"I guess you could say I was born on Earth-That-Wasn't - I wasn't born in this 'verse", she began, looking at them. "I was born in London in 1987. I led a normal life up until I met the Doctor. He helped to save me from..." She paused, trying to find the words that wouldn't make her seem totally outlandish, but failed. "Well, it was a bad situation. So I started to travel. He had a time machine, of sorts."
Jayne snorted into his coffee and Mal shot a look at him.
"The TARDIS. Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. We traveled from the beginning of humankind to when the sun literally exploded and it was the end of the 'verse." She smiled, her eyes millions of miles away. "The year five billion..."
She was quiet like that for a spell, then started again.
"Anyway, that's how we met Jack Harkness, and lost him again in a fight with the Daleks." "The things with the blue eyes", River murmured, eyes slightly glazed. Rose nodded.
"That was when the Doctor changed. He said it was a way for him to cheat death; that the Time Lords never really died but transformed into the different-looking people. I wasted so much time in disbelief with it. And Mickey was pretty shocked too - I broke up with Mickey for the Doctor. I'm not sure if he really ever forgave me for that, but still. After that, the Doctor told me that Jack was still alive, just in a different time. Jack was a fugitive Time Agent, so he was used to traveling back and forth." Her lips trembled briefly, then looked resolved, "And that's how things were, the Doctor and I. We saved each other in various situations hundreds of times over until the day when we accidentally crossed over into this 'Verse."
She looked each of them in the eye. "Believe me when I say that it was quite impossible for that to happen. Usually there had to be a crack in between. And from what I heard, that was rare. Not supposed to happen. So I crossed over into this 'Verse. It was the year 2007. We ended up getting mixed up in an ugly business - the Cybermen and the Daleks fighting. The metal men, the things with the blue eyes", she nodded toward River. "Before crossing over, I never existed here. Mickey did, my mother did, my father did - though in the 'Verse I was born in, he died when I was a baby. All of you probably exist in that 'Verse too. It was bizarre to say the least."
Zoe watched, looking for signs that she might be lying, and found none. None bodily, at least. She untensed a little. Even if it were really unbelievable.
"Torchwood had started all of this - discovering these things as an organization started by Queen Victoria to guard Earth-That-Wasn't from alien life and then trying to mess with them for the 'greater good'...and to think I actually joined them afterward." She snorted and shook her head sadly. "But in order to save Earth-That-Wasn't from Torchwood's huge mistake, the Doctor had to open this...black hole of sorts, in order to trap everything bad in there. I stayed behind to help, and lost my grip on the machine in Torchwood-1 that was opening the hole between that 'Verse and this one. Until my father appeared, tearing another hole in both 'Verses with his own travel, saved me, and closed the hole again. And so I was stuck here."
Her eyes looked dead when she spoke next. "It was at Bad Wolf Bay, December 2007, when I saw the Doctor for the last time. He wasn't really there, you see - it was a hologram. I think the TARDIS helped generate it between the original ship and my key. He said he had to close all of the holes left behind in both 'Verses or bad things would happen again. And that I could never go home again." Her eyes watered. "We were starting to rebuild here in this 'Verse. And that if I crossed over again it would destroy everything. So I stayed here and joined Torchwood, hoping I'd see the Doctor again."
She was quiet for a long pause, which Jayne used to get more coffee. Inara studied her. "You loved him, didn't you?" She asked, almost inaudiably. Rose looked up at her and laughed, but it was mirthless.
"I do still." She wiped her eyes and laughed again. "No matter how many times I think about what happened, I get all teary." Jayne raised an eyebrow, stirring his mug as he sat back down.
"And then things were quiet for about fifty years. Years had passed and I hadn't aged at all. I remember the Doctor had said that because of the TARDIS, because I had looked into its heart, that the radation stayed in me. I figured I was still young because of it, and through multiple accidents, figured out that I couldn't die. I climbed pretty high in Torchwood, and that was due to experience from all of the traveling I did. And then finally, in 2058, something fell to this Earth-That-Was. We didn't know it was the end at that point."
"A meteor, right?" Simon interrupted, and she nodded. Everyone knew how Earth-That-Was had ended besides the overpopulation problem.
