River Song finds herself at a new university, teaching a familiar face (to us, anyway)
The night sky wasn’t nearly as visible as it should be, but that’s what you get when you live near the city. Thankfully, it was far enough out that someone would still be able to see a lot more stars than they would by walking down the heavily lit streets. Nobody was enjoying the night sky, which some would consider a shame, as nature of this splendor doesn’t get appreciated nearly as often as it should. Then again, it might be a good thing that nobody was out, as people might be a little unnerved by the shooting star that seems to be getting bigger. They probably wouldn’t be as unnerved as the ship’s sole occupant, though. Quickly pulling up calculations and desperately trying to find any controls that still work, the pilot was determined to keep going. This isn’t a very favorable situation, but ultimately it’s only a setback.
Tendrils moved around quickly enough that the ship was able to slow its descent slightly. It was going to be a bumpy ride, but the pilot would be able to pull through. It curled itself up into a ball and focused every ounce of effort it had left in it to make a force field. Had this not been such a stressful situation, the bouncing of the impact would’ve been kinda fun. The pilot lowered its force field after the ship finally came to a stop. Dust had started to settle, showing a great, open field with a small stretch of road off to the side. Thankfully, there weren’t any houses nearby, giving the pilot some cover in the dead of night. It analyzed the wreckage carefully, taking with it anything that was still working. After having successfully removed some important components, it had realized for the first time that it was alone. This made the immediate future feel a lot more insurmountable, but that wasn’t going to stop it. The pilot was still alive, and that meant it still had a fighting chance. A glance at the surroundings reminded the pilot of the road, and it could barely make out a light source in the direction the road was leading to. After another moment of contemplation, it started its journey back to the Horde.
A small cloud of steam wafted from a cup of tea that was quickly being forgotten about. Surrounding it were piles of books, the combination of the two giving off a smell of academia. Grabbing the stack of books that were nearest to the cup of tea, River Song wondered to herself why she brings so much stuff around with her. She was more than happy to accept the new position in America, but that phone call came long before she had considered how much she’d have to pack and then unpack. Ah well, can’t really decline the offer at this point, she thought to herself. Heaving herself up the ladder, she rolled over to the sections that the different books belonged in, and continued organizing. This archaeology textbook goes in the Earth section, cleverly placed in the area students are most likely to see, whereas this book of Judoon poetry goes on a much higher shelf she has to stand on her tiptoes to reach. She only puts books on those shelves that her husband would like, should he show up at some point, but specifically the incarnations that are tall enough to reach the shelf. Not that she would want to spend a great deal of time with Teeth and Curls, but it’s best to prepare for any possible outcomes. As she settled into the rhythm of putting her books in the proper place, something in her mind made her feel like she was forgetting something.
Just then, a timid, baritone voice rang out from her office’s entrance, “Uh, is this where the independent study is meeting?” Oh, right. She was supposed to be teaching. River Song haphazardly set the rest of the books she was holding on a random shelf and slid down the ladder. Turning to meet the student, she was surprised by how tall she was. These college students get taller every year. “Uh, forgive me. I’ve been a bit scatterbrained from moving in. What study did you sign up for?”
“Oh, the 491. You’re professor River Song, right?”
“That would be me.” She beamed a smile at what was apparently her new student, taking a moment to examine her. She had long brown hair, wore a dress with horizontal pink and black stripes underneath a well-worn cardigan, a similarly well-worn pair of teashades hanging from the collar, and some sensible tennis shoes. “What might your name be?”
“Zoey Fleetwood. Will there be any other students joining us?”
“Let me check the roster. Would you like some tea?” she asked, walking over to her computer and mentally chastising herself for not being more prepared.
“I’ll be fine, but thank you for offering. What will we be learning about in this class?”
“You don’t know already?”
“Not really, I just sign up for whatever classes my advisor tells me to.”
River rolled her eyes while she wasn’t looking at Zoey. Pulling up the roster showed that she was indeed the only student, something that River was unsure as to if it was a good thing. Something else caught her eye for a second, before Zoey asked, “Who’s this?” She was holding one of the many pictures River brought to brighten up the place. Zoey had picked it up off of her desk, indicating that it was the picture of Susan. “Oh, just my husband’s granddaughter,” she nonchalantly replied, “Please put it back down.”
