Jemima was reevaluating her decision. After pushing the redheaded woman out of the blue box, John had turned on his heel and walked past her without saying a word. Moving with determination, he had mounted the metal stairs and climbed up to where the thing that looked like Mister Watts’ steam engine was. Once there, he began a sort of frantic dance around the console beneath it, flipping handles and turning cranks, all the while talking to himself like that crazy old man who wandered in and out of Boonesborough that her pa told her about – the one who had taken a bullet to the head in the last war. After a moment John stopped in front of something that looked like a painting and stared at it. Except for his fingers, which kept dancing on the edge of the shelf before him, he remained completely still for twenty beats of her heart. Jemima knew it was twenty because she counted them.
On the twenty-first John shouted ‘Geronimo!” and threw one final switch.
The floor beneath her feet bucked like a headstrong filly. Jemima struck out and caught the railing of the stair and hung on for dear life as the steam engine roared into life and began to move up and down. It made her think of Jonah again. She imagined the prophet must have felt much the same way as the big fish swam up and over the waves of the storm. Out of the corner of her eye Jemima saw Mingo’s long form roll forward, and then slam back into the wall. Catching hold of whatever she could find, she worked her way over to where the native lay and threw herself down beside him, and then held on to the Cherokee warrior like the lifeline to sanity he was. After a moment the ship stopped bucking and the powerful engines fell silent, even though the green light part at the center continued to move. Jemima couldn’t see John from where she was. She wondered if, hurt as he was, he’d managed to keep his feet. She wanted to check, but she wasn’t about to let go of Mingo. Suddenly, unbidden, tears began to stream down both her cheeks. She missed her brother and her mother and her pa. If she got back home she swore she would never ever complain again about doing chores or how dull life in the settlement was, or even about crabby old Reverend Spoonaker.
Unexpectedly, a deeply tanned hand reached up to wipe a tear from under her eye. She caught hold of it and cried out his name, “Mingo!”
The Cherokee warrior shifted, frowned, and then winced with pain as he allowed her to help him into a seated position. Once upright, Mingo leaned his head back against the wall and asked, “What hit me?”
“I wish I could tell you,” she replied. “You were unconscious when Major Blundell carried you in.” Jemima scowled. “He’s here somewhere….”
“Major Blundell. You must have been traveling with him. He brought you in.”
Mingo closed his eyes. For a moment he remained silent, as if waiting for the world to stop spinning. Then he said, “Aubrey. Yes. I was with him and…someone else. Two women.” The warrior groaned as he shifted again and raised a hand to his head. “One of them nearly cracked my skull.”
“That would be Pond,” a new voice stated matter-of-factly. “When hard pressed, River tends to shoot first and ask questions later.”
Both Jemima and Mingo jumped. She looked up to find the ragged figure of John Smith towering above them. John seemed to have recovered some, but there was still something about him that was not quite right. He reminded her of an invalid propped up and pretending to be well.
At her look John dropped into a seated position on the floor. “Hello,” he said as he extended a hand. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
Jemima blinked, startled. “You don’t remember me –?”
“‘Course I know you, Scout. Brave brave brave Jemima Boone.” John ducked his head and looked up at her from under the dark brown fringe that covered his forehead. “Sorry you had to see well, you know.” His eyes flicked to the door through which he had pushed Amy Pond. “Bit of a sticky wicket, dealing with clones. Hard not to find someone both coming and going. Literally.”
“Oh, sorry, that’s the…French term. I meant, when dealing with…twins. Yes, twins. Did you know Amy was a twin too? Blundell as well. Must be something in…the…water. By the way, have you seen old Aubrey lately?” He glanced back into the control room. “Hate to think of him, well, fiddling about with anything.”
As Jemima shook her head, Mingo arched one dark eyebrow and said, “I believe the word you are looking for is jumelles.”
“Beg pardon?” John asked.
“French, for twin girls,” Mingo responded. “There is no such word as ‘clones’ in either the French or English language.”
“Well, there may be no such word, but there certainly are such things.” John extended his hand for a second time toward the skeptical warrior. “Shall we try again? You are?”
“Mingo,” the native answered as he took it. “And you would be?”
