For the purposes of this story BtVS season 7 ended while Rose Tyler was travelling with the Doctor. Some ideas are borrowed from my earlier story Legend.
by Marcus L. Rowland
"There's something strange going on here," said Rose Tyler. "People don't seem to notice us at all." She deliberately stood in the path of an approaching woman, who suddenly flickered, disappeared from in front of her, and reappear walking away behind her. "Whoa! What the hell was that?"
The Doctor peered at an instrument he'd bought from the TARDIS and said "There's something odd about this whole section of space-time, I don't think it's quite real. Even so we need to be careful. We're only a few years in your past, you're still a schoolgirl on the other side of the world. Don't be tempted to phone home, or take advantage of your knowledge of the future."
Rose shivered and said "Right, like nearly ending the world last time didn't teach me anything at all." Then what he'd said sunk in, and she added "What do you mean, this time isn't real?"
"It's an Edit" said the Doctor. "Someone's going to modify a chunk of space-time a few years from now, make some changes retroactively. Right now we're in events that haven't happened, but are going to have happened. If you see what I mean?"
"How is that possible?"
"It barely is," said Jack Harkness, who'd been examining one of the cars parked by the road. "You only get them when somebody can't travel in time but has the ability to manipulate the past indirectly, say by sending messages back to someone."
"So this bit of... 1997, did you say?" The Doctor and Jack both nodded "...is something that's going to be real but isn't real right now?"
"Very good, Rose," said the Doctor.
"So I could just... I don't know... walk into a jeweller's store and help myself and it wouldn't really happen?"
"That's right," said Jack "Feel like a shopping trip?" There was an acquisitive gleam in his eye.
"Better not," said the Doctor, "Edits are unstable, do the wrong thing before it sets properly and the world will snap back to its unedited form. Then the robbery would be real, and so would the police and the security guards. Besides, we don't know how big an area it covers. My guess is that it's fairly small. This is a suburb, for all you know the shopping district might be in the real world. Los Angeles is a big city."
"I guess," Jack said sulkily. "So.. do you wanna find out why someone's been messing with causality?"
"Just a minute," said Rose. "Shouldn't those.. those creatures we saw in the eighties be trying to change things back?" She suppressed another shudder.
"That's the thing about Edits," said the Doctor, "they don't quite count as paradoxes. First they aren't real, then they become the reality. If you're stupid enough to want to change the past at all, they're about the safest way to do it."
"How big a change are we talking about here?" asked Rose.
"Small. It could be as subtle as someone meeting a different girl or getting a different job. At most, someone's been born that shouldn't have been, or died earlier or later than they should. It nearly always ends in tears, Edits are usually much more trouble than they're worth."
"So," Jack repeated, "Find out what's going on?"
"We'd better," said the Doctor, "I don't think that the changes inside the Edit are major, it doesn't have that feel to it, but the consequences..." he tailed off into silence.
"How bad could it be?" asked Rose.
"If those readings are right," said Jack, craning to look at the Doctor's instrument, "It ends early in the next century. Anything major happening around then?"
"Nothing much," Rose said sarcastically. "A few wars, disasters, that sort of thing. Remember, I'm only from two thousand and three, could be anything after that."
"Anything local?" asked the Doctor.
"Can't think of anything."
"Hmm... and the really big LA earthquake's still a few decades off," said Jack, "doubt it's that."
While they were talking a girl aged about ten skateboarded by, swerved nimbly to avoid Jack and the Doctor, brushed against Rose, and clattered off down the street, shouting "Sorry!"
"Wait a minute," said Rose, "she saw us! She hit me!" she turned and shouted "Hey!"
"Sorrryyyy!" the girl shouted again, but kept on going. Jack started to draw his sonic blaster.
The Doctor grabbed his arm and said "And what exactly are you planning to do with that?" The girl vanished from view round a curve in the road.
"Shoot a wheel, of course. Too late now, she's gone."
"Wonderful," said Rose. "Now what?"
The Doctor looked at his instrument again, shook it, and shook it again.
"What's wrong?" asked Jack.
"Burned out," said the Doctor. "Might be repairable, but I'd need to take it back to the TARDIS."
"Do we need it?" asked Rose. "That kid must be part of it, or she wouldn't have seen us. We need to find out who she is, what she's up to."
"And why my equipment burned out when she passed us."
"Could be a coincidence," said Jack. He didn't sound like he believed it.
"Well, I can tell you one thing about her," said Rose, picking something up from the dusty sidewalk. "Her name's Dawn. She broke this when she hit me."