“Oh, sorry,” Zoey blurted out, setting the picture on the desk, “It just looked like a friend I made over the summer. The girl in the picture, her name wouldn’t happen to be Susan, would it?”
Perhaps it was a good thing that Zoey found her way to River Song. She turned around slowly. “How did you know that?”
“We met on a cruise. Some guy called the Master was trying to steal this weird orb.”
River put a pin in that thought for the moment and looked back at her computer. The modifications she installed this morning were detecting weird traces of electrical energy. Zoey peeked over her shoulder as she pinpointed the source down to the Arts building. “What’s going on there?” Zoey asked.
“Some kind of electric outburst. I’ve been monitoring this kind of activity recently. It shouldn’t be happening in this time period.”
“Would it have anything to do with the teacher who went missing last night?”
“The sculpture teacher, Ivy Miller. I liked her, I was in her class last year.”
In a flash, River Song put on her jacket and grabbed her sonic trowel. “Well, Zoey Fleetwood, it looks like this first lesson is going to be a field trip.”
“Can I leave my backpack in here?”
“By all means.”
Zoey set her bag on one of the chairs, cracked her neck, and said, “Lead the way, Professor!” The tea went cold sometime after they left.
The campus had settled down considerably, now that the sun was starting to set. Cars were passing by, taking mind of the students who were “jokingly” trying to get run over. The red hand on the crosswalk had started to blink, indicating that there wasn’t much time left to cross the street. Zoey continued on, knowing that she had enough time if she powerwalked. Beside her, River Song also powered through, though she did it because she just didn’t care about the minutiae of Earth rules. Having been in and out of jail will do that to you. She was more concentrated both on finding out what’s causing the electric outbursts, and listening to the story Zoey was telling.
“But THEN, Ginger turned out to BE one of the Zygons! We started working together after we got a chance to talk, and while the Master was monologuing, I kicked him in the back.”
River had to laugh at that. She didn’t have the displeasure of being as well acquainted with the Master as the Doctor was, but she was proficient in discerning when someone needed a good kick in the back. “So, Zygons on Earth.”
“You don’t think this could be caused by one of them, do you?”
“Hard to tell.” The conversation reached a lull as River started thinking about the situation some more. Zoey became increasingly anxious as the silence lingered on while they still had a bit more distance to cover. Quickly thinking of something to say, she asked, “So, you’re married to that Doctor guy, huh?”
“You could say that.” she said, rubbing the ring on her finger.
“What’s he like?”
What is he like, indeed. “Adventurous. Free-spirited. Kind of an idiot.”
“I hope I get to meet him someday.”
“I’m sure you’ll get the chance eventually.”
“How old is he?”
“He tells me a different number every time. If you ask me, I think he’s just lost count.”
They both laughed at that, until they realized that they were finally at the building they were walking to. Zoey’s anxiety started to work up as she realized she probably doesn’t have any idea of what she’s dealing with. “So, what do you think we should be expecting, Professor?” River Song took a good look at the building, before whipping out some kind of laser, and responding coolly with, “No idea. Stay close.”
Earth technology wasn’t impossible to make compatible with what was left over from the ship, but damn was it hard. The pilot had been hard at work in the small area it was able to find, deep within the bowels of the first building it could get into. It helped that the area was much darker than it was outside. Even at night, the city had far too many lights for the pilot to focus. The dark was a much better place for it to bide its time. And by this point, it had spent enough time in here to know where everything was, letting it work much more efficiently. It ducked and weaved as it assembled machinery together, carefully leaving the subject on the table alone, for now. It was able to take an idea from one of its previous infiltration missions and apply it to this situation: find a place to hide, take one of the native subjects, and study it closely until the pilot was able to mimic the subject’s appearance and use its knowledge.
