She could feel it. Out there in the dark. Isolation. Loneliness. There was a chance, a chink.
Cissie got to work.
When the great snowfall of January 2010 arrived the effect on the United Kingdom was no surprise. After all, this was a country which ground to a halt at a few inches of the white stuff; schools closing, roads untreated , shops boarded up, absenteeism and (horror of horrors!) the odd sporting event cancelled.
So when an average of 90 centimeters of snow fell, continually topped up by the immense depression that sat stubbornly over the country for nearly three weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world had arrived, a few billion years prematurely.
Roads disappeared, power lines came down, vehicles were abandoned, families were split up and so on. In short, paralysis.
The Noble household was no different. Donna was isolated. Her relatives were away 'Oop North', when the snow fell. Visiting old Aunt Belinda and her menagerie of cats. They were safe but of course, they couldn't get back.
As luck would have it Donna was between jobs so there was no incentive for her to venture out, other than to make the short journey to the shops at the top of the road to top up the larder – a journey that took the best part of two hours hard slogging. The temping agency wasn't answering the 'phone, unsurprisingly, so Donna decided that she was better off indoors.
She chatted to her mother and a few friends by mobile but ran out of credit quickly enough (she had been meaning to top it up!) and the house 'phone was dead.
Quickly tiring of the few TV channels still functioning normally (most of which told her what she already knew – it had been snowing a lot!) Donna decided to surf the Internet chat sites, where at least she could communicate. This was not a normal avenue for Donna. She liked to see her friends face-to-face, preferably down the 'Flute and Whistle' where they could 'gob-off' to their hearts content over a few drinks.
But, needs must.
Donna's experience had been limited to a few sites specialising in TV Soaps, so it took her a little while to figure it all out.
She had a few false starts. A no-hoper who was trying to pass himself off as the next Brad Pitt (she visualised him as a sweaty fat-bloke in a string vest.) Then, alarmingly, there was the charming stranger who was most concerned that she was keeping warm in the current climate by wearing adequate underwear – then inquiring as to its colour...
Just as she was on the point of giving up she stumbled across the Visage site. It was there that she met Cissie.
It became clear that this was something other than an ordinary exchange. It had that indefinable something that signaled the beginning of a deep friendship. Donna was surprised how much in common they had. Their tastes in food, drink, men. Yet it was more than that. Donna felt that she could open up to this stranger from the ether.
At first they played games, eking out bits of information as if from a dripping tap.
Cissie told her that she had got red-hair too (considering that Donna used the pseudonym 'Donna Redhead' this was hardly great detective work on Cissie's part!). Cissie said that she travelled a lot, there was no man in her life although she had been engaged once. She told Donna of her favourites; food, drink, films, authors ...and so on.
Succumbing to a pardonable curiosity Donna scanned Cissie's visage profile page, which was disappointingly blank – not even a little national flag to indicate her home country! However, given the time-lag between messages Donna was pretty sure Cissie was not local.
She could have asked of course, but Donna was worried that she might scare her new friend off. Anyway, if they knew everything about each other, where would be the fun in that?
As the days went on the relationship deepened. It was if Donna, miraculously, had found a soulmate. Somebody with whom she could confide her own hopes and fears. Donna was excited, young again. When she went to bed, Donna found it difficult to sleep as she reviewed Cissie's messages of that day and mentally composed hers for the following morning.
After a while Donna got the impression that Cissie was trying to educate her. Donna's reading hardly extended beyond the glossy celebrity magazines normally but Cissie was vociferously encouraging her to broaden her horizons.
Donna looked at the notes she had made of recommended reading from her new friend:
'Death in the Clouds' by Agatha Christie
'The Complete Pompeii' by Joanne Berry
'Shadows in the Library' by Iain McCulloch
'The Ethics of Cloning' by Leon Rass
Cissie had virtually made Donna promise to try these when she could. It would be a while of course. The local library was not only two miles away, it was probably closed for the duration.
And so it continued for the best part of three weeks. Then, at last, the freak weather drifted north and eventually out to sea. The news channels confirmed the thaw and reported flooding in some low-lying areas but slowly the country began to get moving again.
Morning coffee in hand and the last of the porridge in the saucepan downstairs, Donna booted up the PC. As she waited she saw the gloriously clear sky through her bedroom window and wondered what Cissie was looking at this very moment. As she logged-in she saw, with her usual tingle of anticipation, that there was a message in her in-box.
She opened it up and sat back to read.
Hi Donna R.
Melancholy! Melancholy! Melancholy!
By the time you read this I'll be off on my travels again! I'm off to look for an unfamiliar sky.
Thanks for sharing this time with me. I hope you've enjoyed touching minds as much as I have. You'll always be my friend, Donna. Even though we may never speak again.
Remember to try those books. Who knows what they may lead to?
And one last thing.
If you ever find that you have a choice of paths in your life, dear friend, always take the leftward one.
Goodbye, Donna Redhead.
Donna stared at the screen for a long moment, feeling dreadfully empty. The screen blurred as her eyes brimmed-up.
Then she heard a familiar noise for the first time in three weeks.
The hall telephone rang.
It was her mother, in a foul mood. The trains were moving at last and they had booked tickets. They should be home that evening. Her current count of stand-up rows with Aunt Belinda stood at six in the last three weeks and if she ever saw another blessed cat...!
Just as Donna replaced the receiver she saw a shadow at the front door and the heavy thump of the knocker made her jump.
She opened the door to a harassed middle-aged man with a clipboard and muffled against the cold air.
"This is the Noble household?"
"I'm just going 'round the street to confirm that we've got the telephone lines up at last." He flashed an official badge.
"Oh! Yes, thanks. I've just had a call as it happens." She went to close the door but stopped as the man held out a piece of paper.
"You may be entitled to compensation for the loss of service."
"Thanks," said Donna, taking the sheet.
"Just get the householder to fill it in. There's more if you're a broadband customer."
Donna smiled a little sadly. "The Internet connection was fine."
"Good job you have wireless then. Or is it cable?"
"No. Modem. Through the phone line."
The man gave her a puzzled look." I don't see how. The lines have been down for three weeks. We've only just got them back up. "
Rather rudely Donna slammed the door shut in his face and bounded upstairs to her room.
The screen of her PC was blank. She turned it on and waited impatiently.
Despite her frantic searching she found no trace of Visage or Cissie...
Like every other human being Donna Noble has secrets. Deep, deep down. Hers are under lock and key. They are miraculous secrets, telling of time and space and her role in it all. But they are deadly. If they ever become known to her they will kill her as surely as a bullet to the heart. More than just lock and key then, they are surrounded by huge thick walls.
But Donna's psyche has a pardonable curiosity and nibbles away at these mighty foundations.
You can call it 'the need-to-know.'
Or Cissie, if you like...