Half-way down the second block, Romana was just settling into a regular stride when a boy on a bicycle rounded the far corner and came towards her, weaving strangely as he went. He was wearing a fat canvas sack bulging with…
“Newspapers!” Romana breathed. She took it in stride that the newspapers were apparently distributed by means of children on bicycles and stepped out into the street to wave this one down. He peddled towards her, reaching into his bag to extract a folded paper and flinging it out with practiced precision to land on the walkway of one of the houses. Two houses down, he repeated this performance again, paying her no mind.
She moved to the center and waved her hands. The boy frowned and adjusted his trajectory to go around her, so she moved again. He swerved slightly, she ran to block him.
“Hey!” he objected in confusion as he was forced to hit the brakes to avoid colliding with her. “What are you doing? I might have hit you.”
“So sorry,” Romana said and reached out to pluck one of the folded bundles from his shoulder-bag. “I just need to see one of your newspapers.”
“Then maybe you should get a subscription,” Henry frowned, not without some irritation though she was a grown-up and she was being very matter-of-factly polite. A thought struck him and he brightened slightly. “You want to buy one? I can sell you one.”
“No thank you. Ah,” she said, locating the date. “1957. Thank you.” She folded it back up neatly, popped the rubber band back around it and courteously handed it back to him before walking back to the sidewalk.
What a strange woman, Henry thought. He wondered if she might be that new Avon lady his mother had mentioned, the one who was going around selling perfumes and nail polish and things door to door. Or maybe she was just visiting someone; her voice reminded him of those people who did wildlife documentaries on television, all formal-like. Usually Ribsy barked at strangers.
Pedaling away, he adjusted his bag and looked around realizing what it was he was missing. “Ribsy? Ribsy!… Riiiibsy! Here boy! Where’ve you got to?” he called as he went, paying no more heed to the strange woman as she walked quickly down the block and back around the corner to the alleyway he’d already passed.
Behind him, Romana rounded the corner, took two steps and stopped. The TARDIS was gone.
“Well, that seems to have been a step in the right direction at least,” the Doctor said to himself. He patted the console and then headed down the hallway, looking for Romana.
Ribsy turned his head and gave a little whine. Ramona nodded at him and patted one of his ears. “It’s a really, really long fort, isn’t it?” she whispered to him, then held her breath as she heard the same thing the dog already had. Footsteps coming their way. They sounded like really big footsteps too. Big, giant footsteps.
Seeing a doorway to the side, Ramona pushed it open and pulled Ribsy in after her, closing it all but a crack again to watch outside. The room itself was something like a messy bedroom with makeup stuff on the dresser that reminded her of her mother’s things and gave it the faint but familiar scent of face-powder. Out in the hall, the big footsteps man came by and he was just as big as his footsteps had sounded! It was a Giant, she was sure of it! He strode past and around a corner without stopping.
Ramona looked at Ribsy, who had sniffed around the bed and come up with dust-bunnies on his nose. “Let’s go back out,” she whispered, “There’s a Giant living in here!” Opening the door, she tip-toed out into the hallway and then ran back the way they’d come, Ribsy running ahead of her, apparently just as eager.
They burst back into the room with the funny table of knobs. The door was closed! Ramona started to be a little scared. There wasn’t even a knob to turn! Behind her she heard the Giant with his big footsteps starting to come back.
“Romana?” The Doctor came back into the console room, glancing around, still finding no sign of Romana, which at this point was starting to be unusual. After an event like this morning’s she normally would have been hounding him for some kind of capitulation about the foibles of their most recent landing, at least giving him a good rolling of the eyes and so on. It was most odd that she wasn’t.
“I still need to enter the previous date to recalibrate,” he announced loudly. “Romana? Where are you? Romana!”
A voice finally answered him, but it wasn’t the voice he had expected.
Ramona was greatly surprised, slightly scared and a bit startled that the big giant man with the big voice and big eyes and big teeth knew her name. On the other hand, now that she’d had a chance to look him over more carefully, she could see he wasn’t anything at all like the muscley, hairy Giants in her nursery book. They had big teeth too but theirs were all crookedy and pointy. He even had hair, lots of big hair, and in her picture book they were all bald with nothing but little scribbles for that.
She tentatively came out from where she’d hidden herself behind the coats on the coat-rack when he’d so suddenly breezed back into the room. “What?” she asked.
He stared at this small apparition, which made his big eyes even bigger. “Romana?”
She nodded. “What’s your name?” she asked.
The Doctor didn’t answer for a moment. He was shocked. Had she somehow regressed? Her former body had dark hair like that. Was it even possible? What anomaly could possibly take a Time Lady and regress her to a five year old — in the TARDIS? Or had it happened back on Earth?
The Doctor carefully knelt down to be closer to her current size. “Romana! What happened?”
The child returned his stare and frowned. “RaMOna,” she corrected.
“RAMONA!” she said louder. Maybe the big man was like old Mr. Henderson and not so good with his ears anymore.
The Doctor mirrored her frown. “Romanadvoratrelundar?” he tried.
“Hunkydinkydoopydoo,” Ramona responded. Now this sort of nonsense game she could understand.
“K-9!” he called.
“Q-6!” Ramona said.
The Doctor looked at her and suddenly grinned, then turned to a rolling metal box that was coming their way. Ramona looked at it curiously then with a growing admiration. She liked this man now, he had something that was even better than pretending the vacuum cleaner was a dog, his vacuum cleaner was a dog! The Doctor considered her wide-eyed look and wondered if Romana’s adult memories would have receded with the adult form.
