“The birthday girl has arrived, so you’d better get this party started!” cheered Amy brightly, bounding down the stairs to the TARDIS console, where the Doctor was hunched over his beloved machine’s instruments, trying to ignore her. “Come on, where are we going?” Amy continued, the heels of her cowboy boots clicking loudly on the metal gridwork of the time machine’s floor as she made her way over to him. “Come ON, where are you taking me for my birthday?”
Coming to stand beside him just as he started messing about with one of the control panel’s many knobs. Amy realised just how much she hated that particular knob; it looked like the Time Lord had stolen it from the front of an old 1950s gas cooker. Hmmm. Maybe he had, she wondered to herself absently; maybe it was some bizarre souvenir he had popped into his ghastly tweed jacket’s pocket after saving the Coronation from being ruined by a rampaging Republican Sontaran… or… something…
“Well, spill the beans then, Mr Smug-and-Cryptic”, Amy prompted, nudging him in the rib with her elbow. “No big secrets today, not on my birthday – “
“Oh, it’s your birthday?” the Doctor asked innocently, looking at her through his floppy fringe, “strange you’ve never mentioned it – “
“Haha, funny man,” Amy laughed, pulling a face at him.
“How’s he doing?” the Doctor asked, glancing back up the stairs. Somewhere up there, he wasn’t exactly sure where, Amy’s new husband, Rory, was either sprawled out on a bed, sleeping off his latest bout of vomiting, or he was hunched over a toilet, getting started on another bout.
Amy humphed. “No! Stop trying to change the subject and tell me where you’re taking me – “
“You’re not worried about him?” the Doctor asked.
“Ah, it’s his own fault,” Amy sighed, “for eating that big juicy strawberry…thingy… in that wood back on…um… wherever it was…”
The Doctor sighed back at her. “Strawberry thingy? Wherever it was? You just don’t pay attention, do you?” he said sadly. “As I told you both as we walked through that beautiful forest on Kador Prime, that was a Kador Berry, one of the rarest, most succulent fruits in the galaxy, worth a hundred times its weight in gold – “
“…and poisonous to humans,” Amy said, completing his sentence for him, looking up at the TARDIS ceiling.
“…and very poisonous to humans,” the Time Lord repeated, fiddling with more instruments, “especially, it seems, humans who are deaf and stupid and can’t refuse a dare from a mad, red-haired Scottish girl.”
“He didn’t have to eat it…” Amy replied, with more than a hint of a wicked smile. “Anyway, stop trying to distract me by changing the subject! Where are you taking me?”
“For your birthday…”
“Yes, for my birthday!” Amy purred.
The Doctor looked round at her now, his widest, most impish smile on his face. “Oh, Pond, I’ve outdone myself this time, even if I say so myself…!” he beamed, pulling on a lever at the same time as tapping out a numerical code on the ancient-looking, clacketty typewriter that seemed to serve as the TARDIS’ main input keyboard.
“It had better be somewhere where we can have an adventure!” Amy warned him dramatically, looking him right in the eye.
“Adventure, check,” he replied, nodding.
“And drama! Lots of drama!” Amy continued, putting her hand to her forehead theatrically.
“Oh, yes, drama, yes… plenty of that where we’ve landed,” the Doctor assured her.
“And spaceships!” Amy added quickly. “We never see spaceships! You always take me to some… cave… or quarry… or village… or a village in a quarry… “
“Oh Pond, there are more spaceships here than you can count!” the Doctor smiled, eyes twinkling.
“And I don’t want to go to Earth again, please!” Amy wailed melodramatically. “I love it… my own little world… but come ON, when you finally came back for me you lured me into this thing with promises of taking me to exotic planets, PLANETS, Doctor, not just my own planet, in the past or the future, again and again and – “
“We’re not on Earth!” the Doctor interrupted, taking her hands in his, “I promise – “
Amy fell silent, suddenly realising what he’d been saying.
He looked at her. “It’s ok. I’ll wait. It’ll come to you in a…”
“You said ‘where we’ve landed’…” Amy said accusingly.
“And there it is…” the Doctor smiled, “the sweet, unmistakeable sound of a penny finally dropping, only heard when Amy Pond pauses to draw breath – “
“When did we land?” Amy demanded, eyes narrowing.
“Um… about the time you walked down the stairs,” he confessed.
“So all this… “ she looked down at the console… “messing about… fiddling with things… it was just to – “
“Gotcha!” he grinned. Followed by a loud “Ow!” as she punched him on the arm.
“Alright,” Amy said loudly, striding over towards the TARDIS doors. “Where have you brought me for my birthday? And it had better be good – “
“Good?” the Doctor repeated, walking over to her. “Good?! Pond… beyond those doors is a world of wonder and beauty, a world that is unlike any other in the Galaxy, perhaps the whole universe…”
Amy saw his eyes were flashing as he spoke. 900 years old, she thought, and still just a big kid who was given the keys to the sweet shop…
“It’s the world where Mankind finally grew up,” the Time Lord continued, pulling on his best tweed jacket with a President Bartlett-like flourish and – knowing how much Amy hated it – making a point of straightening his bow tie in the little mirror mounted beside the door. “This, Pond, is where your species learned to put aside all its silly little guns, and stop wasting time and money making bombs, and work together to build something… bigger… something amazing… “
“Sounds interesting – “
“No, no, no,” he butted in, “Kador Prime is interesting… New Earth is interesting… but this world, oh, Pond, this world is…”
“…still behind the doors…” Amy growled at him impatiently, folding her arms across her chest.
“Oh, I’m doing it again aren’t I? Keeping you waiting, I mean…Sorry…” he apologised, then, more seriously. “Time for your birthday present, Amy…” And with that he clicked his fingers above his head, commanding the TARDIS doors to open.
They swung open silently, revealing –
“Oh, you didn’t…” Amy whispered, looking through the doors.
“Oh yes, I did…!” the Doctor grinned, looking like a particularly smug Cheshire Cat.
“Doctor, please,” Amy breathed, taking in the view, barely able to trust her own eyes, “tell me you didn’t…”
“But I did,” the Doctor said, “just for you…”
Amy walked past him in slow motion, feet dragging as if in a dream. “I don’t believe it,” she said quietly, stepping out of the TARDIS, “I just don’t… believe… it…! I can’t believe you brought me to – ”
“Oh Pond, no need to thank me, it’s nothing, really,” the Time Lord replied, smiling bashfully behind her, “you’re worth it – “
“…A MUSEUM FOR MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!” Amy shouted furiously from outside.
The Doctor’s smile vanished in an instant. “Oops.” Then he was yanked outside by a pair of very angry Scottish hands.
“Outside” was a large gallery, full of spot-lit display cases, mounted pictures and panels all around. People were milling about, some walking quietly between exhibits, others pausing beside them, silent and deep in thought -
“Adventure, check, you said…” Amy hissed accusingly, grabbing him by the collar of his jacket, her face pressed almost up against his as she looked at the room around her; “Plenty of drama, you said… more spaceships than you can count, you said!”
“Pond, please,” the Doctor whispered, looking around them, “people are staring…”
Amy tore her gaze away from him and looked more closely at her surroundings. Yep, definitely a museum of some sort, with all the usual suspect museum lighting, displays, exhibits and atmosphere, but… the people… they looked…
“Wrong…” Amy said quietly. “The people here,” she repeated, watching a couple go by, arm in arm, “they look… wrong…”
“There’s nothing wrong with them,” the Doctor said impatiently, “they’re just different – “
“Different?” Amy parroted. “Different how? How different? Killer robot auton different? Mad clone different? Alien different?”
“Alien…ish… different…” the Doctor told her, smiling self-consciously at the couple walking past, who were looking at him and Amy with concerned and baffled expressions. “She’s just playing,” he reassured them, “she loves me really…” The couple walked on, looking over their shoulders. “Let me go, and I’ll fill in the blanks,” he told Amy, his voice dropping as he added: “you’re drawing attention to us, and that’s not a good idea… not today… not now…”
Amy looked at him through eyes narrow as slits, then, grudgingly, let go of his jacket collar. But here eyes were still flaming with anger, and the Doctor wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest if they’d suddenly started burning with the same flame red as her hair –
“Alright, you big bow tie wearing birthday spoiler,” Amy hissed, “from the top…”
The Doctor smiled. He loved this part.
