Disclaimer: Don't own Doctor Who or the plot of season 5's "The Pandorica Opens".
Author's notes: This is a sequel to my previous season 5 AU: "For the Time Being: The Lodger" (ID 6948966) - pretty much what it says on the can, an AU of season 5 with the Master added. I'd recommend reading that one first - not just for the big twist at the end that will make this one make sense, but also for the backstory of the AU given in the author's note at the beginning. Adding to that backstory, in this AU, the Master encountered River in "Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone"...and as I'm sure you can imagine, they did not get along! In fact, River positively loathed the Master - and as they parted ways after the Angels were gone, she swore that when she saw the Master next, she would kill him for "everything he will do".
Anyway, this goes out to x-Avarice-x, who has been a fantastic and very enthusiastic reviewer of my fics for a while now, and demanded to see the aftermath of the AU-ed "The Lodger". That was pretty light and humourous, but this one's a lot darker and more serious...enjoy! :]
Earth, Britain – 102:
Every night sound, every scuffle of some skittering creature through the grass set the young centurion's nerves on edge. Save for the distant rumble of low voices across the encampment, all was silent. The barbarians had fled these parts over a moon ago when the Roman legion had first come marching across the plains and made camp – another conquest, another triumph under the iron belts of the commanders.
It was an uneasy rest, though. Their scouts, patrolling the farthest outskirts of their new domain, had encountered barbarian tribes who spoke in hushed tones of fearsome men of metal and lightning, men who slew without abandon like the cruellest Roman warrior; of lights in the sky, as if the Moon herself had fallen to Earth in the very plains where the army now camped; and of their own primitive superstitions – a bloodthirsty spirit haunting the mighty rocks of nearby Stonehenge, seizing men who wandered alone across the hills. The last scouting party had returned three men down, but whether metal monsters or the elusive Hengeghost were to blame, none could say.
As a rule, the generals discouraged rumour amongst the men – it was the ramblings of uneducated barbarians and laymen and had no place in an army of hardened soldiers. But tonight, there was one rumour that even the generals had lent an ear to: Cleopatra had come.
The young centurion on watch knew the name well. Every citizen of the great Roman Empire knew the name – but mingled with the awed whispers and propaganda of the elite was, for this centurion, more stories than even the old wives could recount. Sometimes, the line between truth and fiction became so blurred that the centurion would stumble mid-sentence, backtrack and excuse himself – but what did it matter when it came to the beautiful Egyptian lover of their Emperor? Some had said she was dead until tonight.
Empires rose and fell, the centurion knew this. Cleopatra would come to die, the Roman Empire would topple and crumble – and thousands of years on, children would read of the reign of Caesar.
The centurion knew this. He remembered it well.
Earth, France – 1890:
The calm, grey afternoon could have been almost tranquil. A light rain whispered across rough roads, pattering on tiled roofs and trickling down into muddy pools at the corners of the low, stone houses. Could have been tranquil, were it not for the agonized shrieks ringing out through the empty streets, shattering the still air.
Inside one house, in a small, cramped room cluttered with canvases and brushes, easels and jars, a doctor knelt beside one of the greatest artists of the 19th century.
"Vincent, can you hear me?" the doctor was pleading; but curled on the couch, rocking back and forth with paint-stained hands clutching his head, Vincent van Gogh could no more hear the voice than his wild, unseeing eyes could focus on the doctor's face. "Please, Vincent…" At the doctor's back, a woman stood with folded arms, brow creased more in disapproval than concern.
"It's not enough he goes drinking all 'round the town," she tutted. "Now the whole neighbourhood has to listen to his screaming."
"He's very ill, Madame Vernet." Wearily, the doctor turned to her, but she had moved to peer in bewilderment at a painting on an easel beside her.
"Look at this – even worse than his usual rubbish." As the doctor looked, the flickering lamplight glinted briefly off wet paint – this painting was the newest in the room. Curious, he rose and moved up beside Madame Vernet, who shook her head. "What's it supposed to be?"
