Jemima remained frozen in front of the big blue box; her eyes closed and her lips moving. She was doing her best to talk herself into stepping through the open door, though her best was – at the moment – not good enough. She was scared. Plain and simple scared. It made her feel like a little girl again, all shivers and shudders and out of control. Anyone who knew her now would have been surprised by the girl she had been. Before Israel had come along for her to protect, she’d been mighty shy. A smile tickled the corner of her firmly set lips. Not that her ornery little brother would ever learn that! She knew now that ‘shy’ was just a fancy word for being afraid. Using it made you feel better, like all that shivering and shaking was a good thing. Being shy could keep you from getting hurt.
‘Course, it also kept you from being free.
“So what is it you are afraid of now, Miss Jemima Boone?” she asked herself. “You like John. You trust him. You don’t want to see him…die.” She swallowed hard. “So what are you waiting for? This big blue box in front of you isn’t any more scary than the Cave of 1000 Spirits, or Simon Pettigrew threatening your family. Why, it was probably here all along. This old cave is dark. You just didn’t see the box when you came in…even though you walked right through the passage its blocking now.” She drew in a breath and let it out real slowly. “It had to be here,” she said quickly. “Things just don’t appear and disappear. There ain’t no such thing as magic….”
Jemima’s eyes popped open and she smiled.
She thought back to that circus she had told John about – the one with the elephant on the blue box. There had been a few men traveling with it. The one who tamed the lion. Another that juggled and walked high on a rope. And another one that called himself a magician. She remembered sitting on her pa’s knee, watching as that man did one impossible thing after another – producing a shower of coins out of an empty bucket, making a dove vanish, calling on a scarf to dance inside a glass bottle, and even making himself disappear and reappear. She’d clapped her hands and laughed along with everyone else that day and had a great time, but when she got home she fell to wondering about where the coins had come from and where the dove had gone, and whether or not the scarf was alive – and worse than that, if the magician was Lucifer himself! She fretted and worried herself into an uneasy sleep, and then woke up wailing her little heart out in the middle of the night. Her ma came to the loft and tried to calm her, but it did no good. First Ma had been consoling, and then stern, and finally mad as a wet hen on a Monday morning. Her ma had been about to go and get a switch when her pa popped his head through the trap and asked what was the matter. Jemima remembered her Pa still; his hair all mussed and his eyes dragging with sleep, with a lop-sided grin plastered on his face. Pa had climbed up into the loft, kissed her ma on the head and slapped her rump, and then sent her down the ladder and back to their bed. Then he had wrapped his weeping little girl in one of her blankets, carried her down, and taken her to sit in the old rocking chair on the porch.
That old chair and her pa’s arms were the safest place she knew.
It took a few minutes, but finally Pa coaxed it out of her. In between sniffs and sobs she told him all about the magic man and how he couldn’t possibly have done the things he did unless he had made a pact with the Devil. Her pa had laughed and then sobered quickly when he saw how mad it made her. She remembered him clearing his throat and then asking her what she thought of him. Did she think he was an evil man? ‘Of course, I don’t,’ she replied. ‘You’re my pa.’ ‘Well, then, explain this,’’ he had answered, adding with a wink as he pulled one of the buttons off his night shirt, ‘and don’t you dare tell you ma!’ With that her pa had taken the button and closed it in his hand, and then after switching his hands around, asked her to tell him which one it was in. She’d been watching. She pointed to the right hand, but when he opened it, the button was gone. Then, smiling, he had lifted his hand to her head and proceeded to pull it out of her ear! For just a second she had actually considered that maybe her pa had made the Old Nick’s acquaintance. But she knew better. Finally, sounding very adult as she remembered it, she declared, ‘It’s a trick!’ Her pa had laughed. ‘There’s my smart girl! ‘Course it is! It’s called sleight of hand, ‘Mima. That’s all that there magician did. He made you look one way while he was doing somethin’ in the other. There ain’t no such thing as magic. It’s just tricks.”
Jemima’s eyes flicked to the big blue box.
Now that she thought about it, that magician had had awful white skin too – like he’d never done a lick of real work.
Turning sharply on her heel, Jemima walked to John’s side. He lay on the cave floor where he had fallen, waiting to die or to be rescued. Waiting for her to be brave.
