She’d been wrong. This wasn’t a dream. It was a nightmare.
Jemima Boone lay curled up in a ball, close enough to the body of the man her ma had named John Smith to touch it. The last thing she remembered was a blonde woman talking to her, and then – as if she was looking in a mirror – another version of the same blonde woman standing in the open door of the big blue box pointing a gun at them. At that moment everything had gone dark like their cabin did at night when her ma closed all the shutters, banked the fire, and blew out the last candle. Suddenly, there had been nothing – and there had continued to be nothing until a few minutes ago when she’d awakened to the sound of raised voices, here, in this little room. The brown-haired girl felt a little better now that she had slept. Well, stronger, not better. She was still scared stiff. Almost everything in the shiny copper belly of John Smith’s star traveling ‘whale’ was strange and unfamiliar. Oh, she’d recognized a couple of things – some funny brown shapes that were supposed to be chairs, and there was a wood rack for hanging coats. But everything else was fantastic, like something out of a story. In fact, the only thing she could relate it to was the tales Mingo and her pa had told when they came back from Virginia and meeting Benjamin Franklin. Mingo had an incredible memory and he had sat with her and Israel long into the night, detailing on paper some of the inventor’s ideas and inventions. There had been a man called James Watts that Mr. Franklin talked about. Watts had invented an engine that used steam to move things. Great big things. The drawing Mingo made had looked something like the tall green tower at the heart of John’s blue box.
Jemima drew a steadying breath, and then shifted her gaze from the star ship to its fallen owner. Grief all but overcame her at the sight of his battered and bloody form. With John not knowing who he was, there was no way they could send notice to his kin. No one but her family would know or care that he had died. Oh, the people in the town would shake their heads and grumble about it not being safe to travel outside the settlement, but that’d be it. They’d wrap up John’s body in a cloth quick as lightning and lay him in the dirt. Then the parson would say a few words and someone would pound a cross made out of wood into the ground above him. The cross wouldn’t last the harsh Kentucky winter, and by this time next year it would be as if he had never been. She bit her lip, fighting the cry of sheer frustration that welled within her.
It just wasn’t fair!
Jemima sniffed quietly and wiped her eyes and nose with the back of one tattered sleeve. Then she rose up just a bit and peered out the room’s opening at the two blondes. She was surprised to find another woman had joined the pair. The newcomer was tall as a man and had hair red as her ma’s. She was really upset. As Jemima watched, the redhead shouted something and then pointed in her direction. Even as she ducked, Jemima wondered if the newcomer knew John Smith. She seemed real concerned about him. Maybe… Maybe the redhead had come looking for him. Maybe John was her friend or brother or…husband.
Or, rather, maybe he had been.
John’s hand was real close to hers. Careful so none of the strange women would notice she was awake, Jemima slowly reached out and closed her fingers about it. Surprisingly, even though several hours had passed John’s fingers weren’t stiff, and his skin was still slightly warm and not cold like a dead man’s. Cautiously Jemima drew closer. She’d seen a man frozen in the snow one time and he’d looked just about the same. John’s skin was so white that his brown hair was near black against it. So were the long eyelashes that lay on his cheeks – the long dark eyelashes that were moving.
Jemima clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her cry. John Smith’s corpse had just blinked!
Hurriedly, she glanced at the three women again. They were arguing and paying no attention. Growing bolder, Jemima scooted closer to John and placed her free hand on his chest. For a moment she thought she was mistaken, but then she felt it – a steady slow rhythm on one side, and then a weak erratic beat on the other. As she sat there, stunned, John’s fingers moved ever so slightly in hers, he groaned quietly, and his eyes opened. John’s pale lips formed a sort of half-smile and he laughed weakly.
“Gotcha,” he breathed.
“Shh. You gotta…don’t speak. We’re not alone.” Jemima looked again. Then she turned back to John. “They’re still arguing. It’s all right.” She paused and then a huge grin broke out on her face. “You’re alive!”
“Gallifreyan physiology took over,” John mumbled. “Tried to force a shut down. Ahhh….” His lips curled this time with a shadow of triumph. “But I insisted on a reboot.”
“Are you all right?” she asked, concerned. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Right as rain,” he replied. “Oh, there I go again. Never did understand why rain was right and not left, and even if one goes beyond the metaphorical….” John must have seen her worried expression. “Oh, sorry. I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”
She nodded, made a sign for him to be quiet, and then peeked again at the women. Nothing much had changed. The redhead was looking from one twin to the other and back again. She looked real confused.
