Author's Notes:
Summary: The fam learn about the plague

Ryan and Graham make their way to the left of the town and start at one end of a street where the houses have a slightly pink glow.

“This is nice,” Ryan comments.

“Yeah. Peaceful.”

They walk up the cobbled path. Graham falters only slightly at the sight of the large bay windows with warm brown and slightly threadbare curtains - so much like the ones in the home he and Grace had had. Ryan nudges him without making eye contact, and Graham firms his step and they both step up to the front door.

The box in place of a door handle has numbers and a row of strange symbols, but at the button there is a phone icon, like the one Ryan taps to make the occasional voice call on whatsapp. He presses his thumb against it, and, inside the house they hear a phone begin to ring. He removes his thumb and it stops.

Grinning, Graham puts his thumb on it. The ringing starts once more. “Welcome to the future.”

They wait a second, but there’s no sound or movement from the inside. “Should we ring it again?”

“Seems rude. Maybe they’ve popped out.”

“Let’s try the next one.”

They move back down the path and onto the next house. This box works the same and Ryan rings inside once more. There’s still no answer.

At the fifth door, they stop. “They can’t all be out...can they?”

Graham looks around. The town seems quiet and deserted. “The Doc said life signs, but there isn’t anything going on.”

“Not like there’s anywhere to go.”

“2147. There must be bigger cities. Maybe they all left?”

“Then what was the sonic picking up?”

Graham looks nervously around. “That wasn’t a reassuring question, Ryan.”

The door behind them suddenly opens with the smooth whoosh of automatic doors in shopping centres. “What do you want?”

They both leap back with small sounds of panic, but the figure at the door looks human, if aggressive. She’s small, with a deeply tanned olive complexion that Ryan associates with Mediterranean heritage. She looks about his age, but is smaller and far slighter than Yaz.

In fact, now he is looking closely, she’s not slim or even thin. The girl is emaciated, and he suddenly wonders if she is as old as she appears, skin pinched over the bones of her face giving her an aged look.

He steps back onto the top step and immediately feels guilty when the girl startles back a little, eyes roving over his bulk. “Hey, sorry. I’m Ryan. This is my grandad.” He’s faintly aware of Graham giving the dopey grin he always gives when Ryan calls him that and makes a note to tease him later.

“We’re uhhh….” What would the Doctor say? “We’re community...outreach officers. Just checking in on you.”

She nods slowly and still looks hostile, but not suspicious. “Do you want to come in?”

“If that’s alright,” Graham smiles warmly. “Better to chat inside than on the doorstep, yeah?”

The girl turns and walks back into the house, leaving the door open behind her. They follow, and a few moments later, the door closes with a second small whoosh.

She leads them into a front room that looks so normal it could be in Sheffield. There are two grey sofas, arranged to point forward at a flat silver plate, that Ryan immediately identifies as some kind of futuristic television. There’s an end table with a plant pot on it. The pot itself is a delicate ceramic and has been painted in the blobby colours of a primary school project. It’s empty but for some dry dirt.

Graham is looking at a row of black and silver stands, each one projecting an image above it. They are family shots mostly, what looks like holidays, some kind of celebration with coloured streamers and gifts, a little girl he recognises as the one who opened the door but now in pigtails with chocolate smeared around her mouth. In the last picture, she’s holding a baby.

“What’s your name?” Ryan asks.

“Mariangela. Why are you here? Why now?”

She sounds so angry, in so much pain. Graham has a sinking sensation. He knows too well what grief sounds like. “What’s her name?” he asks, looking at the photo of the baby.

“Him. My son. He was called Santos, after my dad.”

It takes Ryan a moment, then he looks shattered. “I’m sorry. We should’ve- We’ve just arrived.”

She shrugs. “Ask your questions.”

“We…”

Ryan doesn’t know how to ask, and it is Graham who says gently, “I lost my wife. Recently. She was...I’ll never forget her and I’ll never stop loving her, but it...it gets better.”

“Everyone says that.”

“Can we-?”

“Oh. Yes.” She gestures at one of the sofas and takes a seat herself.

Ryan sits next to Graham on the other one, who leans forward and says, “Will you tell us what happened?”

The young woman shrugs and her eyes grow wide and wet. “The same as everyone else. There’s no food. I lost my milk, and he died. Everyone died.”

“Are you the only person here?”