"What have you got?" asked the Doctor. Rose showed him a charm bracelet with jewelled letters, the chain broken near the clasp. He said "Could be Umad."
"Very popular name in some parts of the galaxy, some eras." Rose stared at him. "But I think Dawn's more likely today," he eventually admitted.
"Dork. If we follow her," said Rose, "we'll.. what the hell?" The bracelet had quietly vanished from her hand.
"None of this is real," said the Doctor. "Not entirely, not yet. She's probably wearing it again, won't even know it was gone."
"So much for jewel robberies. Can we talk to her?"
"Without changing things?" asked Jack. "Maybe. Like the Doctor said, this isn't completely real, she's probably already forgotten us."
"It's a lot more complicated than that," said the Doctor, looking a little annoyed. Rose wondered if he thought that Jack was stealing his thunder. "We might get away with it, but there's always a risk that too much interference will make the Edit go wrong, and that can be worse than a successful change."
"Well, we're not going to learn anything standing here," said Rose, "Come on!" she set off after the girl at a fast walk.
"Where do you think she was going?" asked Jack, catching up with her. The Doctor wasn't far behind.
"Kid that age won't be straying too far from home, or shouldn't be. My guess is she lives around here, somewhere on this block."
"Worth a shot," said the Doctor.
"I'd better do the talking," said Rose. "Either of you comes looking for a kid that age they'll probably call the police."
"Why would they do that?"
"Hello? You're blokes. And parents don't generally take kindly to blokes asking about ten-year-old girls."
"You'd better use this if someone asks for identification," said the Doctor, handing Rose a piece of psychic paper. She looked at it and giggled for the next hundred yards, while the Doctor said "What? What did it say?"
"Never you mind," said Rose.
"There she is," Jack said a minute later. "On the swing in that garden." The girl was swinging gently. Rose noticed that the house had a realtor's "Sold" sign, and packing crates stacked under the car-port.
"Okay. Any suggestions?"
"We walk by and say nothing," said the Doctor.
"Because someone in that car parked across the street is watching the house."
Rose glanced across. There was a black car parked across the road, its windows caked with mud and dirt. The licence plates read BBWLF1. It meant nothing to her.
An older girl came out of the house, shouting "C'mon, Dawn, we've still got to finish packing your room. The truck will be here in a couple of hours."
"I don't want to leave," shouted Dawn. "All my friends are here, and it's all your fault!"
The other girl seemed to consider for a moment, then said "Maybe you're right, but we've still gotta get packed. Let's get it done, then I'll treat you to a fudgesickle."
Rose, Jack and the Doctor walked past, pretending not to notice. Rose said "I'll ask for directions, see if I can learn anything," and headed back across the lawn towards the girls before the others could stop her. "Hi!" said Rose, "we're a bit lost. Could you tell me the name of this street, please."
The older girl walked back into the house, ignoring Rose completely. Dawn glanced at her, a little puzzled, then rattled off the address.
"Okay, and which way do we go for Hollywood?"
"Hollywood?" said Dawn, gesturing the way they'd come. "Kinda head that way for the freeway, then follow the signs I guess. Where's your car?"
"That's a long story," said Rose. "Moving?"
"Yeah, and it's all her fault."
"She was expelled from school, and my mom and dad were fighting about it and..." She started to sob. Rose patted her back, a little awkwardly, and wondered what she should do. The Doctor gestured towards the boxes. "So where are you moving to?" asked Rose.
"The ass end of nowhere," said Dawn, her eyes red with tears. "Town called Sunnydale, mom thought it sounded wholesome. Why do you want to know?"
"I'm nosy," said Rose. From inside the house the other voice shouted "Come on, Dawn!"
"Huh. 'Least you're honest about it."
"Well, honesty sometimes works," said Rose. "Look, my friends are waiting, and your sister is calling. I'd better go. Thanks for the directions. 'Bye."
"'Bye." Rose went back to the sidewalk, and Dawn went into the house.
"Well?" asked the Doctor.
"They're moving to a place called Sunnydale. I've never heard of it."
"I have," the Doctor said grimly.
"What now?" asked Rose.
"We'll circle the block then head back to the TARDIS," said the Doctor, glancing back. The black car that had been parked across the road was following them at a walking pace, about fifty yards back.
"Who do you think is in the car?" asked Jack.
"My guess would be someone working for whoever's running the Edit," said the Doctor. "Taking orders from the future, probably getting paid with information. Stock market tips, lottery numbers, that sort of thing."
"And they'd be able to see us?" asked Rose.
"Maybe," said Jack. "They'd be in both worlds at once, I guess."
"So what's Sunnydale?" asked Rose.