The pilot was so lost in its work, that it only now realized it was back to full health. There were still a few small scars from the crash, but the electrical energy within the building was able to properly sustain it over the course of its work. Having just tumbled upon the thought, the pilot stood very still and concentrated its energy. It was tired of being alone. The beginning of this process felt similar to how it did to make a force field, but the further steps of the process had very different nuances. This did not occur to the pilot, as the action was a second nature to it, of sorts, with the first nature concerning itself with the war. No, the thought crossing the pilot’s mind at the time was, This isn’t right. And it wasn’t, for it was still alone. Somehow, the pilot was no longer able to reproduce. This was a worrying development, but ultimately secondary to getting back to the Horde. The pilot returned to its work, trying to ignore the growing feeling of unease.
It was a bit later in the afternoon, which was good. People tend to not react all that positively to someone walking into a college building with a gun. River Song seemed to not pay this tidbit any mind, which Zoey felt the need to point out after trying to hold it in, “Uh, do you think it’s a good idea to walk into the building with that in full view?”
“Right. We should probably get rid of any security cameras we come across.”
Maybe Zoey really should pay more mind to what classes she signs up for. “Not what I was going for, but okay.” She dug around in her backpack haphazardly, until her hand rested on a pack of big gum, like the kind you need to take at least 5 minutes to chew before it gets to the mushy texture. One of the benefits of schools not giving the arts enough money is that the security cameras in art buildings are outdated, meaning you only need to cover one small lens area instead of an entire half of a sphere. She popped one of the pieces of gum into her mouth, offering one to River Song as they finally got near a security camera. The professor looked at her questioningly until she took the wad out of her mouth and put it on the camera.
“Good thinking.” River took a piece of gum.
“So did you come to this school looking for this sort of thing?”
“Sometimes it feels like this sort of thing just finds me.”
“Perhaps. But someone has to do it.”
“What kinds of stuff have you gone up against before, Professor?”
River Song racked her mind for a bit, thinking of a good story. “Well, one time I was exploring a pyramid, trying to find someone who might be dead.”
“Ah yes, as opposed to those pharaohs who just stayed in their pyramid alive.”
“It wasn’t a pharaoh. It was a member of another team exploring the pyramid.”
“Why didn’t the other team members go looking?”
“Too big. They picked that specific person because the hole was rather small.”
“Oh, you know,” River shrugged her shoulders, “Thirsty bugs.”
“Ah yes.” Zoey nodded knowingly, despite knowing nothing.
“Another time, I had to infiltrate this corporation and take it down from the inside.”
“Rock on, comrade.” Zoey gave a rock n’ roll salute, as River put her piece of gum on the next security camera. They both took another piece. As the chewing took less effort, She turned to ask, “What about you?”
Zoey shrugged her shoulders and looked at the ground. “Eh, I’m nothing special. Just making my way through college, you know?”
“What year are you?”
“Senior. Getting uncomfortably close to graduating.”
“Do you know what you’d like to do after college?”
“No. I haven’t even found a place to live yet. I won some kind of contest last year, so I have a bit of money as a safety cushion, but that’s about all I’ve done in the way of preparing.”
Where was that house her husband told her about? Sussex? No, it was Kent. Possibly. No matter, she’ll ask later. “I may be able to offer some help if you need.”
“Really?” Zoey asked a little louder than she had planned. A split second after that, they heard a noise coming from further down the corridor. They both kept their lips sealed and moved on.
The pilot did a pretty good job distracting itself by gaining more understanding of how Earth technology works. There were aspects of it that were frustrating, but it almost seemed as if it was designed to help people who didn’t understand it, which was welcome. The computer it had access to had an application that let it see security cameras around the building, which it would check regularly. One of the more frightening things about being alone is that it makes you feel more paranoid. In a lot of cases, it would feel rather unjustified after the fact. However, this case proved rather fruitful, as there seemed to be a problem with the camera closest to the door. It wasn’t off, but the screen was almost black, with a dark red hue. The pilot considered going outside to check. It didn’t know much about Earth, but it’s heard horror stories. The nasty humans who attack everything they don’t understand, and that stupid time traveler who spends so much time defending them that they don’t stop to wonder if the people being protected were actually worth protecting. At least the Horde has a reason for fighting. Don’t we?
Do we? The pilot never questioned why they were supposed to fight, only that they had to. Is it right?