She shakes her head. “There are others, a few of us, but we keep to ourselves. If we obey restrictions and don’t cause any problems- no looting or anything like that, we get a government food parcel once a week. There was a week when it didn’t come, the blight had gotten into the trees and some had rotted. They’d fallen, blocking the roads, volunteers came, but...but it was too late for Santos.”

“And they couldn’t evacuate you?”

“To where? Everywhere is the same. We can’t go off world, can’t risk spreading the spores to other planets. Everything we have at the moment is coming from off-world.”

“It seems calm though, that’s good, yeah?”

She gives a wan smile. “Our Interim Planetary Government has mostly focused on keeping everything calm.”

“That’s good.”

“I just wish it’d all return to normal.”

Ryan glances out of the window. From here, the situation looks even worse than it did on the hill. The scrubby glass, malformed and twisted and dying as it so clearly was, isn’t even visible from Mariangela’s window. The whole place just looks barren.

Silence falls between them, stretches and becomes awkward.

“We should go.”

“I’ll walk you to the next house. They’ll answer the door for me.”

She leads them down the path, and Ryan is struck again by the spindle thinness of her legs and arms. Whatever emergency food they are being sent, it clearly isn’t enough.

The next house offers them water, and some more cautious praise for the Interim Government. The initial panic and rioting and looting that Ryan would expect from a disaster on this scale seems to have been quelled and aid, although admittedly minimal, evenly distributed. He’s not surprised the Doctor likes this place.

“Why an Interim Government?” it occurs to him to ask one man, just as thin as everyone else they’ve met, as they work their way down the street.

The man looks momentarily surprised and then relaxes. “You’re off-worlders. Brave of you to come here, there are still occasional transports coming in, but none leaving.”

Ryan smiles his agreement and wonders if they have stirred up trouble by arriving. Everyone seems adamant that the most important point in the Government’s favour is that everyone has been treated the same - rich, poor, old, young, experts and labourers. He and Graham, claiming to be officials and obviously well fed, might have damaged that credibility.

Graham must be thinking the same, as he leans forward and quickly explains. “Yeah, we’re….freelance. Our friend wanted to see what she could do to help and we came too.”

The man clasps their hands tightly in thanks and then returns to Ryan’s question. “Oh, simple enough, how much do you know of our world?”

“Not much,” Ryan answers truthfully.

“We’ve never had a planetary government before,” the man starts. He jumps up, and begins to pace as he explains, “We have always been peaceful, a colony of researchers and their families. We valued science above all. No doubt many of the things we created could be used to cause planetary upheaval,” he smiles bitterly and waves a hand to encompass everything around them, “but we never saw it, we cared about the biology or geology or physics, we cared about proving our theories.

“But we were still, broadly speaking, nations, depending mostly on what we were studying. Each nation was run independent of the others by their funding bodies. The- This- This blight recognises no boundaries. We needed a unified response.”

Graham nods, “Seems like you responded quickly too.”

The old man shrugs. “Not quickly enough to stop the deaths. The spores spreading the disease are microscopic and designed to survive in the worst of climates for weeks, even months. Our plants use DNA from plantlife in the nearest dozen systems, they could all be susceptible. We can’t evacuate and risk spreading the contaminant, all we can do is hope it resolves itself or that one of the botany groups can engineer a cure.”

There is a flush of colour in the man’s cheeks now, stress or anger, and Graham gently guides him back to a seat with a hand on the shoulder. Ryan fetches him a cup of water and when he returns Graham is asking, “- your specialty?”

The man laughs brokenly, “Oh, we were among the first, me and my beautiful Katerina. We came here when the universities that dominate the cities were little more than temporary outbuildings. She wanted to come so much, she was the most amazing mineralogist I ever met. You know the crystals they use to run all our power here were developed from her work? I was dragged along in her wake, I always was. I’m no scientist. I was just a lowly technician. I was freelance too, half the time. Just Katerina’s extra pair of hands.”

Graham smiles at him. “Sounds like your Katerina and my Grace would have been great friends. She was a force of nature too.”

The man meets Graham’s eyes and stares at him for a moment and then nods sharply once. “I miss her. I was in the process of moving back home. Solan II, in the second ring of the Aziz Nebula, do you know it? That’s where the children are. I didn’t want to be here without her and now I’m stuck here.”

“We’re going to help,” Ryan promises. He can’t bear the pain in the old man’s eyes.