“Look around you, Pond,” he began, “look at the people… you think they look wrong, well, some of them at least. Why? What’s wrong with them?
Amy surveyed the room. It was true: there were twenty five, maybe thirty people in the room, and although half looked perfectly normal, the other half looked… odd… strange… wrong…
“Too tall,” she thought out-loud, “too skinny, too lanky… they’re like supermodels, but not…”
“Tall and thin and pale…” the Doctor repeated, “and why would that be Pond?”
Amy’s mind began to whir, despite herself. She couldn’t stifle her natural curiosity, she just couldn’t. It was one reason why she loved travelling in the TARDIS so much.
The famous light bulb went on above her head.
“Low gravity…” she told him, “they’ve grown tall in low gravity…” She thought it through quickly. “We’re on a small planet…”
“Well done, you finally spotted the bleeding obvious,” the Doctor congratulated her, earning him a dark scowl, “now, look again, more closely…”
Amy studied a family standing by one of the nearby display cases. Mother, father and young child. All tall, all skinny, all –
“They’re pale, too…like they’ve never been in the Sun…”
“Maybe they haven’t…?” the Doctor suggested. “Maybe – “
“Are you going to let me guess or not?” Amy asked hotly. The Doctor put his hands up.
Amy continued to study the young alien-ish family, who were laughing and behaving just like a ‘normal’ family. But clearly weren’t. “Maybe they can’t go outside..?” Amy mused, “maybe we’re underground, in a cave…? Oh no, not another cave,” she groaned, sagging, “please tell me we’re not in another bl- “ The Doctor shook his head quickly and empthatically. “No? Ok, not a cave… that’s good then…” Amy said to herself, relieved.
Then she noticed a glow coming from the far side of the room, throwing people’s shadows across the floor. A lighting panel? A large, illuminated display case? No, it was a window… but something about the window was wrong too. It was no use; she had to go and see.
“You stay right here,” she commanded the Doctor threateningly, prodding her finger into his chest, “I’m not done with you yet…!” With her other hand she stabbed out two fingers and pointed them right at his eyes, waving them from side to side for extra effect, just as he was always doing to her. Getting the point, the Doctor held his hands up again, then made a show of leaning back against the TARDIS, crossing his legs and folding his arms, settling back to wait for her return. Amy cast one last look back at him, then set off across the room.
Wondering why he was smiling that big, beaming smile…
Weaving her way through the crowd, long legs carrying her across the floor, the heels of her cowboy boots clicking even more loudly than they did in the TARDIS, she advanced upon the glowing window. The light coming through it was soft and warm, yellowish, almost golden, like syrup, or marmalade… liquid marmalade pouring through the window to spread across the floor. Finally she was there, standing by the window. Leaning forward she looked out –
The world beyond the window was absolutely alien but instantly familiar. Between the glass of the window and the wide range of gently rolling hills stretching across the oddly-close horizon was a vast, wide open plain, strewn and scattered with jagged rocks, large and small. A huge, cloudless sky dominated and dwarfed the landscape below. That sky was pink, and everything beneath it was painted a thousand different tones, hues and shades of orange, red, and brown.
“Oh my…” Amy said, her breath leaving her in a gasp so loud it made several people nearby look around. She was shaking now, unsteady on her feet, the wind knocked out of her. “I’m on… I’m on…!”
“Happy Birthday, Pond,” she heard a familiar voice whisper softly in her ear, “welcome to The great Museum of Mars…”
* * *
“So,” Amy said in a low, still-angry voice as they walked through the Museum’s ‘Geology’ gallery together, “let me get this straight…” Beside her, the Doctor sighed; Amy loved ‘getting things straight’ more than any human he’d ever encountered. “I asked to be taken somewhere special, somewhere magical for my birthday, and you bring me to a Museum – “
“On Mars,” the Doctor pointed out –
“ – the planet next door to Earth, just across the road from Earth,” Amy scowled, taking long, coltish strides across the room.
“But it’s not Earth,” the Doctor persisted, struggling to keep up with her even with his own long, lanky legs. He wanted to stop and look at the rocks on in the cases, names like “Humphrey” and “Big Joe” and “Mackinac Island” shouting out at him, but Amy wasn’t slowing up, so they were behind him before he even had a chance. “Be fair, it’s another planet entirely, just as you asked, just as you put on your checklist – “
“I meant ‘another planet entirely a gazillillion gwillion light years from home’!”Amy fumed, exasperatedly, “a planet with rings, or liquid diamond rain, or talking frogs, or… or… “
The Doctor cocked one eye. “Talking frogs? Really? Because you never mentioned that – ”
“No, not really!” Amy said, rolling her eyes, “I meant…” Finally running out of the energy she needed to stay angry with him she sagged, and stopped walking. “Oh… I just wanted to go somewhere new… somewhere I hadn’t seen before, you know?”
“But you haven’t been here before!” the Doctor replied, sounding just a little hurt. Then, worried. “Have you? Did someone else bring you here before me? I thought I was your first – “
“Shut up!” she laughed, swatting at his arm. “No, I haven’t been here before, but it feels like I have…” The Doctor still looked puzzled. “…because I’ve seen so many pictures of it, on the TV and in books and magazines,” Amy explained. “I even used to look at pictures from those Mars rover thingies on the internet, when it was on the news that one of them had photographed a gorilla – “
The Doctor looked at the ceiling in despair. “Oh good grief, that was a – “
“ – a rock, I knooooooow!” she drawled, “Mars… freezing cold… no air… no food… not exactly a brilliant place for a gorilla to hang out…” The Doctor laughed, feeling a little embarrassed and sorry he had doubted her. “ But I grew up with images of Mars everywhere, so it feels… familiar, not really alien at all… I’m sorry, I know you thought you were bringing me somewhere special – “
“Oh, no, no…” the Doctor said, shaking his head, “ah, no… this isn’t ‘it’… sorry, you’ve misunderstood – well, you’ve not actually given me a chance to explain to be fair,” he interrupted himself, “I brought you to Mars, yes, but not just to show you Mars… I brought you here to show you something else…”
Amy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously again. “Something else? What else?”
He laughed and tapped the side of his nose. “Haha, that’s a secret – for now,” he replied cryptically, the Cheshire Cat grin returning to his deceptively youthful face as he sensed and, truth be told, relished, her frustration. “For now, you’ll just have to come with me…”
And with that he set off across the room, back towards the rocks he’d had to walk past. Then another idea occurred to him. He turned smartly on his heel and then headed for the door on the other side.
“Oh, make up your mind! Where are we going?” Amy called after him, sounding a little more whiney than she’d intended.
“There has to be a gift shop around here somewhere,” the Doctor replied over his shoulder. “Oh, I love gift shops! Packed full of… stuff… Stuff you don’t need, won’t ever need, but stuff that’s good to have, stuff that makes you smile…Room for just one more magnet on the TARDIS fridge, I think. Come along, Pond!”
Amy let out a long, weary sigh. Somehow the Doctor had managed to take control of the situation away from her, defuse her anger with that stupid… choir boy grin of his… and convince her to stay, too. How did he do that?
Letting out another, even longer, even more weary-sounding sigh, Amy followed him. As she always did.
As she always would, for as long as she could. As long as he’d have her onboard.
* * *
Eventually, after the Doctor has filled his jacket pockets with erasers, stickers and bookmarks (“One can never have too many bookmarks, Pond!”) they left the comfortingly tacky “Gusev Gift Shop” and wandered on through the Museum. Walking alongside him, Amy suspected the Doctor was following a route already mapped out in his own head… he usually was… but couldn’t sense any real pattern, so she just tagged along, playing the good tourist.
