did you? Yes, I suppose you did. I'm not used to compliments — they go straight to my head. Makes my hair stand straight up, see?" He leaned his head toward her and pointed.

"I just said you were good with children," she said. "I didn't say I wanted to have one."

"Well, that's a good thing, considering," he said, sitting straight up again.

"Yeah." They sat in silence for a moment. Rose chewed her lip and summoned up the courage to continue. "I'm still all right with not having kids," she told him.

"That's good." He thumbed his ear with a jerky, almost hesitant motion.

She knew this was one of the subjects he most hated to discuss, but she felt she had to clear the air. "It's really fine," she told him firmly. She wrapped her arms around him and put her head on his shoulder. She could hear the rapid beat of his hearts in her ear, the steady rhythm soothing and alien all at the same time. His breath came at a faster rate than normal, and she knew he truly would rather flee the room than have this conversation with her. It touched her that he gave in, however reluctantly.

Their discussion of his reproductive potential — or lack thereof — predated their physical relationship by some time. After she'd seen so many human hybrids on New Earth, she'd fairly overloaded him with questions about how that was even possible. He had patiently explained that DNA and RNA were fairly universal, as most planets had originally been seeded with organic material from comets. There was a lot she hadn't understood about different conformations of DNA and telomerase manipulation, but in the end, she got that most humanoid species could interbreed, although some had much more difficulty in doing so than others.

"Humans," he had stated with affection. "Dancing their way across the universe and leaving a whole lot of genetic material in their wake."

"So, what about you? You're a humanoid." She had asked without thinking of the ramifications of that question, purely out of curiosity. Once the words were out, she would have snatched them back in a heartbeat. She had resisted the urge to clap her hands over her mouth.

"I'll thank you not to call me 'humanoid' again," he had replied tartly. "But in answer to your question, it's not possible. Not anymore." His answer had been direct and concise, without his new self's usual digressions and explanations. They had both been quite willing to move on to another subject after that.

Rose snapped her thoughts away from the past and refocused on her Doctor, sitting tensely next to her on the couch. She tightened her grip around him.

"If you hadn't come with me," he asked, his tone uncharacteristically tentative, "would you have had them? Kids, I mean."

"I suppose I probably wouldn't have thought much about it one way or another. It's just something most people do," she replied, and decided to be honest with him. "Yeah, I probably would have, eventually."

He nodded and kept his gaze focused fixedly in front of him. "I thought so."

"Stop it," she said with genuine heat, and he did turn to look at her then. "Stop trying to make yourself believe that I'd be better off without you, that I gave up some fantastic life to be with you. I didn't. I love traveling with you and this crazy life and the TARDIS and everything." The words flooded out of her. "I love you, you daft git." She pressed her palms against his cheeks. "I love you," she repeated quietly.

He tilted forward and pressed his forehead against hers. She kept her hands against his face and continued speaking. "I want to stop having to convince you that I know what I'm doing."

She felt the flutter of his exhaled breath and the working of his cheek muscles. "Rose," he said, and stopped. "I don't think that you don't know what you're doing. That's not it. Sometimes, I regret the things I can't give you. That's all."

"I just want you," she said simply, and heard his breath catch in his throat.

"That, you can have," he replied.

Back to index

Chapter 7: Chapter 7

Author's Notes: Rose deals with more culture shock, this time of a temporal variety, Connor learns something surprising about the presumed company flunky, and something unexpected happens at the nursery.

In the morning, Rose woke with the Doctor pressed against her back and his long limbs curled around her. She smiled in her sleepy, disconnected morning way and closed her eyes again. They snapped open when she realized what had woken her: he was blowing with quick, forceful puffs on the back of her neck.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

The blowing stopped and despite the fact that he was behind her, she knew he had his most innocent face on. "Breathing exercises," he said glibly. "Helps calm both the body and the mind."

She rolled her eyes. "Right. And the fact you were getting bored with me sleeping had nothing to do with it."

"I'm not at all bored," he protested, his voice a fraction higher than usual. "I've been thinking about the atmospheric converters. I have a few things to talk about with Connor."

She rolled over to face him, and he adjusted to accommodate her. "Hello," he said, with a sweet smile.

"Hello," she said, and was unable to resist smiling back. "Have a good night?"

His hand settled on her hip and he rubbed lightly with his thumb. "Not as good as you did, I think. You slept like the dead."

"Yesterday was exhausting!" she said, and stretched, drawing in a deep breath and extending her arms above her head. He took advantage of her change in position to slide his hand up and down her side. "You could give me five more minutes," she said, yawning.

His hand came to rest with his fingers splayed across her ribs. "Five minutes your time or Arisbe time?"

She blinked, ending her stretch abruptly and staring at him in confusion. "What difference does that make?"

"Five minutes Arisbe time is longer," he said, as it that fact should have been patently obvious.

The particular part of her brain that began to ache when she found herself trying to follow his logic twinged. "Five minutes is five minutes."

"It most certainly is not," he corrected her. "On these terraformed planets, one of the things they can't change is the speed of the planet's rotation on its axis. Arisbe's solar day is approximately 25.668 Earth hours long. So, in the interest of not having noon be at 12.834 o'clock, which doesn't exactly trip off the tongue —" at that, he pulled a face and clacked his tongue against the back of his teeth — "they just made the minutes longer. 60 seconds in one of your minutes, 64.17 seconds in an Arisbe minute."

Rose realized her mouth was hanging open, so she closed it. He regarded her quite seriously, expecting some response. When she didn't offer one, he continued. "It's quite a common practice on planets with solar days similar to the Earth. So really, your eight hours of sleep was nearly seven percent longer than it would have been on Earth. You should be quite well rested."

She realized that when he had made his offhand suggestion about adjusting to local time, he hadn't been talking about mere time zone differences. Her head hurt in earnest now and she knew it didn't matter if she got another hour in bed, on either planet, because she was, regrettably, very much awake already.

"I can't handle this at this hour of the morning," she told him, and climbed out of bed.

Another morning, she quickly remembered, meant another sponge bath.

The Doctor repositioned his glasses and studied the display on the exchange console. Connor shifted from one foot to the other and tried not to look guilty. He wasn't. It wasn't his fault. Perhaps the Doctor wouldn't notice?

"The chlorotrifluoromethane pressure has dropped from yesterday," said the Doctor, pinpointing the precise fact that Connor had wanted him, somehow, to miss.

"It's a normal fluctuation." He thought his voice sounded more confident than he had a right to expect.

"Connor," said the Doctor in the same almost injured tone he had employed the day before, "when are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"I don't know what you are talking about," he replied.

"What this all superficially looks like is systematic disorganization and systems mismanagement," said the Doctor. "Everything we entered yesterday is here, but skewed — instead of the fluorination catalyst being point-oh-oh-three-eight degrees warmer, it's point-oh-oh-three-eight degrees cooler." He tapped on the display and frowned. "The changes are small enough that someone else might not notice, but I remember perfectly well what we did yesterday." He ran his hands through his hair. "Someone's going to a lot of trouble to make subtle changes to the data."

Connor looked down and tried not to fidget. "The project is on schedule."

"For now," said the Doctor ominously. "Someone's going to a lot of trouble to make you and your staff seem incompetent." He licked his lips and studied the ceiling for a moment. "All right. I'll tell you my secret if you tell me yours. I'm not here to check your work. I'm not from the company at all."

"What?" Connor was aghast. Had he been one-upped by a fraud rather than a flunky?

"I'm a traveler. Ended up here purely by chance. I'm your best bet to fix whatever it is that's going on here." He put both hands on the console and leaned in toward the other man. "Now do you want to tell me what's going on?"

Rose sat on the bench next to Brandon and watched the children in their exuberant enjoyment of the out-of-doors. There was a fenced-in area that ran the whole length of the section in the back, filled with the oddly familiar children's play equipment like swing sets, a sandbox, and two slides. The rolling, ruddy terrain around them, free of trees or any plants at all, made a surreal backdrop for such an ordinary looking scene. Above them, the shimmering ripples of the atmospheric shell muted the blue sky, letting the light fall kindly on the children and the two adults watching them.

Brandon had brought a book, although Rose hadn't noticed the title, and was absorbed in reading. She watched the children scamper up the slide and come down in a whirl of arms and legs and laughter.

Jonah, as usual in his own world, sat in the sandbox and sculpted precise geometric figures in the sand. None of the other children paid him any attention, and she stopped to wonder about that, comparing their lack of interaction with him to the taunting and teasing of the outcast children in her own childhood. Perhaps even a bully would lose interest in a subject so devoid of response to cruelty or mocking. Or, perhaps, Brandon had put an end to anything like that in his commander mode. She didn't imagine he would tolerate bullying well. He had probably been on the receiving end of it when he was a child, with his quiet, bookish manner.

The girls had scraped out some squares in the red soil and were playing hopscotch, sending small clouds of dirt into the air with each jump and landing. Ian, she saw, was one of the children on the swing sets, kicking his small feet against the ground with enough vigour to send him sailing up and into the air, then backwards in a gentle arc.

"Miss Rose!" he called. "I'm going so high!"

She beamed and called encouragement to him, half wanting to tell him to be careful. Another boy on the swings catapulted himself into the air as he reached the highest point of his arc. He landed with a less-than-perfect dismount and let out a sharp wail.

Rose and Brandon were next to him in a moment, first assessing that he was unhurt and second scolding him roundly for his acrobatics. He stopped crying and rubbed his teary eyes with grubby, reddish hands. "But it was fun," he protested. "Can I go back and swing?"

"Most certainly not," said Brandon crisply. "Go and sit in the corner. We've talked about this before." The boy retreated with a few additional sniffles to the nearest corner of the fence and sat down with a thump.

Jonah had lifted his gaze from the sand to the swings, and his expression was almost wistful. "Can I take Jonah to the swings?" she asked Brandon in a low voice.

He looked over at the silent boy and nodded thoughtfully. "He does look interested, doesn't he? Might be good for him."

Rose hopped up and went over to the sandbox. She knelt beside Jonah. "I'll push you on the swing if you'd like," she offered. He let her help him stand and cross to the swing, and she carefully arranged him in the seat.

"Hold tight on both sides," she instructed, guiding first his right hand and then the left to grip the chain. "Don't let go until I tell you so, all right?" She stepped behind him and gave his back a gentle push. He swung a small distance forward, then back, and she pushed again, a little more firmly.

To her great pleasure, he continued to hold steadily on both sides. His dark curls ruffled in the breeze as he swung. She didn't push too hard or too high, not wanting to risk a fall if he did suddenly let go.

"Isn't this fun, Jonah?" she said, smiling broadly. "I'm having fun. I haven't been on a swing in ages and ages."

She continued to push him, keeping the motion controlled and relatively easygoing, until Brandon called to the children that it was time to go back inside. As the children made small cries of protest and gathered in front of Brandon, Rose let Jonah come to a gentle stop and crossed in front of him.

"All right," she told him. "You can let go now." He didn't, and she gently touched his hand. "Here you go, Jonah. We can do this again tomorrow."

It hit her like a blast from a furnace, the sheer force of it knocking the wind from her lungs and tearing the sight from her eyes. Motion — wind — freedom — ah, laughter! — protest and tearing away and no, no, no, no — the pressure, the colors, the noise, too much noise, too much noise, why won't they be quiet?

The world tilted abruptly ninety degrees to the right and Rose hit the ground with a boneless thud.

Back to index

Chapter 8: Chapter 8

Author's Notes: We pick up immediately after Rose's collapse.

Two fingers pressed into her neck and she came to with Brandon's worried face blurrily hovering over hers. "Rose? Rose? Can you hear me? No, don't try and sit up yet. Just breathe in, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Ian, go and get Miss Frances, now. The rest of you, form a circle and sit down."

She blinked a few times and tried to focus on his face, but it was like viewing telly with the brightness and contrast set too high. "What —" she began to croak, but her voice was as uneven as her vision. The world was too much sensation — too much light, too much sound, too much smell. She could almost taste the dusty red soil that was everywhere and the tangy sweat of children, and her mouth was achingly dry.

"Just lie quietly," Brandon told her in the gentlest of voices, the one he used to speak to Jonah. Even then, it was almost too loud to bear and she retreated away from it into her own head. She squeezed her eyes closed and tried to blot out the noise of children's feet shuffling in the dirt, the sniff of a stuffy nose, the murmur of juvenile voices.

Frances' voice, when it came, was a boom, and she winced. "What happened?" cried the other woman.

"Quiet now," said Brandon. "Rose fainted. Can you get the children inside and call for the medic?" There were a few moments of hubbub as Frances rounded up the children and shooed them inside, and then the world was blessedly quiet.

"Can you roll over?" he asked, in a low tone just short of a whisper. She dared to open her eyes and nodded slightly. He put a hand on her shoulder and helped her roll to one side, folding her arm under her head so she could use it as a pillow. "There. Just lie still for a moment."

She focused on breathing, and when she felt a little recovered, she asked what had happened. Her voice still felt wobbly, but the words were clear enough.

"You fainted," he repeated. "Have you ever had an episode like this before?"

"No," she told him. "It was like — like everything got too loud all of a sudden and I just blacked out."

"Well, we'll get you inside when you're able to walk a bit, is that all right? I know it's not very comfortable in the dirt." He sounded concerned, and very kind, and she was glad he was with her. She tried to tell him so but he shushed her and told her to breathe and be quiet.

She could hear the faint galloping sound of a horse, she thought, in the distance, which intrigued her even through the fog of her disorientation. A horse on Arisbe seemed as unlikely as a unicorn in the Powell Estate, although she had seen odder things. As it drew nearer, she realized it wasn't galloping after all, but someone running.

She turned her head to see the Doctor, at a dead run, vault over the schoolyard fence. The detail that struck her most was the contrast between the red soil and his white trainers, which seemed altogether too shiny and bright. How does he manage to keep them clean when nearly everything else here is dusty?

He was beside her in an instant, taking her hand and bending close to her face. "Rose," he said, and his voice was unsteady as hers had been.

"I'm all right," she told him with as much confidence and strength as she could muster.

He searched her face, and then the rest of her, for visible injury and turned his attention to Brandon. "What happened?"

Brandon had wisely backed away when the Doctor had appeared. "She fainted. She appeared to be fine until she just collapsed, and when she came to, she seemed very sensitive to sound and light."

"I'm right here," she interjected weakly. "You could ask me."

The Doctor's face softened and he cupped her cheek in one palm. "Yes, you are. How are you feeling?" His thumb traced the line of her cheekbone.

"Everything's so bright and loud. It's better, though." She wanted to erase the deep lines of worry from his face, and so she started to sit up. Both men put hands on her to keep her still. "No, I want to sit up."

"Slowly," urged the Doctor, sliding an arm behind her back and helping her into a sitting position. When she was sitting, he didn't let go.

"Since you're here, I'll go and tell the children Rose is all right," said Brandon to the Doctor. "Frances is bound to be a wreck and I don't want them to worry."

When he had gone, the Doctor shifted so he could look directly into her face. She gave him a feeble smile, but he didn't smile back. "You came quickly," she said.

"I heard it," he said with a dark look of concern. "The same telepathic communication. This time, it was so much clearer — I saw the schoolyard, just for an instant, and you."

Despite her throbbing head and general weakness, she wanted to comfort him, knowing how frantic he would have been about her. She reached out and slid her fingers between his.

"Oh no you don't," he said. "This is my turn to worry about you." But he squeezed her hand back and pressed a soft kiss onto her forehead. "Do you feel well enough to stand?"

She considered this for a moment. "Yeah." He helped her to rise, keeping one arm tight around her and their hands clasped together. When she was standing, she leaned against him a little less for support and a little more for comfort.

Frances threw the door open and came out into the yard then, followed by two of the other teachers. "How is she? The medic's on his way."

Rose flinched at the shrillness of Frances' voice and the Doctor looked like thunder personified. "Be quiet," he snapped. Frances was taken aback and apologized, although in a much softer voice than Rose had ever heard her use. "Cancel the medic. She's fine. I'm taking her home," he told the quivering woman. "Get the door." It was a measure of how poorly Rose felt that she didn't chastise him for his rudeness.

Frances fairly hopped to open the door for them. "Frances," said Rose. "Tell Brandon I'm all right, and the kids, yeah?"

"Of course, dear," she whispered back, looking directly at the Doctor.

They walked down the hallway and out the front door, which Frances also held for them, and then back into the too-bright day. The light that had seemed gentle and muted earlier fell on Rose like bricks. She closed her eyes against the brightness and let him guide her. It was a very, very long walk.

"Can you manage the dunes?" he asked after some time.

She opened her eyes and found herself on the uneven, shifting dunes below the TARDIS. Despite her discomfort, she smiled. He had said he was taking her home. Of course that wouldn't be the habitation unit in Section 4. "I'll try," she said truthfully.

Halfway up, she was struggling so much to keep her footing in the loose soil that he scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way. He set her down only long enough to unlock the door before picking her back up again. "I can walk," she protested against his shoulder, but he ignored her statement and carried her though the TARDIS.

He placed her on the table in the med lab and gave her a quick kiss before putting on his glasses and scanning her from head to toe with several different instruments.

"Thirty seven degrees, heart rate and respiration slightly elevated?" she guessed. Familiar ground.

"Yes," he said, without any trace of response to her half-hearted attempt at humour. "Increased activity in the locus ceruleus and elevated levels of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which is all quite normal after a stressful event."

"What happened? I've never just fainted before," she said, with some distaste at the word "fainted."

"A significant telepathic event," he pronounced, and gave her a level look through the glasses. "Our telepath was broadcasting so loudly that the signal overwhelmed your nervous system for a moment. Essentially, you rebooted, to use a very simplified explanation. I assume you don't want the precise description of everything that happened?"

She shook her head. "But Brandon was right there, and all the children, and no one else fainted, or rebooted, or whatever. And you heard it." He nodded. "Wait," she said, and then repeated it. "Wait. Are you saying I heard the telepath? But I can't hear telepaths."

"Can't you?" he asked seriously.

"Except you, and that's only when you want me to," she said.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," he started, counting off his points on his fingers as he went. "One, there was an extremely loud telepathic communication today. Two, I got an image of you and exactly where you were from said communication. Three, at that exact moment, you fainted from overwhelming stress. Coincidence?"

"Maybe it was something else?" she asked. "I mean, maybe whatever it was that made me faint also made the telepath shout?"

"Ah, the old 'correlation is not causation' argument," he said, sounding absurdly pleased to be contradicted. "Good. But I will also point to number four, that you have had prolonged and repeated exposure to two telepaths, namely me and the TARDIS, and are much more receptive to said phenomena than a normal human."

A normal human. He didn't mention point number five, probably because it was at the forefront of her mind at least, that normal humans generally hadn't absorbed the Vortex, either.

"What were you doing right before you lost consciousness?" he asked.

"Pushing Jonah on the swing." She rubbed her head. "I remember —" She looked up with a start and found him watching her with a thoroughly unsurprised look on his face. "I remember what I felt, or saw, or whatever. I wanted to be on that swing more than anything else in the world. And then it was so loud and bright and I just couldn't stand it, and I blacked out." She swallowed. "It's Jonah, isn't it?"

Back to index

Chapter 9: Chapter 9

Author's Notes: A confrontation between Emelia and the Doctor over Rose's care.

"I'm sorry," said Emelia with considerable sarcasm, "but I think I just heard you say that you let her leave without so much as a blood pressure check?"

She and Frances faced off in the nursery's small office. Emelia was so angry that she was shaking, and somewhere beyond the red haze in her brain, she knew she was being unfair to Frances. This guilty awareness only served to make her more furious.

The medic, who had arrived despite the cancellation order, cowered in the corner of the office and tried not to attract attention. Frances, for her part, sat behind the desk and looked as if she would prefer a more sizable barrier between her and the incensed operations manager.

"And you," Emelia continued, turning to face the medic and pointing a finger, "I expect much better response time in a project this size. That man and I both beat you here. That is completely unacceptable." She thought of the potential liability that the project had just opened itself up to and resisted the urge to pound her fists on the desk.

"Brandon said she was much better than when she first collapsed," Frances piped up. "And the Doctor was quite firm about taking her away."

"You should have sat on her head, or his, and kept her here until we could conduct a proper exam," Emelia snapped. "At the very least, we could have gotten her thumbprint on a waiver."

There was only one remedy for this situation now, if it could be remedied at all. "Come with me," she ordered the medic. "We need to examine her." Frances followed the two of them outside, making little clucking sounds of protest the whole way.

Emelia paid her little mind until the other woman clutched at her arm. "They didn't go that way, Emelia."

"Of course they did," she scoffed. "They may be new to Arisbe but this is the fastest way back to Section 4."

Frances looked doubtful, glancing first one way, then the other, and finally shrugged. "Have it your way," she said, with the smallest amount of defiance. Emelia, with her nudging, buried guilt, refrained from making an acerbic response designed to quash that defiance.

"Let's go," she told the medic. "Try and keep up."



"He didn't mean to hurt me," Rose told the Doctor. "He wouldn't. I know that."

"I know," he said softly. "He's a child, and a special one at that." He stood and offered her a hand. "You need some rest. We can talk about this later, all right?" She eased off the exam table and let him guide her back to their room.

She obediently stripped off her clothes and pulled on the long t-shirt he handed her. He folded back the coverlet and sheets and patted the bed. "In you go," he prompted.

When she was snug in bed, he tucked the coverlet around her and kissed her full on the lips, lingering and sweet. She tried to tug him down beside her, but he shook his head and stood up.

"You need some rest," he repeated. "I need to go and look at the readings." He smoothed the hair back from her forehead. "I won't be far," he added gently. "Just call me if you need me."

"Help me sleep?" she suggested, thinking of his soothing presence in her mind, but he shook his head again.

"Not right now, Rose. You've had a major shock to your system and don't need anything else in your head." She relented, knowing if she pressed the issue, he would curl up next to her and stay with her while she slept, but also knowing that he desperately wanted to study the readings from the telepathic surge.

He left the door ajar behind him, and she burrowed down into the bed, rubbing her feet back and forth against the cool sheets. She could just feel the aftertaste of her experience lingering in her consciousness, faintly bitter and longing. Jonah, she thought, and as she drifted into a fitful sleep, the image of the silent boy's face as she urged him to let go of the swing floated in her mind.


She woke with the realization that the TARDIS was moving — had moved already, to be more precise. The landing was gentler than usual, but she was accustomed enough to the comings and goings that she recognized the faint jolt as something separate from her dreams.

Before she got out of bed, she took a moment to assess her condition and found that she felt deeply tired, more than a little weak and wobbly, but otherwise intact. Her head didn't ache as it had earlier, and she could think clearly again. It did take her several minutes of wobbling to pull on her jeans, and she had to sit back down on the bed twice, but at last she padded barefoot down the hallway toward the console room.

Her mind whirled with questions. Had they simply left Arisbe behind? She knew the Doctor had been worried about her, but he had seemed calm and composed enough when he left her earlier. He couldn't have just left without saying a word to Jonah or Brandon or anyone, could he? Without even asking her?

She knew that if she were in danger, he could and he would.

So, when she reached the console room, she was ready to confront him about once again making unilateral decisions without her input, but found it empty. She drew up short and looked around. The door was slightly ajar, and she cautiously stuck her head outside, unsure of where she might find herself.

It took her mind a moment to wrap around the fact that she was looking at a very bland bedroom. She presumed it was the one in Section 4, Habitation D, but the décor didn't give her any clues. She let out her breath, which she hadn't realized she had been holding, and tiptoed out into the room. Now that she was outside the muffling interior of the TARDIS, she could hear the sound of an argument coming from the front room.

"… took her off on your own, without any medical supervision! She needed to be properly examined." The woman's voice was loud, but she sounded to Rose like she was frightened, and hiding it behind anger.

"I assure you I am quite capable of attending to Rose's medical needs," the Doctor said in an even tone. "I assessed her at the schoolyard. There was no danger in moving her." Rose knew that tone, also. It was the one that the Doctor used rather than shouting when he was deeply upset.

Rose peeked around the door and saw Emelia, the Doctor, and a bald, timid-looking man in a blue medical uniform. Emelia and the Doctor glowered at each other and the other man looked miserable. She made a command decision and pushed the door open.

Three pairs of eyes turned toward her, and she hoped it wasn't terribly obvious that she was holding onto the doorjamb for support. She realized at that same moment that while she had put on jeans, she hadn't taken the time to put on a bra, and felt a self-conscious flush creep up her neck and into her cheeks. She did her best to ignore it.

"You can examine me," she said evenly, walking across the room and sitting down on the couch. The Doctor crossed his arms in front of him and frowned, but she ignored him.

Emelia gave a brief, satisfied nod to the stranger, who seated himself next to her on the couch. "I'm just going to check your vitals," he said, taking some instruments out of a bag she hadn't noticed before.

The Doctor and Emelia continued to glare at one another and she tried to lighten the mood. "What's your name?" she asked as he wound a strap around her upper arm.

"Howard," he said. His voice was deep bass, and she could feel the vibrations up her arm and into her shoulder from where he touched her.

"Nice to meet you, Howard," she said, giving him a slight smile. "I'm Rose." He returned the smile tentatively. "My mum has a friend named Howard," she continued, and swallowed. The present tense stung, but past tense would have been worse.

"Sorry," said Howard. "I don't know anyone named Rose. Funny, that, you'd think I would." He peered into her eyes with a bright light and then up each nostril, which made her giggle.

"Well," she said, after he had moved on to her ear, "now you do." Emelia cleared her throat, and Rose shot her a look. "He's not finished."

Howard continued his methodical exam, asking about her last meal, how she had slept the night before, whether she had ever suddenly lost consciousness, and a dozen other questions that she candidly answered. He took out a small rubber mallet and tapped her just below her kneecap, which also made her giggle. She might be on an alien planet in her future, but some things seemed to be universal.

Other things were not. He produced a handheld scanner and wand, considerably more clunky than what the Doctor used, and focused his attention for several moments. In the end, he gave her a comforting smile and stood up. "I recommend rest and monitoring, no strenuous activity, and a good meal. No work for a couple of days at least. I'll be glad to look in on you tomorrow if you'd like. I'm in Section 8, Habitation E if you need me before then."

Rose was absurdly pleased that he directed his comments toward her rather than Emelia. "Thank you, Howard," she said.

"Yes," said the Doctor, as if the whole exam had been his idea, "thank you." He shook Howard's hand gravely and opened the door with a pointed look at Emelia. "We'll let you know if we need anything." It was quite clear from his demeanour that there would be no such need.

"Emelia," said Rose, stopping the other woman before she could leave, "please tell Brandon and the children that I'm all right, would you? Especially Jonah."

Emelia's eyes widened in the faintest surprise, but she smoothed out her expression just as quickly. "Of course I will." The two women smiled cautiously at one another before the door closed and Rose and the Doctor were alone.

"I thought we'd left Arisbe," she said into the room, not looking at him.

"It did cross my mind," he said quietly, and sat down next to her. "How do you feel?"

"I've been better. You were rude to Howard." Emelia, she figured, could give as good as she got, and didn't really count.

"Ah." He winced and studied the ceiling as if it were suddenly going to communicate the secrets of the universe. "I was a little preoccupied, what with hurrying back here before they showed up at our doorstep and all."

She glanced toward the bedroom. "So you parked the TARDIS in the closet?"

He grinned impishly at her. "It's bigger on the inside." She groaned at the inevitable joke and lightly smacked him on the arm. "You should still be in bed," he told her. "Come on." He stood and helped her up, and they took small steps together down the hallway and into the newly dimensionally-transcendental closet.

Back in their bedroom, she wriggled out of her jeans, which seemed significantly easier than getting into them had been, and flopped back onto the bed. The sudden change of altitude made her head spin and she closed her eyes.

"I'll get you some tea and a biscuit, if you want," offered the Doctor. She agreed and he disappeared for a few minutes. She scooted around in the bed and sat up, fluffing some pillows behind her for support, then waited for his return.

"Tea," said the Doctor cheerily, bumping past the door and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Just the thing for the old synapses. Works better on me than you, but there you are."

"Is Jonah all right?" she asked, taking the teacup from him.

"Yes." His eye contact was almost too direct, too determined to have her take him at his word.

"How do you know that?" She didn't want him to placate her, and she was worried about the little boy.

"One, he was playing quite calmly in the sandbox when I got to the nursery. Two, Emelia wouldn't have stormed over here with the medic if he hadn't been."

Rose, having seen Emelia's protectiveness of her adopted son, couldn't argue with the second point. She blew on the surface of the tea and sipped, then pulled a face. "Herbal tea?" she complained.

"It's a special blend from the Alidar system. Like chamomile, but better." He smiled encouragingly and offered her a biscuit. She drank most of the tea and then ate the biscuit, which much to her relief was not at all medicinal.

"Am I in any danger from him?" The question made her throat tighten unexpectedly. She thought of Jonah's finger painting of her, his soft hand in hers as she led him to the swing, his dark curls and pale, beautiful face. She wanted to see him again.

The Doctor didn't answer, and she looked up to find him watching her warily. "I think," he said with reluctance, "that I can manage a way around that."

She wanted to ask more questions, but a quiet, deepening calm began to descend upon her. She sighed at him. "You drugged me?"

"Like chamomile, but better," he repeated, taking the cup from her hand and setting it down on the bedside table. "You and I have a meeting tomorrow with Connor — and Emelia, although she doesn't know it yet — and we'll talk more then." He put a hand behind her back and nudged her forward, sliding the pillow out from behind her. She slid down in the bed and rolled onto her side.

Invisible weights drew her eyelids lower. Between ever-lengthening blinks, like a slowly progressing slide show, she saw him toss his jacket and tie onto the chair and settle onto his back next to her. She smiled drowsily and folded into his side, letting his rolling breath wash over her like waves on the seashore.

Back to index

Chapter 10: Chapter 10

Author's Notes: Rose has a better morning than anticipated, and the conflict between the Doctor and Emelia comes to a boil.

Rose couldn't estimate how long she slept, but when she did wake up, she felt fantastic. She sat up and scrubbed at her eyes. The Doctor's jacket and tie were still draped across the armchair, but he was nowhere to be seen.

She climbed out of bed and went directly into the longest, hottest, steamiest shower she had ever taken. She put aside her worries and sang as she scrubbed between her toes and behind her ears, and everywhere in between, enjoying the decadent sensation of a proper shower after two mornings of sponge baths. No shaving, even, which still delighted her. She had indulged several weeks ago in a treatment in a decadent alien spa that had permanently disabled the hair follicles on her legs and under her arms. The Doctor had made some quiet mutterings about human vanity, and declined to join her. She was glad, as she rather liked the rough feel of his stubble from time to time.

When she finally emerged, her fingers and toes were hopelessly wrinkled, and her skin was flushed and glowing. She towel-dried her wet hair and wound it into a turban, then slipped on a robe. As she did so, there was a soft tap-tap on the door and she called for him to come in.

"Have a nice shower?" the Doctor asked, leaning against the door and watching her. She hummed happily in response and smoothed on some moisturizer. "There is now a critical shortage of hot water in three systems."

"You're still in trouble," she said.

His eyes rounded and his eyebrows lifted in an instant expression of complete innocence. "Whatever for?"

"You drugged me," she reminded him and waggled a finger at his chest. "Remember?"

"It was herbal tea," he protested squeakily, glancing down at his chest where she pointed. "Do I not get any points for coming valiantly to your rescue?"

She rolled her eyes and let the matter drop. "What's the plan?"

"We're going to meet Connor and Emelia at the restaurant in a bit," he said, folding his arms in front of him. "Neutral territory, as if that woman doesn't think she owns the whole project anyway."

Rose couldn't help but smile at this comment, but refocused on what she considered to be the essential part of the conversation. "Do you think they know about Jonah?"

"No, I don't think they have any idea, but that wasn't why I wanted to meet with them." He gestured for her to follow him out into the bedroom, and continued talking as he took a seat in the armchair and she got dressed. "Before your, erm, incident yesterday, Connor and I had quite the interesting little chat about some oddly changing data. You were right about our coming across some dire plot after all."

"I'm shocked." She straightened and tugged her jeans up onto her hips. "So what's the plot?"

"I told you that these planetary modification projects are all about real estate," he continued. "There's a lot of money to be made — or lost. From what Connor told me, there have been systematic efforts from nearly the start of the project two years ago to undermine their development efforts here. Until about a year ago, it was small scale, annoying but harmless. Then there was an explosion that killed nine people." He paused, and his expression went carefully neutral. His eyes belied the calm he imposed over himself. "Jonah's parents were among those nine."

Rose sat down on the bed and remembered Emelia's words. His parents died and Connor and I took him in rather than let him go to some institution. "Poor Jonah," she murmured.

The Doctor nodded slowly and ran a hand through his hair. "The explosion was calculated to knock out several of the key support staff here. I expect the group responsible is working for another of the development companies, who would swoop down and claim this planet if the project were abandoned."

"Nine lives for real estate," said Rose, feeling anger burn in the pit of her stomach.

"Greed." The Doctor's voice was dangerously even. "If this project goes out of business, all the people here lose the rights to land that they acquired when they signed on. If they want back in, they'll have to queue up and wait with all the thousands of other applicants for the new project. It's more than nine lives — it's the death of the dream of every person on this planet."


"He's not with the company?" asked Emelia, dark clouds descending across her face. "And you chose not to tell me this yesterday because …?" Her voice lifted challengingly at the end of the sentence.

They stood side by side in the small bathroom, attending to their morning ablutions, long since accustomed to the small space and each other's movements.

There were a multitude of reasons for his not having told her immediately. He could have told her the night before, after they had put Ian and Jonah to bed. He knew he should have, but in truth, he had not wanted to face the inevitable row. "There wasn't anything we could have done until this morning." Even to him, the answer sounded trite.

She didn't respond. Instead, she turned her back to him and wound her hair into her customary bun, taking her time securing the dark, wavy strands into place. Connor studied the graceful curve of her neck and involuntarily thought of the first time they had made love, of the allure that exposed skin had held, how dangerous and shining her eyes had been as she pulled the pins out of her hair and let it fall in a mass down her bare shoulders. That release of her hair had been more of an act of intimacy than her nudity had been.

This morning, her attention to her hair was another symbolic gesture, her shuttering herself away from him. He felt placating words bubble up from within him and pressed his lips shut against them. He knew better than to patronize her.

"I'll go and get Ian and Jonah off to the nursery," she said, turning to leave.

Almost of its own volition, his hand shot out and gripped her upper arm. "You're just leaving?" he asked incredulously.

Her head whipped around so she was facing him, and despite the fury radiating from her, he didn't release her immediately. "I'm not going to discuss this with the children in the house," she said. Her voice rumbled with a lioness' warning growl.

He let go of her arm and she disappeared into the bedroom, leaving him to sag forward onto the countertop. In a moment, he heard her call for the boys and then the front door close with a faint bang.

"That went well," he sarcastically told his reflection in the mirror. The face looking back at him was haggard. Maintaining a sense of normality amongst the engineers since the sabotage had been a more than full-time job, and it showed in the lines around his eyes, the faint circles under his eyes. Sleep had been evasive last night, and he had lain awake watching Emelia, her defenses and temper gone along with her consciousness. As she had dreamed, she smiled, and he had wound himself tightly around her as if to draw energy and solace from her body.

It had helped, until she awoke and he told her about the Doctor, and she looked at him as if he told her the greatest of lies.


Rose wished the Doctor was holding her hand as they walked toward the restaurant. Since he had a generous armful of equipment, he couldn't, but in compensation, they walked side by side, shoulders brushing, steps in an even cadence.

"Wouldn't it be easier to bring them back to the TARDIS?" she said, putting one hand over on top of the … whatever it was … that he was carrying.

"Neutral territory," he said cheerfully. Oh yes; she shouldn't expect him to invite Emelia onto his ship, should she?

"Connor would love a tour, from what you've said about him," she pointed out.

"No doubt about it," he said. "She's a sentient, dimensionally-transcendental time machine. What engineer could resist her?"

Her one rival for his affection, and she wasn't in the slightest bit jealous. "She might like Connor better than you," she teased.

"Ridiculous," he scoffed. "I'm ten times, no, wait, twelve times, more charming than he is. And not to mention that he's a good enough engineer, but I am a genius." He winked at her.

Rose hopped around him to push the door of the restaurant open and hold it for him. "And so modest," she laughed.

"I'm simply stating a fact." He put the contraption down on a table in the corner, furthest away from the counter and the vaguely interested looks of the two lunch ladies. "How do you humans ever get through job interviews, anyway?" He put his glasses on, and Rose took that as a hint to wander off.

She didn't wander far — just outside the restaurant, scanning in every direction for Connor and Emelia. When she saw them, it was immediately obvious that they were not on the best of terms. Connor had his hands jammed into his pockets and Emelia walked with her arms swinging confidently against her sides. They walked close enough to be said to be walking together, but far enough apart so that there was no risk of accidental contact with the other person.

"Where is he?" demanded Emelia when they were close enough to speak, foregoing any social niceties.

"Inside," answered Rose. She thanked Connor when he held the door for the two of them and noted that his wife didn't so much as look at him as she walked by.

Emelia strode over to the table where the Doctor fiddled with his machine. Rose and Connor followed a step or two behind. "Explain yourself," she commanded.

He didn't immediately respond, and Rose could see Emelia's shoulders tense with the effort to be perfectly still. She watched the Doctor make a final adjustment and look up with a quick glance at the three of them. "Good morning, Connor, Emelia," he said with a brilliant flash of teeth. "So glad you could make it."

Rose tried not to smile. He was exerting control over the situation, attempting to take Emelia's habitual role as prime mover. Emelia didn't rise to the bait, but waited. Her eyes never left his face.

"Rose is feeling much better this morning, thanks for asking," he said with continued brightness. Connor looked momentarily guilty and gave Rose an apologetic look. She nodded reassuringly back at him.

"Of course," said Emelia sarcastically. "You did indicate you had the matter well in hand, as I recall."

"Quite," agreed the Doctor. "Please send my regards to Howard for his … assistance yesterday."

Rose gave him a glare almost as fierce as Emelia's. Leave Howard out of it. His eyes flicked over to her and widened just a touch at her expression. She narrowed hers at him and shook her head just a fraction to indicate that he should move off that subject.

Either he had already intended to let the matter drop, or he took her hint. "Have a seat, please," he said, gesturing to the chairs at the table. The three of them took their seats and waited as he struck a lecturer's pose behind the table.

