Chapter Eight

 

Daniel Boone took his time examining the tracks the escaping pair had left, moving inch by inch; raking his long fingers through the grass with the same care Becky used to pull that fancy ivory comb he had bought her through her long coppery tresses.  Every so often he glanced back over his shoulder at General Stone.  Not very far away the British officer paced back and forth pounding a cauliflower-shaped fist against the palm of his hand.  Apparently the soldier who tried to shoot the fellow they were after had done so against orders.  If he hadn’t been present, Dan was sure General Stone would have executed the poor man on the spot.  As it was Stone had stripped the British sergeant of his stripes and sent him back to the main camp under guard.  That took the party of redcoats he was traveling with down to five plus the general.  The odds looked bad. 

For the redcoats that was, the frontiersman thought with a lopsided grin

Stone was fuming.  Earlier the short squat man had let loose a string of curses the likes of which Dan had never heard – in a language he didn’t understand – making it all too apparent that he was not a bit pleased.  The general wanted the fellow they were tracking – whoever he was – in the worst way, and he wanted him alive.  As he was a man of his word, Dan had helped the redcoat track the stranger this far, but that didn’t mean he would actually lead Stone to him.  He needed more information before he did that – a lot more information.  According to Stone the man they were following was one of their own, injured in an accident, and maybe out of his head.  So it made sense that the general was angry that one of the soldiers had taken a shot at the figures fleeing in the dark.  But the question remained – why had the sergeant done so?  If the missing man was a member of their company and a comrade they were concerned about locating before he came to harm, why point a loaded musket in his direction at all?  While Stone’s reprimand and dismissal of the erring soldier had been by the book, Dan had not missed the fact that justice had come very swiftly – most likely to shut the man up.

The frontiersman glanced once again at Stone and then turned his attention back to the clues written in the grass.  Someone had paused a few yards back, lightweight and slender footed.  A woman, or more likely a girl.  Then the girl had run like greased lightning across the grass to where he was now and halted at the side of a man.  A bit further on there was indication of a second man coming in from the east.  Shifting forward, Dan checked the signs again.  Someone, no, two someones had fought and fallen.  One had lain for a while just about where he was kneeling.  There was no blood, so whoever it was had probably been knocked out and not killed.  Then the first man and the girl had taken off running.  From the look of it the man was no sapling.  The length and depth of his boot prints suggested someone six foot or more, though slight of build.  Rising, Dan followed the trail into the trees, hoping to get a bead on where the pair was headed.  As he did, a glint of something in the underbrush that didn’t belong caught his attention and drew him off the path.  It took about a minute to reach it.  After checking to make certain the source of the reflection was what he thought it was Dan whistled, and then called out General Stone’s name. 

The squat redcoat barreled through the underbrush like an enraged bull, snorting and steaming.  Dan shifted his coonskin cap back and waited until Stone was within a few feet before he spoke.  “You sure this man we’re lookin’ for is a friend of yours?” he asked, all innocence.

“I told you the man is an invaluable member of our regiment,” Stone growled.   

“More valuable, maybe, than others in your command?”

The redcoat stiffened.  “Why would you ask?”

“Well, this hunt’s been a costly one.  Price is two men now.”  A slight smile crossed his lips as he shook his head.  “Pretty soon it’ll be just you and me, General.”

“What do you –?”

Dan noted the redcoat’s reaction as he made the discovery.  Shock and surprise, followed by anger.  The glint that had drawn the tall frontiersman from the trail had come from the sun striking the buckle on the shoulder-strap of a dead soldier lying partially concealed in a thick stand of grass.  He recognized the man.  Stone had sent him and Major Blundell out ahead of the party to scout the area.

General Stone had frozen in place.  When he spoke at last only his eyes moved and that was to Dan’s face, as if gauging his reaction.  “An unfortunate secondary effect of the accident our missing comrade suffered.  It seems he has forgotten where his loyalties lay.”

Dan pursed his lips and nodded toward the body.  “You can see the marks on his neck, Stone.  This soldier’s been garroted.  Whoever he is, this man you have me trailin’ seems to think of you as his enemy.”  He waited a beat and then added, “Can’t see as I blame him, what with your men takin’ pot shots at him.”

