Amy Pond was not a happy bunny. She had batted her lashes and asked nicely, and when that didn’t work, had scowled and finally whined and threatened, but nothing worked with River. Amy had never thought of the Doctor as a right nana before, but when it came to the mystery woman in his life, he was skoosh as a rigged exam. But then, she had to admit, if the Doctor ever had been married, it would have to have been to someone like River who could say ‘no’ and mean it. And then back it up with a well-aimed blaster. Amy’s lips quirked as she pictured the two of them sharing a flat and a bit of bangers and mash in the morning before he kissed her on the cheek and went out the door to save the universe. River, of course, would wait ten minutes and then follow behind to tidy up.
Like she was doing now.
Amy’s arms were crossed and she was pouting. She had been issued clear orders to stay put where she was while the blonde woman entered the cave the tracking device had led them to while in search of the Doctor. The tall redhead didn’t like orders. And she liked even less obeying them. Even if there was good reason to obey them. Like there was now. Amy glanced behind to where Mingo crouched; somehow magically cooking the rabbit he had trapped without any smoke. Amy snorted. ‘You’re not a happy bunny either, are you?’ she quizzed the blackened carcass. River had calmly explained that what they were likely to find in the cave would be too much for even as advanced a thinking 18th century man as Mingo. Amy’s idea had been to leave him outside, to which River had replied, ‘When have you ever met a man who would stay behind and let the women do his fighting?’ So, Amy had suggested they conk the Cherokee warrior over the head and tie him up to a tree – ending with a waggle of her copper eyebrows, of course, insinuating just what else might be done with the handsome Cherokee while he was thus restrained. River had not been amused.
In that way, River and the Doctor were very alike.
“Are you hungry, Amy?” Mingo called quietly.
She was, but she didn’t want to admit it. Admitting it meant eating, and eating meant sitting down, and sitting down meant staying, and staying meant she had lost the fight, and if there was one thing Amy Pond did not do, it was lose a fight! Even as her growling stomach shouted ‘yes’, she shook her head and answered, “Nah. You go ahead. I’ll just stand here…and be…hungry.”
“A good soldier obeys his commander’s orders,” the native answered, his voice a touch louder.
“So, go to it. I told you to eat your burnt rabitty thing. I hope you saved some of the grease for your….” Amy turned and jumped a bit. The handsome Cherokee warrior had drawn quite close. The moonlight struck Mingo’s coal black hair, turning the lustrous waves a silver-blue, and danced off his well-muscled and bare-naked arms. She swallowed hard and then said, after clearing her voice. “You know what my second favorite subject for history projects was in school?”
The tones were silken. “No. Why don’t you tell me?”
The redhead cleared her throat and then raised her hands as if she held a paper and was preparing to read from it. “The colonies’ noble savages.” Amy winked at him. “The hot Italians were first, but there’s something to be said for…well…” She looked him up and down again. “…the natural man.”
“Bear grease and all?” he laughed.
“Oh. Well.” She blushed. “I didn’t mean…. I had a boyfriend once, in fact, worked in a fish and chips shop. Grease can be kind of foxy.”
“You know, dead sexy.” At his quizzical look, she rolled her eyes. “Oh, never mind. Isn’t your rabbity thing getting cold?”
“There’s too much for one and, on the frontier, too much need to conscience waste. Come and join me.”
“If the young lady won’t comply, Kerr, would you mind sharing your humble repast with an old friend?”
The stranger’s voice came out of nowhere. It made Amy jump. Mingo, however, did not seem surprised. “Good evening, Aubrey,” the warrior said without turning. “Actually I cooked enough for three.”
“You knew I was trailing you? Have I slipped that much?” the man in the red coat asked as he stepped out of the trees. Aubrey was about her height, with dark hair growing grey at the temples. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but they were keen – and not quite trustworthy.
“I think, perhaps, my friend, you wanted to be noticed,” the Cherokee warrior replied.
Aubrey shrugged. “Perhaps you’re right.”