John shrugged as he pulled back. “Haven’t the foggiest. Jemima here calls me John, but that’s just the generic equivalent. Might as well call me Ralph. Well, no, not Ralph. Don’t like Ralph, though Rafe has a bit of a rakish air, don’t you think? Still, it’s just not me.” He smiled brightly. “How about Caractacus? Always had a fondness for that name. Lovely fellow, Caractacus. Bit dull-witted. Who do you think was his speech writer?” With two thumbs and a big grin he indicated himself. “Ca-rrrrr-act-ttttttt-ick-us, that’s me. No?”
“Have you taken leave of your senses?” the Cherokee warrior asked.
John leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. “Actually, they’re AWOL – absent without leave. Not sure where to find them.” He shrugged and let out a little sigh. “You see, wits don’t have tales, so there’s really nothing there to wag.” He paused. Mingo was looking past him; his near black eyes focused on the pumping, grinding tower. “Go ahead and say it.”
“Say what?” Mingo asked.
John lopped his head from one side to the other, like a little boy doing his recitations. “You know, ‘it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside’ and all of that.”
The native frowned. “Is it? I hadn’t really noticed.”
Jemima rolled her eyes. “He was knocked out, remember?” She’d realized that about John. If it didn’t have to do with him, he had a tendency not to notice what was going on around him.
“Oh? Ah, yes, I see. Well, welcome to the Tardis. You can call me ‘John’. I’ll call you Mingo, but,” John’s eyes explored the Cherokee warrior’s garb and long frame, “something tells me that’s…not…really your name.”
Mingo bristled. “It is the name my mother gave me.”
“But not the one your father did, I bet. Let’s see…English, but with a…Scot’s background.” John’s large dark eyes narrowed. “Bit of London in the underlying accent, but Edinburgh as well. Definitely a well-cultured tongue. Schooled at Oxford, perhaps?”
“Wow….” Maybe John was a mind reader. “How’d you know all that?” Jemima asked.
“Oh, I’ve…been around. Traveled quite a bit. Been to Oxford at least three times. Bit before….” He looked Mingo up and down again. “…and after your time, I imagine. Mother is Cherokee, the daughter of a chief. Father’s probably minor royalty, or…no…a peer.”
“How could you possibly know that?”
John’s gaze shot to Jemima as he remarked with barely concealed amusement, “I have my…sources.” For a moment he let her dangle. When she got it, he grinned. “Your cheeks are a bit flushed, Scout. Should I open a window?”
Apparently John Smith had seen more in her mind when he took that look than just the three women standing there, arguing. “You said you wouldn’t look past today!” she shot back at him.
“I didn’t.” The smile widened as the Doctor took two fingers and crossed one of his hearts. “Scout’s honor.”
Jemima’s blush deepened to the color of Aubrey Blundell’s coat.
“Am I missing something?” Mingo asked.
“Probably.” John hopped to his feet. “Now, Mingo, in that Oxford education did you by chance study the sciences? Know anything about engineering or mechanics?”
“I have some knowledge of the work of Black and Kleist, as well as Newton and other classical sources, of course.”
“No. No. No. Too highbrow. I know you are familiar with Watts’ steam engine from Jemima here. How about the Mechanical Turk? You know, the automaton in the turban that plays chess?”
“How’d you know about –?” she started.
“Hush!” John was intent on Mingo. “Clockworks. You’re European. You have to have seen elaborate clockworks. Am I right?” As the Cherokee warrior nodded, John took a few steps to the left. Jemima realized at that moment that part of the reason John had been standing and sitting where he was, was to block Mingo’s view of the control room. She’d gotten so used to everything being strange and inexplicable around John Smith that she hadn’t really thought about the reaction Mingo might have to this weird and fantastic place he found himself in. John went on. “Well, my friend, what you see before you is one of the biggest clockworks ever created. It’s called a Tardis, and she’s my ship.” John spread his arms wide to encompass the central platform and the steadily rising and falling steam engine. “She sails the stars.”
“The Turk is highly regarded to be a hoax,” Mingo remarked dryly.
John grinned. “Precisely. Now, I would advise you both to take hold of the nearest immovable object.”
“And why is that?”
John held a finger up. At that precise moment Jemima became aware of the fact that the strange grinding and groaning noise had intensified. “No seatbelts and…
“She’s about to land!”
“I believe what we have here is what my Aunt Sharon refers to as a ‘puddle’,” Amy remarked as she swung about to face the pair of River Songs. A puddle or ‘mess’ was laying the icing on lightly. The Doctor had evicted her from the Tardis, it seemed he had a new companion – bit of a knee hicht if you asked her – and on top of that, she was marooned in 18th century Kentucky with not one but two versions of the Future Mrs. Doctor.
