The moon orbiting the planet kept its face hidden, like a fox in the bushes. Except, Jenny never knew foxes with their foxy scent. She never knew wind over grass, or sweet blossoms warmed by the sun. But not knowing didn't stop Jenny from thinking that the moon hid its face from her -- not like a blushing bride, but like a fox in hiding, waiting to pounce, waiting for the right moment.
She set thrusters and released her ship's landing struts. The planet hovering over the moon was silent, guarded by buoys that warned passersby: The Library Is Closed. Under sanction three-oh-eight-apple-nine-delta of the Shadow Proclamation, any approach or landing to The Library is forbidden. Our sincere apologies for any inconvenience. The Library Is Closed.
"Approach to The Library may be forbidden, but no one said anything about you, Mr. Moon," she said, smiling, peering out from her view screen at the pasty gray terrain stretching out, curving at the horizon before giving way to inky dark space.
Jenny stepped into an environmental suit, clicking the helmet closed. The hatch at the bottom of her ship hissed when released, letting in light reflected from the surface of the moon. She dropped down, cushioned by the slight gravity.
She smiled as she walked, as she ran. Running in low gravity! Oh, she could almost fly, sail, glide. She stopped, looked up to the darkness of space sprinkled with stars, and thought of him, and thought of her, and thought...
This moon was not real. This moon whispered ever so softly. She could almost hear it, feel it like an itch in the back of her palm, right at the back of her neck, whisper whisper whisper. What did it say? Beware the moon, beware the precipice, beware of what is unknown. She felt like she hovered between the past and the future, waiting for transformation, for things to change. She has known what it is to change. It's like death. But that's all right, she's been dead before.
Over by the side of her ship, a few feet away, she spotted a large rock that wasn't a rock. She leaped over to it, passing her hand over its gray skin, searching. "What are moons that are not moons to me? What are locks and doors and silent forgotten planets?" she asked as her fingers sought and found the proper depression. "If I just press like so, and like so, then--"
Jenny laughed and stepped back when the rock broke open and lifted, revealing handrails and a ladder. She shivered and laughed and smiled because she was afraid and that would not stop her.
River walks along the river. She feeds the ducks. The day is mild but the clouds promise rain in the evening. Like yesterday. Like tomorrow.
Children play in the playground. She spots her two among the others. Her girl has a red jumper today, and her boy a green jacket. And Charlotte is there, laughing as she waves. There is dinner to think of, to prepare for the others. Dave said he'd bring the wine. Miss Evangelista might bring a salad. And they could plan, sit around the table and plan. They had so much they needed to figure out and think and prepare, for their trip, for the expedition. To the mountains. To the sea. Like yesterday. Like tomorrow.
River looks out over the river at the ducklings, fuzzy and gray and awkward. She looks up to the sky and feels the world tilt, just for a moment. She only feels it for a moment, memories like an ice-cold drop of rain down the collar of her dress and her hand reaches for a metal cylinder, for a book, for another hand.
Dr. Moon appears. "You," she says, surprised. "I haven't seen you in ages."
"Listen to me." He is very earnest, very serious when he speaks. "There is an intrud--"
He's cut off. Where he stood there is a young woman with long blonde hair. "Hello! Where am I?"
River steps forward, her feet splashing in the riverbank, but the woman is gone, her image splintered and fading into Dr. Moon. River closes her eyes and wishes him gone. She slides a little on the mud and the slick damp grass, almost falling. In her mind she wishes for the riverbank to be dry and firm and then it is. Just like that, the day is no longer wet and dirty but breezy and cool and dry. There is no sign of Dr. Moon.
"Mama, mama," the children cry for her, taking her hand, pulling her toward the playground. "Push us on the swings. Watch us build a sand castle."
"What is it, darlings? What can I do?" She follows willingly, smiling and laughing. The girl wears a red bow in her hair. The boy wears a green shirt. And Charlotte stares at her, always so serious, her Charlotte.
"Don't go near the river," says Charlotte.
River looks behind toward the water. What a fine day it has turned out to be. But wasn't it raining? Wasn't it colder than this? And then it is. River pulls her coat closer and wipes at the soft drizzle kissing her face. The children run and play, the girl back in her jumper, the boy with his scarf.
"Mama, why must it be so wet?"