John had not moved, but his eyes seemed brighter than they had for a long time. “Who are you watching?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Them. Three women.”
He frowned. “Three?”
She nodded. “A pair of twins and a woman with hair redder than ma’s.”
“Help me up. Let me see.”
Jemima placed a hand on his shoulder and held him down. “You don’t look so good. I think you better rest.”
“For a dead man, I’m sure I look quite smashing!” he shot back, his tone short. Then, seeming to regret it, he admitted, “All right. So I don’t look so good. I certainly don’t feel so good. Woke up too soon. Not quite…done mending yet.” John winced as his fingers probed his wounded side. “Still, can’t wait. Time, as they say, is an illusion – lunchtime doubly so – and time lost is never found again.”
“Mr. Franklin said that last part, didn’t he?” she asked, feeling smart.
“Old slow on the uptake Benji? Nah. Borrowed it from me.” John struggled against the hand that held him down. “No…time…to…lose. Ah, love that. If anyone could lose time, it would be me. Now, help me up.”
He was acting all brave, just like her pa and Mingo did when they were hurting, but she could tell it was mostly bluff. Truth was, from the look of him, you could have knocked him down with one of Hannibal’s tail feathers. “You ain’t moving so well. They might see you,” she countered with a swift glance over her shoulder. “One of us looking is chance enough, don’t you think?”
“Yes, well. If your secret wish is to play Junior Indian Scout, then by all means, scout away.” John waved a weak hand and then lay back and closed his eyes. “Tell me what you see.”
Jemima frowned as she turned toward the opening. John was different. He was, well, ‘flippant’, as her mother would have said. Cocky. Not as nice. She wondered as she cautiously peered around the corner if she would even like him when he was completely well.
“Well, tell me. What do you see?” he demanded.
“Two women who look just alike. Blonde. Older than my ma. And a young one with long, straight red hair. Two of them are wearing nightdresses, and the other one – one of the blondes – is wearing men’s trousers. I don’t think they like each other much. They haven’t done anything but fight since they met.” She paused. “Wait. One of them’s coming this way!”
John sat up, groaned, and then reached out and caught her hand. A second later he pulled her to the floor beside him. Jemima lay there unmoving, waiting as the staccato beat of the woman’s heels on the hard floor first drew close and then rapidly diminished. For several minutes they both lay still. Then John whispered softly in her ear, “Jemima, do you trust me?”
The Good Book told her not to lie. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I thought I did but….”
“But now you’re not sure. Good on you, Jemima Boone. Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect.” John winced and looked slightly embarrassed. “Oh, wait. Sorry. I keep forgetting you’re – how old?”
“Yes. Sixteen. No boyfriend yet?”
Her head was starting to spin. Here they were, lying on the floor within arm’s distance of dying and John was asking her whether or not she was courting. “There’s Jericho Jones.”
“Oh. Oh, no there isn’t.” John’s green eyes narrowed. “No. No. No. Jericho can’t be depended on. Too shaky a foundation. Everything will come tumbling down at the first trumpet call. Widen your field. Your...field. That’s it. How could I have forgotten? How about Flanders? Not Flanders Field, of course, but Flanders Calloway. Flanders is a nice name. Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know anyone named Flanders Calloway.”
“You will. Trust me, you will.” He squeezed her fingers. “Now, Jemima, I need you to be –”
“You aren’t gonna tell me that I need to be brave again, are you?” she asked, exasperated.
“No. Well, actually, I was. But I won’t. Now. Not if you don’t want me to.”
“Go ahead,” she sighed.
“There’s my brave Indian Scout. Now, brave Jemima, I need to see what you saw.”
“But it ain’t safe! They’re watching now!”
“Isn’t,” he corrected. “Have you ever noticed that your grammar fails when you become flustered? And it ‘is’ safe the way I mean to do it. May I touch your face?”
He paused for a moment and then said, “Jemima, you know I am not like other men. Where I come from some people, if they concentrate hard enough, can influence other people’s minds.”
A chill ran through her. “You mean like Mister Mesmer?”
“Something like that. If you let me, and I’m strong enough, I can see the pictures that you see in your mind.”
“Pictures? Of them?” she asked, indicating the warring women with a little nod.
“And only them?” she added, wary.
“Ah. No. But I’ll try very hard not to peek into any of the adjacent ‘rooms’, or try to look past today. I promise.” He crossed one of his hearts and then held two fingers up. “Scout’s honor.”
“Indian Scout?” she laughed.
