I was originally going to split this into two parts, but I couldn't find a good stopping point. So instead, here's a bumper length FINAL chapter. Yes, this is the end of episode one (finally). You can find a preview for the rest of the series at the bottom of the page, and I'm hoping to start posting episode 2 in the next week or two. I hope anyone reading this will stick with me, and maybe drop me a review or two? :D
Anyway, Chapter Seven...
Ryan had never known darkness like the kind that was waiting for him outside of Crazy Harry's hut. The only visible source of light came from the other side of the field, where the glittering gold mist inside the triangular glass life preservers shone in the night. But unless he was facing in that direction, Ryan may as well have clenched his eyes shut. His view would have been exactly the same.
"Tell you what…" came the Doctor's voice from inside the wooden house. "Crazy Harry went to war. And he brought back some souvenirs, by the looks of things. There's half an armoury in this draw; guns, war radios, flares. Is that a EMP? Blimey."
"Doctor." Ryan interrupted. "Complete and utter darkness? Earth under attack? Can we focus on that for second?"
"Yes. Sorry." he said, appearing in the doorway, illuminated by the green glow of his bronze object. "But still, y'know. EMP."
He came and stood next to Ryan, and together they looked towards the only thing possible to see; the Aniline crash site and the golden glass triangles. Every now and then a silhouette of a passing Aniline could be seen, but not much else.
"So." Ryan said. "There's really no light, anywhere on Earth?"
"No electricity." the Doctor corrected. "In Australia they'll be fine. Or are they just waking up." He frowned, and looked at his watch. "Too many time-zones on this planet, very confusing."
Ryan looked up at the sky, and shook his head. "The whole world must be going mad."
"Probably." the Doctor nodded. "Pretty much everything runs on electricity these day, you don't even notice it. And then suddenly its gone and you don't know why. That's got to be scary. And you lot, when you get scared, some of you have a tendency to make very bad decisions. One of two very important reasons we need to end this quickly."
"And the second?"
The Doctor looked across the field. A few feet away from the Aniline ship, something else caught the occasional flicker of light.
"There's a little blue box on that field." he said. "The most impossible blue box ever. And it's only a matter of time before the Aniline realise how impossible it really is. And when they do, Ryan Murphy, today won't just go down in history as your last day of school. It'll be the last day of everything."
Ryan frowned, remembering the blue box the Doctor had crashed in. It hadn't looked all that impossible to him. Hadn't it been wooden?
"So!" said the Doctor suddenly. "You better be off."
Ryan turned back to him in surprise. "What?"
"Sorry." said the Doctor, and looking like he genuinely meant it. "Normally, I'd let you come with me. But the Aniline, they're not themselves. This isn't them, this isn't their race. I'm in the dark here, in more ways then one. The point being, I can't protect you like I usually could. You're not safe. So go on, home. Your poor mother'll be worried out of her mind. And best leave the loaf, I think. They'll be no toast in the morning, but on the bright side, they'll be a morning in which to have no toast."
He grinned that grin of his, and set off walking in the direction of the spaceship.
"Doctor!" Ryan called after him. "You can't go on your own, they'll kill you! You don't even have a plan."
The Doctor pointed his bronze object at Ryan's face so he could see him, not really realising he was blinding Ryan.
"'Course I've got a plan. I don't just carry handguns around for fun, you know." He held the gun out in front of him, testing the weight of it. "Those life preservers need to shatter so the emergency transmat will kick in. A good blast from the sonic would do it, but only if I get closer than the Aniline would let me. A gun on the other hand, will work a charm. Three shots, from distance, one bullet for each life preserver. Quick, easy, nobody dies. See, I do have plan, I have a perfect plan. For a change."
"But… on your own?" said Ryan, still trying to shield his eyes from the intense glow of the Doctor's bronze torch-thingy.
"No choice." said the Doctor. "Can't risk you coming along, and, well… there isn't anyone else." That sentence had ended on rather a sadder note than which it had begun.
