1. RIVER’S RUN
2. A MUDDY AFFAIR
3. MARKING THE DIFFERENCE
4. THE SCIENTIST
5. SOMETHING I MISSED
6. CRYING SILENCE
7. RETURN TO VESPAR
8. CRACKS IN THE WORLD
10. HEART OF THE STORM
11. CHASING DUSK
12. REMAINS OF DYING STARS
CHAPTER 1 : RIVER’S RUN
“River, River, River…” The Doctor lounged back against his Tardis with a sigh of defeat. His darling wife had defaced another one of the universe’s precious relics.
Amy tilted her head curiously, arms folded. “What is that, Doctor?”
“Vesparian Ceremonial Sphere. Beautiful thing – one of the few examples of a perfect sphere and I mean atom to atom. It’s bound by an invisible, impenetrable forcefield. You could break a star trying to get into this thing.”
“Then what’s that?”
The Doctor frowned. The sphere’s golden surface was distorted by some casually scrawled words in a shade of lipstick he knew all too well. “Your daughter. I hope you’re proud – this is the fourth priceless artefact in a week.”
“Perhaps you should try answering your phone,” Amy squinted at the writing but it refused to translate. “Gallifrayen… What does it say?”
The Doctor was sulking, nudging the knobs of his time machine unnecessarily. They squeaked back at him.
“Fancy a date?” he replied, defeated.
Amy tossed the Vesparian-thingy playfully. It remained suspended in the air, spinning slowly above them like a tiny planet. “You don’t seem very enthused,” Amy stood beside her doctor, leaning her shoulder against his.
“The last time I went on a date with your daughter she caused an interplanetary war; the time before that we ended up lost on an underwater spaceship with carnivorous fish-shells.”
“And the time before that?”
“The universe ended.”
Amy turned one of the dials, making the centre of the Tardis glow a deeper shade of blue. The Doctor turned around, looking softly at his Pond; the girl who waited so long to see all of time – shame about the troublesome daughter.
They both smiled at the same time.
“I’ll go get my husband,” she whispered.
“You better…” he replied, unable to his his grin as she scurried off.
The world around them had died. A desert stretched across the curve of the horizon, its colour shifting through every shade of brown and red. Vincent would have been jealous; rarely did a world ache with such intensity. The planet could not even find a breath of wind to break up the heat.
Amy and Rory looked up at the purple sky and the hundreds of moons wandering around in it. Some of them were on fire, others about to collide.
“Where are we?” Amy asked, spying several impact craters not far from where he’d parked the Tardis.
“Or when?” Rory offered.
“Your distant past, the Vesparian’s far future. This is the ruined world of Vespar after their moon came too close. Vespar’s gravity tore it apart, shredded it like cheese.” The Doctor wiggled his fingers and gestured to the sky. “The end of a world. Beautiful.”
“And sad,” Amy reached for Rory’s hand. “Is this your idea of a date?”
The Doctor arched his eyebrow. “Your daughter.” The parents glared at him. “Normally River tries to arrive before the party finishes and this one ended a long long time ago.”
“There’s a city down there,” Rory leaned over the small cliff where they were standing. Buried deep in the valley below were the fractured corpses of buildings. They’d been nearly hidden by the last impact.
The Doctor’s screwdriver buzzed, glowing a lurid shade of green as he held it toward the city.
“No life signs.” The light flickered once. Twice. Three times. “But there is an energy signal down there.”
Beneath them, the ground trembled. It was accompanied by a low rumble on the air. In the distance, a thick plume of red dust rose up in a mushroom shaped cloud, slowly expanding up into the atmosphere. Another fragment of moon had hit the world.
“We shouldn’t stay here long,” the Doctor said, then started to make his way through the soft sands.
The Vesparian city was swiftly crumbling. Rory passed too close to a building and startled when it fell to dust behind him. It had been burned, the Doctor realised.
“Vesparian architects were famous for their wilful neglect of form over function. They built the most beautiful, sprawling cities which served no purpose at all. Brilliant. Buildings for the sake of them. A whole planet of visions, you should see it, Ponds.”
“You could take us here a little earlier next time,” Rory purposely walked close to his wife, trying not to destroy any more of the city by breathing on it. “We always seem too arrive early or late.”
The Doctor whirled around with a hurt look. “We arrive precisely when we’re supposed to, Roman.”
‘Precisely when they were supposed to’ turned out to be the exposed innards of the parliament building. Its grand limestone walls were black and half collapsed into the main dome. The Doctor bounced into the room, brimming with giddy excitement.
“He loves museums…” Amy observed, calmly picking her way through the glass display that ran the length of the room. It was filled with a sequence of gold spheres, identical to the Doctor’s.
“Not a museum,” he insisted, hopping up to the gap in the cabinet where one of the spheres was missing. “Oh, you clever, clever girl.” The Doctor spun around and leaned back against the glass, waiting for the others to ask what he knew. They always made him wait a few extra minutes to temper his glee.
“What’s River done now?” Rory asked, leaning down to inspect some of the other spheres.
“Time capsules!” he exclaimed, tapping the glass case. “Good for three thousand years.”
“How long’s it been?”
“Only two, Rory. Still fresh.”
“This is a very strange hobby.”
“It’s not a hobby, she only ruins priceless relics when she can’t get a signal on her mobile. Come along, Ponds.” The Doctor took them both by the hand and dragged them away from the dying world. When they were safely back in the Tardis, the Doctor withdrew the gold sphere from his coat pocket, set in front of him and tapped it with his screwdriver.
Rory frowned. “You kept that in your pocket?”
“I keep lots of things in my pockets.”
The sphere ignored his tapping. The Doctor tapped it again. The others watched patiently until Rory accidentally broke into a yawn.
“Sorry…” he apologised.
“Rory – trying to concentrate. This is a very sophisticated object with an impossibly complex security -” he trailed off as Amy grabbed hold of the sphere and twisted it. “Don’t do that.”
It worked. The sphere opened, its two halves falling aside leaving a hologram of River standing above the Tardis console.
She was dressed in a navy evening gown that glittered as she moved. The hologram was facing the wrong way so the Doctor carefully twisted the base of the hologram so that she was facing him.
“It’s the Mrs,” he grinned.
“This isn’t going to be like one of those Skype dates, is it?” asked Amy.
‘Hello sweetie, knew you’d figure it out with mother’s help. Vesparians are excellent record keepers. I wined and dined one of them once, they are particularly excellent with their hands. Extra fingers, makes them very talented musicians.’
The Doctor pouted quite distinctly. “I’m good at music too,” he insisted. Amy slapped him to keep him quiet.
River’s hologram stopped, looking over her shoulder as if something were coming for her. When she turned back to them, she looked afraid.
‘Can’t chat for long… Doctor, there’s a little corner of the universe where only silence is heard. I left something there.’
The hologram vanished.
“Doctor, what’s going on?” Amy gently touched his arm.
CHAPTER 2: A MUDDY AFFAIR
Three inch satin heels sank into the mud. They lodged and brought their owner tumbling to the ground. River cursed, clawing at the wet grass.
She sat up, unhooking the navy straps and sliding her feet out of them. River kept her eyes on the lake, searching for any hint of a time disturbance. There – on the far side – the water trembled and the moon’s reflection warped.
River scrambled to her feet and took off towards the forest leaving her shoes trapped in the mud.
“What’s she talking about – silence is heard?” Amy had dressed warmly, doing up her stolen fur coat as Rory emerged.
“Nice…” Rory winked at his wife. He remembered that night well – 1534, Anne Boleyn’s dressing room. Rory was certain that she had the fiercest scowl of any queen – possibly the worst husband too.
The Doctor looked worried, scuffing his shoes on the Tardis floor accompanied by near-inaudible muttering. Amy didn’t like it when he got like this.
“Not The Silence? I thought we killed those things,” she pouted, approaching him with husband in tow.
“We removed them from Earth’s timeline not the entire history of time. Humans, always thinking they’re the centre of the universe, honestly. Though in fairness -” he added thoughtfully, lifting his finger to his lips, “-you were left alone longer than advisable. Civilisations are tricky.”
“Doctor…” Amy’s glare was fierce and Scottish. “That’s my little girl out there.”
The Tardis was flying through a nebula storm, nudged lightly by the excited gas. It bounced around, tumbling playfully around a few stars.
“There’s only one story told about the Silence. They come from a cold, water-logged moon orbiting a pair of gas giants. Their star is so far away that most of their light comes from this duo of tiny red and orange planets.