She bit her lip as she puzzled out what was the best way to get him to the box. She didn’t want to hurt him, but he was too heavy for her to pick up. So, she’d have to drag him. Coming to that conclusion Jemima acted swiftly. She knelt and, with John facing away from her, wrapped her arms about his chest and began to back toward the open door. As she neared it again, she heard strange sounds coming out of the box. Funny, chirping sounds. Though the interior was mostly dark before going to get John she’d spied a few bright spots inside, like candles left burning in a window to light someone’s way home.
Was that what this strange box was in some way, she wondered? Was it John’s home?
An abrupt bump told her they were there. Shifting her hold, Jemima reoriented herself and then lifted John’s form a few inches above the threshold and dragged him inside. She winced as his elbow struck the doorjamb with a resounding crack. It sounded like it hit the door hard enough to break, but John gave no sign that he felt anything. He didn’t moan, or grimace, or groan.
In fact, he gave no sign of life at all.
Once his boots had cleared the doorframe, she pulled his long frame a few feet farther into the box and away from the door. It was so dark inside she could barely see, so she gently lowered him to the floor and bent over him, holding her hand close above his lips to see if he was breathing. As she did, Jemima realized that the weird chirping and twittering sounds had stopped. It was almost like the world had taken a breath and was holding it, waiting like her to see if John Smith was alive.
A second later she knew for sure. John startled her by clamping his fingers around her wrist. “Did you…close the door?” he asked, breathless.
For a second she had no voice, so she shook her head.
“Women!” he huffed. “All about…no dirt…on…the carpet and…washing your hands…before…meals…but you leave the…door open and the…cat…runs…in…with its dirty…feet…and the man has to…dirty his hands…catching it.” John grimaced with pain as he caught hold of her ragged apron and pulled her close. His tone rang with urgency. “Close the door, Jemima, or…the cat will get in.”
He was plum out of his head. “What are you talking about?”
John’s voice was weak. “Can’t…you…hear it? The cat’s come…for the mouse.”
“I don’t hear nothing….” She stopped. Yes, she did. Footsteps. And voices. And not of one person, but at least two. “They found us!”
He nodded, too weary for words. John released her arm and pointed toward the door. Then his hand fell lifeless at his side.
Jemima hesitated only a second before jumping to her feet and running to the door. She didn’t find a handle of any kind, so she pressed her shoulder against it and shoved. A little click rewarded her as the lock fell into place. Relieved, she turned around and leaned against the door and blew out a breath so big it shifted the brown bangs on her forehead. It was only then, when she had a second to think, that it dawned on her that she had run a good ten feet or more to close the door.
The blue box hadn’t looked any deeper on the outside than four or five.
“What…what is this place?” she asked a moment later, her voice robbed of strength by fear.
There was another click, and then the sound of something whirring, almost purring like a great satisfied cat. And then slowly, gradual as a day dawning, a soft light began to filter into the interior of the blue box, revealing something far more impossible than anything any traveling magician had ever conjured or conceived. John wasn’t on the floor any longer. He had dragged himself up a staircase into the center of a great space filled with things the likes of which she’d never seen. Using the great console behind him as a prop, he turned his pallid face toward her and smiled a smile so crooked it made her pa’s lop-sided one seem straight.
“Jemima Boone…welcome to the…Tardis. I’m afraid you’re…not in Kentucky anymore.”
“Damn! Damn and blast! Doctor! Doctor! For the love of sanity, let me in!”
The clone of Amy Pond stood to the side watching intently as River Song pounded furiously on the locked Tardis door. They had followed the Doctor’s tracks and that had led them straight here, to this cave near the river. On the way they had dodged armed parties of both Redcoats and Indians. The Cherokee, of course, had been informed by the Rutans to give them a wide berth. The British soldiers hadn’t, but they had been occupied in subduing a tall man clad in buckskin. It looked like he had made an escape attempt and only just been recaptured. Still, it wouldn’t be long before both the Indians and the soldiers followed, and she needed to beat both into the Tardis. Mind control had its place, but there was nothing like a loyal agent when it came to something as imperative and necessary as gaining control of a Time Lord. Her Rutan masters’ believed, based in part on the memories of her original, that the woman in front of her – who had now taken hold of the door’s silver handle and, with one boot on the box’s smooth blue surface, was pulling for all she was worth – could fly the Doctor’s time machine if the Gallifreyan was unwilling, or unable.
Amy Two pursed her lips and shook her head. Of course, the fact that River couldn’t get in begged the question of just how privileged she was.