"Okay." said Ryan, still fighting against the green glow. Every time he managed to block it with his hand, the Doctor simply manoeuvred it back to his face. It was beginning to give him a headache . "But, the Police - "
"The Police," said the Doctor, taking a step back over to Ryan, which only increased the level of brightness stinging against his eyes. "are in all likelihood a bit busy at the moment, wondering why the flashy things on top of their cars that make that brilliant 'wee-ooo' sound, have suddenly stopped working. Besides, I've already told you, the Police show up and they'll only want to start a fight."
With the Doctor's green light furiously attacking his face, Ryan was forced to clench his eyes shut, and in frustration he yelled. "Well what else can we do? We don't have any choice!"
And then the light was gone. Because the Doctor had finally dropped the bronze thingy from his face while he closed the distance between them. Ryan's anger instantly evaporated as the Doctor came intimidatingly close.
"Yes, we do." the Doctor fumed. "We always do. That's just something men with guilty consciences say to help them sleep at night. Didn't you hear Barrd on the radio? His reason for killing Harry? He posed a threat to Barrd's mission, and so Barrd had no choice. Now, does make you feel any better about his murder?"
Ryan saw a sudden flash of that smoking corpse. "No." he mumbled
"And if I go over there, and put a bullet in an Aniline's head, and then go back to Vectora and tell his family that I had no other choice, will that make it okay?"
Ryan realised he hadn't even considered the Anilines having families. They had just been the alien invaders to him.
"No." he said, admitting it to himself more than the Doctor.
"We always have a choice Ryan. I know, I've had to make it on more occasions than I care to think about. And you know something? I made my choices, and I'll have to live with them. But I made them without any delusions of fate forcing my hand."
Ryan dropped his gaze to the floor, feeling stupid to have even brought it up.
The sound of boots on grass made him look up again. The Doctor had once more started to walk away.
"Doctor, you can't go on your own. You just can't."
"I have to." said the Doctor, turning back to him.
"Because… sometimes, that's just who I am." He shrugged, sadly, then gave a small smile. "Go home, Ryan. Don't worry about me."
This time, there was no grin as he walked away.
Ryan Murphy had put it best. The world was going mad.
At first, most people had assumed it was a simple power failure on their street. But then they realised their mobile phones were not working, or their watches. Things that ran on batteries, things that by all rights should have been working, but for some reason, were not.
Soon people started to go out of their houses, finding their neighbours in the same situation. And the people on the next street. And the next. Before long, stories began to spread that the whole city had gone out, the whole country.
But in reality, it was every country.
The Eiffel Tower stood in darkness. Time Square's bright lights were dead. Big Ben's hands had ceased to move. The Sydney Opera House woke up in glorious sunshine, though, and not many people realised anything was even wrong.
But when the floor started to quake, the human race really started to panic.
The Doctor winced as he stood on a particularly loud twig. He quickly looked up at the Aniline crash site he was headed towards, and sighed in relief when the Aniline showed no signs of alarm, continuing to go about their business.
The flames from the Aniline ship's atmospheric-decent were still cackling away on the massive, meteor-shaped hull. Directly in front of it was a life preserver, the other two placed on either side of the ship, about 10ft apart. The tribune had separated into three distinct groups, he saw, each with a different task. Each life preserver had been assigned three or four Anilines to both stand guard and ensure everything was in working order. The second group were huddled around the wires that had pierced the Earth's flesh, watching as pure energy pulsed through them. They often pressed their underbellies into the surrounding grass, stealing a kick of the power for themselves. The rest simply stood on the edges of the crash site, looking out into the pitch black for anyone foolish enough to interfere. Joining them in this task was Imperior Barrd, who was perched on top of their ship with vigilance shining in his blood red eyes.
The Doctor quickly looked between the Aniline troops and the life preservers, calculating where it would be best to shoot from, and where he was least likely to be seen. He spotted a group of trees on the other side of the crash site, which would keep him hidden as he prepared his shots. He was careful to keep his distance as he circled the crash site, not wanting to be illuminated by the life preserver's glow. His brilliant plan relied completely on the element of surprise, something he would have voiced if there had been anyone with him to voice it to.
The Doctor sighed at the thought. He missed Amy and Rory terribly, as he missed them all. It never got any easier.