“It’s not quite strong enough to melt the oceans so the moon has lakes, half-frozen swamps and a small strip of habitable land around the equator. It’s marked on the map with a very plain looking dot.”
“That’s not – as bad as I’d imagined.”
“It’s not particularly memorable – bit like its creatures.” The Doctor lifted his gaze to Rory the Roman. Always cheating death – brilliant little human. “As the story goes, Silence will lose you. People forget everything,” he waved his arms about. “Who you are, why you’re there. It is a world that swallows souls. Even Time Lord souls. Both of them.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “You don’t have two souls.”
“And one, raggedy old soul,” she insisted.
The Tardis touched down gently. Rory felt it land and pointed to the door that now appeared quite ominous. “Did we just?”
The Doctor nodded.
The Doctor nodded again.
“I’m not entirely sure I approve of the places you take my daughter.”
“She finds them all on her own. I’m just doing the following. Husband – follow.”
Amy gripped Rory’s hand tightly. “Husband, follow,” she mimicked, trailing the Doctor out of the Tardis.
The cold hit them first. It snapped at their skin, trying to pry into their bones. They all shivered, huddling close.
Silence had the appearance of glass; fragile, painfully still and drenched in shades of blue. Water – or ice (it was difficult to tell), reflected the waning light from one of the planets as it set. The stars were almost as bright, dotting the ground in a glittering carpet. Amy wanted to find it beautiful but something about Silence made her skin crawl.
“We’ve been here too long already,” the Doctor whispered, his breath coming from his lips in lazy clouds.
“We just got here,” Rory replied.
“No, no, no…” the Doctor breathed, shifting his gaze back to the corner of the horizon where the planet had already set. “We’ve been here nearly an hour.”
Rory swallowed hard. It was adventures like these when he could see the merits of waiting in the Tardis.
“Try not to look at anything,” the Doctor strolled cautiously towards the open grass field that wrapped around one of the lakes. “And remember where we parked.”
Rory frowned, brushing his fingertips over a nasty scratch on his wrist. He looked down and saw a red line.
“Did I cut myself on something?”
Amy shrugged. “Maybe in the Tardis.”
“No, out here…”
“Ponds!” The Doctor was laying in the freezing mud ahead, staring intently at something sticking out of the grass. As they drew closer, they realised what it was; a pair of high heels. “River…”
The Doctor dug them free and stood up, high heels dangling from his fingers.
“Doctor, there are foot prints – look,” Rory knelt down. He could see where River had fallen. There were more depressions to the left where she’d run off again, heading toward the sparse forest. “And she’s being followed.”
Her pursuer’s footprints came from the lake. Dozens of them. The Doctor strolled towards the silent water, staring into its cold surface. His screwdriver buzzed quietly in his pocket, picking up a temporal disturbance somewhere in the water. Closed now… Gone.
Amy and Rory were not where he’d left them. He eventually found the pair huddled in front of the Tardis trying to keep warm with the moon’s second planet high in the sky.
“Where were you!” Amy whacked him sharply, then tackled her Doctor with a hug. “We saw you run off into the forest and then nothing. You were just gone for hours.”
The Doctor frowned, hugging his Amy back while his mind whirred about.
“I didn’t,” he whispered. “I turned towards the water and then – I was here.”
Amy pulled back and shook her head. “No – no you were gone. You pushed past us and ran into the forest after River’s tracks. What were you doing?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered.
The Doctor’s face fell, watching Rory scratch his wrist. He reached into his coat pocket, hunting around until he felt a soft length of silk. He withdrew it and held the tiny parcel in his palm.
Without a word he unwrapped each corner of silk until he was left with River’s vortex manipulator. He sighed, dropping his eyes to the ground.
“That’s River’s time-thing,” Rory whispered.
“Yes, it is,” the Doctor tucked it back inside his jacket.
Rory looked at his wrist – three scratches this time. The last one was still bleeding where his own nails had cut through the flesh. “Doctor… how long have we been here?”
The Doctor gazed up at the sky, watching the planet trace its way behind a lone cloud. “Six hours.” He turned to the Tardis, placing his hand on its smooth, blue door. The Ponds were quiet behind him, no doubt wondering how a world could be so dead.
Amy and Rory were transfixed by a silver creature emerging from the lake. As it rose the water fell around the creature’s skin like folds of silk as though it was birthing the terrible form.
“What do you see?” The Doctor whispered, still facing his Tardis.
“Does it matter?” Amy gripped Rory’s hand. “We’re not going to remember it. They’re like the Silence – relatives or ancestors.” She watched the creature lift its three fingered hand, dragging itself up onto the muddy bank. “What do we do?”
“Back in the Tardis – keep looking at it.” He opened the door but didn’t dare turn around. If he saw it too they’d lose countless hours.
“Ah… Doctor, it’s getting closer.”
“I know Rory, just walk backwards. Follow my voice. Nothing can get inside this ol’ship.”
The Tardis doors shut with a reassuring thunk.
Two humans and a time lord stared at each other in puzzlement, entirely unaware of how they ended up inside. The Doctor frowned at the Tardis doors.
“Did you see River,” Amy interrupted his thoughts, “when you went into the forest?”
“I don’t know.” The Doctor leaned against the door, eyeing the lock.
“Did River give you her time travel device?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is River still here?”
“Wait -” Rory stepped between his wife and the Doctor. “How’d we get in here? We were outside. I distinctly remember being outside.” His wrist itched.
The Doctor managed a small smile. “Rory the Roman – that is a good question.”
CHAPTER 3: MARKING THE DIFFERENCE
“What have we got?” The Doctor asked no one in particular, rubbing his hands together with renewed vigour.
“Ah a – time machine?” Rory offered.
The time lord bounced on his feet, shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned playfully forward, hips first.
“Technically correct but we’ve always got one of those. No, what else do we have – what’s new? Yes, yes – high heels!” He deposited River’s muddy heels on the Tardis console with a clunk. He beamed at them, proud of himself. Yes, high heels, very helpful. They weren’t even sonic. Could you sonic heels?
Amy was frowning at him. He must be doing that thing she didn’t like.
“We’ve also got that time vortex manipulator,” she prodded the Doctor’s pocket where it jutted out in a weird lump. “You shouldn’t keep things like that in your pocket, it’ll wreck your favourite coat.”
“As opposed to traipsing around planets of silence in the mud? Silence…” he repeated, catching a stray thought wandering about in his mind. “Roman – hand please. No, your other hand,” he clicked his fingers insistently.
Rory presented his hand.
“Argh!” he grimaced, as the Doctor twisted it the wrong way and started inspecting the scratches in his skin. Five now. “Don’t know how those got there,” he admitted.
“No, I don’t expect you do.”
“Bit worried about them, actually.”
There was a muffled thump against the Tardis. Amy startled, spinning around to the doors. They were still locked.
“Doctor – what was that?” she frowned.
“Just the wind…” he lied, releasing Rory who shook his hand, holding it protectively to his chest.
“What’s that for?” Rory narrowed his eyes at the pen being waved in his general direction.
“A marker pen – better for your skin.”
“Comforting…” Rory muttered, sliding it into his jeans. “Doctor – if you’ve got River’s time travel thing, doesn’t that mean she’s trapped here with those creatures?”
“Doubtful,” he replied, strutting about the Tardis as another thud disturbed the peace.
“How can you be sure? If she’s out there-”
“-she couldn’t possibly have left a time capsule asking us to retrieve her favourite heels. River’s not here – not any more.”
“That’s stealing.” The Doctor glanced nervously over his shoulder as River worked her way through the shelves, prying free book after book. She set them into his waiting arms until he had trouble seeing where he was going.
It was Vesparian’s twilight – literally and figuratively.
Several hundred years ago their civilisation had stopped growing. No buildings were built or deserts explored. Interest in alien networks and interstellar travel had been dwindling for decades. In short, they had entered a slumber, content to let the universe rush by. It was in this peace that a restless Vesparian had stumbled onto a dark secret. Time travel.
“Ouch!” Books tumbled to the ground around the Doctor.
“Watch where you’re going, Honey.”
The Doctor bent down, trying to balance the books in one arm as he picked the others up. He didn’t see why she needed so many. The Tardis was cluttered enough as it was. Honestly, he was going to start putting a limit on what companions could bring with them. That’s what airports did.
“They’re priceless,” she insisted, running her fingertips over the spine of another book. “I’m not leaving them here to burn.”
“River, we can go and visit history whenever you want. Is it necessary to lug it around with you? It’s such a human thing.”
Their theft was disturbed by the thunder of fireworks. They could see colour erupting against the fading sky through the parliament windows.