"Dearly beloved," he intoned with sparkling eyes full of mischief, "we are gathered together today —" He stopped and winked at Rose. "Sorry, wrong opening. I've asked you here so we can talk about the effort to make Connor here look like a fool and drive all of you off this planet."

Emelia bristled. "Connor is not a fool."

"Never said he was," said the Doctor. "I said someone was trying to make him look like one. That implies quite the opposite, doesn't it? And before you say anything else," he hastened, holding up a hand before Emelia could start in again, "I know none of your people are planning to abandon the project, either. I get it. You're a loyal sort. Stubborn, too. It's one of your best characteristics. Well," he amended, "you as a species, not you personally."

Rose was suddenly taken by a fit of coughing and the three of them turned to face her. "I'm fine, really," she wheezed. "Go on." This morning was turning out to be much more entertaining than she had thought it might be.

"But I digress," said the Doctor, who often did nothing else. "There is something deeply disturbing going on here. Connor filled me in on most of the background yesterday —"

Emelia's head whipped around so she was staring her husband straight in the face. "You did what?" she demanded loudly. The Doctor's teeth clicked together audibly as he closed his mouth on the rest of his sentence.

"I tried to tell you this morning," said Connor with more than a trace of defensiveness. "He told me he wasn't with the company, and I told him about the sabotage. Remember, this morning, when you didn't want to talk?"

"That's our business!" She leaned across toward him, her eyes wide and snapping with anger.

"Damn it, Emelia, I think he can help!" Connor's voice rose to match that of his wife's.

"Excuse me," interjected the Doctor mildly, looking from one to the other. "I hate to intrude into this lovely moment, but I do have a way for us to find these people. If you're interested, of course."

He raised his eyebrows and waited for the two of them to give him their undivided attention. Emelia's stare could have melted glass, and Connor's face had turned several shades redder than usual.

The Doctor gave them a bright smile and continued as if nothing at all was amiss. "I've rigged up this device to retroactively track system access to the atmospheric converters and main data systems, so we can see who exactly is accessing the systems and when."

"We already have that system," Connor interjected, with a sideways glance at his wife. "There's safety protocols and biometric monitoring of anyone who taps into the system."

"Hmm," said the Doctor, untroubled. "Have you had any very odd readings on that system over the last few hours? Say, someone tapping in to run retroactive system access reports, perhaps?" Connor looked down at the table. "Thought not. I don't expect your saboteurs to be as nimble as I am, but I do expect them to have thought about your security measures. I also expect that this is an inside job."

"None of our people —" Emelia began, but once again the Doctor held up a hand and she subsided. The tips of the other woman's ears turned a darker shade of pink and Rose wondered when she would explode.

"At least one of your people is involved," stated the Doctor flatly. His voice had gone low and dangerous, without a trace of his earlier brightness or mirth. "Who else? Do you know anyone else on this planet who isn't one of your people?"

"You ended up here," Emelia pointed out. "Someone else could, too. And why the hell should I trust you when you barge in here and accuse my people of terrible things?"

"If you want," continued the Doctor in his deadly calm voice, "I'll be glad to pack up my things and go. Plainly, you have the situation completely under control."

There was a moment of complete, utter silence. Rose held her breath.

"You son of a bitch," said Emelia, forcing the words out from between clenched teeth. The Doctor's chin lifted just slightly enough in challenge to acknowledge the words and he looked down at her imperiously.

"Em," said Connor quietly. "We need him."

"I know it." Her words were soft, sharp, bitter. She looked up at the Doctor. "Do go on."

"Right," continued the Doctor. If he felt triumphant, his expression didn't show it. "I expect we have a small group involved, maybe two or three people at most. We don't have a large scale attack going on, after all. It's data manipulation here, some inventory fudging there." He paused and gave them a careful, measured look. "Repolarization of some circuits there."

Connor flinched at the last statement, and Emelia went completely still and pale.
Rose immediately suspected that repolarization had something to do with the nine deaths.

"Are you all right?" she asked with concern.

Both of them visibly shook off their disquiet. "Fine," said Emelia, in a less snappish voice than she had used all morning. "It's — fine."

"So," the Doctor continued, studying each face in succession, "what Connor and I need to do now is to go through the access logs and determine who was accessing what when they shouldn't be. I can interpret the logs, but I need you to tell me what activity looks out of the ordinary."

Connor nodded in ready agreement and the Doctor turned his attention to Emelia. "I also need personnel manifests. I need to know who arrived when, and how, and for what. I can't assume that the same person or persons has been working against the project all along, but we'll have to start there."

Emelia stood and brushed imaginary crumbs off the front of her trousers. "I can get that from my office," she said. She hesitated for an instant and then reached out an unsteady hand to touch Connor's shoulder. Surprise crossed his face briefly and was replaced by hope as he looked up at her. Her fingers tightened on his shoulder.

Rose quickly jumped up and tugged the Doctor away from the couple. "What?" he protested. "We aren't finished yet."

"A little privacy," she murmured. "Shh."

"What for?" he asked in confusion.

"Making up," she said. "Be quiet." She smiled at his continued look of consternation and couldn't resist leaning over and giving him a brief, light kiss on the cheek.

His arm came up and around her. "We don't need to make up, do we?" he asked uncertainly. "It wasn't a drug, not really, just an extremely calming tea."

"Not us, you git," she laughed. "Connor and Emelia."

At that, his face lifted and he relaxed. "Oh. That's good. That's very good."

Rose cast a glance over at the pair next to the table. Connor had risen and was standing close to his wife, who was speaking in soft, urgent tones. She considered it a good sign that Connor was smiling faintly. He caught her eye and the smile broadened just a touch before he waved them back over to the table.

"Rose," said Emelia, "would you come with me to the office? I could — use some help with the logs."

"Sure," said Rose readily. "I'm not that good with computers but I'll do what I can."

"We'll be right here," said the Doctor. Rose and Emelia were almost to the door before he smacked himself in the forehead and let out a bark of laughter. "Sorry, I almost forgot. We need to talk about Jonah when you get back."

"Jonah?" said Connor and Emelia simultaneously, with identical notes of confusion in their voices.

"We'll talk later," said Rose hurriedly, and hustled Emelia out the door before the Doctor could elaborate further.

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Chapter 11: Chapter 11

Author's Notes: Emelia and Connor learn the truth about their son.

The portable communications device was set up with all the encryption algorithms that current technology had to offer, and yet, the two people talking across the parsecs spoke in hushed tones, as if they feared being overheard.

"You're certain he's not from the company?" came the transmission from Arisbe.

"Positive," said the disconnected voice from several solar systems away. "Arisbe is low on their project priority list right now, and they don't have the manpower to send anyone else at the moment." A quiet chuckle. "Their analysis team is quite busy at Regel at the moment, with all the problems there."

"If he's not from the company, who is he?" The words vibrated with tension in the vacuum.

The distant voice paused. "We are unable to make that determination at this time, but he is not working with us. Consider him a threat until proven otherwise."

"How much of a threat?"

"He's working with Trabane. That should answer your question."

Rose was used to keeping up with the Doctor's long strides, and so found herself able to keep pace with Emelia as they walked through the settlement to the operations office in Section A, just on the opposite side of the building from the Trabanes' habitation unit.

Emelia's office was a jumble of generic furniture and unfamiliar electronic devices. Rose picked up a piece of equipment from one of the chairs and set it carefully on the one exposed part of Emelia's desk so that she could sit down. Emelia, for her part, flopped into the chair behind the desk and pulled up the display panel.

She tapped rapidly on the screen and said, without looking up, "Ian likes you."

Rose was a little taken aback, but flattered at the same time. "I like him, too. And Jonah."

Emelia looked up from the display and studied Rose for a moment before returning her attention to the display. "Ian doesn't like everyone. He's very choosy. You should be very flattered."

"I am," said Rose, unsure of what else to say.

"He talked nonstop about you when he got home last night. He was very worried about your fall." She paused for a moment. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't ask how you were earlier, and that I was rude yesterday. I was upset that no one at the nursery took the time to make sure you were all right before you left."

"The Doctor did," Rose pointed out.

"Yes. The Doctor." Again, she looked up from the display briefly. "He's not my staff, and I don't trust his judgment." She scrubbed at her face with her hands. "Oh, I don't mean it like that. I just needed my own medic to examine you. Do you understand?"

"Yeah," said Rose. She felt a little braver, so she added, "You were awfully hard on Howard, too."

Emelia's lips pursed together and she sighed. "I was. He took entirely too long responding to the nursery and that's my responsibility. What if you had been seriously hurt? Every minute matters, and he wasted time —" She stopped, and laughed at herself for a brief moment. Rose wasn't sure she had heard Emelia laugh before. "There I go again. I wanted to apologize."

"Apology accepted," Rose told her.

"Thanks," said Emelia with evident gratitude in her voice. When she continued, some of the force had come back into her voice. "Connor said that the two of you were traveling together and came here by accident, that you faked your credentials."

"Yes," Rose admitted, feeling somewhat guilty herself. "I'm sorry we lied to you."

Emelia tapped out several more instructions on the display before easing back in her chair. "So who are you, then? Is your name really Rose Tyler?"

"Yes," Rose said, relieved that something hadn't been a lie. "I'm from Earth. London, actually." Emelia gave a brief nod of recognition and laced her fingers together, clearly waiting for Rose to continue her story. "I met the Doctor when the shop where I worked was sort of, well, attacked by aliens. He saved my life, and I guess I saved his, too. He asked me to come traveling with him."

"And the Doctor?" Emelia prompted, when Rose paused.

"That's more complicated," she admitted. "He's an alien." She suddenly sat bolt upright in her chair. "Are you — I mean, I guess everyone here isn't all human —"

Emelia shrugged. "Noxtirran on my mother's side, that's it."

The fact that the Doctor was an alien might be less problematic than Rose had assumed at the start of this conversation, which let her relax a little. "He's not human at all," she said. "He's a traveler. When he said we were sightseeing, remember, when we first met you? That was the truth. We weren't trying to get to Arisbe. He wanted to show me a sunset on a planet called —" She struggled to remember. "Lycoras. We ended up here by mistake. He isn't good with directions." That was an understatement. "We took a look around and then we ran into you, and you asked for identification. You know the rest." She omitted any mention of the telepathy that had so intrigued the Doctor, hoping that he would explain about Jonah's ability later on.

"Mmm," said Emelia noncommittally. "Sightseeing?" She seemed to be thinking very hard. "What was that scanner that he had?"

"Sonic screwdriver, like he said."

The sound that came out of Emelia's mouth was not a particularly feminine one, and she looked amused. "Screwdriver," she repeated.

"It's the truth," said Rose defensively. "He'll show it to you." She fervently hoped he would. "I'm sorry we lied, Emelia. Honest I am. Everything I've told you today is the truth. The Doctor can help find whoever's responsible for the sabotage. That's what he does. He finds things that need fixing and helps fix them."

Emelia removed a keycard from a slot under her desk. "Personnel files," she said. "I need to know, Rose. I need to know why those people died and who was responsible. I need to protect the people who are here. If the two of you can help me do that, then I'm willing to let bygones by bygones."

Rose nodded emphatically. "Let's get those back to the Doctor, then."

The two women returned to the restaurant and found the Doctor and Connor sitting impossibly close to the Doctor's invention and wearing identical expressions of intense concentration. Emelia tapped Connor on the shoulder and said "Excuse me," not at all loudly, but both men jumped as if she had shouted. The Doctor muttered something about "sneaking" and re-adjusted his glasses from where they had slid down his nose.

"Did you get it?" asked Connor eagerly.

Emelia rolled her eyes and held out a keycard. "Of course I got it."

The Doctor snatched the proffered card from Emelia's hand before Connor could do so and inserted it into a slot on the side of his machine. "Aha," he said, pleased. "We can cross-reference this with the access logs and run an analysis —"

Rose stopped listening and paid attention to her rumbling stomach. "Want to get some lunch?" she asked Emelia. "I'm famished."

"May as well." She shrugged. "We're here."

They went through the line and Rose selected something that looked like chicken (she fervently hoped it was chicken), some more of the fluffy carbohydrate from the other evening, and some peas. When Emelia added a thick slice of a dark cake with buttery-looking icing to her tray, Rose gave in and took one, too.

They seated themselves at a table next to where the Doctor and Connor were working industriously and ate quietly for a few minutes. Emelia spoke again only after she had finished her meal and was picking thoughtfully at her cake.

"Tell me about Jonah," she said quietly. "Please." It was not her usual command. Her words were carefully selected and spoken, with a gentleness and concern that indicated the depth of her emotions.

Rose had expected that the Doctor would be the one to explain Jonah's ability, and she hadn't thought about what she might say. "He's, well, he's telepathic. I don't know how it works at all." The other woman was silent, waiting. "I think he got upset yesterday when I stopped pushing him on the swing. There was this — broadcast. It sort of knocked me down when it happened."

Emelia dismissed that with a wave. "You're saying Jonah hurt you? That's ridiculous."

"No, no," Rose corrected quickly, "it wasn't his fault. I'm sure he didn't mean to. Not everyone," and at this, she swallowed, "not everyone can hear him. The Doctor can. That's why we stayed here. He heard this telepathy and we didn't know what it was and so we're here." She smiled wanly and stared down at her uneaten cake.

"Can you hear him?" Emelia sounded more apprehensive than curious.

"I did yesterday. Not when we first arrived."

Emelia took a long drink from her water glass. "What did he say?"

"Say?" Rose was confused and then realized what she was asking. "It's not like language, it's more like emotions, images, sensations." She cast back into her mind, trying to remember those moments as clearly as she could. "I could feel him on the swing, how happy it made him, and then when he stopped, it was like —" She struggled for the words for a moment. "It was like the volume on everything was up too loud. I could hear everything, feel everything, smell it, taste it, and all I wanted to do was get away. That's when I blacked out."

Emelia's eyes suddenly sparkled and she blinked several times, not looking at Rose. "Is it like that for him all the time?"

"I don't know," Rose admitted. She hoped the Doctor did, and that he could help.

It was her turn to jump when she felt a pair of hands rest briefly on her shoulders. The Doctor pulled a chair up beside her and eyed the leftovers on her plate. She scooted it over toward him and he began eating, cake first, as Connor sat down on the opposite side.

"We've got a few places to start," said the Doctor, between mouthfuls of cake. "I'd like to interview Connor's staff, for one. That coupled with the access logs should help us narrow down our pool of suspects."

"I hate to think of any of them being involved," said Connor regretfully, "but at least we may be able to rule some of them out."

Rose looked at Emelia, who was staring down at the table and seemingly not following the conversation around her. She wanted to ask the Doctor if he had told Connor about Jonah, but she expected that he'd gotten too involved in their project to bring that subject up. She sighed. She was going to have to explain this, too.

She restated what she had told Emelia in a few brief sentences, with Connor utterly silent until she drew to a close. He seemed as stunned as Emelia had been. Still was.

"I'd like to talk to him," the Doctor added. Both parents nodded their assent, distracted.

"He's still Jonah," Rose said. "You still love him. This doesn't change anything."

"We never knew," said Emelia finally, her eyes still fixed on the table in front of her. "Even before his parents died, he didn't speak and had trouble focusing. He's been somewhat responsive through play therapy — Brandon's been wonderful with him. You've seen that." She swallowed audibly. "What if he's been trying to communicate this whole time and we just couldn't hear him?"

Connor put his arm around his wife and drew her close against him. The lines on his face seemed to be etched more deeply than they had even a few moments before, and Rose was terribly sad to have helped put them there.

Back to index

Chapter 12: Chapter 12

Author's Notes: The Doctor reaches out to Jonah.

Emelia recovered first, having had more time to absorb the news about Jonah. "Do you want to leave it here?" she asked with a glance over at the faintly humming device on the next table. The Doctor looked more than a little perplexed at the question.

Rose interceded. "We need to go and see Jonah," she told him quietly.

"Ah. No, I'll take it with us." He stood and crossed to the other table, where he began tucking several loose components into various pockets and making some adjustments to the device. Connor, with his arm still around his wife, watched the Doctor but made no move to join him and still did not speak. The three of them stood in unison when he hoisted the device under one arm and walked toward the door.

Rose caught up with him just outside, leaving Connor and Emelia to follow behind them. She glanced back, and saw that they were walking side by side, hands lightly clasped and heads bent together, in stark contrast to the way they had arrived. She swallowed against the lump in her throat and took the Doctor's free hand.

"Do you think you can help them?" she asked in a low tone. She meant with Jonah, not with identifying the saboteurs.

His response was pitched equally low. "I don't know." His doubt told her that he meant the same.

They arrived at the nursery and quickly agreed that Emelia should be the one to go inside and fetch Jonah. Rose was certain her return to the nursery would cause a bit of an uproar with the children after her rather dramatic departure of the day before, and while she did want to see them again, she didn't feel that this was the best time to do so.

At last, Connor spoke. "How long have you known?"

"For certain?" asked the Doctor. "Yesterday, when Rose fainted."

"There are too many secrets here," said Connor dully. Rose put a sympathetic hand on his arm and he looked up at her. She remembered her first impression of him — one of posturing and nervousness, possibly guilt — and knew how very wrong first impressions could be.

"We'll do everything we can," she assured him.

Emelia opened the door and led Jonah out into the bright day. The silent little boy let his mother clutch his hand and draw him along, but as usual took no notice of her or the three other people so acutely focused on him. Connor took the other hand and they set off for the Trabanes' flat.

Jonah sat in the floor in the Trabanes' front room with his blocks while the Doctor set up the device on the coffee table. It took him just a moment, and then he sank down onto the floor next to the little boy and produced a small medical scanner from one pocket.

"Genetic analysis," he said by way of explanation, waving the tool in Emelia's direction. "Completely harmless." He waved the scanner up and down and studied the small display. His face remained impassive for a few seconds and then his eyes widened in surprise.

"What?" demanded the other three in unison from their position on the couch.

"He's part Ilhanti," said the Doctor with astonishment, and looked up at them. "Did you know that?"

"Part what?" asked Connor.

"Ilhanti," repeated the Doctor. "An Ilhanti and a human. No wonder —" He shook his head in amazement. "How could that be?"

"Doctor, we have no idea what you're talking about," Rose prompted. "Mind filling us in? Maybe not here?" She cut her eyes toward Jonah and gestured with her chin in his direction.

"Right," he agreed readily. He stood up, cocking his head toward the kitchen. The three of them followed and they huddled in the kitchen, near enough for Emelia to keep a watchful eye on Jonah but far enough away from him not to be overheard.

"The Ilhanti," began the Doctor, "are a very reclusive species. Highly empathic, highly telepathic, and highly xenophobic to boot. To say that they distrust outsiders is like saying that — well, it's like saying that the universe is a very big place. It's technically accurate, but a mild understatement." He sighed. "An Ilhanti who consorted with a human would be beyond an outcast, beyond reprehensible. Excommunicated, literally, cut off from their own kind. I can't imagine how one would come to procreate with a human."

"We knew his parents," Emelia put in. "They were both from Orinous Four, same as Brandon."

"Not one of his parents," he said, waving a hand in the air. "Great-grandparent. I can't say from this whether it was his mother's side or his father's side, though. Not that it matters." He was desperately curious about it, Rose knew. For a moment, at least for him, the problem of Jonah's mind was momentarily secondary to the question of how Jonah had come to be in the first place.

"But," Emelia continued, "his parents were perfectly normal. Not — telepathic or anything like that." She paused, and considered that for a moment. "At least, I don't think so."

Connor shrugged in agreement. "As far as I knew, they weren't."

"I'm not saying they were," said the Doctor. "I'm saying one of them was a descendant of someone who was."

"Why doesn't he speak?" asked Connor. "Can he? These — Ilhanti. Do they?"

The Doctor nodded. "Oh yes. They have a spoken language, and a shared mental one as well. As I said, highly empathic and highly telepathic. It's a very regimented society. For example, it's considered quite poor manners to project one's emotions or thoughts to someone else without first knowing that the other person is receptive to those emotions or thoughts." He glanced at Rose. "I can see why, now."

Emelia cut in. "I'm not interested in manners, Doctor. I'm interested in Jonah. Can we communicate with him? I want him to know —" she hesitated, then launched in again — "how we feel. That he is loved."

"He knows," said Rose, thinking of the delighted freedom she had felt from him before it had all become too much, of the portrait he had drawn.

The Doctor smiled at her, warmth shining in his eyes. Her heart lurched at his expression. "He does," he agreed softly. "But I can tell him, if that's all right with you." He looked first at Emelia, then at Connor, both of whom nodded quickly.

They returned to the front room, where Rose, Emelia, and Connor took up places on the couch. The Doctor sat on the floor so that he was sitting cross-legged directly across from Jonah, who throughout was still patiently arranging blocks of contrasting color together. "Jonah," he said quietly. He settled his hands at Jonah's temples with the lightest of touches. His eyes closed.

Jonah's hands released the blocks and drifted back to his own lap. The two of them sat unmoving for the space of several heartbeats, during which Rose, Emelia, and Connor sat utterly still, without breathing, without moving, without speaking.

Suddenly, Jonah's eyes flew wide open and his gasp of surprise, the first sound Rose had ever heard him make, shattered the silence of the room.

"That's me, Jonah," said the Doctor in a gentle, low tone, without opening his eyes or otherwise reacting. "You're all right. There."

Jonah's eyes were huge and fixed on the Doctor's face opposite him. His pupils constricted to tiny dots, then dilated again, and back, as if he were reacting to changes in light. His breath was ragged and uneven, and his small form shook slightly.

"Doctor?" said Emelia, and her voice was pleading rather than sharp.

"It's all right," said the Doctor in the same soothing tone he had used to speak to Jonah a moment before. "It's just a surprise for him. He's fine." He opened his eyes and met Jonah's stare. "Hello, Jonah," he said, with a serene smile. "It's very nice to meet you."

Rose felt the hairs on her arms prickle and stand up, and a tentative touch at the back of her mind. She shifted on the couch, disconcerted by the contact, however brief and gentle. This could not be dangerous for her, she reassured herself, or the Doctor never would have allowed it.

"Quietly, Jonah," said the Doctor kindly. "I can hear you just fine." The faint sensation dissipated. "That's better."

Emelia leaned forward eagerly. "What's happening?"

"He's showing me what he wants to build with the blocks," said the Doctor, whose eyes were still fixed on Jonah's. He wore an affectionate smile. "It's quite impressive, actually. He'd like a few dozen more of the red blocks, by the way."

Connor laughed. "He can have a hundred more if he wants them. Tell him."

"Yes," said the Doctor. Jonah's breathing had evened out and he looked intensely focused on the Doctor's face, but not at all upset.

"I've never seen him keep eye contact this long," said Emelia wonderingly. "It's amazing."

The nonverbal communication between the boy and the man continued for several moments while the others waited. Connor sat back on the couch with a silly smile on his face while Emelia fairly vibrated with nervous tension, but she didn't interrupt.

At last, the Doctor nodded and let his fingers drop from Jonah's temples. The boy's gaze drifted away, and Rose felt the simultaneous release of breath from his parents on either side of her. Jonah went back to arranging his blocks as if nothing unusual had happened and the Doctor, looking more than a little tired, let his head loll back and stared at the ceiling.

"What did he say?" demanded Emelia, a trace of her earlier dominance returning.

The Doctor took a breath and let it out. Rose got off the couch and came to sit on the floor behind him. He leaned back into her as she wound her arms around him.

"He didn't say, well, not really. It's not like that," he said finally. "His mind is overwhelmed. He's so sensitive to the emotions and thoughts of other people that it's a constant barrage. As a result, he's almost completely shut down. I've put up some barriers that should help, at least for a while. In addition to that, he's never learned how to communicate, how to control his own abilities, so linking with his mind is difficult, to say the least."

"What can we do?" asked Connor. The worry was evident in his voice.

"Honestly? I don't know," said the Doctor. "I'll need to keep working with him for a bit. I may be able to teach him to shield himself to some degree, and that will help."

"Will he ever talk?" Emelia asked the question hesitantly.

"If he can learn to block out the noise, I don't see why not," he said with a shrug. "Right now, it's a matter of too much sensory input. He feels everything."

Rose's eyes met Emelia's and she knew the other woman's worst fear was confirmed. Is it like that for him all the time? she had asked. The Doctor had just answered that question. She shivered. He turned his head slightly so he could look questioningly at her. "I'm fine," she said, and hugged him again. "I felt something before you told him to quiet down, just a bit, that's all."

He nodded and a brief smile flitted across his lips. "He responded with considerable enthusiasm."

She smiled back, studying the lines around his eyes. "You need some rest."

He didn't contradict her. "Connor, can you check on the analysis? Where are we now?"

Rose had almost forgotten about the device on the coffee table, which had stopped its low humming. Connor stood up and squinted at the display. "It's finished," he said.

"Start the pattern recognition program," instructed the Doctor. Connor made a few adjustments and pressed three or four buttons, and then the humming changed its pitch and began anew.

"Should be ready in a couple of hours," Connor said.

The Doctor's eyes drifted closed. She could feel how much the encounter with the little boy had drained him by how heavily he rested against her. She kissed the side of his head and felt a soft chuckle in return. "I'm fine, Rose, just a little tired."

He never admitted to being tired, even when he was, and that more than his weight against her told her how he truly felt. "You should get some rest, then," she told him firmly. "You've got a lot of work to do today."

He harrumphed but let her push him upright, and then stood without further protest. "Can you buzz us on the comm when it's finished?" he asked Connor. "I think I could do with a bit of a lie-down, after all."

Rose assumed they would go back to their bed in the TARDIS, but the Doctor shed his coat and jacket in the bland bedroom of Section 4, Habitation D. "Can't hear the comm all the way in the TARDIS," he explained, yawning, and pulled off his trainers. "I mean, I could set up something, but frankly —" he yawned again — "it doesn't seem worth all the bother."

Rose folded the covers back for him and he collapsed onto the bed with evident relief. "Thanks," he said, removing his tie and loosening the top button of his shirt. She tucked him in and sat on the side of the bed next to him, stroking his face. He watched her through half-lowered eyes and smiled.

"You did a good thing today," she told him.

"Oh, just the one?" He let his eyes close the rest of the way.

"One exceptionally good thing," she corrected, and kissed his forehead. "I think even Emelia has forgiven you for being such an arse this morning." He huffed in slight protest but didn't open his eyes. "Be right back," she said, and went to fetch her book from the front room.

When she returned, he was already asleep. She took a moment to study his face, tranquil and slack in unconsciousness. She smiled. "I love you," she told his sleeping form, and climbed into bed beside him to read until he woke.


Connor sat back down on the couch after the Doctor and Rose left, and Emelia put her head on his shoulder. He slipped an arm around her and began to gently stroke her upper arm. They remained like that for several moments, watching Jonah with his blocks.

"That was amazing," said Emelia, with a trace of awe in her voice.

"It was," he agreed. "I've never seen him react like that to anyone, not even Brandon." He rubbed his eye with his free hand. "Have we been going about this all wrong?"

She stiffened and sat up, giving him a remorseful look. "We've done the best we could," she said. "I've always worried — that we just weren't enough."

He pulled her in close against him, feeling her forehead press against his neck. For a moment, he wondered at the catch in her breathing, and then, with a shock, he realized she was crying. Emelia — his fierce, abrasive, beloved Emelia — wept soundlessly into his neck. When he tried to pull away, to push her back and see her face, she resisted and burrowed closer against him.

"It took a stranger to find out what was wrong with him." Her voice was shaking and muffled.

"He's not a stranger now," said Connor. He kissed the top of her head. "He'll help, if you'll let him." He leaned in a bit, her face going blurry and unfocused as he drew closer to her. He brushed the lightest of kisses across her lips and felt her soft sigh against his mouth.

"I'm trying," she murmured, pulling herself back together. She drew in an irregular, sucking breath and sat up. He traced the damp line of her cheekbone with one long finger and she wiped her eyes. "For Jonah."

"For Jonah," he agreed.

Back to index

Chapter 13: Chapter 13

Author's Notes: The saboteurs strike, the Doctor goes barefoot, and Connor learns about the TARDIS.

Rose had nodded off while reading and woke with a moment of real fear and disorientation. She didn't recognize the room around her and it took her a couple of seconds to realize why — it was rapidly filling with an acrid, thick smoke.

"Doctor!" she cried, thumping the sleeping form beside her. He immediately sat up and took control.

"Out the window," he ordered, tearing the covers back and scooping up his jacket and coat. Rose was already up and tugging frantically at the window, but she couldn't budge it. He pressed the clothing into her hands and jerked at the bottom, which finally gave way and slid up with a hissing sound. "Out, out," he urged, giving her a lift. She clambered out the window and tumbled, coughing, onto the dirt below, producing a red cloud of dust around her.

The Doctor, already out the window behind her, took her hands and pulled her back onto her feet. They scrambled a safe distance from the building and turned to see the damage. Dark smoke was billowing out the window from which they had just emerged, and Rose could now see the orange lick of flames behind it. Around them, the sky had turned a deeper blue as the evening approached.

Suddenly, she panicked. "Oh my God," she gasped, clutching the bundled coat and jacket close to her chest. "The TARDIS is in there. We've got to —"

She had already taken several steps back toward the building when the Doctor's hand closed around her upper arm and he pulled her to a stop. "No, Rose," he said, urgently. "It's too dangerous. She'll be fine. It would take a lot worse than a fire to harm her. Trust me." He put both arms around her and hugged her close.

They could now hear the sounding of alarms and the clamour of people on the street. They ran around to the front of the building, where a crowd had begun to gather. A wheeled vehicle pulled up just as they arrived, and several men unrolled long hoses and ran toward the burning building. Instead of water, a dry powder shot out of the hoses when they aimed them at the flames.

"Is there anyone left in the building?" the Doctor shouted at some of the bystanders.

"We came out of Habitation C," chattered a nervous woman with a small child.

He put his hands on Rose's shoulders. "Stay here," he told her, eyes flashing. "I'm going to go and make sure no one's still in there."

He ran toward Habitation B alongside two men carrying the hoses, and after a moment, Rose lost sight of him in the smoke and chaos and spewing powder. She stood rooted to the spot, feeling unaccountably helpless. Next to her, the woman with the child began to cry softly, and Rose turned her attention to someone she could help.

"I need a count of everyone who lives in that building, now." Rose recognized Emelia's commanding voice immediately and spotted her soon after. She stood on tiptoe and counted off several others who stood, shaken, in the crowd. Others patted their shoulders or offered quiet sympathies. Rose led the woman and child toward the group of other evacuees, allowing others to wrap them in tight hugs and shower them with expressions of gratitude at their safety.

"Who's still unaccounted for?" called a man to Emelia's right.

She rattled off three or four names in quick succession. "Go and check the work rosters," she commanded. He nodded and disappeared into the crowd. Emelia strode over to Rose and gave her a brief once-over. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"Yeah," said Rose. "We got out just in time. The Doctor —"

"Here," he said, appearing at her elbow, and she sagged with relief at his appearance. His face and shirt were smeared with soot and his hair stood out in all directions, but he was unharmed. "Everyone's out."

"There are a few people unaccounted for," said Emelia, "but they all work evening shifts. We're verifying everyone's whereabouts right now."

"The alarms didn't go off," observed the Doctor quietly enough for only Emelia and Rose to hear. "A message, then?"

Emelia shook her head. "Too early to say, but it can't be a coincidence."

Rose looked over at the building. The fire seemed to be under control, but part of the roof on one side had collapsed. She began to shake. What if she hadn't woken up in time? What if —

The Doctor put his arm around her. "We're all right, Rose," he said in a reassuring tone.

In the end, the worst injury had been one of the men who responded to the fire, whose arm had been broken by a falling beam. Howard and another medic assessed and treated everyone as needed.

When Howard came to Rose, he shook his head. "When I said I would be glad to look in on you today," he observed dryly, listening to her chest, "this wasn't what I had in mind."

Rose laughed, which turned into a rasping cough. Howard put a mask over her face and told her to breathe in deeply. A fine spray shot into the mask and tickled as she inhaled, but it felt cool in her lungs and she could breathe much easier afterward. "What was that?" she asked curiously as he removed the mask.

"Absorbs toxins from the smoke you've inhaled and promotes dilation of the airway," he told her, folding up the mask and putting it into his bag. "You're next, Dr. Tyler."

The Doctor waved him off. "I'm fine. Go and check the others."

"I've seen everyone else," said Howard. "Come on, just a quick check. Won't hurt a bit." In the setting of a true emergency, he seemed much more confident and relaxed than he had been yesterday, Rose thought. Then again, he wasn't caught between the Doctor and Emelia today.

That is, until Emelia stepped over to see what the disagreement was about, and she and the Doctor began to argue all over again. Rose gave Howard a sympathetic look, and he shrugged as if to say "they do this all the time." And perhaps they did.

"You just came out of a burning building," Emelia thundered. "You are too damn valuable to decline treatment. I'm thinking about Jonah, not about you." She pointed at his chest. "If you suddenly stop breathing, I'll kill you myself."

Rose tugged on the Doctor's sleeve. "Come on, don't be so stubborn. Just let him take a look."

"I do not need —" he began, but she let her lower lip stick out just a fraction and saw him hesitate.

She immediately struck. "It would make me feel better, too." She widened her eyes and looked up at him through her lashes, blinking once or twice for emphasis.

He gave in with a long-suffering sigh and sat down in the folding chair that Howard was using for his exams. "Do your worst, Howard. And by the way, I have two hearts, so don't bother with blood pressure and pulse and that nonsense. Won't do you a bit of good."

"Two hearts?" asked Howard with interest. Rose giggled involuntarily at the look of surprised delight on his face, and the Doctor let out a second, even longer and more suffering, sigh. Emelia, for her part, looked triumphant.

"You're barefoot," Rose observed later.

The Doctor glanced down at his feet and wiggled his toes in the red dirt. "I didn't exactly have time to put shoes on," he noted dryly. "All that lacing and tying seemed a bit unimportant, what with the building being on fire."

"You had time to get your coat and jacket," she said, passing over the items in question and helping him into them.

"Well, of course I did," he said, a little insulted. "This coat and I have been through a lot together, and I have a lot of rather useful things in all the pockets." He put his hand up to his throat. "My tie," he whined. "I liked that tie." He sniffed. "It was blue."

"Jacob's book," said Rose sadly. She hated to think of the pages curling and blackening in the fire.

"We'll get another copy," he said, brushing her hair back from her face. "He won't mind a bit."

"When can we get back to the TARDIS?" she asked.

He eyed the charred building and shook his head. "I could get in there right now except for Her Highness on patrol over there," he commented disparagingly.

"You're too valuable," said Rose with a smile.

"It's the curse of being useful. See, this is why I like to keep a low profile most of the time."

"Low profile," said Rose, snickering. "Mmm hmm."

"It's all your fault, anyway," he said cheerfully, taking her arm and walking back toward the Trabanes' flat, where Connor had stayed with Jonah during the chaos of the fire.

"My fault?" she asked in amazement.

"I suggested that we go back into the TARDIS when we realized we weren't on Lycoras, but oh no, you wanted to go sightseeing. And look at the mess now."

"No ulterior motives for that at all," she said with a grin, remembering his intense kiss and her hands gripping his lapels.

"I was being very sensible," he said, with a prim sniff and a sidelong look at her.

"You promise that the TARDIS is fine?" she asked, feeling worry run through her once again.

"Promise." His face went serious for a moment. "She's been through much, much worse, Rose. She's a tough old girl."

"Don't let her hear you call her old," she cautioned, seeing something in his expression that warned her he was thinking back to something deeply unpleasant. "She'll hide all your trainers. Or put salt in your toothpaste. Or —" she began to giggle —" she'll shave off one of your sideburns."

He brightened at her tease, as she had hoped he would. "Or cut off all the hot water while I'm in the shower." He leered. "Of course, that would probably affect you more than it would me."

"You think you're so funny." She knocked on the door and Connor opened it, gesturing for them to come in and looking enormously relieved to see them.

"You smell terrible," he said, wrinkling up his nose.

"Yes, we're fine, thanks for asking," said the Doctor with a grin. "Has it finished yet?" He walked over to the still-humming device and frowned at it.

"Not yet." Connor turned to Rose. "If you want to change, I can get you some of Emelia's clothes. I think they should fit."

"If we ever can get back into the building," called the Doctor from across the room, "we can get all the clothes we need. Talk to your wife."

Connor gave him a confused look, and Rose held up a hand. "He's not good at explaining," she said by way of apology. "Our ship is still in Section 4."

"Your ship? In your flat?" Connor was more confused.

"It's smaller than you'd think," she tried to explain.

"Dimensionally transcendental," the Doctor chimed in helpfully.

Rose gritted her teeth and smiled at Connor. "I'd love some fresh clothes, thanks." He disappeared down a hallway and she sat down next to Jonah on the floor. Immediately, she felt a buzzing, curious sensation at the base of her skull. She blinked to clear her vision, which went a little fuzzy around the periphery.

"He wants you to pass him another red block," said the Doctor from where he was fiddling with his machine.

"You can feel him too?" she asked.

"Yes. He's using what you might call his 'inside voice,' but it's quite clear."

She passed over a block and Jonah placed it carefully on the top of a tall stack. "I like the red ones best, too," she told him, and her mind suddenly reverberated with contentment. The sensation startled her, but wasn't at all unpleasant.

When she was again able to focus on the world around her again, the Doctor was watching her. "I think that means 'thank you,'" he said. "He likes you a great deal, you know."

Rose smiled. "I know." She passed Jonah another block. "I like you too," she told him, and her mind buzzed faintly again.

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Chapter 14: Chapter 14

Author's Notes: Ian presents Rose with a gift, and there are further domestics at the Trabanes'.

Connor returned with a jumper and a pair of trousers for Rose, who disappeared into the bathroom to change while he and the Doctor resumed their tinkering with the device. She had never expected to be grateful for the dry shampoo, which she combed through her hair to get the worst of the soot and charred smell out. After a quick sponge bath, she changed back into her own knickers and bra and then Emelia's clothes. The khaki trousers were much too long for Rose, but she rolled them up and made the best of it.

As she emerged, a small form shot across the room toward her. Ian. She was too startled to react, so he ended up flinging his arms wide and embracing her hips, his small face pressing against her belly.

"Miss Rose," he hiccupped, and couldn't get anything else out.