He had briefly considered asking Ryan to join him when this was all over, but had since decided this might not be the best idea. He was too young, for starters, not even 18 years old. Not to mention that this whole University thing was an important step for him. He needed to face his fear of change head on.
Then again, he thought as he continued softly treading towards his destination (too busy to notice the Aniline sentries beginning to fan out), lots of people went on around-the-world-trips in the summer before Uni. The Doctor, however, could offer around-the-universe, and drop him back home in time for freshers week. It was certainly better than Ryan sitting at home all summer.
No, he thought forcefully, he wouldn't talk himself into this. If he wanted to act all whiny and lonely, that was his problem, and whisking Ryan away was not the solution.
Besides, all this 'got no choice' business had the Doctor worried. Ryan seemed like a good lad, of course, and the Doctor blamed it on fear, and being in a mad situation. But fear and mad situations were kind of a recurring theme in TARDIS travels. He needed someone who understood that fear was not an excuse to kill. And, sadly, it seemed as though that wasn't Ryan Murphy. He may have gotten through to him in their last conversation, but there was no way to be sure, and he couldn't afford to take the risk.
He shook his head of all these thoughts, and focused on the task at hand. He was just about to look up and see how much further he had to sneak, when he nearly tripped over something at knee-height.
He stumbled, regaining his balance, and glanced back at what he'd almost stood on. It's multiple legs seemed to be having trouble standing up in the mud, so the Doctor offered a helping hand.
"Oh, I do apologise. Sorry, I was miles away there." he said, helping the creature back to it's feet. "Are you alright?"
The Aniline looked up at him with bewildered, yet still blood red, eyes.
The Doctor looked back.
"Oh." he said. "…sorry again?"
The creature hissed, and the Doctor took off in the other direction.
"Ow!" said Ryan, as someone else bumped into him. This time he reached out for their arm. "Sorry, but what street am I on? I'm looking for - "
"Sorry, lad, I can't!" said the man, and went off into the crowd of people lining the streets.
Ryan looked around, and finally admitted to himself that he was well and truly lost.
Despite having lived next to this field his entire life, he was having a hard time finding his way home in the absence of street lights, or any light for that matter. It didn't help that the streets were full of people running past and bumping into him from all directions, shouting out for people they'd lost in the panic, asking if anyone knew how much of city the blackout had covered, and what was the weird light coming from the field. The ground shaking beneath their feet didn't exactly make things easier or calmer either.
But the thing making it hardest to find his way home, was his gut, admonishing him for leaving the Doctor on his own, and urging him to go back. But the Doctor was right, he told himself. It was too dangerous, and best left to the people who knew what they were doing.
Although, the Doctor didn't exactly fit the description of someone who knew what he was doing. He was surely at just as much risk as Ryan would be, even more so with no one to help him.
He found himself thinking of Harry, and how the Anilines had left him when they were finished. He wouldn't let that happen again, not to the Doctor. Not to the one person who was risking his life to save a planet he wasn't even from.
Someone else ran past, screaming that his Blackberry had died, and bumped right into Ryan, spinning him around to face the field again. He saw the glow of the life preservers through the trees, told himself he must be out of his mind, and started running back the way he'd came.
At the sound of gunshots, the tribune of Anilines immediately stopped what they were doing and turned. The Doctor ran right into the centre of the crash site, firing his handgun repeatedly into the air.
"Look at me!" he bellowed. "I'm mad, and I've got a gun! Stay back or I'll be forced to… do mad stuff!"
The Aniline who had chased him came to a stop next to the spaceship, and looked up at Barrd.
"Found him on the edge of the field, Imperior." he half hissed, half panted. "He has a weapon."
For a second, the Doctor glanced to the life preserver in front of him, and the two others at either side of the crash site. He thought about attempting to smash all three there and then, but he would have been killed as soon as he fired the first shot. So, while he came up with what he was sure would be a spectacular new plan, he stalled.
"A dangerous weapon." he said. "A dangerous weapon of death! So don't come any closer. And stop the drilling, or absorbing, or whatever you want to call it. Stop it now or I'll… do mad stuff with this gun, like I said, you might remember, just a few seconds ago."