“Vesparians always set off their fireworks at dusk,” he whispered against River’s ear, as she came to stand beside him. “Aren’t you missing your party?”
River slipped on her three inch, midnight heels. “Fashionably late,” she corrected.
The Doctor watched her with a lopsided grin. She was framed by the granite window – a shower of blue cinders fanning out in the sunset behind her. The building trembled a moment later as the thunder reverberated across the city. It was so beautiful.
“You should join me…” River added softly, clutching an old book against her chest.
He smirked, then gestured at the pile of books in his arms. “Have to look after these.”
“Vesparian dusk party – dancing, gold-wine, more dancing – last chance…”
He was tempted, very tempted but they’d synced their diaries. This version of River was too young and he didn’t know if he could resist temptation.
“Actually, I thought I should check on your parents. They keep complaining that we leave them in the Tardis.”
She lofted her eyebrow curiously at him. “We do?” The Doctor’s face fell when he realised he’d done it again. “Spoilers…”
River stalked toward him, placing the last book on his pile. “Don’t wait up.”
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The Doctor was met with blank stares from his companions.
“I – don’t understand,” Rory finally admitted.
“Really? Humans…” The Doctor muttered impatiently.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Rory frowned at the doors. “Seriously, Doctor, that noise is starting to freak me out.”
“There are only a few devices in the universe that can travel in time. This…” he knocked on the console of his Tardis, “this ol’ girl will take you anywhere.”
“River’s time vortex manipulator?” Amy offered.
“Good for hopping about – had an old friend who used one once – probably the same one. They’re handy at a pinch but can only go for so long before they need to recharge from a Tardis. Probably why River keeps in contact.”
“I think there might be other reasons…” her mother added knowingly.
“Tesselectors are cool but they’d never come to a planet like Silence. Like all committee run projects they are intensely scared. The only thing we have left that can reach this time is a…”
The Doctor froze then, with his eyes wide and mouth open he turned back to the Tardis console.
“River… You bad, bad girl.” The Vesparian sphere was gone. “Rory, check your wrist.”
“Ah,” it took him a moment to understand. He instantly frowned when he saw a black mark on his arm. “Oh god.”
River tilted her head, running her fingertips slowly over the beautiful golden sphere. She was used to the pleasant tremble of fireworks now. They would continue until Vesparian’s grand moon rose and marked the start of the new year. One sunset per year – and one moonrise. The pace of this world made her feel as though she were drifting.
“How does it work?” she whispered, making the Vesparian opposite her spill his drink a little.
“Well, it’s a typical recording device – very simple really-” he gestured at the golden time capsule.
“No…” she interrupted. “How does yours work?”
“Professor,” River picked up her drink and took a delicate sip as a pink glow stained the lake. “Of archaeology.”
“I thought you were a record keeper,” he sat back uneasily. He’d never trusted aliens.
“I have a particular interest in objects that change the course of the universe. I’m a bit of a collector, you see – I like to preserve things but the others that are coming here tonight well…” she trailed off, shifting her gaze past him to the water. “Let’s just say they have other uses for your time machine.”
CHAPTER 4: THE SCIENTIST
Vesparians were ancient creatures. Their star was the first of its kind; large and nearly blue it had already started to fade. River remembered its corpse. Many years ago she’d perched at the doors of the Tardis, drifting idly through the scarlet nebula. This world was littered around it in a halo of dust and rock as a new star started to burn. It was one of the most beautiful sights she’d laid eyes on.
‘The first time lords – sort of…’ the Doctor had murmured against her ear. He seemed to have forgotten those words or else he never would have let her come here tonight. River paused, tilting her head thoughtfully. Maybe he didn’t know yet.
All six of the Vesparian scientist’s eyes blinked at her. They’d gone black, set deep in his wrinkled, grey skin. It was often said you could see the stars in Vesparian eyes but all River saw was panic.
“Don’t run – not yet,” River warned him, taking another casual sip of her wine. “They haven’t spotted us and I’m afraid if we make a scene, this night will be over before it starts.”
“Who are you?” he asked again, eyes flicking between her, the rows of tables and crowd. There were hundreds of aliens here tonight for the celebration of dusk.
“I told you,” replied River, shuffling closer. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to meet you.”
“Am I – famous?” the scientist asked carefully.
River caught a flicker of vulnerability in his eyes. “No.”
The scientist took the sphere in his large hands, holding it as though it were his child. “This is my life’s work,” he whispered. “I knew that something was wrong when you sent for me. What did you call it?”
“They were the words I’ve waited nearly a century to read.”
“I’m sor-” she went to reach for him but the scientist withdrew.
“You’re from the future.”
River didn’t bother lying.
“Time travel creates a paradox inside the universe,” he warned. “It’s only possible because our universe is imperfect. My calculations suggest that this leeway has a limit. Cracks will start to appear one day and time will fracture.”
The sky tore apart in a shower of gold and silver. Everyone looked up in awe, watching the fireworks fade into the pink dusk. The moon was lifting its heavy form up over the curve of the horizon. You could almost feel the world and moon falling towards each other.
“This should be buried forever,” he whispered sadly. “We were never meant to see things yet to pass – or visit those long gone.”
“Nothing can be buried forever.”
“What if it could be forgotten?” The scientist looked down sadly at his time machine. “And us?” He watched the moon lift up above the lake. The sky was a deep purple with shades of pink and yellow wherever smoke from the fireworks lingered.
River glanced nervously at the crowd, keeping an eye on her pursuers who were picking their way through the dinner tables. “Life begets death. In my time the universe is very old. Your star will become another star – and then another until there’s nothing left but scarlet dust.”
He focused all six eyes on the strange alien woman. “None of this happens if these people catch us, I presume?”
River took one of the scientist’s hands. He had three – the other two were holding the golden sphere. “They want to own time. Now run!”
The Doctor turned again and sighed. The high heels were gone too.
“Are we just going to keep ignoring that ominous sound?” Rory pointed sharply at the offending door. He didn’t like unidentified sounds – with good reason.
“Rory, open the door.”
Rory paled. He didn’t particularly want to do that either. “I’ll just – open the door then,” he approached it cautiously. The Doctor ushered him impatiently.
“Don’t keep it waiting.”
The poor Roman was nearly shaking as he unlocked the Tardis doors and tugged them open. A strange, pale grey creature fell into the Tardis. It was about the size of a Great Dane, nearly silver with vibrant, luminous blue pads on its fingertips. Rory yelped, slammed the door and leapt off to the side behind his wife.
“Now… that is interesting,” The Doctor stalked down the steps toward the creature. “You’re a very long way from home. Several billion years.”
“Doctor…?” Amy fished out her husband and made him stand next to her – rather than behind.
The Doctor knelt down in front of the creature as it rolled over and stared up at the bright, Tardis lights. Six eyes blinked rapidly, bringing into focus the Time Lord’s face.
“Vesparian…” The Doctor whispered, fascinated. “One of the oldest races – before time was time. What are you doing so far from home?”
The Vesparian scientist sat up and rested against the Tardis doors. He was covered in mud and looked as though he’d been running for days.
“I was led astray by a woman,” he replied, holding his chest with one of his hands.
“These things happen – not to worry,” the Doctor said sympathetically. “Let me guess, she was about yay high – loads of blond hair and a rather devastating navy gown?”
The Vesparian nodded. “How did you know that?”
The parents didn’t look particularly happy. They couldn’t work out whether River was a bad influence on the Doctor – or if it was the other way around.
“Let’s just say we’ve met before – come on, let’s get you into something dry.”
Half an hour later, they were all sat down having a cup of tea in the Tardis lounge room. The scientist told him of the mysterious archaeologist who discovered his secret and dragged him to this planet.
“Did you get a look at the people who were chasing you? Shame…”
“Why can’t I remember how I got here?”
“Bit of a odd planet,” the Doctor confessed. “Messes with your memory – quite a lot. Given your look of total confusion I’m going to guess that you’ve been here a while.”
“I was at a party.”
“We’ll make sure we drop you back. Sit over there please.”
“In the corner?”
“I don’t think so…” the Vesparian stood up and wandered back through the ship to the Tardis console. He paced around it, fascinated by every detail. The others followed with the Doctor bringing up the rear, looking nervous. “So this is how the universe is torn apart…” the scientist whispered, recognising the time machine. He could feel the time vortex trapped inside, whirring about in a web of chaos. Beautiful. “You must be the Doctor.”
The Doctor straightened his bow tie and then offered his hand. “And you, the Father of Time.”
