Having had a kip before making a few more repairs, a few hours in the vortex saw both the TARDIS and the Doctor rejuvenated with hope and well-being. It was incredible what a little time in a hammock could do for his outlook, and he was experiencing a hope and excitement he hadn’t dared let himself when he’d first set out to locate his people. The Doctor therefore saw no reason to wait for morning. Instead, he jumped forward a few hours, re-parking closer to the pitch where he was to meet with Alpha, or “Sally Woolfe” as she was calling herself.
Friend or foe, the girl was the key to unlocking this mystery.
He gorged on a plateful of jammy dodgers, and nursed a cup of tea sweetened with Venusian honey before making to leave. It was a far cry from the fried food he’d picked at the night before and, again, it did him wonders to indulge in a couple of his favourite things. All in all, he felt sure he’d be equal to whatever lay before him.
On his way out the doors, the TARDIS mentally nudged him.
She didn’t usually. She mostly kept their communication to dire circumstances or comfort in his very low moments, but she seemed almost chipper after weeks of suffering malfunctioning systems, and perhaps that was why she deigned to catch his attention, like a fussy mother making sure he was ready for the day ahead.
He stopped for a moment by the time rotor and stroked the console lovingly. Whatever the reason for her communication, he was glad to have it and her on his side.
It therefore surprised him when she sent him a wave of warning which contained hints of admonishment… and that blasted image of puppies, thoroughly confusing him.
“I’ll be careful, Sexy. I will,” he promised, still under the impression that she was concerned for his safety in the imminent meeting with the mercenary-thief-who-was-mean-to-bunnies-and-other-fluffy-animals-girl.
Impatience and exasperation hit him like a slap to the back of his head.
“Oi, what the devil was that for?” he whinged, the reverberation of her metaphysical slap still disorienting him. He was clearly missing something, or she was still in need of repair. Perhaps he should take them back to the vortex for a few hours and he could have a look.
Instead of answering, she opened her doors and sent the blasted image of puppies.
“I don’t want a dog!” he shouted in bemusement. She was still most definitely in need of repair if that was what she wanted. “Blimey, you’re getting demanding! And you won’t like having one here either!” He turned back toward the console and began putting in coordinates for the vortex.
Puppies again followed by a wave of love and affection, which most certainly were not directed at him, oh no, because not half a second later she shocked the fingertips resting on her console. He put the hurt fingers in his mouth and glared at the time rotor.
“What was that for, then? Because I won’t bring home a hairy little beast that will chew your parts off, you daft cow?”
He received the mental equivalent of an eye roll and a huff of exasperation. A short message in Gallifreyan appeared on the monitor.
Or rather, the equivalent of. In truth, it advised him to behave in a manner which honoured those with whom he kept company – past, present, and future – by keeping conversation pleasant. But one didn’t simply say, “be nice,” in his mother-tongue.
And a bit rich.
“What are you on about then?” he asked as the monitor went dark again.
She sent an image of a black wolf, then the message popped back onto the screen.
“What?” He was utterly baffled. “You haven’t even met her, and already you’re telling me off for things I have yet to begin the contemplation of doing! What do you care about this girl? She’s the bad guy! Not the victim! And she threw stones at me! Doesn’t that count for anything with you? I’m going to find out what she’s done to the people we’re meant to be finding!”
She shocked the fingers touching the monitor, supremely unimpressed with how thick he was being.
“Watch it! Or I’ll disconnect something you need, you mental box of wires!”
Electricity hummed threateningly from the metal surfaces around him.
“Fine! I’ll be nice! Is that good enough for you? Would you like a contract signed in my blood? I still don’t see what the devil it matters to you!” he shouted, and stalked outside, slamming the door behind him before she could make good on her threat to shock him again.
She really was getting out of hand lately, and he would be having a look at her circuits. She rarely even liked companions, let alone cared how he behaved to strangers! He’d been offending half the universe for centuries without so much as a peep from her! Did some ancient propriety program from her original programming short in the delta wave assault? Did those even exist? And the bloody dogs? Just what the hell was she on about?
Fingers still in his mouth and scowling at everything, he emerged from the alley and looked down the half-block toward the park where he instantly spotted the leather-clad young woman watching him with an amused half-smile playing about her lips. He shook off the annoyance (mostly), smiled as charmingly as he could manage, waved at her with spit-shiny fingers, then dried them on his jacket before advancing.
The bright white ball was steadily climbing in the violet sky in the short Garazonian day, and the street was already filling with the multitudes of buyers and merchants who made the planet thrive in the intergalactic marketplace. She was alone in the crowd, no brothers to meet him, and he hoped that meant they would go right to her ship’s hiding spot. His domestic with the TARDIS had sapped him of his good humour, and any desire to be sociable.