Behind them, the tormented cries rose to terrified wailing, sheer horror written in every line on a face damp with sweat and streaked with tears.
Earth, Britain – 1941:
A few inquisitive glances passed across Edwin Bracewell as he hurried down the corridor of the Cabinet War Rooms, but the scientist barely heeded them. Under his arm, he clutched a flat, square-shaped package in a black-gloved hand. It had arrived at his laboratory less than an hour ago, and when he had seen what it contained, he had only just remembered to pull on a single glove over his mechanical hand before dashing out the door, still in his white lab coat.
Fortunately, he was still a familiar face to many of the military personnel who walked those dim, smoky corridors, and within minutes, he had secured a private audience with Prime Minister Churchill. In an empty office, he unveiled the contents of his package while Churchill watched in grim silence.
"It was found behind the wall in an attic in France," Bracewell explained, squinting thoughtfully at the painting he had propped up against the back of a chair. "It's genuine – it's a van Gogh."
"Why bring it to me?" Churchill wondered, removing the ever-present cigar from his mouth and pursing his lips.
"Because…it's obviously a message," Bracewell replied. "And you can see who it's for."
"Can't say I understand it," Churchill snorted, replacing the cigar.
"You're not supposed to understand it, Prime Minister – you're supposed to deliver it." Their eyes met; sucking on the cigar, Churchill raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly.
Stormcage Containment Facility – 5145:
The pealing of a telephone shrilled audibly even over the rumbling of torrential rain that thundered on the roof of the prison. In the dimly lit, concrete-lined corridor, flashes of lightening illuminated the figure of a uniformed guard who strode quickly to answer – watched idly by the occupant of the top-security cell opposite the phone.
It was an internal line, supervisors to guards only within the Stormcage security corps. Top of the range, crystal clear, failproof reception – so even hearing an unfamiliar voice answering him, the guard was more surprised to hear a hiss of static when he raised the phone to his ear and spoke.
"Cell 46?" He paused, listening uncertainly to the crackling words. "The Doctor? You mean Doctor Song?" New as he was, even he knew to turn with a nervous glance to the opposite cell. The inmate, a woman, raised her head in alarm and threw down her book. She leaped up from the bed and ran to the bars.
"Give me that," she snapped, gripping the bars, knuckles white with urgency. "Seriously, just give it to me. I'm entitled to phonecalls." Unsure, the guard checked up and down the corridor. No alarms, no patrolling supervisor, no lockdown; perhaps it was the apparent peace that tipped the guard's caution…or perhaps it was the fact that he was secretly just slightly more nervous of the enigmatic inmate than he was of his supervisor. He approached the cell and handed the phone to River Song, who took it without hesitation and turned her back on him.
"Doctor?" she asked in a low voice.
"No, and neither are you," came the gruff voice of Winston Churchill. "What about that Saxon fellow – is he there?"
"No. They're always together," River answered shortly. There was a moment's pause before she continued, her voice brisk and businesslike. "They're not here – the TARDIS must have rerouted the call to me. Talk quickly – this connection will last less than a minute."
At the cell bars, watching her as she listened intently, the guard mentally shook himself and raised his voice with what he hoped was a tone of authority.
"Doctor Song?" She nodded – although he had the unsettling impression it was not for him – and cut off the phone, lowering her head. "You finished with that?" When she raised her head and turned to him, she wore a calm smile.
"You're new here, aren't you?" she said, walking slowly towards him and reaching through the bars to place a hand on his chest.
"First day." He swallowed hard and forced himself to avert his eyes.
"Then I'm very sorry…" Before he had had a chance to take in the words, she had gripped the front of his padded jacket and pulled him forwards, her lips meeting his with the confidence of…actually, with the confidence of a very good kisser.
By the time the alarms pealed, the kissing abilities of River Song were far from the guard's mind and he held a loaded revolver in his hands, trained unwaveringly in front of him.