“Isn’t this something?” the Doctor smiled, stalking happily along a row of display cases that contained what looked like bits of old spacesuit – gloves, air valves, visors, etc. “A museum… on Mars… All run by volunteers, you know! Mars Heritage… amazing group of people… Just kids really, determined to preserve Mars’ past for future generations. Kind of a martian National Trust… without the big stately homes and outrageous car parking charges.”
He looked around him, taking in the variety of exhibits in the room. “You humans, can’t resist collecting all your old stuff, cleaning it up and putting it out for everyone to see,” he said wistfully. “You’re the most expert accomplished and enthusiastic hoarders in the whole of the Galaxy.”
“Well, excuse us!” Amy pouted.
“No, no, it’s a good thing, a great thing!” the Doctor enthused, peering down at his latest discovery – a charred fabric mission patch which had the words “Gold” and ‘Bowie Base 1’ embroidered around its edge. “So many races just bulldoze over their past, shovel it all into big holes in the ground, re-write their history… But not you lot, oh no; you take your darkest times, your most shameful periods and you frame them, put them behind glass, shine a light on them and sell models of them in a gift shop. It’s brilliant!”
Amy said nothing, it was best not to when he was in one of his pat-humanity-patronisingly-on-the-head moods. Instead she took advantage of their pause in trekking around the Museum to look around her and realised that the Museum was much busier now than it had been when they’d materialised in the TARDIS –
“Come along Pond,” the Doctor said, tugging impatiently on her elbow, “lots more to see before…” His voice trailed off.
“As a great lady once said… ‘Ah ah ah, spoilers..!’ ” the Doctor replied, and they shared a knowing, secret smile before moving on.
Amy lost count of the number of times she followed the Doctor “this way!” or “no, this way!”, and most of the exhibits meant absolutely nothing to her. Although it looked impressively huge, like an sports photographer’s enormous telephoto lens with a hood at the front, she had no idea what the “famous HiRISE camera” actually was; nor did she have even the remotest clue why the box-like “Phoenix TEGA Oven” had a cartoon next to it showing a green martian stamping furiously on top of it with its foot, trying to cram some dirt into it, but she figured that the Museum visitors knew what it was.
Eventually she came to a display case that piqued her curiosity.
“What on Earth is that..?” she asked the Doctor, kneeling down in front of a large fish tank-like display case. Inside, scattered across a layer of orange-red dust studded with rocks, were what looked like a dozen or so pieces of shrapnel from a World War 2 bomb. The metal fragments were twisted, contorted, and surrounded by countless flakes of glittery blue… stuff. Tiles? Glass? she wondered.
“Oh, you poor, poor thing…” the Doctor said sadly, crouching down beside her and looking into the case. “So they finally found you, eh?”
“What is it?” Amy prompted. The Doctor looked genuinely moved.
“Look at the picture up there,” the Doctor said without taking his eyes off the metal remains in the case. “Mean anything?”
Amy stood up again and looked at the information board above the case. On it was a picture of what looked strangely like a small garden barbeque set – a round, flattened body with three petal-like structures spreading away from it. Beside it was a small dog, looking very sad, standing upon the surface of Mars with the scraps of a torn-up Union Jack scattered around it. Amy tilted her head and screwed her eyes up, trying to make sense of it. What the..?
“Ah…” she whispered.
“I know…” the Doctor nodded.
“Oh… this is… it…” continued Amy.
“Yes, it is,” he agreed. “Poor thing, you were beautiful once…”
Amy knelt down beside the Doctor once more, and couldn’t help feeling a little sad herself. “Beagle 2…” she said in a small voice.
“Or what was left of it, after its rather, um, hard landing…” the Doctor said mournfully. “The craftsmanship in that probe, Amy, quite extraordinary… exquisite miniaturisation, like a pocket watch, everything fitted together just perfectly…”
“Not much left of it, is there?” Amy observed matter-of-factly. The Doctor turned to her. “What?”
“You try landing on Mars at oh-my-god!-thousand miles per hour, without a parachute, and see how much is left of you,” he said, “it’s a wonder this much was left…” He peered in at the remains of the famous, doomed lander. “You could have been so great,” he said quietly, “so great…” Then the Doctor got back to his feet and led Amy away, without looking back.
* * *
Amy found herself jostling for space at some of the exhibits as they went from room to room. It was a new, and not entirely welcome, experience; on Earth, with her height, she had always been able to work her way to the front of any queue or group just through her size, but here, on Mars, she was, she had to admit, short – at least compared to the tall and lanky Museum visitors swarming through the halls and galleries.
“They’re martians, aren’t they? Real life martians?” she asked the Doctor, pausing to look at a group of a dozen or so young people bustling around one of the display cases. The way they acted was strangely familiar, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it…
“Yes, martians…” the Doctor confirmed. “No tentacles, no suckers, no hideously pulsating skin… just people, like you and me – well, like you,” he corrected himself quickly, “who were born on Mars. In its low gravity they grow up tall and thin, like reeds. Amazing, nature, evolution, don’t you think?” he beamed at her.
“And they’re martian kids, aren’t they?” Amy said, suddenly realising why their behaviour looked so familiar. The Loud One, at the front, performing for the others… the Quiet One over there, to the side, wanting to keep themselves to themselves, to blend in… the Moody One, right at the back, wishing they were somewhere else, anywhere else… and over there, detached from the pack, two exhibits along, the Curious One, the one who couldn’t stop themselves dashing from one display to the next, happy and impatient as a dog in a lamp-post factory. They had to see, had to see, had to see!
Amy smiled; that had been her on their school trips to Museums –
“I know you’re not their biggest fan, but even you have to admit this is a fantastic Museum, Pond,” the Doctor said, peering into a display case at a piece of twisted metal. A sign next to it read ‘Piece of Mars 3’. “Maybe the best we’ve been to – “
“ – and there have been lots…” Amy sighed heavily.
“Not that many,” the Doctor protested. Amy just looked at him. “Alright, we’ve been to a few museums – “
“There’s something more important in there, I think,” Amy interrupted, catching sight of a big crowd gathered around… something… in a darkened room off to their right. “Let’s go see…”
“Ah ha!” smiled the Doctor triumphantly, wagging a finger at his companion, “you see? The Museum bug has bitten you, too!”
“No, I’m just wondering if it’s another cryptic message from your wife-or-whatever-she-is, River,” Amy countered brightly, adding, wickedly, “maybe there’s an ancient Mars rock with ‘You’ve got a cute bum, sweetie!” carved on it…”
The Doctor shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Pond, that’s impossible…” he snorted. Then, whispering to himself, “I got rid of that one years ago…”
“I recognise that!” Amy said cheerily, walking into the room. Standing in a roped-off area in the middle of the large, dark gallery, lit by several roof-mounted spotlights, and surrounded by dozens of strangely-quiet Museum visitors, was a distinctly insect-like robot. With wheels. Six of them.
“Have to give them their due,” Amy conceded, after squeezing and squirming through a gap between two particularly tall martians until she was standing right in front of the rover, “it looks just like the real thing…”
Several of the martians clustered around the rover turned to look at her disapprovingly. Amy put a finger to her lips, apologising for being so loud. She hadn’t meant to be. And the room was unusually quiet… un-naturally quiet, even for a Museum. It felt more like a church, or a shrine…
“That’s because it is the ‘real thing’,” the Doctor said in hushed tones, nudging his way expertly through the crowd, handing out polite, Professor-ish “excuse me!”s like sweets, to stand beside her.