“No one’s ever called me that.”
“They do now – I’ve decided. First creator of a time-thingy.”
The Vesparian lofted all six folds of skin that sat over his eyes. “Are you sure this is your Time Device? You’re not as – learned – as I had expected a time traveller to be.”
Amy and Rory fought to hide their grins. “He stole it,” Amy offered.
“Stop helping, Pond.”
“This ‘Professor Song’,” the Vesparian continued, his tone more serious. “She said that they were coming – coming for my time machine. She also said that they hope to bend time to their will – pause it, change it – shatter it. My time device cannot do these things.”
The Vesparian took another stop towards the Doctor.
“I think they’re coming for your time machine,” he whispered. “And that your Professor Song has been played. She’s led them right to you.”
The Vesparian suddenly turned to Rory and frowned. “Are you all right?” he asked, nodding at several black marks that the man appeared to have drawn on his arm.
“Just – keeping myself amused…” Rory lied, looking nervously at his wrist.
CHAPTER 5: SOMETHING I MISSED
When River hit the button on her vortex manipulator, the party and adjoining Vesparian world melted in an instant. She fell several feet, landing with a sickening thud. River groaned against the freezing mud. The Vesparian scientist was out cold beside her with a bit of grass stuck to his pale skin.
A sharp crack disturbed the dark.
River lifted her head a fraction, peering through the wet grass toward the lake. Something else had fallen from the sky and landed most unfortunately in the black water. River watched as it was broke the surface and started to swim roughly toward the bank.
River nudged the Vesparian. He didn’t stir.
Carefully, she slid her hand under the scientist until her delicate fingers wrapped around the golden sphere. She retrieved it, holding history’s first time machine close to her chest. It hummed against her skin as though it were alive. There was a fraction of the universe caught inside it, spinning madly about. The accompanying chaos made her skin tingle as though the sphere could tell that she was a creature of time.
River didn’t dare let her eyes wander from the thing emerging from the lake. It dragged its awkward body onto the bank, threw its head back and shrieked at the night. The tortured sound died at the stunted, soggy forests bordering the lake.
No. She was mistaken. It wasn’t pain; it was a call to the others…
Like birds, other calls replied until Silence was wailing. River covered her ears, pressing herself back down against the sticky mud. They were coming. All of them.
The Doctor tilted his head at the Vesparian scientist. He was an excellent judge of people well creatures. There was something about the Vesparian that didn’t quite add up – something he didn’t like. River obviously wanted the scientist here in the Tardis, the question was why?
“Why what?” Amy lofted her eyebrow.
“Sorry… sorry, question for me.” Speaking his thoughts aloud was a truly dreadful habit. “I’ve been to Vespar before,” he finally added, leaning against the Tardis console in realisation. It purred back at him as best a machine could.
“We know,” Rory added, trying to be helpful. “You took us there a few -”
“No,” the Doctor interrupted. “No – before before.” The Doctor launched himself onto his feet, crossed the room and hit his head against the Tardis wall with a loud thump. “She took me there – well – I took her there but River has a talent for suggesting things.”
Rory and Amy exchanged and awkward look.
“Ew. Parents.” Rory reminded the Doctor.
“There was a party – ‘Dusk’ they call it. Best party in the universe,” the Doctor grinned. “Never been but I saw the fireworks. River wanted to go for her birthday – and books – so I dropped her off and went to save a herd of solar whales in Quel. Pretty little solar system. Sort of like Earth but with more whales…”
His companions were giving him that glare again. The one that made him feel five-hundred years old.
“What happened to Melody…” Amy folded her arms sternly, stalking towards the Doctor.
“She -” the Doctor paused. “She ah…”
“Actually, now you mention it – I don’t think I picked her back up. Ow!”
Amy had swatted him sharply across the cheek. “You left my daughter on an alien world!”
“No – no – we’ve had lots of adventures since then,” he insisted. “I must have picked her up at some point.” His face fell.
“What?” Rory joined in, scratching the black marks on his wrist.
“When I dropped her off, she was wearing a navy dress.”
Amy was shaking her head at the Doctor. “Matching heels?”
The Doctor nodded.
“You better start remembering everything you know about the Vespar fast,” Amy growled. “I guarantee you my daughter wasn’t there for the drinks and dancing.”
The Doctor wasn’t so sure about that. He’d seen River do a lot of dangerous things for the promise of dancing, including – but not limited to – breaking into the Cathedral of Archaeology. Great night.
“Professor Song was after my time device,” The Vesparian offered. “She was trying to hide it. I don’t exactly remember how I ended up here but -”
Rory put his hand up as though he were in school.
“I doubt that was her soul purpose for crashing your party and abducting you. She’s perfectly capable of stealing a time sphere without you noticing. Yes – Roman – you can just ask questions.”
“Is there a Silence in the Tardis?”
“I’m – very uncomfortable with that.”
The first creature stood by the water.
Its suit was dripping with the wet fabric sticking to its skeletal body. They were a strange, unnamed species. No one knew their origin but their large, oval eyes and egg-shaped heads bore more than a passing resemblance to human ‘alien encounter’ descriptions.
Throughout the history of various worlds they appeared like shadows, passing from planet to planet nearly unnoticed. They didn’t seem to take anything – or do anything. They were just there. They were everywhere.
River lowered herself deeper into the grass as it looked in her direction – enormous, bulbous eyes hunting the swamp for her.
“Come on – where are your friends?” she breathed against the mud.
All River could hear was the water trickling through the swamp. Nothing else, not even a lone insect.
They emerged, one at a time from the mist encircling the lake. There were eight searching for her and she’d led each of them to this world one by one – tricked them into following her. It had taken her years to find them all.
River was getting ready to run when her heart stumbled. From the silence emerged the wheezing pulse of that little blue box. Its light started to flash on the rise beside the lake as it landed.
“No – too early you idiot. For a time lord you have the worst timing.”
The creatures turned as a group, not sure what to make of the police box perched on the muddy hill looking entirely out of place.
Things got worse when the doors opened. River sighed as her parents assembled behind the Doctor. They were so very young this time.
“Oh my – that’s probably not a good sign,” River heard the Doctor remark, frowning at the aliens all dressed in black suits looking quite ridiculous.
“What are they?” her mother prodded the Doctor.
“Don’t know – doesn’t look good,” he replied, bounding a few steps further out of the Tardis. “River should be around here somewhere though.”
River did the only thing that she could do. With the creatures starting to move towards the Doctor and her parents, she stood up, revealing her position. The creatures turned at once, boring their terrible black eyes into her.
“River!” the Doctor waved happily.
River waved back, blowing the Doctor a kiss.
“Welcome to the party,” she whispered, even though he couldn’t hear her. She found herself shaking her head fondly at the Doctor. Look at that man, she thought, strutting about the universe with no concept of its darkness.
CHAPTER 6: CRYING SILENCE
“Look at those!” The Doctor pointed at the eight ominous creatures scattered around the edge of the lake. He was enamoured with them, positively gleeful as he tugged on Rory’s sleeve. “They’re like Roswell aliens in suits!”
One of Silence’s orbiting planets was setting on the horizon behind the lake. Its hazy body of shimmering gas bands and dying storms was nearly gone. What remained of this orange corpse fell as a sad reflection over the fractured ground.
Rory unhooked the Doctor from his sleeve and glanced nervously around. Amy was hiding behind his shoulder, pulling her fur coat tighter. “Doctor, what’s River doing down there with those things?”
“No idea – doesn’t look good…” he trailed off, watching the creatures creep toward River. “Nope, I don’t think they’re particularly friendly.”
“You keep saying that,” Rory muttered, “and it’s not the least bit useful. If you were a real actual tour guide, half your group would be eaten by now.”
The Doctor pouted, straightening his bow tie. “It’s an unfortunate fact that humans taste good with a decent Bechamel sauce. You’re all like catnip to monsters. Never take a human travelling.”
Rory gestured at himself and Amy.
“Romans don’t count and Amy’s well – she’s a Pond.”
Beneath them, River stumbled through the grass, emerging on a plain of soft silt. It slid beneath her feet like ice. Her mass of blond curls bounced as she turned. The creatures were gaining ground.
They never ran. Instead, their steady pursuit was relentless. The creature closest to her lifted its thin hands, curling their bony extension at her. The air went thick around her and River doubled over in pain.
‘Come..’ the words stung in her mind like poison thrashing against her skull. ‘Come, human child. Bring us the sphere.’
River screamed, shaking her head until she was able to breathe again.
“Sorry boys,” she hissed, forcing herself to keep running.
