“Hey, come here and look at this, Rose. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
The Doctor waited to hear footsteps, an interested noise maybe, anything, but there was nothing. He started to panic, momentarily, wondering what had happened to her because Rose, don’t wander off—
And then he remembered. She was gone.
And he was alone.
The Doctor took a moment to completely regret everything that had ever lead them both to Canary Wharf.
The shiny little doo-dad on the floor pulsed lights at him, as if in sympathy. Four tiny little flashes, bright enough to temporarily illuminate the abandoned hallway. The Doctor squinted at it, and it pulsed again, much too cheerily.
He picked it up gingerly from the floor, noticing the warmth emitted from it. It fit nicely in his hand, maybe as big as a fist-sized rock, and silvery all over. The Doctor would have thought that the silver-ish coating would reflect light, not produce it, but lo and behold, there it was, glowing in his hand.
“What are you?” He asked. The thing chittered and vibrated slightly, and for the lives of him the Doctor couldn’t recall ever seeing anything like it before.
It definitely didn’t belong in this time period.
Neither did the Doctor, obviously, but he was investigating something.
Not entirely intentionally, of course. But the TARDIS had gone and decided for him that enough was enough, and ceased tolerating his not-moping. She took them to the nearest interesting event and booted him out her doors and into 1954, New York, New York.
Five deaths. That was what had caught the Doctor’s interest in the first place, five people dead and not a one of them had any cause of death.
It was as if they had been going about their normal, daily business, one second perfectly healthy, the next a stone-cold corpse on the ground. And it wasn’t like they’d dropped dead of heart attacks, either. No, they were just dead, as if they’d been Avada-Kedavra’d.
The fact that wizards like that were technically impossible notwithstanding.
The Doctor could almost hear Rose’s voice, asking about what would possibly be able to do something like that, and the Doctor would answer, “Well, technically nothing, which is the odd bit. Technologies like this simply hadn’t been invented. But maybe if—” and Rose would look at him fondly as he rambled and dammit he missed her.
The Doctor started walking towards the end of the hall, and was about to pocket the thing for future reference, when he noticed a slight buzzing.
He stopped, and the buzzing did too. He took two more steps, and it temporarily resumed.
He looked curiously at the shiny thing in his hand, and shook it, gently. There was no noise coming from inside, nothing rattling about inside, nothing moving.
He took another step forwards and it buzzed again.
Cautiously, the Doctor took his sonic screwdriver out, and scanned the shiny little thing.
The result was a garbled string of nonsense.
He sighed, more disappointed than frustrated, and pocketed the screwdriver, hesitating a moment before putting the shiny thing away as well.
He exited the hall and went down the flight of stairs to the lobby of an upscale hotel, where the receptionist smiled and greeted him brightly.
“Hello, dear!” She said. “Were you able to find the problem?” She asked, because he’d come there under guise of investigating a gas leak.
When he told her that he had, and that he’d fixed it, the receptionist (whose name tag identified her as Gia) gave him a huge grin, and it lit up her whole face. “Oh, that’s a relief. My boss would have been terribly upset if we had to shut down. He’s been worried about our profits lately, can’t imagine why.”
“Neither can I.” The Doctor agreed, and he really couldn’t. The entire place was decorated lavishly, maybe overly so, and the Doctor personally thought maybe they could stand to lose a few couches.
It made it maybe, just a very tiny little bit, hard to maneuver.
But somehow, there were still tons of people coming in and going out, and even if the hotel suddenly lost all business, it would probably be able to hold its own for a long time after.
But that was beside the point. He nodded at Gia, and went through the spinny doors.
There had been nothing for him to find at the hotel. Somehow, of the people who had died so far, (Jeremy Brown, Anna Lyndonn, Sarah Jacobson, Frank Abernathy, and Glenda Mahoney) all had been in the same area, within a fifteen mile radius with the hotel at dead center.
So of course that had been the first place he had decided to check out.
There was nothing there, nothing to be found or placed under suspicion at this perfectly conspicuous hotel. The Doctor had no real direction, no idea where to head next. He hadn’t planned for there to be nothing, having pinned all his hopes on that one place.
He had no idea what to do now, and was getting increasingly frustrated every time the little shiny thing made its presence known.
His pocket lit up in a brief, but bright, glow. He could feel the shiny thing buzzing away in his pocket, but he ignored it.
When the bright sunlight of 1950s America hit his face, he squinted, but took a deep breath of the fresh air. In a couple of decades, the entire place would be trashed up and polluted, but for now, it was frankly quite beautiful.