Much like the last time an intruder had threatened them, the tribune of Anilines merely turned to their Imperior and awaited orders. For the moment, however, Barrd simply glared at the Doctor, crawling down the spaceship and placing himself on the ground.
"Is this it?" he asked. "I must admit I expected more from you, Doctor, than simply threatening us in the same way your human friend did earlier. Unsuccessfully."
The Doctor's eyes darkened. "The human's name was Harry. And he died trying to save his planet, which is a lot more honourable than what you're doing, so I'd think again before you disrespect his memory."
At the increased anger in the Doctor's tone, the Aniline's once again looked to Barrd. But Barrd gave no order; the Doctor's gun was still in the air, and so, at this moment anyway, posed no direct threat. Until it did, they could not act.
"We are performing the highest honour!" said Barrd, scurrying a few feet closer to him. Behind the Doctor, exactly as they had done with Crazy Harry, the Anilines were closing in. "We have travelled across the stars, and when we return we will bring with us the gift of salvation. We will save sixteen billion lives."
"I wasn't born yesterday, Barrd." said the Doctor. "I won't be swayed by pompous military speeches, I won't accept the murder of one life to save another, and I definitely won't allow myself to be surrounded."
Suddenly, he spun around and aimed the gun at the circle of Anilines, who backed up in surprise.
But the next thing the Doctor felt was eight sharp pincers digging into his back, and he was thrust forward, the wind rushing out of him as he hit the floor. Before he could even draw breath, he was dragged over to face Barrd, who loomed over him.
"I warned you not to interfere." he snarled.
He climbed off of the Doctor, and gave the order to his troops, who instantly swarmed.
Ryan was busy bumping into trees he couldn't see when he heard gunshots. He stopped in his tracks for a second, then burst into a run towards the crash site.
Soon he could see, the Doctor had been caught. The Aniline were all over him, but not like they had been with Harry. They were dragging him over to their ship, where Barrd was waiting. Ryan could guess what was about to happen.
He had to act quickly, or the Doctor was finished. He'd never be able to fight them all off, so running at them wouldn't help. But he couldn't just let the Doctor be killed, not like Harry was.
And then he remembered.
The Doctor's voice floated back to him: "There's half an armoury in this draw."
He looked behind him, where he could just about make out Harry's hut. He hesitated. It wouldn't be easy, he knew, but Ryan had no other option.
"Okay, okay. Just, listen to me for a second." said the Doctor, speaking not to Barrd, but to his brethren, who were dragging him towards the Aniline ship. "You're doing this to save you're world. To save your wives and your children. But if you destroy this planet, you'll be killing men, women and children exactly like the ones on Vectora. Don't you understand that?"
The Anilines continued pulling him, but a few of them exchanged glances filled with uncertainty. It was not something they liked to think about.
"They understand perfectly what they're doing, Doctor." said Barrd, pushing past his troops so the Doctor could face him. "They understand the consequences of their actions, and more importantly, they understand that that does not change the fact that their actions are necessary! Pass judgment on us if you wish, but ask yourself Doctor, if the positions were reversed; if you're entire species could survive as long as the lives of other were lost, would you make the necessary choice?"
The Doctor met Barrd's gaze. "Yes." he said, quietly. "And I'll have to live with that choice until the day I die. But you don't. You don't have to do this, Barrd."
Before the Imperior could reply, a voice came from the other side of the crash site.
"Let him go."
Ryan Murphy was standing before them, a gun from Crazy Harry's draw of tricks resting in the hand at his side.
The Anilines once more looked to their leader, who gazed at the boy in curiosity.
"Such youth." observed Barrd. "I hope you know what you're doing."
Ryan laughed slightly; the hand that held the gun was shaking against his leg. "That makes two of us."
"Ryan." said the Doctor, slowly. "Turn around, and get as far away from here as you can."
"Let the child speak, Doctor." said Barrd, walking away from the Anilines and their prisoner, and taking a few steps towards Ryan. "He is, as a human, more apt to speak for his planet than you."
"Okay then." Ryan nodded. "Just let the Doctor go, and we'll talk."