Quickly rifling through the file of information about the original Amy Pond that had been transferred into her duplicated brain during the cloning process, Amy Two sought to form an appropriate question in the manner of her original that would elicit the information she needed.
“Oi! River! I thought you and the Doctor were…. Well, you know…close. Kind of hard to plan last minute ‘get-togethers’ if you don’t have a key.”
River paused with her fingers still wrapped around the handle and blew the locks of spiraling blonde hair out of her eyes with an exasperated sigh. “I don’t see you offering yours,” she snapped.
“Well….” Amy Two walked to River’s side. She folded one arm over the other, leaned against the Tardis’ painted sign, and whispered confidentially, “The Doctor and I get together, yeah. But I thought you two, well, you know, got together. Really together. Like,” she raised her hands and entwined the fingers of one in the other, “really together.”
The blonde woman’s growl was warning. “Amy….”
Her hands went up in surrender, mimicking movements in her original’s memory. “Okay. So I’m wrong. Tell me I’m wrong.”
“What I will tell you is that, number one, it is none of your business, and number two I do not have a key. Why else do you think I would be standing here in a damp cave in the middle of 18th century Kentucky making an idiot out of myself by acting like some frantic school girl desperate for a backstage pass? Really, Amy, this is no time for levity. The fate of the universe – several universes is at stake!”
“Oh. Sorry.” Amy two hesitated. Now they came to it. “And which universes would those be?”
The blonde woman rolled her eyes and then released the handle and turned toward her. “Amy. Strange things are happening. Things that can’t be explained by any normal means. You know about the cracks and how they are wreaking havoc with time and space. In the future, where I come from, something terrible happened that unleashed a monster the likes of which no one had ever seen. A race of beings so strong, so focused and so evil that they managed to tame the Daleks and turn them into lap dogs. Their genesis was innocent. No one meant for it to happen. But it did. And it happened here, in Kentucky, outside of Boonesborough.”
When she paused Amy Two asked, “Why here? And what ‘happened’?”
River sighed again. She ran a hand over her forehead to brush the sweat-soaked golden curls back. “That’s the problem. I don’t know. The records recovered from the ship that survived one of the last battles of the war were badly damaged. Not much could be gleaned from the data remaining. Mingo’s name – well, Lord Kerr Murray’s name was mentioned, at this place and this approximate time.” The blonde woman turned to look at the Tardis. “And the Doctor. Somehow one has an influence on the other that lights the spark that kindles one of the biggest explosions of warfare this or any other galaxy has ever seen. But I don’t know which one, or when, or how.” River grasped the door handle and yanked it again. “I have to get inside! Even if the Doctor’s memory is faulty, the Tardis will have records. And dear God,” she released the handle as, for a moment, all the fight went out of her, “I need to know if he is all right.”
“You really…love him. Don’t you? I mean more than the usual wifey sort of thing.” At River’s look, she elaborated. “Well, you know, after the spark is gone the lighter usually gets tossed in the rubbish bin.”
The older woman’s tone softened. “How old are you, Amy?”
The clone blinked, processing. “Twenty two.”
River reached out and placed a hand alongside her cheek. “So very young. One day you will learn that though there is pleasure in ‘getting together’ as you put it; there are far deeper and far more precious things to be sought after. Yes, I love that man in the Tardis. God, do I love him. But it goes so far beyond anything physical.” Amy Two watched the blonde’s face darken. “If it comes to it, I just can’t do it. I can’t.” She shook her head and then turned back to the Tardis before repeating again. “I can’t. I won’t. There has to be another way.”
The clone’s eyes locked on the other woman as River once again began to hammer on the Tardis’ painted exterior. Time was ticking. She had to press for the information her masters’ needed, even if she made River Song suspicious. “What? What won’t you do? River, what are you here to do?”
“Why won’t he let me in?” The blonde turned on her. “You said you saw him enter, just before I caught you up?”
“Of his own volition? Not under duress or with a gun to his head or anything like that?”
What exactly she had seen Amy Two was not quite sure of. She had witnessed a man’s brown boots, attached to a pair of long legs, disappear into the blue box’s interior – but horizontally, instead of vertically, like he was being dragged. “I don’t think he was alone,” she said at last.
“Why didn’t you say that before?” River flung her hands up in exasperation. “Amy. Really!”