He started walking down the street, casually watching the people that rushed by him in their hurries to get to work or home or restaurants, or wherever they were headed at such a fast pace. Children were forced to run with their short legs to keep up with their parents, and for a moment, it seemed the entire world was rushing by on fast-forward.
But no, there was one person sitting on a bench, another taking a leisurely walk, an adorable little girl with her hair up in pigtails tossing breadcrumbs at nearby birds.
He smiled at them all, and tried his very hardest not to imagine Rose was there with him. That would only make it worse, and instead he thought of Donna, who at this point hadn’t even been born yet.
Donna Noble, who missed her own wedding and got kidnapped by aliens in her wedding dress. Donna Noble, who had offered him to stay for dinner.
But no, he couldn’t. He really couldn’t.
He turned left onto another street, and felt the buzzing of the thing quiet down exponentially.
He glanced at his pocket, and stopped walking for a moment.
It was as if the whole world froze with him just then, the very air around him holding its breath for something to happen.
He glanced around, trying to figure out what the world was waiting for. It seemed like he was teetering on the edge of a huge moment, and one choice or another could send him spinning precariously down a one-way tunnel, with no hopes of ever going back.
Well. That made it seem rather intense, didn’t it.
The Doctor shook his head slowly, and turned around, glancing behind him at the way he’d come from.
Then he looked forwards.
The world was still waiting.
The Doctor barely allowed himself to think, just stared blankly for a moment, before spinning around. He kept walking forwards, kept going the way he’d been headed originally, not turning back or allowing anything to change his mind. He was set.
Then the world stopped hesitating, and it breathed out in relief. A great rush of motion began, and all of a sudden all the people around the Doctor were in the hurry they had been in before, and the girl stopped feeding the birds and ran to catch up with her family, and the man got up off the bench and ran to catch a cab, and the one taking a leisurely walk ended her break and resumed her jogging workout.
And time was flying, speeding by, rushing once more.
The Doctor looked at all the people around him. They were just so…human, the ancestors of the First Great Human Empire, the one that would start spanning across the stars.
But these people, they didn’t know about any of that. They weren’t bothered by the bloody history of the future, they just wanted to live out their lives together and have more kids.
Humans were the same, a lot of the time. Except every now and again there were the truly special ones.
The Doctor didn’t let himself dwell on that, though, picking up his feet and moving faster, having made a decision and heading back to the TARDIS.
He wanted to properly examine the shiny little buzzing thing and what it was actually up to because right now it was making a racket in his pocket, buzzing and putting on a lightshow that shone through the seams and just generally creating all kinds of disturbances. He got more than a few weird looks, he was sure of it, but he just ignored them and hurried on his way, now a part of the crowd that was rushing and running and speeding everywhere.
He wasn’t far, a few blocks away at the most.
But something was agitating the shiny thing and the Doctor really didn’t want to find out that the something was actually something incredibly hostile and ready to eat everyone in sight.
So he was running now, flying down the sidewalk and racing to the TARDIS and ignoring everything around him, really, because he didn’t want to think and be reminded of Rose, and he was just going so, so fast—
And then he was stopped, quite forcibly, as he collided into something.
Something which turned out to be one of the people on the street, but he was dressed interestingly, just slightly out of sync with the time period and maybe he was going somewhere special? He had a bow tie and a tweed jacket and floppy brown hair and just looked sort of…bizzare.
The Doctor stood up and pulled the man to his feet, saying “Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”
But as he looked into the man’s eyes he seemed to be…laughing? That was definitely strange.
“No big deal.” The man said, smiling earnestly. “That happens to me a lot, believe it or not.” His face darkened temporarily, like he was reliving a particularly bad memory. The Doctor knew how he felt.
The shiny thing let out a particularly loud series of beeps and shone brightly out of his pocket, before falling silent.
The man’s eyes fell to his pocket, and almost before the Doctor knew what was going on, the other man had reached into his pocket and pulled it out, like he had no concept of personal space.
“Ooh, shiny thing, isn’t this?” He said, looking it over.
“What are you doing?” The Doctor asked, more confused than angry, because he was pretty sure that Americans in the 1950s didn’t behave like that. He was even more sure that they sounded American, as opposed to British, which was the accent that the man held. Maybe he was a traveler. That would explain the not-quite-American thing he had going on.
“Isn’t it obvious?” The other man asked. “I’m examining this strange thing which you just happened to have in your pocket.”
“No, I mean,” the Doctor tried to explain himself. “Why are you examining it? What are you doing here?”
“Oh, that?” The other man asked. “I’m investigating the five deaths.”
He hesitated a moment, then, “I’m John Smith, by the way.”