“We can’t just stand here,” Rory nudged the Doctor sharply. “They’re chasing her into the forest.”
“Wait – Rory, this is River. I don’t like anything about this.”
“Yeah – my daughter’s being chased by creepy aliens in suits – definitely not right.”
Amy gasped softly as River fell to the ground. Her daughter expertly slipped out of the impossibly high heels and continued bare foot through the mud.
“I’m going down there!” Rory insisted, taking a step forward. The Doctor grabbed his jacket and dragged him roughly back. “Let me go! Wait,” he paused, “there’s something in the lake…”
“I know,” the Doctor whispered darkly. “There are time disturbances everywhere. Believe me, there’s something dreadfully wrong with this world.”
“Oh god, gross…” Amy whispered, covering her mouth as they watched the black water in the lake tremble again. A sickening, native creature lifted its body out of the water. Its mouth gaped open, crying silently up at the sky. “What is that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” the Doctor replied softly, eyes locked with the creature. “We won’t remember. I don’t know what it is about this world but I feel like it’s erasing more than just this moment.”
As soon as the creature sank back beneath the water, Rory, Amy and the Doctor stared blankly up at the stars. The planet was gone, fallen behind the horizon. They had no memory of River or the creatures pursing her through the forest. For them it was a new world and hey had only just arrived.
“We’ve been here too long already,” the Doctor whispered.
Rory frowned. “We just got here.”
It was worse in the forest. The scrub was low and sharp, clawing at River like thousands of needles. She tore through it, avoiding ominous cracks in the ground where the world was literally tearing apart.
Silence was locked in an orbit too close to its parent planets, whizzing around the duel planet system so fast that they rose and set several times a day. River could almost feel the enormous pull of their gravity. She wondered how long this world could survive before it became another sad smear of dust and ice.
There were three creatures behind her, vaulting over boulders and tearing into the shrubbery. The rest were scattered in the swamp, sticking to the shadows as they flanked her. She could only run for so long.
At the base of a small mountain, River stopped. She was exposed against its grey fascade and unless she developed some nifty rock climbing skills in the next five minutes, they’d have her. River lifted her wrist and fiddled with her vortex manipulator. Two jumps left and then she’d be stranded. Time to organise herself a date.
River pressed the small silver button and closed her eyes. Silence faded. Vespar unfurled.
“How can there be a Silence on board the Tardis?” Amy whispered, suddenly feeling cold despite her fur jacket.
The Doctor was deliberately keeping his eyes focused on Amy, Rory and the Vesparian. “Not sure. Think it might have been on board for a while now.”
“How could you know that?”
“You’ve been keeping track for me, Rory.”
Rory looked down at his wrist and was startled to find the black marks breeding. His heart raced – how much time were they losing? “Is it going to kill us?”
“Not yet. I suspect it’s looking for the Vesparian time device.”
“I thought it stole that?” Rory replied.
The Doctor shook his head. “If the Silence stole the sphere we’d be dead and River’s heels would still be here.”
“She’s been in the Tardis..” Amy realised. The Doctor nodded. “You never should have given her that key.”
His lip curled into a playful smirk. “I didn’t.”
River just had a way of acquiring things.
“Doctor, we can’t leave a Silence in the Tardis. If it’s hunting time travelling devices…”
“I agree,” he nodded at Amy. “But how do you propose we find something that we can’t remember? It’s a fascinating adaptation.”
“I prefer the Weeping Angels,” Rory muttered.
Rory thought seriously on that for a moment. “Actually, no.”
Instead of a Vesparian Dusk party, River landed in the middle of a market crowd a few hundred years early. That’s the thing with vortex manipulators – they were the cheap love child of time travel devices.
The shock of midday sun blinded her as she surveyed the street. Granite buildings towered to her left in crazy geometric shapes that defied gravity. Their surfaces shone almost as brightly as their closest star which, if viewed from the hills, made the city sparkle against the sands.
River ducked into the shadows, hunting through the markets until she’d acquired shoes and a long jacket to cover her ruined dress. She returned to the streets, heading toward the centre of the city where she hoped the Parliament building had been completed.
“So beautiful,” she whispered, finding its (actually quite ungainly) structure nearly complete. The Vesparians were finishing off the carvings set into the limestone. River let her hand brush against the cool surface as she swept up the steps and vanished inside.
Her low level perception filter stopped anyone from questioning her presence as she slipped through the public libraries and into the private vaults at the centre of the building.
“Perfect,” River murmured, advancing toward a narrow glass display case with three identical record devices. Their gold spheres were indistinguishable from her time device.
River locked the sphere and took her lipstick out – first reapplying it to her lips before scrawling over the surface of the time device.
Fancy a date?
She didn’t see the last creature hiding between the bookshelves. Its greedy, black eyes widened at the sight of the time device. It had waited so very long.
CHAPTER 7: RETURN TO VESPAR
…she sensed it instead.
Years of luring these nameless creatures had left her tuned to their subtle presence on the air. It was a chill – a sickening whisper against her skin.
River’s heart raced. She reached into the glass case, taking out the central archive sphere. With her back to the creature and her gaze kept carefully away from the bookshelves where it hid, River smeared the same message on the archive sphere.
Instead of switching them, River kept both the time device and the archive sphere.
She had to hide the time device here – but not yet – not with the creature waiting in the shadows. As the Doctor always liked to reminder her, timing is everything.
River latched the case lid closed and headed toward the door, slipping back through the parliament building while the creature was distracted.
It could barely contain its excitement, emerging as soon as the woman had left. The creature hunted over to the glass case, ripping open the lock. Its ghastly bone hands twisted against the glass, shattering it.
She’d taken them both.
The creature howled furiously. All the lights shattered, raining down glass into the darkness.
River covered her ears as its shrieks echoed all the way out into the street, tearing apart the air. People stopped, turning in surprise but as soon as the sound stopped it was gone from their minds.
River took a deep breath before teleporting away, leaving the creature to its misery. They would meet again, thousands of years from now – or very soon if you were River Song.
River and the Doctor had been in the library for nearly half an hour, hunting through the shelves – picking apart dusty books.
“Remind me, are we here for the party or the loot?” the Doctor asked, opening one of the books River had given him ‘to mind’. “I can never tell.”
“You stole a Tardis, I steal history – you’re in no position to lecture,” she quipped.
He sighed, closing the book. “I prefer to live time, River. Books spoil the ending. Stories with an end… I don’t like endings.”
River smiled softly to herself. She sank back into the depths of the library. Picking just a few of these treasures was like asking her to choose versions of the Doctor. They all had their quirks – their secrets.
She stumbled against one of the shelves in surprise when the air in front of her split apart leaving a bedraggled figure half-hidden in the shadows.
“Sh…” the woman whispered, straightening up, holding a finger to her lips. It was another River Song. “We don’t have much time.”
“I take it our night isn’t going to plan,” River whispered, eyeing the filth all over her double’s face. Beneath her torn sleeves she could see angry bruises.
“Slight hitch but I wouldn’t write it off as a total disaster.” River held up the Vesparian archive device. “I need you to leave the Doctor a message.”
River looked over her shoulder nervously. She could hear the Doctor a few shelves behind, muttering about something. “All right but we better make this quick,” she whispered, self consciously fixing her hair. “How do I look?”
“Hot,” the dishevelled River replied.
“Better be. That’s not the…” she added, eyeing the golden sphere.
The other River shook her head. “Just a regular archive device I’m afraid but the Doctor doesn’t need to know that.”
“Are we scheming?” There was a mischievous light in River’s eyes.
River just smirked. Of course.
Fresh from dropping River off at her party, the Doctor lounged back against his Tardis door. The parents were still asleep – none the wiser of the adventures he had with their daughter. Probably for the best. Parents were funny about parties – too many questions.
He frowned, looking down at his bulging chest pocket. That wasn’t there before.
The Doctor reached into his coat and curiously withdrew a golden sphere. There was a messy scrawl of Galifreyan over it that could only be the result of one woman’s lipstick.
“River, River, River…”
Obviously she was pilfering more than just books from Vespar.
A sleepy Amy emerged, tilting her head at the Doctor and his golden sphere.
“What is that, Doctor?”
A very angry creature sat on a sand dune, gazing up at the purple sky with black eyes.
It watched another moon tear itself apart, splintering into a thousands fragments of ice and dirt. Days later the wreckage hit the atmosphere, dying in bright flashes all night and day. Many of the larger pieces tore straight through, hitting the planet’s dunes with dull thuds and sad trails of smoke.