Just then, another one of the cameras had the same issue. It looked as if someone had stuck some kind of glob onto the lens. This was troubling, as the pilot knew that camera was closer to where it was than the last. Beginning to panic, it turned to its subject. Well, let’s hope this works. It had wrapped its tendrils around the subject’s arm, feeling the pulse that was letting it know the human was still alive. The transformation process felt odd. For a human equivalent, it would be as if a person had put their hand onto their face, quickly followed by that arm detaching itself from the elbow and becoming a nose. At least it was over quickly. From where tendrils were put on the subject’s arm, a hand now rested, identical to that of a human. The pilot now tested its voice capabilities, “Testing. Hello. My name is Ivy Miller.” It looked in a mirror. Good. The transformation was successful. It couldn’t feel all of her memories yet, but hopefully they would come in time. It moved to the door, gingerly opening it and peeking outside. The pilot grabbed a clipboard that the real Ivy Miller was holding when she was taken, stepped outside the room, and made sure the door was shut and locked. Okay, think of a story. Maybe Ivy just, got lost? No, they wouldn’t believe she was lost inside a building for an entire day. Just woke up! There we go. She remembers being knocked unconscious, and she woke up here. The Horde has developed many effective war strategies, but before today, they’d never considered playing dumb. This strategy would work particularly well, but not on any fault of the pilot. You see, there was a metal pipe jutting out of the wall in the hallway that had gone unnoticed until a particularly loud, “Really?” surprised the false Ivy, causing the pipe to collide with a now bruised forehead.
Zoey had spent enough time in this building that she was able to find anything inside it with ease. This was done by connecting each room to a distinct memory, giving each section its own flavor, of sorts. The cramped conference room that she and River passed shortly after entering was where she discussed with her classmates the final project for that semester. The open room covered in paint, used metal strewn on the floor, and smelling like sawdust, that she was currently running past was where she had spent more than a few nights working on said project. If I knew I was gonna get a B-, I wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time on that. The room she was looking for, however, was the one that she was by far the most intimate with, for lack of a better word. Pulling an all-nighter just isn’t complete without snacks, a variety of which would be found and consumed in the small dingy kitchen Zoey crashed to a halt in front of. Fortunately, the snacks that were in here were safe for now, going another day without feeling the wrath of a trans woman with the munchies. No, Zoey was looking for the kitchen in the hopes that the freezer was still working; this was a bit of a gamble, as the machine has been known to go on the fritz. The cool breeze that hit her face made her glad for once in her life that she was giving this place money. She opened the drawer to find a plastic bag and ripped a paper towel from the dispenser at the same time, thinking she looked a lot cooler than she actually was.
Makeshift ice pack in hand, she dashed back to where River was crouching over the unconscious teacher. Wordlessly, the pack exchanged hands, and made its way to Ivy’s forehead.
“Is she okay?”
“Hard to tell. But she’s alive.”
“Did you use your sonic thing?”
“You do realize it’s a trowel, right?”
“A Sonic Trowel.”
“It doesn’t work on people unless they’re buried under a few layers of dirt.”
“What about aliens? Can you like, scan for alien energy?”
“I found an electrical outburst, that isn’t alien in origin.”
“Did it cause some kind of power outage?”
“For a few minutes.”
“Check the circuit breaker.”
“The weed room.”
Shit. “Uh, I mean, the basement.”
River narrowed her eyes. “I’m going to ignore that for now.” Without another word, she dashed off to the basement, leaving Zoey to take care of her former teacher. Seeing her in a state like this felt weird, like something she shouldn’t see. She was so used to anyone with any position of authority over her just being the ones in charge, absolute, infallible. But this was one of many reminders that nobody is infallible. Unfortunately, everyone is capable of downfall. Her parents made sure she knew that. What they didn’t teach her was how to become one of the adults she saw fear in. Maybe that was why she felt so directionless. Or maybe she just needed to catch up with the people who expected to live this long. Oh well. That doesn’t matter right now. What mattered right now was making sure the, um, teacher, was okay. I should probably come up with more distinct names for my teachers than Professor.
