Part VIII: How Good Men Stand
Martha Smith-Jones straightened from the microscope. "Well, ma'am," she said to Kate Stewart, "it's definitely alien, but nothing I've ever encountered. I can do some research through UNIT's files."
Stewart nodded. The older woman said, "Yes, please. I appreciate you helping us out with this. I know you and your husband have been dealing with that Sontaran splinter group."
"I think Mickey and I have them pretty well cleaned up," Martha said.
"I'll be glad to lend him a squad of soldiers to help with the final sweep, in exchange for your scientific aide in this matter," Stewart said.
Martha grinned. "Is this how UNIT gets things done these days, ma'am?"
"Sometimes it is," Stewart assured her with a smile.
"Ma'am," a soldier saluted.
"What is it, sergeant?" Stewart asked.
He held up a satellite phone. "There's a young boy, ma'am." He looked at Martha. "He says he's calling for Mrs. Smith-Jones."
"Me?" Martha's brow furrowed. "Who would be calling me here? A young boy, you said?"
"Yes, ma'am. He said something about an alien running a cola factory, and that he and a Roman centurion have captured it."
Stewart raised an eyebrow. "Answer away," she said, "I think we may have just found a far more interesting operation than alien cockroaches."
UNIT soldiers surrounded the factory outside. Inside, Stewart and Martha crossed the factory floor, a contingent of soldiers, Alfie, and Rory, in tow.
"It's an impressive scheme," Stewart said. She glanced at the two. "How did you stumble on it?"
"Oh," Rory said, "we were on a tour and took a wrong turn, and, well, you know how it is."
"Not really," Stewart said, "but I'll take your word for it. I'm glad, though. A plan to turn the cola-drinking public into slaves... it sounds ridiculous, but I can see the cunning. I've hoisted a few cold cans of Diet Crim, myself."
"Yeah," Martha agreed, "the diet lime is great."
Rory rolled his eyes. "I'm glad we could help you out," he said. "I have to say, it's rather late, though." He yawned. "I'm an old man, and I think Alfie's parents might think I kidnapped him.
"I called them," Alfie said. He shrugged. "I told mum that we were helping out UNIT." He considered. "I think she thought it was a... what's that thing you call something that means something else?"
"A euphemism?" Stewart asked.
"Yeah. I think she thought it was a euphemism for 'got in trouble again.'"
Martha smiled. "I'll talk to her." She told Stewart, "I've, um, been involved in the UNIT side of Alfie's... escapades... before."
"We've dealt with you before?" she asked Alfie. "Refresh my memory."
"The road signs warning of alien invasion," Martha supplied.
"Ah," Stewart nodded, "of course. That cost the government a pretty penny." She eyed Alfie speculatively. "Perhaps one day we'll make it back in held pay."
"Ma'am," a soldier said with a salute, and, "ma'am, sir, um..." To Alfie, he added, "sir?" as if uncertain.
"Report, Leftenant," Stewart said.
"It's definitely a portal setup. One end here, the other in whatever time and place the Crim-mak came from, originally."
"Well, then," Stewart said, "I think it's time we deported him, don't you?"
"We do apologize for keeping Alfie so long," Martha told Craig and Sophie. "He and Mr. Pond were a huge help in an operation we were conducting."
"Wait," Sophie said, "so he isn't in trouble? He really was helping UNIT out?"
"Yes," Martha said. "They discovered some mysterious circumstances during their tour of the fa..." She caught Alfie's frantic head shake, from behind his mother. She coughed to cover the slip. "Um, of the museum, and alerted us."
"Wow," Craig said. He turned to Alfie, "Good work, son!" He held out his fist and Alfie bumped it with his own.
Sophie rolled her eyes. "You two," she muttered. "I'm just glad he isn't in trouble, this time."
"No, not in any trouble at all. In fact, we've noted him down for a commendation. Not that we can actually give it to him, top secret, and all."
"Oh, no, no, we understand," Craig said.
"Yes, of course," Sophie agreed. "I'm just glad it's not trouble," she added.
