Three Years Ago, Today
The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way that the cosmos can know itself. The journey for each of us begins here.
~ Carl Sagan
Three Years Ago
James McCrimmon propped in his bed with a battered volume of The Elegant Universe on his knees. Beside him, his wife sprawled on her belly, her feet swinging in the air as she thumbed through pictures their recent holiday to Barcelona.
She hummed something out-of-tune and terrible as she flipped from one blurry image to the next. She was an awful photographer because she was always laughing at something, and he was always laughing at her, which made for fantastic holidays but horrible holiday photos.
Her hair had grown long now, to the middle of her back, and though it had been blonde when they first met, it had darkened several shades to something between honey and candleflame. She twirled the tip of one lock over her lips as she sang.
James couldn’t resist. He smoothed his hand over her back and down the curve of her hip. Glancing over her shoulder, she hit him with her dazzling smile.
“What?” she asked.
“You,” he answered.
“Shut up.” That smile again, and then she returned to her vidscreen.
Six years, they’d been married now. Six years. To him it seemed a blink. Even less than a blink. Things happened so fast these days he had to struggle to slow them down.
He returned to his book, but the words on the page started to double and swirl. It had taken him a while to realize that this meant his body was tired.
Then came a nip of pressure between his eyes. That was new.
He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. The pressure fish-hooked behind his eyes, a sensation not yet like pain, but like the first lightning jabs that foretell of a storm.
“You all right?” his wife asked.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Bit of a – sort of – jabby thing – right here – behind my eyes.”
She rolled to her side to stare at him. “Maybe it’s your glasses? You due for a new prescription?”
He closed the book, set it aside on the endtable. “You know, I have no idea,” he answered. “But this happens to humans, right? You get random, irrational pains.”
“Sure, yeah” she said. “But you’re only part human.”
“I’m half human,” he protested.
She grinned. “I still only see about one part out of twenty.”
James balked. “I have one human part I’ll show you—”
He grabbed her up, pulling her into his arms, but she turned it on him, flipping him to his back. She was so much better at this part than he was.
“Fancy another go, eh?” he said, leering up at her.
She smacked his chest. “There you go, baiting me with seduction. It won’t work.”
“Oh, it’s working,” he answered. “Definitely working.”
“Yeah?” She bit her lip. “Show me.”
But as he pulled her forward, the pain in his head lashed out in a burst of fiery whiteness, like his head was splitting open and everything was spilling out.
A flash, and it was gone.
He awoke on the floor with her beside him, his head cradled in her lap.
“That’s it,” she said. “I’m phoning a doctor.”
“I am the Doctor,” he protested.
“You were the Doctor. Now you’re my husband, I’m entitled to worry.”
She fumbled blindly for the phone, but he sat up, blinking, and took her hands in his.
“Rose,” he said. “I’m fine. See? It’s over now. I’m fine.”
She studied his face, unconvinced.
“And nothing’s happened like this before?” she asked. “Not in the lab? Not while you’re working?”
“B-but you were unconscious.”
“Yes, I was,” he said.
He got to his feet. As she watched him stand, he could tell that she fully expected him to collapse.
“There now,” he said. “All better.”
Rose locked her arms around him. “Don’t scare me like that,” she said.
James buried his face in her hair. “I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”
But he had seen something, in that searing flash. He had seen something that made his lone heart tremble.
He’d seen himself in a blue corridor, bathed in blue light, and when he came to an unmarked door, he’d said to Rose, “Now I’ll just be a minute” and stepped inside.
Just that. A simple memory. One among billions. Harmless.
Only he couldn’t recall what was on the other side of that door. And that left him terrified.
50 km outside of Stirling, Scotland
River Song stepped out of the TARDIS to peer across a broad, shockingly green field stretching over hills as far as she could see. Hands on hips, she breathed in the air: Spring, a hint of rain and salt, the scent of lanolin mixed with road dust.
Something was off, though. She felt it like a current under her skin, like her cells were jostling around. She searched for the right word. Reorganizing? Realigning?
She opened her little blue book and skimmed its pages.
Amy came alongside her.
“Do you feel that?” River asked.
Amy scanned the heath and shrugged. “Mist?”
“No. Your nerves? Your skin? Anything?”
“My nerves are shot,” Amy said. “He said we’ve fallen out of the time vortex. D'you know what he’s talking about?”
River continued to flip through the journal. “He’s barely conscious. I doubt even he knows what he’s saying.”
“Are we on earth?” Amy asked.
“Yes,” River answered.
Amy shivered. “Present times?”
River said nothing but kept flipping pages, faster and faster, until Amy touched her shoulder to pull her attention back.
“Look,” Amy said.
They watched as a gleaming brass cart crested the hill. Ahead of it, a herd of fluffy sheep poured into the field. A man sat upon a cushioned buckboard, and when he saw the women, he tipped his hat.
The man, the sheep, the field all seemed ordinary. Only the cart stood out. Apart from its elegant exterior, it might have passed for normal, but instead of wheels, it had eight spindly legs that carried it smoothly over the grass.
“I thought you said we were on earth,” Amy whispered.
River lowered the book. “We are on earth,” she said. “It’s not our earth.”
“Ha!” Amy said. “Parallel universe!”
“We’re not meant to be here,” River said. She glanced back at the TARDIS. “What are you up to?”
“You said we needed to get out of Paris—”
“—No, we are really not meant to be here,” River growled. “Look.” She held up the journal and riffled its pages. “It’s not even in the book.”
“Oh. Well.” Amy shuddered. “He gave me this.” She held up the beaten leather wallet containing its single sheet of psychic paper.
“So he’s awake?”
River shot another worried glance at the TARDIS.
“He’ll be all right,” Amy said. “Rory’s got him.”
“I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us.” River swiped the wallet from Amy and struck off in the direction of the cart. Amy trotted to catch up to her.
Without breaking stride, River said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been off script. Hello!” River broke into a gallop, waving the wallet in the air. The cart driver pulled his handbrake and turned to greet them.
River feigned breathlessness as she came alongside the cart. “Thank you. Oh thank you,” she said. “We crashed a ways back,” she thumbed over her shoulder. “Can you tell us, what year is this?”
The man looked puzzled.
Amy said, “We, um, hit our heads?”
“Right!” he said. Thick Scottish brogue. Rather expensive-looking scarf at his throat. “Well, it’s Twenty-point-one-eight. Three slash 15.”
“Near future, good,” River muttered.
Amy was lost, but did her best to play long. “And we’re in Scotland?” she asked.
This time the man looked more amused than puzzled. “That’s right,” he answered. “You flying up from London?”
“Yes, we’re on holiday,” River said. “We need some supplies to get up and running. Might we trouble you for a lift into town?”
“Oh, aye. There’s nothing round for miles, but you’re in luck. You’ve crashed on the McCrimmon Estate,” the man said.
Now it was Amy’s and River’s turn to look puzzled.
“THE McCrimmons,” the man said. “Lord and Lady McCrimmon? Come on! Famouser than the Queen.”
River and Amy shrugged.
“You musta really jogged those heads o’yours. Here. Climb up,” he said. “You’re about to meet The Inventor.”