The children look at her with questions in their eyes. Behind the questions there is something like concern, fear, unknown. River looks back toward the river, looks up at the sky, holds her hand out to catch the moisture. "But it's not wet. Look, the sun is shining."
The children beam sunny faces as they run and play, their hair catching the sunlight. River looks at her hand. She wants more flowers, a stronger breeze, more birds in the air.
She blinks and there are flowers, their scent carried in the breeze, and birds fly overhead.
The dining table is buried under maps and charts and papers full of notes. The food has been eaten and the wine is gone. The children sleep upstairs.
River's team is with her. She watches Proper Dave and Anita argue. "No, no, no. If we go in through here," Proper Dave stabs at the map, "that's a much better plan. Look, there's an opening that'll take us right to the center."
"All right, all right, it was just a suggestion." Anita holds her hands up. "What do you think, River?"
River is lost thinking of this house she lives in, and her friends she sees every day, and the planning, always the planning but never the doing. There was something wrong here. "I think," she says, but she doesn't actually look at anyone as she says it. "I think we should go. I think we should leave right now."
"Go?" asks Anita. Other Dave looks fearfully around, as if the roof might cave in or... the shadows had increased.
"On the trip, the expedition. We should go."
"Of course we're going," says Proper Dave. "Why else plan if not to go?"
"Right now. Let's go right now. Come on. Let's get in the car, and get in our ship and go."
The others stare at her. They look at each other, uncomfortable.
"Our bags are packed," River says, waving at the front door and indeed their bags, their boxes and trunks of equipment are there, lined up, as if they had been there all along.
"How did," Anita start, and falls silent. She stands. They all stand.
Miss Evangelista steps apart. "She's right. All we do is plan, but we never go."
River takes Miss Evangelista's hand, squeezes. She meets her eyes. "You feel it, too. Do you see it? Can you remember? I think I've forgotten something important."
In the center of the room an image flickers and then strengthens. The others gasp. It's Dr. Moon again, only it isn't. His image melts away, becomes the same woman from before, blonde hair tied back into a long ponytail. She's speaking, muttering at something. "If I can just stabilize the algorithm like so... Oh," the woman says, noticing the others for the first time. "Well, that's more like it." She smiles. "Hello, I'm Jenny. Who are you?"
No one speaks. River steps forward, remembering she's more than just River who lives by a river in a house with three children. "I'm Professor River Song. These are my friends."
Jenny stands tall, hands on her hips. "That's a lovely name! I should have thought of something like that. Can you tell me what you all are doing here?" The image flickers. "No," cries Jenny. "Hold on, hold on." But the image destabilizes and disappears.
They were all remembering.
"I had a brother," says Anita.
"I promised Stan I'd help him move when I got back," says Other Dave.
"That last day, I got her name, the girl from the shop. Nice girl, always meant to talk to her," says Proper Dave.
Miss Evangelista wraps her arms around her chest. She doesn't speak, but her eyes say she remembers, too, her father, her life before.
At the doorway Charlotte appears. "River," she says. "You mustn't remember. It'll only hurt."
River paces, unable to stop moving. She loves her friends, cares for their well being, is so immensely grateful they're here with her, but right at that moment she wishes them gone. Their memories are loud, they drown out her own. But God, even with the cacophony of noise around her, she remembers him.
As soon as she scrunches her eyes and wishes to be alone, she is. The house is silent. In a panicked moment she wants them to return, but then she calms and puts her hands down by her sides. She concentrates, closes her eyes, stretches out with her senses. If she's very still, if she quiets the noise in her heart and in her mind, she can just touch the very surface of the programming that creates the world around her.
She is part of it, woven into the code, a complex equation.
"There! Got it."
River opens her eyes and sees Jenny standing before her.
"That was good. You helped. Thank you."
"I suppose I did," says River. "Where are you? You can't be at The Library. It's not safe there."
"No," says Jenny with a sly smile. "That's forbidden. I'm on the moon. Why are you here? You're not part of the original programming."
River looks up at the ceiling, thinking of her lovely Charlotte. "Our physical bodies died. My friend, I had a friend, impossible man, who saved us all here, in the computer core."
Jenny creases her forehead. "Really? But that's brilliant." she says. "You'll live forever."
"Yes." River agrees, except she'd shivered, except once she'd realized what she was and where she was, all she could see is the string of numbers that make up everything. River reaches out toward Jenny's image, holding out her hand. Jenny does the same. Their hands pass through each other.
