Doctor Who is the property of the BBC. I'm just borrowing...
The cliff jutted out from the side of a steep plateau, hovering precariously above the expansive valley below. Sitting even more precariously upon the edge of the cliff, beside a whitewashed wall, was a blue police call box, its color and composition completely incongruous in its new surroundings. The buildings clustered upon the cliff were constructed from pale, chalky stone blocks that glittered in the glare of the late afternoon sunlight. The trees growing in the cliff's dry soil struggled upward toward the light, their bark and leaves dull and sparse, water and nutrients devoted primarily to the olive-like fruit clustered along the branches.
Above the treetops, a wide white swath stretched around the circumference of the plateau. Its jagged, rough appearance attested to the continued removal of its outer layers. Blocks of stone had been chipped and carved away for centuries, gouging out an extensive trough near the top of the plateau.
The door in the police box swung open, and a booted foot stepped out, dipping for an instant into the emptiness beneath the cliff. A high, startled gasp and a deeper, small chuckle accompanied the sharp jerk that pulled the foot and its owner back into the TARDIS.
"Look before you leap," the Doctor remonstrated cheerfully. "Actually one of Earth's better aphorisms. Well, more like a maxim, really, but not a proverb, is it? Not sure where it originated—don't think it was Shakespeare, might've been Ben Franklin. Now there was an interesting fellow. Way ahead of his time, probably responsible for most of the public libraries and fire stations you lot have today."
A lanky leg snaked around the edge of the doorway, dangling over the steep drop for an instant before the foot planted itself firmly on the cliff. A hand gripped the door frame, then the Doctor's body swung from the doorway to alight gracefully upon solid ground. He extended his hand back toward the open door, waggling the fingers somewhat impatiently.
"Come on, Rose. Make haste, not waste. That really was Franklin. I'm almost certain of it."
"What're you on about?" Rose asked with mock tetchiness as she grasped his hand.
The Doctor pulled her from the TARDIS, trajectory calculated to ensure that her feet landed on the ground rather than somewhere in the air. Still, a little gasp escaped her when she saw the steep drop she'd so narrowly avoided.
"You really should work on your landing skills," she grumbled affectionately.
"And miss this view?" He gestured toward the valley below. "Not on your life."
Rose shook her head. "Yeah, but I don't have any to spare."
The Doctor's attention was already elsewhere. He had clambered over the wall and begun strolling away from the cliff's edge to study the nearest structure. The ship had materialized at the far end of the village. The area was very quiet; Rose thought it was deserted. The shabbiness of the small homes attested to their neglect. Exterior walls had begun to flake and crumble, and the potted plants were withered and brown.
"Last time I was here," he said, "the village was bustling, nearly bursting at the seams. They'd built their homes and businesses on just about every usable piece of cliff."
"How long ago was that?"
He shrugged. "Oh, a few years—maybe seventy-five or a hundred."
"A lot can change in a hundred years," Rose reminded him.
He was bending down to scratch at the stem of the closest potted plant. "But it hasn't been a hundred years since someone lived here," he said. "Looks more like a hundred days."
Rose followed his gaze down to the stem to see a tiny, pale green patch beneath the dried exterior layer. "It's still alive?"
"Barely. It needs water, and from the dryness of the ground I'd guess there hasn't been any rain in six or seven months. Poor thing. It's trying its best to survive despite the odds."
Rose ran a hand over the flaking surface of the nearest wall. "Whoever lived here didn't take very good care of the house."
"On the contrary," the Doctor corrected. "I think they were quite conscientious. They kept water on the plants until they left."
"But this is almost crumbling," she protested, brushing sandy bits from her hands. "Looks like it's been standing here out in the elements for years."
"It gets like that if it's not treated every couple of months. This stone is very chalky and needs to be sealed frequently. If it's done properly, the stone provides great insulation. The houses stay cool all summer long."
"Wouldn't mind being inside one now," Rose said, stepping into the scrap of shade provided by the nearest scraggly tree.
The Doctor had left his overcoat in the TARDIS, but he still wore his suit jacket. She wondered momentarily why his skin wasn't glistening with sweat like hers was. Must be some weird Time Lord metabolism thing…
"Temperature'll drop once the sun goes down," he informed her. "In the meantime, there's a nice sort of lemonady drink they make using the fruit from those," he gestured toward a spiny plant growing between two houses. "Very refreshing—it'll cool you off in no time." He held out his hand invitingly.
After a dubious glance at the indicated plant, she took his hand. "Hope they pull out the thorns first."
"Oh, the fruit doesn't have spines. At least I don't think it does." His thoughts wandered off on some botanical tangent as he led Rose along the path toward the heart of the village.
The Doctor had told her how unique this area of the small planet was in the inhabitants' clever use of the natural resources. The chalky stone was carved out of the top portion of the plateau and used to construct nearly all of the buildings, thus sparing the less abundant trees for agricultural uses.
Rose paused for a few moments to look ahead. The village and its setting provided a striking vista. The paleness of the buildings lining the cliff contrasted gently with the plateau's pinkish stone walls then connected again with the lighter band above. The muted colors seemed to mitigate the late afternoon heat just a little.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" the Doctor asked, his gaze running over the scene before them.
"I've never seen anything quite like it," she replied. It was breath-taking, and yet a gentle poignancy nudged at her as her eyes were drawn again to the jagged band from which the stone had been cut. She thought it resembled a massive scar.