When the pair fell silent, Amy waited a moment and then punched Mingo in the arm. “So much for chivalry,” she snorted. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“He doesn’t need to,” the newcomer said, doffing his tricorn hat and approaching her. “My name is Aubrey Blundell. Major Aubrey Blundell. And you are Amy Pond, the current companion of the man known as The Doctor.” He smiled at her astonished look. “I was there, in the place with the green light, when you were first taken. The one far away from here.” Aubrey’s eyes flicked to Mingo and back to her, the look in them seeming to indicate that he was choosing his words carefully. Amy understood it to mean that he was not talking about her recent captivity on Earth, but the one that had happened millions of light-years away! “In fact, I was the one who freed your friend from the soldiers and sent him here.”
She made a dismissive noise. “Nah. You? A redcoat?”
“Things are not always what they seem,” Blundell answered with a smile.
When traveling with a Time Lord that was an understatement. “Okay. I’ll buy that. So why come here?” she asked, suspicious.
The newcomer’s dark eyes narrowed. “It was home.”
“Home for now, you mean, Aubrey,” Mingo said as he pushed past and headed for the banked fire. “The major was born and bred in London, Amy. We met while we were at school.”
“And became friends.”
The Cherokee warrior halted. “For a time, yes, we were friends.”
“So, was it a woman?” Amy pried. “It’s usually a woman.’ She looked from one man to the other. Both had the sort of looks on their faces that indicated it would take several sticks of TNT to open their mouths. “Yeah, it was a woman.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Blundell seemed genuinely distressed. “I found out about Kerr’s Indian heritage and I refused to have anything more to do with him – more out of fear of my peer’s reactions than out of any high moral qualms about mixed parentage.” He shook his head. “I was an ass.” Turning to Mingo he added, “When I spoke to you in the tavern, I asked you to forgive me. You didn’t give me an answer.”
“Your men did not give me a chance.”
“Oh, right. Well, they’re asses too,” Aubrey laughed. “Especially when they’re in their cups.” The redcoat sobered. “There’s nothing stopping you now.”
Mingo finished serving up a helping of rabbit, and then returned and held it out to the other man. “Life is too short to hold a grudge,” he said, cocking one ink slash eyebrow. “And also too long.”
Blundell nodded as he accepted the food. “Thanks. For everything.”
Mingo caught the other man’s arm and squeezed it. Then he turned to her. “And how about you, Mistress Pond? Will you deign now to share this savage’s humble repast?”
“Oh, why not?” she answered while executing an exaggerated curtsey. “Bring it on, Milord Mingo.”
The Cherokee warrior scowled. “I think I prefer Tonto-Mingo.”
As the native went to fetch the last of the meat for her, Amy turned back toward the cave. She was growing worried. It had to have been at least fifteen minutes and there was still no sign of River or the Doctor.
Major Blundell came alongside her. He finished biting the meat off of the rabbit’s hind quarter and then tossed the bone in the brush. “It would go down better with ale,” he said conversationally.
“From here or from JOE’S?” she asked, her voice growing edgy.
“I prefer the view from the second moon of the ninth ring of New New Alpha Centauri, but nothing can beat a pint of Cincinnatus Cicero Jones’ Blue Thunder.”
Amy swung toward him, stunned. “You really were there!” Her eyes teared up unexpectedly. “The Doctor, you said you let him go. Is he…all right?”
“Oh. Right. Big comfort there.”
“You want comfort, or the truth?”
“Depends on what day you ask,” she replied flippantly. Then, after gnawing her lip a moment, Amy squinted and said, “All right, shoot. Tell me. What’d they do to him – and by the way, who are they?”
“Sontarans. They tampered with his mind. Altered it. Your Gallifreyan friend is a living, breathing, walking time bomb waiting to go off.”
She’d heard of the Sontarans, though they were little more to her than one of the names and ugly faces in the Tardis’ endless database of the Doctor’s enemies. “Heads sort of look like over-baked potatoes, right? With cereal box bods?” At Blundell’s nod, she went on. “I get that. But I don’t ‘get’ the Doctor being a weapon. He doesn’t believe in killing, well, not any more than is absolutely necessary to keep the universe safe.”
“Precisely. And suppose someone could convince him that allowing millions, maybe billions to die was absolutely necessary? Wouldn’t he pat himself on the back then and dance while the universe burned?”
Amy nodded slowly. “I see your point. I don’t like it, but I see it.”
At that moment Mingo appeared with the meat. Amy took it, but the sight and smell of it turned her stomach after the recent conversation. The Cherokee warrior didn’t seem to notice. He had moved in front of her and was staring at the cave entrance. “Amy, isn’t that River?”