As he approached, she eyed his burned fingers with furrowed brows. “Hurt yourself?” Amusement was obvious, despite the concern the words intended to express.
He scowled again. “My ship…” he muttered darkly, then forced himself to brighten for the sake of his mission, “repairs, you know, can be tricky and all that. Good morning! Sleep well?”
“Yeah, not bad, I s’pose.” She shifted on her feet and looked around her awkwardly. “Erm, had any nosh yet? My brothers are waitin’ down at the tea shop ’round corner. Or, ‘s a pub open not too much further down the way tha’ makes brilliant Scotch eggs—”
“NO!” he interrupted vehemently. The last thing he wanted was to spend hours in a pub with them. The notion needed to be nipped in the bud, but his outburst earned him a single brow raised in hostility, and a pair of rapidly whitening, pursed lips. He had to backpedal and undo the damage. “Eugh! Gah! Why would you even— Scotch eggs— Scotch eggs are evil. How— how can you eat—” His panicked look melted into a comically suspicious glare. “You trying to poison me, eh?” He gave a great shudder and smiled at her again, charming to the last.
“Really?” She shook her head with a tight-lipped, crooked smile. She rolled her eyes and studied him, all traces of awkwardness evaporating with what he presumed was her fascination at his strangeness. “You’ll jus’ ‘ave ta make do with the tea then. Keep up, John Smith,“ she breezed, “places to be an’ all, an’ the day’s not gettin’ younger,” and set off, graceful and silent, at her brisk pace, leaving him staring after her open-mouthed at her audacity to order him about.
She was obviously quite unaccustomed to waiting for input or opposition. He wondered how her brothers liked that.
Bit rude, it was – she was. He’d had his tea – did she ask? No! She did not. He wasn’t in the mood for niceties and being chatty. He was impatient to get into this ship that had eluded his search efforts and held the promise of answers! His irritation at the delay pricked at his skin as it bubbled just under the surface of his senses. It would make everything so much easier if he could just behave as she did and ignore these trivial rules of social engagement. He could, for instance, incapacitate her and board her ship without consent—but then, no, no he couldn’t. He couldn’t find it, which was precisely the reason he was in this stupid sitting-down-to-tea-with-dangerous-strangers mess, wasn’t it? The thought didn’t endear her to him further, but he resigned himself to moving at her pace and keeping things friendly – well, until they couldn’t be – if they couldn’t be – any longer.
He still hated her… very much didn’t like her – well, he didn’t think he did, no, she was, well, too much like him, now he thought about it, but he had lived over 1,000 years and this child shouldn’t be ordering him— or anyone— about. Well… she didn’t know how old he was, now he considered it properly, and he did have a young – and rather charming – face this time, didn’t he? He’d never thought to test if it was as charming as his last seemed to be, but it might well be. Perhaps, she was just awkward around charming people as she has so little charm herself? He certainly didn’t look his age. Perhaps—no—most likely, she assumed he was around her age, so bossing him should-could-might be forgiven… maybe… he supposed. Some people were just that way. No, no, he probably should definitely reserve judgement.
Still, she’d shouted at him, and referred to him as “Bow-tie,” and called him a wanker! And thrown a stone at him! And followed him around like a spy – and she was probably aware of what a Time Lord was if she had his people prisoner – and sneaked up on him, then ordered him about, and now was delaying what she’d promised the night before! And she was secretive. They all were. They were probably, definitely hiding something. Shifty, she was shifty. Yes, he had plenty of reason to dislike her.
“You comin’ or wha’?” she called over her shoulder from nearly a half a block up the already thronging high-street. “Chivvy on, you great lump! Day’s burnin’ away while you stand there!”
Right, yes! He flailed his hands and padded after her.
She didn’t slow to wait, and ducked into a little shop before he could reach her. It was an empty little hole-in-the-wall, with dim lighting, and mismatched tables, and dusty, toile chairs. A few scattered patrons, mostly Garans with an odd human here and there, drank tea from chipped, flowery sets. The pungent scent of dried leaves and spices assaulted his superior olfactory receptors. Still, it was cosy enough, and they wouldn’t be tempted to spend vast amounts of time there. One didn’t linger over tea in the same manner as ale.
When he approached the table where they stood waiting, he had tea already poured for him and a jam butty waiting. That was friendly at least. He picked it up and stuffed half of it into his mouth, filling the orifice to bursting. It was a jam he particularly enjoyed, raspberry, though they couldn’t have known that. He just wanted to move on, and this would save time.