“That was against my direct command.”

“Seems like you got yourself some problems, General.  One man injured and running from you.  Another going against orders.  This man dead.  Major Blundell missin’.”  Dan paused to allow time for each statement to sink in.  “You might consider taking up a new career.”

Stone’s golden skin darkened to bronze with rage.  “You will be silent!” he commanded.

Dan shoved his cap back and then leaned his weight on the stock of his rifle.  “How about knittin’?” he asked with a cocked eyebrow.  “You could make a warm woolen cap for that bare noggin of yours.” 

Before Stone could reply, a crisp voice sliced the cold night air.  “General!’

Stone pivoted sharply on his heel.  Dan gave the dead man one last glance, and then turned the same way.  The soldier named Nelson stood a few feet away.  The frontiersman frowned.  The man held a small box in his hand. 

It was glowing.

“Lieutenant Nelson,” the general acknowledged.  “What is your report?”

“We’ve found it, sir,” Nelson announced.  “Longitude 37.908412, latitude 84.271875.” 

Found ‘it ‘and not ‘him’, Dan noted. 

The squat redcoat nodded, satisfied, and then marched to the other man’s side and demanded the box.  After glancing at it, Stone raised one gloved fist and struck it sharply against his chest.  “Victory!” he proclaimed.  “The Doctor is mine!”

“Doctor?” the frontiersman asked, surprised.  This a medical man you’re pursuin’?”

“Mr. Boone,” Stone said, turning toward him, “you’re services will no longer be required.  We have located our quarry.”

“Quarry?  Funny.  That don’t sound to me like a man who counts you as a friend.”

“Indeed, he does not.  And neither shall you.”  Almost as if by magic a strange looking gun – squat and bulky as its owner – appeared in the redcoat’s hand. “You will surrender your rifle to Nelson and come along quietly, Mr. Boone.”  A slow ugly smile split Stone’s leathery face.  “Or I will send you to join my fallen man –

“In damnation.”

  

***    

 

The blonde woman stirred.

She hadn’t felt this way since the night she had taken a dare and a ride on the back of a really steamed Krafayis that had decided, like a hangnail, that she needed to be bitten off.  The resulting 200 foot tumble down the side of a purple-blue man-made mountain that resembled more than anything else an open footlocker for a monstrous millipede fond of wearing spike heels, had left her so battered and bruised that she hadn’t even been able to smirk when the Doctor showed up at the pan galactic hospital with a bouquet, a stupid grin, and a banner reading, ‘Always leap before you look’.

River Song groaned.  Both at the memory and because she hurt like hell.

Cautiously she opened her eyes, keeping them to mere slits.  She was no longer in the Rutan Host’s main chamber, but in some type of a retaining cell.  She was lying on a table, attired in a ghastly shift composed of a sort of shimmery metallic fabric that reminded her all too much of the negligee her one-time two-headed Nestene duplicate beau had preferred.  ‘Boone’ docks or not, the first dress shop she came across, she was taking time to find another frock.  With a sigh, River observed the space she found herself confined in.  There were two narrow windows set high in one wall, too slender for escape.  At the far end there was a door with bars, which looked out onto a dim corridor.  On one side of her was an empty medical bed, and on the other another bed with a slender female form clothed in a white sheet occupying it.  The woman’s face was turned away from her, but River knew by the long ginger hair that it had to be Amy Pond.  Deciding to chance it, River pitched her voice as low as she could and called, “Amy.  Amy, are you awake?”

No response.

“Amy?”

Still nothing.

River ran a silent check over her body.  When she realized she was unrestrained, she shifted and sat up.  Almost immediately she closed her eyes and gripped the edge of the bed.  Whatever the Rutans had used to knock her out must have been powerful.  She felt like she’d been slipped a galaxy size Mickey Finn.  Odds were Amy had been given a dose of the same thing, but was still unconscious.  Poor Amy.  The redhead was new to traveling with the Doctor.  After a while anyone brave – or foolish – enough to call themselves his ‘companion’ developed an extraordinary resistance –

To everything other than his charms.  