"Ryan, seriously, just go!" said the Doctor desperately.
But no one moved. The Anilines held the Doctor in place, Barrd dared the young human to make a move, while Ryan tried not to glance to his left too much, and give himself away.
"The time for talking is long gone." said Barrd. "You have a weapon, either use it or don't."
"No!" cried the Doctor. "He's trying to provoke you, he can't kill you unless you pose a threat, don't poi - "
Barrd looked to one of his brethren, silently ordering him to wrap his razor-sharp pincer around the Doctor's mouth. Again, Barrd closed the distance between himself and Ryan. His cowardice was written all over his sweating face. Any second now, he would make a move out of sheer desperation, and Barrd would be allowed to strike.
"You represent your entire species, child. The future of this world rests on your shoulders. Either act, or go away and die with the rest."
Ryan swallowed, and hoped to God he was about to do the right thing.
But the Doctor was still furiously wrestling against the Aniline holding him down. "Ryan, don't! You don't have to do this."
"Of course he does, Doctor!" Barrd snapped, within lunging distance now. "We are here to kill his people and his planet. He has to shoot me! He has no choice!"
As soon as the words had left Barrd's mouth, to the surprise of everyone, Ryan smiled.
"Actually, as it happens, I do." he said.
He raised the gun, but not at Barrd. The Imperior and his tribune followed his hand, and realised.
He was aiming at the life preservers.
The next few second were a blur of gunshots and primal screams. Ryan had not trusted his aim, so he fired as many shots as he could, pulling the trigger again and again whilst running backwards from the horde of Aniline racing towards him. The next thing to be heard was shattering glass.
A bullet had finally found its mark. The golden mist from inside the life preserver was streaming into the air, and dissolving into the night. Half of the group holding down the Doctor were suddenly bathed in a blinding white light, which began to raise them into the air. The Anilines tried to claw the transmat light away, but in the next instant they had shot into the sky and were halfway back to Vectora.
Ryan watched in amazement, not seeing Barrd still bolting towards him. The Imperior dived at his chest, his pincers painfully stabbing into Ryan and taking him to the ground. The rest of the Anilines rushed to help their leader eliminate Ryan once and for all, but in doing so, allowed the Doctor get to his feet, pull out his sonic screwdriver and aim it point-blank at the life preserver next to the Aniline ship.
It glowed at the end, and with a high pitched buzzing the glass of the second life preservers smashed like the first. The Aniline's that had swarmed on Ryan were soon glowing white and rising towards the sky. Another streak of light, and Barrd was the last Aniline left on Earth.
The Imperior let out a howl of crumbling rage, and once again turned his attention to Ryan, who was frozen in fear as Barrd held his arms down with his pincers, and lowered the slit on his stomach down onto Ryan.
Barrd stopped, glaring back at the Doctor.
"You had a life preserver all to yourself?" said the Doctor. "Self-righteous much?" He had picked up his gun from earlier and was aiming it at the only remaining life preserver. "Or is this for you and the ship?"
Barrd looked at the tendrils flowing out of the spaceship, still collecting energy. And suddenly he didn't look enraged anymore, but desperate.
"Doctor, please!" he croaked. "If you - "
"If I unplug these wires from Earth, you'll lose all your stolen energy? I'm aware of that."
"But you can't!" said Barrd, crawling off of Ryan's chest, as if to appease the Doctor. "My world, my entire race - "
"Will be fine. That's what's so sad about this, Imperior. The Aniline have tainted their legacy by attempting to commit genocide based on a mistake."
"There is no mistake!" Barrd yelled, his anger returning. "If you fire that weapon, and shatter that glass, Vectora will burn by the fire of it's own sun. You may as well be throwing me into the Poison Star itself."
"I'll be doing the same for Earth if I let you succeed." said the Doctor. He lowered the gun and took a step towards Barrd, trying one last time to make him listen. "Whatever you think is happening to your world, it does not, by any stretch of the imagination, give you the right to do what you attempted to do here tonight. Look at him." he said, pointing to Ryan. "What makes so him so different than the children of Vectora? What has he done to deserve death? Look at him!"