“Do you know this dog?” he asked.
She nodded. Of course she could tell it was a dog! It even had a little thing for a tail. It was a very good dog too. She wished she had a dog like that.
“Hm,” he said. “K-9, is that Romana?”
The dog’s metal ears rotated briefly. “Negative, Master.”
“It’s not a younger version of her former self in any way? Any way at all? Some sort of regression?”
A thin antennae extended from its head, making Ramona wonder if it might also suddenly begin to play radio music. “Negative. No regressive characteristics detected.”
“Negative? Are you sure?” the Doctor asked.
“Very sure, Master. The small being in question is undoubtedly from Earth. Mistress Romana is not from Earth…”
“Yes, yes, right,” the Doctor waved a hand. “Good enough.”
Ramona, who had taken the metal vacuum-cleaner dog being able to talk in stride well enough suddenly realized she herself under discussion. “What does negadiv mean?” she demanded.
‘No’ was something she heard frequently enough a little clarification was in order. “No what?” she wondered.
“In this case, no, you aren’t Romana.”
“I am SO Ramona!” she stamped her foot. This man was ridiculous. She stamped her foot again for good measure and briefly considered working up a small tantrum for emphasis but Beezus wasn’t there to see it and she still wasn’t sure about this big man, though she kind of liked the way his face was all sort of oversized. Even his hair. She liked his boingy hair. He was still looking at her with those big eyes, like a goldfish. She remembered the goldfish they’d had last spring, the one Beezus won at the school carnival. It died and then it floated around on the top of the water with its belly up.
“If you died, would your stomach stick up?” she asked.
“If I died?” the Doctor echoed in bafflement. “What a fascinating question. I suppose it would depend on which way I landed at the time. What do you think, K-9?”
“Insufficient data to make a determination.”
“Ribsy likes it when his stomach sticks up, if you rub it,” Ramona continued in a matter-of-fact way, pointing behind him. “He’s right there.”
The Doctor turned carefully — one never knew what manner of creature or companion suddenly appearing miniaturized quasi-Romana’s might come equipped with after all — and started slightly as a panting dog’s nose thrust towards his face, snuffling. He grinned and reached out to scrub at the dog’s ears, eliciting a wag at the opposite end of the beast. “A dog!” he said with some delight. “Ooh, and you’re a fine fellow, aren’t you? Real Earth dog, K-9?”
“Oh yes you are! You are. Shall I scratch your ears? But of course, hmm, there, that feels nice now doesn’t it? What did you say his name was?”
“That’s Ribsy,” Ramona said, surprised and a little jealous at the way Henry’s dog, which had always been polite but cautious in a longsuffering way with her was so quick to accept this stranger, leaning into his hands and lolling his tongue out slightly with delight as the man scratched around his collar setting his tags to jingling. “He’s Henry’s, ” she added pointedly.
“Ah, I see. And ‘Henry’ is about here somewhere as well then?”
“’Course not! He’s throwing papers.”
He wasn’t sure what to make of this occupation, so he pursued his original thought. “So he’s not in the TARDIS?” He saw her suspicious frown at the strange word, as if it were a trick question and waved a hand, adding “Here. This place, this is the TARDIS.”
She nodded at that. A tardis was obviously his word for his funny house, like Howie calling his and Willa-Jean’s refrigerator carton with holes cut out of it for windows the Box with Holes when it was obviously a space ship. Ramona had even added a Martian on the side with a green crayon, so now she could prove it. “I like your tardis,” she assured him helpfully. “It would be better with Martians. I can make Martians.”
“Can you?” he asked, not sure what to make of this unusual skill being volunteered. “I’m the Doctor, by the way,” he added, shaking her hand as if she were a real grown-up and thereby gaining several dozen merit points in her eyes. It also probably explained to her why the walls and everything were so white; doctors liked things white. Every picture she’d ever seen of a doctor they even had white coats. Not that this doctor had a white coat, which was a good thing since Ribsy’s paws probably weren’t very clean. “Henry isn’t here, then?” he persisted.
“Ribsy’s just looking for Henry,” she said. “He lives at Henry’s house. Someday when I’m bigger I’m going to marry Henry and we’ll have a bajillion of dogs just like Ribsy. And I’ll have a circus.”
“Right,” he nodded in comic seriousness. “We need to get you home, don’t we? The sooner the better. Look, you stay right here! Don’t leave this room. I’ll take you home.”
He turned back to the waiting console as Ramona frowned behind him. She didn’t want to go home yet, she was enjoying this strange little tardis-house with all of its rooms and things, and she definitely didn’t like to be told to hold still. Ribsy whined as the Doctor left off petting him to go to the console. Ramona hugged him tight around the neck, looking at the Doctor’s back, then had an idea.
“Go find Henry, Ribsy! Go find Henry! Go home!” she commanded.
The dog’s ears popped up and he promptly shot down the hallway barking in excitement, skidding around the corners. Henry had to be near, or Ramona wouldn’t have said so.
“Hey, now! Come back here…” the Doctor started to call after them then stopped and scrubbed at his hair in resignation. “K-9?”
“It appears we’ve acquired some stowaways and possibly lost Romana in the process.” He reached up and grabbed a handful of his hair, tugging it thoughtfully then ran a hand down over his face at the thought of Romana’s potential reaction to having been rather unexpectedly abandoned. “Pbbbllft. Well. I suppose this means I have to find my way back. Go find those two, try to keep them out of trouble will you?”
“Affirmative.” The little tin dog rolled obediently down the hallway after the retreating echoes.