“I know you will, young man.” He pulls himself together, “Now, you said you were freelancers?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“You’ll be wanting to report to the governmental centre then, to coordinate what you’re doing with the rest of the volunteers.”

“Yeah, that’d be ace. Where is that exactly?”

The man smiles faintly. “You really did arrive unprepared. Ah, for the impetuousness of youth.” Then his eyes meet Graham’s and a small line furrows his brow.

Ryan sputters a laugh as Graham says, “I’m just here to keep them in check.”

The man gives a small chuckle of his own. “Luckily, you’re on the right continent, you’re not even too far. A couple of miles due East is the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. They’ve got the best labs for learning as much as we can about the blight. The government meetings are hosted in their administration buildings.”

“Thank you.”

They get up to leave and the man shows them the door. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Ryan says awkwardly on the doorstep. He’s said it at every house so far, the numbers of dead staggering and painful.

“I’m luckier than most. At least my Katerina died before this happened to her beloved home.”

“What’s your name,” Ryan asks impulsively.

“William. Billy, to my friends.”

“Goodbye, Billy, I won’t forget you.”

Tears spring to his eyes. “William Tobin, from Solan II. Tell my children what happened to us, if you can. I have three Kathryn, Caleb and Will.”

Ryan can’t speak, just nods again, turning away to dash away his own tears. He kicks the ground moodily as Graham joins him at the bottom of the steps. “We have to stop this, have to fix it somehow. We can’t just let him sit in his house and quietly starve to death.”

“The Doc’ll fix it. You know she will.”

“She has to!”

Graham nods. “She will. Look, that must be almost an hour. Shall we go back to where we’re meeting the others?”

Ryan nods, grateful for a direction and follows Graham.

Yaz and Jack are already at the meeting point, Yaz’s face is cold and closed in a way that Ryan associates with pain.

“Are you alright?” he asks.

She shakes her head and Ryan can see an echo of his own pain in her eyes.

“I know,” he agrees. “This is-”

She huffs out a breath. “Jack doesn’t think we can change it,” she mutters resentfully.

Ryan and Graham both turn alarmed expressions his way and Jack raises his hands. “Hey. I’m not the expert. But this was history enough that the Doctor expected me to know about it. It’s probably a fixed point. We can stop it getting worse and get everything back on track, but it’s likely that ‘on track’ means letting this run its course.”

“We can’t just leave these people!”

“That’s what I said! We have to do something!”

“The Doctor will be back soon,” Jack reassures. “I’m sure she’ll be able to think of something.”

The Doctor never arrives. One hour turns slowly into two and eventually three. There’s no answer when they try calling her and eventually Jack remembers that she canabilised her phone for a battery on Satellite 5.

“She’s got into trouble,” Yaz says eventually, worry colouring her tone.

“Sometimes she just gets distracted,” Graham offers weakly.

“For three hours? We should have made her have a buddy.”

“Alright, let’s head back to the TARDIS for supplies and a quick strategy meeting.”

They settle around a small table in one of the kitchens and Graham makes tea and sandwiches. They barey pick at them, guilt eating into them with every bite. There are people dying of starvation just a mile or so away and with the TARDIS’ food machine, they probably have the capacity to save that whole town if no one else.

Jack pushes away his plate after only a few bites. “We can’t,” he answers what everyone is thinking. “Everyone keeps talking about how the Government has treated everyone the same. We can’t mess that up for them and risk causing more widespread problems. No one is dying right now, right?”

Mutely, the others shake their heads.

“Alright, so do we try and retrace the Doctor’s steps and if so how or does anyone know where she might be?”

“We know where the official Interim Government central control is,” Ryan offers.

“Getting thrown in small cells is the Doctor’s speciality,” Graham points out.

For a second, Yaz looks like she might object out of loyalty then she just sighs an agreement. “Well, if that’s where whatever authority there is here is based, if she’s in trouble that’s as good a starting point as any.”

“And if she’s just distracted,” Jack points out reassuringly, “she’ll make the same assumption about us and turn up sooner or later.”

“I’ll leave her a note,” Graham says quickly.

“That’s because you’re a billion years old,” Ryan teases, “I’ve already left a message on the groupchat.”

“The groupchat the Doctor can’t access due to her broken phone?” Yaz points out snidely and Ryan puts his phone back in his pocket.