She unfortunately didn’t have time to think of one before Ivy sat bolt upright, flinging the ice pack away from the both of them. The teacher turned to Zoey, both unsure of what to say. Zoey broke the silence with, “How are you feeling?”
“Better now. A lot more awake.”
“Here, let me help you up.” Zoey held out her hands to give the teacher a grip to sit up. “Do you remember anything before you passed out?”
“I don’t think so. One minute I was grading papers, now I’m here.” The pilot felt something it couldn’t quite put a name to yet, referring to themself as an individual.
Zoey took a second to process what she said. “Hm. Do you know where you were when you were grading?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure it was somewhere in this building. What happened when you found me?”
“Me and the, uh, another teacher who came to investigate with me, found you on the floor where you were.”
“Why were you investigating?”
“I wanted to come because I heard you disappeared. The teacher came along with me because she detected some kind of, electrical surge? Or something like that.”
Zoey noticed that Ivy looked uncomfortable when she said this. After some time, she found something to respond with. “I want to go to my office and check if anything’s missing. I think whoever took me might’ve stolen some stuff too. Would you walk with me to my office?”
“Of course. I’ll lead the way.” When they set off, Zoey made sure to intentionally go the wrong direction.
River Song has spent a phenomenal amount of time alone. Over the years she has taken a great sense of pride in this; a lot of the time she was alone was because she was put under a heavily guarded solitary confinement, giving her a delightful new puzzle to solve by breaking out again. This mindset sharpened her focus to only the task at hand, which proved helpful in a lot of tough spots, but it made everything feel a lot more quiet when she was in action. She had easily made her way to the basement, trying not to pay much mind to the pungent odor. The circuit breaker was found after a bit of feeling around, having already been left open. River adjusted her sonic trowel to a much more delicate setting, and got to scanning. When the beam made its way to the switch for the floor where they found Ivy, the dust left by the most recent fingerprints was lifted from its position, and held in place by the sonic waves.
She stared deeply at the fingerprint. Her concerns were definitely justified; these fingerprints weren’t human. Now comes the tricky part. She had a pretty vast knowledge of intelligent species scattered across the cosmos, but nailing them down by their fingerprints might be a bit more than what she could manage. Okay, she thought, let’s start with what makes it not human. For starters, the shape was completely wrong. Someone looking at a glance would guess that it was an arch, but it was nowhere near rounded enough. It was like they tried to look like an arch, but didn’t have enough time to detail it properly. Suddenly, she remembered the conversation she was having with Zoey about Zygons, “You don’t think this could be caused by one of them, do you?” Immediately turning around and dashing back, she really hoped that wasn’t the case.
Zoey stopped at a random room that wasn’t too far from where they left, prompting Ivy to say, “Ah, here we are.” She opened the door and started looking around for stuff. “Why don’t you go look for your teacher friend and meet me back here?”
“Oh, I think she’ll be fine for right now. I actually wanted to ask you a few more questions, if that’s okay.”
“Mainly just one. Is the real Ivy Miller okay?”
Zoey had yet to experience time travel for herself. In this instant, she wondered if time was actually able to stop, and then, if it was real, whether or not it would feel like this.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know why you’re here, and I want to understand. Right now, I’m worried about my teacher and I want to make sure she’s okay before I offer you help.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” it lied, “What, do you think I’m an alien or something?”
“Well, for starters we aren’t actually in your office. I led you somewhere else to see if you would correct me. I also noticed that the bruise on your head had a similar shape to a pipe nearby, which isn’t that weird on it’s own, but wouldn’t make sense given the story so far. If someone kidnapped you, why would they keep you in the same building?”
“But the biggest red flag was what you said when I asked you what happened. You said you were grading papers.”
“You’re a sculpture teacher. You didn’t hand out paper assignments in the class last semester.”
The tension in the room felt like the really cold butter in the dining hall that was always impossible to cut for some reason. “The memory doesn’t always transfer over completely if the process is rushed.”
“Now, I’m going to ask you one more time. Is Ivy Miller safe?”