Barrd did, seeing Ryan getting to his feet. They looked at each other, human to Aniline. And Barrd was shocked that Ryan's face did not portray fury, or a thirst for revenge, but pity. Unable to look anymore, he turned so each one of his eyes burned into the Doctor.
"Don't you dare think you're better than me. What if the roles were reversed, Doctor? What if you were in my position. What would you do?"
The Doctor gave up trying to convince him, and sighed with an air of finality.
"What would I do?" he asked. "If I was in your position? Well, I wouldn't give pompous little speeches, for a start. In fact, if I was in your position, if I was about to be transmatted 80 million light-years across the universe, I'd probably only have one thing to say." He raised the gun again, aimed it at the final life preserver, and smirked. "Geronimo."
The final gunshot was almost drowned out by the sound of Barrd's howling. He was enveloped in white light, and in a second, flew up and disappeared into the night.
"Geronimo?" asked Ryan.
"What?" the Doctor replied defensively. "What's wrong with Geronimo?"
"Nothing. Just seemed a bit, I dunno, catchphrase-y."
Before the Doctor could retort, the Aniline ship began to glow a brilliant white, and the ground beneath them became increasingly unsteady.
"Uh-oh." said the Doctor, looking down at his feet.
"'Uh-oh' what?" said Ryan.
"The wires in the ground, they're connected to the ship." He looked from the wires beneath them, to the shining ship behind them, and then back to Ryan. "Run!"
The ship had begun to rise into the sky, and with it the wires connected to it, which were shooting out of the ground and taking bits of the earth up with them.
The Doctor and Ryan ran as fast they could, the ground behind them being ripped into the air as they did. The Doctor was running for the blue box just a few feet away, with Ryan close behind. But just for a second, Ryan looked behind him. The ship was just about to shoot into the sky, with one last tendril-like wire still in the ground, but coming out fast. And judging by the enormous tremors beneath his feet, he could probably guess where the end of that wire was.
"Doctor!" he yelled.
The Doctor looked back just in time to see the wire ripped out right from under him, sending Ryan flying into the air. The ship was gone in an instant, but Ryan performed a full somersault, and hit the ground hard.
"Ryan!" said the Doctor, immediately at his side. "Are you ok?"
There came a grumble in response, and Ryan tried to lift his head. But he concluded that he must have brain damage. Because although his vision was blurry, he could swear, for some inane reason, that the Doctor was smiling.
"You just did - the coolest - somersault - ever!" said the Doctor.
Ryan looked at him like he was out of his mind, and lost consciousness.
After so much darkness, it was light that brought Ryan back to the land of the living.
He blinked and used his hand to shield the sunlight streaming in from his bedroom window.
"Wait… what?" he mumbled, sitting up in his bed.
He looked around. He was indeed in his bedroom. How, he had no idea. For a second, he wondered if it had all been a crazy dream, but then he realised he was still wearing the same clothes, which were stained with mud from the field.
So how had he ended up here? The last thing he remembered was seeing the Doctor from a great height, but getting steadily closer, like he'd been falling. And as if on cue, his head throbbed, and he instantly brought a hand to the point where his temple had struck the ground.
"Ow." he groaned.
He stumbled out of his bed and towards the window, which he pulled open.
Everything seemed… fine. Normal. There were no crowds panicking in the streets, and he could just about make out the Aniline crash site on the field, the only evidence of which were vague imprints in the grass from the life preservers and the ship itself.
It was a completely normal day, something Ryan thought he'd never see again.
He leaned further out of the window to get a better look at the field. But no matter how hard he looked, there was no sign of a little blue box.
As Ryan sat himself down on the edge of the bed, he found he'd been left with more questions than answers. How had he gotten back to his house? Did anyone even realise the human race had been under attack? Would anyone ever believe him? And, most importantly, what had happened to the Doctor?
A breeze blew in from the open window, and a piece of paper fluttered on his computer desk.
Ryan walked over and picked it up, seeing a scribbled letter addressed to him.