It was waiting.
The creature had watched the pathetic civilisation of this world wither and die. Time was the master of all lifeforms but not it. Being immortal gave you a different perspective of the universe. Its linear trudge toward nothing was not enough – it had to be controlled, twisted – owned. A few thousand years of waiting was nothing considering the prize.
There it was.
A tiny blue box against the sand.
Long, bony fingers stretched. Black eyes blinked at the dusk.
The Silence stalked the three figures that emerged from the Tardis, following them into the ruins of Vespar to the parliament where it knew they’d find nothing. The woman had not returned here – it had been keeping guard all this time.
It tracked them all the way back to the Tardis.
“Any particular reason you’re following us?” the Doctor spun around, facing the creature. Amy and Rory jumped beside him.
“Has that been there the whole time?” Rory frowned, stepping ever so slightly back behind the Doctor.
“I imagine so,” the Doctor replied calmly. His ancient eyes were wary though. He knew how this worked – what it wanted. “Why are you following us?”
The creature did not answer him.
“Aw come on… it’s not like we’re going to remember. You could lay all your evil plans out with neat annotated diagrams and we’d be none the wiser as soon as we turn around. Go on… Give us a clue.”
“Doctor, are you sure it understands you?” Amy asked.
“Course it does,” the Doctor replied. “Don’t you? Been snooping around civilisations since stars learned how to shine. The question is, what are you doing here?” The Doctor paused, realisation hitting him. “Oh, now that is unfortunate.”
“What?” Rory frowned.
The Doctor leaned toward him. “He’s trapped. Stuck on a dying world. I’d want a lift too.”
“Please tell me we’re not letting a Silence hitch hike…”
The Doctor managed a grin – albeit a nervous one. “Not sure we have a choice.”
Rory paled, transfixed by the Silence. It seemed to embody nightmares – perhaps in a way it was the nightmare, the silent watcher of worlds. “It’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it?”
“Exciting, isn’t it?”
“No.” Rory frowned.
CHAPTER 8: CRACKS IN THE WORLD
The little blue box wavered like the last swell of high tide before sliding into the time vortex. River was left in its wake, standing alone on the rise of a dune with a purple sky burning behind her.
Fragments of moon crashed into the sands along the horizon sending pillars of dust into the sky. These towers caught the sunlight, turning pink and orange with stark outlines of gold. Destruction and beauty churning…
River smirked, her eyes sparkling with victory. Free of the Silence, she stumbled down the dune and onto the remains of a road, following it back to the ruined city.
She ducked inside the parliament building, strutting over to the glass cabinet and its archive devices. They were the only pieces of Vespar still pristine.
“You’ll be safer here…” River whispered to the time device, setting it down with the others. Hidden in plain sight, River left Vespar to its fate.
“H – how did you get there?”
The Doctor’s incredulous voice made Rory and Amy jump. They saw her at once, their daughter lounging against the Tardis console as if she’d been there for some time, waiting for them to notice.
“It’s rude to stare,” River replied, pushing off the console. She wandered casually over to the Doctor and placed her hand on his arm, lowering the accusing appendage he had pointed in her direction. “And point.”
“No but River…” He dropped his voice, as was his habit when River got a bit too close. “Seriously, how did you get here – and if you say spoilers…”
She held up her key playfully, twirling it in the light of the wheezing time machine. He took it from her, bringing the thing right up to his nose for inspection. Definitely a Tardis key – though he had no idea how she’d come across it.
“Technically that wasn’t an answer,” he muttered in defeat, handing the key back to River. “And you’re all … muddy.”
River ignored him, waving instead at the Vesparian scientist who looked mildly alarmed. “So…” she drawled, idly brushing some dried grass out of her hair. “Go on, what do you think?”
“Of what…?” the Doctor scratched his head, utterly confused.
“This place – this wonderful, broken world…”
He was always worried by that glimmer in her eyes. Usually screaming and running followed. “I find it unsettling and to be honest, my general memory of it is a bit on the sketchy side.”
“That’s because you never do your homework,” River scorned. “Come on, let me show you something that’ll really get your screwdriver buzzing.”
Amy and Rory pretended not to hear that. At all.
River returned to the console, twirling a few knobs and throwing ominous switches. Everyone lunged for a hand-hold as the Tardis lurched through space, rather than time. It wasn’t happy about it either.
They landed roughly.
The blue box was parked on the edge of a spectacular canyon. Its sheer, obsidian cliffs faintly reflected shredded husks of the galaxies wandering above. These sad spirals of stars appeared as dim rivers across Silence’s ravaged landscape.
“There – you see?” River whispered, guiding their gaze toward the sky. Silence’s planet dominated the view but obscuring its left side was a terrifying sight.
The fabric of Time had shattered.
“River…” the Doctor exhaled, staring at what resembled a broken mirror. Where fragments overlapped the planet he could see its life paused at different points in time. One particularly large shard showed a red corpse – another oceans that were yet to form. “Time can’t just break.”
“But it did,” River replied simply. “Perhaps it was always broken.”
He was shaking his head, transfixed by the roaring tides of Time.
“If time breaks, so do the laws of the universe. This is a paradox – a cancer. It could spread and consume all of existence until both everything and nothing happen at once. We’d become a time capsule, trapped in an endless circuit and this time,” he caught River before she pointed out that they’d already been to the end of time, “there’d be no fix. We couldn’t just – marry and mend the universe.”
“I don’t think it works like that…” River wandered over to the Vesparian. “You’ve heard of this before?” It was hardly a question, for River knew his answer.
“It was found and lost long ago,” the Vesparian replied. “In ancient times, expeditions were sent to study a rumour. I spent years collecting every fragment of research. It formed the groundwork of my time device. Our people theorised that beings who look upon raw time, circular time, can no longer perceive of it.”
“More likely they absorb time particles from the tear, making anything that looks upon them unable to perceive them. The Silence…” The Doctor frowned and eyed River suspiciously. “You knew.”
“I guessed,” she defended. “The Silence probably evolved here and cannot remember their own heritage. No wonder they have a fascination with time – it’s their curse. All I’ve done is bring them all home – I hope. Bit tricky to remember whether it worked.” She bit her lip cutely but it didn’t work on the Doctor’s worried expression.
“Wait – wait – waaaait,” the Doctor waved his arms about frantically. “You’ve been collecting Silence – and you brought them all here. Here where we are?”
“Um – not to interrupt – or anything,” Rory was pretty sure he and Amy had been forgotten about in this universe changing revelation. “But I’m a bit confused as to whether we’re in danger – or the fate of the universe is.”
“Which would you prefer?” River smirked unhelpfully.
“I – haven’t decided on a preference – yet… Should I?”
The steady thud-thud, thud-thud of the Vesparian’s two hearts was the only thing that set him apart from the marble busts encircling the lab. Like ghosts, they watched through the days and nights, daring him – scorning him – jealous…
Vesparians were creatures of beauty.
While this may not apply to their physical appearance, they had a deep appreciation for things both natural and creature-made. The Vesparian scientist found the laws of the universe more beautiful than anything. He studied their symmetry. It was not something you could teach a machine to do and certainly not a formula to be executed. This work required a living thing to devote itself.
And he did.
“Ah…” his voice a susurrus against the marble.
The secret of Time unfurled before his eyes, laying bare a terrifying beauty. His hearts skipped as the pieces of his theory fell into place, unlocking and reforming. This was the humble birth of time travel, in a candlelit lab just before dawn.
CHAPTER 9: FIXED
“River – that’s mad!” he gasped, pacing irritably along the cliff dislodging pebbles into the abyss. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you would have tried to stop me,” she replied, untangling her mud-laden hair.
The Doctor turned, strutting fiercely up to her.He cradled her face in his hands, making sure she could see nothing but his frightened eyes. They were ancient and deep. He was trying to teach her something important but River didn’t seem to be in the mood to learn.
“That’s because it’s dangerous… and crazy,” the Doctor insisted.
“They only escaped when the Vesparian expedition touched down,” River insisted. “Silence is the safest place for these creatures. They can’t remember their evil plans long enough to execute them. It will evolve into a world of complete madness. Then the universe will be safe.”
God, why did she have to be like this?
“That’s your plan then,” the Doctor slipped away from her. “Trap the Silence on their own world with a fractured Time vortex for a babysitter?”
River folded her arms and looked to her parents. “It’s a good plan,” she shrugged.
Amy tilted her head. “Hang on…” she started, eyeing her daughter suspiciously. “Is this why you studied archaeology?”