Rose unwound him from her lower half and drew him over to the couch, where he immediately crawled into her lap and put his arms around her neck. "I'm fine," she soothed, hugging him close. "See?"

He hiccupped again and gave her a betrayed look. "Where were you today?"

"I needed to rest," she explained. Granted, she hadn't done a lot of resting today, but that had been the original intent of her day off. "I'm glad to see you now." She squeezed him tight against her.

"Are you coming tomorrow?" he demanded, not much appeased, and wiggled in her lap.

"I'm not sure yet." She ruffled his hair affectionately. "Did you just get back?"

"Mister Brandon brought me home," he told her. "I had to stay late." He scooted off the couch and flew across the room to his small rucksack. After a moment of rooting around, he made a pleased squeak and came back to her, carrying something carefully in the palm of his hand. "Look," he said, proudly, and held out his hand to her.

Nestled in his palm was a coffee brown figurine made of clay, covered in a glossy glaze. Its head and long, winding neck curled up and over its shoulder, directing its small eyes slightly back and to one side. Its ears were round and small, flattened back against its head, and she could see the hundreds of small marks indicating its smooth, furry coat.

"Oh, that's lovely," she breathed. "Can I touch it?" Ian's eyes shone as he nodded. She delicately traced the flow of the creature's spine from its snout to its graceful tail. Even inert, it had a dynamic potential energy to it. She half-expected it to leap off Ian's palm and disappear under the coffee table.

"A furmot," she guessed, and Ian smiled.

"I made it for you," he said, with a bold twinkle in his eye as he looked toward his feet. He would be a lady-killer when he was older, she thought. He wasn't a bit shy, but he instinctively knew how to act it for maximum effect.

"It's beautiful," she said. "Are you sure?" She almost laughed at the look he gave her, which so reminded her of the Doctor's earlier incarnation when she had said something he considered to be particularly daft.

"Made it for you," he repeated, pushing it toward her. Her hand closed around the tiny creature quickly, not wanting him to drop it.

"Thanks," she told him, and gave him a quick, impulsive kiss on the cheek.

He squealed and hopped backwards, rubbing his cheek with a grimace. "Didn't have to kiss me," he said, affronted, and ran down the hallway. Rose heard a door thump shut in the distance and giggled.

She stood and showed the Doctor, who examined it through his glasses and nodded approvingly. Connor looked every inch the proud father even though he continued to focus his attention on the device between them.

"He's amazing," she said, studying the fine detail. "I can't believe he made this."

"Quite a prodigy," agreed the Doctor. He held out his hand and Rose passed over the figurine. He pointed the sonic screwdriver at the furmot, bathing it in a pool of blue light. He rotated it around in his hand and made a satisfied grunt before handing it back to Rose.

"What did you do?" she asked. The figurine felt faintly warm in her hands, but seemed otherwise unchanged.

"Just fixed it so you can't break it," he said. "It's hard as a diamond now." He gave her an amused look. "Thought that might come in handy."

Connor's eyes had fallen upon the sonic screwdriver. He bore the look of a man who had seen a miracle. "What — is — that?" he asked slowly, with great emphasis on each word.

"Oh," said the Doctor, so nonchalantly Rose might have missed how pleased he was at the other man's interest. "Sonic screwdriver."

"Sonic?" The question had been asked before, but Rose had never heard anyone say it with quite the reverence that Connor used. "So you just used ultrasonic waves to create a crystal matrix?"

The Doctor grinned back. "Well, not exactly. It's even better than that." He began to explain with his customary flourishes, and Connor hung on every word.

Rose abandoned the two of them to their happy technobabble and joined Jonah on the floor. "Jonah, look at this," she said, and held out the furmot figurine toward him.

He cocked his head to the side, listening to something she didn't hear, and then reached out with his small hand. He explored every ridge and curve, as she had, and finally took it from her. She marveled as he studied it intently, turning it around. The glaze caught the light and sparkled back at them.

"Ian made it," she said. "It's a furmot, like Freddy and Felicity." Suddenly, her vision and perspective shifted, and she was no longer in the Trabanes' flat.

She careened through the water, which bubbled around her in the stream and hissed against the rocks. Up, up, and out, breath of air, back down again, the cold exhilarating. She wriggled, agile as a snake, flying through the water, emerging with a splash onto the grassy bank and flopping down in the warm sunlight with a grateful, glorious sigh.

The shared experience was so vivid that Rose had to blink several times to clear her vision. Jonah was still motionless, looking at the figurine in his hand. She shivered, half convinced that she was soaking wet from the stream, but finding herself still dry and clad in Emelia's clothes.

"Rose?" said the Doctor gently, sitting down beside her. She turned to face him, knowing she looked dazed but unable to do anything about it.

"Just startled me," she stammered. "It was so real."

"He's got quite an imagination." He reached out a hand and carefully traced his fingers against the boy's temple. Jonah put the furmot down on the floor and returned to his bricks.

Connor had crossed over and knelt next to Jonah. "Everyone all right?" he asked, worry evident in his voice and face.

"Yes," the Doctor told him. "Jonah showed us a furmot." Rose gaped slightly at the understatement. It had been more than a simple image of a furmot. She had been the furmot, at least in Jonah's mind. The Doctor made a barely perceptible shake of his head and she straightened, trying to compose herself.

"That's fantastic," said Connor enthusiastically. He turned to the little boy. "Jonah, that's fantastic." He reached out, hesitated, and then did squeeze Jonah's shoulder lightly.

His gentle touch against Rose's mind shimmered with longing, and she felt the Doctor's hand settle into hers. She tangled her fingers with his and swallowed hard.

Emelia returned, looking harried, and flopped down on the couch. "We've got new habitation assignments for everyone," she said. "You're in section 8, unit K. I'll update your keycards after a bit."

"Can we get into our old flat?" asked Rose, heading off the Doctor's inevitable question. "Just for a bit."

"Yes," said Emelia, with a curious look at the Doctor. "There's a very odd blue box in there that seems to be completely undamaged, despite the fact that most of the building burned down around it. You want to explain that?"

"That's our ship," said the Doctor, as if that were perfectly obvious.

Emelia was the only one who looked surprised, and she gave Connor a resigned look. "I suppose you knew all about this?"

"They told me a bit about it while you were gone today," Connor put in hastily. "I haven't seen it or anything."

Emelia shrugged. "All right, your ship then. Fine." She stood up. "I'm famished. Go fetch your ship or do what you want. I don't suppose anyone fed Ian and Jonah?" No one responded. "Sandwiches, then."

"I'll help," said Rose, hopping up and giving the Doctor a warning look. Behave, she thought emphatically. She doubted he could hear her, but she hoped her expression conveyed her meaning well enough.

She followed Emelia into the kitchen and found herself tasked with spreading paste onto thin slices of bread. The paste was different from the one she'd had at the nursery cafeteria, and her curiosity got the better of her.

"What is this?" she asked, hoping she wouldn't regret the question later.

"Special Recipe 7 protein paste," said Emelia, pulling a bottle of clear amber liquid out of a cabinet and pouring it into two glasses. "It's the only one Jonah will eat without a fuss." She piled the sandwiches onto plates and Rose carried the glasses into the other room.

"Sandwiches!" said the Doctor with delight. "Brilliant. Don't suppose they're cucumber? Maybe with a little cream cheese?"

"Protein paste," said Emelia. "Don't push your luck." She put the plate of sandwiches down on a table in the back corner of the long room where Connor was unfolding chairs. Rose set the glasses down and returned to the kitchen, finding four more glasses filled with the same liquid she'd drunk at the welcome party.
"I'd say we need some fortification," said Emelia, entering behind her, and tipped a glass back. "Ian! Dinner time."

Rose found the scene oddly charming. The six of them sat around the table in slightly wobbly, standard-issue folding chairs and ate protein paste sandwiches. Connor and Emelia asked Ian about his day, and he talked with his mouth full despite several cautions from his parents. Jonah ate without much interest in the conversation, but he seemed content enough.

In short, it was the perfect nuclear family dinner hour — except that they were on an alien planet, with one of the children silent and psychic, and joined by a woman from the past and the last of an ancient race. She shrugged. It wasn't exactly the sort of family she had dreamed off when she was a girl, fantasizing about a mum and a dad and even perhaps a sibling, but there was real love here, and that was more than enough.

"Ian," said Emelia. "Bedtime." He whined, predictably, and held tightly onto Rose.

"Can Miss Rose read me a story?" he asked, with hope shining in his eyes.

"If she's not too tired," said Connor, with a questioning look at Rose. She gave him a broad grin and hopped to her feet, pulling Ian with her.

"You pick," she said. Ian squealed with pleasure and ran off down the hallway.

Emelia led Jonah down the hallway after Rose, who followed the rather enthusiastic sounds coming from what she presumed was Ian's room. She stuck her head around the corner and found him in a room with two twin beds and a dresser.

He was tugging a pajama top on, and most of the sleeve was jammed down over his head. He grunted and made a flailing motion with one hand. Rose giggled and helped him get into it properly, with head out the top and one arm in each sleeve. This was not as straightforward an activity as it might have been, as Ian was in a fine state of excitement.

"Ian," said Emelia. "For heaven's sake, be still."

Ian leaped onto his bed with a flourish and assumed a rigid pose, his eyes opened wide and his arms and legs stuck out at odd angles. From across the room, his mother laughed and shook her head. Rose looked back at her, again startled at the sound of the other woman's unexpected laughter.

"I'm still," said Ian from between clenched teeth, staring straight ahead.

Rose tickled him on the sides and his breath came out as a shout. His arms and legs flew out at all angles until she relented and let him come up for air.

"Mummy!" he cried. "Tell —" gasp — "her —" gasp — "to stop!" Rose couldn't stop smiling, but she suppressed the urge to plant a smacking kiss on his cheek. A boy could only suffer so much indignity in a single evening, after all.

Jonah struggled with his pajamas as well, although in a different way than Ian had. Emelia carefully removed his shirt and tucked one arm, then another, into his pajama top. She spoke soothingly to him as she buttoned up the front. Rose could see him shaking slightly, and she fairly shook herself with the waves of anxiety rolling off him.

Her skin itched with the pressure of the nubby fabric, which seemed to relent only when Emelia fastened the final button. His shoes, socks, and trousers came off, leaving her feeling exposed and vulnerable. Emelia lifted one foot, then the other, to slip on his pajama bottoms and tugged them up over his legs and bum. Rose let out a sigh of relief and saw Jonah relax and become once again still.

Once the boys were all tucked in, Emelia kissed them both on the foreheads and told them goodnight. Rose eyed the selection of books on the shelf and decided that she would steer well clear of the Freddy and Felicity series for tonight. Her experience with Jonah, while harmless, had been intensely vivid and not a little exhausting.

"Don't read," said Ian, shifting under the covers and looking up at her with liquid eyes. "Tell me a story."

"Want one with kissing in it?" she teased. Ian pulled a face and she waved him off. "Just joking."

"Something scary," he urged. She gave a look over at Jonah in the other bed and decided that a horror story would perhaps not be the wisest choice, all things considered. She smiled, knowing what story she would tell.

"Once upon a time," she began with a steadily growing smile, "there was a girl named Rose, and she worked in a shop ..."

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Chapter 15: Chapter 15

Author's Notes: Connor, at long last, meets the TARDIS.

"So," said Connor, not looking up from his careful study of the logs on the Doctor's analysis device, "tell me about this ship of yours." He hoped he sounded casual, composed, scientifically curious but emotionally detached. In reality, his mind kept leaping back to "dimensionally transcendental" with increasing excitement.

The Doctor's lips twitched, and his response was amused and equally casual. "Oh, you know. She travels from Point A to Point B, just like most ships, only Point A and Point B might be connected by a multi-dimensional hyperplane rather than a boring old two-dimensional line."

Connor mused on that for a moment, then smiled. "So when Emelia said 'odd blue box,' she really meant 'odd blue tesseract,' then?"

The Doctor's eyes twinkled merrily. "I thought it was prudent not to correct her."

"Good idea." He sobered abruptly and asked the question he had ached to ask, but had not allowed himself to ask, before he could stop himself. "Can I see it?"

"Her," corrected the Doctor, the twinkle undiminished. "I've been wondering how long it would take you to get around to asking." He stood up and stretched. "Yes, soon as Rose is back, we'll go."

When Rose and Emelia did return, Connor found himself explaining to his less-than-impressed wife that he was going to go off with the two travelers to move their ship to the new habitation unit.

"Thought they might need some help," he explained lamely. Emelia crossed her arms and he watched, with considerable dismay, as the crease between her eyes became more pronounced as she frowned. "I thought, after the day you've had, you might appreciate a little peace and quiet?" he said hopefully.

The crease deepened. "Don't pretend this is about me."

"Would you stay with the boys?" he asked. "I won't be long. It's just — oh Em, the sonic screwdriver was amazing, and this is a chance to see the ship."

"Go on," she said, sitting down on the couch with a puff of cushions. "We'll be here when you get back."

He didn't hop to the door. No, it was a careful, dignified procession, and the fact that he was out the door faster than either the Doctor or Rose was simply a coincidence.

Rose stood back from the pile of charred rubble that used to be Section 4 while the Doctor and Connor worked to clear a path to the TARDIS. Night had fallen while she and Emelia had tucked the boys into bed, and the lights around them painted the scene with yellowish artificial light. Everything looked grubby and washed out, even the white fence marking off the lawns of dirt in front of each habitation unit. She could see dirty handprints and smudges all along the formerly too-new white surface.

There was a heaving, crunching sound and then part of a wall toppled. Two distinct sets of muttered curses quickly followed. "All right?" she called, standing on tiptoe to try and see them, hidden in the rubble.

"As rain," called the Doctor. "Not that it rains here, not yet. Very dusty." There was a faint thump. "Bugger. Connor, these boots are entirely too big."

Rose giggled. Since the Doctor had still been barefoot, she had hauled them both back inside the flat and insisted that he borrow a pair of Connor’s old shoes for their trek. He seemed to be completely unconcerned about treading around the scene of a fire with his pale, unprotected feet. He had complained the entire way to Section 4 and walked theatrically, like he had been wearing skis rather than boots.

Connor reappeared at the entrance to the path they had cleared through the remains of the building and waved her in. She followed, picking her way carefully behind him and trying not to let the smell of burnt things overwhelm her. So much for Emelia's clean clothes, she thought.

The Doctor was waiting in the open doorway of the TARDIS with a broad grin. He stepped aside and gestured grandly. "Connor Trabane," he intoned with his best quiz show announcer voice, "I present the most amazing ship in all the universe — oh, and I can personally vouch for the veracity of that statement — the amazing, wondrous TARDIS. Come in, and please keep your hands inside the rails at all times."

Connor, with a look of wonder, stepped forward and looked around him, his eyes flicking from the time rotor to the console to the ceiling and all around. Rose felt her own mouth turn up in a grin as broad as the Doctor's. She had seen others react in amazement to the TARDIS, and it never ceased to thrill her. Without looking over at him, she reached out and took the Doctor's hand as they stood together in the doorway. He swung their joined hands together and beamed.

The gentle hum of the console room, a steady presence in Rose's life and almost imperceptible background noise for her now, seemed louder as she tried to listen and experience the room as Connor now did. He reached out and touched a graceful, curving column, which Rose knew to be faintly warm to the touch even when the room itself was cool. His attention shifted to the green, translucent tube of the time rotor at the centre of the console, following it upward to the ceiling with his eyes. She watched him trace each looping wire mentally from its connection point to its source. His curiosity was evident, but he seemed to want to soak it all in before he asked questions.

The Doctor released her hand to go and stand next to him. With a broad, manic grin, he spread out his arms in another expansive gesture. "Want to see her fly?" he asked.

Rose bounded over and took a seat on the captain's chair, deciding that if the Doctor chose to show off for a fellow scientist that there was a fair chance that it would be a bumpy ride. Since they hadn't installed the safety harness she'd joked with him about, she thought she would sit and hold on tight.

The Doctor was a dynamo, whirling around the console and rattling off explanations about what he was doing in a nonstop stream. Rose loved these frenetic moods of his. He was full of boundless energy, sheer joy at the journey itself and not a moment's thought for the destination. He whipped a bare foot up and onto the console as he half splayed himself out to reach two different controls. When did he take off the boots? she wondered in sudden confusion.

"Allons-y!" he cried, and whacked the console with a mallet.

"Good God," said Connor, grabbing onto one of the columns as the ship lurched in several different directions simultaneously. "Do you always — hit things like that?" His question was almost interrupted by a jolt that sent Rose's stomach up and into her throat. She closed her eyes and felt the exhilaration go through her. This was loads better than any roller coaster she could imagine.

"Percussive maintenance," explained the Doctor, running around the console with both hands in a blur of motion, "is good for the digestion. Or not. I'm making that up." He cackled wickedly and his wide eyes were filled with the same excitement that Rose felt coursing through her body.

"Is that a —" Connor leaned forward, still clinging to his column. "Combination lock? That's got to be an antique!"

"It was," said the Doctor happily, pumping vigorously at what Rose had long since stopped thinking of as a mere bicycle pump, "but it's got a much more interesting life now, don't you think?"

"Doctor?" she asked, struggling to be heard over the grating whine of the time rotor and the crashing about of their chaotic flight. A boot went flying past her and she had to whip her head quickly to the side to avoid being struck. "Where are we going?"

They landed with a crash and she heard the boot strike the wall behind her. The Doctor's head popped up from behind the console, his wild hair sticking out in all directions, and he leaped toward the police box doors. "Section 8, Habitation K," he announced, throwing the doors open onto a blandly decorated bedroom. Back in the closet, Rose thought with considerable amusement.

Connor unwound himself, one limb at a time, from around the column and surveyed the room with great caution. "Are you all right?" he asked her.

She grinned. "Come on." She grabbed his hand and towed him out into the bedroom. "Look, we're here," she said excitedly.

Connor, once he found himself back on stable ground, regained his composure. "Seems a bit inefficient, all that — rumbling and hitting and jumping about, to go less than a kilometer," he observed dryly.

The Doctor looked insulted. "I'll have you know —" Rose put a hand on his shoulder. "We took the scenic route," he sniffed. "We could have gone directly from one section to another without leaving normal space, but where's the fun in that? So we didn't."

Rose looked down the hallway and felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. "Doctor?" she said.

He was still defending his ship. "Inefficient! Hardly. She travels through time, Connor. How amazing is that? We can walk back in there and I can take you literally anywhere you can imagine. All of space and time, at your beck and call. Earth, 9500 B.C., as humans began to develop agriculture. The Library of Carsus. The Eye of Orion. San Francisco in 1966 for the last concert of the Beatles. Or, here in a century, to see the changes your technology has brought about. All of it is possible." His eyes glowed with an almost religious zeal.

"Doctor," said Rose, more insistently, and pointed toward the front room, where rosy light was gently streaming in through the window.

"Looks surprisingly like our last flat," he commented. "What is it?"

"It's daylight," she said.

The Doctor cursed, and cursed again, and flew down the hallway to the front door and threw it open with a bang.

Connor looked back and forth from him to Rose. "Daylight?" he repeated. "But that's not —" He stopped, and turned behind him to look through the still-open doors of the TARDIS to the console room. "What time is it?" he asked, carefully.

"7:24," the Doctor said from the door. "The good news is that we've only been gone about nine hours."

"Nine hours?" said Connor incredulously. "We took nine hours to get from one section to another?"

"As I said, we didn't —" began the Doctor, and stopped speaking at a severe look from Rose.

She put a comforting hand on Connor's shoulder. "It could have been worse, believe me," she said. "I'll help you explain things to Emelia."

Connor's face went pale, and he rushed past her to the comm in the front room. He pushed a few buttons and waited anxiously for a connection. "Em?" he said. "It's me. We're fine. I'll explain —"

"Connor!" cried the disconnected voice. Even in the tinny connection, Rose could hear fright and love and relief all woven together. Oh dear. She's going to be furious when she stops being scared.

"You've done it now," she told the Doctor, coming up behind him and winding her arms around his waist. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and sighed. "I'm not sure which of you she's going to slap first."

The Doctor huffed and made an acid comment about too many people resorting to physical violence, and Rose advised him it would be good for him to keep his mouth shut and, for a change, let her do the talking.

Back to index

Chapter 16: Chapter 16

Author's Notes: The Doctor and Rose, not to mention Connor, face the consequences of the lost nine hours.

A khaki-clad, dark skinned man suddenly appeared in the open doorway of the flat and stared first at Connor, then at Rose and the Doctor. "Connor?" he said, clearly startled. "How in the world did you get in here? Is everything all right? Emelia's been frantic."

"Where are you?" demanded Emelia's tinny voice from the comm speaker. She didn't sound frantic. She sounded calmly, determinedly livid.

"At the new flat," Connor told her. His index and middle fingers held steady on the comm, but all the muscles in his face had gone slack. He looked older, haggard, and so very weary. Rose almost didn't recognize the same man who had stood in the console room only a few minutes earlier with a schoolboy's eager curiosity.

"I'll be there in less than three minutes," Emelia ordered. "Don't go anywhere." The communication ended with a click and Connor looked like a man facing an imminent execution.

"Well," he said, turning back to the others, "I suppose some introductions are in order. Rose, this is Tom Attoway. Tom, this is Rose Tyler — and the Doctor." The last three words were said wearily, as if by acknowledging the other man's presence, Connor sealed his fate.

The Doctor shook Tom's hand with gusto. "You must work for Emelia," he observed.

"Yes, sir," said Tom. "Arisbe Project Operations Coordinator. We've been looking for Connor all night."

Connor grimaced guiltily and looked at his feet. "Sorry to put you to all that trouble, Tom. Major misunderstanding."

"Where have you been? We've been all over the fire scene, the labs, your office, everywhere. A couple of people saw you go to the fire scene but after that, well," he laughed at the absurdity of the statement he was about to make, "it's like you just disappeared." He waited for the others to join him, but no one did, and his hopeful smile faded. "That big blue box was gone, too."

"That's our ship," said the Doctor. "We took the scenic route." He aimed a winning smile at Tom. "No harm, no foul, eh? Everyone's home, all safe and sound."

Rose had a sudden, brilliant idea. Some of the impending disaster could surely be averted. "Doctor," she said in a low, confidential voice. He immediately turned to face her. "Why don't you go take a shower, find a nice, new tie and trainers? I know you want to get cleaned up." She used her most calming, solicitous voice, urging him to have some sense and make himself scarce before Emelia arrived. She couldn't protect Connor from his wife's fury, but she could at least get the Doctor out of the way so he couldn't make it any worse.

He tilted his head just slightly to one side and considered her suggestion. "Yes," he agreed, "that's a good idea. I'll feel like a new man. Well, not really. Just a cleaner version of the same man." He started off down the hallway, and then turned to look back at her. "You coming?"

"No, I'll stay and talk to Emelia when she gets here." Just go! He shrugged. In a moment, she heard the snick of the closet door closing behind him.

Connor was explaining, or rather, trying to explain the night's activities to Tom, who looked simultaneously incredulous and glazed over. She suspected that he hadn't slept a wink all night and that the sudden relief of finding his boss's husband had contributed to his sudden exhaustion.

Before Rose could put in more than a word or two of explanation herself, Emelia stormed through the door and planted both feet firmly in front of Connor without even a sideways glance at Rose or Tom.

"Where in the hell have you been?" she demanded. She looked terrible. Her bun was unwinding slightly, and dark half-circles showed under her eyes.

"I'll just, uh, be right outside, if no one minds," said Tom, sidestepping his way around Emelia and darting out the open door. Rose sympathized. She had a vision of running down the hallway to the TARDIS, flinging herself inside, and telling the Doctor to take them far, far away. He would, if she asked, and there was once a time when they'd both have hurried away, laughing despite the chaos they had caused. But she thought of Jonah, and Ian, and couldn't leave Connor to deal with this alone.

"Em," said Connor. "It's a time machine." He reached forward and tried to take one of her hands, but she took a half step back.

"Then why weren't you back earlier?" she retorted. Point to Emelia, thought Rose, who remembered angrily asking that very question to the Doctor after he had once been missing for hours.

"I might be able to explain," she put in very, very gingerly. Both sets of eyes turned in her direction. Connor's pleaded with her and Emelia's glittered with anger. "You see, we wanted to show Connor the TARDIS — that's what the ship is called. Time and Relative Dimension in Space. She can go anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time."

She was babbling as badly as the Doctor. Would Emelia be mollified by her knowledge of the Shadow Proclamation? She thought not.

"So we flew it over here," she continued, deciding to stick to the briefest possible explanation, "and got a little off track, you see."

"Nine hours off track?" Emelia perhaps looked more angry than she had before. "You're telling me that everything I went through last night, thinking my husband was dead, that the people who killed our friends and orphaned our son — not to mention burned down a whole section's worth of housing! — had gotten to him was because of a little navigational error?"

"I'm so sorry," Rose stammered. "I'm so, so sorry."

Emelia waved a hand. "You can't possibly apologize enough. And the Doctor? Tell him to go to hell and take his precious ship with him." She faced Connor again. "I thought you might be dead, Con. You can't imagine —" She stopped, visibly making an effort to compose herself, then whipped her head around back to Rose. "You're still here. Do you mind?"

"Oh," she said. "Of course. Right. I'll just be —" She didn't dart like Tom had, but she did walk very swiftly down the hallway. She closed the bedroom door behind her and leaned against it with a long sigh. She couldn't fight Connor's battles for him, although she had at least managed to get the Doctor out of the way.

She opened the closet door and fitted her key in the lock on the TARDIS door, then stepped into the console room. After a moment's hesitation, she left the door open, thinking that if Emelia demanded to see this fabled ship, it would be best to let her do so, regardless of what the Doctor might say about it. Assembled hordes of Genghis Khan or no, Rose didn't want to think about Emelia Trabane pounding away at the outside of the TARDIS. Frankly, after the night she had just had, Emelia deserved not to have to pound on any doors at all.

She found the Doctor still in the shower, singing off-key, which he stopped when he realized she was in the bathroom with him. "Hello," he said, poking his head around the shower curtain. His hair was white with frothy suds. "Everything all right?"

"No," she said sharply, and he ducked back behind the curtain. "We put Emelia Trabane through the worst night of her life, for no good reason, and there's no way to change it."

There was a pause, and then she heard the taps squeak as he cut the water off. "Rose," he said softly, pushing back the curtain and taking a towel to dry himself off, "I'm sorry. I'll tell Emelia. I'll tell Connor. Time travel isn't as precise a science as it could be."

"You mean you're not as good a driver as you could be." The words echoed harshly off the porcelain around them. She couldn't help but blame him, at least a little.

He flinched and looked down at the floor. "Well, yes, perhaps. I could say that too, if you think it would help. Do you?"

She didn't know how to cope with meek compliance from him, and felt a desperate, blunt anger well up inside her. "They were starting to trust us — and now, well, we've mucked that up completely, haven't we? And for what? A thrill ride?" She put her hands up over her eyes. "Right now, I just want a real shower, and my own clothes."

He stepped out of the shower and perched at the end of the sink until he realized that she was waiting for him to leave. He nodded once to himself, not looking at her, and closed the door quietly behind him.

Rose managed to get into the shower before she began to cry. The scene with Emelia reminded her too much of her own reunion with her mother after her first trip with the Doctor.

"The hours I've sat here," her mother had said, furious once her relief had faded. "Days and weeks and months all on my own. I thought you were dead."

She hadn't been able, at the time, to internalize what it must have felt like to go for a year without knowing, fearing the worst, praying for the best. Now, she could. In her separation from the Doctor, she had at least had the comfort of knowing how he had been taken away from her, even if the why of it was still unknowable. Her mother, and for a shorter time, Emelia, had not even had that small comfort.

She thought wistfully of the message she had recorded for her mother and hoped, as she often did, that it had reached her.

Rose found the Doctor in the console room, seemingly completely focused on a display on the console. The door, she noted, was now closed, but the room itself looked intact, suggesting that Emelia had not been inside.

She opened the door and stepped into the flat. It was all eerily quiet after the earlier hubbub. She poked her head into the front room, which was also empty, as she had suspected. When she returned to the console room, the Doctor watched her with a shuttered, guarded look on his face. She sat down on the jump seat and waited. He left the display and came to sit beside her.

"I imagine they've gone back to their flat," he said, by way of explanation, and fidgeted with the sonic screwdriver, tossing it lightly from one hand to the other and finally tucking it back into a pocket. She didn't respond. "Do you want to go and find them?"

"Don’t think they want to see us for a bit."

He reached over and lightly caressed her cheek. She heard him draw in a sharp breath and his thumb traced along the corner of her eye. "Oh, Rose. You've been crying," he said, the simple statement as much of an indictment of his own actions as anything she could have thrown at him in anger.

"Yeah," she admitted. She hadn't wanted to tell him that, but she wasn't sorry that he knew, either. "I was just — thinking about Mum. When I'd been gone for a year and she didn't know if I was alive or dead. What that must have been like for her. I don't think I understood then." She looked up at him. His luminous eyes radiated guilt and regret. "Now I do. God, poor Emelia."

His arm slipped around her and they rocked back and forth together on the jump seat. He didn't offer trite words of comfort or apology, and she knew him well enough to realize that he was mentally cataloging his own role in her abandonment of her mother, and not just for the missing twelve months.

She wanted to reassure him that this wasn't his fault. It wasn't, not completely. She had been just as eager to show off the wonders of the TARDIS. They were both all too willing to leap before they looked. She sighed and turned her face into his shoulder.

"Rose," he murmured, "it's my fault. I didn't think — ah, well, that's it. I didn't think." His arm tightened around her. "We'll work it out. We always do, don't we?"

She nodded, feeling the scratchy texture of his jacket against her cheek and wanting to burrow into him completely. This was them. Always on to the next adventure, and damn the consequences. She wanted to fix something she had helped to break, at least this once.

"Well," said the Doctor beside her, trying to sound cheerful, "you've missed a night's sleep, and if Connor and Emelia need some space, you ought to get some rest in the meantime."

"Yeah," she responded without enthusiasm, and she wondered how difficult it would be to sleep, when her mind was still full of the people whose lives they had so casually disrupted.

Back to index

Chapter 17: Chapter 17

Author's Notes: Seeking out comfort, and answers, after the lost nine hours.

"Did you tell the boys anything?" asked Connor as he and Emelia walked back to their flat.

"Of course not," she retorted. "I didn't have anything to tell them. I just got them ready and off to the nursery like there was nothing at all unusual about their father mysteriously not coming home the night before."

"Thanks," he said quietly. "It's bad enough that you spent the night worrying about me."

"It certainly is."

They proceeded in silence for several minutes. Connor could hear the steady crunch-crunch of their shoes on the ground and the occasional faint sniff from his wife.

"Did you get any sleep?" he asked carefully. She shot him a contemptuous look and didn't deign to reply.

He hadn't either, since the lost nine hours had been only a few chaotic minutes for him. His body clock told him it was almost midnight, time to get some sleep, not bright and early in the morning. The idea of time travel jetlag had never occurred to him before, for several excellent reasons, the foremost of which that he had never considered time travel as anything more than a science fiction conceit.

Oh, sure, it was theoretically possible, but would use almost an infinite amount of energy and bring up several seeming paradoxes, including the idea that if time travel were possible in the future, wouldn't we already know about it by now? His head ached, and he realized he was simply trying to avoid thinking about his present set of problems.

"On the bright side," said Emelia without a hint of optimism, "the entire project will know that our company flunky isn't a company flunky after all, once Tom's had a chance to make the rounds." He opened their front door for her and she stepped through, chin up, shoulders back, looking as dignified as a rumpled queen.

Shit, he thought. "They did burn his flat down, so I think they figured it out already," he said, trying not to sound defensive.

"I wasn't talking about the saboteurs," she snapped. "I was talking about the rest of the project. We'll both look like fools. Do you think no one will notice that you've been working closely with him, like he was from the company?"

Connor needed a drink. No,, he corrected himself, I don't need one. I just really, really want one. He turned into the kitchen and poured himself a glass, peering at Emelia in silent offer through the cutout window.

"Little early for that, isn't it?" she said acidly.

Since his body still assured him that it was around midnight, he decided that it wasn't, and gulped down the sweet liquid. It warmed all the way down and settled in his stomach with a comforting tingle.

"What do you want me to do, Em?" he asked, feeling somewhat fortified and desperate to break through to her. "I wouldn't have knowingly done that to you in a million years. God. I can't imagine what you went through. I'll apologize for weeks if you want. It was an accident. Yeah, you can blame the Doctor if you want, but we still need him. It doesn't change anything."

He poured himself another glass and looked through the window into the front room. Emelia wasn't in his frame of vision, and he had a moment of fear that she might have walked away during his little speech. He put his head through the door and found her sitting in one of the chairs, staring at the floor, her shoulders slumped and her head down. His throat tightened at the sight of her in a position of defeat.

"Em?" he said, crossing to sit on the arm of the chair next to her. He put a hand, very cautiously, on her back.

"I hate this," she said, all the anger and energy gone from her voice. "I have no control over anything that's happening. I can't find the bastards who are willing to kill to get us off this planet and I can't help Jonah. I need this man, this Doctor, who shows up on a whim and lies to us, then proves he can communicate with our son in a way I can never do. He dangles bits of technology in front of you and you're suddenly lifelong friends. I don't trust him! But I — I need him, and that's worse."

"Emelia," he said, her name a caress on his lips. "Emelia." She looked up at him, her eyes wide and shining with tears. He could see her in his mind's eye, naked before him, unwinding her hair and letting it fall down her back in a dark cascade. Before him, she laid herself bare in spirit, showing him a vulnerability she would never share with another. He would kill for her, die for her.

He stood up and pulled her out of the chair. To his surprise, she let him draw her into the circle of his arms, although her body was rigid against him. "I'm so, so sorry," he breathed into her hair. "You didn't deserve to go through what you did last night. I wish it had been me, instead." He swayed, holding her close, and pressed a kiss against her cheek.

"I thought you were dead," she stammered. "Don't ever leave me, Connor. Don't you dare. I couldn't bear it." She clutched him to her, her stringent control faltering. Her nails dug painfully into the skin below his shoulder blades, but he ignored the sting, knowing she just wanted to hold him close.

"I won't," he soothed, his hands tracing up and down her back. "Not now, not ever. I promise."

Rose returned to her post on the jump seat after several hours, and did feel better for it. Sleep had muted her sharp, aching guilt, although the mental image of Emelia searching frantically in the night for her lost husband still pained her.

The Doctor had been busy while she slept, although he was currently nowhere in sight. His coat and jacket were hanging on the coat rack near the front door and he had disassembled part of the underside of the console, from what she could tell. Debris of all sorts littered the grated flooring. She squinted and shook her head with amusement at what she saw. A shiny metal corkscrew, an egg timer, and a pink plastic pig were mixed in with miscellaneous wires, vacuum tubes, and other parts she was sure he had probably explained to her at one point. While there was always some work to be done on the TARDIS, she also knew that he took great comfort in immersing himself in a project when he was trying not to dwell on something.

He came back into the room as she was trying to figure out the significance of the plastic pig, wearing a jeweler's loupe on his head. "I found it!" he crowed.

"Good," said Rose, staring at the gizmo he was shaking excitedly in his hand. "What is it?" It looked like an electrician's crown, with curving branches and taped wires coming out of it in a bizarre halo.

"A Gaussier's synchrotron," he said, putting it in the pile of debris on the floor rather than on his head, which she had half expected. "It's a particle accelerator. Very handy that I happened to have a spare one. I didn't want to have to borrow the one from the oven."

She wasn't sure if she should be alarmed or comforted by that statement, so she pointed to the pig and said "What's that for?"

"The pig? Purely decorative." He chuckled to himself that she would ask such a silly question. She rolled her eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked, suddenly serious.

She considered her answer for a moment. "Mostly," she said at last. It was the truth.

"If you want to talk about it," he offered, "we could, I mean, just ask or whatever —" His eyes shifted anxiously.

"I'll let you know," she told him. She loved him so much for this offer, when he plainly didn't want to make it.

"So," he said, pulling the loupe into place and squinting through it at the synchrotron, "is it safe to go and check on the Trabanes now, do you think?"

"I'm not sure if it will ever be safe for you around Emelia again," she told him seriously.

"I could bring a gift," he said, looking up. His right eye, from this angle, looked hugely magnified through the loupe. "Humans like gifts. Well, not just humans. Everyone likes gifts."

"I think we'd better stay on task," she said hurriedly, wanting to cut off the inevitable digression on the gift-giving habits of the universe at large. "Work with Jonah, find the saboteurs."

"All right," he agreed readily enough, and began threading a fine gauge wire into the side of the synchrotron. As he worked, attention focused on his task, Rose heard a cheerful, distinct two-tone chime echo throughout the room. For a moment, out of context, she couldn't place it, and then she swiveled to look incredulously at the Doctor.

"You installed a doorbell?"

He grinned as he bounded over to the console and held down a button. "TARDIS here, Doctor speaking."

"Doctor," came Emelia's clipped tones, only slightly tinny. "Come to the flat in ten minutes. The analysis is finished."

Wisely, the Doctor kept his response brief. "We'll be there." A click on the other end indicated the end of the transmission. Obviously, Emelia was not in the mood for social niceties. Rose was a little surprised that she had been civil.

"I patched into the comm," he explained. "I didn't want to have to keep the door open to make sure we heard if someone buzzed us. Anyone could have just wandered in, after all."

She shot him a severe look and he assumed an innocent, "who, me?" expression in return. "Please don't make things worse with Emelia," she pleaded.

"Rose," he said, all traces of lightheartedness wiped away, "I can't rewind and get back those nine hours —"

"I know." She came over and stood by his side, offering the lightest touch of her hand against his. He touched back, equally softly, and laced his fingers through hers. "Just do your best, okay?"

He exhaled around a tentative smile, and took the loupe off. "Let's go."

Connor opened the door to the Trabanes' flat in response to Rose's knock. She stepped inside with the Doctor close on her heels, and her eyes flicked around the room for Emelia. She was nowhere in sight.

"Is everything all right?" she asked him, keeping her voice low.

He turned his lips up at the corner, with no evidence of mirth or pleasure in his expression. "Fine, thanks." It was the perfunctory answer of a stranger. She would get no confidence from him as to his own mental state, or Emelia's. It was no less than she deserved.