"I'm not in trouble, mum," Alfie commented, "you don't have to keep acting so surprised."
"If you don't mind my talking to him for just a moment?" Martha asked. "In private?"
When they were alone, she asked Alfie, "Why did you and your, what, tutor? Decide to go to a cola factory anyway? And tell you parents you were going to a museum?"
"Because Crim-Cola is great!" Alfie said, then winced. "You know... as far as... mind-controlling health drinks, go. But mum would never have let me off on a trip to a factory, so we told her we were going to the museum."
Martha nodded and gave him a knowing smile. "I see. Lucky show for us, I suppose," she said. "But Alfie?"
"Yeah?" he asked.
"Do try to stay out of trouble, in the future, won't you? We only have so much operation budget to spend."
It was the next morning when Alfie asked Rory, "Why did you want to keep what you are a secret from UNIT, anyway? They're nice!"
"No," the old man said, "they are a military and science outfit that deals with aliens and strange phenomena. Like me, for instance." He shook his head. "I didn't trust them not to want to research me." He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair with a sigh.
After a few moments of silence, Alfie asked, "Are you okay, Rory? Really, I mean?"
Rory opened his mouth, then closed it. Then he shook his head. His eyes were still shut when he said, "No, I'm not. I'm tired." He glanced at the device on the table and closed his eyes once more. "I was away from that thing for more than a day. Stupid of me. I should have taken it with me. At least in the car, it might have extended far enough to cover me."
"What's wrong with you?" Alfie asked.
"You know," Rory told him. "My time is running out."
Alfie swallowed. "Are you..." After a moment, he started again. "How long do you think you have?"
"I don't know," Rory said. "The Clock-eyed Man's hands have to be drawing closer to midnight, though. It can't be long."
Alfie said, loudly, "I was at the store. I found a dusty six-pack of Crim at the back of a shelf. The clerk didn't even know what it was. He let me take it. What does that mean?"
"When they packed 'Jherek' through the portal," Rory said, after a few minutes, "this time line he set up... it must have started to collapse. Quickly, too. I would guess because he was so far out of his proper time and place. I've lasted as long as I have because I belong here. Sort of. And..." He waved a hand at the device.
"It's a paradox," Alfie said.
"Yes. Like me."
Alfie sat for a while and fidgeted. He looked around the living room. "Did you want to practice?" he asked. There was a high, desperate edge to his voice.
After a few moments, Rory said, "Maybe later, Alfie. I'm pretty tired."
"Okay," Alfie whispered.
Alfie walked down the night-time street, Tupperware full of leftovers in his hands. It was quiet in the neighborhood at night, and the boy liked the heady, cool air and the distance that marked all the noises he heard. His house lay behind him and he aimed himself at the house down the street; Rory Williams Pond's house. The house whose previous occupants were unrecalled by everyone, because of Rory's paradoxical tenancy.
The walk was only a few minutes. Halfway there, he glanced down a side-street and saw a man beneath a street lamp. Alfie froze and stared down the street at the illuminated man. Black leather shoes, black trousers, black suit coat and even black shirt, black tie, face of pale white…
Alfie yelled, "Just stay away from him!" He launched into a run and hammered down the street. His sneaker soles slapped loudly on the tarmac. He hurtled the kerb and crossed the pavement, then reached Rory's door. He hammered on it with a fist. When Rory opened the door, Alfie jerked back from the haggardness visible in his face. Then he pushed past and shoved the door shut with his shoulder. He threw the locks.
Rory cast him a look of weary amusement as the man crossed back to his chair. He lowered himself to it, using the cane as an aide. It was obvious he needed it. Alfie stood before him, breath rapid. "What have you got there?" Rory asked.
"What?" Alfie looked down at the Tupperware. "Oh. Mum sent me with leftovers. We had steak and kidney pie."
"That was nice of her," Rory said. He sounded older than ever before.
Alfie said, "He's here, Rory. I saw him. Not far away." The words came out in a stream.
"Yes. I can feel him."
Alfie dropped the container on the coffee table. "You have to get out of here, Rory. Take your wibbly-wobbly thing and go. Run."