Three sets of eyes watched him intently.
“O’lo’ere,” he said as he chewed, then waggled a limp hand at them.
The taller man, with shoulder length brown curls, grinned dazzlingly with a smile that seemed to engulf his whole being. Alpha shook her head and rolled her eyes, the soul of disdain and impatience, and the man with gravity defying blond hair and eyes like the frozen waves on Women Wept remained stonily impassive.
The girl huffed and muttered under her breath, “Five. Five credits on a sandwich he takes all of half a second to eat…” She tugged her muffler a bit tighter and forced a smile that bordered sneer. “So, John Smith.“
Why did she keep saying his name like that? Like it was a private joke at his expense? He furrowed his brows and pushed back his fringe with one hand.
“I’d like you to meet my brothers.” She indicated the man with brown curls to her left with a thumb over her shoulder, then hesitated for a second and swallowed. Interesting… “This is Torin, an’ tha’s,” the other thumb pointed to the blond with the inscrutable face, “Li— Sorry, Lios.”
He smiled and extended a hand to each in turn, which they took in gloved hands and then seated themselves.
“Does your sister drive you as mad as she’s made me over the last two days?” He slumped into his blue patterned, threadbare chair like a graceless albatross. “Right nightmare, isn’t she? Don’t know how you manage, to be honest. She chucked a stone at me – hit me with an actual rock to get my attention last night, you know. I’ve got a bruise and everything,” he tattled and grinned again now that his mouth was no longer full of jammy bread.
Shock registered on all three faces for a tick, then Torin guffawed, and Lios chuckled while her brows knitted together, and her face went very red.
“Oi! Whose side ‘re you lot on anyway?” she admonished in a low voice. She smacked them on the arms with the backs of her hands.
Lios sobered almost immediately, while Torin only laughed harder, nicked the rest of her sarnie, and shoved it in his gob in one go.
“Eugh!” He let the half-chewed sandwich roll out of his mouth and onto the floor as he began furiously scrubbing at his tongue with the prissy-pink cloth from the table. “Marmite! You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”
That one, he liked right off.
“No one told you to be a grabby git.” She shook her head in exasperation and sipped her tea loftily. “Not my fault you always pop things in your mouth tha’ don’t belong there, is it? An’ you might enjoy it if you gave it half a chance. ‘S nice.” The girl seemed more outraged that he’d insulted her taste buds than stolen her breakfast.
“Tried feeding me Scotch eggs earlier,” the Doctor leaned across the table and confided conspiratorially.
Torin looked suitably horrified.
The Doctor nodded and tapped his own nose once. “She’s got to be stopped.”
The girl was, once again, scowling, and still red-faced as the silent brother drew her into a casual, but well-timed embrace. She relaxed slightly, and the ruddy colour receded.
Taking in the three of them together gave him a strange feeling, a bit of a niggle perhaps, and he tried to absorb the picture they painted.
They looked incredibly close in age, in fact, he’d be very extremely hard-pressed to tell you who belonged where in the birth order. As far as looks went, they were different enough that they might not actually be related. None shared hair, nor eye colour, nor an exact build type, and each had his own affected manner of dress, not to mention, only slight familiarity in speech patterns. One of them was glaringly different in accent. The likelihood seemed slim they shared blood. The connexion must have some other modality.
Alpha/Sally/Kicker-of-fuzzy—no… he had to let that go – looked like she was armouring herself against the world with her leather, and the utilitarian colour palette which covered nearly every inch of flesh from view. She could have scales instead of skin under it all, he’d never know. Her face was angular, with high cheekbones and heavy, inky-black eyebrows. Her jaw was square; haughty-looking, and her lips pouty and in sharp relief against the ivory colour of her skin. And, of course, her eyes were the colour of warm honey – even if they didn’t conjure up the same feeling when considered as the last pair he’d seen in that shade. She didn’t smile often, mostly dead-panning her wise-cracks, expressing herself with her eyebrows, and she moved like a predatory animal. Haughty. Sleek. Calculated. Deadly.
Torin struck him as more ostentatious, preferring a striped blue suit, an Oxford in a violent shade of purple, and blue tie patterned with silver swirls and stripes under the large brown wool overcoat he wore to hide himself from the world. He was the tallest and most gangly of the lot, and was apparently unaffected by the madness in front of him. It may have been that madness was something he enjoyed. He smiled and laughed easily. He seemed… goofy, and relatively unaware of it. His face was more pinched than angular, and conveyed much more openness than either of the others. His eyes were a warm, chocolate-brown like his mop of curly hair, which was nearly as long as his sister’s. It covered rather prominent ears. He was openly affectionate with the other two as he babbled, grabbing hands, or leaning bodily against the girl, or reaching behind her to poke at the other young man. They didn’t seem to mind any of it, but didn’t initiate the contact in the same way.
