CHAPTER 1 : RIVER'S RUN
"River, River, River..." The Doctor lounged back against his Tardis with a sigh of defeat. His darling wife had defaced another one of the universe's precious relics.
Amy tilted her head curiously, arms folded. "What is that, Doctor?"
"Vesparian Ceremonial Sphere. Beautiful thing – one of the few examples of a perfect sphere and I mean atom to atom. It's bound by an invisible, impenetrable forcefield. You could break a star trying to get into this thing."
"Then what's that?"
The Doctor frowned. The sphere's golden surface was distorted by some casually scrawled words in a shade of lipstick he knew all too well. "Your daughter. I hope you're proud – this is the fourth priceless artefact in a week."
"Perhaps you should try answering your phone," Amy squinted at the writing but it refused to translate. "Gallifraen... What does it say?"
The Doctor was sulking, nudging the knobs of his time machine unnecessarily. They squeaked back at him.
"Fancy a date?" he replied, defeated.
Amy tossed the Vesparian-thingy playfully. It remained suspended in the air, spinning slowly above them like a tiny planet. "You don't seem very enthused," Amy stood beside her doctor, leaning her should against his.
"The last time I went on a date with your daughter she caused an interplanetary war; the time before that we ended up lost on an underwater spaceship with carnivorous fish-shells."
"And the time before that?"
"The universe ended."
Amy turned one of the dials, making the centre of the Tardis glow a deeper shade of blue. The Doctor turned around, looking softly at his Pond; the girl who waited so long to see all of time – shame about the troublesome daughter.
They both smiled at the same time.
"I'll go get my husband," she whispered.
"You better..." he replied, unable to his his grin as she scurried off.
The world around them had died. A desert stretched across the curve of the horizon, its colour shifting through every shade of brown and red. Vincent would have been jealous; rarely did a world ache with such intensity. The planet could not even find a breath of wind to break up the heat.
Amy and Rory looked up at the purple sky and the hundreds of moons wandering around in it. Some of them were on fire, others about to collide.
"Where are we?" Amy asked, spying several impact craters not far from where he'd parked the Tardis.
"Or when?" Rory offered.
"Your distant past, the Vesparian's far future. This is the ruined world of Vespar after their moon came too close. Vespar's gravity tore it apart, shredded it like cheese." The Doctor wiggled his fingers and gestured to the sky. "The end of a world. Beautiful."
"And sad," Amy reached for Rory's hand. "Is this your idea of a date?"
The Doctor arched his eyebrow. "Your daughter." The parents glared at him. "Normally River tries to arrive before the party finishes and this one ended a long long time ago."
"There's a city down there," Rory leaned over the small cliff where they were standing. Buried deep in the valley below were the fractured corpses of buildings. They'd been nearly hidden by the last impact.
The Doctor's screwdriver buzzed, glowing a lurid shade of green as he held it toward the city.
"No life signs." The light flickered once. Twice. Three times. "But there is an energy signal down there."
Beneath them, the ground trembled. It was accompanied by a low rumble on the air. In the distance, a thick cloud of red dust rose up in a mushroom shaped cloud, slowly expanding up into the atmosphere. Another fragment of moon had hit the world.
"We shouldn't stay here long," the Doctor said, then started to make his way through the soft sands.
The Vesparian city was swiftly crumbling. Rory passed too close to a building and startled when it fell to dust behind him. It had been burned, the Doctor realised.
"Vesparian architects were famous for their wilful neglect of form over function. They built the most beautiful, sprawling cities which served no purpose at all. Brilliant. Buildings for the sake of them. A whole planet of visions, you should see it, Ponds."
"You could take us here a little earlier next time," Rory purposely walked close to his wife, trying not to destroy any more of the city by breathing on it. "We always seem too arrive early or late."
The Doctor whirled around with a hurt look. "We arrive precisely when we're supposed to, Roman."
'Precisely when they were supposed to' turned out to be the exposed innards of the parliament building. Its grand limestone walls were black and half collapsed into the main dome. The Doctor bounced into the room, brimming with giddy excitement.
"He loves museums..." Amy observed, calmly picking her way through the glass display that ran the length of the room. It was filled with a sequence of gold spheres, identical to the Doctor's.
"Not a museum," he insisted, hopping up to the gap in the cabinet where one of the spheres was missing. "Oh, you clever, clever girl." The Doctor spun around and leaned back against the glass, waiting for the others to ask what he knew. They always made him wait a few extra minutes to temper his glee.
"What's River done now?" Rory asked, leaning down to inspect some of the other spheres.
"Time capsules!" he exclaimed, tapping the glass case. "Good for three thousand years."
"How long's it been?"
"Only two, Rory. Still fresh."
"This is a very strange hobby."
"It's not a hobby, she only ruins priceless relics when she can't get a signal on her mobile. Come along, Ponds." The Doctor took them both by the hand and dragged them away from the dying world. When they were safely back in the Tardis, the Doctor withdrew the gold sphere from his coat pocket, set in front of him and tapped it with his screwdriver.
Rory frowned. "You kept that in your pocket?"
"I keep lots of things in my pockets."
The sphere ignored his tapping. The Doctor tapped it again. The others watched patiently until Rory accidentally broke into a yawn.
"Sorry..." he apologised.
"Rory – trying to concentrate. This is a very sophisticated object with an impossibly complex security -" he trailed off as Amy grabbed hold of the sphere and twisted it. "Don't do that."
It worked. The sphere opened, its two halves falling aside leaving a hologram of River standing above the Tardis console.
She was dressed in a navy evening gown that glittered as she moved. The hologram was facing the wrong way so the Doctor carefully twisted the base of the hologram so that she was facing him.
"It's the Mrs," he grinned.
"This isn't going to be like one of those Skype dates, is it?" asked Amy.
'Hello sweetie, knew you'd figure it out with mother's help. Vesparians are excellent record keepers. I wined and dined one of them once, they are particularly excellent with their hands. Extra fingers, makes them very talented musicians.'
The Doctor pouted quite distinctly. "I'm good at music too," he insisted. Amy slapped him to keep him quiet.
River's hologram stopped, looking over her shoulder as if something were coming for her. When she turned back to them, she looked afraid.
'Can't chat for long... Doctor, there's a little corner of the universe where only silence is heard. I left something there.'
The hologram vanished.
"Doctor, what's going on?" Amy gently touched his arm.