"I'm too tired to run," Rory said.
"You can't stay here! He'll be here soon!"
Rory shook his head. "I was a fool to fight it, Alfie. I was never meant to be. Now, it's time for me to not be."
Alfie's face was hot and red. "Please," he managed, "don't just wait for him."
Rory shook his head. "I can't do it anymore, Alfie."
Alfie dropped down to sit on the table. He glanced down at something hard under him, and scooted over. There was a long shape wrapped in brown paper. He picked it up. ""What's this?" he asked.
Rory opened his eyes a crack, then closed them. "Gift for you," he said. "I know it's knife-shaped, but try to act surprised when you open it."
Alfie clutched the wrapped pugio to his chest. "You're just going to wait," he said.
"Why?" he asked in a plaintive voice.
"I couldn't run anymore if I wanted to," Rory told him. "I don't have the energy." He struggled to straighten and stared at the boy. "I want to tell you something, though, Alfie."
"You remember what I said, when we were tricking Jherek?"
"Remember this: it was a lie. There are good people, and there are bad people. It isn't always easy to tell the difference, and you can almost never tell from looking." He worked to get breath. "So it doesn't matter what a person looks like; it only matters how they are, how they act. The ones who act out of concern for others, who do good things just because they need doing... emulate them.
"If you expect a person to be good, sometimes, they'll let you down. Sometimes, though, more often than not... you'll be rewarded." He gasped and leaned back.
There was a slow knock at the door: thud, thud, thud. Alfie jumped and looked over his shoulder. "It's him," he whispered.
"Yeah," Rory said. "Let him in, will you?"
"I can't." Moisture streaked his face.
Rory cracked his eyelids and gave a faint smile. "I appreciate the tears," he said, "that's a unique talent you possess."
"Yeah." Alfie gave him a weak grin and wiped his face. "Thought that might sway you," he murmured.
"Please, Alfie, answer the door."
Alfie stood and walked to the door. Just before he undid the locks and opened it, he looked down at the wrapped pugio. His face hardened, and he wrapped his fingers around the hilt, hard beneath the paper. Then he breathed a deep sigh and shook his head. "Rory wouldn't," he whispered, so quiet that the old man could not hear it.
He undid the locks and opened the door, then stepped aside to allow the Clock-eyed Man to enter. Then he moved quickly to stand beside Rory's chair. "Alfie," Rory whispered.
Alfie said, "No good man lets a friend die alone, Centurion."
Rory coughed. He fumbled for Alfie's hand. The boy squeezed his fingers, thin and cold. "Virum amicumque bonum saluto," he whispered.
Alfie gave the creature before him a hard look. Clock eyes regarded him, impassive. "You cannot kill him," Alfie told it, voice harder than it had ever been. "Not while I remember him." Tears dripped hot from his cheeks.
The Clock-eyed Man, if it understood, said nothing, but reached for Rory.
"What have you been doing all holiday, anyway?" Gareth asked. He peered into the fridge. "Hey, you want a Coke?"
"Sure," Alfie said. He shrugged. "You know, around. Grounded, mostly."
"Happens to the best of us, mate," Gareth said. He handed Alfie an aluminum can. "And where did you get that whacking big knife you got hung over your bed? That's the coolest!" He cracked open his Coke and took a long, loud drink.
"It's called a pugio," Alfie said.
"Where did you get the whacking big pugio?" Gareth resumed his loud slurping. "Can't believe your folks let you keep that."
"It's old and rusted, you couldn't hurt anyone with it." Alfie smiled. "A friend gave it to me," he said.
Gareth glared. "Well now I know you're lying," he said, "you haven't got any friends, except me."
Alfie's smile was faint. "Not anymore," he said. Then he grinned wider. "They saw you and ran away."
Gareth nodded. "Yup," he agreed. "No one compares to the Gare-minator."
"Let's not go with that as a nickname," Alfie suggested.
"Alfie, dinner!" Sophie stuck her head into Alfie's bedroom. She gave him a surprised look. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Studying," he said. He sat at the desk, books and papers spread before him.