A ‘puddle’ indeed.
“Amy, look out! She’s going for the blaster!”
It was only as the words registered that Amy realized she had dropped both weapons when she fell. While the flintlock pistol lay at her side, the blaster was about three feet in front of her and maybe four feet away from the twin River Songs. The redhead noted it was Silver River who had yelled the warning. River Smarty Pants on the other hand was charging straight for her hell-bent, as the Yanks put it, for leather. So it looked like she’d been right all along – Smarty Pants was the clone – though it was kind of majorly humiliating to realize she had traveled with the fake River so long and not known it. Amy dove for the weapon, but the clone’s well-manicured fingers locked on the blaster’s handle a second before hers. Amy watched dismayed as, with a shout of triumph, the Rutan duplicate climbed to her feet and aimed the weapon directly between her eyes.
Barely a heartbeat later, River Smarty Pants frowned, stiffened, and crumpled to the ground.
Amy looked up to find Silver River – the real River – standing over the clone’s unconscious form; a thick branch clutched in both hands. “I have wanted to do that for so long,” she said and then, a bit chagrinned, asked, “Tell me, Amy, am I really that high-handed and mordant?”
The redhead wasn’t quite sure what that last word meant, but taken in context she was sure it wasn’t anything nice. “Nah,” she replied, and then with a shrug reversed it, “Well, yeah. Most of the time. But then again, you’re Future Mrs. Doctor, so you’d have to be.”
River said nothing as she bent down to secure the clone’s ankles using a thin strip of fabric she had ripped from her tattered silver gown. Amy waited expectantly, anticipating her reply. She knew the blonde couldn’t let a shot like that about her relationship with the Doctor pass without firing back with both barrels. It was fun to spar with River. The blonde woman gave as good as she got.
And besides, the verbal jousting took the edge off of her fear.
But not today it seemed. From the look on River’s face as she rose and turned toward her, the older woman had other things on her mind. “You do know what the Doctor’s done?” she asked. “By tossing me out?”
The redhead’s shoulders rose in a little shrug. “Delayed the wedding?”
“Amy. Really,” River scolded. With a gesture, she indicated she should come to her side. “Help me tie…well…‘me’, to that tree over there out of sight. Won’t you?” The older woman scowled as she looked at her duplicate. “It’s very distracting to be constantly confronted by one’s…well, less than positive points.”
Amy took hold of one of the clone’s arms. “So, I take it that means you don’t regularly see yourself as a dangerous, domineering and demanding woman dead-set on having her own way?”
The older woman thought a moment. “Well, when you put it like that….”
“Right.” As she began to drag the clone toward the tree, Amy asked, “Put on a little weight lately, have we?” River’s scowl silenced her for a second. But only a second. “Shame it’s so hard to tell you two apart. You know, I was calling you Silver River and her, River Smarty Pa –”
“Amy, you’re brilliant!”
River nodded. “Put her down. I have something I want to do.”
A few rather awkward minutes later the Rutan clone was wearing what was left of River’s silver gown and the real River was once again attired in her own somewhat tattered clothes. The older woman shook her head, ran her hand through the matted blonde spirals, and then tugged the ends of her yellow vest into place. “That’s much better! Now I feel like myself.”
“It’s eerie, you know,” Amy said, “how much she’s like you. If she gets loose, I don’t know that even the Doctor could tell the difference.”
“Oh, he could tell,” River answered with an enigmatic smile. “Still, from outward appearances, no one else could. I suppose I should do something about that.” Palming the blaster, which she had tucked behind her waistband, River headed for the tree and the helpless clone. “Wait here,” she ordered.
“You’re not going to….” Amy paused. “River, you’re not a murderer…. Are you?”
The older woman’s expression was unreadable. She turned and walked over to the tree and lifted the clone’s head by taking hold of her long blonde hair, and then proceeded to slice the last five or six inches off its length, leaving the duplicate with a short slightly burnt bushy bob.
“I’m not a hairdresser either, but I think I did a rather a nice job. Don’t you?” she asked upon her return.
“Very modern,” the redhead snickered.
River tossed the shorn tresses into the underbrush. “Now, come on, Amy. There’s no time to waste.”
Amy caught her by the shoulder. “And just where would we be going? The Tardis is gone and there’s no way to follow the Doctor.”
The blonde shot her a glance. “Are you so sure?”