The Doctor cleared his throat, a cue for both of them to get back to the business at hand. "Have you checked the analysis logs?"

"Glanced through them," Connor told him. "I started on the first twenty or so records, and I don't see anything there that alarms me."

The Doctor put on his glasses and pulled a chair in front of the device, eyeing the display thoughtfully. Rose moved to stand behind him. "So what's all this?" she asked.

"System access by users who typically don't access those systems, for one," answered the Doctor. "Here's an example." He tapped the display. "Engineer Rollen Saunders, assigned to work with the mirror arrays, accessed the systems controlling the exchange units on this date. It's the only record of his having done so."

"Right," said Connor. "That happened when we had short staff one day — a bad case of Cortranian flu going around — and Rollen came down to help us out."

"Most of them, perhaps all of them, will have a perfectly harmless explanation, which is why I need Connor for this," said the Doctor. "We're hoping that something in these logs gives us a clue to someone who consistently accesses systems without a valid reason. Otherwise, we're looking at a lot of junk."

"Let's get to it, then," Connor said, looking like a man about to climb a very tall mountain.

While the Doctor and Connor pored through a seemingly unending amount of data, Rose fidgeted on the couch. She ached to do something useful, but she knew she couldn't contribute to what they were doing. Her ears strained for any sound from Emelia, and heard none. She wasn't even sure the other woman was in the flat, and didn't feel confident enough to ask Connor.

A loud knock on the door made Rose and Connor both start, although the Doctor remained unperturbed. She jumped up to answer the door, glad to have a purpose at last. She couldn't have been more surprised to find herself facing a very red-faced (not to mention red-haired) Frances Wittener, clutching Ian's hand on one side and Jonah's on the other.

"Rose!" said the other woman in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Miss Rose!" said Ian simultaneously. He struggled loose from Frances' hand and hugged as much of Rose as he could reach, which left his small face snuggling into her belly. She put a hand down on his head and ruffled his dark hair.

"Helping Connor," she said, with a vague wave at the Doctor and Connor in the corner, probably just visible to the other woman. "Everything all right?"

"Just fine," said Frances. "Emelia asked me if I would walk the boys home. She's sealed up in her office working on something." She paused. "You look well."

There was a moment of awkwardness as Rose remembered the last time she had seen Frances; the Doctor had been bustling her back to the TARDIS after her collapse and mowing over any obstacles in his way. Obstacles that had, unfortunately for Frances, included her. "Yeah, I'm much better. Thanks for your help."

Ian let go of Rose and trotted off into the front room. "Hi, Dad!" he cried, and Connor scooped him up into his lap.

Jonah stood perfectly still at Frances' side and Rose gently took his other hand. Frances released him at the same time. His hand was warm, slightly damp and sticky, and soft in Rose's. "Did you have a good day, Jonah?" she asked him.

"Same as ever. Blocks and staring into space," said Frances, and Rose felt a flash of irritation that she should speak about Jonah as if he wasn't there.

"Do you want to play with your blocks now?" she asked, purposefully ignoring Frances, and Jonah took a step forward toward her. She grinned in triumph. See, he does hear us, she thought, and led the little boy into the front room where he could take up his usual spot. He folded down onto his knees and reached for a red block.

Rose sank down to the floor opposite him and crossed her legs. Frances still stood in the open doorway, effectively dismissed. She opened her mouth once or twice to start speaking, and eventually came out with "I'll be off, then."

"Bye," said Rose. "Nice to see you again."

"Thanks for bringing the boys home," called Connor, taking his first notice of Frances, as the door closed behind her.

That's different, thought Rose. Rudeness all around and the Doctor not involved in any of it.


Jonah radiated textures and sensations toward Rose while he worked with his blocks. She leaned back, propped on her hands, and tried to observe and catalogue each separate sensation.

There was the sharp corner of one red block as he shifted it in his palm. The nubby top surface of a blue block and the moment of resistance before two blocks interlocked with a snap. She could close her eyes and see the contrast between the bright red blocks and the yellow, green, or blue, and how the red ones seemed to pop out of the background. Once, for a moment, she felt the fuzzy outline of the carpet underneath the tips of his fingers as he worked to pick up a piece of lint that disrupted the geometric precision of his work.

Beyond, she could hear voices: the low rumbles of the Doctor and Connor, occasionally interrupted by Ian's higher pitch. The connection with Jonah was gentle enough that she felt she could shake it off, like the pivoting moment before sleep, before dreams. She didn't, though. It was a connection to the child who spent so much of his time alone.

"That's nice, Jonah," she said dreamily, and his response was a tickle at the base of her skull that made her laugh. She had grown accustomed to the touch of his mind, not at all like the Doctor's but familiar enough in its own way. The next sensation was strange, full of effort and intent, not at all like the drifting impressions that usually came from him. She could feel a tightening in her throat, a buzzing at the back of her palate, and then, an utterly alien vibration in her head.

"Uhhh," said Jonah.

It wasn't a word, but it was a sound. She sat up straight and her eyes flew open. His face was flushed and his mouth was open. His blue eyes were wide in shock, mirroring the astonishment that she felt. For a moment, they gaped at one another — he's looking straight at me! — then the world, in the form of Connor Trabane, intervened.

"Jonah," he cried, falling to his knees beside Rose and taking the little boy's hand in his. His face was flushed as Jonah's was, but his expression was rapturous rather than astonished. "I heard that, Jonah."

"Did you hear?" said Ian, tugging at the Doctor's sleeve. "Jonah said something. I thought they said he couldn't but he did and I heard it. Did you hear it?"

"Oh yes," said the Doctor. He was wearing the gentle smile he saved for the most miraculous of moments. "I heard, Ian."

Rose made a distressed sound and waved her hands in front of her. She felt waves of anxiety from Jonah, and she had the strong urge to run, to clap her hands over her ears.

"Quiet," said the Doctor, in a soft but carrying voice, and everyone stopped speaking at once. "Jonah, it's all right." He knelt and sat back on his feet, then touched his fingers lightly to the boy's temples. "We're all happy, see?" he soothed. "There you are."

The anxiety pouring from Jonah faded, but Rose's stomach roiled in turbulent waves. She drew in a shaky breath. The Doctor's eyes, focused on her over Jonah's head, met hers. She could feel his presence through her lingering contact with Jonah, and it was too much for her to bear. She shook her head almost to shake off the sensation, disoriented, and shuddered with relief when the Doctor released Jonah's head.

"Too much," she managed. He extended a hand toward her and she reached out for it without hesitation. She swallowed and closed her eyes, tried to clear her head. He stroked her hand lightly with his thumb and kept gentle pressure with his other fingers. Her heartbeat gradually slowed, and she felt the last touch of Jonah's mind recede into the background.

"Better?" he asked, smoothing her hair back from her face. She offered him a smile and a brief nod.

Beside her, Connor was speaking in low, earnest tones to Jonah. "… so happy you spoke," he said. "If we get too loud and excited, it's because we love you and we're proud of you." He handed Jonah a brick. "Take all the time you need."

The three adults stood in unison and went into the kitchen, giving Jonah some space. Rose wondered where Ian had wandered off to, and then saw him, sitting at the table with his legs swinging below him, too short to touch the ground. He bent intently over something on the table and was drawing with controlled, precise strokes of a pencil.

"I should tell Emelia," said Connor. He kept trying to suppress his smile, but it kept creeping back into place. "I don't want to interrupt her but this is what we've been hoping for." He studied Rose for a moment, the scrutiny making her uncomfortable, and then the Doctor. "Thank you for this," he said. "Last night — well, it was an accident, wasn't it?"

"It was," said the Doctor before Rose could answer. "A careless accident, and I owe you an apology."

"Yes," Connor agreed. "I'd say you do. Emelia, more than me. That ship of yours is amazing, but I have to say, I'll be happier if I never set foot inside again." He laughed without humour. "Needless to say, my marriage will be on much better ground if I stay away."

There wasn't much to be said in answer to that, so neither the Doctor nor Rose said anything.

"At any rate," Connor continued, "whatever you're doing with Jonah is amazing, no doubt about it."

"He knows we're listening," the Doctor said with an affectionate look at his small protégé through the kitchen window. "He knows we can hear him now, and he's trying new things."

We all are, Rose thought. Not just Jonah.

Back to index

Chapter 18: Chapter 18

Author's Notes: The Doctor and Connor have a breakthrough at last, and the saboteurs make another move.

Emelia Trabane bent over her desk, looking at the words and symbols on her display without comprehension. She blinked, tried to clear her mind, and focused again on the reports before her. She could manage a sentence, maybe two or three, before her mind snapped back to the events of the last few hours.

She had given in to the inevitability of the Doctor's return to her flat. Connor needed him for the analysis, for them to determine who could be behind the sabotage on the project. She was pragmatic enough to accept that and emotional enough to be deeply enraged at it. All in all, she and Connor had decided that it would be prudent for her to be elsewhere for the time being. She certainly had enough work to catch up on to keep her busy.

Connor was safe. The boys were safe. She had stopped in at the nursery before going to her office. While this was a good bit out of her way, she didn't care — it was worth it to see them both busy under Brandon's careful tutelage. He had looked concerned, but she hadn't given him a chance to ask any awkward questions. Did the entire project have to know her personal business, anyway?

Well, since she made it her business to know everyone else's, she supposed turnabout was fair play, no matter how much it rankled.

Frances was the worst. She had dropped by Emelia's office to offer cloying sympathy over "a difficult night." Frances' seemingly kind words insinuated that Connor might have, in fact, been occupied with activities of the extramarital variety.

Emelia didn't recall exactly what she had said to the other woman. Probably several fairly unkind things. She never questioned Connor's fidelity; he was a loyal man in all areas of his life and she trusted him absolutely. Certainly Frances' backhanded courtesy did not make her doubt him. She did, however, stridently object to having idle gossip about her marriage flying around the project.

As Frances Wittener was now painfully aware.

Across the parsecs, an encrypted communication line engaged and once again, distorted, hushed voices conspired in the darkness between solar systems.

"The fire destroyed the section, but the Doctor was unharmed," reported the first voice.

There were several seconds of silence and then the second voice responded with frustration and contempt. "You little fool. All you've done now is made them suspicious and vigilant, and for no good end."

"I'll handle it —" began the first voice.

The second voice cut in mercilessly. "You're damn right. If you don't, I'll find someone who will."

"Of course. You have so many potential candidates."

"Sarcasm is inappropriate for someone in your position. Don't make me angry. I'm the only one who can get you out of the mess you're in now." Another pause. "The company is sending an envoy."

"What? You said they were otherwise occupied —"

"Apparently not occupied enough. The envoy will be there in two days. In that time, I expect you to have dealt with the problem at hand. Neutralize Trabane and deal with this Doctor. If we can have the project's top leadership scrambling, they'll look like fools when the envoy arrives. This whole mess is still salvageable if you can follow a few basic orders. Do you think you can handle that?"

"Certainly." The first voice bristled with insult.

"Excellent. First, we need to strike very carefully …"

The second voice spelled out its plan for Arisbe Project, and the first voice listened in silence. In the end, they agreed, and the connection was severed, leaving their communication drifting in the soundless vacuum of space.

"Look at this entry from yesterday," said Connor, frowning at the display. "Can you cross-reference that with previous access?"

The Doctor nodded. "Who uses encrypted long-range transmissions?"

Rose, sitting on the floor next to Jonah, watched them with a rising sense of anticipation. The light from the glowing display, reflected toward her by the Doctor's glasses, changed colours as the two men stared intently into it.

"Normally, just the senior management — David Gammut, Lisa Condrake, Emelia, and me," Connor answered, "and then only when we're reporting sensitive information back to the company. If someone on the project wanted to make a secure call out, it would cost them a pretty penny but they could do it." He shook his head, narrowing his eyes. "Actually, they'd need to associate the call with a billing account, because the project wouldn't cover the expense."

"No billing account noted," mused the Doctor, adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Oh ho. Look here, Connor." He pointed at a notation next to the transmission time and date. "It wasn't transmitted from the lab."

"How —" Connor's brow furrowed. "Wait. Would that pattern be consistent with a portable communication unit set to relay through the main controls?"

"Exactly," said the Doctor. He patted the device and grinned triumphantly. "I think we've got our first decent lead. Now, on to the matter of decrypting these communications …"

"Can't." Connor was emphatic. "All of the secure transmissions use Ugolin encryption. We'd need all four physical keys plus the bio-data."

"Easy peasy." The Doctor winked. "Who needs keys and bio-data when we have a TARDIS? And me, of course."

Connor raised his eyebrows with a stark look of disbelief. "Travelling through time, I can buy. But Ugolin encryption? It can't be beaten."

"Funny thing is, I once taught a seminar on how to break it — handy, that. Of course, the seminar won't happen for, oh, a hundred and sixty seven years. Not that it matters." He managed to look impish rather than smug, Rose thought, but only just.

"Damn." The faintest hint of admiration returned to Connor's voice. He came back to himself with a start. "I am not going back into that ship," he said flatly.

"No need." The Doctor stood up and began pulling on his coat. "I'll run all the calculations and pop back over here with the decrypted communications."

Rose also stood, intending to join him, but she felt an anxious touch against her mind and looked over to see Jonah watching her. Watching her, not just staring into the distance. She knelt back down and smiled at him. "I'm just going to go back to our flat for a few minutes," she told him, trying to convey calm and steadiness of purpose in her voice and demeanour.

His mind vibrated with the negative, as clear a request as if he'd said "don't go" out loud. She looked over her shoulder at the Doctor helplessly.

"It's all right," he said. "I'm not going to be gone for long, and Jonah needs you right now." His face assumed a stern expression, belied somewhat by the twinkle in his eyes, and he waved a finger first at Jonah, and then at Ian. "She's still my girl," he said warningly.

Rose paced after the Doctor left. The last time someone had stood in this flat and said that they were not going to be gone for long, it had ended in disaster. She pushed her worry aside as best as she could and tried to keep her thoughts positive.

She kept looking out the window, but she reasonably couldn't expect him to be there and back so quickly, and he had to run some calculations when he arrived. Maybe he would move the TARDIS closer? She hoped he would have the sense not to park in the Trabanes' front room.

Jonah had stopped playing with his blocks and was watching her again, and she felt another thrill that he was aware of his surroundings. She felt a quick tug at her hand and looked down to find Ian looking up at her.

"Can you read us a story?" he asked, looking up at her through dark lashes. Oh yes, he'll be a lady killer, she thought.

"Of course she can," Connor corrected him from across the room, eyes still fixed on the display. "Ask if she would."

Ian pulled a face at his father, which fortunately for him Connor didn't see, and turned back to Rose. "Would you read us a story?" He waited for a split second and added, as an afterthought, "Please?"

"I'd love to," she told him. "Want to pick something out?" He scampered off down the hallway and just as quickly reappeared.

"Here," he said, pushing a worn volume into her hand. "Mum says this one is old."

She choked up a little when she saw what he had brought her. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. "I know it," she said. "Good choice." This book had given her comfort, and also some pain, during her time in the other universe, walled away from the Doctor.

She settled down on the couch, with Ian piling on next to her and Jonah on the floor before her, and opened the book to the beginning. The familiar words and drawings made her smile.

"Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book," she began, showing both boys the drawing of the boa constrictor swallowing a small gray animal, probably a rodent of some kind.

Ian's eyes sparkled with the morbid glee of the very young. "Boa constrictors swallow things whole," he said, obviously relishing the image. "I saw one once, in a zoo on Tethys Seven. It was as big as a carrier ship!"

"Ian," said his father, chuckling, "it was a Tethyn green snake, and it wasn't even as big as I am."

"He has no imagination," confided Ian in a whisper, and Rose tried not to giggle.

"Grown-ups never do," she whispered back.

Ian nodded sagely. "I'm glad you're not a grown-up," he told her, and scooted closer to her on the couch.

A pair of hands pulled back the electrical panel and scrabbled with a tangle of brightly coloured wires. Removing red, twisting, connecting to green and then blue. The smell of ozone filled the room, followed by a blue, glittering spark beneath the knot.

The light in the Trabanes' flat flickered and brightened, then cut out completely. Ian squealed in delight. Connor stood up, his face illuminated from below by the eerie green light of the display he'd been reading, and peered out the window.

"What's going on?" asked Rose.

"Mass power outage of some kind," said Connor, distracted. "The backup generators should have come on board immediately." He tapped out a code on the comm panel and held down the main button. "Main lab, this is Connor," he said. "Report status."

They waited for a moment, but no response came from the comm. Connor's eyes met Rose's and he said, very casually, "The comm system is also down."

Her eyes shifted over to Ian, who was bounding around the room like a puppy. Jonah sat quietly, unaffected by the sudden darkness either in excitement or fear.

"Kitchen?" she said, equally casual.

They put their heads close together in the other room. "The comm system doesn't go down for no reason," said Connor. "It's a triple redundant system. The odds of all three having an issue at the same time?" He shook his head. In the fading light of early evening filtering in from outside, Rose could see the worry lined on his face. "The power grid is robust. Not to say it couldn't fail, but it's exceedingly unlikely."

"What do we do?" she asked.

"Everyone on the project has instructions in the event of a disaster. Section J, near where the carrier ship landed, is set up as an emergency shelter. We're all to regroup there."

"So," she said, feeling a jolt of fear shoot through her body, "we can guess that someone intentionally shut down the comms and the power grid and now knows everyone in the project will go to the shelter?"

"We have to go," said Connor. "With the power grid down, the tethers for the atmospheric shell are in jeopardy. They automatically adjust to internal and external pressure to keep the shell in place. Without the backup systems kicking in, there's a possibility that the shell could fail."

He didn't have to spell out for her that the shell was holding in their breathable atmosphere. Her chest tightened and it took an effort to keep her breathing level and even. She had to stay calm. Jonah would be able to sense her fear, and if he became unduly upset — well, she wasn't sure how that would affect both of them, but it couldn't be good.

"We need to find the Doctor. The TARDIS is even safer than an emergency shelter," she said, feeling relief flood through her at the idea. Even if the shell failed, they would be safe there.

"No." Connor's single word shattered Rose's plan. "I am not taking the boys there. Besides, Emelia will go to Section J with the rest of the Operations team, and she'll be frantic if we're not there."

"But —" Rose began.

The rugged lines on his face deepened in resolve. "No," he repeated, even more firmly. "We're going to the emergency shelter. Once we're there, I'll see what I can do about getting the power restored."

There was no sense in arguing with him about it. Rose thought quickly. She could get to the Doctor and they could move the TARDIS to Section J, or he would work out some other plan. She hated to leave Connor and the boys, but she hoped it would be only temporarily. In any case, she didn't see much of a choice.

"I'm going to find the Doctor," she told him. "We'll meet you there."

"Boys," said Connor, walking back into the front room with Rose close on his heels, "since the power's out, we need to go over to Section J for a while until it comes back on." He maintained the same casual, light tone and ruffled Ian's hair playfully.

Ian bounced up and down, clearly delighted. For him, this was a grand adventure.

Jonah was perfectly still. Rose knelt beside him and took his hand in hers. "Jonah," she prompted. He didn't react. "You and Ian and your dad are going to go to the shelter. I'm going to find the Doctor and meet you there. All right?"

He trembled, or so she thought, but he hadn't actually moved. The connection between them sharpened and, she sensed a building, bulging pressure around him. To her astonishment, his fingers suddenly tightened around hers.

"Rose?" she heard Connor ask, and his voice sounded odd, like her ears were packed with cotton.

Jonah's mind seemed to clutch at her, more powerfully than he could have with his single hand in hers. She heard and saw and felt the rising pressure again, but this time, she had a moment of clarity. Beyond the tenuous barrier were the clamouring, anxious minds of the project, threatening to break through and wash over him in a tidal wave.

Was this the protection that the Doctor had laboured to build for Jonah? She couldn't be sure, but she could feel that beyond Jonah's barely suppressed panic was the belief that she was helping to keep the other minds at bay. He was desperate for her not to leave him.

Her eyes prickled with tears. She wouldn't, couldn't. "I'll go with you to the shelter," she told Connor, trying to distance herself enough from Jonah to focus on the tangible world around her, but still gripping his hand firmly in hers.

Outside, other people were coming out of their habitation. Rose, Connor, and the two boys fell in step with the crowd heading toward Section J.

Back to index

Chapter 19: Chapter 19

Author's Notes: Emelia runs into the Doctor, and Connor finds himself increasingly concerned about Rose and Jonah.

Emelia flew out of her office and ran directly into Howard, knocking the wind out of both of them. She leaned forward, hands on knees, and took a moment to recover.

"Sorry, sorry," gasped Howard, equally affected. She waved a hand at him, dismissing both the impact and the apology.

Tom Attoway sped around the corner and, spotting her, came to an abrupt halt. "Comms are down, too," he told her in a rush. "None of the backup systems came online. I'm heading to Section J now."

Behind them, a woman cried out. "Somebody! Help!"

The three of them exchanged a quick look. In the dusky light of evening, without any artificial illumination, it was impossible to see what had caused her outburst. "Get over to Section J now," Emelia ordered Tom, pointing a single finger for emphasis. She and Howard took off at a run toward the sound of the woman's distress.

To Emelia's extreme annoyance, they were once again beaten to the scene of the emergency by the Doctor, who was scanning a small girl sitting on the ground with his screwdriver and speaking to her and a woman next to her. Emelia felt a spiraling whirlpool form in her stomach at the sight of him. He looked calm, composed, and utterly in charge of the situation, not at all like a man whose incompetence had literally caused her husband to disappear off the face of the planet.

She pressed her lips tight together to prevent her from saying all the things she had contemplated saying to him all day long. This was a crisis. She needed to keep her wits about her, and to use this Doctor for whatever he was worth.

Now that she was closer, she recognized the woman — Meg Pathkind, one of Connor's junior engineers, with her daughter Rebecca, one of Ian and Jonah's classmates. Rebecca's face was scrunched up tightly with pain.

"Howard! Emelia! Hello!" The Doctor moved aside and gestured for the medic to come forward. "Rebecca fell when the lights went out, and she's hurt her ankle." He smiled soothingly at the little girl, who snuffled up at him and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "It's not broken," he told her. "You'll be right as rain. Howard's going to help get you and your mum over to Section J where you can rest, all right?"

Howard glanced at Emelia, who gave him a sharp nod. Regardless of the source of the command, she knew it was a sensible one. They needed to get everyone to safety as quickly and efficiently as possible. It did rankle that he had been the one to give it, though.

The medic bent down next to Rebecca. "Would you mind if I carried you?"

Rebecca, eyes round as saucers and red from crying, nodded, and Howard scooped her up in his arms. She favoured the Doctor with a brief, shy smile and buried her face in Howard's shoulder. Her nervous but somewhat reassured mother patted Rebecca's back and walked alongside him as they set off for the emergency shelter.

The Doctor beamed at the three of them before he turned back to Emelia. Damn his eyes, she thought.

"You're headed to Section J as well, I presume?" he inquired.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes, or better yet, to give him a good, hard shove to send him flying into the dirt. "Considering that's where the whole project is going, yes, I am." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "You have a better idea?"

She did not trust the twinkle in his eyes. Not one bit.

"Our flat?" Emelia questioned, her long legs easily keeping pace with the Doctor. "Anyone with any sense is going to Section J." Clearly, that did not include the two of them. She didn't know what he was plotting yet, but it was quite apparent that he meant to do what he said he would. She could either come along for the ride or move out of the way.

She intended to keep an eye on him.

He came to a sudden stop and whirled to face her. "Think about it, Emelia," he said urgently. His dark gaze flicked from one of her eyes to the other, drilling into her. His amiable, affable persona had disappeared without a trace. She straightened her spine and did not flinch away. "The power and comms shut down, and the whole population obediently heads off to a single location."

Her eyes widened in sudden horror, but he dismissed her reaction with a shake of his head and went on. "No, no, no, there's no danger for anyone there. Anyone wanting to nudge you lot off Arisbe won't risk another mass casualty incident. Too many witnesses, too many inconvenient questions asked afterward. So if the purpose of the blackout isn't to set up an ambush at the shelter, what is it?"

She stared back at him, feeling that the answer was so obvious that she could reach out and touch it.

He didn't wait long for her to interject before charging on. "To get us away from something. The question is, from what?" He began walking just as quickly as before, leaving her to follow in his wake. He continued speaking, half to himself, half to her. "I decrypted a transmission that we found earlier, but it's all suitably vague cloak-and-dagger stuff. They don't trust me, think Connor's a threat, nothing that we didn't already know. Someone has to have access to the labs and the communication systems and have technical knowledge of the atmospheric converters."

They stopped some distance back from the flat and the Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver. He pointed it at the flat and a whirring sound accompanied a blue light at its tip. Emelia regarded it with considerable suspicion.

"Yes," he murmured, satisfied with whatever he had found, and put the instrument back into his pocket. "Thought so."

"What is it?" She didn't shout. She wanted to.

"Keep your voice down," he admonished curtly, as if he hadn't been speaking just as loudly. "There's someone in your flat."

In her surprise, she didn't think to snap back at him for the order. "Just one person?" she asked in a low tone. He nodded, and she considered this information. "Why would they want us out of our flat?" The realization took her breath away for a moment. "Your — whatever that thing is. Oh, damn."

Connor probably wouldn't have taken the Doctor's device to Section J with him. In his position, she wouldn't have, either. She would have scooped up both boys and taken off running.

"We do have one advantage," said the Doctor. He had shifted moods again, going from almost frighteningly inscrutable and intense to giddy and manic. His mouth curved and widened into a big grin, his teeth shining whitely in the remaining light. The expression was not comforting. "We know where at least one of them is right now."

Ian skipped ahead, singing a nonsense song, with Connor and Rose walking behind. They each held one of Jonah's hands. Connor shot a concerned look over at Rose. Even in the evening light, she looked paler than normal.

"Rose?" he asked. "You all right?"

She gave him a weak smile and visibly tried to brighten up. "Yeah, sure." Her eyes flicked briefly down to Jonah. The little boy walked with them, his hands slack in theirs and his gaze unfocused in front of their feet.

After the revelation about Jonah's telepathy, Connor had wished for the ability to communicate with his son in that way. Watching Rose's reaction now, he wasn't as sure. It was the contact with Jonah that was draining her so much, he was certain, although he wasn't going to ask about it where either one of the boys could overhear him. Of course, he thought with a start, could Jonah hear what he was thinking now?

Jonah's face gave away no secrets.

They trudged along for several more minutes, interrupted periodically by questions from their fellow evacuees about the power outage. Connor repeated the same mantra several times: "I'm sure it's a routine malfunction. We'll get it sorted. Best to be careful, though, right?" Each time, he punctuated "right" with a reassuring smile, and the questioner looked comforted. He wished the comfort was mutual.

He decided that he couldn't stay silent, despite Jonah's presence. Ian had scampered off to walk alongside one of his chums from the nursery, although Connor continued to keep a watchful eye on him.

"Rose, what's wrong?" he asked quietly. She didn't answer immediately, and he prompted her again. "I know it's the contact with Jonah. If I can help you both, I will."

She looked over at him, her blonde hair swirling around her face. Clearly she was burdened by what she carried. "He's scared. Overwhelmed. There's so much going on. So many people."

He squeezed Jonah's hand in his and addressed his son. "Jonah, I'm a little scared too. We're not sure what's happening yet, but your mum and I, and the Doctor and Rose, will figure it out."

Jonah's hand moved slightly in his, and Rose let out a long, relieved breath. "That's right," she said. "We'll try to keep everyone calm and quiet."

Yes, thought Connor, trying to imagine all of the worried, frightened mental voices of the project in his mind. He could well understand why both of them were so tense and tired.

In front of them, Section J came into view, and they were soon swept into the large open space of the emergency shelter with the rest of the crowd. Inside, the din was considerable, with so many people in close proximity and everyone chattering to their neighbours. Emergency lighting on the ceiling bathed everything with a dull, orange glow.

Connor rounded up Ian and guided them through the milling crowd to where Tom Attoway was handing out pillows and blankets, just in front of the room reserved for senior staff.

"Hi Connor," said Tom. "Any word on what's going on?"

"Not yet," he responded tersely, and held the door to the staff room open for Rose, Jonah, and Ian to move past. Rose and Jonah sat as one on the couch on the right side of the room and Ian piled on next to them.

"Miss Rose, would you read the rest of the story?" he asked, handing her the copy of The Little Prince that he had apparently brought from the flat.

"Not right now," she said. "Maybe later?" She was bad off then, if she didn't want to read to the boys, Connor thought.

"How about you sit over here," he said to Ian, pulling out a chair, "and read quietly to yourself for a while?"

Ian hopped up into the chair, crossed his legs underneath him, and began to read. Connor marveled at his son's ready compliance, but decided not to question his fantastic luck too closely. He needed all the luck he could get.

Rose watched Connor hurry in and out of the staff room, often talking animatedly with Tom or other people that she didn't recognize. He barked out a few orders with an easy authority that his wife would have admired.

She leaned her aching head back against the couch and let her eyes drift shut. Jonah was less agitated than he had been, but his insistent, intimate contact with her made it difficult to concentrate on the outside world. For him, it was a bit like trying to be calm with the monsters beating on the door. She understood that too well.

Without visual stimuli, it was easier to gently withdraw into her own mind, where they were both isolated from the frenetic activity around them. Focus on a happy place, she thought, and tried to direct her thoughts.

The image that appeared before her mind's eye was not a place, but a person — the Doctor's current aspect, smiling tenderly at her. Clear brown eyes and freckles, the half curve of his lips. She smiled back in reflex, wishing he was with her. She thought of the two of them on their backs looking into the blue, blue sky of New Earth, and tried to recall the precise tartness of apple grass in the air.

Jonah's mental grip on her relaxed, and she saw again the great city and bay spread out before her. She let her mind wander to other beautiful places, drawing out remembered details to share with Jonah. They studied blue and silver ice fields together, then swaying, yellow marsh grass in the curve of a river, then on to the soaring wings of pterosaurs.

In return, he opened up for her, handing her something exquisite and precious as if cradled in the palms of his hands. She reached out with her mind to touch it, and it unfurled before her to show a diffuse, impressionist image of a woman. When she examined it closer, she could feel a host of sensations around her.

The feathery-light, dry touch of lips against a soft cheek. The scent of flowers and light musk. A lyrical, dancing song of comfort and joy.

Above it all, beyond it all, the enfolding sense of love and acceptance and protection, utter safety and gentle light. She could guess who it was from the abstract, childlike wonder in the memory: his birth mother. As soon as she thought it, he agreed, and sent her another memory.

Soaring into the air, then coming down with a laugh of delight. The prickle of beard stubble. A bass voice that shook the very air. Fingers rubbing against and over a smooth, curved expanse of skin.

Jonah's birth father was bald, she realized, with a beard. To him, people were separate sensations and facts, all put together to give him a picture of the whole. He recognized details better than he could perceive the big picture.

They began a back-and-forth game then, with Jonah showing her bits of his perception and Rose trying to recognize the person he meant. It was like putting together a puzzle. When she would stumble, he would show her another piece, and she would carefully study it for a while.

He shared the bitter, sharp smell of Ian's sweat after a day spent playing outside; the clasp of Brandon's hands, guiding his paint-smeared fingers for the first time across a textured page; Connor's enfolding arms carrying him to bed; Emelia curling back her lips to expose teeth at a jeer he had indeed heard.

When he came to the next one, she was utterly confused, and he sharpened the impressions and intensified their contact.

She heard an indistinct voice, a persistent high drone, like a swarm of honeybees. Her nostrils flared against the dry smell of chemicals. A hand gripped hers far too tightly, and she shuddered at the feel of the clammy skin against hers. She wanted to shake her hand loose, but Jonah's typical inertia was upon her and she could only take halting steps as the hand tugged her forward.

Who? she wondered, and Jonah's projection shifted. She found herself indoors, somewhere strange but oddly familiar. It took her a moment to place herself in the nursery, but at a viewing angle typical for a small boy. The world looked unwelcomingly large to her adult eyes.

The hand let go, and she was sick with relief, standing utterly still in the nursery entryway. A slight noise to one side caught her attention and she saw a door quickly close, but not before she caught a glimpse of a wheeled box with an impressive array of electronic controls across the front. It made her think, briefly, of the cockpit of a plane.

The hand grasped hers and yanked her forward. Her head snapped to help her see where she was being led, down the hallway, toward the familiar classroom.

Then, she knew the hand's owner, and with a sick lurch in her stomach, knew. The device, so out of place in a nursery, had to be the mobile communications unit that the Doctor and Connor had discussed. "We have to tell the Doctor," she tried to say. Did she say? She swam upwards toward the surface, hearing the clamour of the shelter somewhere in the distance. Surfacing after such a long and intimate connection with Jonah left her spluttering and disoriented. She focused on Connor, who had turned to look at her from where he was talking to a man on the other side of the room.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

"Connor," she gasped. "Need the Doctor. Need to tell him — who it is."

Back to index

Chapter 20: Chapter 20

Author's Notes: The Doctor and Emelia face the unknown intruder in the Trabanes' flat, and Rose tells Connor what she saw in Jonah's memory.

Emelia and the Doctor crouched around the corner from the Trabanes' flat, heatedly debating their course of action. Asius, one of Arisbe's twin moons, had risen just over the horizon. The moonlight left shadows underneath his nose and brows, casting his features into sharp relief.

"You should go to the shelter," he warned. "If the tethers fail, you'll be incapacitated within minutes."

"What about you?" she challenged back, careful to keep her voice low.

"Concerned about my welfare? I'm touched, but I can function in a low-oxygen environment significantly longer than you can. Besides, you've got responsibilities."

Connor has the boys. Tom will take care of the project. "You've got Rose," she pointed out.

That clearly struck a nerve. His features hardened into granite and his voice was deceptively soft when he answered. "She's safe where she is." That hadn't been what she meant, and he was too smart not to know that. Well, she thought, that's their own business.

She had to know who was snooping inside her flat. She raised her head slightly and squinted at the darkened section building, and saw no evidence of movement or even of life. For a moment, she felt doubt; was there really anyone inside, and was her family safe? The Doctor had said so, but was that enough for her?

Jonah trusted him. Jonah, who had been left an orphan at the hands of these bastards, had opened up to this man.

Her breath caught and she lifted her chin, resolved. "I'm staying. Two of us have a better chance than one."

She braced for the onslaught of objections, but to her surprise, he voiced none. When he stood, she followed suit, and they crossed silently to the closest window into the flat.

The Doctor motioned for her to keep her head down, and they both waited silently for some sound or sign. His head cocked to one side in response to a sound she didn't hear, and then he moved in a crouched run toward the door of the flat, with Emelia right behind him.

He moved his mouth close to her ear and said, in a low murmur less sibilant than a whisper, "I'm going in. Stay hidden, no matter what." He aimed a long finger at her and said, more emphatically but just as quietly, "You'll have to trust me."

Her eyebrows shot up, but she had come this far, and she would stay the course. She nodded.

He stood tall, straightened his lapels and smoothed a hand through his hair, and opened the door. "Hi honey, I'm home," he called cheerfully, stepping into the flat, and Emelia felt her stomach sink. Is he completely daft?

The door closed behind him with a soft click, and she strained to hear any further sounds from inside. She could hear the Doctor's voice, still upbeat and free of any tension, although she expected that he would continue to mouth off until someone put a gag in his mouth — or killed him. As long as he was talking, she reasoned, everything was fine.

She hoped.

"Hi honey, I'm home," came the jovial voice. The front door of the Trabanes' flat closed behind its owner. The moonlight streaming in behind him silhouetted his tall, lanky form and spiky hair clearly. The Doctor. Of course. He looked around the flat with boyish wonder.

"Love what you've done with the place," he gushed. "All that nasty electricity definitely had to go. And I'd say, really, that the wall colour is much improved by darkness. Sorry, I'm being rude." He gave a short, self-deprecating smile and extended his hand. "I'm the Doctor. I don't believe we've formally met."

The other man gaped at him and didn't accept the outstretched hand. The Doctor put it into his pocket and shook his head. "What is it with this planet and hand shakes? I suppose they don't teach manners like they used to. There was a time — but I didn't come all the way over here to talk about manners, did I? It's Wilson, isn't it? Wilson Wittener." He moved his lips exaggeratedly around each "w" and waggled his eyebrows. "I've met your wife. Lovely woman, talks a bit much, but I suspect you know that much better than I do." His exposed teeth shone whitely as he grinned.

"How do you —" began Wilson.

"Your photo in the personnel manifest," interrupted the Doctor in the same upbeat tone. "Although you're much better looking in person, if you don't mind me saying so. Now, I have to ask." He paused for a fraction of a second, wrinkling up his nose. "Would you mind terribly if we just skipped the formalities? You're up to no good, and I'm going to stop you. That's inevitable." He gestured almost apologetically with the hand that wasn't in his pocket. "For once, can we just move straight to the endgame? It would make it so much easier."

Wilson raised a blaster and aimed it squarely at the middle of the Doctor's chest. "Hands up," he ordered.

"Oh bother," said the Doctor, still cheerful. "I had hoped we could skip all this unpleasantness." He carefully removed his hand from his pocket and raised both his hands above his head. "See? Hands up. Although," he chided, "this doesn't change the fact that I'm going to stop you."

"I think it does," said Wilson. He shifted the blaster to his right hand and crossed to the Doctor, awkwardly patting him down with his left. He stopped and stuck his hand into one of the long coat's many pockets, then pulled out a banana.

At his puzzled expression, the Doctor said "What? Bananas are an excellent snack food. You can keep it." He looked pleased with his own generosity.

Wilson tossed the banana away and stood still for a moment. At last, he came to a decision and waved the Doctor toward the hallway. "Get over there." The Doctor emitted a dramatic, long-suffering sigh and complied.

When he stopped, Wilson gestured at the bathroom door. "In."

Hands still in the air, the Doctor bent his head toward his right shoulder and sniffed delicately. "I apologize. Do I offend?"

"In," said Wilson, and knocked him on the head with the butt end of the blaster. "Now." The Doctor made no move to wipe the blood trickling from the split above his right eye and stepped without further comment into the small room. "Close the door." He did.

Wilson aimed the blaster and fired.

Connor put his hand on Rose's shoulder, pressing down gently to keep her sitting on the couch. "Slow down," he said. "You say you know who it is?" He sat down beside her and leaned in close, pitching his voice for privacy. With all the commotion of the emergency shelter around them, it was easy to make sure no one else would hear.