Jemima hesitated only a moment and then she took hold of his hand – which was warmer now and no longer looked like it was bathed in silver moonlight – and lifted it toward her face. Gently, John touched his fingers to the side of her face and then closed his eyes. Jemima did the same. She didn’t see anything, but the moment he touched her, the fear that had been building in her regarding him vanished. She might not have seen, but she felt and knew he was a good man.
Though there was one dark corner….
Breathing hard, John broke away. He shook his head and then fixed her with his intense eyes. “I have got to meet your father.”
“What did you see?” she asked, puzzled.
He whistled softly. “It took a bit to get past Daniel Boone’s somewhat gigantic presence. Tall as a tree, is he? Really? With an eye like an eagle? But no, never mind that. Jemima, tell me, do you know what the Chinese character for trouble is? Well, at least as far as internet Chinese….”
“I don’t –”
John shifted past her and, in spite of her warning, moved close enough to the opening to peer into the center of his ship. “Too many women under one roof. That’s something we need to remedy, you and I, brave Jemima Indian Scout Boone.” When John turned to look at her, his eyes were alive as she had never seen them before. “Are you ready?”
“For what?” she asked expectantly.
He leaned over and whispered in her ear. By the time he was done, her eyes were wider than his.
And she had forgotten all about being afraid.
Aubrey Blundell shook his head. The Pond woman was brassy as a back-street bawd and just about as bright. He leaned down to check Mingo’s condition with his free hand while with the other he clutched his flintlock pistol. Amy had cold-cocked his original’s old friend about ten feet away from the Tardis. Then she’d placed the native’s unconscious form behind a pile of rocks before charging boldly – if not too wisely – into the time machine’s interior. From his position behind the rock fall, the clone of Major Blundell could hear the women’s voices raised in a heated debate. He had a good idea of what was happening. After waking in the woods – thanks to the Time Lord’s rescuer, with quite a headache – Blundell had run into one of Stonn’s men. The Sontaran soldier told him the Tardis had been found, and that all of their agents were being ordered to converge on its position. That meant the originals of Amy Pond and River Song, along with their clone captors, were probably within the time ship – as well as whatever unknown woman the Doctor was currently traveling with. Blundell pressed a hand to his neck and rolled his head. Must have been a war woman by the way she delivered that blow! So there could be five very confused and rather irate women inside that bright blue box.
Blundell snorted. Maybe he should call in Lord Cornwallis.
The cloned soldier glanced at the figure lying near his feet and thought of the Pond woman and the chance she had taken. Not for the first time, Blundell wondered what it was that inspired such fierce devotion in those who traveled with the Doctor. After having seen the Time Lord’s current bandy-legged and baby-faced persona, he was quick to hazard that it wasn’t looks. Of course the Rutan clone found it hard to separate his own feelings from the propaganda he’d been weaned on. The Oncoming Storm, the Time Lord Victorious, the Evil One, and He Whose Name Dare Not Be Mentioned were only a few of the titles belonging to the arrogant, practically omnipotent, seemingly callous and cruel creature with the blood of millions on his hands he’d been lectured on. The Sontarans, who kidnapped the original Blundell and created him in the human’s image, had formed him for the sole purpose of putting a stop to the Doctor’s reign of terror. He’d been the first of many and had been entrusted with the most knowledge. The problem was he’d also been ‘alive’ the longest – almost six months now – and in that short time he had gathered a considerable amount of experience and knowledge. Blundell had watched his masters, Sontarans and Rutans, maneuver and manipulate, and had come to the conclusion that he didn’t like either side any better than this Doctor he was supposed to hate. In fact, after participating in the torture the Rutans knew the Sontarans intended to inflict on the Time Lord….
He had to acknowledge that they were probably worse.
Still, he had to remind himself – almost constantly – that none of that mattered. These pangs of conscience were just the echoes of the man he was made from; a man who cared about someone other than himself. The ‘new’ Aubrey Blundell was wholly devoted to his own cause and, no matter what it took, he would see it through. The duplicate redcoat glanced at the unconscious native again. All he wanted was what Aubrey Blundell’s old college friend took for granted every day – the right to live and breathe and make his own choices. He’d seen what the Rutans and the Sontarans did to clones who had outlived their usefulness. And that was why he had to take steps to make sure that fate would never befall him.
Steps like the one he was taking now.