The Mars Exploration Rover shone brightly before them, the solar arrays on her back reflecting the spotlights like mirrors. “Mars Heritage brought the real rovers back here, to their Museum, and left exact replicas out there, on the surface, for tourists to stand beside and have their photographs taken with,” the Doctor explained, then turned to her. “We can do that later, if you like? Birthday treat! Thousands do… they walk along the very routes the rovers took, just like people back on your planet follow the ‘Oregon Trail’ or things like that. Doesn’t take long… couple of days – sorry, sols – and that includes two nights’ camping, songs around a holographic camp fire… great fun…”
“… if you’re twelve…!” Amy laughed loudly, earning herself more scowls – and even a couple of “Shhhh!”s from her fellow Museum visitors. “No thanks,” she continued bashfully, “I went camping once. Got stung by a wasp, fell into a cow pat and woke up with a centipede doing the Riverdance on my face. I’ll stick to the TARDIS’ swimming pool and my own bed, thank you very much…”
“Suit yourself,” the Doctor said. “I’ll go on my own maybe.” They both laughed at that, knowing he’d hate doing that on his own.
“Why is it so quiet in here?” Amy asked the Doctor, puzzled. The martians were gazing at the rover before them with the kind of expressions of adoration and awe priests wore when gazing upon a holy relic or a full collection plate.
“This is one of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Amy,” the Doctor explained. “The people of Mars think of them very dearly. Many historians think that if the rovers hadn’t been so successful, hadn’t discovered what they did, Mars would never have been settled, at least not as quickly as it was. They were that important.”
“They’re just robots – “
Amy’s face reddened as she heard several of the martians around her actually gasp in horror and disbelief.
“This room is their church, and this is their altar,” the Doctor whispered. “Show some respect, Pond…” He bowed his head solemnly.
Amy thought he was serious until she saw him winking at her through his fringe. He’d almost had her…!
“Opportunity?” Amy guessed, looking at the rover more closely.
“No, 50/50 shot and you blew it,” laughed the Time Lord. “This one’s ‘Spirit’, the first of the pair to land on Mars,” he announced without even having to look at the information panel mounted on the wall. Amy looked at him, waiting for an explanation of his latest display of clever-cloggs-ness. “Tiny magnet on the top, over there,” he explained, nodding towards the rear of the rover, which had been put on display in the centre of a diorama of very real-looking red and orange rocks, “it’s mounted at an ever-so-slightly different angle to the one on Spirit.”
“You are such a nerd,” Amy laughed, not unkindly. “Only the nerdiest geekiest kid in the class would know something like that – “
“Oi!” the Doctor protested, “we prefer the term ‘rover hugger’, if you don’t mind…”
Squatting down to take a closer look at the rover he smiled warmly, and Amy couldn’t shake the feeling that the Doctor felt like he was meeting an old friend again, especially when she overheard him whispering: “Last time I saw you, you were stuck up to your axles in dust, but we soon fixed that, didn’t we dear?”
“Shall I leave you two alone?” Amy purred suggestively, earning her yet another scowl of disapproval from a nearby rover worshipper. “Oh, go and pick some apples from a high branch or something, giraffe girl…” Amy shot back, her eyes flaming, at which the martian turned away quickly.
“Oh, that reminds me, “the Doctor said to her, “the Library phoned, they want that book on ‘Tactful Behaviour Around Aliens” back. Soon as you can, there’s a request in for it – “
“Well…” Amy pouted, “You know I don’t like being shushed –
“Shush!” he replied, and Amy glared at him, planting her hands on her hips.
“What? Are you trying to be – “
“I said shush!” the Doctor repeated, seriously, holding up his hand. “Can you hear that?”
Amy strained to hear what he was talking about. Nope. Nothing. She shrugged at him.
“It’s starting!” the Doctor said, delighted. “We’re just in time, come on, Pond!” and with that he grabbed her hand and led her out of the Opportunity Gallery at a fast pace.
Trotting after the Doctor, following him blindly up a corridor, Amy began to hear noises up ahead. It was just a low, rumbling murmur, a background chunter, the same sound you’d hear walking past a busy pub. So, a crowd was up ahead…
Turning a corner she saw where the noise was coming from.
Up ahead was a large room, larger than the Opportunity gallery by maybe as much again, and it was full of people. No, it was crammed full of people. And they were all gathered elbow to elbow in front of a big screen.
“What’s happening?” Amy wondered aloud, “are they showing a World Cup football match? Mars vs Saturn or something?”
“Not quite…” the Doctor corrected her. “Look, on the screen, classic talking head…”
Amy looked thru a small gap between two of the shorter martians’ heads. On the screen, smiling an expensive, Osmond-bright smile, a blonde female news presenter, with the standard issue fluffy hair and sharply-cut powder blue suit, was talking, chattering away almost giddy with excitement. Above her left shoulder was a stylised logo – a trio of penguins, in space helmets, walking across an iceberg, with what looked like a single flower poking up through the ice up ahead…
“A news show?” Amy huffed, disappointed. The Doctor nodded. “They’re all here watching the stupid news?”
“No news is stupid, Pond,” the Doctor chided her, wagging a finger, “it always matters to someone. Just because an event doesn’t light your candle doesn’t mean – “
“Ohhhhh, alriiight!” Amy drawled, “spare me the thicko lecture. I get it, ok? Let’s just see what’s got Space News Barbie’s candle flickering so brightly…” Together they headed for the door.
And found it blocked. By a particularly tall, and uncharacteristically muscular martian Security Guard.
“Sorry sir, ma’am,” the martian said politely but firmly, blocking the door with his body. “Invited guests only.”
“Oh, we’re invited!” the Doctor said brightly, taking another step.
“Then you’ll have an invitation to show me sir,” the martian said, still blocking the door, effortlessly keeping his voice even and steady.
“Show him your invitation, numptie…” Amy hissed beside him. “You know… the paper – “
“Yes, I know, thank you, Pond,” the Doctor said through gritted teeth. Reaching into his jacket’s inside pocket he pulled out the little black wallet that held his psychic paper. Flipping open the wallet he held it up before the guard’s face. “My invitation, see?” the Doctor said confidently
“I’m sorry, sir,” apologised the guard in a rush, “I had no idea the Terran High Commission for Terraforming” had sent anyone to join in with our celebrations, let alone the High Commisioner himself. Please, go right in…” He stepped aside.
“Why… thank you, my good man…” the Doctor said with a luvvie flourish, breezing past the guard, inordinately pleased with himself. Amy followed, but not before flashing the security guard one of her most dazzling, triumphant “Ha! Beat you!” smiles.
Inside the room was heaving. Martians were packed in like sardines, wall to wall, with barely a gap between them, and soon after starting to nudge and push their way through the throng the Doctor and Amy were locked fast inside the centre of the crowd.
“Excuse us…” said the Doctor, but this time his request fell on deaf ears. No-one moved. “I said, excuse me,” the Doctor repeated, louder.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he heard a gruff voice say from somewhere above and behind him, and he looked up to see a tall, elegant-looking martian woman staring down at him. He felt like a mouse caught in the gaze of an eagle.
“Sorry? Didn’t quite catch that,” the Doctor said. Beside him Amy mumbled something along the lines of “just kick her shin, she’ll move!” but he ignored her.
“I said, you shouldn’t be here,” the martian woman repeated more slowly, and quite menacingly. Her gaze swept over Amy then like a radar beam. “Damned Earthers,” the alien woman snarled, unable to keep the contempt out of her voice, “meddling in our business. You’re not welcome here. Go home to your own damp, dirty world in The Glare… and take your evil terraforming ideas with you.”
The Doctor was puzzled by her attack. “But I’m not – “ he began, then suddenly remembered what had appeared on his psychic paper to the guard at the door a few minutes earlier. “Oh….” Obviously the martians in the room had overheard.
“What’s terraforming?” Amy asked. “I’ve heard of it… some Star Trek episode, I think… “
“Terraforming is changing a planet to make it more like Earth,” the Doctor began to explain, turning away from the offended martian and keeping his voice very low, “more habitable… for Mars that means thickening the atmosphere, raising the temperature and atmospheric pressure. Do that, you turn Red Mars into Green Mars… lichen here and there first, then proper plants, and trees…” he continued, “like the arctic, or Himalayas… perishing cold, and air barely thick enough to breathe, but just about survivable…”
“That sounds nothing like Earth,” Amy huffed.
