Disclaimer: I don't own what you recognise; the drill should be familiar to you by now

Feedback: I'd appreciate it; I'm trying to do something a bit different here

AN: While the changes may appear subtle at first, this is set in an alternate universe where the Time War happened quite differently from the version we know in canon; how it diverged from what we know is something you'll find out over time, but pay close attention to the fine details and you might find some clues...

AN 2: Thanks are owed to WickedForGood13, whose story 'Keeping Faith' inspired some later elements of this story- they'll feature in the first few chapters, so that's not a significant spoiler- and whose worth as a second opinion on this story is unquestionably appreciated

The Age of Paradox:

Book One:

The History of Paradox

Amelia Pond, aged seven, had already come to the conclusion that life was not fair.

She hated the fact that she'd had to leave Scotland and come all the way down the Leadworth for reasons that not even she could remember, she hated the way that Aunt Sharon varied between ignoring her and expecting her to be all proper and quiet when she had people over, she hated the fact that the children at school kept staring at her and whispering about her when they thought she couldn't hear them...

Most of all, she hated the fact that she knew that there was something wrong with everything around her, but she just couldn't work out what it was.

Maybe it was the fact that, whenever she tried to think of what had happened to her parents, the only thing she could clearly recall- apart from vague impressions of comforting smiles and reassuring hugs- was a sharp flash of what looked almost like bone, as though something made of that had hit her...

She knew that it was stupid, but she just couldn't shake the feeling that something had been wearing that bone when... it happened.

It was enough to make her think of the tales she'd heard when her parents thought that she was asleep... the rumours and fears of the Faction who hid behind everything...

She didn't know where those stories came from, but Amelia couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been scared of the Faction; the tales of the men in bone, whispered rumours and theories that she'd heard when nobody thought she was paying attention or when the older boys and girls at school didn't know that she was there... the men who'd been there when things went wrong...

She'd never heard more than vague details, but what she had heard had always scared her; everything she heard reminded her of the tale of the mice and the bell that her mother had once told her, where everyone had a plan or theory about how to deal with the cat but nobody had the courage to actually do anything about it, except that nobody was even sure where to get a bell to help them in the first place.

And then...

Amelia couldn't help but shudder as she glanced at the crack on her bedroom wall.

She didn't care what Aunt Sharon said about the crack just being damaged plaster that she couldn't be bothered fixing; there was something wrong with that crack, even if she didn't know what.

Maybe it was the whispers she heard sometimes when nobody else was in the house, or maybe it was something about the way she sometimes felt it looking at her, or maybe it was just the fact that she dreamed such strange dreams whenever she fell asleep near it- dreams of a woman screaming and calling her name as she fell through... something... along with some kind of robot dog-, but whatever it was, there was definitely something about that crack that wasn't normal.

On impulse, Amelia got out of bed, knelt down on the edge, and clasped her hands together as she shut her eyes.

It might be stupid, but with Aunt Sharon intent on ignoring the crack, it was all that she could think of to try; if Aunt Sharon wouldn't do anything, she'd turn to the one person who hadn't let her down yet.

"Dear Santa," she said solemnly, "thank you for the dolls, and the pencils, and the fish. It's Easter now, so I hope I didn't wake you, but... honest, it is an emergency."

She paused for a moment to glance over at the crack on her wall- that strange, unusual crack, looking almost like a smile as it stood out from her otherwise smooth wall-, before she continued speaking.

"There's a... crack in my wall," she continued, feeling a need to elaborate on the reason why she was troubling him with something so apparently trivial. "Aunt Sharon says it's just an ordinary crack, but I know it's not, because... at night there's voices. So please, please could you send someone to fix it. Or a policeman. Or..."

She trailed off as she heard a strange sound coming from the back garden, just outside her window- a wheezing, groaning, whooshing sound, as though something was exerting a great deal of effort to get somewhere-, followed by a loud crash as something was apparently smashed.

"Back in a moment," Amelia said, hoping that Santa wouldn't mind the interruption as she hurried over to the window and pushed the curtain aside. Her eyes immediately fell on what had to be the source of the noise; a large box, apparently a dark colour of some sort that Amelia couldn't quite identify in the darkness, lying on its side amid the shattered remains of what had been Aunt Sharon's garden shed, a series of small illuminated windows around what looked like the top of the box-

Amelia's eyes instantly focused on one of the words written at the top of the box.

Police.