Thought I'd take you back home. There'll be a lot of questions about last night, and not a whole lot of answers. If I were you, I'd keep what happened to yourself. Probably for the best, not many would believe you anyway,
I moved Harry's body, too. Couldn't leave him there on that field. I'll see to it that he finds a resting place, I promise.
I checked you over, you'll have a hell of headache, but apart from that you'll be fine.
Thanks. For all your help, I mean. Couldn't have done it without you. You saved the world last night, Ryan Murphy. And you did it without taking a single life. Feel good about that.
Anyway, I'll be off now. You know me: danger, monsters, life or death. Good luck with Uni and all that stuff. Don't worry, you'll be brilliant.
See you around sometime maybe,
It was then that Ryan finally noticed the fresh loaf of bread the note had been sitting on top of. He looked back at the letter.
Btw, didn't want you to get in trouble with your Mum, so I picked this up on the way home. Have some beans on toast for me!
Ryan couldn't help but laugh, and read the letter again.
He could hear voices downstairs. His Mum and Dad. It felt like years since he'd seen them.
He was grinning as he put the letter safely in his desk draw. He picked up the loaf of bread, and went downstairs to make some beans on toast.
Six weeks later
"Well, it's been nice knowing you, lads." said Craig solemnly.
"How d'you mean?" asked Tom.
"If I've failed these exams, I'll be moving to Mexico. Better that then face my Mum's wrath."
Ryan, Tom and Adam laughed.
It was a brilliantly bright summer's day, and the four boys were walking across the field towards the school they'd sworn they'd left for the last time six weeks ago. What they'd forgotten was that they'd have to be back today to pick up their A level results, and find out if they'd actually managed to scrape a decent enough mark to get into a University.
Of course, Ryan had been back inside the school since that last bell had rang. But he'd kept that to himself, as advised.
"So," said Adam. "Still wetting yourself Ryan?"
"What?" Ryan cried, while the others sniggered.
"Adam's asking if you're still terrified of going to Uni." Craig clarified.
"Wha - No! 'Still'? When was I ever terrified of going to Uni?"
"Please." Tom scoffed. "We practically had to pull you through the gates on the last day of school. And you just haven't shut up about how far away your Uni is."
"Well, no." Ryan snapped. "I'm not. Nor was I ever. And my Uni is miles away!"
While the others laughed, Ryan looked away in annoyance. His gaze fell on the spot in the centre of the field, as it did every time he crossed it since that night. Sometimes he still expected to see that giant black ship, and those glowing glass life preservers. And then he turned to the other place he looked every time he stepped onto the field, where Crazy Harry's hut used to be.
Instantly, he stopped walking.
"Ryan?" said Tom. The three other boys looked back when they realised Ryan wasn't following. "You alright, mate?"
Ryan didn't answer.
Harry's home was no longer there. It had been demolished not long after the mass blackout, when Harry had been reported dead, with no other details released. So Ryan had not been expecting to see the wooden hut, but he had certainly not been expecting to see a blue Police Box standing in the spot where it used to be.
"Ryan?" said Craig, bringing him out of his thoughts by waving a hand in front of his face. "Hellooo? What's up with you?"
"Nothing." he said quickly. "Listen, I forgot something back home. Go ahead, I'll catch up."
"You sure?" asked Adam, the boys throwing worried glances at each other.
"Yeah, yeah." Ryan insisted, starting to walk back to the other end of the field. "I'll be five minutes."
Ryan continued pretending to walk home until his friends were out of sight, before running as fast as he possibly could towards the blue box.
But when he got there, he suddenly found himself wondering what to do. Was it the Doctor? Had he come back? Was that a good sign? Why did he live in a little phone box?
But Ryan pushed this all out of his head. He raised his hand, hesitated, then prepared to knock.
But just as his fist was about to make contact, the doors swung backwards, and there was the Doctor.
"Yarrgh!" cried Ryan, jumping backwards in surprise. "For God's sake, are you trying to kill me?"
"Oh." said the Doctor. "Sorry about that. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. And, to be honest," he said, frankly. "sometimes if I don't show up again at least once, people start to wonder if they'd imagined me."
Ryan laughed as he got his breath back. The thought had crossed his mind.