It was. The blonde woman was standing just outside the cave mouth, waving them in.
“It sure is! She must have found him. Good old River.” Amy’s joy was tempered by the reminder of Blundell’s sober face. “It’ll be all right. You’ll see,” she assured him. “The Doctor always comes out on top.”
The redcoat met her gaze. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Just to be safe, you two go ahead. I’ll keep watch here. Stonn can’t be far behind me.”
“You didn’t mention that before,” Amy responded, suddenly wary. “How come?”
Blundell shrugged. “You didn’t ask. I was a good half hour ahead of them. Mr. Boone’s escape attempt slowed them down.”
“They have Daniel?” Mingo demanded, concerned.
“Well, let’s say Daniel Boone is allowing them to escort him here,” the Englishman laughed. “They won’t be able to hold him if he really wants to get away. And Stonn won’t kill him. He respects him too much.”
“Respects?” Amy asked.
Mingo nodded. “One warrior to another.”
“Right.” Blundell drew his weapon as he nodded toward the cave. “Now you two had better go. Your blonde friend seems rather distressed.”
“Okay. Well….” Amy looked at the bit of charred meat in her hands. “Here, have seconds,” she said as she shoved it into Blundell’s. Then, after flinging her hair back and straightening the wreck of the wafer-thin silver gown she wore, she ordered,” Right, Tonto-Mingo! Come on. Full speed ahead!”
The clone of Aubrey Blundell watched the pair jog toward the cave with mixed feelings. He, of course, had immediately recognized the blonde woman as the Rutan clone of River Song and not the original. Mingo and Amy were rushing headlong into a trap. Not that that should have bothered him, of course. After all, he wanted the Rutans to emerge victorious, didn’t he? He wanted this body and wanted the ninety years or so it would live, and the Rutans had promised to give him both. The problem was he didn’t really trust the Host. There was no way of knowing whether or not they would honor their promise to him, and that was why he had seized the moment and planted a little something extra in the Time Lord’s mind while he had the opportunity….
Something extra that only waited a word from him to set it off.
“You were really quite good, you know,” River remarked, feigning admiration for her enemy. “Had it all down – fiercely independent, major flirt, the brave woman hiding the frightened little girl. Ooh yes, you were good.”
The clone of Amy Pond was not impressed. “So what gave me away?”
River Song was sitting on one of the Tardis’ stairs that led up to the console, about ten feet to the right of the small room where the Doctor and Jemima had been deposited. The girl’s strength had given out at last and she had dropped where she stood. Before leaving to scout the cave, her duplicate had ordered the clone of Amy Pond to drag the pair past the stair to where they lay now. Unfortunately her clone – Rutan River as she thought of her – had been all too well acquainted with Gallifreyan physiology. She had recognized instantly that the Doctor wasn’t dead but had gone into a healing trance. River glanced in the Doctor’s direction. She had no idea if he was aware of what was going on around him. Coma patients often were. She could only hope the same thing held out for comatose Time Lords, and that if an opportunity presented itself, the Doctor would be able to wake and aid in his own rescue.
“Well?” Amy Two demanded.
“Oh. Sorry.” River smiled like a snake. “When you get old, your mind wanders. Something clones don’t…usually have to worry about.” She shifted and leaned back, as if growing comfortable. “What gave you away? No one single thing. An odd look here. An ill chosen word. Taking orders?”
“I won’t be taking them anymore.”
“No.” River’s gaze focused on the blaster the clone had pointed at her chest. “I can see that.” She hesitated, and then asked, “So what do you get out of this? Personally, I mean?”
The duplicate frowned. “The satisfaction of seeing my master’s ambitions fulfilled, and the glory of bringing about the new Rutan race.”
River made a tsk-ing sound. “Now that does not sound like Amy Pond. Well, to each his or her – or its own. Still, it doesn’t seem quite fair. You do all the work and they reap all the benefits.”
“I owe them my allegiance. The Rutan created me. They own me.”
“Really? Well, on Earth, on this planet, children are ‘created’ every day. They honor their parents for the most part, but they are separate beings with destinies of their own. No one owns anyone else.” River paused. “Take Amy Pond, for instance. She can be and do whatever she chooses. She’s free.”
“Shut up! Just shut up!” the clone snapped.