Holstering his pistol, Blundell knelt once more and reached for the Cherokee warrior. It took several moments of careful lifting and shifting before Mingo’s long form was anchored firmly over his shoulder, but he managed it. Once the native was secure, Blundell rose and drew his weapon again. There was no way of knowing who had the upper hand in the Tardis. Most likely it wasn’t Amy Pond. Though the time machine was home to the leggy redhead, she had entered it as occupied territory. The Doctor, he was certain, could be counted out. After what been done to the Time Lord both in space and here in Kentucky, he would prove little threat. The woman, River Song, was another matter. He’d studied her and had come to find that she had as many names as the Doctor – most of which were not to be mentioned in polite society. The attractive blonde was single-minded, obsessively driven, and ruthless when it came to getting what she wanted. Her clone was all of the above – and vicious to boot. Blundell scowled as he shifted Mingo’s weight, seeking a comfortable balance.
If he’d been a betting man, all of his money would have been on River Number Two to win.
The cloned soldier moved quickly and then paused as he came abreast the time machine’s open door. Cocking his dark head, he listened. The closest voice was Amy Pond’s. His guess was the mouthy redhead had advanced no more than a few feet into the Tardis’ interior before she started shouting. River Song’s husky voice came from deeper within the time machine and from both sides, so the original and clone must have planted their feet and squared off. There was no sound from the Doctor or his new companion. Hopefully the man was merely unconscious. If, instead, the Time Lord had succumbed to his wounds and was dead… Well, River Song could fly the Tardis too, and he was willing to live anywhere.
He just wanted to live.
Aubrey Blundell waited patiently until the two Rivers were at least verbally at one another’s throats – which he hoped meant their attention was not on Amy Pond or the door – and then he stepped into the opening and shouted, “Heads up, Pond!”
Amy Pond reacted instantly to Aubrey Blundell’s shout. Not surprisingly, several months of traveling with the Doctor had honed her instinct for self-preservation to a fine edge. She caught the flintlock pistol effortlessly as it spun in the air, and then righted it and pointed it at the twin dilemma in front of her.
She had no idea which was the real River Song.
Upon stepping into the Tardis each of the blonde women had set about trying to convince her that they were the original. The one she had traveled with was dressed in the tattered remnants of the kind of outfit River usually wore – a shirt, vest, and pants with boots, while the other wore a silvery gown similar to her own. In a world where things made sense that last would seem to indicate that the River in silver, with the singed hands and face, had been a prisoner and was the real one. Amy glanced at her own tattered gown. But then again, this was the Doctor’s world she was talking about and when – oh, when – did that ever make sense? After arguing with her, the two women had begun to argue with each other. Amy had been standing there, feeling like a bit of a bampot and a complete waste of space, when Aubrey Blundell’s sharp call had brought her head up and made her turn just in time to see an old-fashioned pistol come flying through the air toward her. She had used it to take the blaster away from the River in pants and had just pointed the two weapons at the two women when Blundell stepped into the Tardis – carrying Mingo on his back!
“Oi!” she shouted. “And just what do you think you’re about? Take Tonto-Mingo back outside. He and the Doctor can’t meet!”
“Are you sure the…Doctor is here?” Blundell asked, slightly winded.
“Nah. These two are pleading ‘blonde’. They say they can’t remember.” Amy’s eyes went to the blackened pile of…whatever…lay the floor. She was certain it…he…she…wasn’t the Doctor. In fact, she was fairly certain who it had been, but she wasn’t really ready to ‘go there’ yet. When the Doctor had mentioned that he could take her into the future so she could stand on her own grave, she hadn’t really thought about the fact that she might have to view the corpse. “I don’t know if he’s here.”
“Well, of course you don’t, dear,” River wearing pants remarked smartly. “Because whichever of us is the real River Song wouldn’t want to give away his position in case the Doctor was devising one of his brilliant schemes, and whichever one of us isn’t, wouldn’t want you to know because we wouldn’t want you to help him do it.”
“Oh, shut up!” Amy snapped. “Just tell me where he is!”
The blonde’s painted lips pursed. “To paraphrase Abe Lincoln – who by the way cut quite the figure on the dance floor – a mind divided against itself cannot stand.” She reached up and pretended to zip her lips. And then to unzip them. “Which is it? Shut up, or tell?”
If this was the real River, she was being a right cheeky about things. This made Amy believe even more that the silver version with the singed hair was the real one. But then, River had a habit of firing off scathing one-liners and being a right smarty pants when she was caught in a tight situation.
Amy snorted. Now, why did that sound familiar? “So, are you going to tell me where the Doctor is or not?”
