The Alpha picked her way through the lower market. It was an often-avoided area, as the shop in which she’d been arrested, mere days into their residence on the purple world, resided ostensibly in the centre of everything. As a result, at least half the merchants would have nothing to do with her. She supposed the prejudice was fair enough. She had made a couple hundred metres of heavy wire disappear into thin air as they understood it, and Garans were notoriously superstitious. They likely thought her a witch of sorts. Perhaps, it was best if she was thankful the treatment wasn’t worse. Still, it made coming an only-if-it’s-unavoidable effort. Today, she was just determined enough to brave all the glares and silent threats. She’d never wanted to leave anywhere more terribly in her 127 years, so she resolved to scour the lower market for the bobs their TARDIS required.
Nothing was going right. No, not since Himself swanned in and cocked everything up. Now her brothers were getting chummy with him in his stupid bow-tie and braces. Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone? Why couldn’t he nose out, and mind his own? Did they seem so very desperate for his intervention? Wasn’t he purported to defend the defenceless—or some such nonsense? Fix problems, anyway, other peoples’ problems! As far as she could see, the only problem she’d presented in his presence was his presence. Yet, he stepped into their lives, where he had no right or reason, was creating fractures, and he couldn’t even see it. Her careful planning was going down the proverbial toilet even as she meandered. She hated when variables popped up in general, and, well, the Doctor was threatening to move from extraneous, to confounding in two bloody days.
She couldn’t have, in good conscience, lied to her brothers and hidden his appearance. Untrue. She could, but she kept so much from them that was unavoidable, adding to the heap was as distasteful as it was difficult. Lying full stop was nearly impossible with a bond such as theirs. She could expect them to respect her privacy in what she chose to withhold behind mental barriers, but unless they painfully blocked each other by cutting off all telepathic communication, it was always merely a respectful courtesy. Creating such an embargo would’ve drawn attention to what she wanted to hide, and they’d had their own suspicions fully formed before any confirmation was sought. No, this was not a situation she could’ve hidden once Himself came, hands flapping and hair flopping, trailing behind them on their way home. Still, she wished she’d thought of something to persuade her brothers to wait. Damn him and his insistence! Damn his snooping! Damn Torin’s hope and Li’s objectivity! She was bloody in charge!
Why weren’t they listening to her? When did she lose sway? Wasn’t the fact that she knew it was a sodding stupid idea good enough? She’d given them sound logic on the matter! Why did she ever let them talk her in to this? Why wouldn’t they listen?
Well, she knew why, didn’t she? They were being sentimental prats who wanted to go on adventures instead of staying focused. She’d half expect it from Torin, but Lios? The thought inflamed her further and she shoved her fists deeper into her coat.
Li’s timeline had stopped flickering during their argument over tea, settling into permanent, shimmering view. She hadn’t had the hearts to look at Torin’s. It’d broken her enough seeing the one, and she did a runner so she wouldn’t smash something, or shout, or both. At everyone. For everything. For her mum, for her dad. For her life as it was. It was better she left. The temptation to smash the prat Doctor’s prat face had been too much. Still, not the most adult way to handle knowing her treasured sibling and her only remaining family would be leaving her, possibly forever. But how was she supposed to handle it? Good will and nonchalance were totally out of the question; she wasn’t a saint, and it just wasn’t in her nature to be flexible.
Her fears regarding her own fate did nothing to calm her nerves. This meant so much re-evaluating and planning, and just how in control she was going to be was suspect as well. The fact remained, she wasn’t ready for a goodbye; even if it were possible in their current predicament, she just couldn’t let go of the only family she had left. She wasn’t ready to be alone, even if… even if she knew it was only ever a matter of time… but could she juggle all her responsibilities and this barmy idiot in a maths professor kit? It felt like they three were aboard the Star Cruiser of Fate and the bloody Doctor hijacked the navigation systems. She hated it. She hated him.