Rose's eyes were huge and she panted for breath, like she had been running. "Frances," she choked out. "It's Frances. I saw the — I mean Jonah saw the communications thing in the nursery."

"Frances? The nursery? What?" Connor was taken aback. Frances Wittener was a busybody, and not the most enjoyable of companions at the best of times, but sabotage? Killing people?

"It was in her office. She was taking Jonah to the classroom and he saw it for a moment. We were playing this game —" She stopped and visibly collected herself. "It doesn't matter. I saw it."

This time, when she stood, Connor stood with her. "Rose, wait. You can't go rushing off. We have no way of knowing where the Doctor is. He could be still on the ship —"

"He's not," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "If he was, then he'd have just come straight to the flat when the power went out. What about Emelia?"

Emelia would of course be one of the last to arrive, making sure that her charges all made it safely to the shelter. As the trickle of refugees to the shelter slowed, he had started to worry. Now, it had dropped off entirely, he realized.

"Just a minute," he told Rose. He half-walked, half-ran to Tom Attoway, who was in Emelia's absence trying to keep everything from descending into utter chaos. "Tom, who is still missing?"

Tom looked down at a handheld display and scrolled through the names. "Emelia," and at that, his gaze flicked up to Connor's face and then back to the display, "Frances, Wilson, and your Dr. Tyler. Howard said that he and Emelia ran into Dr. Tyler before he brought Meg and Rebecca over here. They were right behind him, he thought."

Rose, who had followed behind Connor, didn't look surprised. "He must have found something," she said. "But if the power's still out …" Her voice trailed off. "Connor, you have to get the power back on."

"But if Emelia —"

"If the Doctor's with her, he'll look after her. They didn't come here, so he must have found something," she reiterated. "We don't know where they are, so the best thing to do is get the power back on. Then the danger's gone, right?"

He nodded. His plan had been to see everyone safely settled in the emergency shelter and then go straight over to the labs. What his heart told him now was that he needed to cast everything else aside and save his wife, but his brain disagreed. Rose was right.

"Look," she said, placing a hand on his arm. "I want to rush out there and find them as much as you do, but that's not the right thing to do. You know that."

He did, and her unwavering stare pinned him down and held him to the rational assessment. "All right," he said. "I'll go now."

"I'm coming with you," said Rose.

Back to index

Chapter 21: Chapter 21

Author's Notes: Emelia takes matters into her own hands, much to the Doctor's disapproval, and Rose has to explain to Jonah that she needs to leave him behind.

It was not in Emelia Trabane's nature to wait quietly, especially when she was waiting because the Doctor had asked — no, told her to do so. She cast a quick look around and decided that she might as well put the time to good use. Still in a crouch to keep herself below the windows of her flat, she hustled around the corner and then, once out of direct line of sight, broke into a run.

She threw open her office door and went immediately to a cabinet she kept locked, but fortunately not with modern technology. While the metal key itself was quaintly out of date, it was also unfamiliar to most would-be thieves, who might feel comfortable hacking a more modern lock. She opened the cabinet and withdrew the blaster.

It was a Noxtirran blaster, a petite and lightweight model designed for a woman's hand, but nevertheless exceedingly effective at short range. Her mother had given it to her when she had been selected for her first planetary modification project. "Those places are wild," her mother had said. "Learn to shoot, even if you don't like it. You might thank me one day."

"Thanks, Mum," Emelia breathed, tucking the blaster into the waist of her trousers. She didn't bother to close the cabinet or even the office door behind her as she ran out.

She resumed her uncomfortable crouching position and strained to hear some sound from the flat. There was none. After an interminable period of waiting, with the rapid lub-dub of her heart the only sound she heard, she gave in. She patted herself down to make sure the blaster wasn't obvious. In the event that the Doctor had made any headway — however unlikely that was — she didn't want to escalate the situation by flashing around a weapon.

She cautiously eased the door open and stepped inside. Her eyes, already well adjusted to the darkness outside, easily registered that there was no one else in the room with her. The gizmo that the Doctor and Connor had laboured over was gone.

Damn, she thought. What could have happened in the time it took her to run and get her blaster? "Hello," she called, her voice sounding more tentative than she liked.

In response, there was a muffled thump from behind the bathroom door. She thought she heard a voice. "Doctor?" she said, crossing the room and standing in front of the door. She squinted at the door knob, which looked distinctly odd. She reached out her hand and brushed it experimentally with two fingers. It was misshapen and still vaguely warm.

"Emelia," she heard from behind the door, followed by a faint whine and a flicker of blue light around what was left of the knob. "Did you see where he went?"

"Where who went?" she said, leaning closer to the door.

"Wilson Wittener." Despite the closed door between them, he sounded distinctly annoyed. "Did you see where he went?"

"No," she said, feeling chastened and then just as quickly quite angry to have felt that way. "I was hiding. Remember?" Then, as his words struck her, she whispered, almost to herself, "Wilson?" One of her people, then, as he had said. She felt sick.

"Oh, perfect," came the sarcastic response. "You wandered off, didn't you?" He followed up the rhetorical question with a stream of disparaging comments about humans and several inventive curses, some of which Emelia hadn't actually heard before.

The knob seemed to drip away from the door and with a kick, the Doctor had opened the door and was free. His eyes glittered in the reflected moonlight and his hair was standing up in all directions, like he had been electrocuted.

"What did I tell you?" he demanded, waving the sonic screwdriver at her. "I said 'Stay hidden,' not 'Why don't you take a scenic tour of the project. It looks so lovely by moonlight.' And I most certainly did not say anything about coming into the flat!"

"You could have let me in on your brilliant plan," she hissed back. "'Hi honey, I'm home'? What in the hell is that?"

The Doctor put the sonic screwdriver away and fixed her with a stern schoolmaster's glare. "I caught him off guard," he said. "He wasn't going to kill me. You can't very well ascribe a blaster shot to the head or chest as an accident. He should have taken me with him! Why can't I run into a competent opponent? Locks me in a bathroom and runs off to have someone else tell him what to do next." He glowered at Emelia. "At least he respects the chain of command."

"You're bleeding," she pointed out, noting the wound above his eye and the smeared blood for the first time.

"It's nothing." He gave his forehead a quick swipe with the back of his hand. "Now, you are going to the emergency shelter and I am going to go turn the power back on. Is that a clear enough set of instructions for you or do you want me to draw you a diagram? Maybe a flowchart? Interpretive dance?"

"Oh, do shut up," she snapped. "If you're going to the labs then I'm coming too. Do you think I'm letting you near the power grid without supervision? You can't even land your own damn ship —"

His hand shot across the gap between them and gripped her wrist, the unexpected contact enough to startle her into silence. As soon as she stopped speaking, he released her. "Now, let's back up," he said in a rigidly controlled tone. "I am going to go restore power so you lot don't have to worry about all the breathable air being sucked out."

She glared.

"What was so important that you had to leave the scene?" he asked, studying her carefully. She resisted the urge to fidget under his scrutiny. "Hmm?" His eyes narrowed and his frown intensified when he spotted the slight bulge at her waistline. "Oh, that's just rich. Give it to me," he said, holding out his hand.

"It's mine," she said stiffly. One hand went instinctively to cover the blaster at her hip.

"Well, of course it is," he said, his voice fairly oozing condescension. "Now, give it to me, Emelia. We don't need to settle this with violence." His hand stayed out, palm up.

She took a step back and pulled the blaster out. She held it with both hands, aimed carefully down at the ground. "Come and take it," she challenged, feeling dominant and in control for the first time in quite a while. "I mean to protect this project and my family. You can either accept that or you can get out of the way."

She didn't recognize the expression that crossed his face — pity? acceptance? — and it was gone before she could process it.

"I can't let you harm anyone," he said softly, taking a step forward. His hand stayed out, now entreating rather than commanding. His eyes seemed almost kind. "Emelia. You don't want to do this."

"They killed nine people," she choked out. "We're wasting time. Are you going to the labs or not?"

The din of dozens of people in close proximity in the shelter, with their chattering and movement and smells, was nothing for Rose now that she knew what it felt like to be Jonah, to hear and feel and experience the minds of all those people.

"Jonah," she said, kneeling down to be on eye level with him. His clear eyes watched her warily, for he already knew what she would ask. She could feel his mind against hers, winding close for comfort but not, as he had been earlier, clutching desperately.

She stroked his cheek with her hand and simply let herself feel love for him. His need and closeness were familiar now, despite the isolation he had lived in for so long. "You can be brave," she said. "I know you are. Your dad and I need to go to turn the power back on. It's the best way to keep your mum and the Doctor safe."

The touch from Jonah was shocking; he had never before initiated physical contact. His hand came up, cupped around hers, still touching his cheek, and his gaze never left hers.

"Mmmm," he mumbled, and at the same time, his mental embrace lessened. She turned her hand so she could hold his and brought it over to her lips for a light kiss.

"You are brave," she told him, smiling despite the tears that had welled up unbidden in her eyes. "I'm so proud of you."

When she stood, Connor bent and hugged Jonah tightly. "We'll be back soon," he said, pressing his cheek into Jonah's dark curls.

Rose hoped he wouldn't become a liar.

"Doctor!" shouted Emelia, kicking up a cloud of dust as she tore around the corner. His long coat flapped behind him. If she could have reached it, she would have given it a hearty yank to stop him in his tracks. "Doctor! The labs are the other way!"

"Not going to the labs yet," he answered, not bothering to turn his head back toward her.

She gritted her teeth. "Then where the hell are we going?" He didn't answer but kept running, and Emelia could either follow or give up and go to the shelter.

As they pelted around yet another section building, it occurred to her where he was headed and she wanted to howl. Section Eight. The new flat.

His damned ship.

"Doctor!" she yelled again, and apparently, there was some note in her voice that got his attention this time, for he drew up short and whirled to face her. He didn't give her time to lodge her protest at their destination.

"I am going to the TARDIS," he said flatly. "I told you to go to the shelter with the others." His eyes dropped briefly to her waist, telling her he hadn't forgotten about the blaster she carried. "I don't have time to figure out whatever they've done to knock out your primary and backup generators. I'm going to get the TARDIS to the labs and temporarily use her to supply your power grid." He spoke in an angry rush, all of the words tumbling out and knocking into Emelia. "If you're coming, then come on!"

Before she could speak, he was on the run again, and despite her misgivings, she couldn't let him out of her sight. She didn't know how she could explain everything that had happened — oh God, not Wilson, not Frances! — but she did know that he was her best chance to get it put right again.

She took off behind him.

The Doctor had to swipe his keycard twice to get them into the flat, which Emelia took as a sign that his nerves were as frayed as her own. He rushed down the hallway and flung open the closet door. His hands were steadier as he unlocked the TARDIS door with an antique key, or perhaps the motion was more familiar.

He disappeared into the ship's interior and Emelia stood for a moment in the painfully plain bedroom, with its neutral, inoffensive coverlet and blandly painted walls, staring into the green and orange glow of the ship's interior. In the centre of the room was a towering glass-and-metal column, obviously housing the controls from the way that the Doctor ran around it, shifting levers and twirling knobs.

"Stop staring and hurry up!" he shouted, circling around to the other side. The glass tubes cut off her view of him. He didn't sound diabolical, only distracted.

For the moment, she stood her ground. "Can we get there without you mucking up?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the increasing rumble coming from the ship.

His face popped out from around the column and his expression was thunderous. "Are you coming, or not?" He clipped each word off with scientific precision.

She stepped inside, and quick as a flash, he had secured the doors behind her. "Hang on," he said, in a less antagonistic tone, and she grabbed on to one of the winding supports as the ship lurched and shuddered into motion.

"Is — it — always — this — bumpy?" she asked, her teeth chattering together as the vibrations rattled her whole body. We could be going anywhere. Anytime. I could come back and they could all be dead. She pushed the terror out of her mind and tried to focus on holding herself as steady as she could considering the forces around her.

With a screech and a jolt, they stopped.

Back to index

Chapter 22: Chapter 22

Author's Notes: Connor and Rose, and the Doctor and Emelia separately, make their way to the labs to restore power.

The two torches that Connor and Rose carried illuminated the dusty path, but didn't penetrate the darkness around them. The steady light of the lone visible moon should have helped more than it did, Rose thought, glancing upward. Asius appeared larger in the sky than Earth's Moon, and she wondered if it was actually bigger or just closer to Arisbe. It was, unfortunately, less reflective, with dark craters and jagged lines of what must be mountains visible across its lit surface. It was full now, and she thought it had been ever since she and the Doctor had arrived. Did it have phases like the moon she had grown up with?

She could have asked Connor, but she knew her sudden interest in Asius was purely an attempt at distracting herself from the matter at hand. Focus, she told herself. What would the Doctor be planning? Connor would be the one to actually fix the power problem, but she could help. For one, she had to keep watch for Frances.

She shuddered and shifted the rucksack on her back in sudden discomfort. Jonah's revulsion at Frances' touch had transferred seamlessly to her, and she remembered the sensations as clearly as if they had been her own memory and not his.

"We're close," said Connor, interrupting her thoughts. As they had agreed earlier, they switched off the torches and moved as quietly as they could through the darkened, eerily silent project. Rose had never been outside on Arisbe when there wasn't someone around, whether a group of children playing tag or a few people hurrying off to some unknown errand. There was no wind through the trees — for there were no trees here. No distant rumble of automobiles or other vehicles — there were none of those either. For now, it was just Rose and Connor.

They arrived at the laboratory building and Connor handed his torch to Rose while he fiddled with the door, which, as most doors here did, featured a keycard scanner. He popped the panel off and connected two wires together, and there was a sharp pop and crackle.

"Good," he said, and sounded genuinely pleased. "Enough residual charge left to short circuit the lock." He heaved at the door with his shoulder and pushed it open. Rose followed him into the building.

She hadn't been to the labs before, although the Doctor had described it quite well after his first day working there. The interior would be sterile and efficient, with neatly arranged offices and angular hallways throughout. At the moment, however, she couldn't make out anything, as the moonlight that had helped them outside didn't reach more than a few paces into the building.

Connor switched his torch back on and the tiled floor lit up in a long swath down the middle, the light reflecting dully onto the walls and ceiling. She kept her unlit torch in her hand and stayed right on his heels, her ears straining for some sound other than the soft tread of their shoes on the floor.

As they walked, she tried to keep track of the turns. Left, right, straight past two junctions. She hoped to leave with Connor, but she had enough experience with the unexpected to want to know her way out if she needed to leave in a hurry.

He stopped so abruptly that she nearly ran into him. He switched off the torch and they plunged back into utter darkness. She reached forward and felt his shoulder, and then his hand found hers. He pointed with their joined hands off to the side and she tried not to breathe, searching for whatever it was that had caught his attention.

One flicker down the hallway to their right, so fleeting she wouldn't have seen it if she hadn't been looking right at it. Quick as a lightning bolt, without the brightness and afterglow.

Connor, her hand still in his, guided her forward. She followed blindly, trusting him to know where they were. Three steps later, her free hand touched a wall, and Connor tugged her slightly to the left. She traced the wall with her fingers and found a doorjamb, and then she was in an open space. Being away from the wall was disorienting and she clutched at Connor's hand, the only solid thing in her world at the moment. She knew she had the torch if she needed it, but with that unknown light in the distance, she didn't dare risk it.

He fumbled against her and then leaned in close to her ear. "Power control here," he said in the quietest voice that he could manage, barely more than a soft breath. "Closing door."

She held her useless eyes wide open as he released her hand and stepped away. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she resisted the urge to panic. There was nothing around her: no sound of Connor's step, no light, no whisper of air against her skin. She was alone in the crushing depth of night and darkness, feeling terror crowding in all around her and her own breath echoing hollowly in the closed-in space around her.

The Doctor had called the Void nothing, and she had never before been able to fully imagine how horrible that must be, until this moment, when nothing enveloped her in its suffocating embrace and she choked with the knowledge.

Something brushed at her, and she would have screamed, but the touch was in her head, not against her skin.

Jonah, sending her a tender trickle of affection and comfort across the distance between them. It was a sliver of a connection, tinny and distant like a bad long distance phone call, but he was there. She practically shook with relief. There was no Void, just the absence of light around her and the stillness of an unoccupied building. It would be all right.

"Thank you," she mouthed, not saying the words aloud. She didn't know if he could hear her return thoughts at all at this distance, but she thought he would know anyway.

Behind her, there was a click as a door closed, and Connor let out an audible sigh of relief. His torch came on again and Rose put up a hand to shield her eyes from the sudden light.

"Sorry," he said, pitching his voice low. "Had to get the door closed first. There was something out there."

"Someone?" she asked, keeping as quiet as he did. "Frances?"

"I don't know. Could have been nothing — maybe a circuit shorting out or something. It wasn't a torch." He looked around. "We're in the central controls for the power grid. I've got to get to work."

"What can I do?" she asked.

He handed her the torch. "Keep this aimed where I'm working. It'll help to have both hands free." He smiled, the torchlight casting long shadows across his angular face. "Thanks."

With considerable trepidation, Emelia followed the Doctor out the TARDIS doors and into a silent darkness. The glow of the console room behind them shed some light into the corridor, but not enough for Emelia to make out any more than that they were, in fact, in a building that looked like the labs. She didn't trust the evidence of her eyes. Not yet.

"Where are we?" she murmured. With hesitation, she added, "When are we?"

The Doctor gave a cocky rooster's tilt of his head before answering. "Oh, just as I said, the labs, about three minutes after we left the flat. We didn't even leave normal space." He sounded so blasé that she felt certain he was as relieved as she was.

So you weren't showing off this time, she thought sourly, despite her relief. She smoothed down her trousers, hoping the movement would mask the trembling of her hands. She would not let him see her fearful.

Light shone from within the TARDIS windows, and Emelia studied the outside of the ship with some interest, glad to direct her attention elsewhere. "Police call box?" she read, and shot the Doctor a puzzled glance.

For once, he didn't leap at the chance to lecture. "It's a long story," he said, putting on his glasses. "I've got work to do." He squeezed himself into a narrow gap between the TARDIS and the wall and the sonic screwdriver's blue tip flared brightly. The whirring sound that accompanied it echoed down the tiled floor and smooth walls of the long corridor.

"What are you doing?" she asked, crowding closer to see.

"Do you mind?" he huffed, waving her back. "It's a bit tight back here."

"You could have parked somewhere else," she pointed out, looking up and down the empty hallway.

Disapproving twin lines appeared on each side of his pursed lips. "I need the TARDIS close," he said. "Just need to — ah! There we are. Need to reroute the power source from the central hub to the TARDIS. Easy peasy." As he said the last two words confidently, a blue spark leapt out from the panel he was fiddling with and singed his hand. He yowled like an affronted tomcat and promptly stuck his burnt fingers in his mouth. "Mmph phmmt," he complained.

"Sure," she said, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms. They were clearly not going anywhere for a while.

Rose knelt on the floor beside Connor, aiming the torch at an open panel in the wall. Occasionally, he prompted her for a tool or a part from his rucksack, propped against the wall next to hers. It overflowed with gadgets and gizmos that she couldn't name, but Connor described them well enough for her to fetch the right one when he needed it.

"Ha," he said triumphantly, and the panel sprung into life. A display of some sort lit up with the words "SYSTEM ACTIVITY SUSPENDED" blinking across the screen.

That didn't seem particularly promising to Rose, but it was a sign of forward progress to have the display working again, and Connor seemed pleased enough for both of them. He pulled out a tangled section of wires and began painstakingly separating them into individual strands.

"What are you doing?" she asked. He didn't explain himself as he worked as the Doctor did, but his fingers flew across the wiring with similarly practiced ease.

"This is where the backup systems interface with the main system," he said, using his thumbnail for leverage as he peeled the insulation back from one of the long wires. "Someone's reconnected the backup system so that it's being fed power from a secondary source. Basically, the backup system didn't come online because it's still registering that the main system is still up and running." He picked off the loose insulation and began to splice the wire back into the main panel.

"So there's power somewhere?" said Rose. She hadn't seen evidence of any lights besides what they had at the shelter.

"Probably a very small unit that's pumping out just enough current to fool the backup," he answered. "If we can cut off that flow, we can trigger the backup system to come online."

The display chirped loudly and began flashing a message: "SYSTEM LOCKOUT IN 5 SECONDS."

"What the hell?" said Connor, jerking back from the panel just before it threw a shower of white sparks outward, cascading around both him and Rose like miniature fireworks.

She fell backward in her haste to get away from the pyrotechnics and the torch clattered noisily across the floor. She scooted backward on her bum and retrieved it, aiming it back at the panel.

Connor had also retreated to a safe distance. "You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. What was that?"

They both studied the panel, which had gone dark again. "Someone else is working in the system." He glared. "I can start over, but it's going to be harder if they know I'm here."

"Who?" she asked.

"If you say Frances is involved, it's got to be her husband, Wilson." Connor's long face was sober in the torchlight. "He's an engineer. Not a great one, but good enough to work some mischief." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "The classic henpecked husband. Doesn't jump without orders from her. He's always seemed like a good enough fellow. I'd never have suspected — or Frances, either, for that matter." He tried to smile, and the effort was painful to behold.

"I'm sorry," she said, reaching over and taking his hand. She squeezed gently.

"I am too," he said, his voice heavy with sadness. His eyes opened, shining with reflected light and full of determination. "But I can beat him, Rose."

"Take that!" cried the Doctor, with a final dramatic flourish of the sonic screwdriver. The display blinked into life. "I've got control of the system now, as if someone could keep me out. It's almost too easy," he observed smugly. "Candy from a baby. Honestly, can you explain that saying? Babies generally don't eat candy. Toddlers, little children, but not babies. So it would be much better to say 'candy from a toddler.' Picture all the sad little faces." He stuck out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout and widened his eyes.

Emelia tried not to listen, as she had been trying not to listen ever since the Doctor had begun to work in earnest on the panel. She couldn't understand how he could focus on what he was doing and ramble so … persistently … at the same time.

"Hmm," he said thoughtfully, drawing out the word and squinting at the display through his glasses. Words flashed on the screen rapidly, being replaced almost as soon as they appeared with still more words. The strobe effect made her dizzy, but the Doctor continued to make contemplative noises and occasionally tap out some commands on the screen.

"There," said the Doctor, with pleased finality, and made a last adjustment with the sonic screwdriver before leaping onto his feet.

All around them, the lights began to flicker into life, and she suddenly heard the whoosh of the central air unit as it started back up. The white noise of the building was deafening after the pervasive quiet.

"You did it!" she exclaimed. He whooped in triumph and gave her a huge hug, twirling her around in a circle before setting her back down. They eyed each other suspiciously and backed away.

"Well," said the Doctor, with a cough. He looked almost embarrassed.

"Yes," said Emelia, shuffling her feet. She might not like him, but there was a certain camaraderie amongst victors, wasn't there? She cleared her throat and looked back at the TARDIS.

She immediately wished she hadn't.

Standing next to the blue box was Frances Wittener, gripping a decidedly large blaster in both hands. She aimed the blaster straight at Emelia's heart.

"Doctor," she said warningly. "Drop that thing and put your hands up." He complied without mouthing off, which made Emelia almost as nervous as the weapon aimed at her. "Stand next to her."

The Doctor, hands in the air, walked over to Emelia and stood silently.

She wanted to shout, to demand explanations from Frances. How could you do this to us? She swallowed and tried to sound friendly instead. The blaster, if not the traitor, demanded manners. "Frances," she started.

"Shut up!" Frances fairly shrieked, cutting over her words before they were out of her mouth. "You talk, and boss, and walk around like you own the whole planet, and I've had enough! It's your turn to take orders, damn it. I'm in charge now."

"Yes," agreed the Doctor mildly. "You're in charge. We'll do whatever you want. Right, Emelia?"

Emelia couldn't help but look over at him. He wore an expression of studious obedience, eyes cast down at the floor and hands raised. Even his shoulders slumped slightly. He was the model of surrender and submission.

She didn't believe it for a minute.

Back to index

Chapter 23: Chapter 23

Author's Notes: Rose makes a startling discovery about Jonah, and the Doctor and Emelia deal with the treachery from within Arisbe Project.

Rose and Connor blinked, dumbfounded, at each other after the lights in the lab powered back on.

"That wasn't me," he said, although she had figured that part out already.

"What's happening?" she asked, watching over his shoulder as he tapped out a few commands on the display. The screen shifted to show a three-dimensional map of the building's interior, with a single blinking indicator in the lower right quadrant.

"That's impossible," said Connor, selecting the indicator with his index finger. The display zoomed in and he shook his head in amazement. "There's a tertiary power source in one of the hallways, but there's nothing there. It's just one of the emergency exit points."

Rose felt a questioning tickle at the edge of her mind and opened up to it. Jonah's joy was more palpable than his earlier reassurance, although still at a distance, but she instantly recognized the golden light he relayed to her. "It's the TARDIS." She couldn't resist the grin that welled up from inside, the delight equally hers and Jonah's.

Connor looked up at her. "Sorry?"

"The TARDIS is the power source." She tried to turn the corners down on her smile, to look serious and confident, but couldn't force her face into compliance. "The Doctor's there."

He looked skeptical, but reasoned it out. "I suppose if it's got enough power for time travel, it's got enough power for Arisbe Project."

A thought crossed her mind even as she nodded in response to Connor's statement. How did Jonah know where the TARDIS was?

Jonah's contact instantly deepened into a wave of protest, jarring her perception. Her hearing went somehow askew. She saw Connor's lips move, and a stream of utterly incomprehensible sounds — words? — come from his mouth. He repeated the sounds, but they made no more sense the second time. She blinked as the realization hit her.

Jonah and the TARDIS were working together.

Once she stopped to consider it, she couldn't believe that the possibility hadn't occurred to her sooner. Jonah wasn't the most powerful telepath on Arisbe, after all, and now that he was communicating, he would surely sense the TARDIS. Well, if he thought the ship was in the hallway, then that was good enough for Rose.

Jonah seemed satisfied enough with that response, and the world shifted again, like a filter sliding back into place. Connor said, quite clearly this time, "Rose, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said, and laughed. The concerned look on his face deepened. "No, really, I'm fine," she repeated. "It's the TARDIS. Jonah. They're talking."

"Hey, wait a minute!" Connor grabbed Rose's arm as she turned to leave and pulled her away from the door. "What the hell is going on?"

"The TARDIS is telepathic and so is Jonah," she told him. If the TARDIS was providing power for the project, then the Doctor was all right.

Jonah's excitement ebbed at that thought, and Rose's stomach seized up in a knot. He's all right, isn't he? Jonah?

His immediate response, and the ominous buzz of bees, so close she half swatted at them, gave her the answer that she most feared. "Connor? Frances is there. She's got the Doctor and Emelia."

"Shit," Connor said, and turned around so quickly that he almost toppled over. Rose put out a hand to steady him and flinched away from the raw fear written across his face. She knew it mirrored her own.

"Come on," he urged unnecessarily. He threw the door open and broke into a run down the hallway. She was right on his heels.

They sped down identical hallways, all industrial and soulless, off-white paint and tiled floors. Connor stopped and entered an ordinary enough looking office, going directly to the large bureau in the corner and entering a security code in a keypad. The drawer popped open and he snatched out a blaster. "Know how to use this?" he asked Rose.

She shook her head mutely.

"Learn quickly," he said, grabbing another blaster for himself and putting the first one in her hand. "Safety, trigger," he indicated, pointing to different places on the weapon. "Never point it at anything or anyone you don't intend to kill. All right?"

"No," she said. "I couldn't —" Could she? If the Doctor were in danger, would she shoot another living thing to save his life? She had fired into a windscreen once, and killed what had once been a man, when she thought the act would kill her as well.

She thought that she might sick up, but there was no time. Connor was already out the door.

Emelia looked from Frances, still aiming the blaster at her, back to the Doctor. He had laced his fingers together and was resting his hands on his head. His eyes stayed cast down at the floor. Why doesn't he do something? she raged, at the same time unable to think of a single action to take herself that wouldn't result in Frances Wittener blowing a very large hole in her abdomen.

Wilson, who had arrived a few moments after Frances, conferred quietly with his wife, his mouth close to her ear. Her gaze never left Emelia as she listened.

"Search her," she commanded.

Wilson crossed cautiously to stand on Emelia's right, out of the line of fire. His pat-down was perfunctory, his hands lingering unpleasantly in places where she could not possibly have concealed a weapon, but even his careless search found the blaster tucked in the waistband of her trousers. Wilson pulled it out and slid it across the floor to rest at Frances' feet.

"What about him?" asked Frances, gesturing with her chin to the Doctor.

"Didn't have any weapons earlier," Wilson responded sullenly.

"I suppose there's no possible way he could have gotten one after he escaped? Check him again." Wilson cupped Emelia's bottom with one hand and gave her a hard squeeze before crossing over to the Doctor and repeating the process with slightly less fondling. She raged inside, and raged all the more for not having an outlet for her revulsion and anger.

"What, no cheek?" Wilson sneered after he finished his search. "Not so brave this time." He hammered a fist down on the back of the other man's neck. As the Doctor staggered from the impact, Wilson hit him again and knocked him to the ground.

He landed two well-placed, savage kicks before Frances cut him off. "Enough."

Her mouth dry with increasing horror, Emelia watched the Doctor curl into a loose ball on the floor. The cut above his eye had opened back up and released a steady stream of blood down his face. She couldn't assess how badly he had been hurt, but she could see his chest rising and falling more rapidly than she would have liked to see. He hadn't raised a hand to defend himself.

"What now?" asked Wilson.

Emelia didn't want to know.

Rose, at a dead run behind Connor, jerked suddenly to a stop. "Connor, wait!"

He spun around, hopping for a moment as he regained his footing. Her eyes were wide and focused on something beyond him in the hallway. He looked behind him, and saw nothing but the same white walls that surrounded them now. "What is it?"

"Jonah says to wait," she said. She blinked once and then seemed to come back to herself.

"Wait for what?" he asked, bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet.

Her eyebrows knitted together in concentration. "He says the TARDIS wants us to wait."

He frowned. Wait? Reliance on the telepathic communication between a formerly silent six year old boy and a time-traveling alien ship for his instructions was entirely out of his comfort zone. He could accept that the TARDIS was powering Arisbe Project and that Frances had his wife prisoner, but to have Jonah suddenly calling the shots was too much. He settled on the question nearest to his heart for the moment. "Is Emelia all right?"

"Yes," she answered.

He thought she looked as tired and strained as she had on the walk to the emergency shelter earlier in the evening, a stark contrast to her buoyant spirits after the power was restored. He took in a breath. Rose didn't want to wait any more than he did.

Connor shifted his blaster from one hand to the other. "All right. How long?"

The Doctor half-sat, half-slumped against the wall as Frances kept the blaster trained on Emelia. Wilson tugged at the mass of wires connecting the TARDIS to the panel in the wall.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said the Doctor with a slight cough. He tilted his head slightly so he could look at Wilson. He looked frightful with the dark shadows under his eyes and the smeared trail of blood across his face. Even with that, he seemed oddly serene, at least to Emelia, who was stifling the conflicting urges to fight or flee with every heartbeat.

"Why not?" Frances asked.

"Because there's a lot of power going through those cables." How, she wondered, did he sound so conversational, as if they were all sitting around her front room sharing a bottle of wine? "Wilson," he continued, "you know what happens when a lot of electricity going through a cable suddenly has nowhere to go." He made a buzzing sound through his teeth. "Suddenly, all that electricity goes through the nearest conducting body it can find." He cut his eyes over to Frances and arched one eyebrow. "That would be your husband, by the way."

"How can we shut it off?" she asked.

"You can't," he replied placidly. When she glowered, he continued. "But I can."

Wilson laughed cynically. "And we're supposed to just let you start disconnecting wires?"

"Nope. You're supposed to let me go into my ship and shut down the power source, and then you can disconnect the wires."

Emelia let out a tinny, barking laugh. Was this the beginning of hysteria, she wondered?

"Clearly," said Frances, annoyed, "that's a far better idea. Why don't we give Emelia back her blaster, while we're at it?"

"Bad idea," said the Doctor with a disapproving shake of his head. "She's very unpredictable. No need to settle this with violence. On the other hand, if you'd like to try putting down the gun and having a sensible discussion —"

"Shut up!" snapped Frances, pointing the blaster at him.

He let out an aggrieved sigh and shook his head. "See? That's why weapons aren't the answer. Stops all the open and honest dialogue between the parties. Back on Ramuin Seven —"

Frances fired the blaster into the wall beside the Doctor. A fine spray plumed into the air and left him covered with white dust.

Emelia shook in earnest and tried to cling to the frayed remnants of her self-control. Her mind worked frantically, clouded by the adrenalin in her blood. Frances was unhinged, but surely if she'd wanted to shoot either one of them she would have done it by now. You can't very well ascribe a blaster shot to the head or chest to an accident. But there was no possibility that Frances intended either of them to survive the night, either.

"That's enough," said Frances in a voice heavy with threat. "Or the next hole will be in your head. Understand?"

"Quite," he agreed, shifting around and blowing debris off his lips with a loud puff.

Emelia couldn't fathom what he was doing. He had gone from meek to almost helpful to maddening in the blink of an eye. Why not let Wilson disconnect the wires and fry himself? She sure as hell would have. And why provoke Frances? Her own need for action welled up inside her until she could fairly burst from it. She couldn't wait much longer, letting him play the merry fool.

His eyes flicked over to find hers, then into the hallway beyond the TARDIS, and back to linger respectfully on the ground so quickly that she wasn't sure there was any significance to it.

But then he did it again. She followed his glance, careful not to move anything but her eyes themselves, and them only for a fraction of a second.

There was movement in the distance, where the parallel walls of the sterile hallway seemed to draw together.

She didn't dare look long enough to confirm what she had seen, but she trusted the impression she had enough to recognize what the Doctor was doing. Calm settled over her. He'd seen that flash of movement too, and he was attempting to divert Frances' and Wilson's attention from it.

Oh, she could cause a diversion, all right.

"Why are you doing this, Frances?" she asked with as much hostility as she could put into her words. It wasn't difficult. "Was it money? Land? How much are nine peoples' lives worth on the open market these days?"

Wilson, who was still working feverishly on the connection with the TARDIS, looked over at Frances, who had gone utterly still. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to remind her that she's killed other people, Emelia thought, but there was no taking back the statement now.

"Why are you so entitled, Emelia Trabane?" Frances challenged in response. Her plump, normally rosy face was flushed a splotchy red with anger and exertion. "What the hell makes you so special? You treat people like they're shit you found on your shoe. Don't act so high and mighty. You're in this for the land and the money just like the rest of us."

"I never killed for it," Emelia retorted. "I worked hard and I paid my dues. I waited in line and I took the worst assignments so I could end up here. I won't apologize for that."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Doctor sit up a little straighter against the wall and readied herself for whatever would happen next.

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Chapter 24: Chapter 24

Author's Notes: Warning: This chapter contains some fairly significant violence, although not graphic. I'm not changing the rating for the story overall, but please be aware that the content of this chapter is quite different from the others.

The confrontation at the TARDIS.

How long, Jonah? Rose thought, still feeling his persistent warning to for her to stay back from the TARDIS.

Fear spread out like an ever-expanding ripple in a pond from the small boy, so possessive in his contact with her. Did he truly know something, she wondered, or did he simply now cling to her in a desperate effort to keep her and his father safe from the danger he felt building around the others?

Despite his power, he was a child, and not only that: a child who had faced loss and hopelessness in his young life. She needed to be the one in control.

Beside her, Connor leaned against the wall and ran his thumb over the barrel of his blaster. The gesture comforted Rose in a strange way; she knew he was primed for action and as worried for his wife's safety as she was for the Doctor's, but his repetitive motion spoke of careful control rather than frayed nerves.

She summoned up her feelings for Jonah. It was easy to remember his hand in hers, supple and yielding; his first, gurgling effort at speech; the boundless soul in such a small form. We have to do something, she told him tenderly. Show me what you see.

There was a moment of fading resistance from Jonah, and then the hallway, and Connor within it, dissolved from before her eyes. Immediately, she saw Frances Wittener standing next to the TARDIS, holding a blaster aimed straight at her, and she flinched defensively.

I'm not really here, she thought, heart pounding in her ears, and tried her best to ignore the weapon pointed at her belly. He's showing me. Even as she repeated the words to herself, she knew with sickening certainty that the blaster was very real, and so was the danger.

Emelia stood on one side, her face pinched with either fear or anger, but — as Jonah had asserted earlier — seemingly unharmed. Rose could see an unfamiliar man crouched next to a series of wires and cables leading from the TARDIS to a panel in the wall. Wilson Wittener? In any case, he was surely involved with Frances, who had her back turned to him without any apparent concern.

The man shifted positions and pressed a palm against the TARDIS for support. Rose felt the same revulsion at his touch on the TARDIS as she had felt with Frances' hand in Jonah's. She pulled her eyes away from the man and looked everywhere for the Doctor, but she could not find him. Panic welled up inside her despite her best resolve to stay calm.

Where is he?

A ghostly hand materialized in front of her and wiped at something in the vicinity of her forehead, although she couldn't feel the touch. Her eyes widened. Am I seeing what the Doctor's seeing? She sagged with relief at Jonah's affirmative response. How? She pushed the thought away. It didn't matter now.

"It's time," she said to Connor as her vision shifted back to normal. She described as best she could the relative positions of the players involved to the TARDIS and together they sketched out a plan.

Connor switched the safety off his blaster and kept it leveled at the ground. "I won't use it unless I have to," he told her. "Where's yours?"

"Left it," she mumbled, avoiding his eyes. At the time, it had seemed the noble act to leave the blaster behind. After her visceral reaction to Frances, she wished she hadn't.

"All right," Connor said, not arguing the point but clearly unsatisfied. "Let's go."

Emelia found it easy enough to begin a shouting match with Frances, and quickly, her rage had taken over.

"How did you manage to pull this off?" she ranted, watching Frances' narrowing eyes with satisfaction. "Don't tell me you're in charge. You've never had enough backbone to run the nursery much less —"

"You've never let anyone even try!" Frances barked. "If an idea isn't yours, it's garbage. You think you've got such a loyal staff?" Her face crinkled with unpleasant satisfaction. "They all hate your guts, and why shouldn't they? They're invisible unless they don't measure up to your standards, and then you're there to make sure everyone in the project knows how incompetent they are."

