CHAPTER 3 : MARKING THE DIFFERENCE
"What have we got?" The Doctor asked no one in particular, rubbing his hands together with renewed vigour.
"Ah a – time machine?" Rory offered.
The time lord bounced on his feet, shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned playfully forward, hips first.
"Technically correct but we've always got one of those. No, what else do we have – what's new? Yes, yes – high heels!" He deposited River's muddy heels on the Tardis console with a clunk. He beamed at them, proud of himself. Yes, high heels, very helpful. They weren't even sonic. Could you sonic heels?
Amy was frowning at him. He must be doing that thing she didn't like.
"We've also got that time vortex manipulator," she prodded the Doctor's pocket where it jutted out in a weird lump. "You shouldn't keep things like that in your pocket, it'll wreck your favourite coat."
"As opposed to traipsing around planets of silence in the mud? Silence..." he repeated, catching a stray thought wandering about in his mind. "Roman – hand please. No, your other hand," he clicked his fingers insistently.
Rory presented his hand.
"Argh!" he grimaced, as the Doctor twisted it the wrong way and started inspecting the scratches in his skin. Five now. "Don't know how those got there," he admitted.
"No, I don't expect you do."
"Bit worried about them, actually."
There was a muffled thump against the Tardis. Amy startled, spinning around to the doors. They were still locked.
"Doctor – what was that?" she frowned.
"Just the wind..." he lied, releasing Rory who shook his hand, holding it protectively to his chest.
"What's that for?" Rory narrowed his eyes at the pen being waved in his general direction.
"A marker pen – better for your skin."
"Comforting..." Rory muttered, sliding it into his jeans. "Doctor – if you've got River's time travel thing, doesn't that mean she's trapped here with those creatures?"
"Doubtful," he replied, strutting about the Tardis as another thud disturbed the peace.
"How can you be sure? If she's out there-"
"-she couldn't possibly have left a time capsule asking us to retrieve her favourite heels. River's not here – not any more."
"That's stealing." The Doctor glanced nervously over his shoulder as River worked her way through the shelves, prying free book after book. She set them into his waiting arms until he had trouble seeing where he was going.
It was Vesparian's twilight – literally and figuratively.
Several hundred years ago their civilisation had stopped growing. No buildings were built or deserts explored. Interest in alien networks and interstellar travel had been dwindling for decades. In short, they had entered a slumber, content to let the universe rush by. It was in this peace that a restless Vesparian had stumbled onto a dark secret. Time travel.
"Ouch!" Books tumbled to the ground around the Doctor.
"Watch where you're going, Honey."
The Doctor bent down, trying to balance the books in one arm as he picked the others up. He didn't see why she needed so many. The Tardis was cluttered enough as it was. Honestly, he was going to start putting a limit on what companions could bring with them. That's what airports did.
"They're priceless," she insisted, running her fingertips over the spine of another book. "I'm not leaving them here to burn."
"River, we can go and visit history whenever you want. Is it necessary to lug it around with you? It's such a human thing."
Their theft was disturbed by the thunder of fireworks. They could see colour erupting against the fading sky through the parliament windows.
"Vesparians always set off their fireworks at dusk," he whispered against River's ear, as she came to stand beside him. "Aren't you missing your party?"
River slipped on her three inch, midnight heels. "Fashionably late," she corrected.
The Doctor watched her with a lopsided grin. She was framed by the granite window – a shower of blue cinders fanning out in the sunset behind her. The building trembled a moment later as the thunder reverberated across the city. It was so beautiful.
"You should join me..." River added softly, clutching an old book against her chest.
He smirked, then gestured at the pile of books in his arms. "Have to look after these."
"Vesparian dusk party – dancing, gold-wine, more dancing – last chance..."
He was tempted, very tempted but they'd synced their diaries. This version of River was too young and he didn't know if he could resist temptation.
"Actually, I thought I should check on your parents. They keep complaining that we leave them in the Tardis."
She lofted her eyebrow curiously at him. "We do?" The Doctor's face fell when he realised he'd done it again. "Spoilers..."
River stalked toward him, placing the last book on his pile. "Don't wait up."
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The Doctor was met with blank stares from his companions.
"I – don't understand," Rory finally admitted.
"Really? Humans..." The Doctor muttered impatiently.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Rory frowned at the doors. "Seriously, Doctor, that noise is starting to freak me out."
"There are only a few devices in the universe that can travel in time. This..." he knocked on the console of his Tardis, "this ol' girl will take you anywhere."
"River's time vortex manipulator?" Amy offered.
"Good for hopping about – had an old friend who used one once – probably the same one. They're handy at a pinch but can only go for so long before they need to recharge from a Tardis. Probably why River keeps in contact."
"I think there might be other reasons..." her mother added knowingly.
"Tesselectors are cool but they'd never come to a planet like Silence. Like all committee run projects they are intensely scared. The only thing we have left that can reach this time is a..."
The Doctor froze then, with his eyes wide and mouth open he turned back to the Tardis console.
"River... You bad, bad girl." The Vesparian sphere was gone. "Rory, check your wrist."
"Ah," it took him a moment to understand. He instantly frowned when he saw a black mark on his arm. "Oh god."
River tilted her head, running her fingertips slowly over the beautiful golden sphere. She was used to the pleasant tremble of fireworks now. They would continue until Vesparian's grand moon rose and marked the start of the new year. One sunset per year – and one moonrise. The pace of this world made her feel as though she were drifting.
"How does it work?" she whispered, making the Vesparian opposite her spill his drink a little.
"Well, it's a typical recording device – very simple really-" he gestured at the golden time capsule.
"No..." she interrupted. "How does yours work?"
"Professor," River picked up her drink and took a delicate sip as a pink glow stained the lake. "Of archaeology."
"I thought you were a record keeper," he sat back uneasily. He'd never trusted aliens.
"I have a particular interest in objects that change the course of the universe. I'm a bit of a collector, you see – I like to preserve things but the others that are coming here tonight well..." she trailed off, shifting her gaze past him to the water. "Let's just say they have other uses for your time machine."