How she could hear the four-toned chime of the doorbell over the commotion in the courtyard, she would never know. But there it was, an insistent, excited ringing.
As she crossed through the study and into the hallway, she heard James call out, “Rose, I’ve started the countdown, you’re gonna miss it!”
“Just a second! Someone’s ringing—” Rose passed through the kitchens. Ellie, Bev, and Alicia, all three immersed in cake flour and conversation, made a move toward the door. Rose said, “No, it’s all right, I’ve got it.”
Alicia smiled as James cried out, “Rose, thirty seconds! Twenty-nine…twenty-eight…”
“A’right!” she yelled back. She swung the door open to find a blonde and a ginger staring wide-eyed around the property.
People tended to do that. It used to make Rose feel conspicuous – what with the enormous house and the hangar and the observatory and the solarium, all of it sparkling with glass and gleaming with chrome.
Eh. She got used to it.
“Urm…” the ginger stammered. “Hi. We. Um. Crashed a few miles back and were wondering if you could help us.”
Rose drew up short, instantly suspicious. No one just crashed anymore. “What sort of crash?”
“A car crash,” the blonde answered.
“The – um – leg snapped? We have a list of…”
James burst into the entry hall at a dead run, sweat agleam on his forehead, his haystack hair tousled and wild. “You’re gonna miss it, hurry!” But he skid to a halt as his eyes locked onto the blonde’s.
“Doctor?” the blonde said. “How—?”
Rose and the ginger had time for a confused “Huh?” before James snatched Rose behind him and pounded a green button by the door.
“Prescott, seal the perimeter,” he bit out. “We’ll need guards at the main doors.” He glanced at the blonde and added, “Better make it four.”
Rose said, “But that—that’s psychic paper.” She nodded at the wallet the blonde was holding. “James, it’s the Doctor.”
“No,” James said. “It can’t be.”
“James.” She closed her hand around his fist. “It says he needs help. He needs us.”
Behind him a bright light flared. Everyone jumped, but the flash was followed by a cheery fanfare and the crackling of fireworks. They heard a spate of laughter sprinkled with a scattering of applause.
James exhaled, disappointed. “Guess it worked,” he said.
“We missed it.” Rose squeezed his arm. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “Nah, s’all right. I’ll reset and try again. This evening.” He glared at the two women on his doorstep. The ginger seemed mostly harmless, but the other was River Song, and her arrival could only mean one thing.
Not this time, he thought. He wouldn’t let it.
He palmed the button again. “Belay the last command, Prescott. Stand down, but keep ready.” He wiped his brow. “And we’ll be needing a transport.”
“You called him the Doctor,” Amy whispered as they followed Lord and Lady McCrimmon into their gigantic house.
“He was the Doctor,” River answered.
“How?” she shot back.
“I don’t know,” River said through her teeth. She breathed in mingled scents of cake flour and gunpowder as they slipped down a marble corridor between an expansive library, a study, and two sitting rooms.
“Seems to have done well for himself,” Amy said.
“Yes, he has,” River said.
They’d made their introductions at the door. James and Rose McCrimmon, meet River Song and Amy Pond. Williams, she’d added, waving her ring. Just married, Rory and me. Yay!
Then a young woman met them at the archway of a huge kitchen. She cast a worried look at Rose before turning to address James.
“Dr. McCrimmon,” she said. “Might I interest our guests in tea?”
“Thank you, Alicia, that would be lovely,” he said. “We’ll be in the courtyard until Prescott’s got the hoverlink ready.”
“Right,” she said. “Yes, sir.”
Now they walked on, following James and Rose down another vaulted hallway. They turned left into a gallery of glass doors that opened out into a flagstone courtyard filled with viny plants and trickling fountains and marble statues.
But none compared to the breathtaking centerpiece that hovered in golden glory in the center of the courtyard. It was a clockwork balloon of gossamer yellow silk, festooned with flags and tin pipes and twinkling lights. Miniature aeroplanes looped and spun around it, while in the basket, a pair of wind-up children waved and smiled. Stitched across the front of the balloon in ornate gold lettering was a banner that read: Happy Tenth Birthday, Tony!
A half dozen men and women gathered to stare up at it, and when James and Rose pressed open the doors, they were greeted with applause.
An older, portly gentleman stepped forward and clapped James on the back. “It was magnificent, sir,” he said.
“Was it?” James asked, gazing up at the balloon.
The older man’s face shone with pride. “Astounding. He’ll love it!”
James’ face relaxed into a smile. “Yes,” he said. “Right. We have time for one more test. Let’s repack the canister, reset the systems. Ready again in five hours’ time?”
“Aye, sir,” the man said.
“Molto bene!” James said. “Just wait til you see what I’ve in mind for Tabitha.”
“I can just imagine,” the man said. He joined the others and they set about, tugging on gang wires, winding cranks, and toggling levers to collapse the balloon back down into the canister beneath it.
James joined Rose, but kept enough distance between him and the newcomers, who seemed sufficiently dazzled not to overhear them.
“What do you think?” he said.
“I think it’s lovely,” she said. “Astounding, just like Mr. Price said.”
“No. Well. Yes. Thanks. But,” he squeezed her hand. “I meant about them.”
“Ooh. Trying not to,” Rose said.
“It’s THE Doctor, Rose, the Doctor who was me, which means the TARDIS is here, the TARDIS that was mine, and—”
“They said it crashed.”
“’Course it crashed. They’re in the wrong universe. Wrong time vortex, wrong everything, and if that’s so then…”
“So very, very bad.”
A small bleep came from his pocket. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and pressed the com switch.
Prescott said, “Sir, the transport is ready.”
“Very good.” He glanced at Rose. “Stay with them, talk to them. Find out everything you can and tell them nothing.” He brushed a light hand over her belly before kissing her forehead.
“What about you?”
He slipped the screwdriver back into his pocket. “I’ve an appointment with the Doctor.”