Jenny looks at her with her head cocked to one side. They keep their hands outstretched. River can almost make herself feel a tickle of energy. "Is there no way?" asks Jenny.
"I can't think of one. Can you?"
Jenny breaks into a smile. "Yes," she says. "I've got an idea."
The Wheel of Fortune
On the moon, Jenny disabled the security doctor protocol from interrupting her signal. The cave inside was dusty and dry and cold.
She used the diagnostic monitors to access the computer core, the heart of the planet lying so far beneath the surface, not dormant but quiet, left alone for untold years. "With only this moon to watch over you, high in the sky," she said, her hands on the metal of the console feeling the slight vibration.
What had brought her here? A random turn of the dial. Following a trail of space dust, leaping from star to star, and here she was. On the monitor she could see the code of the virtual world the computer created for Professor River Song: trees, a river, a house. A road if she wanted it. A town, sometimes. They were there, real for River Song, as real as anything. And Jenny was stuck on the other side of the glass.
"There must be a way." If there were no way, then she would just have to make the way, craft it out of a line of numbers. A little tinkering, a little soldering. She needed to break the glass, to step through.
An electric shock sparked from the computer access point, traveling up her arm. She felt it in her teeth, and jumped back. All of the diagnostic monitors flashed red and then went black. In the center red text appeared:
CAL SAYS YOU MUSTN'T
Jenny turned around in a circle. "It's all right," she said. "I won't hurt anything. I just want to help."
YOU ARE NOT WANTED
"But she wants me to stay, to go to her, to find a way. Professor River Song. Just ask her," she cried. The monitors went dark. In the still and quiet of the moon she could hear the light rasp of her breath. The red text slowly faded. Jenny touched one of the monitors. "You could help," she said.
She waited, staring at all of the blank monitors until the center one lit up once again. Jenny smiled, leaning in to read: cupboard #3439FG02, item: neural interface.
River sits on a hard wooden chair in a plain room with white walls and windows that look out onto pale green meadows. She has thought of a place that is not her house, not any of its rooms, far away from the others.
She closes her eyes and doesn't open them until she feels a touch on the tops of her thighs. Jenny is kneeling before her. "Clever girl," she says.
Jenny smiles. "I had a little help."
River traps Jenny's hands beneath her. She can feel Jenny's body heat. "I can touch you."
Jenny threads her fingers through River's. "Touch is just another line of numbers. Where are we?"
"I don't know." River looks around. "Just a place I thought up. Someplace quiet."
"Hmm." Jenny keeps hold of River's hand. They both stand, and move to the door, out into the pale green meadow. Jenny smiles, face upturned to the sky, with an expression of someone to whom blue skies are precious and rare. She looks at River, but her gaze is caught by something behind her.
It's Charlotte, standing a few meters away. "Where should we go?" River asks, turning back to face Jenny.
Jenny squeezes her hand. "Everywhere."
They take off running.
They're running through a jungle, chased by aliens with large round eyes and feathers for hair. Jenny wields a machete; River loads a crossbow. They pant under cover of a rocky overhanging, spying the multicolored feathers of their pursuers.
"What is this? What story are we in?"
"I don't know," says Jenny. "Isn't it wonderful?"
She's smiling, radiant, and River laughs. "Yes."
Jenny grabs her hand and they run.
She must be quiet. Not a sound. River's heart is pounding. Where's Jenny? Damn that girl, always getting lost, always in trouble. Thank goodness they got the family out, before. The family is safe. A floorboard creeks. River feels sweat trickle down her back.
"I can smell you," says a twisted, whiny deep voice. A Thorcini here in this village, hunting innocents for pleasure. They shouldn't even be in this side of the galaxy.
"Well, I didn't manage a bath this morning, sorry."
The Thorcini laughs. "You're a clever one."
Another floorboard creaks, off to her right. River moves in the opposite direction, keeping in the shadows--
Stay out of the shadows!
She stumbles over a table or a chair.
"Got you," says the Thorcini, who is surprisingly small but equipped with talons. He aims one long nail right at her belly ready to rip her open.
River kicks hard. Jenny springs out of the shadows, shattering a vase over the Thorcini's head. He falls with a thud, motionless.
"Well, that was surprisingly disappointing," says Jenny with a laugh. But then the Thorcini explodes in a shower of glitter and confetti and little tweeting birds that smack into the closed windows before flying down the stairs. "Oh, much better." She looks over at River. "Are you all right?"
