The Doctor asks her–once she’s signed up, once he’s stuck with her–where she wants to go.
“All of time and space at your disposal,” he says, grinning.
It’s been a long, long time since he last had a companion, but he still remembers this part. He waits patiently for the expected reply–it’s always the same. Either they name some event in Earth’s history that they want to visit or they protest that they couldn’t possibly know, out of all of time and space, what would make a good destination.
The first one is usually good fun, but he’s sort of hoping it’ll be the second.
More chances for him to show off that way.
Rose scrunches up her forehead in a way that he knows means she’s thinking. After a moment of silence, she says, “Could you show me the, I dunno, size of it?”
He raises an eyebrow. This is new. “The size of the universe?”
“Not the size,” she says, a bit frustrated. “The scope of it. The scale–that’s the word I want. The scale of it all, the very big and the very small.”
He grins. Oh, yes, he can.
(He knew this girl was special.)
And so he takes her to see the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula–great giant clouds of interstellar dust and gas stretching through space, millions of times larger than her own planet. They sit together with the TARDIS doors thrown open, and he holds her hand while he talks about the expansion of matter and the birth of stars.
He tells her that she could stand at the top of one of those pillars with a telescope, and he could stand at the bottom, but it would still take four years for her to be able to see him because that’s how long it takes light to travel that distance.
(Not that he’s considering putting her on a pedestal or anything. Though, if he were, well, he’d like to see Ricky beat these pedestals.)
She watches the amazing spectacle, and he watches her.
And he tells her about how, by her time, these vast structures have been washed away by the force of a supernova that took place six thousand years before she was born.
“The astronomers of your time know it’s happened,” he says. “They can see the shockwave on its way. But it’ll be another thousand years before the light of its destruction will reach the Earth.”
“A thousand years,” she says, marveling. “A whole millennium. S’a long time to wait for a view.”
He grins at her. “Bit long, yeah.”
Once she’s seen her fill, he takes her to the Quarxil Orbital Particle Accelerator in the forty-seventh century, and they float in the anti-gravity demonstration room, bouncing around with holographic projections of subatomic particles. He links his arm with hers and tells her which ones are which, what they all do, and how tiny they really are, pausing only to lean over and flick a pesky up-quark out of her hair. He makes fun of string theory, and she laughs even though she doesn’t quite understand the joke, and afterwards, they get chip-flavored slush puppies and banana-flavored soy protein bars, and she laughs even more.
Of course, the universe can’t just go letting him have such a nice day. It has a reputation to uphold, after all.
And the crisis that rears its ugly head isn’t even something spectacular and impressive and alien–it’s just some poor researcher who’s contracted a virus that just happens to prefer to dine on the neocortex of the human brain.
“It’s all for nothing,” he shrieks as the security personnel try to negotiate with him over the airlock’s comm-system. “Everything’s fading into black! No purpose, no love, no dreams, no soul!”
“You’re just suffering a bit of brain damage,” says the Doctor calmly into the microphone. “Happens to the best of us. Why don’t you come on out and let me help you?”
“No!” argues the head of the Hospitality Division. “He’s infected! He’ll contaminate the rest of the station!”
“There’s nothing that can be done for him anyway,” says another department leader.
“We can’t be sure of that,” reasons the Doctor. In the airlock, the man begins to scream about heat death and the end of the universe, throwing out his arms and tearing at his hair.
The Doctor tries to make the station crew see reason, but every time the man’s voice rises in a fevered pitch, their eyes go dark with fear. He tries his best to stop them, but the security guards turn on him and Rose, keeping them restrained as the captain of the station makes the final call.
There is a terrible rushing sound over the comm as the man is swept out into the darkness of space.
Back in the TARDIS, Rose sits on the jump seat with her arms wrapped around herself. The Doctor stands against the console, his eyes closed.
“They just killed him,” she murmurs bleakly. “You could have made him better, and they just killed him.”