"Stay exactly where you are," he ordered. Without removing his eyes from his prisoner, he called out to the group of armed guards who had arrived as backup. "She had the lipstick – the hallucinogenic lipstick. She tried to use it on me." While the guards exchanged glances, he raised one hand and wiped his mouth with an assured laugh. "Your tricks don't work in 'ere, Doctor Song."
And facing unblinking down the barrel of his pistol, mouth fixed in a broad smile, a curly-haired stick figure waved from the whitewashed wall, declaring a single word in a speech bubble:
The Royal Collection – 5145:
The Royal Collection – most probably the largest and most ancient art gallery in what remained of British civilization – had fallen somewhat into disrepair in the centuries since humanity took to the stars. Dust coated the smooth, ornate banisters and high flights of stairs that ascended through carved arches to the upper floors; and hanging between marble columns and propped up against walls were tarnished frames, some displaying paintings, others little more than spiderwebs while the canvases of the many ages of British art hung haphazardly by one corner or lay scattered about the floor.
The figure hastening down the stairs in the darkness paid little attention to the priceless works that she passed. Torch beam swinging this way and that, River Song had eyes only for one prize – and there it was, still secure in a hanging frame at just about head height. She reached up and deftly tore it from the frame, and then turned on her heel and jogged back the way she had come.
She had barely half a staircase to go when the lights suddenly flickered on, illuminating a woman in a velvet cloak at the top of the stairs – a woman and the pistol she held pointed unwaveringly in one hand.
"This is the Royal Collection," the woman said coolly, stopping River dead in her tracks. "And I'm the bloody Queen. What are you doing here?" River quickly raised her arms, unable to keep a tremor of tension from her voice as she answered.
"It's about…the Doctor, ma'am. You met him once, didn't you – I know they came here." It was some relief when the Queen lowered the pistol and her face softened into a grin.
"The Doctor?" she repeated. "And the Master – did he survive, then?"
"That…doesn't matter." River's eyes narrowed for the barest moment, and then her face quickly became expressionless. "The Doctor's in trouble – I need to find him."
"Then why are you stealing a painting?" the Queen demanded suspiciously, but her finger was no longer tight on the trigger and River climbed the stairs the rest of the way to hand her the rolled canvas in her hand.
"Look at it. I need to find the Doctor, and I need to show him this." Carefully, the Queen unrolled the delicate canvas, and River waited with bated breath while her chestnut eyes widened in horror and lifted towards River. The two women were unable to suppress a cold shiver of dread that ran down their spines at the image spread before them.
The Maldovarium – 5145:
Happy hour had never really applied at the Maldovarium – not when the patrons of the spaceport bar came from every corner of space…and time, if the rumours told true. They so very rarely did, but what Dorium had heard was enough to have him chortling genially at the coy small talk of the elegantly dressed woman opposite him in a booth shaded behind beaded curtains. Still, business was business, and time was money – more than ever tonight.
"Eh, now," he began, leaning forward with a wink. "Word on the belt is…you're looking for time travel."
"Are you selling?" Oh, she didn't mess around, this one. He raised his eyebrows and clicked his fingers sharply, and the beaded curtains parted to admit a short, stocky alien with a pointed, ridged head. It clicked harshly and held out a plain wooden box in its clawed hands, which Dorium took and placed gently on the table.
"A vortex manipulator." He lowered his voice and chuckled. "Fresh off the wrist of a handsome Time Agent." On opening the box, his nose wrinkled in disgust and he closed it quickly, pushing it back towards the alien. "I said off the wrist," he sighed; the alien took the box with an apologetic gurgle and departed. Taking a draught of wine from the glass on the table, he continued. "Not cheap, Doctor Song. Have you brought me a pretty toy?" With a satin-gloved hand, River reached up to her ear and unclasped a jewelled earring that jingled softly as she held it out.
"This is a Calisto pulse," she said. "It can disarm microexplosives from up to twenty feet."
"What kind of…microexplosives?" he asked curiously, taking another sip of wine. River's lipsticked smile broadened, and a moment later, he found out why.
"The kind I just put in your wine…"