"It actually fell in Africa. Things there were always awful; human life was born there, but also the most virulent diseases. It was a meteor, no doubt, but what the Alliance chose to write down was only half of the story. There was bacteria on it. The guy who was studying it, the med guy, was relatively new - he hadn't even been in Torchwood for five years yet. But since there was no one else for the job, you could say it was his fault that all of this happened. He mishandled the samples where they were being kept in Torchwood-5, in India. What today you call Reavers were born out of it."
She let that information sink in.
"There were wars after that. Horrible ones, first getting the diseased population back under control, and then between countries on whose fault it was. And then how it could be harnessed for the greater good." She sighed, a crease sharp between her eyes. "Finally, it was nuclear war, not just the meteor, that ended Earth-That-Was. That's what they don't tell you. At that point I'd been working with Torchwood-2 in Nevada on loan. The US and China were the only countries that survived the attacks. And the Alliance was born."
She paused again, taking a sip of water. "Or maybe the Alliance was around before then, I'm not really sure. Someone there got ahold of the samples from the meteor, because they'd gone missing from the archives in the fray. Terraforming had already begun on the moon, now called Sihnon, around the time I'd first gotten stuck here. We were transported there while the bodies piled up. During the transport process, Mickey died. Too much stress, and he was pretty old. Eventually, the need for Torchwood decreased because Earth-That-Was was going through reformatting. After fifty more years, I was the only one left from the original team, and the only one who knew about the samples enough to advise the Alliance. I refused. They sent assassins. I wouldn't die. They captured me, took my DNA, but it revealed nothing on why I was still alive. They never thought to look into the radiation aspect of things", she smiled slyly at Simon. "They still had the samples, but no data. I'd locked mine away years before the actual wars started, so they couldn't get anything out of me. And so the Academy was built - to harness the 'potential' out of those Reaver bacterial samples. I was put on the most wanted list. They sent lots of operatives, but all to fail. I hid out in various places and saw the birth of all of these moons. Miranda happened a few times - you guys have just seen the most major instance of it."
It was deadly silent.
"So you're telling me", Mal started, after he'd taken it all in, "That all of this started, with River, and all of these Moons - because of one little rock that fell to Earth-That-Was?"
Jayne surprised them with insight. "Not just because of that rock. It was 'cause of the guys in charge." He shook his head. "I woulda just flung that thing back into the Black in the first place..."
"And these cracks in between 'Verses", Simon continued, peering curiously at her.
"It's hard to explain them. There's no way to really measure where they are or where they go. They only way I know is with the TARDIS key. If it's Earth-That-Wasn't, it feels...well, I can't really describe it. But I know."
"And you want to go home." River said softly, not looking at her.
"It would be hard not to want to", Zoe said, speaking for the first time. "But how does this involve us?"
"You want information on how to bring down the Alliance. I can give that to you. I have all of the records I locked away - I went back for them after Sihnon and Earth were reopened. Luckily they survived the terraforming. In return, I ask that River help me. She can find the cracks. That's another thing the Alliance were trying to do with the Academy - it's why she's so dangerous to them. She can find those cracks easily. And I'm hoping with the key that there's some way we can slip back through the rift and back onto Earth-That-Wasn't."
Another long silence.
"Either way, I have nothing more to lose. Money is no issue, so I'll keep supplying with what you need."
"Even if you do go home, it sounds like you have nowhere to go." Mal said, arching an eyebrow.
"I'm willing to take that risk. I don't belong here. Not after what happened so long ago. It never should have happened."
I just can't keep running anymore, she thought, I'm so tired. Maybe if I can get back and find the Doctor again, maybe he can finally help me die. Or maybe I can find Jack, if he's still alive.
She'd been so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't notice that they'd all left the room to talk. She waited patiently, until they all came back in.
"So what is it that you want her to do?" River asked, standing over her and looking down.
The Doctor looked up. He and Martha were eating in some establishment on the other equivalent of Sihnon - totally different from that of what Rose saw. He'd heard her voice in his head, but it was clearer, somehow, than it had ever been.
"Rose." He whispered, going totally still.