He takes a single, slow breath, feeling ancient. “They were scared,” he says at last. “People do stupid things when they’re scared. They didn’t have a lot of time to think it over.”
She pulls her knees up to her chest and hugs them. “Doctor, what did he mean by heat death?” she asks. “He kept repeating that bit.”
He takes a moment before answering, before imparting to her the terrible knowledge that the universe is finite, that in the end, it really will all fade to black.
She is silent as he talks, but he can feel her eyes pleading with him, asking him to make it all better.
(“Is that what you do, jump in and save the Earth?” she asked. “I’m not saving it,” he answered glibly. “Time’s up.”)
He can’t. There’s nothing he can do. Not even the Doctor can change the very nature of the universe.
“It all comes to naught in the end, Rose. But,” he says, taking her hand with a half smile, “not just yet.”
He parks the TARDIS in the spire of the Norwich Cathedral in 1912 on a particularly beautiful, sunny day. They sit on the edge of ancient stones, looking down at the city below. Beneath them, they can hear the sound of hymns being sung as services are conducted.
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, God of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to their sun above.
Rose stares down at the tiny figures of the people in the town. “They don’t know, any of them,” she marvels. “It’s all so big–time and space–and they don’t know a thing about it. They’re all worrying about bills and hem lengths and what to have for tea. Eggs, beef, and global warming, like you said.”
“Feeling small?” he enquires teasingly.
She grins at him. “Nope,” she says, flipping her hair back in the sun, and he gets that odd, creeping feeling again, the one that she brings out in him–that somewhere, somehow, in some time, the whole of creation beats to the rhythm of her tiny, single heart.
“I’m just thinking,” she says. “Listen. They sound so happy.”
She lifts her chin and closes her eyes, letting the sound of the hymn wash over her.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flowering meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain,
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
“There’s war coming soon,” she says at last. “Isn’t that right? 1912? Just two years till the start of World War I.” She looks sadly over the charming little town, the pastoral countryside. “There’s not much time left for them to be happy.”
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice,” he quotes softly. “That’s Henry Van Dyke. Same bloke as wrote this hymn. Well, the words, that is. The music’s Beethoven.”
They sit, listening in silence.
“Seems like a sorta bleak philosophy,” she observes after a moment. “Everything’s either too short or too long.”
“Well,” he says, slightly embarrassed. “That’s not how it ends.”
She tilts her head, gives him a curious look, but he doesn’t elaborate. They sit and listen to the music.
Mortals join the mighty chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father-love is reigning o'er us,
Brother-love binds man to man.
Ever singing march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music lifts us sunward
In the triumph song of life.
Below them, the hymn finishes, and the service draws to a close.
“Humans,” he muses after a moment. “Right now, dawn of the twentieth century, and you lot are just starting to stretch your little hands out. Science and technology and the Information Age. In a hundred years, you’ll be sending probes to Mars. Another hundred, and you’ll have yourselves a colony there. You’ll just keep on going, spreading out across the stars. Sure, there’ll be wars along the way. Terrible wars. Plenty of strife, too.”
He stands, and she hops down off the stone ledge to join him. “‘Time,’” he repeats, reaching for her hand, “‘is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but,’” and he pauses for a moment, turning his head just a little to look at her out of the corner of his eye, “‘for those who love, time is eternity.’”
Her smile grows and blooms in the sunlight.
And I bet,” he says a little abruptly, off-footed by the intimacy of the moment, “that even when the universe is on its last legs, there’ll be humans there, clinging to the skin of some tiny little world, shouting in defiance of the dark.”
He opens an arm, slides it around the back of her shoulders and is pleasantly surprised when she turns and curls her warm, living body into his.
“Are we falling through space, you and me?” she asks with a half-laugh, burying her face in his jacket.
He thinks about it and then shakes his head. Nah,” he says, wrapping his arms around his girl and pressing his cheek against the bright gold of her hair. “Right now? We’re the center. Space,” he said with a contented sigh, “is falling ‘round us.”