Lios seemed the most enigmatic. He observed at an incremental distance from the fray of activity; his chair even slightly set farther back than the rest, and was certainly not chatty in the way his siblings were. He was only a bit taller than his sister, but the opposite in colouring. He was pale blond, with short hair that pointed skyward with seemingly little effort, and had softer, rounder features. He remained mostly buried in his own oversize brown trench, but the Doctor could make out a bit of green velvet over a silver waistcoat underneath. He unabashedly watched the Doctor watching them, took in every being who entered and exited the shop, and, the Doctor had no doubt, still caught every word being said around him. His large, heavy-lidded eyes looked cold and reserved, but they spoke of a buried tenderness and vulnerability as well.
Three utterly mismatched children, yet they shared an undeniable commonality as well. They were all quite tall, sleek like runners, but the similarity was beyond physicality. They fit together in a way which could not be articulated. They belonged; would be irrevocably damaged if they were separated. They worked like cogwheels, moving in sync with one another through even seemingly random gestures. They gave the impression that audible communication was for his benefit only, and that they would be quite fine, thank you, without the fuss. The girl seemed infinitely more relaxed in the presence of her brothers, and far less likely to explode when goaded, and they, in turn, seemed drawn to her, whether for strength or guidance, he didn’t know. He thought about the way she had mentioned that they only had each other the night before. It was obvious she had given him the truth, even if she hadn’t meant to. These children were integral to each other in a way he’d never understand.
He decided to peek at their timelines, and found that they were invisible to him.
All of them.
They would have a mutual importance, he and they, for good or ill, then.
Or they were not going to live much longer and he’d still be very involved.
“So why do you speak differently from your brothers? Are you all really related, or are you a family only in name?” When she adopted a sour look, he hastily added, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, love an adopted family, me. Best kind there is, in my experience, but you’re all very different. Just wondering, you know,” the Doctor blustered, unable to keep his mind from straying to the Ponds, and busied himself with his flowery teacup and lukewarm tea as he spoke.
“Oh, that’s just because she talks like Mum and we don’t,” Torin offered, oblivious to his sister’s mood. “We’re triplets, actually, even if we don’t look it,” he blurted carelessly. “The genetics in our family are batty and confusing, and full of strange possibilities which resulted in us as we live and breathe. Funny story, that.” He paused for breath and a swig of his tea, evidently preparing to carry on as though he’d never stopped when his sister shot him a scathing look. He shrank back into his seat, properly chastened.
“Yeah? Mum from Old London Towne then?” the Doctor countered.
Torin glanced at Alpha but remained quiet. They really did have a remarkable dynamic, didn’t they?
“Yeah,” she answered finally, but said no more.
“Earth then?” he pressed. Something didn’t figure. Times were wrong. Travel from Earth at this point was impossible. But he was getting closer to the truth he needed. “How did you find yourselves all the way on Garazone Prime? You’re pretty far from home.”
Alpha seemed to be mulling over how to answer this when Lios, who had been watching his sister carefully since he’d asked about London, spoke up instead.
“We crashed here,” he said in a softer voice than the Doctor had imagined. He leaned forward as he spoke, resting his elbows on the table and tenting his fingers. “We were born on Earth, but left when we were very young. We have only been here about six Earth-months.”
He turned slowly, with purpose to meet his sister’s furious gaze, refusing to break under the intensity, and the Doctor was positive the three shared at least a low-level telepathic connection. Those two were absolutely shouting at each other behind their eyes.
The girl finally jumped up out of her chair and stalked heavily out of the shop, but the flaxen brother ignored her pointedly, returning his intent gaze to his hands and sighing.
“She do that often?” he demanded, then shook his head with a frown and swept at the hair in his face.
The Doctor didn’t like feeling confused – as a matter of fact, was getting rather angry – especially since one of them – the one who had promised the result he rather very urgently required – had just swanned off and he’d still not seen even a glimpse of the fabled ship. He was through—utterly and totally done putting up with all the evasion and mystery. Now that the largest, stubborn-girl-shaped obstacle had done a runner, he was set on demanding the truth of either man who would look at him. He was on the verge of making said mandate, when blue eyes met his, and a warm golden pulsing filled the back of his mind. The heady feeling left him a bit dazed since he hadn’t been shielding at all, but the presence went no further than the mental “hello,” so to speak.
“We haven’t been very forthcoming with you, Doctor, and I think it’s time you had the truth.”