Who was he to them anyway? No one. Genetic information similar to their own, that was all. He wasn’t their father. Their father had been the one who changed nappies, and taught them to fly, and the language of their people. Their father showed them how to control their telepathy, and how to tell the difference between Clom and Raxacoricofallapatorius. Their father had kept them safe, and loved Mum without ever leaving her… until he died, and it wasn’t like he’d had a choice. Their father was John Noble-Smith, not this arse-who-made-life-difficult-on-principle Doctor, and John Noble-Smith had been everything. This Doctor was a gingerbread house, and her brothers were on the fast track to becoming witch’s tea.
She ached for her parents, wanted—needed her mum more than ever. She needed advice. She needed understanding. She needed someone stronger and wiser to push her in the right direction, and tell her when she was out of order, and she desperately needed someone to tell her she wasn’t irrevocably mucking everything up… or at least how to fix whatever she had broken. She smirked thinking about being well over a century in age and still needing her mummy. The contempt she held for herself at the lack of self-sufficiency was palpable, but no one else had a mum like hers, did they? Her mum was, by all rights and technicalities, a goddess. Her mum could see into the heart of things, and figure them out in a way that she’d never mastered. Selene got hung up on details, and found herself stuck for ages, where Rose Tyler would see the big picture instantly. Requiring such a mother should hold no shame. However, Selene Noble-Smith should be dauntless. Wise. Capable. None of which she felt just then.
Without realising, she’d wandered into an alley and was facing a dead-end. With a snort at her own foolish slip, she turned around and saw two figures at the other end, blocking her exit as they crept up on her.
Didn’t mean anything, right? This was a reasonably safe planet. She’d just walk past them and—
No dice. She recognised them. They were Binto Basal’s, the Garan from whom she’d nicked the vortex channeller. Well, then.
“Well, now, if ‘t ain’t tha Alpha. Fancy tha’. Been lookin’ fer ya, haven’ we, Dib?” the Garan thug with green hair grinned at his counterpart, making him look for all the world like a toothy vegetable.
Garans generally stood a foot taller than the average human, and though not muscular in build, they easily had the upper hand with their long, flexible limbs and speed.
“Gave us tha slip las’ nigh’, eh Mo?” his orange-maned counterpart responded, stone-faced and threatening. She knew he’d be the more challenging of the two.
“True ’nuff. An’ made off wi’ my masta’s property.”
“Yawp, reckon we ought’a take ‘er to ‘im straigh’ away.”
She was having none of their little game of intimidation, and thoroughly lack-lustre wit. “Ah, well, ‘fore either of you gets carried away bein’ so terribly clever, wha’ am I meant to’ve stolen?” She smiled as prettily as she could, and tried unsuccessfully to mask her contempt. “I seem to recall goin’ to the pub an’ dancin’ with your master, but he was smellin’ up the place so bad, I had to scarper, or I’d’a been sick all over ‘im.” She was buying time by talking while she checked her surroundings. “Old rottin’ veg isn’t my bag, ‘m afraid.”
Both turned a rather unflattering ruddy colour, and one – the one with the dingy green sprouting from his cranium – let his hand twitch a moment in the direction of his gun. Perhaps, playing upon racial tensions was not the best way to diffuse an already tense situation. Selene, however, while diplomacy and sensitivity were foreign to her nature, thrived on it.
Despite the rapid increase of intoxicating adrenaline and the blood she could feel pumping through her veins like rocket fuel, she admonished herself again for the lapse in focus leading to the impending confrontation. Bloody hell, what was wrong with her? She was never this lax in her guard. Angst was stupid. She was stupid for giving in to it. She could’ve kicked herself.
Mo relaxed the twitchy trigger finger, instead folding his arms to resist the temptation to shoot the bitch his master both wished to possess, and thoroughly break. He took pleasure in knowing he would see it done. “Mouth on you’ll get you in trouble sooner’n you expect. You can call us wha’ you like, but I don’ reckon you’re tha’ thick, lass. You’ll come quiet, or Dib ‘n me’ll make ya quiet, but you’re comin’ jus’ tha same.”