“Then zip it and keep it zipped.” A second later Amy remembered to emphasize the threat by brandishing the flintlock pistol she held. Of course, it would have been nice if she’d had the least idea whether or not it was loaded, or how to shoot it.
“Amy, please,” Silver River pleaded. “Can’t you tell she’s the clone?”
“I’m sort of leaning that way myself,” the redhead replied. “But when the fate of the entire universe hinges on your choice, it kind of makes you want to take your time to make sure you’re right. You know what I mean?” A sound behind her made Amy turn – briefly. “Hey! I told you to take Mingo outside.”
Blundell rose from where he had deposited Mingo near the ship’s wall. He frowned as, with a hand to his back, he worked out a kink in his muscles. “So shoot me,” the redcoat replied drolly.
“Mutiny all around. Now I know how Captain Bligh felt,” Amy muttered under her breath. Then she added aloud, “Okay. Come on, Pond. You can figure this out. Just let me think….”
“Are you sure the universe has enough time, dear?” River Song Smarty Pants asked.
“Okay. That’s it. River, you know what the credo of my time is?” She glanced at the other woman. “Rivers?” When both failed to respond, she announced, “Simplify! Right. Both of you. Out the door!”
“Amy, no!” Silver River looked truly terrified. “The Doctor is in here somewhere. You can’t leave him with….” She pointed to the corner where Mingo lay unconscious. “…with his future!”
“Maybe I can, and maybe I won’t. But I’ll decide.” Amy drew herself up to her full height, which at five feet eleven was considerable. “Now, out, both of you! Blundell?”
The soldier snapped to mock attention. “Aye, sir?”
“Will you take them outside?”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Well, what will you do then, you great Sassenach?”
He grinned. “I’d be more than happy to search for the Doctor.”
It was about all she could do to resist shooting the smiling man in the red coat. It would have been counterproductive, but it would have made her feel so good…. “Well, be about it then!” she snapped, adding slyly, “and while you’re at it, why don’t you tidy up the place? Say, toss out the Indian?”
“Not at the rates you pay,” Blundell shot back and then descended the stair into the closest of the control room’s antechambers.
“I so hate you!” Amy snarled, though in truth she had to admit that she was beginning to enjoy having Blundell around. He wasn’t half bad looking in an aged Liam Neeson sort of way. Momentarily distracted, she looked up to find that River Song Smarty Pants had advanced a couple of steps toward her. “Oi!” Amy shouted, brandishing the blaster this time. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The woman pursed her lips before replying. “Following orders? The door is behind you….”
“Oh. Yeah. Right. Well. On you go then.” She pointed the flintlock pistol at Silver River. “You too.”
“Amy, this is a mistake,” that River warned.
“Probably. But you know what they say about mistakes. Learn from them.”
“Or die from them,” Silver River countered.
“Is that a threat?” Amy challenged.
The woman’s eyes were immeasurably sad. “No. Consider it a friendly warning.”
“Nothing in here,” Blundell called as he reappeared and then advanced toward the next stairwell.
“Right.” The redhead waved both weapons. “Ladies?”
Rivers One and Two moved past her and through the Tardis’ doors. At the last moment, Silver River turned back. She raised her hands as she spoke, indicating she was not trying to resist, “Amy,” she began; her voice breathless, “you must listen to me.”
“Aye, what is it?”
“Don’t trust that man.”
“Blundell. He’s not what he seems. He’s….”
Amy frowned. River looked like she’d seen a ghost. Realizing something was happening behind her the tall redhead pivoted on her heel, fully expecting to find that Blundell had betrayed her and was sneaking up on her wielding some broken bit of the Tardis as a club. What she found instead left her pleased and scared and confused all at one and the same time. The Doctor stood before her, his face pallid as death; his pale eyes wild and wary. His hair, his odd clothes, and his skin were splattered with blood. Behind him stood a young woman, also disheveled. She was clothed in the tattered remnants of a frontier frock and white apron.
The Doctor met her incredulous gaze with an apology. “I’m sorry, Amy. If you are Amy, I am truly sorry. But I can’t be sure you are Amy – my Amy – you understand and so…. And so I’m afraid you have to go!”
Before she could open her mouth to reply, the Doctor reached out, planted his hands on her shoulders and shoved – pushing her out of the Tardis. As Amy tripped and fell to the ground the time machine’s door slammed shut. There was the familiar grinding noise, a blast of air blew her ginger hair back from her face, and then the big blue box vanished completely leaving her alone.
With two River Songs.