Rose Tyler jolted bolt upright in her bed and stared wildly while her eyes adjusted to the darkness, caught halfway between sleep and wakefulness and uncertain whether she had actually just heard that very loud 'BANG' or if it had merely been the product of an escaping dream. Some seconds later the room shuddered around her, and she decided that it had most definitely not been the latter.
The timepiece on the bedside table proclaimed that it was just after two o'clock in the morning, ship's time. "Brilliant," she muttered, throwing back the covers, throwing on a t-shirt and pair of jeans, and half-hopping out the door as she pulled on her shoes. She paused in the corridor, frowning, fancying she heard a certain… off tone in the soft, persistent rumble of the TARDIS engines; then the ship lurched startlingly and threw her against the wall.
Well, that answers that. Something not-right, check.
Rose jounced down the hallway, dragging one hand along the wall for balance. She burst into the control room and grabbed hold of the railing, nearly pitching head-first over it as the floor tilted sickeningly beneath her feet. "Doctor! What's going on?"
"Bit busy!" sang the terse reply from the opposite side of the hexagonal console, punctuated by a loud snapping noise and a shower of sparks.
Rose cast her eyes anxiously upward at the time rotor, which was making a most unhealthy grinding noise, and twisted her hands on the rail. "Is there anything I can do?" she called out, feeling rather useless.
The Doctor skidded round the left side of the console, grabbing hold of one of the panels for balance as the TARDIS juddered and slewed sideways. "Yeah – hold down that lever and don't let go!" he admonished, jabbing his sonic screwdriver in one direction as he moved in the other, wresting open the temporal yaw panel and loosing a string of colorfully indecipherable profanities as he was greeted by another explosion of sparks. Undaunted, his expression set in a fierce grin, he reached inside and yanked out a tangle of wires.
"What happened?" Rose tried again as she threw herself at the indicated lever, gripping it with both hands and dragging it down. It didn't want to cooperate.
"Collision. Hit something," the Doctor replied, his voice level but his eyes intent as he busily sorted through the wires. "Aha, gotcha." He thumbed a setting on the sonic screwdriver and neatly severed one of the yellow ones. The TARDIS groaned in protest and the grinding of the time rotor rose to a high-pitched shriek. "All right, maybe not," he amended, fingers flying to splice the injured conduit back together.
"But how? Thought we were in the temporal vortex… thingy? Have we popped out somewhere?"
"But there's nothing else in the vortex to run into, is there?"
"But we've hit something anyway?"
Rose muttered under her breath, "Just so we're clear on that, then." She shifted her weight and leaned harder on the lever, which was fighting determinedly to get out of the 'down' position.
"Here we are!" the Doctor proclaimed triumphantly, cutting the blue wire and cross-splicing it with a red one. The growling of the engines abruptly died away with a vaguely pathetic whimper, and the time rotor wheezed to a halt. The sudden silence was deafening. "You can let go that lever now," he said briskly, shoving the mess of wiring back into the console and swinging the panel shut.
She let go, cautiously. The lever didn't move. "What'd you do?"
"Emergency landing. Got to assess the damage. Whatever hit us, it rattled the old girl good." He was circling the console now, pouncing on switches like a prowling cat, and looking up expectantly at monitors that remained distressingly blank.
"Where are we?" Rose ventured.
"Don't know!" he replied brightly. "External sensors are down…" he gave the side of the main monitor a good, solid whack with the flat of his hand. No response. "Yup. Definitely down. Well, let's have a look then, shall we?"
"How d'you know there's not an army of angry aliens with ray guns out there? Or – or nothing but poisonous gas?"
"Don't," he shrugged. "How d'you know we're not in the middle of the shopping center on Jupiter Six?" He broke out that insufferable ear-to-ear grin and held out his hand expectantly.
She sighed, and took it. Didn't she always?
He swung the door open and poked his head outside, sniffing cautiously. "No poisonous gas," he determined. "Hallo! Anyone out there?" Pause. "…No angry aliens either, it seems." He sounded almost disappointed. They stepped outside.
"No shopping mall either," Rose observed, squinting through the fog. In point of fact, there was not much of anything. The TARDIS had materialized on the plateau of a desolate hillside, occupied by a few lumps of boulders and purplish trees. Stretching away into the distance was more of the same: craggy hills poking through swirls of fog, which themselves occasionally parted to reveal deep cracks of earth. The sky was impenetrably overcast, casting the land in a gloomy hue. "Bit… gray, isn't it?" Rose sniffed, suddenly glad for the comforting weight of the Doctor's hand in hers as a shiver raised the hairs on the back of her neck. "D'you recognize it, then?"