Her chances of clearing the brick wall behind her before they grabbed her were grim, and she knew their sonic was currently in Torin’s pocket, so the steel door to the left and ten paces behind her was out as well. She was well and truly cornered. So, she did the only logical thing.
“Lead the way, gents.”
Dib, the smarter of the two, frowned and considered her for a moment, eyes narrowed in effort to suss out her angle. Unable to find it or any flaw in their approach, he nodded to his counterpart, who gruffly took hold of her arm and began pulling her back out the alley. His greater height meant she was dragged along on the tip of her toes, putting her at more of a disadvantage than she’d deduced.
“Oi!” she huffed as he yanked. “Mind the coat! I love this coat! Freddie Mercury gave me this coat!” She pulled her arm away succeeding only in getting both arms seized on either side as a result. “I’m comin’ willingly, no cause for the rough treatment, yeah?”
They ignored her protest, perhaps, in retaliation for the vegetable insult, or maybe the satisfaction and laude they would receive dragging the feared and hated witch to captivity through the busy market streets, and continued steering her back into the throng. Wary shop-keeps shot them uneasy glances, some ducking their heads and minding their own, and others shooting her looks that clearly stated she had this coming. Some even broke into wide grins and huddled into each other to gossip. Garans did love their news. Well, she avoided this place for a reason, didn’t she?
She berated herself again for being thicker than lead bricks as she shuffled through the multitude of escape routes in her head.
The most practical moment to disappear was while they navigated the crowds, but it would be harder to manoeuvre without possibly hurting innocent bystanders.
Mo had a weapon digging into her side which she could grab in 0.435 seconds, but that’d never work in a crowd – not without landing her squarely behind bars in another three minutes and eight seconds. There were at least seven city sentries in the vicinity – and Dib was surely carrying a weapon as well, so without the sonic to disable it, she’d be in for her second regeneration in less than six months. She didn’t fancy that. It wasn’t nice the first time. Plus, she and her brothers had no way of running from the trouble that would follow such a public display of what she was, and the explosive energy would definitely hurt people – it had all but finished the already beaten up TARDIS last time.
And wouldn’t that just be wizard when they all seemed to think she was a devil as it was? Shoot some golden light, injure fifty, and end up a new person. No merchant would ever sell her a thing again. The cover of the crowd was right out.
If she waited until they were skulking down the next alley, she could snatch it and shoot them both in 1.185 seconds – well, less if she didn’t set it to stun first, but that wasn’t really an option either. She didn’t want to kill anyone. She’d still give the locals far too much to talk about, but it was far better than voluntarily walking into Binto Basal’s clutches, who she knew in her gut was a slave trader, even if he kept his bulbous nose clean enough that she couldn’t prove it. And if she chose this route, at least they had the option of getting off-world for parts… even if it meant asking Himself for a lift.
Her mind firmly made up, she bided her time, and laid the foundations for her escape. Mo and Dib were good at their jobs, despite their inability to measure up to certain standards of intelligence. They’d kept calm when she’d lobbed slurs at their employer, which might have made many other Garans she’d met react with violence. It meant she would have to work on them if they were going to make a mistake and give her the opportunity she required.
“So, you lads come here often?” she breezed as pleasantly as possible while they all but dragged her along, pretending she hadn’t a care in the world. “Sorry ’bout the vegetable crack before. Terribly rude. Insensitive. I like you lot well enough— well, maybe not you two in particular. I mean, I like Garans. Rich history, you lot. Mostly scavengers rather than inventors or profound thinkers, but orange is a lovely colour, and your settlement here has been good. Only, this painter on Earth used to do these ones of tomatoes, an’ carrots, an’ olives an’ things swimming in sinks, an’ bein’ rowdy, an’ sometimes, I can’t get it out of my head when I look at you. Usually, when your intellects ‘ave some commonality as well.”