“Yes. Well, no.” Amy frowned. “Shouldn’t I be?”
“Think about it, Amy,” River said as she turned toward her. “Just where in this primitive century would we find a time machine, or the means to construct one?”
Amy threw her hands in the air. “Nowhere. That’s just it! We can’t go asking the Cherokee for a quantum drive. Face it, River, these people don’t even have transistor radios! There’s nothing here to….” River was nodding in the clone’s direction. “Eh? What?”
“Not the inhabitants, the visitors! I’d lay odds the Rutans have some kind of sophisticated machinery in that cave; something that allowed them to travel back through time to this century. After all, they have to go home.” River looked serious. “There might be one problem.”
“We may just have to break a few heads before we can have access to it.” River’s golden eyebrows jumped toward the spiraling curls on her forehead. “Do you have a problem with that?”
Amy leaned in and whispered. “The Rutans are made out of green goo, River. They don’t have heads.”
“Then we’ll squash them underfoot,” the other woman snarled. “Amy, you don’t seem to understand. I have to be there, wherever ‘there’ is – wherever the Doctor is. I have to prevent whatever is going to happen…from happening. And since I don’t know exactly what it is I have to prevent, I need to be there at his side when it does happen. Do you understand?”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“Amy, there are certain fixed points in history –”
“I know. The Doctor’s told me about them.”
“Well, this is one of them – but in reverse. This is a moment that cannot happen.” River looked away. “No matter what it takes to make it so.”
Amy felt a chill snake down her spine. “River, is the Doctor in danger?’
The blonde nodded. “Yes.”
River drew a deep breath and held it for some time before she answered.
The man who knew he wasn’t John Smith, but still wasn’t quite sure who he was, leaned on the edge of the Tardis console with his back to the tall tower that occupied its center. He was weary beyond words. While most of the internal damage the bullet had caused had been patched over during the trance, he simply had not had the time required for a deeper, more complete healing. He’d smiled and put on a brave front when he sent Jemima and Mingo off to separate bedrooms in the Tardis’ guest wing and ordered them to get some rest. Then, ignoring his own desperate need for sleep, he had used the Tardis’ in-house cameras to run a very thorough and utterly futile search of the interior of the time machine for the missing Major Aubrey Blundell. It was, of course, entirely possible that Blundell was employing a low level perception filter or some other device in order to remain invisible. If that was the case, then searching for him was a waste of both time and what precious little energy he had.
“Ah, well,” John remarked to no one but himself as he glanced at the overhead monitor, “I’m sure he’ll turn up as soon as it is to his advantage.”
He’d needed to search for Blundell. He really had. Any loose thread was a danger. But the truth was he’d thrown himself unreservedly into the search in order to delay the inevitable. While he recognized this ship, knew she was his, and even knew how to fly her, he still didn’t know who he was. The Tardis, however, did. One quick non-specific search had shown him that there were millions, if not billions of files in her database. Any one of them could give him the information he needed. Any one of them could tell him who he was. And yet he hesitated. Why?
Turning and slamming his fists on the console, he echoed the word. “Why?”
What was he afraid of?
Between his hands, reflected clearly on the brilliantly polished surface of the console, was the familiar and yet unfamiliar face that confronted him each day. He appeared to be a young man, but he knew that was a lie. He was old. Very very old. And all of those things that tormented his waking and sleeping hours? The monsters, the mayhem, and madness? They were real. And the man who was and wasn’t John Smith was very much afraid that he was responsible for them. There was a corner of his mind that was locked up tightly as a cage containing a ferocious dark thing, and he feared it contained the truth of whom and what he was. A truth he was not certain he wanted to know. John glanced at the mirror-like console again. What if the ones who had done this to him were the heroes?
What if, in the end, he turned out to be the monster?
The man called John Smith closed his eyes, shutting out the hateful visage. He continued to lean, quiet, unmoving, for several heartbeats, and then let out a deep earnest sigh. Coming to a decision, he gripped the lever that he knew would trigger delivery of data to the screen over his head with one hand, while with the other he cued in the question to end all questions. Who am I? He hesitated only a moment and then began to drag the lever toward him.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a soft English voice remarked.
“Oh, you wouldn’t, would you? And what makes you think I would listen to you?” John turned as he spoke. “You aren’t even a man. You’re just a shadow of a man – a duplicate. What have you done with the real Aubrey Blundell?”
The clone didn’t miss a beat. “He’s alive. Somewhere on the Sontaran ship,” he answered as he mounted the stair.