"No," he replied, his head tilted at an odd angle, lips pursed curiously as he stared off into the mist.
She elbowed him playfully. "Some guide to the universe you turned out to be."
He broke out of his reverie and glanced down at her with a smirk. "Rose, it's a very big universe. I'm sure there're a few planets I haven't been to yet."
She stifled a yawn, recalling that it was, after all, the middle of the night by her internal clock. "Well, can't say I blame you for giving this one a miss," she declared, twisting to have a look at the TARDIS instead. "Oh… wow."
"Hm?" The Doctor let go her hand so he could turn properly, and his overlarge features immediately creased in dismay. He pressed one hand against the worn blue wall and traced, with the other, the outline of the significant indentation in said wall. "Poor old girl; what've we done to you?"
"I thought," Rose ventured, softly, "that the TARDIS was supposed to be pretty much indestructible? All the armies of Genghis Khan and such?"
"Supposed to be," the Doctor agreed, craning his neck back to examine the crumpled molding above. "Just like there's not supposed to be anything to run into in the Time Vortex. Nothing physical, anyway."
"Can you fix it?"
"What, the exterior hull? Just haul her down to Ted's Body Shop and bang her back into shape?" A wry smile curved grimly about his thin lips. "No. No, I can't fix this."
Rose wished she possessed his apparent calm. "How're we going to get off this rock, then?"
He blinked; looked at her abruptly, as if startled by the question. "The TARDIS can heal herself, Rose. Well, to an extent, anyway." He drew the sonic screwdriver from his jacket pocket and brandished it cheerfully. "I'll have to do a bit of tinkering with the main console, though. All in a day's work." He looked around thoughtfully. "First though… I want to have a look 'round. See if I can get my bearings, so I can calibrate the guidance system. Something funny about this place…."
"Last time you said that," Rose felt herself grinning, "we ended up running for our lives from a lot of very angry geckos."
"Gethrix," he corrected automatically, "and how was I supposed to know that was their queen?" He poked the screwdriver admonishingly at her. "Wait here, don't wander off, I'll be back in a tick."
"And the last time you said that—"
"All in a day's work, Rose," he called back over her, cheerfully, and within ten steps had disappeared into the fog on the upward slope.
Rose let out an exasperated sigh, then chuckled quietly to herself. "He tells me not to wander off," she mused, tracing her fingertips lightly over the wounded side of the TARDIS. "Don't worry, girl, he'll have you up and running again in no time." A light breeze sent another chill up her spine, and she folded her arms, leaning back against the unassuming blue box for comfort. Of course she could have just gone back inside; retreated to the warmth of her abandoned bed; but it didn't seem quite right to enjoy a kip whilst leaving the Doctor to tramp about all by himself.
That, she decided, was what bothered her most about this place. There was this overwhelming sense of… emptiness. Of being so alone that not only was there no one else breathing the air of this godforsaken rock, but that no one ever had. She shivered and rubbed her arms, willing the Doctor to hurry it up, already.
A faint rattle of gravel drew her attention down the hill. "Doctor?" she called tentatively. Her alien friend seemed to possess a remarkable sense of direction, but in this fog, she reasoned, anyone could get turned around. "Doctor, I'm up here. You've overshot us."
There was no response, save the skittering sound of some more small stones clattering down the slope. "Hello?" she tried again, taking a few steps forward – and keeping well within sight of the TARDIS, of course; she wasn't stupid – and peering into the fog. Nothing, of course; not even the looming shape of a great angry monster, much less the lean profile of her Doctor, with his big stupid grin and big stupid ears. The overwhelming loneliness of the place pressed in on her again, the fog like a suffocating blanket. "Oi!" she shouted suddenly, "If anyone's out there, you'd better just come out and say so; I'm not playing games, you know!"
Almost immediately she felt better. "Well, that sorted you out, didn't it?" she addressed the phantom mist. She nodded decisively and was about to return to the TARDIS when she caught a sparkle of something on the ground, just a bit down the slope. "Hello," she muttered, and went to pick it up, tossing a quick glance over her shoulder to ensure she didn't lose the TARDIS in the fog. Wouldn't do much good, finding the indigenous artifact that'd be the key to figuring out what planet they were on, if she went and got lost herself, would it?
It was with a sense of more annoyance than fright, as the loose gravel shifted under her feet, that she lost her balance and tumbled away down the hill, into an onrushing mass of blackness, and then nothing.