“For now.” As Zoey was thinking of what to do next, she could hear footsteps approaching quickly and saw out of her peripheral vision a familiar head of curly blonde hair. “Good. Saves the effort of tracking both of you down.” The false Ivy closed her eyes, quickly opening them when she spoke again, her eyes a bright green hue. “Your energy will be of great use.” As the body went limp and started rising, River and Zoey thought simultaneously, Well, it’s not a Zygon. The glow emanating from the eyes spread to the rest of the body. The head and torso seemed to meld within itself, like a sculptor not liking what they’ve made with the clay so far and rolling it back into a ball to start over. The limbs, however, kept growing, unfolding themselves to show tendrils about as big in girth as how spaghetti noodles are to ants. Once it transformed back into its natural form, the pilot stretched itself out, like it was waking up, and said, “You are now under the control of the Rutan Horde.”
Ivy Miller woke up. When she lifted her arms, the first thing that she noticed was all the machinery hooked up to her. Some of it just looked like computers taken from around the building, but others looked more like some of the sculptures her students make if they listen to too much KMFDM. She looked at what was connected to her arms again. Gingerly lifting one of her hands, she fiddled with one of the connectors to see if she could get it out. It’s just like Operation, right?
A small clicking sound had let her know she was successful. She set to work on the others, hoping that they weren’t connected to anything important. Thankfully, most of them were attached with adhesive, and were used to monitor brain patterns. Once she was freely able to move, she looked at the monitors, trying to piece together what was going on with her. Some of the screens had characters flash by that she couldn’t understand. Or maybe they were digits. She wasn’t great with math so it all looked the same to her.
Ivy pushed the door open just a smidge, to see if anything was going on outside. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was able to confirm that she was still in the Arts building. Nobody was directly outside, but she could hear a bit of commotion coming from down the hall. Maybe I should stay here, she thought to herself. But then, she could hear a voice. It wasn’t loud enough for Ivy to clearly hear what was being said, but it was loud enough for her to know who that voice belonged to. Zoey Fleetwood? What’s she doing here? She turned right and kept going without hesitation.
Like many of her students, Ivy didn’t have the best of upbringings. Her parents had a very explosive temper, and if she didn’t want to set them off, she had to learn to walk on eggshells. Unlike her students, though, she was presented with an oddly specific situation that had given her an advantage. When she finally found the source of the hubbub, memories came flooding back to her. That jellyfish-looking thing was what knocked her out, and most likely what hooked her up to all that machinery. Her former student was caught in the grip of one of its tendrils, the other holding a woman she might have been introduced to at one point. What was her name again? Melody Pond or something? She quickly dismissed the thought, wanting to pay attention to what they were saying to each other. Zoey’s voice rang out, trying very hard not to cry in pain “You don’t have to do this! We can find another way to help you!” Zoey’s captor retorted with a harsh, tinny voice, “There is no other way. We must return to the Horde. Humanity will only destroy us.” The other woman finally spoke up, “I’m not human. I know you want to get back to fighting the Sontarans.” Ivy swore she could see the creature hesitate. Zoey continued with, “Have you ever heard of the Zygons? You’d like them, they can shapeshift like you can. Apparently, we’ve been able to work out a peaceful agreement with them. I’m sure we could do the same for the Rutans if you just put us down.”
Ivy wasn’t quite sure if she believed what she was hearing. Aliens? On Earth? I mean, I guess it’s plausible, but why don’t more people know about this? If she couldn’t believe her ears, she was gonna have a really hard time believing her eyes. After some consideration, the Rutan had put the two people down. It spoke again, “Zygons? Is this true?” Zoey nodded her head, before quickly getting some sort of idea. She pulled out her cell phone, scrolling through something before turning to the Rutan and asking, “Um, forgive me for asking, but can you see?” The Rutan did the closest thing to nodding it could muster. Zoey showed her phone to it. “This was a video I found online to show you that they’re here. I met some of them myself not too long ago,” she informed. The Rutan looked at the video, and then at Zoey and River Song individually. “Humanity can achieve peace?” At this point, Ivy had some questions of her own, and decided to speak up. Okay, you can do this Ivy. One, Two, Three.