“I didn’t think it was important,” she protested. The clone remembered at the last moment to pout like a little girl being scolded. “I figured you being you, had a key. And that if there was something wrong with the Doctor when we got in there, you could fly her and get us out of this place. You said you could fly her last time we met. You didn’t say that, like, just to get a rise out of old elbow patches, did you?”
River was preoccupied. Her eyes moved from side to side as she weighed this new information against everything she knew. “What? Oh,” she said at last, “yes, I can fly her, though I’ve seldom done it solo. The controls are not isomorphic, but they are contrary and somewhat linked to that magnificent mind.” The older woman’s fingers balled into fists and real anger entered her tone, “When I find whatever creeping, crawling, levitating or rolling thing threw the switch and dared to tinker with that mind…. Well, they will wish they had been erased by that crack in your bedroom wall before I got to them.”
“Is that what happened, you think, when they…well…you know…sort of drilled….” The clone’s voice trailed off in surprise. Some of her original’s feelings bled through with the image, making her voice quake convincingly.
The blonde nodded. “According to the records that remained the Sontarans attempted to alter the Doctor’s mind, in effect turning him into a weapon against their eternal enemies, the Rutans. They had to wipe out the knowledge of who he was first. And then they meant to re-implant it, leaving out one very important thing – the thing that keeps the Doctor from becoming the kind of monster he hates and hunts – his love of all forms of life and his deeply felt aversion to killing.”
Amy Two listened carefully. Her masters, the Rutans, hated the Sontarans, but more than that they hated and feared the Doctor. When the time came for the Rutan Ranee to give birth to the children of the next generation, they had needed a safe place for her to gestate and a world on which the growing children could feed. What better place than the Doctor’s beloved Earth? As had the scout the Time Lord killed earlier at Fang Rock, they traveled back in time, choosing this non-technological era with its rich mineral laden soil in which to land and hatch their young. Shortly after they landed, they abducted several dozen inhabitants and cloned them, setting some to keep watch in the village, and others – those called Cherokee – to patrol the forests. After their enemies the Sontarans landed, seeking as always to thwart them, they had taken several of the clones their ancient enemies had created and retrained them. One of these had been present when the Doctor was taken. It had been his hand that had stopped the re-implantation of the Doctor’s memories and placed in the Time Lord’s mind the code that would sicken him whenever he tried to remember, so that when the process was completed - under Rutan supervision - the Time Lord would become their weapon instead. Or at least, that had been the plan, but then fate had intervened and what had happened in the end had been so much better than anything they could have devised or dreamed. Yes, it meant the end of the Rutan race as they were. But it would give the galaxy to their children.
And now this woman – River Song – meant to keep it from happening. The clone felt her teeth clench. It was a good thing that she, the newer, better Amy Pond, had no such aversion to killing.
River had taken hold of the door handle again, as if hoping there was a chance that something magical had happened and it would open this time. When it didn’t, her slender form grew rigid with frustration. And then, suddenly, she relaxed and began to laugh. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!” she said, knocking her forehead with one hand.
The blonde woman was smiling, as if with some secret joke. “You asked me if I had a key. I just…might have. The Doctor told me once that he would tell the old girl to let me in the ‘back door’ just in case he was in a pickle. If this works – if it works…well….” Her face grew sober. “I’ll either kiss or kill him.”
“What?” Amy Two demanded, genuinely intrigued. “What key? What ‘back door’?”
“Oh, there’s no back door. You know him and how he likes to play with words.” She held up a hand with the first three fingers pressed together. Then she waggled her eyebrows. “But there is this.”
“What? What ‘this? Your hand?”
“If you believe in God, Amy, ask him for just this one favor for me.” River spun toward the Tardis. Raising her hand high she brought the fingers together in a loud SNAP! It was followed by a sharp click.
And the Tardis door opened.
If River had known it, while she was trying as hard as she could to get into the time machine, there was a very young, very frightened girl on the inside wanting nothing more than to get out. Ten minutes before the Tardis’ doors responded to River Song’s ‘snap’, Jemima Boone was hammering as hard as she could on the inside, hoping to force the door open. Tears streaked down her cheeks and her breath came in great ragged gasps. She had just drawn another one, but this one she held in expectation of summoning up enough courage to walk into the interior of the blue box to search for something to break the window with. Into the brief moment of silence that descended, a familiar voice intruded.
“Jemima. It’s all right.”