“Ah, but then after more time, Green Mars becomes Blue Mars, “the Doctor continued, “complete with gurgling rivers, fish-filled lakes and a beautiful blue sky painted with fluffy white, sheep-like clouds…”
“Now that sounds like a great idea,” Amy said approvingly, casting a glance out of a nearby window, “not much here now… all this dust, and rocks… and dusty rocks – “
“It’s not that simple, Pond,” the Doctor whispered, noticing several of the martians were looking at him rather intensely. Could they hear him? “Many of the martians are fiercely proud of Mars just the way it is. They love the dust and the rocks… and the dusty rocks… they see that as Mars’ natural state, magnificent desolation and all that. They hate the very idea of terraforming, hate it – “
“Maybe it won’t happen,” Amy said cheerfully, “sounds like a long job, and very expensive too, if I know contractors – “
“Oh, it happens,” the Doctor said, keeping his voice low, “nothing can stop it happening. Pressure on Earth’s population was increasing in your time, Amy, just imagine what it’s like now, a century later… fewer resources, billions more mouths to feed… Earth is the Titanic, sinking fast, and Mars is a big fat lifeboat, just waiting to be jumped into.”
“So Mars becomes – “
“A paradise world, really,” the Doctor said, smiling wistfully, memories flooding back. “Valles Marineris becomes the longest lake in the solar system; people spend their whole lives just sailing up and down it. It has ships the size of cities, which just go up and down, up and down… Olympus Mons’ flanks are covered in lush forests, only the top poking out above the trees, like Mt Fuji…”
“Sounds lovely…” Amy sighed, adding, tartly, “…in fact, it sounds like a beautiful place to be taken for your birthday…”
“Oh, it’s beautiful alright,” the Doctor said, ignoring the jibe, “but that beauty’s paid for, in blood…” Amy looked at him quizzically. “War… civil war… comes to the planet named after the God of War,” the Doctor said under his breath. “The martians who want to keep Mars red wage a resistance campaign… shuttles are blown out of the sky, modules destroyed by bombs, bursting open like rotten fruit on a hot day… women and children sucked out to die in agony on the dusty ground…”
He looked around him then, at the crowd of martians gathered in the gallery, and couldn’t help wondering how many of their great, great grandchildren would die in the horrors to come. How many of them would become the leaders of the opposing factions?
“The final battle for the future and fate of Mars is fought on the Columbia Hills,” the Time Lord said sadly, “the exact place where the rover we saw before did all its exploring. It’s terrible Amy, terrible… two armies clashing in the light of the shrunken sun, beneath a sky the colour of honey… “
“Guns on Mars, just like in the sci-fi movies,” Amy said distantly, but the Doctor shook his head.
“Oh no, no guns, too clumsy, too cumbersome for space-suited warriors; knives and swords are the weapon of choice in the Battle of Homeplate, they are much more effective and efficient here on Mars that projectile or beam weapons…”
He paused then, bitter memories flooding back.
“I saw it Amy, I watched the battle… soldiers, thick as starlings, flowing across the Hills like ants across a rainforest floor, their swords and daggers flashing in the sunlight before ripping, tearing and slicing open spacesuits, blood spraying like fountains before freezing in mid air and falling to the ground like sapphires…” A deep sadness seemed to overwhelm him as he added “Not the Mars Adelaide Brooks had in mind at all – “
That was when a hand shoved him in the back. Hard.
“You terraformers,” jeered a tall martian man, his face contorted into a sneer, “why can’t you leave us alone? Go ruin Venus, or Ganymede, or Titan instead…”
“It’ll take a long time,” the Doctor tried to reassure the martian, “definitely centuries… tens of centuries, probably,” he went on, but he could see from the expression on the martian’s face that he was banging his head against a hab module wall.
“Keep Mars Red…!” hissed another martian from the Doctor’s other side, then another, closer to the screen, did the same. Beside him Amy shuffled uncomfortably. She’d been in enough rough pubs in Inverness to know when a room was going bad.
“I think,” the Doctor suggested, under his breath, as another martian, then another, turned away from the screen to look at them angrily, “that we should leave – “
Just then Space News Barbie’s voice cut through the growing noise, and everyone’s attention was snapped back to the screen.
“…and we’re just getting reports that the science team is on final approach to the fissure,” she announced, with – of course – one finger pressed into her ear.
“Phew,” whistled Amy, “saved by the dumb belle…”
The scene on the screen shifted then. Gone was Space News Barbie, replaced by what looked like live footage from a shuddery, juddery camera… somewhere…
“Antarctica…” Amy guessed, noting the bright landscape. That had to be ice or snow, it had to be. Several martians turned to look at her with what was obviously contempt, or despair, or a mixture of both.
“Look at the sky Amy,” the Doctor suggested, nodding towards the screen. Amy looked. The sky was black, blacker than coal, blacker than coal covered in pitch.
“Alright, Antarctica at night…” Amy clarified.
“Can’t be, look at the ground – “
“You just told me to look at the sky – “
“Yes, and now I’m telling you to look at the ground…” the Doctor growled impatiently.
Amy let out her best ‘It’s so unfair!’ aggrieved teenager sigh, but looked more closely at the sky as he had told her to. “It’s bright…So? Ice is bright…”
“… at night?” the Doctor prompted.
“…if it’s Full Moon, yes!” Amy countered.
The Time Lord smiled, secretly quite proud of her reasoning. “You’re warm, Pond… relatively speaking, of course… Keep watching the screen, you’ll see soon enough…”
The image on the screen suddenly steadied and then froze as the camera being used to take and broadcast the pictures back from Wherever-it-was stopped moving. Amy leaned forward curiously. The landscape was certainly icy… like Antarctica… but now she looked more closely she could see it was much more, well, alien-looking: it was criss-crossed with lines – no, cross-hatched was a more accurate description; the lines ran across each other, as if this was a world made of mashed potato and God, bored with creating stuff, had killed some time raking a giant fork across it, again and again –
Then the camera swung around quickly to the left – and Amy realised that its operator was many millions of miles from Antarctica.
Hanging above the horizon, its lower limb just clearing it by maybe a finger’s width, was a big, bloated ball. Creamy white, and crossed with one… two… Amy counted them… three… four horizontal bands of dark toffee brown, and mottled with countless whirls and whorls of orange, yellow, caramel and tan, the ball was much bigger in the sky than the Moon appeared in Earth’s sky. As wide as her outstretched hand, it dominated the sky, suspended above the icy, frozen landscape like a huge Christmas tree bauble that had been spattered and streaked with paint –
“That’s…!” Amy breathed raggedly, unable to believe what she was seeing. “I saw that on the telly once… some science program on the Beeb… a mission to the planets… bit cheesy, but the effects were brilliant… and that,” she said, pointing at the scene on the huge screen, “looks a lot like Jupiter…”
“Of course it’s Jupiter,” one of the nearest martians scoffed, “where else would the Europa mission have gone?”
“Europa…” Amy repeated, “this is live from Europa..?”
Hearing a quiet snuffle she turned to see the Doctor smiling to himself.
“This is ‘it’, isn’t it?” she said accusingly. “This is what you brought me here to see…”
“The first manned landing on Europa,” the Doctor said, wonder in his voice. “You humans, never can resist a new landscape, can you?”
Amy watched the pictures on the screen. The camera was panning to the left now, and she caught her first glimpse of a space-suited figure. She was shocked to see the spacesuit was a bright red colour, the vivid, eye-blindingly bright colour of fire engines in children’s books. She was even more shocked when the camera panned right and a brilliant blue spaceman – or woman – appeared on the screen, waving to the audience back home before the camera tilted away and refocused on the icy horizon and Jupiter hanging above it.
“What’s with the fat Teletubby dalek colours?” Amy asked. “I thought spacesuits had to be white… isn’t that the Law, or something?”
“Look at that place, Pond,” the Doctor replied, nodding towards the screen, “what colour do you see? In all directions?”