"That's not how I —" Emelia began, but Frances continued her scathing assessment without taking a breath.

"The hell it isn't! When was the last time you had a kind word for anyone? Me? Brandon? Howard?" She drew up straight, her eyes glittering with triumph. "You practically skinned him alive for taking five minutes to get to the nursery. You've got time for parties" — the word lashed out from between her lips — "and finger painting —"

"Stop it!" shouted Emelia, pointing a finger squarely back at Frances despite the blaster. "You leave them out of it!"

Wilson had paused from his work on the wiring between the TARDIS and panel to observe the exchange with an open mouth. Like a spectator at a tennis match, he turned his gaze back and forth between the two women as they furiously slammed insults at one another.

Emelia couldn't look at the Doctor. Please, know what you're doing. she pleaded internally, followed quickly by a more pragmatic hope: Please, be doing something.

As if to confirm her thought, there was a blinding flash from the TARDIS and the building went dark again.

Although Rose was expecting the surge, its brilliance and intensity shocked her. She forced her eyelids open and found only the afterimage of the explosion before her in the renewed darkness. Thank you, she thought with relief. At last, they could act.

With one hand in Connor's, the other skimming the wall to orient herself, she pressed forward. In front of her, she could hear confused shouts, the loudest from Emelia, and her ears strained for the Doctor's voice in the melee. She put one foot precisely in front of the other, focusing on what Jonah had shown her and trying to suppress her own terror.

She released Connor's hand and as planned, they separated. She could feel the familiar texture of the TARDIS beneath her fingers as she skirted around the blue box. She heard Frances, cursing loudly, so close in front of her that she could reach out and touch her.


Rose lunged into the darkness.

Connor fired his blaster into the air.

In the second moment of distraction, she grabbed Frances' weapon. The other woman realized what was happening and fought back, but Rose had the advantage of surprise. She kicked once, hard, aiming for where Frances' knee ought to be, and heard a sickening crunch and the other woman's scream of pain. The blaster was hers. She stumbled back, pressing herself flat against the TARDIS.

"Connor, got it," she yelled. "Doctor, where are you?"

Something grabbed her right ankle and jerked it forward, and she fell forward across a flabby human form. The blaster bounced out of her hand and clattered across the tiled floor away from her. Long fingernails stabbed into her arm and she yelped, trying to drag herself upright. A hand tangled in her hair and yanked painfully. Rose lashed out with a fist and connected with someone's nose. She scrambled across the floor, away from her attacker, but she had no idea where the blaster might have ended up.

As suddenly as they had gone off, the lights came back on. Rose surveyed the scene around her as her eyes adjusted. Connor had Wilson Wittener pressed face first against the wall with the blaster pointed against the back of his skull. Only a short distance away, Frances sprawled out on the floor, holding one hand against her nose in an ineffectual attempt to stop the bleeding.

At last, Rose saw the Doctor slumped against the wall, and her heart came into her throat at the sight of him. His face and shirt were smeared with blood, enough that she couldn't tell where it came from or indeed even if it were his blood. Dark circles rimmed his eyes and his freckles stood out prominently on his too-pale skin.

She struggled to her feet and ran to him. As she drew near, he held out an arm and tugged her close. She wanted nothing more than to sink into his embrace, but she pulled away enough to survey his beloved face and find the gash across his eyebrow, his only obvious wound.

"Worse than it looks," he told her with a grin that was probably meant to be cheeky but ended up gruesome. It faded immediately and he focused on a point behind her. She turned and saw Emelia picking up the blaster that she and Frances had dropped in their struggle.

Emelia's hair had slipped out of its bun and curled in loose waves down her back. She had a red mark that would form a nasty bruise over one cheekbone. Always before, Rose could see her emotions roiling just below the surface, but now, the anger and fear had been replaced with chilling composure.

"Emelia," said the Doctor reassuringly. "It's over. Put down the gun."

Emelia straightened and stared down at Frances. She brushed her dark hair away from her face and then gripped the blaster more firmly with both hands.

"Emelia," repeated the Doctor with more command this time. "This isn't the way."

She didn't respond.

Frances looked up at the barrel of the blaster. "Please," she said in a wavering voice. "I never meant for anyone to get hurt."

"You killed nine people," Emelia enunciated evenly. "I saw them. I helped clear the rubble. When I lifted someone's arm to scan an ident chip, it crumbled under my fingers." She paused. "For real estate."

Frances began to babble. "It wasn't supposed to — it was an accident — we didn't mean to hurt anyone." She gulped. "Once it happened, we didn't have a choice."

"There's always a choice," Emelia said, emotionless and still as a statue.

Rose realized in that instant what Emelia was capable of, what the Doctor feared. She could strike Frances down, and it would be murder.

"Yes," agreed the Doctor, his arm around Rose winding tighter, "there is always a choice, Emelia. Walk away. You're better than this."

Her attention snapped briefly from Frances to the Doctor, and her eyes were as cold and unforgiving as sea ice. "No, you're wrong. I'm not better and I don't want to be." It might even have been a reasonable tone if she hadn’t been pointing a gun at someone. "I can't let her go. She killed my people. She killed Jonah's parents. She would have killed me — and Connor — and risked everyone on the planet. My children." Her gaze returned to Frances. "She doesn't deserve to walk away from that."

"But you don’t deserve to judge and sentence her. That’s the law of the jungle. You’re not her executioner."

"And you are?" Emelia queried mildly, never taking her eyes off Frances. The question was eerily calm and deliberate. "Tell me, Doctor, have you ever killed an enemy?"

Rose felt him stiffen beside her. "I have," he said quietly. "You don't want to carry that burden." The grief and compassion in his words caught at Rose, but Emelia was still distant.

"It's not a burden," she said, raising her chin. One finger tensed on the trigger — a hair's breadth of movement. Rose swallowed.

"Emelia," he interrupted again, more forcefully this time. "Think of Ian and Jonah. Do you want them to know you've killed a woman in cold blood? That you committed murder?"

"Em, please," said Connor, taking a half-step back from Wilson. "We can make sure they're punished, but not like this."

"There will be punishment," the Doctor promised, his coldness the twin of Emelia's. In a fraction of a second his demeanour shifted and he offered support. "You're a good mother, Emelia. You care about your people. You're not a killer. We've caught them both and can make sure they're never free again to harm another living soul. Put the gun down."

Emelia thawed, just a fraction, but at that moment, Frances Wittener made the last mistake of her life.

"… not like this," Connor said. Please, Em. Don't.

He hardly heard the Doctor's words as he stared at his wife with the blaster in her hand. She trembled, and he saw the first shimmer of tears in the corners of her eyes. Hope flooded through him.

It died as Frances seized the opportunity presented by Emelia's hesitation and rolled to one side, toward the TARDIS. Everything after that progressed frame by frame in slow motion.

Emelia pulled the trigger.

Connor saw the burning air elongate for a single, shining moment from the barrel of the gun toward Frances' head. He didn't have time to avert his eyes, nor did Frances have time to scream before the impact.

At once, Wilson let out a wail of agony and crumpled to the ground like someone had pulled out his spine. As Wilson screamed, the Doctor shouted and leapt toward Frances' motionless form.

"Rose, get me the kit from the med bay," he ordered, kneeling beside Frances and pulling what was left of her head into his lap. Rose's mouth formed a wide O of shock, but she complied readily enough. Connor heard the rasping sound as she struggled to fit her key into the ship's door.

Emelia still held the blaster with both hands but was now pointing it at a spot on the floor just beyond her feet. Connor, with a glance at the still-screaming Wilson, tucked his own weapon in his waistband and walked slowly toward her.

"Em," he said carefully, extending a hand out in her direction. "Give it to me."

Her wide and glassy eyes shifted from Frances and the Doctor back to him, and he saw a spark of recognition deep within them. He extended a little further and put his hand on top of the blaster. Her grip relaxed and he moved his other hand underneath so he could delicately slide the weapon away from her. When her hands were empty, they fell listlessly to her sides. She allowed him to pull her close against him with his free arm but made no movement of her own.

Rose emerged from the TARDIS at a run and threw a white case to the Doctor, who began searching for equipment in it. Connor looked away. He didn't know what resources the Doctor might have at his disposal, but he knew Frances was dead.

Wilson stopped screaming and began to sob with the loud, breathless gulps of a drowning man. He wound himself up into the foetal position and rocked from side to side. Connor closed his eyes. They would have to deal with the aftermath now; the sabotage, the conspiracy, Frances' death, Wilson's complicity.

Emelia, his dynamo, balanced against him and made no sound either of relief or regret. Shock had made her unreadable to him. What would they do now?

"She's dead," said the Doctor unnecessarily after several moments. Wilson's sobs became a low, continuous whimper.

Involuntarily, Connor looked back over. The Doctor had folded a handkerchief across Frances' face, saving them all the horror of looking at what was no longer there. His shoulders slumped as he knelt beside the corpse, and when he looked up, Connor almost took a step back at what he saw. Not anger, which he had expected, but deep mourning, distress, and exhaustion. Connor had taken the Doctor to be younger than himself, but now he wondered. So much guilt, he thought, and gathered Emelia closer to him.

Rose knelt beside the Doctor and touched him lightly on the shoulder. He turned to her and she began to clean his face with a damp cloth, washing away the blood and dust to reveal the cut above his eyebrow and the shadows under his eyes.

"You did everything you could," he heard Rose say softly, and the Doctor's eyes dropped to the bloodstains on his clothes.

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Chapter 25: Chapter 25

Author's Notes: Rose makes a promise to Jonah, and then had to convince the Doctor of its rightness.

Note:This chapter isn't violent, but there is a scene at the end that may be somewhat disturbing to more sensitive readers.

The Doctor unfolded from his crouch next to the body and stood up. He moved jerkily, as if his joints ached. Across the hallway, Wilson lay in a loose pile on the floor, whimpering like a kicked puppy. Connor held Emelia, limp as a rag doll, against his chest.

Rose stood up and tried to take stock of their position. Her ears still buzzed with the sound of the blaster and Wilson's scream. She gave her head a little shake, as if she could dislodge the memory, then realized the buzz was from Jonah. She reached out to him, hoping to find him intact after the horrors of the last few minutes. He had retreated into himself, but not so far that she couldn't sense the persistent question coming from his mind. He wanted to know about Emelia, whose dominant mental voice he could no longer hear.

We'll take care of her. As she thought the reassurance, she wondered. Emelia had shot Frances Wittener. Where did that then leave her family — and for that matter, the project? With an envoy from the company coming in two days, what hope did they have for some return to normality?

"Doctor," she started, but he whirled around and scooped Wilson to his feet. "Upsy-daisy," he said crisply. "That's a good chap. Come along then." Wilson wobbled on his feet and let himself be towed through the TARDIS' still-open door.

The Doctor was quicker lately to share his thoughts with her, if not always his feelings. Now, she could see that he had dropped a wall between himself and the world, and the thought that the wall existed between the two of them as well made her ache with sadness.

"Where are you going?" Connor stammered.

"Detaining the villain," called the Doctor, as if explaining something to a particularly thick child. His voice echoed from the console room.

Rose couldn't simply wait around for him to change moods again, so she walked over to Connor and Emelia. She didn't ask the trite question — she knew very well that neither of them were all right.

"Can I help?" she offered.

With a chill of recognition, Rose realized where she'd seen the dissociated, almost sightless gaze that Emelia wore; Jonah, before his awakening. No wonder he wanted to know about his mother. He'd felt her withdraw from the world just as he had done.

I'll take care of your mum, she promised him, feeling possessive of them both, and his anxiety abated somewhat. He trusted her. She would not let him down.

"She's so cold," said Connor, drawing his wife closer. His cheek rested against the top of her head.

"Come on." Rose beckoned Connor to follow her into the TARDIS. Surprise and apprehension crossed his face but he obeyed without protest. Emelia dragged behind Connor more than she walked with him. With a grunt, he bent down and heaved her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Her arms and legs dangled and swayed as he carried her.

Rose led him to the med bay. She knew a quite a bit of basic first aid — a very practical skill when traveling with the Doctor — and had Connor place Emelia on the single bed. Rose covered her with a warm cotton blanket and propped her feet up with a thick pillow to raise them over the level of her heart. Emelia slackly complied, her limbs loose and heavy.

Once Emelia was settled, Rose produced the dermal regenerator and ran it over the darkening bruise on Emelia's cheek. The machine hummed as it worked its magic, breaking up clotted blood under the skin and repairing fractured vessels. The swelling and angry colour faded. Connor carried no visible signs of the struggle so Rose turned the regenerator on herself next. Scabs formed in fast forward over the welts on her arm where Frances had gouged her. The skin underneath smoothed over and the scabs fell away, leaving itching pink skin behind.

With their exterior damage dealt with, Rose was suddenly at a loss about how to deal with the rest of their problems.

The Doctor appeared in the doorway, his clothes still a vivid and gory reminder of what had happened. "Wilson's secure," he said into the room, addressing no one in particular. "I've cut the power to the project. I thought we might not want visitors from the shelter for a while yet."

Connor nodded, slowly, and looked up at the Doctor apprehensively. "What now?"

"That's the question of the hour. We've got quite a mess on our hands." The literal truth of that statement wasn't lost on anyone except Emelia, whose eyes had drifted closed. She was breathing quickly and shallowly. The Doctor crossed to stand next to the bed and pressed two fingers into her wrist.

"She's in shock," said Connor, stating what everyone could clearly see.

The Doctor let go of her wrist and put on his glasses. He retrieved a hypospray from one of the white cabinets around the room and rolled Emelia's head to one side to expose her neck.

As the Doctor positioned the hypospray, Connor objected, taking a step forward. "Wait, what is that?"

Disregarding Connor, the Doctor depressed the button. The hypospray made a soft pop as it shot its contents into Emelia's bloodstream. "Prasixilalamine bisulfate," he answered briskly. "What I think you meant to ask is 'what is it for?'" He dropped the hypospray into a rubbish bin and folded his arms across his chest. "It's very effective for treating acute stress incidents in humans. Best to act now, debate later, unless you'd like her to go into full neurogenic shock." He arched an eyebrow, awaiting further challenge to his authority. It didn't come.

"She killed Frances," said Connor. While he hadn't shut down like Emelia had, he hadn't escaped the effects of Frances' death, Rose thought; he couldn't seem to summon words for anything other than the obvious.

"Oh yes, she certainly did that," the Doctor said with a glance down at his ruined clothes. "But I don't let people just die in my TARDIS."

Rose interceded. "What are we going to do?"

"Keep Wilson and Emelia in confinement until the envoy from the company arrives and let them sort it out."

She gaped. This was his plan? "You're going to — wait, just turn her over?"

"It's time to go," he said, trying to look steadily at her but fidgeting with his sleeve all the same. He had the look again that she knew too well — the one that said he was ready to cut and run, to let the locals sort out the mess.

"I'm not leaving!" she shouted. Her eyes prickled with the warning of tears. "I'm not leaving her or Jonah! I promised." They glared at one another, and Rose fought to keep her eyes level with his.

She heard Connor speak, his words slow and awkward like his mouth had gone numb. "They'll put her in prison and close the project. A conspiracy? Another death? All of the setbacks we've had?" He closed his eyes. "It's a failure. I'll lose her."

Rose remembered the newcomers to Arisbe disembarking from the carrier ship, eyes alight with the promise of a new world and new opportunities. They had stopped Frances and Wilson, to be sure, but in the end, had they lost anyway? Jonah and Ian would lose their mother and all of those families would lose their dream of something better.

"It's not right," she gasped. "Whoever put Frances and Wilson up to this gets what they want. They win." A single, hot tear streamed down her cheek. "We've got to do something, Doctor. I promised."

If anything, Connor's sense of dread increased with Rose's angry words. What was there left to do? He looked at his wife's still face. If he didn't know what had happened, he might have mistaken her untroubled quiet for deep sleep. At least she had some peace for now, he thought. He certainly didn't.

He wanted Ian and Jonah in his arms with a force that almost hurt with its intensity.

"There's nothing we can do," the Doctor said to Rose. "It's over."

She took two steps toward the Doctor and seized his upper arms, almost shaking him. A dark, moist streak ran down from one eye to her chin and her hair was tugged up and knotted on one side. The Doctor, who could have easily overpowered her, remained still and faced her grimly.

"It's not over!" she raged. "We have to help! This isn't just some mystery for us to figure out and then run away from. It's real."

"It's their problem. Their justice can sort it out." His controlled, low voice was a stark contrast against hers.

"Their justice? Do you trust that? I was right here. I saw Frances point that gun at you. She would have killed all of us without a second thought and you just want Emelia to rot in prison for fighting back?"

"She didn't have to kill her!" He wasn't quite shouting now, but she had obviously hit a nerve.

"She didn't mean to, you know that! She was going to put down the gun. Don't tell me you didn't see that! It's not the same if she'd just — just —" The tirade ended in a sob and Rose's hands flew up, away from the Doctor, to cover her face. "I told Jonah I'd protect his mum." She stifled another sob. "Help me do that? Please?"

The room was silent for a moment.

The Doctor reached forward and took Rose's hands gently in his, drawing them away until he could look her directly in the eyes. Neither one of them spoke, but they stared at one another as if imparting some great truth.

Connor began to stroke Emelia's newly unbruised cheek. "I'll take care of the boys, no matter what," he murmured. "I love you."

Rose had wanted to stay on Arisbe to help Jonah, at first, and the Doctor had agreed. She couldn't now vanish in the TARDIS and leave this broken family to deal alone with the disaster all of them had brought about.

She knew he felt accountable for Frances' death, for all that Emelia had been the one to pull the trigger. "You don't want to carry that burden," he had said to Emelia only minutes before. In his mind, only he could forgive himself for his actions and he exacted a far greater penance than any outside authority could place upon him. She understood his desire to flee the scene, even if she couldn't let him do it.

She recognized the moment when he relented. The lines around his eyes softened and he let out a resigned, barely discernable sigh before he spoke.

"We can't hide the fact that Frances is missing forever, but I'll take care of the body. No point in either of you getting messy." He reached in a cabinet and fished out a device that looked like a 1980s mobile phone, complete with a stubby antenna. "I can redirect the power through the TARDIS again for the time being. Connor, get started on the backup systems."

Connor looked at Emelia, still unconscious on the bed. "I'm not leaving her."

"Don't be daft," snapped the Doctor. "Of course you are. She's sedated and won't be conscious for at least an hour. Even I can't be in more than one place at a time — well, not without complications."

"I'll stay with her," Rose offered hurriedly. She understood the instinct that bound Connor to his wife's side and hoped he would accept her as a substitute. "If she wakes up, I'll come and get you." She willed him to agree.

He gave Emelia a kiss on the forehead and Rose blinked, looking away. "All right," he said. "Where do we start?"

They started with the clean-up.

Connor watched in horrified fascination as the Doctor waved his antique-looking device over Frances' body. The device emitted a pulsing greenish light in a fan shape, the light dancing and reflecting ghoulishly from the almost white walls. Any flesh or clothing it touched puffed out and sizzled for a fraction of a second before seeming to dissolve into the surrounding air.

When the Doctor had finished, all that remained of Frances Wittener was a pile of whitish powder on the tiled floor. He knelt, picked out the tiny ident card, and swept most of the powder into a clear jar.

Catching Connor's eye, he explained as he screwed on the top. "Accelerated chemical decomposition. I've reduced our corpse down to its constituent elements — hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, for the most part, and ended up with a fair amount of calcium carbonate with some traces of phosphorus, potassium, even a little arsenic." He straightened and kicked at the remaining powder, scattering it across the floor. "You gonna stand there all day, then?"

Connor knew he was staring, but he felt sick. Our corpse.

"Oh, don't get squeamish now," the Doctor chided. "Off you go. I've got to change."

Back to index

Chapter 26: Chapter 26

Author's Notes: The plan to save Arisbe Project, thorny moral issues and all.

When Emelia opened her eyes, all she could see was white, like she was in the middle of a snow storm. She blinked several times and her vision adjusted, gradually turning from white to static and then into focus. Her mouth and throat were parched and it took her several attempts to swallow comfortably.

Strangely, she was in a bed, fully clothed down to her boots, with a blanket over her. The surroundings were foreign, very white and sterile-looking. Nowhere on Arisbe that she knew, and she knew all of Arisbe by heart.

A memory pierced through her. She hadn't known of the Witteners' treachery. Immediately, her emotions threatened to overwhelm her — anger, betrayal, protectiveness, and the last, most terrible: knowledge that she had killed Frances.

"Connor?" she called, hoping he was near. Not like this, he'd said, with his troubled eyes and the love for her paired impossibly with fear of what she might do.

She needed to know he still loved her.

She sat up far more quickly than she should have and the blood beat in her ears for a sickening moment before she felt steady again. The muscles in her back tensed and she drew her arms close around her. Frances's red face appeared before her mind's eye and taunted her. When was the last time you had a kind word for anyone?

Emelia tried to suppress the growing fear that she had shot Frances not because she had lied and killed but because she might have told the truth.

There was a sudden pressure on the bed next to her as Rose Tyler sat beside her. "Hey," said Rose, offering her a glass of water, which she put gratefully to her lips. "Connor's working on the backup generator. He's fine."

"Where are we?" she asked, the glass shaking in her unsteady hands.

"The TARDIS." Rose offered that fact up as if it should be as comforting to Emelia as the fact that her husband was safe.

They could be anywhere, then, at any time. Her sense of dread increased. "Are we — moving?" she asked.

"No. We're still in the hallway at the labs," Rose answered. "We're not going anywhere."

"Where's Wilson?" she asked. All she had for the moment was questions, and if she kept asking them, she could keep her mind away from the last, horrible image of Frances as the blaster shot impacted her.

Connor had seen that, too. Oh, God.

"The Doctor put him in some sort of holding cell," Rose said.

Immediately, she felt a cold chill run up her spine. "Is that what this is?"

Rose's astonishment was written plain across her face, but she followed Emelia's point quickly enough. "No, you're not a prisoner or anything. You were in shock and the Doctor treated you."

A medical facility, she realized. She said the first thing that came to mind. "He's really a doctor?" She waved the question away as she realized the import of Rose's statement. He'd treated her. If the circumstances had been reversed, she was uncomfortably aware that she would have walked away from him.

She took another long drink of water to cover her discomfort and then gestured for Rose to move. She pushed the blanket off and swung herself gingerly around so she could put her feet on the ground. Carefully, she stood up. "I need to talk to Connor," she said with as much dignity as she could muster.

Rose held out her hand for the glass. "I'll come with you."

By the time Connor finally triggered the backup systems, he had an audience and a half-dozen willing helpers. Several of the engineers, having deposited their families at the emergency shelter, had brought supplies and made their way over to the labs as he had suspected they would. While he had been sickened at the sight of the Doctor vapourizing Frances' body, it had saved them from questions in the short term.

What the hell were they going to do about the long term? Frances was dead, and Wilson wasn't going to help them cover up that fact. He was safe in the TARDIS for now, but sooner or later they were going to have to bring him out.

Connor was handing out assignments to his staff as the Doctor sauntered into the room, hands in his pockets. He wore a suit identical to the one he had been wearing earlier — except for the key difference that this one was clean. There was no trace of the cut above his eye. He caught Connor's eye and gave a quick jerk of his head toward the open door.

Once everyone had something to keep them occupied, Connor slipped out the door and joined the Doctor in the hallway. "What are we going to do?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "My staff knows there's something going on."

"Right now, we're going back to the TARDIS," the Doctor replied. "We've got to get our stories straight. Emelia's bound to be awake by now."

In fact, she was. The Doctor and Connor opened the door and nearly crashed into Rose, closely followed by Emelia.

His heart leaped into his throat at the sight of his wife. She hadn't taken the time to put her hair back up, and it hung nearly to the middle of her back in soft, dark waves, making her look younger than usual. The green light of the console room accentuated the shadows under her eyes.

She ran to him and he caught her in his arms. Her face pressed into her shoulder and she let out a muffled sound like a hiccup. "Connor, I'm sorry —" she began, her voice urgent and intense.

"Hush," he said, kissing her temple. "Are you all right?" She nodded into his shoulder. "That's what matters," he told her earnestly. "We'll talk later."

The Doctor was tapping his foot with barely controlled impatience. Rose had a hand on his arm and was speaking quietly to him.

"Are we ready?" he asked, a touch more loudly than was required. "Right. If we're going to keep Emelia out of prison and this project open, we've got to have a plan."

Emelia pulled back from Connor and stared at the Doctor. "You want to keep me out of prison? Why?"

The Doctor made a quick, darting glance at Rose. "If you go down, Arisbe goes down with you, and that means the real estate pirates win. I'm not going to let that happen." He folded his arms across his chest. "Any objections?"

Connor could think of many that could be — should be — made. He'd watched his wife kill a woman today. When Rose had spoken so passionately on Emelia's behalf to the Doctor, and they had set out to save her, they had all three moved from the role of witness to accessory. He'd stood by and said nothing when the Doctor destroyed the evidence of Frances's death. It was too late to turn back now, even if he wanted to.

He knew he didn't want to.

"What do we need to do?" he asked, tightening his hold on Emelia.

"Oh, we've got enough work for all of us." The Doctor put on his glasses and went to fiddle with something at the console. "Well, look at that," he said brightly. "How convenient. It looks like a small ship just took of from Arisbe for parts unknown. Two passengers. I wonder who that could be?"

The three of them looked at him, dumbfounded, and he blithely answered his own question. "The Witteners, of course. What a shame. Their sabotage is unmasked and they flee the scene. Very disappointing that they didn't stick around to face justice."

"What —" Connor began.

"Deus ex machina, my dear Trabane." He stroked the console lightly and finished his work with a flourish of fingers. "Except there's no God, just a marvelous machine." He grinned, his teeth glowing greenish-white in the light from the central column.

"It's not a real ship," said Rose, sliding down into the jump seat. "Is it?"

"Right-o," the Doctor answered. "It's very easy to frame someone for a crime they actually did commit. Lie about as little as you can. For example, who was responsible for the sabotage? That would be Frances and Wilson. We're just leaving out the tiny detail that Frances is dead and Wilson's locked in a broom closet. Well, not really a broom closet, but a small, uncomfortable room with no windows. You get the idea."

"But what are you going to do with Wilson?" This from Emelia, who seemed more steady than she had been at the beginning of this conversation.

"He's earned several life sentences by now, wouldn't you think? I'll drop him somewhere fairly unpleasant but survivable. Never mind Wilson. The important question is, what are we going to do with the envoy who will be here in, oh, about two days?"

No one volunteered an idea.

"We can't cover up the fact that you're behind or that there was another sabotage attempt," the Doctor continued. "Not without help. Fortunately, we've got a project full of helpers."

Emelia was the first to catch on this time. "Do you want to involve everyone?" she stammered.

"We'll have to," said the Doctor with an approving nod of his head. "We've got two days to clean up the place, hide the sabotage evidence, and get you back on schedule with the atmospheric conversion. So, get the project together, say at a handy emergency shelter where most of them just so happen to be anyway, tell them about Wilson and Frances' little plot, and recruit them into covering the whole thing up." He stopped, expectant, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

"All those people?" Rose sounded as incredulous as Connor felt. "It's crazy."

"Crazy? Maybe. But from where I stand, they all stands to lose if the company finds out about the sabotage. Why not get them involved?"

Connor and Rose began speaking at the same time, stopping and starting over each other, but Emelia's clear voice cut over them both.

"It's a good plan," she said.

"What?" they asked in unison.

Connor thought it might be the first time she had ever agreed with the Doctor.

In the end, despite the fact that she had the greatest lie to tell, the four of them decided that it had to be Emelia who told the project about the Witteners. The Doctor, easily the most charismatic of them all, was still an unknown commodity to the people of Arisbe Project, and Connor's role was technical. As Operations Manager, Emelia handled logistics, security, and personnel. It would logically be her that shared the plan with Arisbe.

"Are you up for it?" asked the Doctor, studying her intently.

She considered her current weaknesses: doubt, guilt, shame, and still, even with Frances gone, a stony, biting fury in her gut. Connor, at her side, had an arm around her although she no longer felt like she needed his physical support. Her knees, which had been threatening to buckle since she climbed off the bed in the med bay, were steady. She thought of Ian, of Jonah, of what they both stood to lose if she failed them.

She would not fail them.

"I can do it," she said, and was amazed to hear some of her old braggadocio. The corners of the Doctor's lips turned up slightly and she was astonished to feel a warm pleasure at his seeming approval. She still didn't like him, even with what he had done and had offered to do, but she didn't want to disappoint him again.

They returned to find the engineering staff busy at work with the assignments Connor had provided them earlier. As they had arranged, he told them tersely that there was news that needed to be shared with the entire project, and he needed everyone to go back to the emergency shelter.

The four of them walked back toward the shelter with the engineers trailing behind them. Emelia could hear the buzz of discreet conversation and wondered what they thought about the night's events. Connor had a competent and well-disciplined staff working for him; a planetary modification project demanded no less. They knew, with the redundant system failures, that something major had happened. Try as she might to eavesdrop, she couldn't catch more than a few words together.

Connor had his fingers threaded tightly through hers. She usually wasn't prone to public displays of affection when she was working, but she needed his contact right now as much as he seemed to need hers. She glanced over at him and found him watching her with a sidelong look. She tried to smile, but her muscles refused to comply.

A dozen or so people milled around outside the emergency shelter, including Tom Attoway, who came forward at a half-jog when he saw her.

"Everyone's asking if it's safe to leave, since the power's back on," he said. "I've kept everyone back except the — engineering staff." He hesitated for an instant when he recognized the entire staff right behind Emelia and Connor. "Is everything all right?" he asked with increasing concern.

"I need to make an announcement," Emelia told him. "Get everyone back inside."

Tom looked like he might ask something else, but he gave a quick shrug and turned to start directing people back inside. Did he comply so readily because he respected her, or because he knew she would never give him an answer? She blinked and pushed back the doubt. There was no time for these thoughts. Not now.

Connor gave her hand a quick squeeze before letting it go and turning to join the other engineers. She pushed her hair out of her face and wished she had something to tie it back with.

She went inside. The air inside the emergency shelter was warm and humid, smelling of too many nervous people in too close proximity. Conversation, at a dull roar, was sharper and more urgent than it had been earlier. Instead of being scared and cooperative, people were becoming restless and ready to go home, and right now, she was the reason they weren't back in their habitation units.

"Can I have your attention please?" she called. The noise dropped to a rumble. "Everyone, I'd like to make an announcement." The rumble became a murmur, then quiet descended across the cramped space.

She made a brief survey of the audience to make sure she had their attention. The Doctor watched her with dark, unreadable eyes. Rose seemed to be holding her breath. Only the top of Connor's head was visible amongst the engineers. Tom was leaning against the door and watching her with his arms crossed over his chest.

It was time.

"Earlier this evening, as you know, we had a complete failure of the primary and backup power systems, including the comms. We are now running on backup systems and anticipate having the primary systems back online within a few hours."

She caught a fragment of an angry whisper from somewhere in the crowd. "Why are the engineers here?" Other voices began to mutter as well.

"Please," she said, holding up a hand. "I know you're all aware of those facts. What you don't know is why the failure occurred." This restored quiet and everyone's attention focused back on her. "Tonight's blackout is the latest in a line of incidents dating back over eighteen months to the explosion at the labs." She let her eyes sweep across the crowd. "These were not accidents. They were planned disruptions in the attempt to undermine us and influence the company to withdraw its support for Arisbe Project."

The crowd sucked in its breath as one. There had been quiet speculation for months about sabotage, which Emelia and her staff had tried to squelch as much they could. To have her publicly acknowledge the sabotage was unexpected and most likely alarming.

"We have identified the two agents here on Arisbe who were working with as yet unknown parties off world: Frances and Wilson Wittener."

"Oh God," someone said. The murmuring began again, not angry this time but shocked and astonished. Emelia understood. They had shared their lives with two people who had betrayed them. How many had laughed at a joke told by Wilson or eaten one of Frances's legendary casseroles?

Emelia fought back the image of Frances's face, contorted with anger, as she had hurled insults in those last, terrible moments. "I'm as sickened and saddened by this news as you are," she said. The Doctor was right. The best lie was nearly all truth. She now spoke with unblunted candor. "I've known both of them for years and until today, I never suspected that either of them was capable of something like this."

"Where are they?" shouted a man from the back of the room, and the mob thundered its agreement.

She continued, selecting her words with great care. "Earlier tonight, a small craft was seen leaving Arisbe. No clearance was given for this departure and a scan showed two humanoids inside. Since then, we have not seen either Frances or Wilson. We presume that they have fled the planet."

Angry voices shouted and Emelia once again raised her hand to calm them. "Please. While bringing the Witteners to justice is important —" Did her voice tremble as she said this? "— we have a greater danger in the short-term. There will be an envoy from the company arriving in two days to evaluate our work."

The hush was complete.

"We are behind schedule on the atmospheric conversion due to the sabotage. We also had a blackout that took out two systems that should be redundant. There will be questions about this, and if the company doesn't like the answers —" She couldn't continue, but she knew she didn't need to spell out the consequences. They knew as well as she did. "We will need everyone's cooperation to make sure they like what they see." She turned and nodded to the Doctor, who stepped forward. "We have help."

"Who the hell are you?" someone demanded. There was a growl of protest from the audience.

"I'm the Doctor," he answered crisply. "I'm going to save this project, and you're all going to help me."

Back to index

Chapter 27: Chapter 27

Author's Notes: Finding comfort after the confrontation and the unveiling of the plan to the project.

After Emelia's impassioned speech, and the Doctor's confident statement of fact, the crowd subsided. The key to the plan was involving everyone, whether technically minded or not, with some role in the preparation for the envoy's arrival in two days' time. Engineers were easy enough — they would be working on repairs to the power grid and with the atmospheric converters. Most of the others would be assigned some responsibility to ease the burden on the engineers, whether that was ferrying supplies, preparing meals, or taking on a technical task that could be quickly taught. Emelia's logistics staff, headed up by Tom Attoway, would coordinate these efforts.

The crowd began to filter out into the night, huddling together in small groups and talking about the night's events and the plans for the next days. They towed or carried sleepy children with them and showed signs themselves of the fatigue of the last days' events.

Rose, looking at the families, had an idea. "We could have longer hours at the nursery so no one has to worry about the kids," she offered.

"Brilliant," the Doctor said, and beamed.

Emelia nodded. "We'll put extra staff on meal preparation too and arrange for delivery to the labs."

"That's the spirit," Connor said, trying to laugh. "We'll work harder if you keep feeding us."

Rose had no idea what time it was. It had only been this morning — such a very, very long time ago by now — that they had lost nine hours in the TARDIS. The Doctor might not need sleep for several days, but she, Connor, and Emelia were running largely on adrenaline and wouldn't be able to sustain themselves for much longer.

She tugged at the Doctor's elbow. "We need some rest. At least, Connor and Emelia and I do." Tom also, she thought, seeing how weary he looked. He had, after all, been up with Emelia throughout the previous night searching for Connor, and he hadn't been the only one.

"Ah, yes." The Doctor turned to Connor. "There are enough engineers to get the primary power grid up by morning. I'll make sure of it. Get some rest. We'll start on the conversion when you're back." He put his hand up to block Connor's protest.

"And the boys," Rose added. She could sense the ebb and flow of Jonah's dreams from where he and Ian slept in the staff room at the back of the shelter. For the moment, they were peaceful.

"It's late," Emelia said, putting her arm around her husband. "We can't run everyone into the ground. We've got two days and we'll need everyone rested."

Rose watched Connor and Emelia walking back to their flat, each carrying a sleepy boy. When they had woken Ian and Jonah, the two boys had been predictably groggy. Ian had thought the entire night was a grand adventure, and while Jonah knew better, he had for once been an ordinary child, clinging to his mother.

His fading contact with Rose had been full of gratitude and relief. She wasn't sure how much he understood about Frances's death. For all his gifts, he was still a six year old with limited interaction with the outside world. Her mum had always said that children were more resilient than adults. For Jonah's sake, she hoped Jackie was right.

She and the Doctor headed back for the labs on their own. She ached for her own bed in the TARDIS and hoped she would be able to sleep without dreaming of Frances or of Wilson's pitiful wail.

"What are you going to do with Wilson?" she asked, realizing with a sense of revulsion that he was still on the TARDIS. When she slept, he would be somewhere in the vast interior of the ship with her, mourning his dead wife, filling the countless rooms of the TARDIS with his haunting presence.

"As I said, I'll drop him somewhere uncomfortable," the Doctor answered. "He's secure where he is for now." He must have understood something of her discomfort, for he added: "You're safe. I wouldn't have him in the TARDIS if there were any possibility of escape."

His grim expression and her imagination were no comfort. It wasn't Wilson's escape she feared, but his imprisonment. I talked him into this, she thought, and tried to focus her mind elsewhere.

The hallway where the TARDIS still stood was empty; the engineers on the night shift were busy in the main control room. With some trepidation, Rose studied the floor and walls for any sign of the confrontation earlier. If not for the glowing blue box, she would not have been able to distinguish this section of the hallway from any other. The Doctor had been very thorough in his cleanup. She shuddered.

He unlocked the door and ushered her inside with a hand on her back. Inside, she waited while he slipped off his long coat and hung it neatly on the coat rack beside the door, and then they walked together to their room.

He sat mutely on the bed while she scrubbed her face and cleaned her teeth. She returned to the bedroom and took off her clothes. As she tugged her jeans off, something hard and angular poked her in the leg and she pulled it out of the pocket.

It was Ian's furmot, brown glaze fired to a shiny shell. She traced its sleek lines with one finger. It looked back at her with knowing little eyes.

"Good thing you made it unbreakable," she joked. She put the little figurine in a place of honor on her bedside table.

"Very handy," he agreed absently, his mind clearly elsewhere.

Rose pulled on a long t-shirt that was slightly crisp, like it had been dried in the sun, and sat down on the bed beside him. His arm slipped around her waist and she let her head rest on his shoulder. The perpetual hum of the TARDIS, even without the Doctor's normal chatter accompanying it, soothed Rose. She matched her breathing to his, a task she had to work at; at rest, he took breaths less often than she did. Her chest rose deliberately, swelling deeply with air, then softened as she let the air out. His fingers rubbed circles in the small of her back but she remained tense. She had been so afraid for him earlier, and she couldn't quite shake the memory of his pale, battered face.