"A hole," said the Doctor.
"A what?" asked Rose.
"A hole. Some time in the next few years the entire town collapses into a cave system, then the crater floods. I visited the place in the thirty-seventh century, there were still archaeologists diving into the ruins. Always wanted to take a look before the place sank, but I never got round to it."
"Sunnydale, riiiight," said Jack, snapping his fingers. "I was thinking it was Sunnyvale. Atlantis USA, the city under the sea."
"And that girl's going to be living there?" asked Rose.
"'Fraid so. It looks like someone's going to a fair amount of trouble to put her there."
"How do you mean? To kill her young?"
"Maybe. Or maybe being there will keep her alive, or someone else."
"How do we find out?" asked Rose.
"Like this," said the Doctor. He strode into the road, in front of the car, and held up a hand.
"No!" said Rose, and ran out to pull him back. The car accelerated towards them, at the last second steering out into the middle of the road to avoid them, and kept going. Soon it was out of sight.
"Oh well," said the Doctor. "It was worth a try. Proves whoever it is can see us." Two or three minutes later the car reappeared and drove past, heading back on the far side of the road. He didn't try to stop it.
"What now?" asked Jack.
"I get the feeling we're not welcome," said the Doctor. "That must be someone keeping an eye on the girl to make sure nothing goes wrong."
"So what do we do?" asked Rose.
"I think we need to go forward a few years, find her again after the Edit ends and see what the result is."
"Won't that be too late?" asked Jack. "What if it turns out she's gonna be a serial killer?"
"Then we do some editing of our own. But I don't think that's going to be necessary."
"How come?" asked Rose, as they turned the corner that led back towards the TARDIS.
"She seemed like a nice kid, why assume she's going to be bad?"
Jack was humming something, a tune Rose half recognised. "What's that? It sounds good."
"'The Monster Mash', from the Dingos Ate My Baby 'Atlantis USA' album" said Jack. "The rock opera."
"You're kidding. 'Dingos Ate My Baby?'"
"They'll be a supergroup, biggest thing since the Rolling Stones. Right now they're in high school."
"Atlantis USA," said the Doctor. "A twenty-first century classic. Based on..." He came to an abrupt halt.
"What's wrong?" asked Rose.
"Atlantis USA. Based on the novel Sunnydale Nights. Published in twenty-oh-eight."
"Dawn Summers!" said Jack. "Goddamn!"
"A woman named Dawn Summers writes Sunnydale Nights in two thousand and eight, when she's twenty-two, about five years after the destruction of Sunnydale." said the Doctor. "It's a classic. Not quite up there with Dickens, but comparable with Bradbury, say. I met Bradbury once..."
"She'd be ten or eleven now," said Rose, heading off the digression. "That girl. It's her, isn't it?"
"I think so," said Jack. "We read it when I was in school, as part of our twenty-first century studies course. The introduction said a little about the background. The parents divorced when she was ten, her sister was expelled from school, so they moved from Los Angeles to Sunnydale, where her mother thought things would be nice and peaceful. Except there was some sort of gang war going on in the town, people getting killed all the time, and her sister got involved with a vigilante group that was trying to stop it."
"What happens to them?"
"Life isn't easy," said the Doctor. "Friends are killed, the mother dies, the elder sister has to support them both, they're just getting their lives together when the town collapses. They were on the last bus out, saw the ground giving way behind them. They lost everything. It's all in the book, though she turned it into fiction."
"And someone changed time to make that happen?" said Rose. "Ruined their lives? Why?"
"I loved that story," the Doctor said mournfully, "but if someone deliberately made it happen..."
"You can't know it for sure," said Jack. "It could just be coincidence."
"Someone turns that girl's life into a horror novel," sad the Doctor. At Rose's puzzled look he said "Oh, didn't I say? It's a horror story, the only metaphor she could find for her experiences."
"Then we've got to stop it!"
"We can't," said Jack.
"Why not?" Rose said angrily.
"Because it isn't just the novel," said the Doctor. "There's the TV series, two or three of them, the films, the rock opera, song cycles, legends. All of those affect millions of people's lives. Millions, and for thousands of years to come."
"Thousands?" Rose said incredulously.
"There's something about the story that hits something in the human imagination. It's about hope and courage and beating impossible odds. Long after the novel's forgotten people are still telling stories based on the world she describes. They're living their lives to an ideal, fighting real horrors rather than giving in to them, and part of the reason is the story that girl's going to tell."
"Couldn't we... oh, stop them from going, and give her a copy of the book so that she can write it anyway?"
"No. Not unless you want to see how bad a time paradox can be. What happened with your father was nothing..."