Amy gazed at the screen. Ice, ice everywhere, an endless plain of it, shining a brilliant, dazzling white in the –
“Ohhhhhh…..” she let out, realising the reason for the gaudy EVA suits. “White ice… white suit… good way to get lost – “
“A great way to get lost,” the Doctor butted in, “you want to stand out a place like that, not blend in – “
“Hang on,” Amy interrupted, head cocked to one side. Something didn’t make sense here. “You brought me to Mars… on my birthday… to watch a huge, historical event… on the telly?”
“It’s a big telly – “ the Doctor objected, but Amy cut him off with an upraised hand.
“We have a machine that can travel in time and space…” she reasoned, “why didn’t you just take me to Europa itself, so we could watch it in person? We went to see the Moon landing, and the first woman to land on Mars – “
“This is different,” the Doctor said, his voice barely a whisper. “I can’t land on Europa – “
“Can’t? Cant why?” Amy demanded. The Doctor had sounded… uncomfortable. Embarrassed, even. “Is there a spooky alien force field there or something?”
The Doctor shook his head. “No… no… No force field…” He looked away. “It’s… “ He seemed to be about to tell her, then retreated away from it. “No, you wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” Amy persisted.
“Well…” the Doctor began, quite bashfully, “I made a promise, to a friend, that I wouldn’t land on that particular moon…”
“You made a…” Amy parroted, incredulously, “no, don’t believe you.” Then, quickly: “Which friend?”
The Doctor took a deep breath. “A writer… famous 20th century storyteller, someone way, waaay ahead of their time – “
“Dan Brown? Katie Price?” Amy offered sarcastically. The Doctor glowered at her. “Who then?”
“Arthur C Clarke,” the Doctor told her, “great writer – great man,” he said, “a real visionary… he made me promise never to set the TARDIS down on that moon… even sneaked it in one of his most famous books, just to make sure I could never forget it, whichever time I landed in… ‘ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT
EUROPA, ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE’” the Doctor quoted in a deep, doom-laden voice, before laughing, “… crafty so-and-so…”
“Why would a science fiction writer want you to promise him you’d never land on Europa?” Amy asked, screwing up her forehead. “It makes no sense.”
“Arthur said he wanted to make sure that one world, just one, was left untouched by… others… was left ‘clean’, as he called it, for humans to explore on their own, somewhere free to make their own mistakes, learn their lessons – “
“Ok, ok, I get it,” Amy said, “old Arthur wanted to make sure you and your interfering Galifreyan mates didn’t pee in the snow on Europa and ruin it for the clever little monkeys from the third planet near the Sun…Wise man, nice to have one planet free to mess up ourselves…”
“That’s… just about it, yeah,” the Doctor agreed, “though I wouldn’t have put it quite like that – “
“Be quiet, enough gibbering, gabbling,” a nearby martian scolded them, eyes burning into them like lasers, “it’s about to start, and I can’t hear for you…”
Amy and the Doctor both fell silent as Space News Barbie reappeared on the screen.
“We are now just minutes away from the arrival of the Europa team at Ground Zero,” the woman announced brightly. “Commander Owens and her two brave colleagues are now just a few hundred metres or so away from their destination. When they reach Ground Zero, we will be able to see, for the first time in history, beneath the icy surface of this magical, mysterious moon…”
“Ground Zero..?” Amy wondered outloud. “Like on 9-11? Something flew into Europa?”
“Oh yes,” the Doctor nodded sagely, “something flew into Europa alright… very hard…”
Right on cue the TV coverage cut away from Space News Barbie to show an animation of what had happened. Around Amy and the Doctor the martians groaned, clearly sick of having to sit through the clip yet again, but the Time Lord’s companion welcomed its information.
“To recap,” Space News Barbie’s voice spoke over the animation, “one week ago, shortly after the Europa Expedition landed, in a truly incredible cosmic coincidence a meteoroid or body of some sort, perhaps as big as four or five metres across, slammed into the icy plains of Europa almost a dozen kilometres from the “Clarke”’s landing site…” On the screen a computer graphic of a big explosion on Europa’s surface played out – a streak of light hurtling down from the moon’s black sky, ending in a huge cloud of mist and ice crystals as it struck the surface. “Photographs taken from the expedition’s mothership, waiting patiently in orbit around the moon, showed a new, large and deep crater had been blasted out of Europa’s surface by the impact…”
One of those images flashed up on the screen, but it was blurry, lacking in any real detail. “Unable to believe their incredible luck,” continued Space News Barbie, “the expedition Commander decided to lead her team away from the landing site and across the ice to the new crater… on foot…”
The screen showed the three astronauts – one red, one blue, and the third one a bright canary yellow – walking away from their spacecraft, which looked very much like a toilet roll tube stood on one end with spindly legs holding it up off the ice, and Amy gasped as she saw what they were doing: dragging sledges behind them.
“With their rover’s electronics damaged by the solar flare that blew past the ‘Clarke’ en-route to Europa from Mars,” Space News Barbie explained, “the team had to go back to basics in their attempt to reach the new impact crater…”
It was like a scene from Amy’s distant history, not her far future: just like the canvas-clad Arctic and Antarctic explorers of ages long past, the first astronauts to set foot on Europa were trekking across its icy surface dragging heavily-laden sledges behind them.
“Unbelievable,” Amy whispered, watching the three astronauts plodding onwards, one foot crumping down into the Europan snow after the other, again and again, again and again…
“Shackleton would have been proud,” said the Doctor approvingly, watching the trio of space explorers hauling their sledges across the icy waste.
“Now the team are on their final approach to the crater,” Space News Barbie continued, teeth flashing, “if you look closely you can see it up ahead…”
Amy stared into the screen and yes, she could see… something on the horizon. On either side the skyline was almost razorblade flat, but in one area, straight ahead, it was bumpy, uneven, and the ground there was mottled with patches of light and dark, and, every few moments a glint of light sparked into view then vanished again.
With each weary step the explorers took more detail became visible, and soon Amy could see the landscape up ahead was scattered with blocks and shards of ice – debris from the impact that had formed the crater, no doubt. Some of the blocks were huge…
“That was some crash,” Amy said, staring at the scene unfolding on the screen.
“Oh yes,” the Doctor agreed, “another kilometre or two closer to their spaceship and it would have toppled over. That’s a guaranteed way to ruin your day…”
“Look at that!” Amy exclaimed as the camera showed the blue-suited astronaut posing by one of the blocks of ejecta. The astronaut was dwarfed by it, and looked like a “Spaceman Action Man” propped up against an enormous white American fridge freezer. “That thing must be twenty feet high…!”
“Don’t get too close, Lei,” warned the camera operator, their voice tinny and distorted over the radio link, “it could still be unstable… don’t want it falling on you… imagine the paperwork…” The blue-suited astronaut raised a hand in acknowledgement, and walked forwards again, away from the towering ice block.
“… and you heard there the voice of the mission commander, Faith Owen, speaking to her second in command, Lt Lei Jiang,” Space News Barbie said, excitedly, “warning her not to get too close to the ice block as it might be unstable…”
Amy rolled her eyes. “We know, we heard her,” she sighed, frustrated but not surprised that TV news presenters were no different in 2055; they still stated the bleeding obvious…
“…and Jamie, watch that crack there, by your right foot…” warned the Commander, and the camera panned around to show the other member of the team, the red-suited astronaut, walking perilously close to a large fracture in the icy ground. The red astronaut turned round, gave a crisp salute, then, grudgingly it appeared, edged around the fissure, pretending to almost lose his balance and fall in at one point. “Clown…” huffed Owen, but affectionately.
Space News Barbie shook her head and grinned. “It seems the mission’s resident joker, Jamie Pond, hasn’t lost his sense of humour even in this dangerous place…!” she laughed.
Amy laughed too. What a coincidence! One of the crew had the surname as her –
Then she saw the Doctor’s face. He was smiling. Not his amused smile, or his patronising smile; not even his smile-to-reassure-Amy-everything’s-alright-when-it-isn’t-really smile. It was his you’ll-get-it-in-a-minute-Pond smile…
“Oh come on…” Amy said, a crazy idea forming in her head. No. Beyond crazy. Ridiculous.