“No no…” the Doctor interrupted. “She studied archaeology to find me – didn’t you River?” he was grinning again, straightening his bow tie and puffing out his chest.
River was… quiet.
“River?” the Doctor frowned.
“Well – it was partly to find you,” she replied softly.
“But mostly to find them,” Rory folded his arms like a cross parent. “That was very dangerous, River.”
“Great, now I have three parents,” she muttered, kicking some pebbles off the cliff.
The Doctor looked up to the fractured storm of Time above. There was something about it that curled around his soul, as though it were alive – a creature slumbering.
“Fine – fine…” he muttered, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “You win, River.”
Rory checked his arms. “No more black marks, for the moment. I think we lost them back in the swamp.”
“Everyone back in the Tardis,” the Doctor waved his arms, ushering them all in – including the Vesparian. The Tardis trembled again. She didn’t like this world or the turbulent time swirling around it.
The Doctor moved to the Tardis console, carefully calibrating several of its settings.
“What are you doing?” River asked, leaning against the console. He nudged her out of the way.
“We’re going to take a closer look at this anomaly.
The Tardis creaked.
Amy watched as the domed ceiling of the control room warped under the pressure of the fractured time outside. The howl from the engines shook the whole room. Every now and then they stopped, wheezing desperately before churning back into life.
The Doctor unlocked the door, pushing it open.
Space was laid before them, glistening as though the void had been melted. To their right, the enormous planet hung like a jewel against the darkness. Its storms churned, oceans surged and landmasses cracked apart in an endless cycle neither alive nor dead. Silence, the small moon was obstructed by the Time distortion.
“Doctor – we can’t stay here. The Tardis won’t survive,” River was still by the console, holding down some of the more fragile switches.
“I just want to look at it,” the Doctor whispered, standing at the door – leaning toward the chaos.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Amy added, standing behind him.
“I knew a man once, who looked into the heart of Time. A Timelord…”
‘What happened to him?” Amy glanced at the storm for a moment, then looked away.
“It drove him mad – well – I think he was a bit mad anyway. He heard the sound of drums… An endless march of – nothing – of Time – of life and the universe to nowhere.”
“I can’t hear anything.”
The Doctor reached for Amy’s hand.
“No one can hear anything in space. Seeing – well – seeing is something else altogether.”
The heavy lever that River was trying to hold down snapped up. The Tardis jolted then screeched as its wall twisted under the pressure.
“RIVER!” the Doctor turned, slamming the Tardis doors.
“I’m sorry! She doesn’t like flying this close to the Time storm. The Tardis can’t maintain a stable orbit – she’s falling toward it.”
“Well pull her up!” the Doctor shouted.
Amy and Rory took the Vesparian by the shoulder and sat the creature down.
“Trust me, mate,” Rory said, strapping the creature into one of the chairs. “It’s best to sit.”
“It’s no good!” River continued, as smoke poured out from the console. “The Time storm is a fixed point. As soon as we enter the field we become part of it. She won’t survive the impact.”
“Course she will – won’t you, o’l girl?” the Doctor petted the Tardis affectionately. Several nuts and bolts flew free, bouncing around the room like bullets. The Doctor simply petted her again – ignoring It.
River and the Doctor were thrown to the ground as a violent shudder ripped through the ship. They’d lost control of the Tardis, its engines burning in a desperate attempt to break free.
“What happens at the centre of Time?” River asked, laying beside the Doctor on the floor.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “The death of all things – or the birth of the universe. Perhaps a garden party,” he added lightly, “like King George’s in 1816.”
“Or a restaurant…” Rory muttered quietly.
“Who would put a restaurant at the end of the universe…” the Doctor scorned, as though it were the most ridiculous thought ever.
The little blue box started to approach the first of the Time cracks. As she did, her fascade started to flicker between different points in its life. One minute, she was a brand new time machine with a fresh coat of pain and the next, she was wheezing and tired – scared and bruised.
Reality was crumbling and the Tardis falling straight into the heart of the storm.
CHAPTER 10: HEART OF THE STORM
They didn’t land. They didn’t crash. There was no tremble of engines or squealing of breaks. There was nothing.
Nothing at all.
The Tardis lay still, abandoned in a void.
“What just happened?” Rory asked nervously, straightening up.
The Doctor cast a worried gaze at the room. “Nothing good…” he replied.
Amy’s eyes went wide. “Did we fly into that crack thingy?”
“Cracks of time,” the Doctor corrected. “Yes, yes – fell straight into one.”
“Doctor that is not good…”
“Thank you, River…” he threw his screwdriver at her. “Make yourself useful. System checks.”
“System checks?” she looked at him blankly. “The Tardis is fine.”
“We always do system checks,” the Doctor insisted, waving her off. He wandered apprehensively over to the door, laying his hand against its surface. It felt cool as usual – calm. “I wonder… centre of Time.”
“Doctor, are you sure you want to know what’s at the heart of Time?” River was still watching him from the Tardis console. “Older Time Lords than you have gone mad from a glimpse.”
“River, you do too much homework.” He was utterly captivated, turning the lock with a soft, metallic click. As always, he went bounding into things, lowering his hand to the handle, cupping the brass knob before gently turning it. The door squeaked, slowly opening to reveal a vast and empty world of darkness. “Nothing…” he murmured.
“What?” the group asked, not quite catching the Doctor’s muffled words. They all leaned in trying to get a look.
“Nothing,” he repeated, this time dismissively. “Doesn’t matter.” He closed the door and locked it again before they could see. “Now, trapped in Time. No up, no down – no left or right, back or forward. Obviously can’t drift through it – how’s her engines?”
River tilted her head with a bit of a frown. “Wherever this is, they don’t like it. She won’t start.”
“No points of reference, poor old girl.” The Doctor stroked the console affectionately causing River’s eyebrow to arch. “What we need is a bit of a nudge.”
River frowned when the Doctor levelled his large, needy brown eyes on her.
“So that’s why you gave me your Vortex manipulator…” he whispered, impressed.
River frowned again, this time with confusion. “I didn’t – it’s – oh!” Her vortex manipulator vanished off her wrist. “You can’t just keep making suggestions and changing time!”
He ferreted around the couches, retrieving her cheap, nasty but incredibly helpful time travel device. The Doctor held up the rather well-worn device littered with scratches and stains. It even made a disconcerting rattle when he shook it next to his ear.
“How long have you had this thing?”
“The better question is, ‘how long did Jack Harkness have it?’” she quipped.
“Doctor – please tell me we’re not going to fly the Tardis with River’s watch…” Amy cut in, a worried motherly expression on her face.
He whirled around. “Course not! Just a map. Tardis guidance systems are all confused – too much empty universe out there. This’ll give her something to aim for now, everyone sit down and strap in!”
Even River took her seat, tightening their makeshift seat belts .
“Don’t worry,” River assured her parents, “usually his daft plans work.”
“I think he’s been winging the last nine-hundred years, personally…” Rory muttered under his breath.
The Tardis made a strained, whoozing noise, as if sniffing the vortex manipulator when the Doctor brought it close to its central shaft.
“Where’s it going to take us?” Amy asked, holding her husband’s hand tightly as an eerie, green light began to bleed into the Tardis.
“Doesn’t matter, as long as it takes us somewhere,” he replied, beaming like an idiot as the central column made its first heave, up and down. “It’s working…”
The Tardis lurched into life, her stardrive engines burning – her guidance system aiming for the only co-ordinates it could find.
“Ooo baby it’s going to be rough…” The Doctor grinned with delight, throwing himself into a nearby seat as everything shook and crunched. Bits of the Tardis fell down, clanging to the ground and rolling around their feet. The Vesparian closed his eyes, praying to the ancient deities of Time that they survived this.
And in silence they left the void, flickering out of existence –
The Tardis crashed in the sand, embedded on her side against a black dune. The sands slipped apart, fragments of crystal shimmering under a purple sunset.
The door opened and the Doctor fell out onto the dune. His hands and feet sank into the sand as he scrambled up, clawing his way to the ridge until he cast his eye over the city below. It shone, alive with fire and life. The third age of Vespar was alive and well. Its buildings reached to the heavens and its streets were capped in precious stones.
“It’s all right!” he called behind him to the others as they tumbled out, one by one.
“What is it with this planet?” River picked the sand out of her hair. Between that and the mud she looked like some kind of creature thrown out from the dawn of time – which wasn’t far from the truth. “This is the night of the party,” she whispered, pointing to the sky where a great comet was vanishing toward the horizon.