Sliding off the metal table she had awakened on, the blonde woman crossed to the door and peered through the bars.  The corridor beyond was partially lit by a green glow; most likely the passage of a Rutan or one of their duplicates.  River sucked in air as a stab of fear penetrated her self-assured armor.  Her duplicate was out there – somewhere.  The Doctor was good, but there was no reason for him to even suspect she had been replicated.  The blonde woman closed her eyes and concentrated on the data that had been fed into her subconscious by Father Octavian’s technicians before she made the time leap.  Due to the intense heat the ship carrying the data recorder had been subjected to, it was sketchy, but there seemed to be no mention of anyone fitting her description.  River’s eyes popped open and she shook her head.  The whole mad, messy affair revolved around the actions of the English lord turned Cherokee warrior anyway, so whether or not her duplicate connected with the Doctor mattered little.

“She’d had better not connect with him,” she growled, “or I’ll blow her pretty little cloned head off!”      

A sound, soft and signifying pain, caught her attention.  River turned to find that Amy was waking up.  She crossed to the redhead’s side and leaned in close, speaking in her ear.  “Amy, its River.  I’m here.  We’re in some sort of a cell.  I’m going to see if I can find a way out.”

“River…?”

“Yes.  It’s me.  Now stay still and stay quiet!”

Amy Pond was not one to take orders, so the older woman was surprised when she obeyed.  ‘Must still be under the influence of the drug’, River thought as she moved away.

Prison cells were predictable.  Most used one of two sorts of systems to keep their prisoners confined.  Old ones had locked doors.  New ones had force fields.  A few had both.  But there was one thing neither ever had for long – her.  Traveling alone or with the Doctor, she always found her way out of a trap.  Oh, it was true Father Octavian would say she was being held in the Stormcage Facility now.  But that was by choice.  If she wanted, she could escape any time.

“But then, where would be the fun in that?” she asked the air with a slightly forced laugh.

Kneeling, River started at the bottom and ran her fingers around the door frame.  Then she examined the lock.  From what she could tell it was one of the old-fashioned types – no force field, no alarm, and no lasers or other high-tech devices primed to strike her down the second she stepped into the corridor.  All of which went, of course, to make her even more uneasy than the presence of either or both would have done.  Either the Rutans were stupid – and tempted as she was to think that of a giant mass of gelatinous emerald goo, she knew better – or they were very, very clever.  Perhaps they wanted her to escape, in which case she should stay put.  Yes.  It would be safer that way.  River blew out a sigh so fierce it caused the spiraling blonde curls on her forehead to dance and switch partners.  There were two things she was not good at.  One was staying put.  The other, of course, was staying out of danger.

Oh well.  There should be a force field or something deadly at the cave mouth, she thought cheerily.  She’d just gather up Amy and they would go find out. 

Turning back to the other woman, River crossed to Amy’s side and helped her sit up.  The redhead was groggy, but soon found her feet and managed to keep them – albeit with the precarious grace of an undergraduate after an all night drinking binge.  As she swayed from side to side like a red-headed willow caught in a strong breeze, the Doctor’s latest companion frowned mightily.  Jamming a hand against what River could only guess was a head pounding with pain, Amy squinted and said, “Who let loose the herd of elephants?”

“If I had an aspirin, I’d offer it,” River replied. 

“Aspirin gives me nosebleeds,” the young woman answered.  “I’ve got a better idea.”

“Oh?  What is that?”

“How about we knock some Rutan heads together?”  She scowled.  “If they…have…heads, that is, in all that…goo.”

River anchored her hands on her hips and shook her head in mock disapproval.  “Young people these days!”  Then, with a grin, she added, “I don’t know about heads, but they have nervous systems, and from what the Doctor said they can be…well…short-circuited.”

“He’s met them before?”

“Yes and no.  Not this one – this Doctor – but another one that was him.”

“Ouch.  You’re making my head hurt worse.  You mean, when he looked different, before, like on his library card?”

River laughed.  “Does he still have that old thing?  What rubbish!  It expired about 48,000 years ago – no, will expire, I guess, in about 200 years.  From my point of view...not yours.  But yes, when he looked different – all curls and teeth.”  She had the image in her diary, but she had not met that incarnation in person yet.  “He fought and defeated one of their scouts.  But only after a good many people died.  The Rutans are ruthless.  Even more so than the Sontarans….”  The blonde woman couldn’t help it.  She shivered.  “And that is saying quite a lot.”