River can't speak. She stands half in a shadow, half out.
Jenny takes River's face in her hands, kisses her cheek, her mouth, holds her close in strong arms.
The voyage is months long with months still to go. River lies in her bunk, feeling the sway of the ocean. The porthole over the bunk is open and the sea spray sprinkles over her skin, salty and tangy. She can see the sun low in the sky, red like a fat ripe tomato bleeding into the horizon.
In this world there is only sea, with continents of kelp and organic floating islands thatched together. And the ocean, never ending, always changing.
The door to the cabin opens. "They're predicting a storm tonight," says Jenny, balancing a tray of food and mugs of ale.
"So soon after the last one?"
"It's the season for storms. I love storms."
"I know you do." The sun disappears and stars pop into existence. Overhead, in the dark sky, the moon starts its journey. The moon, the moon.
River startles as Jenny climbs into the bunk and they settle next to each other. "Don't think of it," says Jenny.
"I try not to, but neither can I forget entirely."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"I forget for a moment, for days. We're running, you and I, escaping from prison or walking on a beach or crash landing on some forgotten lost continent and it's marvelous. It's amazing and wonderful and everything I love. And none of it is real."
Jenny takes one of River's curls and wraps it around her finger. "I'm real," she says. She lets the curl go and watches it spring back. Jenny slowly drags her hand down over River's breast, down her side to her hip. "This is real."
"You're a dream within a dream."
River is pushed onto her back. She looks up, catches her breath just before Jenny kisses her. She shudders when Jenny slips her hand between her legs.
"A dream within a dream within a dream. I like it," says Jenny with an impish smile.
"What are you? Where did you come from?"
Jenny's eyes darken to the color of the night sky. "I have a father, somewhere. One day I'll find him again. He's where I belong, what I belong to--a shared history, a shared suffering. Other then that, I am a child of the machine."
"What does that mean?"
Jenny looks serious, then smiles broadly. "I have no idea."
River laughs. "Impossible."
River is breathless with laughter, struggling with her dress strangling her neck as she yanks it over her head. The rocks are slippery. "We'll get caught and have to leg it naked back to Yorgen. That is, if we don't get thrown in jail."
Jenny hops as she tugs a boot off. She pauses mid tug, balancing on one leg. "Do you really think so? I've never run naked through a town before." She is all wonder and delight.
"That surprises me. Well, you're not going to start now, if I have anything..." she trails off, staring around her. The waterfall is gorgeous, complete with rainbow, glistening rocks, gentle foliage and flowers everywhere. The pool is crystal clear, like cut glass. "We shouldn't even be here."
"You forget," says Jenny, completely naked, pink nipples pointing straight out. "We can do whatever we want."
The water is cool, lapping over River's thighs, clashing with the warmth between her legs.
They splash and play, swim and kick. Jenny pushes River up against the smooth rock of the pool, mouth over one breast. She keeps pushing until River lies half in the water, half out, her legs spread open, gasping at the hot swipe of Jenny's tongue clashing with the cold water. She comes hard, arching, staring at the blue sky and the white puffy clouds. She catches her breath before turning Jenny over so she can lie on top. River wants to see Jenny's face when she comes.
There is a yell that echoes against the rocks. Jenny's eyes go round and River laughs. They take each other's hands and run, breasts jiggling, laughing through the woods till they reach the town.
It takes all day, a bag of roasted peanuts, two apple cores, and some used bubble gum, but they manage to save the capitol from terrorists just before the Viceroy, his family, and the royal kennel of pugs are due to attend the premier opening night of Hurstian ballet. The Viceroy, his family, and the royal kennel of pugs, insist River and Jenny submit to a public ceremony of gratitude. River is named Grand Protectoress and Jenny is given the Scepter of Mischief and Peace.
Flowers are thrown up on to the stage. River waves to the crowd that is thousands strong, going back far into the town square. Jenny is bowing and bowing, loving the attention, until she stumbles, a hand at her head as if it hurts. She cries out, gasps.
River catches Jenny as she stumbles again. "Are you hurt?"
"I can't be," says Jenny. "It's impossible." The Viceroy hovers, the pugs snuffle affectionately at Jenny's feet. Everyone stares with concern. The crowd hushes.
River lets Jenny stand on her own, but she keeps one hand on her arm and the other cups her face.