“Now that sounds like Amy.” River hid her smile. It was working. This new technology the Doctor’s enemies were using was marvelous. Who’d have ever thought you could play mind games with a clone? “You know, you could be like her. You just have to make a single solitary free choice.”
“I told you to shut up.”
The clone’s attention had wavered. The blaster was pointed, not at her chest now, but toward the door. “Yes, I know. But you really don’t want me to, do you? This new cloning process, where did the Rutans get it?”
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“But you will.”
Amy Two scowled. “From the Sontarans.”
“I thought so. Do you realize that the Sontarans have gotten so good at cloning that sometimes – just sometimes – a bit of the personality of the original transfers along with all the dry facts and knowledge? In a way, you are Amy Pond.”
“I should be,” the clone snarled through clenched teeth.
“I agree. Let me help you. After all of this is over, who will know if the Amy Pond who leaves Earth is the original, or…you?”
The clone’s fingers closed on the weapon. She didn’t raise it, but it would only take a second for her to do so. “I thought you were her friend.”
River inclined her head toward the room where the Doctor and Jemima lay. “You know that man over there?” she asked.
Amy Two did not look. “The Doctor?”
“Yes. Well, Amy Pond took him from me.” River looked wounded. “Oh, I pretend to get along with her. What else am I to do? If I didn’t, he wouldn’t let me travel with them. Now, I wouldn’t really want to harm her, but I’d be more than happy to leave her stranded here, in this time, when we go.”
“What makes you think you will go anywhere but to your death?” the clone sneered.
“You. You want it, don’t you? That other life – the one you can never have here?” River rose from her perch on the stairs. The clone did nothing to stop her, but simply watched as she approached. “You want it so bad you can taste it. To travel with the Doctor. To see the stars. Amy. Let me help you get it. I can help you get it.”
“Amy? You called me…Amy….”
“Yes. You can be Amy – the only Amy. All you have to do is help me overpower the other River when she returns. I can fly this machine. I can take you anywhere – any when you want to go to.”
“Anywhere?” The clone sounded like a little girl when suddenly confronted with the reality of a birthday pony. “You’d do that? For me?”
River felt as dirty as a Plasmavore sucking tainted blood. “Yes,” she lied. Now, give me the blaster.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Rutan River won’t suspect me. I can take her unawares. Amy, you have to trust me. Give me the weapon.”
The clone hesitated. Then she nodded and held out her hand.
A second later she was a mass of charred and smoking flesh lying on the Tardis floor.
The poor creature’s end had come so quickly she had not even had time to cry out. The blonde woman’s eyes flicked to the room where the Doctor lay. There was no movement. Apparently both he and Jemima were still unconscious and had not heard the sound of the shot. River had thrown herself back and away the second she heard and recognized the high-pitched whining of an energy weapon powering up. Still, her hand and face had been singed. When her eyes stopped tearing enough to see, River looked up to find her duplicate standing over her. The clone had the weapon pointed directly between her eyes. It was cycling, building up power for another blast.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t burn you here and now,” the clone growled.
“Life would be boring?” River hazarded.
“I can live with boring.”
“Yes, well. I was afraid you would say that.” She winced as her burned flesh began to throb. “You need me to fly the Tardis?”
“I don’t.” Rutan River scowled. Then she took her hand and twisted the weapon’s nose, powering it down. “But my masters do. They want this time machine with its advanced technology, and they want the glory of taking it from him.” She waved the blaster in the Doctor’s direction.
River didn’t look. Her eyes were focused on the remains of the cloned Amy Pond lying on the floor. Several wisps of smoke rose from what remained of the duplicate’s ginger red hair. “Why did you destroy her?” she asked.
The clone’s painted lips curled back with disgust. “She was flawed.”
River felt sick. Though it was her duplicate’s finger that had pulled the trigger, it was she who had placed the gun against Amy Two’s head. “So now what?”
“Now we wait.” Rutan River cocked her head and listened. Then she smiled the smile that River reserved for triumphing over her greatest enemies. “But not for long. Let the show begin.”
Amy skidded to a halt just outside the Tardis. The door was open and waiting, but she couldn’t go inside. As savvy as Mingo was for his time, what was inside the blue box would most probably literally blow his mind. Besides, River had said he and the Doctor shouldn’t meet. The tall redhead pivoted sharply on her heel, thrust both hands out and pressed them against his chest, forcing Mingo to halt.