She spun to find John Smith standing – well, swaying – just a few feet away. He was paler than she had ever seen him. A blue color tinged his lips. He was sweating and shaking, but doggedly remained on his feet, even though he looked like one little puff of breath could have knocked him down. Seeing him there, even looking like he did, made her angry. Here, she’d thought he was dying! She was all worried and concerned like she ought to have been, and had worn herself out dragging him in here, and all her Christian charity and compassion had gotten her was snared like a rabbit too stupid to stay out of the hunter’s trap!
“You lied to me!” she snapped.
He blinked. “I beg your pardon. When…did I lie?”
“Look at you! You told me you were dying!” Jemima sniffed as she ran the back of a filthy sleeve under her nose. “You got me in here and now I can’t get out, and you don’t need me for nothing. What do you want with me? Why am I here? What is this place? And who or what are you?”
John winced, almost as if physically feeling the barrage of questions. “Oh dear,” he began, “I really don’t...have the energy…for all those questions. If they had…a pecking order…who’d come out on top?”
Jemima stared at him open-mouthed. She looked past him to the – whatever it was – that filled the interior of the big blue box that wasn’t blue on the inside but was a whole lot bigger than on the outside. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be real. It had to be a dream. She thought about pinching herself, but she was scared to for fear it would hurt and prove she was awake.
“Tell me it isn’t real,” she managed to squeak at last.
“Sorry,” he answered softly, “then I would be lying. Jemima, look at me. Really, look at me.” When she complied, he went on, “I…am dying. But this place – this ship – is keeping me…sustaining me…just this side of death. I don’t know how or even…why. But I know she is.”
“Ship, yes. The Tardis is…my ship.” He drew in a great gasp of air and held still as something – most likely pain shuddered through him. “I travel in her...” John made certain she was meeting his stare before he finished. “…between the stars.”
“No,” she shook her head. “No, I can’t –”
“Jemima, yes you can! Look at you here, with…the man with two hearts! Even though…you’re afraid. Even…though it meant stepping…into the unknown. You are here. Jemima Boone, you…are one in several million! And…” John’s face lit with a weary smile. “You can trust…me on that. I’ve…met millions.”
“Did you bring them here?” she asked, her voice hushed with awe.
“No. No. This is only for…the special ones.” John paused to lick his lips. “Jemima, I say….”
“Much as I’d love…to take you on a tour…of…the Tardis, I think I might need to sit down.”
She caught him as he fell and wrapped one arm around him for support. As she did, Jemima noticed that his skin was much colder to the touch than before. “You are hurting, aren’t you?” she asked quietly.
He nodded and was silent for a moment. “See what I mean?” he asked at last. “Even though you don’t know who or…what I am…you’re willing to…help.”
“That ain’t much,” she answered as she helped him stand and walk toward the stair. “I wouldn’t let a sick dog lie in the road just so it could get run over.”
“I see,” John remarked as she aided him in sitting down. “Well, I guess I know…where that puts me.”
Jemima sat beside him. Her eyes went wide as she looked around and up and down. She shook her head again. “I gotta be dreaming. Like Helena was in Mr. Shakespeare’s play”
“Well, if it makes it easier…for you, you go right on…thinking that.” John put his hand to his wounded side and leaned back. “But remember, fairy magic…can be…deadly. Best to stay on one’s toes. Now, Jemima, I need you…to be brave.”
“Yes, again. Sorry. I seem…to say that a lot…don’t I?”
“Sure as shootin’,” she sighed.
“I thought I said ‘no weapons’,” he corrected sternly. At her look he paused. “Oh. You were…speaking metaphorically...weren’t you? Sorry. Again. Sorry. I seem to say that a lot too.”
John frowned. “Why what?”
“Why do I need to be brave – again?”
“Oh. Yes. Right. Well, you see, even though I don’t know how I know it…I think I am going to take…a bit of a nap. Maybe a long bit.”
“Like how long?” she asked warily.
“Oh, like hours…maybe…days. Not sure. You see…I can feel…my body…shutting down….”
“You’re not going to die!” she insisted, jumping to her feet.
“No. Not if I…shut down. Go into…a healing…trance….” He looked up at her and smiled wanly. “Don’t…worry. The Tardis will keep you…safe…keep me…safe. No one can get in. Well, almost…no one. Well, only one or two….” As he spoke, John began to slide down the steps toward the floor. “And then there is Winston. Look out for him. Sharp old…codger nicked a key… last…time... we…met….”