She looked back at the screen and saw the astronaut’s profile page flash up:
Jamie Pond… 26…
Youngest expedition member…
Geologist / Engineer
Born: Orkney, 2061
Parents: Catriona and Callum Pond
Grandparents: Amy and Rory Pond
“No way!” Amy exclaimed, shaking her head.
“It’s true…” the Doctor said gently. “He’s your – “
“ – no way would a daughter of mine would EVER live on Orkney!” Amy continued. “That’s ridiculous! It’s all rock… and sand… and wind…and seals – ”
Then it hit her like a freight train.
“Oh my god…” she said, the words coming out in a wheeze, as if she’d just been punched in the stomach. “That’s my… our…?”
“It is… Your grandson will be one of the first people to set foot on Europa,” the Doctor smiled. “That’s what I brought you here to show you. Happy birthday, Pond…”
Amy couldn’t take her eyes off the screen now. There was a picture of Jamie Pond up there, grinning in the top right corner. He had jade green eyes, a playground-cheeky grin.
And an unruly mop of very familiar-looking red hair.
“He has my hair…” Amy smiled weakly, fearing her legs would buckle beneath her. “Rory’s nose, poor little - but my hair… My hair will go to Europa…” she laughed, wondering if the room really was spinning or just her head.
“Oh, your hair goes further than Europa,” the Doctor told her, “the famous, fiery red Pond plumage make it all the way to Pluto. Proper little planet-hopping dynasty you Ponds, can’t sit still, not with so much to see Out There…”
Amy clutched at the Doctor’s hand, and pulled him round, physically, to look into his eyes.
“Why..?” she asked simply. “What about not knowing my own personal future? What about ‘Ah, ah, spoilers!’ “
“Because… “ the Doctor’s voice trailed off. Suddenly he seemed to be finding it hard to look her in the eye.
“Doctor,” Amy insisted, very serious now, “why are you showing me this? It’s a lovely present, don’t get me wrong, but I’m thrilled if anyone thinks to give me a fake bottle of Baileys and a box of cheap chocolates from Aldi; this seems…”
“I wanted to give you something to… to hold on to… after…” The Doctor stopped, as if he was struggling to find the right words.
“…after what?” Amy demanded, getting worried now.
“…after… you leave me…” he said quietly, looking at the floor.
“Leave you?!” Amy almost shouted. “Who said anything about leaving you?!”
“No-one,” the Doctor said quickly. “I just – “
“Are you dumping us?” Amy continued, the pitch of her voice rising, reflecting how frightened she was becoming. “Are you dumping me?! Did I do something wrong?”
“No… no… and no,” the Doctor reassured her slowly, trying to get her to calm down, “I just meant… “ He grabbed her now-shaking shoulders with his hands. “One day… one day… you will leave,” he said, gently, “you’ll have to. You and Rory have a life together now; you will want to start building a normal life together soon… you’ll start thinking about kids… “
“I don’t – “Amy began to protest, but he cut her off.
“You will… you should…” he said, “It’s natural, and right… You’ll be a great mum, a fantastic mum – “
“Have you seen that in the future too?” Amy demanded urgently. “Me, being a mum?”
“Aaagh! No!” the Doctor said, exasperated with her. “I can just… tell… I know you, what you’re like… you’ll be a great mum, Pond… Amy…” he said, more softly, “I don’t need to travel forwards in time to know that.”
Amy looked at him with puzzled eyes. Something here didn’t add up. Something still didn’t make sense.
The Doctor smiled at her with his strangest, saddest smile. “You do know, Amy, that you’re not the first person I’ve travelled with…” he began awkwardly.
“But… I thought I was your first..?” Amy mewled. “I thought I was special…!”
“You are special, Amy,” the Doctor said hastily – a split second before the red-haired girl punched him in the arm. “Owww!”
“Oh please, do I look that naive?” Amy replied, rolling her eyes again. “I know how it works: you swan around the galaxy in your fancy top-down TARDIS, collecting pretty young things like some interstellar playboy, show them a few sights to turn their heads and make them fall for you, then you dump them for a new, younger, more glamorous model after a while – “
“It’s not like that! Not at all!” the Doctor protested, then saw the gleam in her eye.
“Gotcha…” Amy grinned, winking at him.
“Hmmm,” the Doctor replied, still not sure she really had been joking. Anyway…
“Other… travelling companions of mine have felt… hurt, when they left,” he continued, serious now. “Some of them found it hard to readjust to their old lives. Oh, some just jumped right in where they left, no worries. Others… “ He looked distant suddenly… “Well, they were angry with me, maybe even hated me for a while, hated me for abandoning them – even if I honestly, really, truly had no choice… But Sarah Jane bounced back, and look at her now..! Saving the Earth again and again with that Famous Five gang of hers, and that walled-in computer…” he said brightly. A little too brightly; Amy could see guilt and regret in his young/ancient eyes.
She also wanted – desperately – to ask who Sarah Jane was, but though better of it.
“I just wanted you to know, when you leave, for whatever reason, that it wasn’t all just for nothing, that your time with me leads to something,” the Doctor said seriously, “something amazing, something wonderful – ”
“This is getting far too heavy,” Amy cut in, starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable; she wasn’t used to the Time Lord being so, well, mushy. It wasn’t like him at all. It was actually making her wonder if this was his not-too-subtle way of preparing her to go… soon… if he knew she was going to leave him, or have to leave him, or have to be made to leave him, and the TARDIS, and all of it, soon…
“Come on,” she beamed, looping her arm through his, “let’s just watch telly shall we? It looks like something is about to happen…”
The Doctor smiled weakly and nodded. Fine. If that was what she wanted. Fine.
On the huge screen Space News Barbie was looking more excited than ever. “And I’m hearing from our space experts that the team are now within a hundred metres of the actual edge of the crater,” she chattered. Behind her shoulder the screen-in-screen picture showed the red- and blue-suited astronauts continuing to pick their way through the ejecta field surrounding the impact site. But every few moments the picture seemed to turn a bit fuzzy, a bit hazy.
“I wonder what they’ll find…” Amy said brightly. “I wonder what he’ll find…”
“Shhhhhhh!!!!!” an annoyed martian hissed from in front of her.
“I will NOT shush!!!” Amy barked. “That’s my gr– “
The Doctor cleared his throat loudly beside her.
“Oh… never mind!” Amy humphed, fuming.
“We can now see astronaut Jamie Pond taking the lead,” announced Space News Barbie, as the screen showed the young astronaut edging his way around a particularly nasty-looking shard of blue-white ice that looked like a crystal flung from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Beyond it, the ground appeared to be clear and free of debris –
“We are about to get our first look into the new crater,” Space News Barbie said needlessly and breathlessly, prompting more groans from a few of the cliché-weary crowd.
“Why is this piddling little crater so important anyway?” asked Amy, puzzled, her arms still folded across her chest angrily.
“Europa is covered in a thick shell of ice, a deep pan frozen pizza of a crust,” the Doctor explained, drawing a circle in the air with his hand, “scientists – in this time – think that there might be life in the liquid ocean that sloshes around beneath that ice. Nothing fancy, nothing very advanced, certainly nothing that could solve a Rubik’s Cube; but maybe plants… ickle fish… that kind of thing –
He caught Amy glowering at him impatiently.
“…but the ice is so thick it’s impossible to find out what’s really down there without drilling down for miles and dropping a submarine into the hole,” the Doctor continued, “or setting off an atomic bomb on the ice to make a big hole to look into… obviously not a very good idea that one…”
“… so this crater is a natural little hole they can look into…” Amy said, pulling the pieces of the puzzle together in her head at last.
“A little hole, a very little hole, yes,” the Doctor agreed, “but a hole nonetheless, a shortcut to scientific wonder provided for free, nothing more to pay, by the Universe herself.” He stared at the screen. “A hole… you lot are drawn to them like moths to a flame, aren’t you? You just can’t resist peering into it whenever you find one – ”
“Or a crack…” Amy pointed out, grinning. “We’re quite the experts at looking into cracks.”