Stepping from out of the shadows--
Stay out of the shadows!
--Charlotte appears. "It's the neural interface. It isn't meant to be used this long. She's dying."
River looks from Charlotte to Jenny. Flowers are thrown at their feet.
She paces, back and forth. Jenny sits in the hard wooden chair. The room is the same as before, four white bare walls lacking light, and through the window she could see endless pale green meadows.
"How long has it been for you?"
"Honestly, I hadn't realized."
"Oh, and that's all right, is it? Should that make me feel better? How long has it been?"
Jenny has a small crease between her eyes. She's breathing softly, looking at River with such openness, such concern.
River swears. It had felt like years. Like all those years. "You have to leave."
"River." Jenny stands, shaking her head.
"You're not dying in here, Jenny, so don't even think about it. Go. Leave."
"I'm not leaving. Not like this."
"I can make you leave." River shuts her eyes, but when she opens them Jenny is still there. River's eyes sting. She wipes at them roughly, turns toward the window. The sky is a perfect blue, no clouds. Charlotte is playing in the meadow. Slowly, the room shifts and changes into her house. The children join Charlotte, the girl with a red hat and the boy with green trousers. She sees Anita and Dave, and Other Dave as well. They're playing with the children. Miss Evangelista is walking up to them, smiling.
Jenny touches her, taking her gently by the shoulders, turns her around. She takes River by the hand and they climb the stairs to the bedroom. Silently they undress and lie on the bed. River takes her time, memorizing this impossible woman, this friend. She is so like him sometimes, but much more innocent, and so young, her eyes are so young. "Come here," she says and holds Jenny in her arms.
"Promise me one thing, and I'll go." Jenny moves to lie on top, thigh pressing against thigh, nipples to nipples, nose to nose.
"Take your friends, take the children, and Charlotte, take them all, and do everything you want to do. Everything. Come back to this house to rest, but there is still so much you can experience, still so much for you to do."
River kissed Jenny's collarbone. "Forever?"
Jenny nods. "For as long as you can. All things end, River. Even The Library. Even the moon."
She trails a finger down Jenny's face, tracing around her eyes. "All right. I promise."
The room is dark and silent and they have all night. In the morning, River is alone.
She lies in bed until the children run in and pounce. "Anita is in the kitchen packing food. She says we're going on a trip." Ella snuggles up against her.
"And what would you say to that? Would you like a trip?"
Ella nods. Josh bounces up and down. "I want to see pirates."
"Pirates? Very well, then." River baps Josh on the nose. In the doorway Charlotte appears. "Go run and pack. Just what you can carry, and we'll go hunting pirates."
Josh and Ella stampede out of the room. Charlotte hesitates, looking uncertain. River holds out her hand. Charlotte smiles, runs into her arms, gives a quick hug before leaving.
Downstairs, Proper Dave and Other Dave argue over the map. Miss Evangelista leans against a wall. She looks at River descending from the stairs. "Nearly ready," she says with a look on her face that says she knows River has been absent, that she almost never returned.
River sweeps Miss Evangelista's hair from her neck, kisses her on the cheek. "Yes."
Jenny fell to her hands and knees. Her clothes were soaked with sweat. She lay on her side without moving until the sweat dried and her limbs stopped shaking.
She heard a noise, a beeping, over and over again, insistent and with a tone that sounded urgent. Wake up. Wake up.
Slowly, she stood, walked over to the center monitor. "I'm all right," she said, touching the monitor. She wanted to ask how River was, how they all were but CAL showed her anyway. An adventure on the high seas. Other Dave has been captured by pirates, made to walk the plank, Anita was good with a sword. River was captain. Perfect.
She leant her head against the monitor. She might have slept, until the cold wound its way into her bones and she could no longer delay. Before leaving, she re-enabled the doctor program. "Take care of her."
The moon was silent in its orbit. In her environment suit, Jenny paused on the surface. She felt the pull of the moon's gravity, and of The Library below. She turned from the light of the planet and faced open space. She felt that itch, right at the back of her neck, as if she could float up into that darkness, become unanchored, drift.
She climbed up into her ship, dropping her helmet off to the side. "Hello," she said, settling into her seat, flipping switches. The engine hummed. "Miss me?"
The engine hummed louder. She smiled, pushing the thrusters forward, shooting up into dark unknown, aiming for the star two from the left and four down.