"Thank you, Santa," she whispered, glancing upwards in gratitude at his prompt response to her prayer, before she turned around to grab her dressing-gown and torch and hurry down the stairs, pausing only briefly to pull on her red wellies before she opened the door and ran through the garden towards the still-steaming police box. For a moment, she could only stare uncertainly at the box as she got closer to it- how was anyone meant to get out of it if it had landed like this-, but then her question was answered as two doors on what was probably its front if it was standing upright suddenly burst open, releasing a fresh burst of steam.

As Amelia stared incredulously at the sight, a rope with some kind of hook on the end emerged from the box, latching on to one of the nearby pieces of gardening equipment that Aunt Sharon always kept in the shed, followed shortly afterwards by a hand grabbing onto the edge of the box that was facing Amelia. Another hand appeared just moments after the first one, and then a head emerged from the box, brown hair soaking wet on top of an almost rectangular face that was grinning widely at her.

"Can I have an apple?" he said, looking optimistically at her. "All I can think about; apples. I love apples. Maybe I'm having a craving! That's new, never had cravings before."

Amelia wasn't sure what she could say to that, so simply stood in silence as this strange man hauled himself out of his box, revealing a blue shirt and brown trousers that looked like they had sustained various rips and tears at some point- he gave a rather raggedy impression, all things considered- as he sat on the edge of the box and looked into the doors.

"Woooah!" he said, as though there was something impressive inside the small box. "Look at that!"

"Are you OK?" Amelia asked at last, uncertain what else could be said in this situation.

"Just had a fall," the man said, shrugging slightly as he looked back at her. "All the way down there, right to the library. Hell of a climb back up."

"You're soaking wet," Amelia said, indicating the rest of his body with her torch; she was starting to doubt that Santa had sent such a strange man to help her problem.

"I was in the swimming pool," the man replied, swinging one leg around to sit on the edge of the box as he reached up to adjust his shirt collar.

"You said you were in the library," Amelia pointed out.

"So was the swimming pool," the man replied, as though that was just something that happened to him rather than something completely bizarre.

"Are you a policeman?" Amelia asked.

"Why?" the man replied, leaning forward slightly to look at her. "Did you call a policeman?"

"Did you come about the crack in my wall?" Amelia asked.

"What cra-?" the man began, only to suddenly yell in pain as he fell off his box and fell to the ground, bent over as he clutched at his chest in pain.

"You all right, Mister?" Amelia asked, stepping forward slightly to look at him, usual warnings about strangers forgotten as she looked at this strange man; something about the innocent way he'd smiled at her after emerging from the box made her fairly sure that he wasn't going to hurt her.

He might have arrived under strange circumstances, but he couldn't belong to the Faction; they were too... old, and this man was so young.

"Yeah, I'm fine, it's OK..." the man said, nodding reassuringly at her even as his hands clutched at his chest. "This is all perfectly nor-!" he was cut off as his body violently jerked forward, followed by his mouth opening and something floating out of his mouth, making Amelia briefly wonder if he'd swallowed a swarm of fireflies for some reason before the bright light faded.

"Who are you?" she asked, looking back at the man in confusion as he held out his hands in front of him, his hands briefly glowing with the same stuff that had just come from his mouth.

"I don't know yet," he said, grinning at her. "I'm still cooking..."

Amelia wondered what he meant by that; did he mean that he'd been 'made' by the box or something like that? The way it had opened with all that steam did resemble an oven...

"Does it scare you?" he asked,

"No," Amelia replied, shaking her head firmly at him- whatever else she was, Amelia Pond was not a coward; the Faction might scare her, but she wouldn't let that be all she was-, smiling slightly to back her statement up. "It just looks a bit weird-"

"No no no," the man said, looking at her with a soft smile, "the crack in your wall; does it scare you?"

"Yes," Amelia admitted.

As though that had been the cue he was waiting for, the man grinned and leapt to his feet, Amelia taking a step or two back at the sudden change in height; she hadn't realised just how tall he was when he was sitting down.

"Well then, no time to lose!" the man said, grinning at her. "I'm the Doctor; do everything I tell you, don't ask stupid questions, and don't wander off."

Before Amelia could say anything to those orders, the man- the Doctor- turned around and walked into the nearest tree with a prominent smacking sound, falling backwards to land on the ground near Amelia's feet.

"You all right?" Amelia asked, standing uncertainly over him.

"Early days," the Doctor- somehow Amelia knew that was how he'd pronounced it; the Doctor, no other name needed- said, smiling briefly back at her. "Steering's a bit off."

Before Amelia could ask what he'd meant by that, the Doctor was back on his feet, smiling at her once again. "First things first; what have you got to eat?"


AN 3: No obvious differences in what they're doing so far, I admit, but have patience; things will change soon, and there's still Amelia's thoughts about her past to consider...