The Doctor pointed a finger at her. “No. Don’t. You know what happened last time you looked into a crack – “
“…I got trapped in a big fancy box under Stonehenge for thousands of years, and the whole universe ended,” Amy said breezily, “I know, I know. These things happen – “
“No. These things happen around you, Amy,” the Doctor said, “but not today. Today we’re just here to watch TV, ok?”
“Fine by me,” Amy smiled, turning her attention back to the screen, where Space News Barbie was looking very uncomfortable.
“I’m just hearing that we’re having trouble locking on to the signal from Jupiter,” she said, just as the picture behind her confirmed it by stuttering and breaking into a kaleidoscopic blizzard of pixels for a moment before stabilising again. “So let’s follow the action live, and listen in to the astronauts as they approach the crater’s edge…”
The camera was now showing the red- and blue-suited astronauts walking side by side, slowly but clearly very excited; eager to go even faster but – grudgingly – following orders to stay within sight of their Commander.
“You two just stop, now,” Owen’s voice commanded, “I have the camera, I need to be first to the edge – “ As if she realised how bad that sounded she added, quickly, “to document what we can see inside, we’ll only get one shot at this.”
“Oh, we understand Commander,” a lilting Scottish voice said, heavy with mock seriousness, “we didn’t think for a moment that you were imagining how the history books of the future will record who was the first person to look beneath the ice of Europa and see aliens there, not for a moment…”
“Cheeky beggar!” Amy laughed.
“Hmm. Wonder where he gets that from?” said the Doctor, innocently.
“Oh come on…” one of the martians complained as the picture broke up into a mash of colour again. This time it was unwatchable for several seconds.
“That’s not good…” the Doctor remarked, “they haven’t got long left – “
“What?!” Amy said, alarmed.
“… before their signal fails altogether, I mean,” the Doctor calmed her. “This is going to be tight – “
On the screen the picture showed that Commander Owen was walking up to her two colleagues…
Walking between them…
Leaving her standing on the ice alone.
The Commander panned her camera from left to right now, surveying the scene. Now the screen showed just the landscape, no human figures at all. Looming over the far horizon, Jupiter was an enormous cream-and-tan balloon, crossed with bands the colour of toffee and caramel. But now there was something new visible on the face of Jupiter – a red-pink oval, larger by far than any other storm system. The Great Red Spot. Impressive. Oppressive. Jupiter a giant eye now, staring down on the trio of explorers from the star-studded, Europan sky…
“I’m almost at the edge of the crater,” the Commander said, her breathing ragged and laboured, “another couple of steps and – ”
The feed from the astronaut’s helmet camera failed, leaving the screen blank. Silence, for several agonising seconds. Like everyone else in the TV audience the Doctor and Amy found themselves holding their breath and physically leaning forwards, straining to hear whatever Faith Owen said next –
Carried to Mars – and across the solar system – on a rapidly-weakening signal, the astronaut’s voice sounded scratchy and distorted, like something from a 1940s radio. But the signal strengthened enough just long enough to transmit an image of the crater’s interior sloping walls, streaked with shades of red, purple and green, accompanied by two breathlessly-excited words …
… before it cut out again, this time completely, replaced instantly by a view of Space News Barbie looking bewildered and lost.
Everyone in the room groaned in disappointment and frustration. Some cursed too – in their native martian, which was unintelligible to Amy but sounded wonderfully angry, aggressive and creative. A few, their patience exhausted, turned their backs on the big screen and started to walk out of the room.
“Wait a moment…” the Doctor cautioned Amy, even though she’d shown no signs of wanting to move, “the show’s not over yet – “
Even as he spoke those words the screen came to life again, the mini-screen “behind” the news presenter suddenly filled with the feed from the astronaut’s helmet-cam.
“Someone looks happy…” the Doctor observed, as he watched the two astronauts, one red and one blue, embracing each other and jumping up and down on the spot like excited children given an unexpected gift. The way their image jiggled up and down showed that Commander Owen herself was joining in the celebrations, too. But celebrations of what?
That was when the Doctor noticed Amy wasn’t speaking, wasn’t even moving. She was just standing there beside him, staring at the screen, eyes fixed, as if hypnotised.
“Amy…? Are you alright?” the Doctor asked.
“Me?” Amy replied, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Oh yes… I’m fine… absolutely fine…” Her voice sounded distant, remote, as if she was deep in some kind of trance.
“Are you sure?” the Doctor persisted, “you look a bit… strange…”
Still Amy didn’t turn round. “I’m fine, really…” she said, smiling an enigmatic smile that the Mona Lisa would have been proud of.
The Doctor was puzzled. This wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting. At All.
“You don’t look very… upset…” he pressed, studying her serene expression.
“Why would I be upset?” Amy asked, sounding as peaceful as a hippie at Woodstock.
“Well… don’t you want to know what they found?” the Doctor asked, pointing towards the screen, which had gone blank again, all last, lingering traces of the carrier signal lost.
“No, not really…” replied Amy, quite matter of factly.
The Doctor was really puzzled now. This wasn’t the impatient, Now-Now-Now! Amy Pond he knew. “What… seriously…?” he asked.
“Yes, seriously…” Amy replied, her smile lingering.
“But… no, this makes no sense,” the Doctor thought outloud. “You’re Amy Pond… should be grabbing me by the throat, demanding to know what they saw down there, what happened next – “
“I don’t care,” she said blithely.
“You don’t care.” The Doctor repeated flatly.
“No. I don’t care,” Amy repeated again.
The Doctor stared at her with wide eyes. “Why?” he asked, eventually.
Finally, Amy turned to look at him – and there were tears in her eyes.
“Because this is enough for me,” she began, “Knowing that he will do something this… amazing… discover something so… amazing…” she shook her head, sniffing. “I can look forward to it, and it’ll be a surprise when it comes… but if… when… I do stop travelling with you, this will keep me going.”
The Doctor stared at his shoes. Hard.
“It’s a wonderful gift, Doctor, the best gift I’ve ever had,” he heard his friend say, a split second before she wrapped her long arms around his neck and buried her head into his Tweed jacket’s shoulder. “Thank you…” he heard her say, her voice muffled by her mane of red hair.
“Better than the chocolates from Aldi?” he asked her softly.
“ Much…” she replied, sniffing loudly. The Doctor’s neck was damp now. It didn’t matter.
“Gotcha…” he whispered tenderly.
When Amy spoke again, her voice was small, child-like. She sounded just as she had done back in her garden, all those years before, when he’d first met her.
“You have…” she told him, “… but for how long..?”
The Doctor smiled. “Oh, for a long time yet, I promise…”
She hugged him so hard he thought his neck would break.
It was time to go.
“Alright, come on Pond,” he said brightly, lifting her off him – gently – with both hands, “things to do, places to go…” He looked back in the general direction of the TARDIS. “…probably toilets to clean – “
Amy’s eyes opened wide. “RORY!” And with that she took off out of the gallery, heading back into the corridor and out of sight.
Surrounded by bemused-looking martians, the Doctor gave an apologetic little shrug. “She’s from Terra…” he explained, “Scotland… strange, wild people… Terrans, I mean, not the Scottish… although…”
“Doctor! Come on!” a voice called out from some distance away.
“Nice museum you have here,” the Doctor congratulated the martians, as he edged towards the door, “very… red… Oh, and Beagle..! Well done… good job – “
“Coming dear!” he called back. “Sorry, got to go. Scottish girls… not the most patient in the universe…”
Then he was gone, following Amy down the corridor towards where they’d left the TARDIS.
A few moments later, the Great Museum of Mars’ beautiful galleries, halls and corridors echoed to the sound of ancient, mighty engines groaning and moaning into life, and a pair of young honeymooning martians in Room 16B watched, startled, as the strange “Modern Martian Art” exhibit they had been examining – a bizarre box-like structure made of something called “wood”, a material totally alien to their rocky, dusty home-world – began to fade, and, eventually, vanished from view altogether.
Stuart Atkinson 2010