Her companion continued walking, chattering amiably. "Thought you'd enjoy it, especially that lemonade. Well, it's not really lemonade, since it's made mostly with those cactus fruits, but I think they do squeeze in a bit of something citrusy."
As they moved away from the outskirts of the village, they saw that the single pathway branched out into several narrow roads, all lined with white buildings. These structures had received more recent care than the more remote ones. Well-tended plants grew in pots and along walkways adorning clean, smooth walls and buildings.
Rose paused to admire a large cluster of flowering plants set upon a wall. A pleasant, spicy fragrance perfumed the air, and she bent to inhale the scent. Cool air brushed over her legs, and she wondered for a moment if the plants were responsible. Their leaves were plump and jade-colored, a rich contrast to the lighter hues all around. She gently pinched a leaf between her finger and thumb.
"That's a bit rude, Rose," the Doctor chided.
Dropping her hand to her side, she looked up. "What?"
He gestured to the plants. "Those are ceremonial. They're called lisseaia, or sillisseia, or something like that. They're used for special occasions—births, weddings, deaths. They've been left here to mark something momentous."
"Sorry. I didn't know."
"Well, I don't think anyone saw," he admitted, "but still, it's not usually wise to show disrespect."
Rose looked about. "There's no one around to see."
The Doctor squinted as his eyes searched the area ahead. "Looks a little more inhabited up there." He began to walk again.
The sun was lowering, but its rays remained bright and hot. Rose was still enjoying the coolness around the plants. She held her palms above the leaves but found the air unpleasantly warm. She took a step back then bent to move her hands near the base of the wall. The temperature was definitely lower by the ground.
"Rose," the Doctor called back. "Come on. No time for dilly-dallying."
She hurried forward. "Sorry. Just enjoying a little break from the heat," she said.
He arched an inquisitive eyebrow at her.
"There was this little cool area at the base of the wall," she explained.
"That's not very likely," he replied. "Even though it's white, the wall still absorbs heat. It'd be hotter there, not cooler." He paused to rest his hand on the nearest wall, gesturing for her to do the same. "See. It's warmer than the air."
Rose shrugged. "This part is. That part back there wasn't."
He regarded her for a moment then said, "Let's find some of that lemonade. I think you need to get out of the sun."
The hush of the deserted outskirts yielded to a bustling core within the village center. Here the streets were crowded with people. The buildings had an overflowing feel, too, with clotheslines hung from nearly every window and residents sitting on the small balconies performing various household tasks. She saw women sewing and stirring bowls, men repairing shoes and small pieces of furniture, and children playing patty-cake and other games that the small spaces could accommodate. Among the people walking along the roads she saw very few children. The same was true for the patrons sitting outside the café she and the Doctor were approaching.
He led her to a shady table then slipped inside. When he returned a few minutes later, he held two tall glasses of pink liquid. He handed one of the glasses to her then sat down.
"A waiter's going to bring us a pitcher," he said, taking an enthusiastic and generous swig. He smacked his lips happily. "Mmm, just like I remember."
Rose took a sip of her drink. It wasn't particularly cold, but the slightly tart flavor had a pleasantly cooling effect. "'S good," she said.
The Doctor's glass was empty. His fingers drummed impatiently on the table top as he watched the door. When a waiter stepped through carrying a large pitcher, he grinned in anticipation.
"Thank you," he said as the server refilled his glass then deposited the pitcher on the table. "Delicious as ever."
The waiter nodded tiredly. "Enjoy it while you can."
The Doctor paused mid-swallow to ask, "What?"
"You've got one of the last pitchers. We're almost out of fruit."
"But there's lots more growing outside the village. We saw it as we came in," Rose countered.
The waiter's eyes widened in surprise. "You travelled here?"
The Doctor nodded. "We're just passing through, really."
"You aren't planning to continue on tonight, are you?"
"Probably." He finished his second glass, and the waiter poured another serving.
"You should stay the night here," he said gravely.
Rose watched the Doctor's arm as he lifted the glass toward his mouth then stopped abruptly. His expression shifted from one of idle pleasure to one of piqued curiosity.
"And why is that?" he asked, setting the glass on the table.
Rose knew he was interested in the answer now.
"You haven't heard about the—" the waiter hesitated for a second before uttering the last word, "accidents?"
"We just arrived a little while ago," Rose said. "We haven't really spoken to anyone yet."
The Doctor's keen eyes swept over the crowded village, comprehension flooding him. "They've all gathered here, in the center. That's why the fringes are deserted."
"There were plants, though—plants that someone left recently," Rose reminded him.
He nodded slowly. "Ceremonial plants." He looked up at the waiter, his expression utterly mirthless now. "They were to remember the dead, weren't they?"
"Yes," the server replied. "Their families left the flowers where the bodies were found."
"What happened to them?" Rose asked softly, trying to keep her tone reverent.
"No one knows, really," the waiter replied wearily. "The constable couldn't find any injuries or marks on the bodies."
"An illness perhaps," suggested the Doctor.
"Not likely," the waiter responded. "They were all young and healthy. Their bodies didn't show any signs that they'd been sick, either. At least that's what the constable's told us."
"How many?" the Doctor asked somberly.
Rose felt chilled despite the persistent late afternoon heat. "How long's it been going on?"
"Just over a month."
The Doctor stood. "Only on the outskirts of the village?"
The waiter nodded. "So far nothing's happened in this area, but everyone's scared."
"Where can I find the constable?" he asked.
Rose got to her feet, too, as the waiter provided directions. The visitors hurried from the café, the nearly full pitcher on the table completely forgotten.