"You were hurt," she said, sitting up and examining his forehead. The skin was unmarked and clean, and she knew he'd used the dermal regenerator on himself. She traced the line where the blood had flowed down his cheek. He hadn't taken the time to shave when he had changed and his stubble prickled her fingertips.

"Good as new," he soothed, catching her hand and turning it so he could kiss her lightly on her forearm, where Frances had scratched her. His eyes never left hers.

For an instant, she again allowed herself to entertain the idea of running away from the danger, to keep him safe, but she knew they would only manage to find more trouble. She couldn't keep him — or herself, for that matter — wrapped in cotton wool. She had a responsibility to the Trabanes, to Jonah in particular, not to abandon them now.

She didn't simply make the decision to stay once; she had to keep making it over, and over, and over. Each time, it weighed more heavily on her. She thought she might understand why he ran away, after all the years and all the chaos he had seen. It was easier to dance merrily away, laughing at the darkness, than to stand and face it.

"Still want to stay?" the Doctor asked. He let their joined hands fall into his lap.

"Not reading my mind, are you?" She tried to smile. Her mind seemed to be a busy place these days.

"I don't need to."

"I want to stay," she told him firmly. He nodded. "You need to get back to the labs." She tugged her hand free and put it on his shoulder.

"The labs can wait a few more minutes," he replied. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Fine." He waited rather than replying, and Rose let the words tumble out. "No. I'm worried about everything. Jonah — he knows what happened, and he's just a kid. He sort of made me stay back for a while, when Connor and I knew you were in trouble. I thought he had this grand plan but he was just scared for his mum and didn't want his dad and me to get hurt too." She let her head droop and pressed her eyes shut against the brimming tears. "I used him. I wanted to get to you, and I asked him to show me what was going on. I shouldn't have —"

The Doctor lifted her chin and nudged her until she opened her eyes. "You saved his mother," he said softly. "Would you feel better now if you'd stayed back and he'd felt his mother die?"

She flinched but he kept his hand steady, not letting her look away. His pupils were huge, so black and dilated that only the smallest ring of brown remained. "That's not why I did it," she confessed.

"I know," he replied, and leaned in to kiss her. His lips fluttered across hers like a butterfly. "But that's what happened."

She wound her arms around him and snuggled close. His hands came up to rest on her back and his thumbs stroked reassuringly against the thin fabric of her shirt. She inhaled and drew his scent deep into her lungs, finding comfort in his touch and his presence as she always did.

"Thank you for staying," she said into his shoulder. She didn't mean now, with her, in their room. "I know you didn't want to."

He murmured into her hair in response. "You need some rest." He rubbed up and down her arms. "Want some warm milk?"

She pulled a face and he lifted off the bed for a moment so she could wriggle down under the covers. "You could drug me again," she said, trying to chuckle.

"Oi, now," he protested, "we've covered that. It was just —"

"A very soothing tea. Right. I'll pretend to believe that." She did smile fleetingly. "I just don't want to dream about — today."

He repositioned them so they were lying on their sides, facing one another. Rose didn't even protest that he was still wearing his trainers. She felt his fingers settle at her temples and his presence at the edge of her mind. She relaxed and he settled in, bringing a repetitive, soothing sound with him that she didn't immediately recognize.

"The sea," he explained. "Listen." She did, and heard the wash of waves onto the shoreline and the distant cry of birds in the night. "Breathe in." The waves advanced. "Breathe out." The waves receded. The muscles in her back and neck, which had been so tight, released their tension and she allowed her breathing to match the steady rhythm of the surf. She was there, with the Doctor beside and all around her.

As she eased into sleep, he withdrew from her mind and kissed her tenderly on the forehead before he slipped away.

She slept without nightmares.

Connor tucked the blanket around Ian and carefully removed his son's thumb from his mouth with a wet pop. It had taken years for them to break him of the habit and even now he still reverted to it from time to time when he was particularly exhausted.

Across the room, Emelia tucked Jonah in. In the kind glow from the nightlight, she looked beautiful; Connor could no longer see the sharp edges and exhaustion that the TARDIS's green light had accentuated. He reached out his hand and she took it, and they left the room as quietly as they could manage, although from the rumbling snores coming from Ian, they couldn't have woken him if they had tried.

I'm thinking about thumb sucking and watching my boys sleep, Connor thought with wonder. They're all safe.

Emelia pulled the door to the boys' room almost closed and turned to face him.

"You were very convincing," he said.

"I had to be," she replied matter-of-factly. He didn't disagree with that, but he knew she still had doubts and fears, however much she tried to cover over them. "Connor," she started, and stopped.

"It's not your fault." He reached for her hand but she took a half step back.

"Yes, it is. I aimed a blaster at her head, and I killed her, and now I — I'm just going to walk away from it."

"Yes," he said fiercely. "She killed all those people. Betrayed all of us. The whole project — we could lose everything because of her and Wilson. It's their fault, Emelia. Not yours."

"Would you have pulled the trigger?" Her face went still, utterly serious.

That drew him up short. "What?"

"If you'd had a gun at her head, would you have pulled the trigger? It was over. She couldn't hurt us any more."

"She would have killed you without a second thought," he stumbled, defensive.

"Not what I asked." She regarded him steadily.

"No," he said, with a breath. He couldn't be anything less than truthful with her, not when she pinned him down so he couldn't dodge the question. "Not then. I don't think I would have, but I can't really say for certain."

"I should regret it. Shouldn't I? I have this — dread — that I'll be caught, and punished, and that I deserve it. God, I'm sorry that you had to see it, but I'm not sorry that she's dead. She deserved it and I hope he throws Wilson into the pits of hell."

"Em," he said, drawing her into an embrace. This time, she let him touch her, let him wind his arms around her, as much a comfort for him as for her. "Stop it."

"I'll never stop seeing her die. Until the end of my life, I'll see it, over and over and over again." She shuddered, and then a dry, wracking sob shook her body. A second one came, and Connor clutched at her. "Don't leave me alone," she whimpered. "I can't stand it."

He kissed her and tasted the salt of her tears. "I'm here," he assured her. She kissed him back, desperate and fierce, and drew him closer and closer until he thought they would both suffocate. "Won't leave you," he stammered out between kisses. She gasped with every sob into his mouth and pulled at his shirt, at his trousers. They separated enough for him to pull her jumper over her head.

He was cognizant enough of the boys down the hallway to press her back into their bedroom and close the door behind them before he lost himself in her.

Back to index

Chapter 28: Chapter 28

Author's Notes: Two days before the envoy arrives, Jonah makes one giant step forward, the Doctor wants to crash something into the planet, and Connor kicks a converter.

Rose shifted under the covers and gradually blinked awake, finding herself alone in her bed in the TARDIS. She had a fuzzy memory of the Doctor kissing her before he slipped away. As she became more aware of her surroundings, she found Ian's furmot figurine staring unblinkingly at her from the bedside table where she had placed it the night before.

She sat up. There was work to do in the two days before the envoy arrived.

For a moment, she let her mind wander and wondered about the envoy. She knew it would be someone from the company that managed Arisbe Project, but she realized she didn't know what an envoy consisted of. Was it one person? A group of people? Her mind flashed to an image of the project's population in a row, spines stiff and elbows bent in a military salute, and a small man with a huge magnifying glass inspecting them one by one. When the man and his magnifier reached the Doctor, at the end of the row, her imagination failed her.

Her mind prickled with sudden, renewed contact with Jonah. He was impatient, drawing her toward him. Yes, I'm awake now, she thought toward him. Where are you? The image of Brandon's classroom, full of primary colours and active children, flashed in her mind.

How long had she been asleep? If Jonah was already at the nursery, then Emelia and Connor — and the rest of the project, no doubt — were likely at work themselves. I'm coming, she told Jonah.

She shoved the covers back and eased out of bed. Her body was stiff from sleeping too long in one position and it was a while before a hot shower helped work the worst of the kinks out.

Her footsteps sounded loud as she walked down the corridor to the console room, and her ears strained to hear any evidence of movement. Wilson Wittener, wherever he was secreted away, was out of earshot as well as out of sight.

With uncharacteristic relief, she exited the TARDIS. Feeling more than a little like a rat in a maze, she traced her way through the sterile corridors back to where Connor had first worked on the power grid. As she approached, the normal sounds of people at work reached her, and she heard the Doctor's voice in full lecture mode.

" … even a small asteroid impact would accelerate full hydrosphere activation by months, if not years," he was saying to Connor as she turned the corner and entered the room. His face was fully alight with excitement. He hopped from one panel to another and squinted through his glasses at the readings. "Coupled with the mirror array already in place, you'd be so far ahead they'd give you a medal."

"That's the problem," Connor pointed out. Sleep had apparently done him as much good as it had Rose; he looked years younger than the last time she had seen him. "We've already done all the planned asteroid impacts — those happened well before there was anyone on the planet."

"We'd bring it into the atmosphere at a very low angle to burn it up before it impacted the surface," argued the Doctor. "There's no risk to the population."

"Then we have to explain how we suddenly ended up with several million tons more ammonia in the atmosphere," Connor said. "If they show up and we're too far ahead, they'll want to know how, and that would be almost as bad as being behind."

One of the other engineers, a slight, nervous-looking woman, raised her hand cautiously and offered a shy smile to the Doctor. "Yes, Meg?" he answered.

"How would we get an asteroid here in less than two days?" she asked.

"Easy peasy. I'd tow it. I've got a ship that can run circles around a black hole. Little bitty asteroid?" He snapped his fingers. "Not a problem."

Meg glowed back at him, clearly a devoted fan already. Rose sighed. He did tend to have that effect on women.

"We can't," Connor reiterated. "Not that I wouldn't be impressed. I am. Really. But we have to find a way to catch us up with where we should be, not to put us so far ahead of schedule that it's suspicious."

The Doctor pushed his glasses back on his nose and shook his head, obviously frustrated. He spotted Rose and his face transformed with joy. "Good morning!" He bounced over and towed her into the room. "Everyone, this is Rose. Rose, this is everyone. Well, you know Connor."

Everyone looked back and smiled in confusion. Rose gave a little wave and tried to pull back. She didn't want to interfere with the progress they were making — although it did seem to be somewhat limited — but she had wanted to set eyes upon the Doctor before she left the labs.

"I'm going to the nursery," she told him. "I just wanted to say good morning."

"Good morning. Oh, I've said that already. Well, it still is." His eyes shifted briefly to the nearest display panel. Regardless of his earlier reluctance to stay, she knew he couldn't resist a challenge. If the atmospheric converters alone had enticed him, there was no question that he relished the opportunity to transform an entire planet with science.

She directed her next question to Connor. "Where is Emelia?"

"All over the place," he said with a shrug. "If you need her, try the comm. It's working again. She'll be at the nursery off and on today so I'm sure you'll see her."

"Okay," she said. "I'm off then." She wanted to tell the Doctor to be careful, but she stifled the urge. He wouldn't be anyway. She felt a trace of the old awkwardness surface; did she kiss him goodbye in front of all these people?

He solved the problem for her by scooping her into a hug. "See you soon," he said.

"Okay," she repeated, and hugged him back.

The project was abuzz like a hive this morning. Everyone seemed to be intent on his or her assigned tasks and Rose shared their urgency as she walked to the nursery. Jonah's steady beckoning had increased in intensity, and while he felt simply impatient, not upset, she wanted to see how he was with her own eyes.

She drew up short in the nursery entryway. Her eyes locked on the door where Jonah had shown her the mobile communications unit that Frances and Wilson had used. She tentatively reached out to open it, but predictably, it was locked. Just to test, she swiped her keycard through the slot on the side, but it only flashed red at her. The Doctor could get in with his sonic screwdriver in a matter of seconds, she thought.

She went into Frances' empty office and studied the comm panel. There were options on the screen for Section, Recent, and All Listings. She chose Recent and saw several listings appear. One, as she had hoped, was for the main comm at the labs. She selected it and waited until one of the engineers answered.

"Labs," said the voice.

"Hello, it's Rose Tyler," she explained, trying not to shout. She had never liked speakerphones. "I need to speak to the Doctor, please."

"One minute," he replied. She could hear conversation and some unidentifiable sounds, like scratching, in the tinny connection.

"Hello." The Doctor's familiar voice came on the line. "Something new to report?"

"I forgot to tell you. Jonah showed me where the mobile communications unit was. It's here, at the nursery, I think, in a locked cupboard up at front."

He made a sound of interest. "I'll come and look at it when we have a few minutes," he said. "We should be able to trace the origin of the other side of the transmissions from there."

That had been her hope. If Frances and Wilson were only lackeys for someone else in the sabotage efforts, they had to find the other conspirators to prevent this from happening on other worlds. "Okay," she said. "I'll see you later."

She pressed another button to end the communication and headed down the hallway to Brandon's classroom. The sounds of children filled the nursery from behind closed doors.

Jonah was in his usual place in the reading area, surrounded by blocks. He gave no physical sign of having noticed her but his mental contact surged up to engulf her. Wait, she told him, trying to maintain some control of her senses. I need to say hello to everyone. He relented and she gave the children and Brandon a bright smile.

"Miss Rose!" cried the children, and they ran to her. She crouched down to be on their level and nearly toppled over from the force of their hugs. It hadn't occurred to her that the last time that most of the children had seen her was when she had collapsed in the schoolyard. She let them exclaim over her, hug her repeatedly, and show her several drawings or other art projects that they had made. Once they started to settle down, Brandon directed them back to their seats.

"Nice to have you back," he said, smiling.

"It's nice to be back," she said, and meant it.

Jonah tugged at her again from where he had been waiting patiently in the corner of her mind and she went to sit next to him in the reading area. He looked up briefly at her from his blocks, a quick but important reaction.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

He answered affirmatively, and she could feel his relief at having everyone safe. She let herself think about Frances for a moment and saw, as much as felt, the shudder go through him. He retreated from her mind. Clearly, he didn't want to think about the other woman at all. She put her arm around him and hugged him close, enjoying the comfort of his small body against hers. He didn't hug back, not precisely, but it wasn't his typical limp resistance, either.

She couldn't restore the power grid or accelerate the atmospheric conversion, and she couldn't run the project, but she could do this. She could help Jonah come out of his shell.

Emelia, having been married to an atmospheric specialist for many years, could follow a great deal of scientific discourse on the topic of planetary modification. However, when she dropped by the labs to see what progress Connor and the Doctor were making, she found herself not really listening to what her husband was telling her. She heard the jargon, and saw optimism on his face, and noted the activity of the other engineers around the room.

Her eyes turned to the Doctor, who wasn't paying attention to their conversation. He was scanning through text being displayed on a panel faster than she could believe — could he really read that fast?

"How far behind schedule are we?" she asked reluctantly.

Connor looked grave, but the Doctor was the one to answer. "Twelve percent."

"Twelve percent of what?"

"Twelve percent of the total conversion that ought to have happened since Arisbe Project opened," he answered.

She gaped. The project had been running for two years. She'd known it was bad, that they were behind schedule, that the sabotage had taken a toll, but not how much. The expression on Connor's face told her that the Doctor was right, and that he wasn't surprised by the figure.

"Can we do it?" she asked, needing to ask the question but terrified to hear the answer.

The Doctor regarded her steadily. "I don't know yet."

"We'll find a way," added Connor.

She looked at her watch. They had forty-six hours until the envoy arrived.

At the time when they would normally have gone home with their parents, the children sat in a cluster around Brandon and listened to him read. Rose tidied up some of the chaos from an earlier art project from the table. When a man waved around the corner at her, she nodded to Brandon and hurried down the hallway.

The nursery would stay open until the early evening for the two days before the envoy's arrival to give everyone as much time as possible to work on their assigned duties. Three volunteers had arrived with dinner for the children and staff. Rose helped transfer pans of loaf, the pseudo-potatoes, and canned vegetables to one of the tables. It smelled wonderful to her; with all the uncertainty and tension of the last day, she hadn't had much of an appetite when lunch had been served.

Once the dinner was laid out, she hurried back down the hallway and began to direct the classrooms of children to the nursery. Brandon's class was last, and she stood in line with Jonah and Ian to wait for her plateful of food.

Even with a strenuous day of outside play, art projects, and no nap, Ian was still bubbling over with energy. She reached out and steadied his plate as he held it at an angle and almost had his dinner slide off onto the floor.

"Ian," she said, unable to resist a smile. "Be careful. Go and sit with Brandon. Jonah and I will be right there."

He bounced, nearly sending his plate into low orbit, and skittered off.

Rose accepted a full plate for herself and gently disentangled her hand from Jonah's on the other side to take one for him. For a moment, she was at a loss for what to do next. Jonah didn't follow without someone to guide him along, and both her hands were now occupied. She glanced over at the table where Brandon, Ian, and two other children set and then back at Jonah, whose eyes were fixed forward.

It couldn't hurt to try, could it?

"Jonah," she said in what she hoped was a normal tone. "I'm going to go and sit down. Will you come with me?"

She took several steps, her head half turned back to watch the little boy. Come with me, she thought.

His attention shifted and their eyes met. He felt … confused.

Come with me.

He took a step, and another, and a third, and she thrilled at the simplicity of the action. One foot before another, his torso swinging over his legs like a reverse pendulum. She kept walking, feeling the mental connection between them like a tether. She could hear the shuffling of his shoes across the tiled floor and his breath came a little quicker.

That's it, Jonah. That's great.

She set the two plates down on the table and stooped to catch him up in a hug. Her face pressed into his dark curls and she squeezed her eyes closed to hold back tears. He squirmed and she released him, not wanting to overdo her contact with him.

"That's great, Jonah," she repeated aloud.

She pulled out his chair and helped him into it. He took his own fork and began to eat his dinner. While she wanted to squeal with delight and run a few laps around the cafeteria, Rose remembered at that moment how very hungry she was.

She hoped that the Doctor and Connor had made as much progress as Jonah had.

Connor kicked the converter and it made an indignant clank back at him.

"Ow, ow, ow," he said, with a few more colourful words thrown in there for good measure.

Arms crossed, the Doctor waited until Connor had finished his tantrum. "Are you quite done?" he asked pleasantly. "I did have this idea about getting something productive accomplished, but if you're testing the durability of the metal housing, I could wait outside." One eyebrow raised in polite query and Connor felt the urge to kick more than the converter.

"Fine," he said.

"Excellent. Now, we were talking about hexafluoroethane. As I see it, we have two options. We can proceed the usual way —" he waved a hand in the direction of several staring engineers — "or we can try it my way."

"No asteroids," Connor stated flatly.

"It would be fun," the Doctor cajoled. "No, all right, no asteroids. What it really boils down to is this: you ought to have hexafluoroethane concentration around 1.14 parts per million and you only have .91 parts per million. We've now wasted nine hours trying to find a way to retrofit these converters to produce enough gas to make up that rather sizable deficit in what's now less than two days." He gave the converter an affectionate pat, like a wayward pet. "Now, I'm a genius, and you've got some lovely equipment, but I've come to an inescapable conclusion."

Connor and the others waited for him to continue, and when he didn't, Connor prompted him. "What conclusion is that?"

"Can't be done."

The statement was so matter-of-fact that Connor was sure he had misheard. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Can't. Be. Done. Impossible. Well," the Doctor drawled carelessly, "maybe not impossible. Certainly improbable. What I mean to say is that it's not worth the bother. Not that I don't love fixing up a primitive machine, but it's just not going to happen."

Connor stared. "Are you saying it's — hopeless?"

"No, no, of course I'm not! Haven't you been listening at all? The converters can't be converted — if you'll pardon the little joke — into superconverters. However, they are not our only option." He pushed away from the converter and turned with a flourish to face Meg Pathkind, who was staring at him with the same open-mouthed confusion as every other person in the room.

"Fancy a trip, Meg?"

Back to index

Chapter 29: Chapter 29

Author's Notes: The Doctor might possibly be showing off, and Emelia has a breakthrough.

As a little girl, Meg Pathkind had looked at star charts and imagined what it might be like to see the stars. Not simply to travel among them — anyone with the means could buy a ticket and go off-world — but to see them. Orinous Four had been badly misused by its population over the centuries, and the thick, choking smog that smothered the surface prevented anyone from seeing more than the reflected light from the cities.

Meg dreamed, and she read, and she studied hard enough to win herself a place in a trade school where she studied atmospheric transformation. Once finished, she got a job performing miscellaneous administrative tasks for one of the planetary modification companies and waited for her chance. One day, she told herself, she would work to transform another world into the green paradise that Orinous Four would never be, with the clear skies and starry nights of her dreams.

In those years of waiting for the opportunity to work on one of those projects, she met a man, loved him, and bore him a daughter. He walked away from the two of them, but she had her Rebecca, and still had her dreams.

When the company offered her a spot on the Arisbe Project, she had scooped Rebecca up, twirled her around in a most uncharacteristic display of glee, and packed their few belongings up weeks before they were due to leave.

"Fancy a trip, Meg?" now asked the man who called himself the Doctor. He had a kind smile, she thought, with a twinkle in his eye that made her want to laugh. And he was brilliant, even smarter than Connor, who was the best engineer Meg had ever known.

"Where?" she asked.

"We're going to make up that twelve percent," the Doctor asserted confidently. "All we need is a way to excite the regolith into releasing a large amount of carbon dioxide."

That was one of the main purposes of their conversion work, of course: releasing greenhouse gases into the thin atmosphere so that the surface would warm and stimulate the release of carbon dioxide from rock. This in turn would warm and thicken the atmosphere. The issue, Meg thought, was the simple statement of "all we need" that the Doctor glossed over so easily. If it were a matter of throwing a switch and releasing carbon dioxide, then planetary modification would be accelerated by decades. She might even find herself out of a job.

Meg remembered the Doctor's suggestion about an asteroid impact from earlier in the day. Connor had vetoed the idea, not because he didn't think the Doctor could do it, but because it would be too successful.

Oh my God, she thought. He can really do it. At that, she felt her face split in a huge grin, and the constant stress that she had carried since the sabotage began to evaporate. "Your ship?" she asked.

The Doctor, smiling conspiratorially, winked. "Let's go."

Meg's short legs made it difficult for her to keep up with the Doctor's long strides, but she listened intently as he rattled off a series of explanations. "TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It's bigger on the inside. A lot bigger. Do you know what a Mobius strip is?" She nodded eagerly. "It's a like a four-dimensional Mobius strip." He pulled a face. "Not a good analogy, but we don't have time to get into the details."

They came around a corner and the Doctor gestured to a glowing blue box standing in the middle of the hallway. "There she is," he said, his voice full of pride and affection. He unlocked the door and went inside, and Meg followed.

"A M-Mobius strip?" she asked, taking in all of the controls and wires and graceful, curving supports. "If I went through that door —" she pointed — "would I end up right back here?"

"You might," the Doctor answered with a smile, and began making some adjustments on the console. "Could you close the door?"

She looked back and saw that the door through which they had entered was standing open, giving her a clear vantage point back into the hallway. Her mind raced. The room in which they were standing was considerably wider than the hallway, so the ship had to be occupying a different space altogether. The thought made her a little queasy but it also excited her tremendously.

She pulled the door closed and went to stand by the Doctor at the console, watching him work. He glanced over at her and began to narrate his actions. "Preparing for a microjump outside the atmospheric shell. No temporal coordinate changes — we'll rematerialize at the exact same instant that we dematerialized. And — here we go!"

He slid a lever slowly forward and Meg heard a grating, pulsing sound as the ship's interior shuddered and shifted. She grabbed onto the console involuntarily for support and hoped she didn't send them flying out into who knows where.

"Wait," she gasped over the noise. "Temporal?"

His grin was devilish. "Not this trip." He pulled the lever toward him and the ship ground to a halt. "Now, for the fun stuff! Open the door. Don't worry, there's a force field."

With a little fear and more than a little excitement, Meg opened the door and saw the red dunes of Arisbe stretched all around them. The sky was pale blue without a trace of clouds.

"Watch this," the Doctor said with evident relish.

A flash of blue light was immediately followed by a pop and a whoosh. The ground all around began to sparkle and shimmer. Meg stared, open-mouthed with amazement, as the dust bubbled like a fizzy beverage. She clapped her hands over her mouth to suppress a giddy giggle.

The fine dust of the regolith erupted in a thousand miniature volcanoes as the gas percolated and escaped into the air. It looked to Meg like a reverse rainfall, with the tiny plumes appearing and disappearing everywhere.

"How?" she asked, unable to form more than the simple word in her delighted astonishment.

"Basic atmospheric excitation," he said modestly.

She turned an incredulous look at him and he shuffled his feet. "Basic? This is so far beyond basic I don't even know how to describe it." She fixed him with a critical eye. "Why did you ask me to come, Doctor? You didn't need my help. I'm just an observer."

He looked away from her then to focus on the still-dancing regolith outside. When he answered, his voice was low and serious. "Because I recognized your name, Meg Pathkind. I can't tell you how — but you're going to do some brilliant things." He did look her in the eye then and he was smiling again. "Because you're amazing, even if you don't know it yet."

He had said "temporal" before, hadn't he? "You can travel in time?"


He knew her future. The thought took her breath away. She was a grade three atmospheric engineer on a planetary modification project — nothing special. There were probably fifty people lined up to take her job if she failed. But this total stranger, who had been kind to her daughter, said she was amazing.

She found that she believed him.

"Thank you," she said. "This is wonderful." The word didn't begin to express how she felt about the marvels he had just shown her.

They stood together in silence for several moments, watching the regolith release its stored gas in puffs of dust. When it slowed, the Doctor went back to the console and studied a display.

"12.006 percent," he said. "Do you think Connor will forgive me for a little extra?"

Meg laughed. "I don't think he'll mind at all. We can explain a few thousandths of a percent to the company, if we can keep the converters working at peak efficiency." She sobered and ventured to express her deepest fear. "All these months, I thought it might be us. We couldn't keep up with the schedule and I kept wondering — what if it's not sabotage? What if we're just not any good at this?" What if I'm not any good at this?

"You know that's rubbish," said the Doctor softly. "Don't you?"

She blinked and rubbed her eyes. His face came back into focus, full of fatherly pride and affection. "Yeah," she said as casually as she could manage, "I know."

"Good. Now, let's get back, shall we? You've had a full day and you ought to spend some time with that little girl of yours."

She sat down on the jump seat and held on tight.

Connor had been inside the TARDIS, but seeing the ship appear in front of his eyes was a novel experience for him. The other engineers, who didn't have the advantage of knowing what the Doctor's ship could do, stopped what they were doing and watched in amazement as the ship grew more and more solid before their eyes.

The door swung open and Meg emerged, followed closely by a triumphant Doctor. "Look at your readings now," he crowed. "We're caught up."

"Doctor," Connor started.

"I know, I know, six thousandths of a percentage too high. I think we can manage —"

"No, you're blocking the door."

The Doctor whirled around and looked at the TARDIS, which was indeed parked snugly in the doorjamb of the main exit from the control room. "Oh," he said, in a less celebratory tone, and scratched his head. "Well, I suppose that could be a bit awkward." He didn't quite slam the door behind him.

The TARDIS faded out of reality and reappeared in the hallway.

"How was it?" one of the engineers asked Meg. Connor could hear the envy in his voice.

"Fantastic," she said, unable to hide her grin.

The Doctor popped back into the room, brushing his hands together. "What's our status?"

"Converters are at 100%," Connor said. "Main and backup power online."

"Brilliant. We've still got a full work day before the envoy arrives," the Doctor said. "I say it's time for everyone to go home and get a good night's sleep. We can work on optimizing the other systems tomorrow." None of the staff moved. "Go on, then," he urged with a wave of his hand.

One of the engineers shuffled forward and began, nervously, to speak. "Sir? If we could ask —" Connor looked at the ceiling, knowing what was coming. "I mean, your ship — it's a box, and it just appeared out of thin air. How does it work?"

"Not thin air," the Doctor said. "That's a silly expression. The air here isn't particularly thin. Outside the shell? Definitely. 'Out of thin vortex' isn't right, either." He eyed the group of engineers and let out a small sigh. "You're not going to take 'it just does' for an answer, are you?"

Emelia had managed to run herself ragged all day, and the constant movement and action kept her from dwelling on the previous night's horrors. When she finally did stop, she was at the nursery, and against her better judgment, she walked into Frances' office and stood in the middle of the room.

The display inset into the desktop was half-covered with papers, just as Frances had left them. The books on the shelves were arranged precisely. Frances might have not been tidy in her paperwork, but she valued books and always chided Emelia if she put one back out of order.

Emelia reached out and ran her index finger along the spine of one of the books. Her vision blurred and she could not make out the title. She was a traitor, right down the hallway from my sons, and I never suspected a thing. She sat down heavily on the couch and put her head in her hands.

"Emelia?" someone said, and she lifted her head to find Rose Tyler standing in the office doorway. Beside her, Jonah took a tentative step into the room. Emelia, too stunned to move, watched as Jonah came to stand in front of her.

"He was worried about you," Rose said.

"Hello, Jonah," Emelia said with wonder. He looked back at her and lifted a hand to touch her cheek. She closed her eyes, moved beyond words at the gesture that would have been simple from anyone but him. His fingers moved against her face to outline her cheekbone, her nose, her eyebrows, and then the long bone of her jaw.

She was dimly aware that Rose was no longer in the doorway. Jonah kept his gaze fixed on hers, and that contact alone was enough to make her head spin.

"You know everything," she said softly. "Everything that's in my head. I wish I could protect you from that." She caught his hand and kissed it. "I love you so much and I'll do anything to protect you."

They were face to face, her seated on the couch and Jonah standing before her. She reached out and put her arms around his waist, drawing him closer. She felt his cheek against her head and his light breath in her hair. He was so warm, so alive, and he'd been worried about her. Her Jonah.

A tear streamed down her cheek, so unlike the frantic, wrenching tears of the night before, but a gentle release of the raging emotion within her: her first sign of healing.

Back to index

Chapter 30: Chapter 30

Author's Notes: The Doctor teaches Jonah about shields, and everyone gears up for the envoy's arrival.

"So that's it?" asked Rose. "We're done?"

"Yep," the Doctor answered. He sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed with her feet in his lap. His attention was focused on the arch of one of those feet, which he was kneading with both thumbs. Rose had to focus to keep from jerking away. It tickled, but at the same time, she didn't want him to stop doing it. "You sound surprised."

She wrinkled her nose. "I guess I just expected it to take longer. I mean, we have a whole day tomorrow before the envoy arrives."

"Well," he drawled, "it's not as if this has been smooth sailing all along."

He was right, of course. One day earlier, he had been at the point of a gun, and a woman had been killed. She studied him carefully. He was unmarked, without as much as a single dark shadow under his eyes. In turn, he focused on her feet, putting the one he had been massaging down and picking up the other, altogether too casual.

"All right?" she asked.

"Always," he said briskly, then looked up and met her gaze for several long seconds. His fingers settled around her foot and he squeezed lightly. "And you?"

She nodded quickly and his strokes resumed. Searching for another topic, she leaned back against the pillows and stretched. "Jonah's better," she said happily. "Emelia was upset, and he wanted to go and take care of her." The Doctor's slow smile of approval made her flush with pride. "I can't believe how different he is now." A worry presented itself, and she shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "When we leave, will he be all right? I know he can hear everyone around him, but no one else talks back to him like I do."

He was so quiet and still for a moment that Rose thought he might not answer her. "They can't, not like you can." He sighed. "He's learning quickly. I should be able to teach him to shield his mind from others. If he can do that, then most of his sensory issues are solved, and he should be able to learn to communicate verbally."

She thought of the fluttering beat of Jonah's anxiety from earlier this evening, when he'd asked her to take him to his mother. As soon as they had entered Frances's office, he had been completely focused on Emelia. His touch on her mind had dissipated as he focused his energy on walking forward and reaching his mum.

"Besides," the Doctor continued, "I have an idea that might just prove to be useful." He didn't elaborate, and his cat's-got-the-cream smile told her that he wasn't going to.

"Mmm," she said and nudged him with her foot. He slid his hands around her ankle. In response, she sat up and took his tie in her hands, drawing him toward her.

His smug look deepened and he uncrossed his legs, rising on his knees to shift forward and meet her lips halfway.

With the boys safely asleep in their room, Emelia climbed in into bed and tugged the blanket up to her chin. Connor came into the bedroom and pulled his shirt over his head, letting it drop onto the floor behind him.

"We've got the converters running at the highest efficiency I've ever seen," he told her.

She couldn't believe that, as bad as things had looked earlier in the day, they were finished with a day to spare. Even the Doctor had looked doubtful in the morning. Had he been bluffing? If he could simply disappear somewhere in his ship and, in a moment, catch them up, couldn't he have done it all along? That was a very cynical thought, even for her, especially about the man who was saving her family and her project.

She rolled over onto her side and watched as Connor changed out of his trousers and into a pair of pajama bottoms. "What's the plan for tomorrow?"

"Back to normal for the most part. Everyone's fairly keyed up, but there's not much to be done now. The Doctor has some ideas, though. You should have seen everyone's faces when his ship appeared out of nowhere." He chuckled and pulled back his side of the covers to join her in bed. "They're eating out of his hand now."

We all are, she thought, and turned out the light.

The next day passed by uneventfully. Rose oversaw art projects, cleaned up messes, wiped runny noses, and read to the children. With the progress that the Doctor had made the day before, they didn't need to keep the nursery open late again, so the stream of parents came in at the usual time to collect their offspring and head back to their respective homes.

By the time all of the children except Ian and Jonah had gone home, Rose had started to wonder if she should take the boys back to the Trabanes' flat herself. She and Brandon had finished putting up all of the stray books back onto the shelves. She looked up at the sound of someone approaching and was somewhat surprised to see the Doctor appear in the doorway.

"Hello," he said brightly, and sat down in one of the miniature chairs beside Jonah. He was all long legs and angles, with his knees sticking up almost to his shoulders. "Hello," he repeated.

Jonah didn't look up. He had been sitting quietly at the table since Brandon had gently guided him out of the reading area. The Doctor looked briefly up at Rose and then directed all of his attention back to the little boy.

"Jonah, I'm going to show you more of what we did the other day, so you can control what you feel. It gets to be a bit much, doesn't it?" He rearranged the chairs, half-lifting up his own to face Jonah, then pulled the leg of Jonah's chair to face him as well. "All right, then?" he asked, and as before, placed his fingers on each of Jonah's temples.

They locked eyes together and the Doctor made a few soothing sounds. While the two of them were absorbed in each other, Rose heard Emelia's voice and went to intercept the other woman.

"The Doctor's working with Jonah," she told Emelia. "He wants to teach him more about shielding his mind."

Before she could answer, Ian interrupted her by launching himself at his mother with his typical enthusiasm. "Ian," Emelia laughed, giving him a hug, "I wish I had half as much energy as you do." She glanced over at where the Doctor and Jonah sat and her face softened. "I want this to work, Rose," she said quietly.

"I do, too."

Emelia nodded and squeezed Ian back. "Honey, why don't you and I go home, and Rose and the Doctor can bring Jonah in a bit?" She looked up at Rose with her eyebrows raised.

"Sure," Rose agreed.

Behind her, Brandon was pulling on his coat. "I'll walk with you, Emelia. Rose, are you all right to close up?"

"No problem." She waved all of them good night and went to sit in an equally tiny chair on the other side of Jonah.

"You should know some of this, too," the Doctor said without shifting his gaze away from Jonah's. "It would give you some protection against any particularly powerful psychic broadcasts." He said this without any indication that the source of the last powerful broadcast she had encountered was sitting between them.

"What do I do?" In the time she had spent in close contact with his mind, he had shown her how to prevent him from seeing anything she didn't want him to by visualizing a closed door, but she didn't think that technique would protect her from other people's thoughts.

One of his hands came away from Jonah and came to rest on her temple. At once, the usual buzz of Jonah's mind became exponentially louder and coupled with it, she could feel the rush of the Doctor's myriad thoughts, the ones he usually suppressed for her. The sensation of a hundred kittens climbing up her body with their sharp claws extended jumped immediately into her mind. She jerked back from his hand and stared at him in astonishment.

"I know," he said. After the din in her head, his voice sounded unnaturally quiet. "Let's try again. When I touch you, visualize a bubble around you. Jonah's is deep blue. Yours is pink, of course. You're inside, and everything and everyone else — me, Jonah, the whole project — is outside."

He reached for her and with some trepidation, she remained still. The roaring wave of thoughts from him and Jonah again swelled to fill her mind and with an effort, she imagined a protective bubble around her. It shimmered into place and some of the thoughts deflected off of it.

"Good," the Doctor said. "Now, think of it growing thicker and pushing back against everything coming toward you."

She did, and the wavering walls of the bubble grew more solid and expanded. Its shape distorted with the pressure of the onslaught, but it stayed intact. With it in place, the chaos flooding toward her was muffled, as if it were a long way away.

"Oh, very good, both of you," he said, and she was so pleased with herself for a moment that she lost her mental grip on her bubble and it burst. Everything pressed back into her at once and she yelped, pulling back from the Doctor so hard that she toppled her chair over, sending her sprawling across the floor.

"Ouch," she said, rolling over into a sitting position and wincing. The Doctor let go of Jonah and stood, offering her a hand. She took it and let him pull her upright. "I'm fine," she told him. "That was harder than I thought."

"It takes time to develop the mental discipline to hold a shield in place. You did well for your first try."

"Mmm," she said. "How did Jonah do?"

"Well, he's got some genetic advantages over you in that area." He rested his hand on Jonah's shoulder. "He's still holding his in place." He smiled and Rose stepped close to him. His arm came around her.

"What colour is your bubble?" she asked curiously. "I mean, you've got one, yeah?"

"Oh, I haven't needed a bubble in centuries," he said with a wrinkle of his nose. She rolled her eyes. "Honestly! I can tolerate a great deal more than the two of you can."

"Crusty outer shell?" she teased.

"Something like that. Now, I think we've probably done enough for one day. Let's get our young one back to his parents and get something to eat." He set the tipped chair back upright and pushed it under the table.

They ate with the Trabanes that night, which seemed less surreal and more intimate the second time. Ian said "please" and "thank you" and even the Doctor behaved.