They ignored her the best they could.
“D’you know, ‘s some others who look like vegetables too? Oops, ‘m I bein’ rude again? Well, Sontarans, they ‘ave it much worse’n you lot. I expect a race of giants would try’n peel one of them for chips if they ever met, an’ Sontarans don’t like anyone or anythin’ ‘cept fightin’. You might get on, actually, if they didn’t jus’ kill you for existin’ first. Not Garans and Sontarans, but you two and the Sontarans. Potatoes an’ carrots’ve always complimented each other, and you like a good fight, don’t you? Still, historically, your people are peaceful, and Sontarans comin’ere’d be bad news—”
She let a few moments pass as more eyes and whispers surrounded them before starting in again. “See tha’ fountain? Funny story ’bout tha’ fountain. See, when this planet was first terraformed by you lot – oi, you know you Garans actually came from Andilon, yeah? Left it when it was overrun by weevils – absolutely nasty buggers, those. Real pests. Deadly. Don’t blame you for leavin’. Not many do – know tha’, I mean, not leave their planet when weevils overrun ’em, hell, you’d be daft if you stayed on a planet infested with weevils, but you knew wha’ I meant, yeah? Have you ever seen a weevil? Well, I should hope not. It’d mean serious trouble for your planet, ‘cos where there’s one, there’s a thousand more you don’t see underground, an’ as I said, I like it here. Mostly. Well, you’d likely be dead if you had ever seen a weevil, so good point. Didn’t know you had it in you. Anyway, not many know tha’ ‘cos you been here at least six centuries an’ cultures tend to forget things like tha’ over time when you’re not plannin’ to move on again. You were actually tryin’ to get to a planet in a neighbourin’ system called—”
“Shu’ it,” Dib growled again.
She could see the anger morphing into flustered irritation. Good. Where anger brought focus, people tended to make mistakes when annoyed.
“Not an history buff then?” she asked mildly with just a hint of reproach. “Tha’s a shame, tha’ is. Truly. History is an amazin’ thing, yeah? Why, it’s the story of now, innit? Everythin’ tha’ made this very moment possible. You… me… you draggin’ me. Tha’s important, don’t you think? I mean, I could tell you stories ‘bout how I got here an’ wha’ led to this very mo’, an’ it might make so much sense, tha’ you’d jus’ let me go on my merry.”
Mo painfully tightened his grip on her arm.
“Then again, might not. But, the point is the same! I might learn somthin’ ‘bout you tha’ makes a difference too. Like maybe you had this chum when you were small who you secretly were sweet on, an’ maybe this chum decides he likes humans, an’ claims he hates the taste of veg? His own people! Callin’ ‘em veg. See tha’ might make me stop sayin’ it. History! No one properly appreciates it anymore. I think tha’ started in humans, you know? Back in the early Twentieth Century on the original Earth, Earth Prime – or Sol 3, if you prefer, I’m flexible – when people started carin’ more about celebrities an’ films than tracing blood lines of their ancestors. Plus, everyone pretty much stopped readin’ anythin’ wha’ wasn’ a gossip rag – do you lot have those here then? I’ve been dyin’ to catch up on wha’ the Face of Boe’s been gettin’ up to – an’ then they could just watch the telly, so readin’, an’ learnin’ anythin’ was chucked out. I mean, in the year 200,100, all anybody watched— or is it watches— or will watch? – well, all they watch-watched-will-watch are reality shows an’ games. Barmy, if you ask me. ‘S no reality in reality television! Total misnomer. Anyway, tha’ attitude spread among the different races once the humans started spreadin’ out across the stars—”
“Shu’ yo’r bleedin’ gob already!” Mo hissed.
She smiled in smug triumph. One story seemed to have hit home, and they were nearing the alley she had in mind. Fifteen paces. 6.493 seconds. She just needed them a little more irritated and flustered.