“What do you know about humanity?” came a voice from the doorway. Zoey turned around to see her old teacher, in the flesh. A part of her mind made her consider the possibility that this was another clone, but that didn’t stop her from bringing Ivy in for a bear hug. “Professor! You’re okay!” River Song seemed to have taken a superficial level of offense, “I thought I was Professor.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t had to interact with more than one teacher at a time before, okay?”
The Rutan spoke up again, “We have been told that humanity posed a great threat to anyone who dared cross their path. Countless invasions have been thwarted, and few remain to tell the tale.” Zoey turned to River. “Is this true?” She whipped her head in the direction of the Rutan. “That was not humanity’s fault. Most of them knew Earth was off limits going into their mission.”
“Perhaps. We are aware of the time traveler. What we don’t know is why. What exactly is so special about Earth that this traveler will go out of the way to protect life like this?”
“Maybe they just do it because we’re alive,” said Ivy. “Maybe this time traveler sees people like you coming to do whatever it is you plan, and just wants to protect us. Have you never had the thought that something deserved to live simply because it was already alive? That life has an inherent value to it?”
The Rutan went quiet. Maybe it was to ponder on that thought, or maybe it was plotting its next strategy. Either way, Zoey felt now would be a good time to interject, “Perhaps we could help you understand.” This made the Rutan perk up a bit. “There is a way to share knowledge. Perspective. Typically, it is only allowed to perform between members of the Horde. We-No.” It looked as if it was struggling for a second, “I. I have heard of Rutan warriors who have defected after performing the process with another species.”
Zoey stepped forward. “What do I need to do?” River Song raised her gun at the Rutan, “I’m warning you, I will shoot you if you hurt her.” The Rutan was startled for a moment, but kept composure. “No harm will come to her. Give,” it struggled a little, “Me your hand.” Zoey felt two green tendrils wrap around her extremity. Slowly, everything else seemed to fade around her, although instead of fading to black like she expected, it instead faded to green, like she was being enveloped by the Rutan. Before she could understand what was happening, she was suddenly able to move a lot more freely, practically swimming around in the lush green pool she found herself in. She didn’t know what to do, where to move to, or even if she should move. She let a breath of air escape her, thinking that she could possibly follow the bubbles, but to her surprise, she could breathe in the liquid. As far as her mind was concerned, Zoey Fleetwood was floating in the brain matter of the Rutan pilot itself.
Flashbacks were shown of what the pilot’s life was like. Although she didn’t say anything, Zoey was growing a great sense of disdain for the Rutan Horde. She lived in a time and place where the military was particularly insidious, and noted how familiar the Rutan’s conditioning was to what she’s been told of by old friends who wanted to serve. She did not feel as though she had the right to determine whether or not war was necessary, but it crosses a line when the soldiers don’t even have a clear idea of what they’re fighting for. All these battles, countless carcasses of Sontarans and Rutans alike littering entire star systems. Whatever reasons there were to declare war were lost to time, and there was nothing even close to an end goal that wasn’t, “Kill Every Sontaran.” Maybe she should’ve just kept looking at the dolphins.
“I can sense unease.”
“How old are you?” Zoey wondered how she was able to talk in this state, but shook it aside.
“I have not kept track. The teacher, Ivy. She knew of a word that felt accurate. Middle-aged.”
“Is this how you want to spend the rest of your life?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You’re cut off from the rest of your people. I doubt they’d make much of a fuss if you did your own thing.”
“What would, I do?”
“You could try making things. Have you ever made anything before?”
“I have made weapons.”
“Try making something that isn’t a weapon. Just make something that looks nice to you.”
“Something that looks nice?”
“Yeah, just think of something that you would enjoy looking at.”
“How would I do that?”
“This thing you’re doing, am I able to show you stuff from my mind like you are?”
“Concentrate on what you want to show.”