Connor had cooked dinner and Rose was secretly relieved not to eat yet another meal of protein paste sandwiches. The novelty had definitely worn off. They ate symmetrical strips of grilled, marinated meat that reminded her of beef, in a distant sort of way, and as usual she summoned her courage and ate it without asking what it was. The pasta tossed with herbs was spicier than she had imagined and she ended up drinking too much of the cold, sweet not-wine that the Doctor had warned her about when they first arrived.

When she stood up from the table, she understood why he had warned her. Her knees buckled under her and the world swayed alarmingly from side to side.

"Easy there," said the Doctor, who caught her before she crashed to the floor. He stood behind her, arms hooked under hers for support, holding her up. She giggled. "I think someone's had a bit much tonight."

Ian shot out of his chair and said, with great enthusiasm, "Rose's drunk!"

"Ian!" said both of his parents simultaneously.

"Mnot," she said, slurring and grinning. "Not drunk."

"Oh no, of course not," the Doctor soothed. "Just a little inebriated, that's all." She leaned back into him, not because she had to, but because she liked it.

"Right. It's the beef. It wasn't beef, was it?" She giggled again.

Connor started to say something, but the Doctor cut him off. "Oh no, let's not have that conversation right now, all right? Not unless you'd like to see dinner all over your floor." He shifted to lift her a little higher against him. "Think you can walk?"

She harrumphed in displeasure at the idea that he thought she wasn't able to take care of herself. "Mfine."

He held her up with one arm and slid around to stand next to her. "Sorry for the eat-and-run routine here," he said to Connor and Emelia, "but I think it's high time someone went to bed. I've got a few hangover remedies and I may need to use all of them before tomorrow morning."

"Of course," Connor said, grinning. Rose squinted. His teeth looked shinier than they normally did. She blinked and giggled again. "We'll see you in the morning, then."

"At least one of us," the Doctor said. Rose looked over at him. His smile was crooked, one side of his mouth higher than the other, and his eyes were all scrunched up with amusement.

"G'night," she said, and burst out laughing at how funny her own voice sounded.

They all stopped dead, however, when there was an unexpected echo of Rose's laughter from the table. Even Ian turned to look.

Jonah, swaying slightly from side to side, was laughing. No, more properly, he was giggling.

"Now you've gone and done it," the Doctor murmured into Rose's ear. "Drunk with a very susceptible telepath within range?"

Jonah fell out of his chair.

Back to index

Chapter 31: Chapter 31

Author's Notes: How does the Arisbe Project measure up in the eyes of the company envoy?

The next morning, Rose's mouth was as dry as the desert outside. Her head pounded and her stomach swam. She rolled over in bed and flung her arm over her eyes to shield them from the light.

The bed tilted alarmingly to one side and she clutched at the sheets before realizing that she wasn't going to topple out. The Doctor sat on the edge of the bed and held out a tall glass for her. "Drink this," he said.

She sat up, pushed her tangled hair out of her face, and eyed the glass with some trepidation. "What is it?"

"Special remedy. Drink it."

She took the glass and examined the contents: a thick, off-white slurry that looked like pancake batter. Putting aside her misgivings, she took a small sip. It was cold and soothingly creamy with a sweet, spicy kick. She gulped down a fair amount and felt the thick liquid slide down her throat. "It's good," she said. "What is it?"

"A colloidal dispersion of starch and dairy proteins infused with B-vitamins, sodium, magnesium, potassium, bicarbonate and fructose, with a dash of grated Zingiber officinale to liven things up a bit." He waggled his eyebrows two or three times in her direction.

"Fine then, don't tell me," she muttered and took another drink. She hoped it was a miracle cure. Certainly, he had vast medical resources at his disposal.

"Don't be cross with me," he warned. "It's just a hangover. You're fine. And remember, I'm not the one who corrupted a minor."

"Oh God — Jonah," she groaned. "Is he all right?"

"Yes. Since he didn't ingest any actual alcohol, he won't be dealing with the same unpleasant consequences that you are. I do suggest, however," he said, pointing a finger at her, "that you try and keep your hangover to yourself. Now, drink up. We've got a busy day ahead of us."

"The envoy," she said, remembering.

"The envoy," he agreed. "Time to put on your special happy welcome-the-envoy face. You don't think I'm going to let you out of this when you badgered me into staying, do you?" He stood up and gave her his broadest smile, the one that told her he was most certainly up to no good at all. "There's nothing quite like a first impression."

Considering the circumstances of her departure from their flat the night before, Rose felt rather self-conscious at seeing Emelia and Connor again. However, neither one of them seemed to take any particular notice of her discomfort. She sidled over to Emelia, summoned up her courage, and asked about Jonah.

Emelia was, surprisingly, amused rather than upset. "He was fine after you left. We had to carry him to bed — or rather, Connor did — and he didn't even mind when I got him into his pajamas. He was asleep before his head was on the pillow and he was smiling. Can you imagine? Smiling. Now, Ian?" Her good humour showed even through her momentary grimace. "He ran around the flat like a wild thing for another hour."

"And Jonah's all right this morning?" Rose persisted. Her own head ached and she hoped that the Doctor was right about Jonah being spared the aftereffects of her overindulgence. She certainly hadn't been, the Doctor's "special remedy" notwithstanding. She wondered if he had been having her on.

"Yes," Emelia told her. "I promise." She stopped, considered, and hesitated before she continued. "Thanks for asking, Rose. You've been wonderful with him." Her eyes flicked over to where the Doctor stood next to Connor, arms folded, looking simultaneously imperious and impertinent. "Both of you." Before Rose could respond, Emelia pointed up to the sky. "Incoming," she announced. "We'd best be ready for them."

They watched together as the bright white dot in the distance gained size and shape. It turned out to be the same sort of ship as Rose and the Doctor had seen on their first day on Arisbe. As it grew closer, she could make out the ridiculously undersized wings and stubby body. In flight, it reminded her of a bumblebee, entirely too fat and ungainly for graceful maneuvering. She hoped the pilot knew what he was doing.

The ship landed and came to a stop just outside the clear habitation dome in a cloud of red dust. For several moments, several people worked busily to connect a clear tube to its side panel.

At last, the door slid open and a figure in a starched sky blue uniform emerged. As he drew closer, Rose couldn't help but stare. The scabrous lesions and pits on his face might have been just a terrible case of adult acne — except for the glittering greenish cast to his skin, which was darker where it thickened and flaked.

Emelia stepped forward and shook hands with him as he emerged from the tube. "Emelia Trabane, Operations Manager," she said. "Welcome to Arisbe. I hope you had a pleasant trip."

The man shook her hand vigourously and exposed two rows of incongruously even, perfectly white teeth in a courteous smile. "Andrew Fliss, Deputy Assessor. Thank you." He produced a handheld panel and offered it to her. "If I might have your thumbprint on the Certification of Arrival and Intent to Examine, please?" She pressed her thumb onto his pad and waited while he made a few selections on the screen and added his thumbprint. "I'll need a witness, of course," he said, showing off his gorgeous teeth again.

"Naturally," said Emelia. She gestured for Connor to step forward. "This is Connor Trabane, Chief Conversions Engineer."

Fliss shook Connor's hand and offered the pad for his thumbprint. Connor compiled readily.

As they exchanged pleasantries over the data entry, Rose began to worry. Would everyone in the project would be thumbprinted in this manner? The Doctor and Connor had altered personnel records to blend them in with the rest of the staff, overwriting the records for Wilson and Frances, but she didn't know how far their changes went. Does the Doctor even have a thumbprint? she wondered, glancing worriedly over at him. He mouthed "what?" quite clearly back at her, his eyes round with assumed innocence.

Fliss took in the onlookers, consisting of most of Emelia's operations staff and several of the engineers, plus the Doctor and Rose. "We have quite a lot to accomplish," he said.

"Yes," Emelia agreed. "Where would you like to begin?"

Fliss seemed taken aback and reviewed his panel again before answering. "We'll proceed in the order that the Examination Protocols specify, of course. You are familiar with the Examination Protocols?"

"Of course," Emelia broke in, smiling genially. "It's a figure of speech. We'll begin with the personnel records, naturally. Let me show you to my office and you can retrieve the data there. I'll bring you to the labs when we're finished." She glanced back toward the carrier ship. "Does your crew need anything in the meantime?"

"No crew," Fliss answered. "One pilot. She'll be performing some maintenance on the ship today while I perform the examination. We will want to leave promptly at 18:00 hours in order to reach our next destination in a timely manner. Shall we?"

"Follow me," Emelia said. She and Fliss set off for Section One with Tom Attoway on their heels.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Connor began issuing orders.

"Back to your posts, everyone. It's just a normal day." Everyone chuckled and he waved at them. "I'm serious! Do everything as 'by the book' as you can. Our man likes rules." He shooed most of the crowd off except for the Doctor, who stood with hands in pockets and an amused look on his face, and Rose, who couldn't quite bring herself to leave him on his own.

"Do you think," said Connor, drawing close to the Doctor, "that you can make it to 18:00 hours today without doing anything … interesting?"

"That all depends on how you define 'interesting,' doesn't it?"

"Doctor!" Rose protested.

"I'm just saying — oh, never mind. You think I can't be dull? Can't help but be the centre of attention?" He lifted his chin. "I'll have you know I can be shockingly boring."

" … need your thumbprint on the Conversion Progress Analysis, section J-5," Fliss told Connor late in the afternoon. He pressed his thumb onto Fliss's datapad for what felt like the thousandth time. Shockingly boring, indeed. It was death by bureaucracy.

"Can I get you something to drink?" he asked the assessor.

"Inside the labs?" Fliss said in a shocked tone. His eyes widened and clear nictitating membranes flashed across his eyes. "That's strictly against protocol."

"In a designated area, of course," Connor said, backtracking.

"We could all take a break for a refreshing beverage," chimed in a voice that Connor had hoped not to hear from. The Doctor. "Periodic work stoppages help clear the mind and can increase productivity. Wouldn't you say, Deputy Assessor Fliss?"

"Quite right," Fliss said. "One does want to maintain peak performance and a well-tuned mind does require a bit of refreshment from time to time." He checked his watch. "I'd say it would be appropriate to pause for, say, five minutes?"

"Brilliant," the Doctor said, and for a terrible moment Connor thought he was going to put his arm around the assessor. "Shall we?"

Every surface in the Arisbe Project had been sterilized, scrubbed, and shined, so Connor felt a modicum of pride as Fliss surveyed the kitchen that served as break room and lunchroom for the labs.

"Excellent hygiene," he commented, swiping one green finger along a counter. "I can't say how pleased I am to see such care taken with this facility. So many projects allow their non-essential areas to become completely unsanitary." He squinted at the smudge he had left and carefully used his sleeve to remove it.

"Thank you, sir," Connor said.

"High marks, indeed," Fliss continued, taking a seat. "This is not strictly part of my assessment but I must say, such conscientiousness to the finer details implies a high degree of attention to the overall management of the project. I will make a positive comment in my report, you can be assured."

The Doctor crossed behind him and took three mugs down from the cabinet. "Would you care for some tea, Deputy Assessor?"

"I believe I would, yes."

"Chief Engineer?" the Doctor asked politely.

"Please," Connor said, and took a seat opposite Fliss. The Doctor busied himself with tea-making and Connor found himself trying to make small talk. "Is this your first trip to this sector?" he asked politely.

"No, but it has been a while. Ah, thank you. Five sugars, please, no milk. I've been primarily focused on the Regel Project."

Connor didn't have much to say about that — he knew Regel was close to disaster, and the financial pressure from that undertaking was the main reason they were all so worried about the company withdrawing its support from Arisbe.

"It is," Fliss continued, "nice to see a project that is run efficiently from the top down. I expect this conversion will completed on schedule, or even slightly ahead."

"We will do everything we can to ensure that it is," Connor said, feeling some relief at making an utterly truthful statement. He leaned back in his chair and gave the Doctor a measuring look. The other man hadn't joined them at the table but was leaning back against the cabinet, sipping his tea and taking in their conversation, seemingly happy to maintain his cover of junior engineer.

We're going to make it, Connor thought with some giddiness, and took a long drink of his tea to cover his excitement.

Just before 18:00 hours, the Arkwhite carrier ship rattled to life just beyond the shell. Fliss's pilot, who hadn't set foot outside all day, signaled with a wave out the hatch.

"It's been a pleasure," Fliss said, shaking first Emelia's hand and then Connor's. "I'll need both your thumbprints on the Certification of Departure and Conclusion of Examination forms, please." They did, and Emelia tried not to sigh. She had been thumbprinted within an inch of her life today, and she hadn't had to certify every data point or reading like Connor had. It was almost possible to forget how deadly serious the visit from Fliss was.

Fliss, for his measure, remained formal and polite to the end. He made a little speech about how efficiency and effective use of resources were the hallmark of successful planetary conversion. The few people who had gathered to see him off, a much smaller crowd than had been present that morning, listened with polite interest.

At last, they wished him a good trip and he walked through the clear tube back into the ship. The hatch closed with a hiss and several of her staff scurried around to pull the tube back inside the atmospheric shell.

The carrier ship spluttered and taxied slowly away, picking up speed and jolting into the air. It plunged and soared for a few moments as it became smaller and smaller in the fading light. At last, even the speck became invisible.

"He's gone," Connor said. The rest of them were silent, and then someone (maybe Tom, Emelia thought) let out a whoop of joy and they dissolved into gratuitous displays of delight.

"We did it!" shouted Emelia, running to her husband and catching him in a crushing hug. "Oh my God, we did it!"

He picked her up and bounced her, twice, before setting her down. His face glowed with excitement. "Em," he said in a lower, serious voice. "You're safe. We did it."

She sobered. This wasn't about getting away with murder. It had been self-defense, not only for her but for all of them, for their way of life and their hopes and dreams. Hadn't it?

"Stop it," he told her, taking her face in his hands and kissing her soundly. She kissed him back, letting him distract her. His warm, familiar mouth; the closeness of his body; the pressure of his hands against her skin.

"Connor," she said, after they had separated. "I want to go home."

He smiled, offered her his hand, and together, they set off for Section One.

Back to index

Chapter 32: Chapter 32

Author's Notes: The consequences of the Doctor's mercy, and an act of kindness.

Yes, there are conclusions here. The story is not quite complete but it will be soon. Thank you to everyone who's stayed with me throughout the telling of this tale.

Rose spent the day with the children and Brandon again, with all the usual comedy and tiny drama of the classroom. Just before lunchtime, Emelia dropped by to let them know that the envoy had finished with his operations review and had gone over to the labs. Since a great number of the project's staff would be occupied in some way until well after his departure at 18:00 hours, the nursery would remain open far later than normal.

As the afternoon turned truly into evening, Rose watched in rapt fascination as Ian's pencil strokes outlined a face and then fleshed out the finer details. His mother's face emerged with enough life to show the laugh lines around her mouth and eyes and the indulgent smile she used for her sons alone.

While the children weren't directly aware of the reasons for all the tension on Arisbe, they did pick up on the unconscious cues and nerves of the adults, and their tempers were running thin. Rose's dreamy study of Ian's drawing was interrupted by someone who yanked someone else's hair, and the resulting tears, and she and Brandon found themselves occupied for the next few moments re-establishing the fragile peace.

Jonah's mind abruptly tugged at hers and she looked over to find him struggling out of his chair. "What's the matter?" she asked him, putting her hand on his back and trying to soothe him with mind and words.

He responded instantly with a vivid impression of the Doctor and then pulled away, silent. Rose's stomach dropped in sudden, sick worry. "Is he all right?" she asked, trying to pitch her voice so the other children wouldn't hear her.

Jonah looked up at her, and as it had been before, his direct stare was both unnerving and encouraging. She knew he could feel the Doctor at all times, even through his shield, like the radiant heat of a fire from some distance away. Now, Jonah could still sense the Doctor's presence but worried about the uncharacteristic silence of his mind. Go, Jonah urged her wordlessly.

"Brandon," she called, desperate to leave but also to maintain the appearance of calm in front of the children. "Can you stay here? I need to go back to our flat."

"Of course," he answered, coming to stand by her and Jonah. "Is everything all right?"

"It's probably nothing," she said with forced levity. "Thanks."

He wasn't fooled, she could tell, but he nodded and she was grateful. "I can finish up. Most of the parents will be here before long."

She hurried down the hallway and broke into a run once she was outside.

The Doctor had moved the TARDIS to their new flat in Section 8, and she went there without hesitation. Her hands shook as she tried to swipe the keycard in the door. The TARDIS, as before, was parked in the bedroom closet, and the door was unlocked. She threw it open and burst into the console room, not knowing what she would find there.

The Doctor stood in front of the console, sonic screwdriver in hand. A knot of wires spilled out from behind an open panel. He glanced up as she entered and then went back to his work.

She was stunned. Everything, including him, looked perfectly normal. No, that's not right. She studied him again. Rumpled hair, coat off but jacket still on. It was his bearing, not his appearance, that was off. He hadn't smiled when she came in, and he looked oddly … empty.

"What's wrong?" she asked, coming to stand next to him. She wanted to touch him, but she didn't quite dare to.

"Saved the day, didn't you hear?" he said flatly. His gaze remained fixed on the console. "Fliss is gone. His report is full of praise for Arisbe Project. We won."

She waited, but he refrained from further comment. The rhythmic buzz of the sonic screwdriver was unnaturally loud in the silence between them.

"Doctor, please." She did reach out then and place her hand over his on top of the console. "Talk to me?"

He put the screwdriver down and turned to face her. The desperation and darkness in his eyes staggered her. "Wilson's dead," he said without preamble.

"How?" she asked. He was safe, right here in the TARDIS.

"He hung himself."

She gasped. "Where?"

That elicited a dry, sharp laugh without any humor in it at all. "Here, Rose. In the TARDIS. In my TARDIS. I took everything away from him and he managed to hang himself with his trousers."

"She let him?"

His eyes snapped with anger and he slapped one hand down on the console. "It doesn't work like that, Rose! I mean — it might have — once — but it doesn't any more." He scrubbed his face with both hands, and hers felt cold without his touch.

What reassurance could she offer to him? He had been the jailor, and his prisoner had killed himself. He would feel as culpable in that as if he had strangled Wilson with his own hands.

"Come here," she said, drawing him back a few steps to the jump seat and pulling him down with her. His momentary anger had disappeared and he complied without resistance. She scooted closer to him on the seat. Her arms wound around him and she stroked, soothed, petted until the tension within him relented a fraction, and then she drew his head down to rest against her shoulder.

"You keep forgiving me," he mumbled against her.

She ran her fingers through his wild hair before she replied, trying to choose her words carefully. "It's like you've said, I have to live with the choices I make. I chose to help Jonah and Emelia and Connor and everyone here." She saw, vividly, Frances' expression right as Emelia had fired the blaster: horror and fury and defiance and shock. "If we'd walked away, Frances and Wilson would still be alive, but everyone here would be homeless. Jonah would still be the way he was before." She kissed the top of his head. "It was the right choice."

"The greater good." It was impossible to tell if he was mocking, or ironic, or simply stating a fact.

"Yeah. What would you have done with Wilson?"

"Locked in a cage," he said. "Or a crystal ball. Or a mirror." He shook his head and his nose rubbed against her. "Thrown into a black hole. I have so many ways, Rose, so many different ways to show mercy. I've never told you — I don't want to tell you. Can I please not tell you?"

Her eyes welled with tears at the anguished pleading in his voice. She gathered him closer to her and rocked him back and forth. "Shhh," she whispered. "It's okay. We don't have to talk right now."

Maybe one day, if she could bear it, he could.

"To success!" Connor yelled. He clanged his glass up against every raised glass he could find, and it seemed that everyone in the project was holding one up for him. Countless voices echoed the toast back to him.

Rose goggled at the spectacle. Arisbe was celebrating in grand style, ostensibly in the restaurant in Section 6, but in fact all around it as there simply wasn't room. Every spare table, it seemed, had been commissioned into service as part of a buffet line, with mismatched tablecloths covering them and more food than could possibly have been eaten weighing them down. Ian and several other children whooped and ran, scurrying around tables and kicking up clouds of dust. No one paid them any mind. This was not the time to scold children for exuberance or misbehaviour.

Connor had rung them on the comm, repeatedly, until Rose had persuaded the Doctor to emerge from the TARDIS. She hadn't felt much like celebrating either, but she couldn't bring herself to tell Connor about what had happened to Wilson. Without that, there was no excuse for them to stay away from the festivities.

The Doctor now had a staggering plateful of food and a glass of something fizzy, and he was talking to Meg Pathkind. Predictably, for someone who talked with his hands as much as he did, he was sloshing his drink around rather spectacularly. He had already sectioned off Wilson's tragedy into some corner of his mind and was concentrating on the moment. Rose knew him well enough not to mistake that for lack of caring.

She took another slice of something she had decided was the local version of pizza — a square of flatbread with a tangy red sauce and herbs. She had eaten far too much of it. She had, however, politely declined all the offers of various exotic beverages and stuck to water. Inebriation, in her current dark mood, was the last thing she needed.

Jonah stood next to Rose, finishing a slice of the pizza. He had some sauce smeared on the right side of his face and his dark curls had frizzed out. Rose licked her finger and removed the sauce, prompting a small grunt of protest from her victim.

"Oh, come on," she laughed, amused despite her worries at the waves of indignity rolling from him. "It's not so bad."

"Hello, you two," the Doctor said softly. She hadn't noticed him come over. He still had his plate, although its contents were much reduced. She eyed it and nabbed a biscuit. "Why yes, Rose, I'm happy to share, thank you for asking."

"You eat off my plate all the time," she informed him. Their usual banter felt forced, but she fitted a smile on her face and tried to alter her mood to match.

"At least I chew with my mouth closed," he retorted. She swallowed the last of the biscuit and stuck her tongue out at him. "Here, have another." He held the plate out over to her, a pained expression on his face.

"Want a biscuit, Jonah?" she asked the little boy. He nodded, wide-eyed and intent on the Doctor's plate.

The Doctor tutted and moved the plate just out of her reach. "Jonah?" he prompted.

Jonah's mind vibrated with longing. "Don't tease," she said, not liking the way this was going.

"Just a tick," the Doctor said, his eyes fixed on Jonah. She felt the rustle of some communication between the two of them. "Hold this, but don't give anything to him yet." He handed the plate over to Rose and rummaged through his pockets. "I've got something for you." He pulled out a worn leather wallet and handed it to Jonah. "There you are. Now, what do you say?"

Jonah turned the wallet over several times in his hands and studied it with as much interest as he had fixed on the biscuit earlier. He opened it and held it up for the Doctor and Rose to see.

Rose's jaw dropped. Across the white surface of the psychic paper, a message clearly spelled itself out: May I have a biscuit, please?

Emelia watched incredulously as the words appeared and disappeared on the paper in the wallet in her son's hands. Mummy, the paper read — no, Jonah said — will you read me the story about the man in the yellow hat again? Ian never wants to hear that one. I made a bubble and the voices aren't so loud. Don't cry, Mummy.

"It's psychic paper," Rose was saying. "It shows whatever he wants."

"Go and get Connor, would you?" Emelia knelt and put her arms around Jonah, hugging him tightly against her and keeping her eyes fixed on the psychic paper. "I'll read any story you want, sweetheart."

The man with the yellow hat, Jonah said. A faint line appeared underneath the words to emphasize his point.

"The man with the yellow hat," she agreed.

Don't cry?

"Sometimes we cry when we're happy," she explained. He knew how she felt, didn't he? "I'm happy, I promise. I love you so much."

He squirmed in her arms and the paper was momentarily blank. Mum!, he said, finally, and she grinned through her tears at the evident protest in the single word, all embarrassed little boy and loving son.

They would be all right.

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Chapter 33: Chapter 33

Author's Notes: Saying goodbye amidst the celebration. Final chapter; epilogue to follow.

Despite the ongoing noise of the celebration around her, Emelia couldn't draw her attention away from where Connor sat in the dirt with Jonah on one knee and Ian on the other. Connor was helping Ian spell out the words on the psychic paper. Her heart thudded loudly in her chest, full to bursting with pride and amazement and love for each of them.

"Care for a seat?" said a voice at her side, and she found the Doctor carrying two of the lightweight chairs from inside the restaurant.

Surprised, she assented, and he settled himself in the chair beside her. "Thank you," she told him. Not for the chair; and the smile playing on his lips told her he knew precisely what she meant. His gaze followed hers to settle on the trio of Trabanes. Ian giggled, and Jonah made his rusty, disused laugh, and the pairing was the sweetest, most musical sound she could imagine.

She tried to cover the torrent of emotion she felt with a sip from her glass, and the Doctor tutted and took it out of her hand. Some of the golden liquid spilled onto her trousers.

"Oi!" she said, snatching back for the glass, but he was quicker than she, and turned it up to pour the contents onto the ground. The wine took a moment to absorb into the dusty soil and made a dark red, muddy puddle. "What the hell was that?" she asked, more confused than angry.

Rose, who had been standing a few paces away, joined them in an instant. "Oi, you two!" She looked worried. "Is everything all right?"

Unrepentant, the Doctor handed the empty glass back over to Emelia with a reassuring smile. "Oh yes, we're fine. Now, no more of that for you, not for a while," he scolded, and she couldn't imagine why suddenly he looked so disapproving. "Honestly. You'd think she'd notice," he complained to Rose. He sighed and regarded Emelia carefully. "You don't have any idea, do you?"

"Of course I don't," she answered. "What —"

"We can have a great metaphysical argument about when exactly life begins," he continued, as if she had not spoken, "but scientifically there's no question that pregnancy begins at implantation."

Emelia felt heat rise in her cheeks and did a quick calculation. He could be right. "How can you tell?"

The expression on his face transformed. The disapproving lines around his lips softened and his eyes widened. It was the exactly same look that he wore when he watched Jonah.

"Timelines and possibilities," he said distantly. "You're positively glowing with them, Emelia. Sparkling. All those possible futures. It's beautiful." He stared at her, but he wasn't seeing her at all, and his pupils contracted and dilated as if he were watching something moving beyond and inside her. All at once, his attention snapped back to the present, and he gave her an incongruously boyish, shy smile. "It's quite noticeable if one knows what to look for, and I do." His mood changed again and he waggled a long finger at her. "No more wine for you."

I'm pregnant? She was staggered.

"Congratulations," Rose said, but it was the buzzing of the sonic screwdriver, aimed at her middle, that interrupted Emelia's momentary reverie. She had it out of his hand in a flash and stood, towering above him. His mouth hung slightly open and he looked from her face to the sonic screwdriver in her hand and back again.

"Stop pointing this thing around without asking!" she thundered, shaking it at him to emphasize each word.

"Emelia —" Rose soothed, shooting the Doctor a reproachful look.

"Oh no, don't 'Emelia' me," she snapped, and immediately regretted it. "He's just told me that I'm pregnant and then he starts to scan me with a — what do you call it? a screwdriver? I don't think so." She held it out for him. When he moved to take it, she pulled it back and fixed him with what she hoped was her sternest look. "Ask first, scan second. Promise?"

"I can tell you if it's healthy, and if it's a girl or a boy," he said mildly, and reached out to take the screwdriver from her hand. This time, she let him.

"All right," she answered in a small voice.

He gave one satisfied nod and the blue light flashed against her midriff again. She could hardly hear the buzz of the instrument for the thudding of her own pulse in her ears.

"So?" she demanded.

"The embryo is almost fully embedded in your endometrium. Everything's quite on schedule."


He switched off the sonic screwdriver and smiled smugly. "Oh, you don't want me to ruin all the surprises," he said. "No genetic abnormalities other than some traces of Noxtirran DNA, same as you. Perfectly healthy."

He had something she wanted, and predictably, he managed to be both charming and absolutely infuriating about it. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"

"I think you should at least tell Connor that he's going to be a father again before you find out the gender," he said, tucking the sonic screwdriver away. "He might not want to know yet."

She turned around to look at her husband and sons again. Ian bounced up and down on Connor's knee, and Jonah clutched the psychic paper like a lifeline. Connor, for his measure, winced slightly at each of Ian's enthusiastic movements and was undoubtedly regretting his offer to be a chair for both boys. His eyes met hers and she felt the smile unfold across her face.

Another baby, she thought with wonder. She couldn't wait to tell him.

As Emelia walked over to her family, Rose swallowed back her own emotion and took the vacated chair. The Doctor stretched out and knotted his hands behind his head. With his elbows bent and his long legs extended in front of him, he looked impossibly tall and slim.

Until he had looked with such wonder at Emelia, she had never considered the possibility that he might want to have more children. Sometimes, I regret the things I can't give you., he had told her. What was she unable to give him in return?

She reached over and took his hand, seeking comfort in the familiar gesture. His fingers readily threaded through hers and held firmly, but not too tightly.

"Boy or a girl?" she asked finally.

He grinned and rolled his head to one side, regarding her with his most satisfied expression. "You'd tell."

"Would not!"

He raised his eyebrows.

"I'm very good at keeping secrets," she said primly.

"Not the fun ones," he pointed out.

"Are we going to tell them about Wilson?" she asked, keeping her voice down.

The amusement on his face dissipated in an instant and his eyes drifted closed. "Do you think we should?"

Not the fun ones. "No," she said, after a moment. "It doesn't do them any good."

His eyes, when they opened, roiled deep and dark with ages of kept secrets and almost-truths and deception. The hand in hers was chill and unmoving. This is what it costs us, she thought. Each time we lie, each time we hide something, it ages us.

"But I know," she said intensely, and squeezed his limp hand in hers. "It's not just you this time. I know, too."

Before she realized he was moving, he had hauled her over into the chair with him. She was slung sideways across his hips, her head cradled into his shoulder, his arms crushing her against him. The little foldable chair from the restaurant shuddered with the movement and the double weight. Rose didn't care; they could collapse into a pile of broken chair and dust in the middle of Arisbe Project with all the world — literally — staring.

He relaxed his smothering grip around her and, with the softest touch, tilted her chin up to face him. The kiss was gentle, lingering at first and then more intimate. When someone whooped and began to applaud, the Doctor separated from her.

"Oi!" he yelled. "Mind your own business!" Her mad grin reflected in his and he leaned in to kiss her again, ignoring the crowd.

His good mood restored, the Doctor helped himself to a plateful of sweets. Rose stood next to him and tried not to blush at the ribald teasing prompted by their rather public display of affection. He had never hesitated to hold her hand or squeeze into her personal space, but he had never snogged her senseless in front of a crowd before. At the moment, he seemed blissfully unaware, leaving piles of naked cake behind where he ate the thick icing around it.

"How long have you been married?" asked Meg Pathkind, who was kindly trying to redirect the conversation to more family-friendly territory.

"Oh," said Rose. "We're not — I mean —" The Doctor wasn't going to help. He had put the remaining cake into his mouth in one impossibly large bite. "Not married." She didn't know about the standards of this time or place, whether she had stumbled into an admission of immorality that would scandalise everyone.

Meg stared, and there was a pause in the conversation around them. Rose swallowed. When it came, the reaction was no less shocking than if someone had thrown a stone at her.

They burst out laughing.

"What?" she said, trying to understand the source of everyone's amusement.

Meg shushed everyone and composed herself. "Rose, sweetheart, are you serious?"

"Yeah," she said, looking around. No one looked outraged, or indignant — merely red-faced from laughing. "What's so funny?" She looked at the Doctor. He was still chewing the same piece of cake, like a cow with her cud. He probably intended to keep doing it until the subject had safely changed.

Meg took her by the arm and spoke confidentially. "I know this is all probably very different from where — when — you come from, but here, when we take our partner's name and move in together, that's marriage. We'll have a nice party sometime, but that's usually after the couple has had time to settle in."

"Oh," Rose said. Then: "Oh." She disentangled herself from Meg and went to stand in front of the Doctor. She took his plate and handed it to someone in the crowd. "Could you give us a moment, please?"

The crowd murmured and obligingly shuffled back.

"Swallow that," she told him.

He did.

"Did you know about this?"

"Well," he waffled, tugging on his ear and looking everywhere around her but not quite at her. "I know a lot of things. Some of them are more at the front of my mind than others."

"You're the one who took my name, Doctor Tyler."

His sudden, direct gaze set her off balance. "Yes. I did."

"Did you know —" She stopped. "I thought I'd know if I got married," she said, feeling inexplicably petty. "Don't I have to say yes or something?"

He shifted from one foot to the other and looked at his trainers. "Laws and customs do vary considerably from place to place, of course," he babbled. "You don't even have to leave your own time to see vast differences between —"

"Oh my God," she said. "This isn't our first time, is it?"

As the last of the celebration died down around him, Ian Trabane showed no signs of slowing down. Rose watched him bounce and skitter in laps around his mother, who eyed him warily and said something disparaging about the amount of sugar he had ingested.

Connor put his arm around Emelia and laughed. He was a changed man; his worries seemed to have melted away, leaving behind a younger-looking, heartier, happy man. Rose couldn't help but smile back.

The light touch, when it came, was still familiar for all its absence tonight, and Rose relaxed into silent communion with Jonah in a way that she never would have imagined only days before. He held out the leather wallet to her, although he could have spoken to her far more easily in his mind. She crossed the few steps between them and took the psychic paper from him.

It's okay. I know you'll come back.

She found herself utterly unable to frame a reply to such a statement in these new and imprecise words that he wanted to use.

Quiet as a cat, the Doctor had come to join them. "Course we will," he said. He reached out for Rose's free hand and quick as lightning, the circuit between the three of them completed.

She could hear the rumble of everyone's minds outside the bubble she instinctively threw up around her, but it was background noise: a gentle hum. The Doctor's approval tickled at her and despite the flush of pride she felt at that, she clutched on to her self-control.

Jonah was quiet, amidst all the chatter, and she queried him gently. Her hand tingled where she still held the psychic paper and she looked down to find words spelling out across it.

I want to talk this way now.

The connection between them dimmed and she was back in the world, with the Doctor's hand in hers and the clatter of tables being moved back inside the restaurant.

"I'm not just leaving. We have responsibilities here," she said to him.

"Never said we didn't."

"We'll need to come back and make sure Jonah's getting along. He's still learning. We can't leave him on his own."

"Quite right."

"You're not going to tell me if it's a girl or a boy?"

"You'll have to find out next time."

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Chapter 34: Chapter 34

Author's Notes: The End.

Faster than the speed of light, the communication line crossed through space-time from one relay point to another, and another, until it connected to its final destination. The voice on the receiving end was thick with sleep and took a few seconds to respond, but its fury was immediately evident.

"Where the hell have you been? The envoy has already left and I have to hear about the report from someone on Regel?"

"Listen closely," said the other voice. "I'm only going to say this once and you'd best be paying attention." Even with the masking distortion provided by Ugolin encryption, there was a command in the words that had never before been present in the transmissions from Arisbe Project. "You're going to walk away from this. Find some nice job somewhere that never, ever, ever involves planetary modification projects. I really don't care what that is. The important thing is that I'm giving you one chance, and one chance only."

"What kind of a joke is this?" hissed the recipient.

"Oh, it's no joke. It's the most deadly serious conversation you've ever had. Frances and Wilson Wittener —"

"Don't say any names!"

"–are dead. Arisbe Project has passed its inspection. Somehow, it turns out that they've been on schedule with their conversion all along! I wonder how that happened?" A chuckle came over the line, and the recipient was momentarily silent. "I've got documentation of every encrypted communication between you and the Witteners for the past two years. I've also got the coordinates of your present location."

"Impossible." The voice sounded relieved. "Ugolin encryption is unbreakable. Even if you had the logs, what good would it do you? We have nine relay points between us. It would take you a lifetime to track me down."

"You'd think that, wouldn't you? Well, it turns out I'm fairly persistent once you start murdering people. Let me send you something that might change your mind."

What flashed along the communication line wasn't a voice but a stream of data. Coordinates on a grid. Employment records. A university transcript. Shopping lists from favorite stores. Photographs.

"Impossible," said the voice, but this time, it sounded more pleading than defiant.

"I'm giving you one chance. I strongly suggest that you take it. Turn off this device and walk away. Take what you can carry with you and start a new life. Don't ever look back."

"Who are you?" came the whispered reply.

"I'm the voice you'll hear in every nightmare you'll have for the rest of your life. I'm the conscience you stopped listening to years ago. I'm the fear you feel when a dark shadow follows you at night. I'm the Doctor, and I'm telling you to run."


Rose Tyler stood on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. The wind whipped her hair all around her and she tried to hold it back with one hand. "It's beautiful," she said to the Doctor, next to her, who was smiling and inhaling deeply.

"Breathe it in, all that good, clean air," he crowed. "We helped make that air, you and I, centuries ago. It's the same air, really. It just gets recycled."

This was not the same Arisbe she had come to know. That Arisbe was still a vast desert with the barest beginning of life taking hold in the form of a fragile colony underneath an atmospheric shell. This Arisbe was a vibrant world in full flower, with an ocean spread out below them and the call of seabirds in the air. All that water had been frozen and locked away when she had last been on this world, and no life had thrived in the arid landscape.

"This is Crater Harbour, in the southern hemisphere. It's the largest impact site from the planetary modification project. Quite the tourist destination, although we're here in the off-season. Gets a bit windy in the winter," he said, half yelling at her although she wasn't more than two paces away.

She leaned toward him to avoid having to shout in return. "Are we far from the project?"

"Other side of the world. It's not there anymore, of course, although there's a park and a nice monument. Lots of trees, Rose, and people, too."

"It's perfect," she said. "Are you ready?"

He nodded and removed a clear jar from his coat pocket. She took it from him and took a step forward. As she did, she unscrewed the lid and let the wind stir the first of the fine, white powder inside the jar.

"Frances and Wilson Wittener," she pronounced solemnly. "Welcome back to Arisbe."

With a smooth motion, she sent a cascade of their remains out beyond the cliff's edge. The powder caught in the wind and became a small cloud, dissipating as it descended toward the ocean waves.

Rose stood perfectly still until it was gone. Something inside her yearned for a few words to say about the departed at their memorial service, but she wasn't sure what to say.

"He couldn't live without her," she said finally, and put the jar in her pocket.

"Chose not to," the Doctor corrected.

"That was real, wasn't it? That he loved her."

"Yes," he said simply. "I do think that." He came behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, letting his chin rest on her shoulder. His long coat flapped wildly around them.

"I think it might be time to get out of the wind," she said, suddenly realizing how cold she was.


"Somewhere warm." She was shivering against him now. "Wait, weren't we trying for that before?"

"Lycoras," mused the Doctor into her ear. "What a brilliant idea."

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