The sun was low in the sky by the time the Doctor’s chariot pulled past the outskirts of Rome. The city was very small by the standards of Chris and Lorna’s time, but it had still taken a while to get to the point where it finally ended. The traffic was heavy and the chariot was slow, and for what seemed like hours they’d ridden past the tumbledown tombs that stretched their way out from the centre. Finally they came to the long stretch of the Appian Way, to an area that at least felt like it was mostly green.
“It’s a nice place,” said the Doctor to the high bit of wood that separated her from the chariot’s driver. There was no response at all, and she scowled at a nearby tree.
In many of her incarnations the Doctor had struggled with taxi drivers– as highly opinionated people whose lives depended on their vehicles, they’d always reminded her a bit too much of herself. She’d told herself she needed to get better with people, but now she found herself wondering if maybe she’d found a line.
“Straight, aren’t they?” she said, trying once again, “these roads you Romans build. Means it’s that much less work for you, I imagine! Just riding along in a big straight line. You probably don’t have to do much of anything at all, to keep a chariot like this just riding on and on–“
She realised, and scowled at a tree once more.
“Oh, Hell," she muttered, smashing the wooden partition with her fist. As she’d suspected, her driver was solid gold, and probably had been for an embarrassing number of conversations.
The horse was still going, somehow, at the same pace despite how much more weight she would be bearing. She had kept on running out of fear her driver was still alive– which was wise of her, because he was. The Doctor shivered to think of being trapped in that golden body: it was a fate she’d never wish on anyone, no matter how many taxis they drove.
It was time for Plan B, then. The Doctor rarely carried a salt shaker, because they reminded her too much of the Daleks. But this was a desperate situation, so she’d bought along a special one just in case. She took it out as she leapt off the driverless chariot, pointing it in the general direction her app had told her to go. She frowned as she moved it slightly and slightly again, until the salt glass middle of the shaker began to move upwards as if it was magnetised.
“This thing’s worth its salt,” said the Doctor, because she was positive no one was listening. An attractive force of that magnitude meant there was an enormous quantity of salt nearby, and that meant she was close to the Salineoptera. And that there might be time, if she was very lucky, to save both the city and the whale.
Close behind the Doctor and totally unseen by her, another chariot skidded to a halt. An anxious looking man jumped off as a figure wrapped tight in cloth dismounted, pointing towards the woman in the ahistorical clothes. She wasn’t made of gold, although her hair was yellower than should be possible, and Thresu had no idea why the Rex seemed so keen on following her.
“That woman is worth far more than gold,” said the voice in his mind who was listening in. “She has saved this world and saved the whole of time. And we need her more than ever, now that time is crumbling down. ”
“But the Rex may want to kill her,” said Thresu in his mind, “and I’m tasked to do as he will.”
“Ha! Not in the slightest. The Rex is a king, but that woman is a Lord– something great enough that even he would be wise bow to bow down to her.” ”
“But,” thought Thresu, “she’s a woman–"
“And I’m a mouth made out of salt. You’re going to have to be more open-minded,” the voice scolded, “if you’re going to be any good at this job.”
Thresu thought of the worst tasks he’d had as a slave, mopping up vomit and wiping latrines. How he’d been so delighted when he was given this task instead, and how he’d give anything to be a cleaner again right now.
He sighed to himself and followed the marble soldier, tracking the woman who had the impossible hair.