And she did. Like Slumdog Millionaire, she thought about most of the major points in her life, carefully choosing things that highlight her individuality, her artistic spirit. Her mind went to preschool, where she would draw pictures that only make sense to her. It went to 1st grade, where she was given a writing assignment that showed her she could really write about whatever she wanted. It went to middle school, to the poetry recital her parents reacted badly to. She wasn’t sure if it was the best idea to show the bad parts, but often the bad parts just came naturally. Eventually they clouded the vision, bombarding not just the Rutan, but her as well. Eventually, the good parts started becoming fewer and farther in between, with Zoey feeling like the bad parts started closing in on her. The Rutan sat quietly and watched every second, the memories swirling around Zoey like a hurricane, putting her directly within the eye. A mere moment of quiet before being flung back into the maelstrom. Story of my life, huh? All the things that she had forgotten, all of the things she wanted to forget, now making sure they had a foothold on her psyche. Eventually, she was shown her adventure with Susan, losing herself in the excitement to the point that, for a time, she doesn’t remember why she left in the first place. Why she didn’t want to come back.
“I don’t like this.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I like it either.”
“Is individuality always this lonely?”
Zoey considered this for a moment. “It doesn’t have to be. We can be individuals together.” The liquid she was in started to feel warmer. “I would like that.” The green started to fade.
Her eyes blinked open, still focused on her hand, now free of the Rutan’s grip. Ivy touched her shoulder. “Zoey? Are you okay?” Zoey turned to face her former and current teacher. “Yeah. I think I’m okay. What about you? Um, I don’t believe you told me your name.” The Rutan moved for the first time since Zoey woke up. “I do not have one. I am alright.” River came up to ask Zoey, “What did you see?” She was checking Zoey’s eyes to make sure they respond properly. Zoey would probably appreciate this if she was told what was gonna happen beforehand, but at this point all she’s thinking is Oh God why is Professor poking my eyes? After the two were separated, they all turned to look at the Rutan. Zoey started laughing a little. “Something you want to share with the class, Miss Fleetwood?” inquired Ivy.
“The first name that came to mind was Fart.”
“Fart. I like this name.”
“Oh no, I wasn’t bein—”
“As of today, I am Fart, the Rutan.”
River Song laughed. “Alright, Fart. Let’s see what we can do to get you on your way.”
The three women stood looking at the open night sky, none of them sure what to say. River Song felt bad, overall. How would that have gone if Zoey wasn’t there? Ivy was primarily glad that she was still alive, and still quite blown away with the knowledge that humanity wasn’t alone in the universe. Zoey missed her friend. Eventually, the stars were able to wash that feeling away like a cosmic Brita filter. River Song has paraded across the universe, but somehow the experiences that meant the most to her were the ones she could share with people. She really should look into seeing her parents again sometime.
“I wonder how many of those stars have planets like ours on it.” Ivy didn’t really mean for that to be directed at anyone, but River took a moment to ponder on it.
“At a guess, between 30 and 60 percent. Probably on the higher end.”
“Why’s that?” Zoey asked.
“The light pollution blocks out a lot of what people should be seeing at night. The stars we can see are usually on the brighter side.”
“Do they come to Earth often?” Ivy continued.
“More than you’d think.”
“Who was that time traveler that Fart was talking about?”
“My husband. He helps out here and there.” A familiar smirk spread across her face.
“I still don’t quite see the appeal. The whole place just feels too self-congratulatory,” River said, setting a large, greasy paper bag down on the table.
“You haven’t even eaten the food yet” Zoey remarked, “You can’t just live in the East Coast without trying Five Guys, Professor.”
“Then why didn’t we bring Ivy?”
“She was tired and she eats it in class all the time.” Zoey handed River her burger and they both ate in silence for a moment. By the time River had managed to take a few bites, Zoey had nearly finished. After trying it for herself, though, she can understand the hype. “So, I’ve been wondering,”
“You want to meet the Doctor?”
“Do you think I could?”
After taking a sip from her drink, River Song responded with, “I’ll tell you what. Meeting the Doctor isn’t something you should just jump into. Meet with me for the study, and if you pass the final, I’ll put in a good word.” She winked.
“Will I need to study for the final?”
“I’ll think of that as I go along.” They started eating their fries.
“Have you met Sontarans before?”
“A few times.”
“Do you know a lot about that whole war they fight?”
“Only that it never ends.”
“The cause is lost to time.”
“I hope Fart’s okay on their own.”
“I’m sure they will be.” Meanwhile, Fart was poking through some bits of their old ship that they brought with them. They started putting them together, hoping their first sculpture turns out well.
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