Jemima bent over him and took him by the shoulders and, in spite of his weakened condition, shook him hard. “Don’t you do this! Don’t you go leaving me alone!”
John’s head bobbed like a rag doll’s. “There’s some…jammie dodgers in…the cupboard,” he went on. “And…hot cocoa. Little girls like…hot cocoa. But you’ll need to…add some sugar. Adric liked his plain….”
“John Smith, you wake up!”
The wounded man’s eyes popped open and, for just a moment, were crystal clear. “Who’s John Smith?”
“You are, silly. Don’t you know your own name?”
“No. But I don’t think that’s it,” he said with a frown. Then those eyes so full of soul and so very, very old locked on hers. “I’m called the –”
John winced, his body arched, and he was dead weight in her hands.
Jemima stood there for a second, stunned, and then she dragged his long lean body off the stair and placed it on the floor. After taking a moment to gather that courage she hadn’t had the time to find, the brown-haired girl moved through the strange structure, seeking something she could cover and keep him warm with. The big blue box’s insides looked like she had always imagined the belly of a whale might – round and shiny, with great ribs arching high overhead. She couldn’t figure out what the floor was made of, or what on God’s green earth the thing with the lights at the top of the stairs was, but if she pretended the box was a whale and she was Jonah trapped inside that whale, well then, maybe – just maybe – she’d be able to survive her time in its belly without going mad.
When she returned to John, Jemima noticed that he had not moved at all. Kneeling beside him, she once again held her fingers above his lips. Fear gripped her when she felt nothing, and her heart began to race. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘God, you can’t let him die. You can’t let him die with me in…here.’ Dropping the blanket, she leaned over him and pressed her ear to the bloody fabric of his borrowed shirt, first on one side and then the other. There was nothing. No sound. No beat of either heart.
John Smith was dead.
It shamed Jemima that her fear for herself was greater than her grief at the enigmatic stranger’s death. But John was free and she was trapped with no way out. Just like Jonah in the belly of the fish. What, she wondered, had been the sin that had sent her here?
“This ain’t for calling the Reverend Spoonaker a sour-faced old goat, is it?” she pleaded, her whispered tones echoing hollowly within the great chamber of John Smith’s star ship. “I said I was sorry. I won’t do it again, and I promise I won’t try to get out of going to meeting ever, or play any mean tricks on Israel, or lift my skirts up over my ankles when Jericho Jones is watching…” She looked up. “God, are you listening?”
It seemed the Almighty was and that he approved, for at that moment there was a sound. Jemima whirled to look at the Tardis door.
And the whale opened its mouth.
River frowned at the scene that greeted her. The Tardis was powered up, so evidently the Doctor had called the ship to life, but his long, spare form was lying on the floor, half covered by a blanket that had obviously been dropped or tossed hastily over him. Not too many feet away from him was a child, no, a young woman of the frontier perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. The girl’s face was streaked with dirt and tears and her clothes practically ruined. River narrowed her eyes. There was something marring the homespun fabric and linen apron other than dirt. She sucked air between her teeth and cursed when she saw what it was. Both were covered in blood. As Amy came up behind her, River stepped into the Tardis and approached the girl. She was pale and obviously scared. Still, whoever she was, she didn’t retreat but moved to stand between them and the Doctor’s still form like a dog protecting its beloved master.
“Are you the cat?” the girl asked, halting River in her tracks.
“Am I the what?” she responded. How long had this young woman been alone in the Tardis, she wondered? Was it only a few minutes, or centuries? Either was possible. In the time it took them to break in, the Doctor could have flown to the ends of the universe and back. “What ‘cat’?”
The girl glanced at the still form near her feet. “John said the cat was coming for the mouse.”
“John?” For a moment River was puzzled. Then she remembered. On Earth the Doctor often went by John Smith. She had chided him once for choosing such an obvious pseudonym, warning him that humans were initially suspicious of anyone with that name. He had laughed, of course, and told her that was why he had chosen it. ‘Besides’, he had whispered in her ear, ‘if I’d chosen ‘Jane Smith’, they would have been a lot more suspicious.’ “Sorry. Yes. John,” she replied. “What did he tell you again?”
By this time Amy had come alongside her. The redhead whispered close to her ear, “I see it didn’t take him long to replace me.”