"So who did it?" asked Jack. "And how did they know that she'd write that book if she went to Sunnydale?"
"That's right," said Rose. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Maybe someone's already tampered," said the Doctor. "It could be an Edit to correct someone else's tampering, make sure that history goes the way it's supposed to."
"We won't find out by standing here," said Jack.
"What did you have in mind?" asked the Doctor.
"We've got a window of opportunity about ten minutes ago, when we drew the car off. If we use the TARDIS to double back on ourselves we'd have about five minutes to ask a few questions."
"Brilliant!" Rose said sarcastically. "Who exactly did you plan to question?"
"The mother, of course," said Jack.
"She won't see us. How do you think the kid'll react to three people nobody else can see?"
"We can't do anything here and now," said the Doctor. "We don't know enough."
"So what do you want to do?"
"Head for Sunnydale, of course," said Jack. "After the edit but before the place collapses."
"We can't do that either," said the Doctor. "We're doubling backwards and forwards in Rose's lifetime, there's too much risk of a paradox, and it grows with every move we make."
"So what did you have in mind?"
"Well, we'll start by going forward a few years..."
Dawn Summers sat behind a table in the Cleveland branch of Barnes and Noble, and wondered if anyone was going to want their book signed. Her agent had warned her not to expect too much; a first book by an unknown author wasn't going to draw in the crowds. Across the store she could see Buffy keeping an eye open for trouble, and Xander was somewhere around. But unless someone demonic was planning something she guessed it was going to be a quiet afternoon.
At the cash register a woman about her age wearing a Union Jack t-shirt was buying something. It looked like.. yes, score one for the Dawnmeister. One copy of 'Sunnydale Nights' sold, nineteen thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to go. Wait a minute... that wasn't one copy. She came over to the table, three copies in her hand.
Dawn tried hard not grin like a loon, as she said "Umm... yes, that's me. Can I sign those for you?"
"That'd be great," said the woman. Dawn took the first from her, nervously slipped the cap off her flourescent metallic green gel pen, and said "what would you like me to say?"
"Well, this one's for me, so if you could just make it 'to Rose' with today's date that'd be good."
Dawn took the book and wrote "To Rose. First copy I've signed of the first book I've written. Thanks, Dawn Summers, May 11th 2008."
"That's great," said Rose. "The next one's for a bloke named Jack, and the last one... well, if you could make it to 'The Doctor' that'd be good."
"Okay..." Dawn signed the books, saying "better let the ink dry for a minute."
"Why did you decide to buy three?" asked Dawn, "not that I'm complaining, of course..."
"Oh, I saw an advance copy someone was reading," said Rose, "loved the story, thought I'd buy copies for myself and my friends. I have a feeling that it's going to be a huge success."
"Wow," said Dawn. "Hope you're right."
"I've got to ask though," said Rose. "What I read, it felt so real. How much of it is true?"
"Every word," Dawn said with a grin.
"Including the monsters?"
"Especially the monsters!"
"Yeah, right," Rose said sarcastically. "Well, I'd better move on, you've got more customers." There were two teenaged girls waiting with copies in their hands. Dawn recognised one of them, a Slayer Buffy was training, the other was a stranger.
"Thanks," said Dawn. "Should have the next book out early next year."
"I'll look forward to it," said Rose, picking up the books and stuffing them into her bag. She went out of the shop, apologising to a one-eyed man she brushed against near the doorway, and met Jack and the Doctor outside.
"Well?" said Jack.
"She seems happy enough," said Rose. "Couldn't really ask much, but I got the impression things are going well for her, and the book seems identical to the copy in the TARDIS."
"A benign Edit," mused the Doctor. "Don't see many of those."
"What now, then?" asked Rose.
"Well," said the Doctor, "I thought we'd get something to eat, then how do you two fancy a rock concert?"
"A rock concert?" Jack asked incredulously.
"2028," said the Doctor. "First live performance of 'Atlantis USA'. I've booked front row seats."
"Works for me," said Rose.
"Well," said Jack, "I kinda prefer the big band sounds, but I guess I could force myself." He grinned, and began to whistle 'Monster Mash', the Dingos remix. Rose took his arm and began to sing along, the Doctor moved to her other side, looped his arm through hers, and joined in. They were laughing so hard by the time they got to the restaurant the doorman wouldn't let them in.
Author's note: Several of the Buffy comics have retro-fitted Dawn into Buffy's pre-Sunnydale life. Usually it's assumed that the monks edited memories to make people believe that she'd always been there, but there was never any real proof of that. This story explores another possibility.