“Hey, Tonto-Mingo,” she suggested, “how’s about you keep guard outside while I go inside and see what’s up?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head. “And let you go inside alone? A gentleman does not willingly permit a lady to walk into danger.”
“Well, that takes care of it then.” She patted his cheek before turning back toward the time ship. “I’m no lady, so you can let me go.”
Mingo caught her elbow – forcefully. “Amelia, what is within this curious blue shed that you do not wish me to see?”
“Shed?” She giggled, but sobered quickly. Looking over her should Amy tossed off, “The brand new set of tools that I bought to surprise you for your birthday?”
“You don’t know when my birthday is.”
“I know!” The redhead slapped his arm. “That’s what’s going to make it such a surprise!”
As his gaze went beyond her to the Tardis, Mingo’s black eyes narrowed as if sensing a threat. “Who are you, Amelia Pond? And who is River Song? Where do you come from and why are you here? Nothing about you makes sense. Is this mysterious ‘Doctor’ you both speak of inside? Is it he whom you wish me to stop me from meeting?”
“Nah. I’d love for you to meet the Doctor. I think you’d get on like sausage and eggs.” She winced, recalling River’s warning. “Well, under other circumstances. Right now it might not be such a good idea.”
The Cherokee warrior remained still as he considered her words. And then, so quickly it took her by surprise, he shifted past her. Folding one arm over the other Mingo set his feet about eighteen inches apart and planted himself squarely between her and the Tardis like a great hulking coppery-colored tree. “Here I am, and here I will stay,” he announced. “Either we go in together, or neither of us goes in at all.”
“Tonto would never have done this to the Lone Ranger,” Amy pouted.
One ebon eyebrow arched. “Somehow I doubt that.”
“No, I mean it. Tonto always followed orders. This is mutiny.”
He thought about it a moment and then shrugged. “So be it.”
“Ooohhh!” Amy stamped her foot, thwarted, and then kicked one of the loose rocks that lay near her feet halfway across the cave. Mingo was at least thirteen stone of immovable well-honed muscle and a warrior to boot. She knew enough about her own savage ancestors the Celts to know better than to try to take him on. Amy growled and frowned and then finally whimpered, “Pretty please?”
The dark head shook.
“Okay. Okay.” Amy raised her hands in mock surrender. “This time Tonto calls the shots. We’ll both go in. I suppose you have to go ahead of me?”
“You know, when you’re a little girl, all of this chivalrous stuff sounds just brilliant. It’s really a load of rubbish.” When Mingo didn’t reply, Amy reached out and straightened the fringe on his leather vest. “You know, you’d make a real good cigar store Indian.”
“Are we going to go in or not?”
She held her hands up in surrender as she backed away. “Whoa! Tonto with attitude. What channel did you watch when you were a kid? Never mind. Forget that.” Amy gestured with one hand, pointing the way. “Lead on, MacMingo.” As the dark haired man turned around to face the Tardis she thought to herself, ‘You learn something new every day.’ Who’d have thought a hot savage would be so good at rolling his eyes?
Or that one could be so gullible.
Amy winced as she raised the rock she had quickly palmed and brought it down with force on the back of the Indian’s head. “Sorry,” she apologized as both Mingo and the rock dropped to the ground. Kneeling, she quickly checked to see if he was breathing. “I am so, so sorry,” she apologized. “But I couldn’t let you go inside. It’d be too much for you. Besides, even though I don’t know just what the data River saw was, I do know that you and the Doctor can’t meet – for both your goods.” Amy leaned down and planted a kiss on the unconscious man’s cheek. “Sleep tight, Tonto-Mingo. I’ll be back.”
The Tardis should have felt like home, but as Amy approached it she grew uncomfortable. Almost nauseous. A pall hung in the air, almost like the ship was sick or maybe wounded. She knew the Time Lord and his Tardis were connected somehow. Maybe it was dying.
Maybe he was dying.
“One rough day and you go all morbid,” she chided herself. River was inside. She would have told her if the Doctor was near death.
Clutching her arms to her sides, Amy drew nearer. “River?” she called. “River, are you in there?”
“I’m here,” the older woman answered. “Come on in.”
For once Amy did as she was told. She stepped through the door and into the Tardis and then stopped.
Yeah, River was there. In spades.
There were two of her.