“Sky’s lovely t’day, don’t you reckon?” she mused in a sweet voice with a smile pointed toward the heavens. “I know of eighteen planets with a sky tha’ colour. Wha’d you lot call it? Amethyst? Lilac? Orchid? D’you have those flowers here? Wouldn’t likely call the sky orchid if you didn’t, now would you? Though, might be a tad mundane to you, innit? You’ve seen it every day for as long as you’ve lived, so you don’t know jus’ how rare and special it is. No appreciation, do you, no. You call it sky as if you have any concept of wha’ the horizon is. Bless you for it, you’re thick without knowin’ how thick you are. But imagine, tha’! Only eighteen in so many billions! There’s here – lovely Garazone Prime, home to two billion of you Garans, an’ half as many humans, ‘course – an’ Banobillius Ampiorilastillion Phara-Basillius, which has no humans on it ‘cos the air’s too thin to breathe for most species, which might be considered a good thing if you take into account the males of the indig’nous race called Lunians – though, I personally think Lunatics would’ve been a better name – run around starkers, an’ paint their entire bodies during the full moons – they’ve two, you know – with huge piles of sh—”
Dib huffed and groaned, reaching one hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration. His grip on her arm loosened a fraction in the process. “I tol’ ya—”
His blaster was in her hands and they both hit the ground in a blur of movement. She chucked the weapon in a bin, and took off running at break-neck speed before she heard the shouts ringing out behind her.
They’d only been stunned, she told herself. They wouldn’t need medical attention… unless they were injured by their falls… which would just have to be an unfortunate result of trying to kidnap people, right? Not that she was sure she was to be kidnapped, maybe severely beaten and… well, she wouldn’t hypothesise what they’d planned, or she might be tempted to go back and inflict more damage. It was easy to push off the guilt when she made them worse in her own mind. Besides, they were sure to be found and attended. It wasn’t like she’d left them there to die. She wouldn’t think about it anymore. It wasn’t helping. Getting away clean was most important.
She weaved her way through the labyrinth of buildings once she’d left the markets behind, staying as entrenched in shadows as she could, her skin humming from the adrenaline coursing through her veins.
She had no interest in returning to their TARDIS and dealing with, well, the reason she’d scarpered in the first place, but it was the only logical bolt-hole, so she navigated down the alleys which would lead back to the pitch where it was hiding amidst the purple trees.
Attention once again back on the even more complicated Doctor conundrum now that she probably needed to get off the planet post-haste, she jumped a wall that separated her from the last alleyway, and nearly ran face first into a big, blue police call box.
She felt a warmth beneath her polo-neck, and pulled out the glowing key on the silver chain which had belonged to her mum.
Shifting from foot to foot, she stowed the key back under her jumper before starting to walk away.
Not her TARDIS, not her business – even if she was curious.
Well, who wouldn’t be, eh? This ship had been the setting for all her childhood stories, and was practically her gran if you thought about how her mum’s life had been inexorably tied to its heart.
Still, not hers.
Didn’t matter that she had a key, it was still very wrong to go in without an invitation.
The key was suddenly quite hot – burning against her bare flesh. She gasped, and pulled it out again before looking over her shoulder at the big, blue box.
The door to the right swung open on its own.
She waited for someone to come out, but the luminous entryway remained resolutely empty.
Then it nudged her consciousness.
The Doctor’s TARDIS was inviting her in.
She furrowed her brows and faffed about with her sleeves and scarf for a few moments.
It nudged her more insistently, sending a wave of love and welcome. The door on the left swung in on itself as well, revealing a tantalising view of glass and glow in a cavernous space.
Well, it was an invitation, wasn’t it? And the Doctor may pilot the timeship, but she was her own being with her own mind, now wasn’t she?
She felt a wave of approval and agreement from the incredibly enormous and soothing presence.
She hesitated another moment before closing the distance and striding through the doors, which closed themselves with a squeak behind her.