“It’s a fixed point,” the Doctor sat down on the dune’s backbone. “The Tardis latched onto it and crawled out of the void.” There was a brief crackle of blue light above the parliament building, gone before anyone noticed. “That’s us arriving far too early so you can hunt for a dress.”
The Vesparian was the last to reach the top of the dune, his two hearts beating hard as he wiped a layer of sand and sweat from his forehead. “Home,” he whispered, looking down upon the city.
“Looks like you’ll be able to give that speech after all, professor…” River shot him a lop-sided smile.
The professor shifted nervously. “I was rather hoping I’d be late.”
“Late? Never…” the Doctor insisted. “I’m king of Time – Lord of Time – I’m never late.”
Amy gave him a good shove and the Doctor lost his balance, tumbling a way down the sand to the amusement of his companions.
River was about to follow after him when she noticed the eyes of her parents and the Vesparian scientist upon her. “What?” she asked softly, confused by the sudden chill in the air.
“River…” Amy whispered.
River looked down to her bare arm – a fresh black mark adorning her skin.
“The Silence…” she murmured. “They’re still here – they’ll always be here – fixed…”
“Not just one,” Rory added warily, as another black mark came from nowhere. “They’re all here tonight – and we’ve brought them a time machine.”
CHAPTER 11: CHASING DUSK
“I see them…” The Doctor whispered, his gaze toward the city.
The light was failing, Vespar’s trio of sun disks drenching the land in rich, golden light and rendering the sky an almost imperceptible violet. A scattering of pre-party fireworks went off in the distance, exploding in storm of red and silver. A minute later, the rumble droned over them.
The Silence were moving as a pack, racing over the sand unaware of the Tardis’s arrival. Their goal was the time device and the scientist.
“We can’t cross our old time line, Doctor – you know that,” River reminded him anyway. He had a history or reckless behaviour that put her to shame – and that was impressive.
“‘scuse me,” Rory put his hand up, frowning in a cute, Roman fashion. “Probably a stupid question but can’t we just get back in the Tardis and go home?”
The Doctor didn’t take his eyes off the Silence until they vanished into the city walls. “You’re right.”
Rory stuttered, “I am?”
“It is a stupid question…” he delivered flatly, winking.
“I’m still giving my speech – aren’t I?” the Vesparian scientist was perched on the edge of the dune, watching his home fade, its buildings becoming harder and harder to discern from the sand.
The Doctor nodded. “That you are. Come along ponds, Vesparian…” he waved them all after him as he started down the dune.
“I’m not a Pond…” Rory muttered softly – to which he received a swat from his wife.
Professor River Song was seated at a table near the front. Her index finger traced the tip of a double-brimmed glass. Half was full with a blue, gel-like substance and the other with water. The Vesparian scientist was opposite, nervous.
Silence were dotted throughout the crowd, forgotten as they moved beside the dancers or lingered in dark corners.
A shower of scarlet fireworks and a thunderous roar. The crowd applauded, all eyes lifted heavenward except for River and the scientist. They slipped away from the table – running into the night.
“And there we go…” The future River whispered, from behind the Doctor’s shoulder. They were watching from the library window where this had all started.
“Our Vesparian friend should have the time device in safe hands by now. It’ll be buried before our lingering Silence realises. He’ll never find it but Vesparian work on time travel can continue. Another crisis averted,” he sighed softly, resting his hand on the window pane. “And your parents are dancing again.” Amy and Rory were down there, blurred into the crowd. “Next time you want me to take you on a date, just ask…”
“More fun this way,” River offered him a lopsided. “Now… sadly for you, I have a better offer this evening. Don’t get all jealous and start a new national sport.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes at her. “Spoilers…”
“That’s not a spoiler. I synced our diaries.”
He frowned. “No we didn’t.”
“Ooh… tricky planet. You forgot.”
His simile lingered but there was something else in his gaze.
“I wish you wouldn’t look at me like that…” River said softly, her new dress rustling against the floor as she shifted.
“Like you’re sad.”
“River…” his brown eyes often betrayed him. He was an ancient creature; the end of the universe, slaughter of his people, cities lost to dust, a small child brought back to life… he’d seen so much. When he looked at River, he saw her that cheeky smile of hers and then a blinding light. Then she was gone.
She shook her head at him. It was their rule.
He sighed, turning to the window to watch the crowd. Their scientist was back, moving from his table towards the stage to give his dreaded speech. Still, compared to being chased through time, this should be easy.
The Doctor suddenly frowned as a thought drifted through his mind.
“Who are they, River?” he eyed the Vesparians. There was something that had been bothering him since the moment he landed here. They were – familiar.
River didn’t answer him at first. Instead she wandered over to the nearest bookshelf, sauntering through it as she had done before. She tugged free a slender, leather-bound book and laid it in the Doctor’s outstretched hands.
“Don’t you read?” she chided playfully.
The Doctor nearly dropped it, eyes bulging like a four year old faced with a chocolate shop. “But that means…!”
“I’m afraid it does.”
He pointed his finger at her. “Cheeky…”
2.3 BILLION YEARS LATER
“You killed a planet!” The Doctor threw up his hands, Tardis door wide open as they drifted through the void between Vespar and its moon.
“It was already dying…” she replied, monitoring the moon’s destruction from the Tardis console.
The Doctor had his head stuck out the door, watching continent sized chunks break away with a hail of shards. They tumbled, drifting for a short time in a silent ballet before being inevitably sucked toward Vespar where monstrous clouds of smoke raged over the surface.
“A planet – with – with cities and – deserts,” he whispered, eyes locked on the destruction.
“Not very good ones,” River quipped.
“That’s not the point. Planets – special. Universe – precious.”
River finally wandered over to the door where he was standing. She rested against it, a satisfied smile as huge pieces of rock tumbled by. “You should have given me a guide book – with rules.”
He tore his gaze away for a moment to scorn her. “You’d only take that as inspiration.”
“Indeed, you have to be careful about the ideas you give a young girl. You don’t remember – do you?”
This was all his fault, after all.
CHAPTER 12: REMAINS OF DYING STARS
Eight years old, Melody Pond perched on the edge of the Tardis, feet dangling over oblivion with the universe stretching out in every direction. In front of her was a soft, pink star – burning all alone with no planets for company. The Tarids was fuelling her engines, mining a crack in time that arched around its puffed out, dying body for a boost.
“What’s up, Pond?” the Doctor appeared behind her. He sat down and tucked himself into the small space between her and the door.
The little girl shrugged, hugging her knees up to her chest. Dirty blond hair fell over her shoulders in a crazy mess.
“How about a story, hmm? You love stories.”
Melody perked up a bit, glancing up at her Doctor. “What kind of a story?”
“Oh…” he sighed theatrically, leaning against the door frame. “A good one – full of explorers and timey-wimey stuff.”
They were in the ancient past. Though plentiful, the stars around them were either too dim or exceedingly bright – ready to burst open like great big water balloons at any moment and thrust out their stardust into the night. This is when the cracks had first started to appear… From the very beginning the universe was broken.
“See this star?” The Doctor pointed in front of them. There were incredible arches of pink plasma spewing out – arching over and plummeting back down into the corona. “It’s getting very old and just like the Tardis, it is starting to run out of fuel. When some stars run out of fuel they swell up really really big – like this one then poof! All of its gas just flies off into space.”
Melody was impressed but a little frown crossed her features. “That’s sad…”
“No, no, no…” the Doctor insisted. “Not sad. Time is a great big line-y thing with loops in it.” Melody was frowning at him again. “Okay – not really but lots of things like stars and civilisations go in cycles. This star will create another one with planets and moons.”
“The next star after that will create more planets – with people. And,” he perked up. “Did I mention they were really pretty when they go boom?”
The Doctor picked her up and moved her back inside the Tardis. He closed the door and revved the engines for a few minutes, flying her another billion and a half years into the future. When they opened the door again they found themselves amongst the dust of the previous star and in its place, the healthy white glow of its child. Tiny, rocky planets hummed busily around it, some of them worryingly close to crashing into each other.
The Time crack to the right of the star seemed wider – the Tardis’s engines replying in kind with a healthy surge of power.
“It’s pretty,” Melody whispered, smiling again. “Where are we?”
“A very very special place – a lost solar system. No one can find it after the next few cycles well,” he amended. “An ancient race once did – Vesparians – but it’s just a story. Probably not even true.”
“Did the Vesparians die too?” Melody held the Doctor’s hand as he led her back to the console.
“No one knows… just like this place, Time sort of – lost them.”
The Doctor went back to the door. He looked up at the darkness in the voids between stars and wondered – then closed it.