The duplicate had shed his 18th century garb and was dressed now in a loose black shirt, trousers and boots. He had obviously found the Tardis’ wardrobe. “The outfit’s very fetching,” John remarked. “Makes you look like a cat burglar. Come to steal the Tardis, have you? Or maybe just to steal my wits?”
“That’s gratitude for you. I saved you, Time Lord,” the clone snarled as he reached the platform. “Do you remember the first time you met me?”
“‘Course I do.” John sniffed. “In the Boone’s cabin, when you came there with Stonn.”
“No. That’s not it. Cast your mind farther back.”
He stared at Aubrey, searching the clone’s face and form for something that he recognized. Aubrey Two had the appearance of an older man. His black hair was grizzled about the temples and his face, tanned like leather and lined from a life spent under the sun. Blundell’s apparent age in this era – somewhere in his mid to late forties – spoke of his original’s penchant for caution, precipitated by a fair dose of hard won wisdom. Altogether the kind of a man he would like to know better. But had he seen him before? Without the uniform there was something…like the face of a stranger passed in a dream.
Or a nightmare.
“Head’s a bit of a muddle,” he replied at last, pointing toward the congealed blood on his forehead as if that explained everything. “I can’t be certain, but, weren’t you at JOE’S?”
Blundell nodded. “Best onion rings in the galaxy. After that what do you remember?’
“Nothing. Wait. Yes. You were….” He drew in a sharp breath and let it out in anger. “You did something very bad to me.”
“I was there as it happened,” the clone admitted. “But I didn’t do it. In fact, I saved you from it – at least for a time.”
“Saved me from what?” he demanded.
The clone came to his side. “A fate worse than death,” he replied, apparently meaning it. “You have a lot of enemies…John. Millions, in fact, who would like to see you dead. Or maybe worse, dishonored and condemned. I work for two of them.”
“The Sontarans and the Rutans. The Sontarans, especially General Stonn, hate you. When he was given the assignment of destroying the Rutan Ranee and her new brood, Stonn decided to use you to do the deed. He disseminated the information that brought you to New New Alpha Centauri, and then he took your companion and set a trap for you. Stonn had you tortured and then he tampered with your mind, drawing out every last bit of information it contained. Then, after altering it subtly, he ordered the information replaced, in a sense, reeducating you. Retraining you….”
“Reeducating me to do what?”
“Destroy the Rutan Host the next time you encountered them. Kill them. Wipe them out. Then he meant to show you what you had done. Stonn said the reality of your transgressions would destroy a ‘cosmic-do-gooder’ like you better than anything he could devise.”
“Retrain, bah! No one can make me do anything I don’t want to –”
“Don’t you see? That’s the beauty of it! You wouldn’t know that you didn’t want to. You’d think it was your idea.” Blundell leaned forward. “But don’t worry. It doesn’t matter. I kept the program from being fully downloaded into that complex matrix of yours that you Time Lord’s call a ‘brain’.”
He was skeptical. “And why would you do that? You don’t strike me as being particularly altruistic.”
“It was my job. I was created by the Sontarans, but work for the Rutans. They sent me to stop the implantation procedure.” The duplicate paused and then added quietly, “In order that I might implant their imperative instead.”
“To destroy the Sontarans.”
John ran a hand over his chin, thinking. Then he raised a finger and lowered both his brown brows. “So let me get this straight. What you are saying is that I am a ticking time bomb set by the Sontarans to eliminate the Rutans, and then altered by the Rutans to eliminate the Sontarans?” He shook his head. “I say, Blundell, their programing must be absolute rubbish since I am standing here perfectly pacifistic, contemplating nothing more violent than ringing you neck.”
Blundell laughed. He reached into his pocket and produced a small black box with winking lights. As he placed his fingers on two of the buttons, he explained, “Oh, no. There was nothing wrong with it, it just lacked…imagination.” He sneered triumphantly. “Something I have in spades! I left the basic program in place, but deactivated both the Sontaran and Rutan protocols and substituted one of my own. What I am telling you, my friend, is that you are a ticking time bomb set by me and primed….
What little color he had drained from John Smith’s cheeks. “To eliminate them both.”
He reached out to stop Blundell, but was far too slow. In something that felt like a waking nightmare John watched the clone’s fingers descend, depress two of the buttons, and engage the device. At that moment the monster in the dark corner of his mind awakened.
And swallowed him whole.