“River….”

“Yes?”

“How do you know so much?  Who are you?”

There it was.  The one question she couldn’t answer.  With a shake of her head, she employed the single word that said it all. “Spoilers.”

“Oi!” Amy countered, her rigid stance and tone conveying the anger she felt. “This isn’t some online fan fiction with you and I hoping for a healing/comfort scene where the handsome hero’s lying in the grass all bloody and battered, with his shirt open and his manly chest showing, waiting for us to take him in our arms and kiss him all better – this is reality!  God, it is so reality!  I saw it!”  Her voice broke and a small sob escaped her.  “River…we gotta save him.”

River had met many of the Doctor’s female companions over the eons.  They were all smart, savvy women, capable of just about anything – and each and every one of them had been in love with him, at least a little bit.  But then again, that shouldn’t have surprised her. 

Even River Song had not been immune.

“Amy, ‘who’ I am must remain a matter for another day.  Today – this day – we need to escape from here, find the Doctor, make certain he is all right, and then….”  She paused.  And then – what?  She had been sent to the past to stop the future created by the Doctor’s decision.  In the end, that might mean stopping the Doctor himself.  But could she….

Could she…kill him if it came to that?

“What is it, River?”  The redhead’s voice was hushed.  “You look like someone just walked over your grave.”

“Not mine.  Someone else’s.  Though there’s room enough in it for two.”  The blonde woman forced a smile.  “Now, come on, Amy.  We need to get out of here.”

They’d been taught by the best.  Ten minutes later, after dropping two guards in their tracks, inching past two more, and using a Kirby grip out of Amy’s hair to open the panel controlling the outside force field and trigger it, the two women sprinted into the impenetrable shadows of the Kentucky wilderness and disappeared, determined to find the Doctor .

 

***

 

Inside the Rutan stronghold, the gelatinous mound of emerald goo quivered with amusement.  Humans were such fools and fooled so easily.  As prone to overestimate their own abilities, as to underestimate their foe’s.  Two sets of women, one human and one created; both originals completely unaware that their companions were Rutan controlled clones.  The real River Song was being watched by the cloned Amy Pond, while the real Amy Pond was in the control of the cloned River Song, who was leading her, along with the human known as Mingo, toward the Doctor’s Tardis.  It was the Host’s belief that either the Pond woman or River Song could gain them admittance to the time machine. 

Yes, things were going nicely – very nicely indeed.  The Tardis had been located.  The duplicates were in place.  The Doctor was next.

And then, the future would be theirs.

 

***

 

“Amy?”  Someone touched her shoulder.  Some bloke by the sound of it.  “Amy?  Amelia?”

Amy Pond started, and then blinked herself awake.  For a second she couldn’t place where she was.  Then she realized that after telling River all about what she had seen back on planet-what’s-it’s-name she must have fallen asleep.  So that meant she was still where she had been before – which was the usual place she found herself since she had taken up with the renegade Time Lord – smack in the middle of nowhere, running around like an idiot trying to find him.  Looking up, Amy noted that a very handsome man with outrageously long silky black hair was standing over her, patiently awaiting her reply.  She might have thought she was backstage at a rock concert if it hadn’t been for all the beads.

And the smell.

“So, Cherokee,” she began, climbing to her feet and moving – surreptitiously, she hoped – upwind, “you’re people are traders, right?  They trade their furs for stuff?”

Mingo nodded.  “Among other things, my people are traders.”

“So, those other guys, the…what did they call them back in school?  Oh yeah.  The European settlers who run trading posts.  They carry just about everything?”

“Yes…”

She rubbed the end of her nose and sneezed.  “Like soap?”  The question came out as a squeak.

Mingo started.  “Are you implying that I smell bad?”

“Well, no, not ‘bad’ exactly.  It’s just….”  She halted, sneezed again, and then sighed.  “I’m from Scotland.  I can differentiate between two hundred different types of grease, and you smell, well, a bit like an overdone banger.”

“Banger?”

“Sausage.”

For a moment the tall handsome man looked affronted.  Then he burst out laughing.  “No bangers.  Just bear grease.  On the hair.”