The Doctor clasped his hands together and stepped out of his box. "Anyway! Big day, eh? Nervous?"
"Erm…" Ryan considered the question. "No. Not as much as I thought I'd be. You were right, you know? Moving on, it's part of life. Good step for me." A little voice in the back of his mind asked him who he was trying to convince; the Doctor or himself?
But to his surprise, the Doctor looked slightly disappointed.
"Oh." he said.
"What?" asked Ryan.
"Nothing, it's just - well, I thought if you were still feeling a bit uneasy about the whole thing, you could, well I thought maybe you'd like to, I don't know, spend your summer running across the universe."
Ryan looked at him. "What? Like, travel with you? Other planets and stuff?"
The Doctor nodded, his smile returning. "Other planets and stuff."
Ryan was suddenly overtaken with thoughts of standing on distant worlds, seeing skies of a million different colours; no pressure, no Uni. Just him, the Doctor, and the universe.
And then Ryan looked across the field, where through the trees he could see other students walking towards the school to pick up their results, and he came back to reality.
"I can't." he sighed. "If my results are good enough, I start Uni in a few weeks. I couldn't just not go, I'd break my Mum's heart."
To Ryan's annoyance, the Doctor started to laugh. "Ryan Murphy." he said, proudly. "Model son!"
"Shut up." Ryan scowled.
"Well, that's lucky then, isn't it?" said the Doctor, and didn't elaborate any further.
"What is?" asked Ryan, getting the distinct impression the Doctor had been waiting for him to do so.
"That this box," said the Doctor, leaning back against the tall blue doors. "just so happens to moonlight as a time machine."
Ryan blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"The box." said the Doctor, nodding to it. "It's a time machine."
Ryan laughed. The Doctor didn't join him.
"You - You've got a time machine?" he asked sardonically.
It was, of course, impossible. How could a wooden phone box possibly be a time machine? And yet, this was the man who had fallen from the sky and fought off alien spider-slugs. Did that make anything possible when it came to him? And the more he thought about it, and saw the gleam of pure excitement in the Doctor's eyes, Ryan found himself believing.
"So I could travel anywhere." he said. "Anywhere in the entire universe. And when I'm ready, come home and start Uni?"
"Pretty much." said the Doctor immodestly.
Ryan grinned. "Like a gap year?"
"A gap year." laughed the Doctor. "Exactly! So, what do you say?"
"I say, Geronimo! I'm in!"
The Doctor jumped away from the box and smacked a hand against Ryan's shoulder. "Ah, I knew 'Geronimo' would grow on you. Right then, off we go!" he said, opening the blue box's doors for him.
"Shouldn't I run home and grab some clothes?"
"Nah!" the Doctor said, waving a hand and nodding into the box. "There's plenty of stuff in here, and we can always pop back later if we need to."
Ryan frowned. "Lot's of stuff? In there?"
The Doctor grinned again, but didn't answer. Instead he once again held the doors open for him.
"After you." he said.
Ryan gave him a sceptical look, and noticed the bright orange light spilling out of the doorway.
The Doctor stood aside to let him pass, and waited.
"Oh." said the Doctor. "And it's bigger on the inside. Somehow I always forget to mention that bit."
He stepped inside and closed the doors behind him. A wheezing, groaning noise filled the air, a breeze from nowhere swept through the grass, and the box disappeared into thin air, taking Ryan Murphy with it.
Not long after, Vectora's sun turned red, expanded, and roasted everyone of its inhabitants alive.
But this was no natural solar expansion. This was no act of God.
This was a murder, and it wouldn't be the last.
Every hotel in New York has a floor that doesn't exist; the happiest place on earth has an unwanted guest; humanity is building the means to it's own destruction.
Ryan Murphy saw the TARDIS as a way to stop running. But he'll soon find himself running more often than not; for his own life, for the Doctor's, for the life of every living thing in the entire universe.
Because there is a star in the sky that even the Doctor doesn't go near. A star that no one speaks of. A star that has had death wished upon it since the dawn of time.
But if this star dies, it'll take all of the others with it.
Ryan Murphy still might not make it to University.