She entered. "Are you feeling all right?" She felt his forehead.
"Muuum," he said. "I'm fine!"
"What are you studying?" she asked, eyes narrowed.
"Latin," he said.
Sophie's mouth dropped open. "Latin," she said.
"Why would you do that?"
"Because someone I knew once spoke Latin."
"Oh. A... teacher."
"Yeah." He paused. "My favorite teacher." At her questioning look, he said, "You never met him. Mr. Pond. He taught ancient history." He turned back to his books.
She turned and walked out of the room. "Craig," she called downstairs, "Our son has been replaced by an alien pod person, just thought you should know."
"He looks normal enough," Craig called back up the stairs, "are you sure?"
"Oh, I'm sure," she told him.
"London's not changed much in seventy years," Amy Pond told her husband. "I was hoping for flying cars or something, by now."
"The trip is falling a bit flat," Rory Williams agreed. "Didn't the Doctor claim there would be flying cars?"
"And 'spacey things,'" Amy said. The tall redhead shrugged and tossed her hair. "Personally, I think he was just trying to get rid of us for a while."
"Why would he do that?" Rory asked. He stared at a nearby statue. "Though Admiral Nelson does have a sort of spacey look to him, now," he added.
Amy tilted her head. "No, those are the pigeons," she said, "they're electric blue."
"Maybe they're alien pigeons," Rory suggested.
"Space pigeons, perhaps?" Amy asked with a playful smile.
"They might be space pigeons," Rory said with a grin.
"Naw," they both said.
"But why would he want to get rid of us?" he asked her.
"To have it off with our daughter," she said, darkly.
"Okay," Rory said, "never say anything like that ever again."
"How's this?" Amy asked. "Don't look now, but there's an old man staring at you."
"What? Where?" Rory cast his gaze around.
"You're not really up on the whole 'don't look now' thing, are you, Mr. Williams?" Amy asked. "On that bench, over there." She raised an eyebrow. "Oh, now he's coming this way."
Rory straightened as the old man walked up to him. He blinked, trying to remember if he knew him from somewhere. Sixties maybe, tall, using a hooked cane to walk... a past patient, perhaps? The man nodded to him.
"You're Rory," the old man said, "Rory Williams. Aren't you?"
"Um, yes..." Rory and Amy glanced at each other.
"With the Doctor, then?" the old man asked, solemn.
"He's just popped out for a bit," Rory said, words slow. He and Amy shared confused expressions. "I'm sorry, have we met?"
The old man smiled. "Not in this lifetime," he said. He held out his hand. "Brigadier-General Alfie Owens, of UNIT. It's a pleasure, sir. A great pleasure."
"Oh... kay..." Rory said. He shook the proffered hand.
"This must be your wife, Amelia Pond?" Owens offered a hand to Amy.
"Amy," she said, "yes."
He bowed slightly and kissed the back of her hand. She gave Rory a surprised and pleased look. When he straightened, he looked at Rory. "I won't bother you any longer," he said, "I just wanted to say thank you; I've always borne in mind what you told me."
"Oh... kay..." Rory said.
"And I wanted to say... I wanted to say, virum amicumque bonum saluto." He proffered a Roman salute to Rory, then a British military salute. "Ma'am," he said to Amy, and offered a pleasant nod.
As the old man disappeared into the crowd, Amy looked at Rory. "What was that all about?"
"I don't know," he said. He stared at the ground. "It was..." He went silent.
"What did he say? That was Latin, wasn't it?"
"Yes. 'I salute a good man and a good friend.'"
"Are you okay?" Amy asked, concerned.
"What?" Rory lifted a hand and felt his cheek. "Am I... why am I crying?" he asked her.
Author's Note: I played a bit fast and loose with where and when people are, canonically; and had timelines collapse and fade from people's minds faster than I originally planned them to do. Still; wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, eh?
Nothing more to see here, folks. Move along, now.
Edit 10/12/12: Much thanks to Fawe for the Latin correction!
Edit 10/18/12: If you enjoyed this story, please consider reading the sequel, "Life and Times of Alfie Owens."