“Oh.”  Amy frowned, considering.  “So, does the bear shed it, like Brylcreem or something?”

He shook his head.  “Shed it?  No.”

“So you have to, sort of….”  Amy swallowed hard at the thought.  “Take it?  Like from a grizzly?  I mean, like, fight a great big two ton roaring, snarling, don’t-stop-running-or-I’ll-eat-you-bear and win, kind of ‘take it’?”

Mingo was looking more amused by the moment.  “Yes.”

Amy sniffed and avoided the sneeze this time.  Something was tickling her, but it wasn’t allergy.  “I see you’ve got a lot of muscles, there, under that…waistcoat.  I thought English lords were, well, you know…kind of nancy-boys.” 

“Perhaps they are,” he said, “the family name is Murray.”

It took a tick to catch on.  Then Amy laughed.  “Oi!  So you’re Scottish too?  Well, good for you!”  She bunched her fingers into a fist and punched his arm.  A slow whistle showed her appreciation as the firm flesh did not move.  “Nice muscles, there, Tonto-Mingo.  Scottish….  Now I understand why you know so much about grease –” 

They were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat.  A moment later a woman’s husky voice remarked dryly, “In case you two have forgotten, we are on a rescue mission.  You can flirt after we find the Doctor.”

River had been missing when she woke up.  It was all too clear now that the older woman had returned.  Amy took one last, long, lingering look at Mingo’s muscles, and then crossed to the other woman’s side.  As she did. Amy remembered that River had gone ahead of them to get water and scout the area.  “So, what did you find?”  Her eyes flicked to the waterskin River held.  “Other than H2O.”

“Nothing!” the blonde replied.  “Absolutely nothing!  I’m beginning to believe your story about the Doctor, Amy.  That man never disappears this completely!  He always manages to leave behind some sort of a clue as to where to find him.”    

“Beginning?”  Amy moved closer to the other woman.  “You mean you didn’t believe me before?”

“Didn’t believe’ is probably too harsh a way to put it.”  River was holding a small palm-sized device.  She glanced at it surreptitiously before continuing.  “You could have been programmed.  You know, you believe what you are saying, but it has no relation to reality.  In fact,” the older woman came even closer and lowered her voice so Mingo couldn’t hear, “since it is the Sontarans and the Rutan Host we are dealing with, you could even be a duplicate.”

“Oi!  So could you!” Amy shot back defensively.

River smiled that smile.  The one the Doctor liked, but gave her chills.  “Now wouldn’t that be interesting?”

“Uh…no.”

The blonde woman laughed.  “But then again, if I was a duplicate I wouldn’t want to find the Doctor.  Now would I?  He’d know the difference, don’t you think?”

Amy thought about it a moment.  “Yeah.  Right.  Sure, he’d know.  Besides you and me, we’ve been together the whole time, so you can’t be a duplicate….  Right?”

“Of course.  Besides, you’re a clever girl.  I’m sure you’d know.”

“Course I would.  I would.  And you’re not.”  Amy nodded emphatically.  “And I’m not.”

River leaned in closer.  She inclined her head toward the tall native.  “What about him?”

The redhead scowled.  “Mingo?  You mean you think –”

“Just checking.”  River grinned.  “Now, how about you send our handsome hero out for some berries or something?”  She tapped the device in her hand.  “I have something I need to show you.”

“Okay.  I think.”  Amy turned back to Mingo and called.  “I’m kind of hungry.  River says we need to get going in a minute.  Think you can rustle us up some grub, Tonto-Mingo?”

He nodded and then turned to leave.

“Hey!” Amy shouted.

Mingo glanced back, puzzled.  “Yes?”

“You’re supposed to say, “Can do, Kemosabe.”

“What language is that?”

Amy shrugged.  “Tribe of telly land.”

The native frowned.  He seemed to do a lot of that – or at least he did a lot of it around her.  “Right-o, Kemosabe,” he said, his tone undeniably British and upper crust, and then disappeared into the underbrush.

“So what is it you need to show me, River?” Amy asked as she turned back to the other woman.

River’s face was full of joy.  With one finger, she pointed to a bright blip on the screen.  The grid showed the blip was not very far from them – whatever it was.  The older woman drew a deep breath and answered.

“The Tardis.”