"I've done this dozens of times already. It's fine. I'm fine."
Pete ran a hand over his face tiredly. "I still don't think it's safe."
"Of course it isn't safe," Rose scoffed. "But what choice do I have, Pete?"
"Please, Rose. We can figure something else out, can't we?"
"I don't know, but there has to be something. Your mother is going mad with worry."
Rose sighed. "I'm sorry. I am. But what else can we do? I have to go. I have to keep trying."
"Not now, though. Not right now. Come home. Have a meal with us. Be with your family."
"I'm too impatient. This time we might have it right. I have to try. Right now."
"No you don't," he countered.
"I do. Sorry." She picked up her dimension calculator device and fastened it to her hip.
"Rose - "
"Pete, I'll be back before you know it." She tried to give him a reassuring smile, and then she turned to the canon and flicked a few switches. "See you later."
"Don't you dare, you're not even dressed appropriately this time – "
"Byeee!" Rose called, and set the dimension canon into motion. She was gone before he finished shouting her name.
Rose stepped forwards carefully, glancing around her. The three planets looming in close in the sky hinted to her that she wasn't on Earth. She heaved a sigh and checked her bearings, but the coordinate identifiers weren't working properly. Another wasted trip, and this time she hadn't a clue where she was. She didn't even know which universe she was in.
A quick look around determined that she'd look out of place in her long vest top and black leggings; the women wandering around the marketplace seemed to all be wearing a sarong-type garment low on their hips, and little else. Rose took the scarf from around her neck and fashioned herself a sarong by tying it loosely around her waist. It barely hit mid-thigh, but at least she looked a little more at home.
She soon spotted a bar, complete with saloon doors. Very Wild West. She almost smiled.
Once she made her way inside, the chatter didn't even quieten to acknowledge her presence. She liked that – being able to slip in without anyone noticing her, even though one good look would tell anyone she didn't belong. She was the only one in here with her top-half covered, after all. Oh – except that woman over there, sitting at the bar with her back to her. Rose walked over and when the barman asked her what drink she wanted, she nodded towards the woman and said, "I'll have what she's got, please." It was the most pleasant-looking drink she could see around her, but as soon as she sipped at it she pulled a face. It tasted a little like banana and pomegranate squash, something she'd never had a stomach for.
The woman next to her suddenly spun around on her stall to face her. "You're not from around here, are you? Don't worry, no one will pay you any attention. They are used to odd visitors from other worlds."
Rose glanced at her and gave a gracious tilt of her head in acknowledgement. "I won't be here long, anyway."
The other woman nodded, her curly hair bouncing with the movement. "Thought as much." Then she leant in close. "I've met you before."
"I don't believe I remember having that pleasure," Rose said amicably, with just a hint of suspicion.
"Well, things tend to happen for me out of order," the other woman replied, then shrugged. "I dabble in time travelling."
"Ah, I see," Rose grinned. "Well, I'll drink to that." She lifted the drink to her lips again and took another sip, before placing it back on the counter. "That is quite disgusting."
"I like it," the woman replied.
"So. If we've met before, do you know who I am?" asked Rose.
The woman shook her head. "Not a clue. You never told me your name."
"Good. Names can be…" Rose began, then let out a whoosh of breath, before finishing, "Dangerous."
"Don't I know it," the other woman agreed.
"I take it you won't tell me yours either, then."
"Not a chance."
Rose smiled. "That's probably wise."
"Hmm. I will ask you this, though."
She leant in close again. "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
Rose laughed. "Just looking for someone. That's all. Wrong place, though, I reckon. You wouldn't be able to tell me exactly where we are, would you?"
The other woman raised an eyebrow. "Elustria Prime. Seventh Galaxy of Trembuda."
"Excellent, thank you."
"And you didn't know that because…?"
"Because my, er, tech is a bit on the blink."
Rose eyed the other woman closely. "Are you a Time Agent?"
"No. Why? Do you need one?"
"No, no. I just wondered. You remind me of someone."
"Are you a Time Agent?"
Rose shook her head. "No. I'm just passing through."
The other woman's eyes widened.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just that's exactly what you said last time I saw you."
"Well it's a saying of mine. I pass through places a lot. It's kinda stuck, I s'pose."
"I see." The other woman appeared to ponder something for a moment, before asking, "So how long are you staying?"
Rose looked at her device on her hip. "Twenty-four minutes."
"That's a shame."
"I was starting to like you."
Rose smiled and shrugged. "Sorry."
The other woman let out a long breath then looked around for a second before murmuring, "Would you like to spend your twenty-four minutes – "
"Twenty-three and a half, now," Rose interrupted.
" – someplace else?"
"Sorry, babe, I don't sway that way," Rose grinned.
"You could," the other woman pointed out.
"Nah. But thank you anyway."
"Maybe one day," the other woman grinned hopefully.
"I don't think so."
"Ah. You're hung up on someone else."
Rose arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps I am."
"Well if you decide to be a little adventurous, perhaps a little daring, a little…flexible, then call me up."
"I don't know your number," Rose pointed out. "And I don't know your name."
"Well we'll probably bump into each other again sometime."
"If you're lucky," Rose replied. Then she added, warmly, "I'm sure you're lovely, really, it's just, I really don't think – "
"We can be friends, then. I think we'd make good friends."
"Friends who don't know each other's names?"
"Well you can call me River."
That sounded appropriately mystical. Maybe it was even the truth. Rose laughed. "Then I'm Jane." She held out her hand and River grasped it firmly. They shared a chuckle.
"Something tells me that you're a long way from home, Jane," River murmured.
"Something tells me that you are too," Rose countered.
"I don't really have a home," River shrugged.
"Where are you from?"
"Oh, lots of places."
"I had a friend who used to say that. Until one day I got the truth out of him."
"Did it take long?"
"Long to what?"
"Get the truth out of him."
Rose considered that a moment. "Not as long as I expected," she answered eventually. "Still. He left a lot more unsaid."
"He's who you are looking for, right?"
"Yep. Got a little sentence I need him to finish. And also, kind of need his help."
"Anything I can do?"
"Saved the universe before?"
"Then one day I might have to call that offer in."
"Universe in danger, is it?"
"Well maybe a little."
"Gathering the troops?"
"The Doctor's an army's worth on his own," Rose muttered without thinking.
River lurched backwards in shock.
"What is it?"
"You know the Doctor," she murmured, voice low.
Rose swallowed hard. "Which Doctor?"
"Clever," River said, rolling her eyes. "The Doctor."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Liar," River retorted, lips twitching into a smile. "Oh my god."
"What is it now?"
River leant forwards and whispered, "I know who you are."