“Shh! Can’t you see the child is plainly terrified? This is completely out of her sphere.” She glanced at Amy and then turned back to the unknown girl. “What’s your name?”
Why did that sound familiar? “Jemima. Good. I’m River, and this is Amy. And no, I’m not the cat. Neither is she. We’re friends of John’s. Thank you for taking care of him when we couldn’t. How is he?”
The girl paled. “He’s dead.”
“Dead? Are you certain?” River’s gaze flicked to the Time Lord’s still form. There was no sign of the bio-energy that would accompany regeneration. Of course, a Time Lord could really die by, say, being shot through both hearts at the same moment, but she sincerely doubted anyone in this time period would have that knowledge – or be that good of a shot. Especially when they couldn’t conceive of the man having a second heart to target in the first place. “He’s probably just unconscious. Can I check?”
Jemima shook her head, though River wasn’t sure which question she had answered in the negative. “His hearts aren’t beating,” she said flatly.
Hearts. River’s eyebrows reached for her spiraled bangs. Just who was this child that the Doctor had trusted her with that information?
A tug on her sleeve brought her attention back to the matter at hand. “River. Is he really dead?” Amy asked.
The older woman turned toward her companion and for just a moment, before the redhead’s face grew long, she saw a look there that she had not expected – not sorrow, or even fear.
She could only call it ‘disappointment’.
“If he is, my work is through,” she responded dryly, testing the waters.
“That’s kind of cold, River. Isn’t it?”
“If he’s dead, so is he,” she threw off, all the while watching the other woman. “There’s no animating a corpse, now is there?”
Amy was frowning. River watched the other woman’s large brown eyes closely. She could almost see the mechanism behind them searching for the right answer. “There’s that thing. That thing he does. Isn’t there? When he changes his face?”
River didn’t know if the Doctor had explained the regeneration process to Amy or not, but she had her answer. Oh, the Rutans had been clever, setting the real Amy free and locking up the one they had created, knowing she would assume her cellmate was the original.
“If he was going to regenerate, he would have done it by now,” River said as she moved forward, careful to keep her voice level. It was the truth, and while she didn’t think the Doctor was dead, now that she was closer she could see that there was a great deal of blood on both Jemima and him. Looking at the girl, she could see she was in shock. Stepping even closer, she asked softly, “Is it all right if I take a look? You might be wrong. I might be able to help him.”
For a moment it seemed the child would not give way. Then, she stepped aside. River thanked her and then looked down at the man she loved. What she had said to Amy’s clone was the truth – if he was dead, then her work was done. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. ‘No,’ she told herself as she knelt beside the Time Lord’s battered and bloody form, ‘you can’t die. Not here. Not now. Not when we have so much left to do….” Steeling herself, she placed her hand on the left side of his chest and waited to feel the beat. When she found nothing – knowing Gallifreyan physiology allowed them to live with only one heart beating – she shifted her hand and felt on the right.
Momentary panic seized her. She pressed both hands together on his chest and waited.
Then, as she bowed her head and tears filled her eyes, River felt it – one beat from each. Long, low, slow. And then again, nothing. River waited, counting. Eight…nine…ten. Another set of beats. And another nothing. “Of course,” she breathed in relief, “a healing trance.”
Odds were the clone knew nothing of the Time Lord’s ability to place himself in a coma-like state to effect the healing of any interior physical damage, nor that he would appear dead to most while doing so. Knowing she looked the part, River turned her tear-streaked face to the Rutan duplicate and shook her head. It took everything that was in her to resist reaching out to brush the sweat and blood-stained hair back from the Time Lord’s forehead, but she did. John Smith didn’t need a nurse or wife or even mother’s care at the moment. He needed, of all ironies, time.
“Come on,” she announced as she rose to her feet. She’d get the false Amy outside the ship and then, if she had to, pound the location of the real Amy Pond out of her synthetic flesh. “There’s nothing more we can do here.”
“No, but there’s something I can do,” an unexpected voice announced. “Amy, get over here. And you – whatever you are – hands in the air. Step away from the Doctor. Now!”
The question mark in Jemima’s eyes told her what she’d find before she turned. “Who…is…that?” the girl stuttered.
River looked. As she had expected, her own clone was standing in the Tardis doorway, pointing a rather elegant and very deadly looking force blaster in her direction.
One blonde eyebrow arched as River raised her hands.
“I think, Jemima, we found your cat.”