“Finest this side of the Molpraxias galaxy. Only 240 credits!”
I turn the plate over in my hands. It's completely gorgeous, sort of see-through glass embedded with turquoise-like stones. It's quite large, though, and an odd shape like a flattened-out pufferfish. Still. 240 credits sounds like a lot, but when is the next time I'm going to be on Rungen 3? And besides, I am still not even sure how much a credit actually is. For all I know, this dish could be costing me fifteen quid, which would be an absolute steal.
According to the vendor, it is an authenic leevalash serving dish. Of course, I've never had leevalash and don't really know what it is, but I could learn. Oh, it would be quite fab. After I come home from my travels, I could hold a whole fancy dinner party. Everyone would be so impressed. Maybe I would become an expert and write a book and get a show on telly. It could be called Out-of-this-World Cuisine: Cooking with Rebecca Bloomwood.
I walk back to the TARDIS, the bag a little large and awkward in my arms. I pull out my key from under my shirt, but pause before unlocking it. There's an abandoned booth right next to the police box, and I stuff my bag behind there. It's not that I don't think the dish is a good purchase and want to really hide it from the Doctor. It's the perfect memento. Anytime I use the dish I will be able to say, “Remember the time we were chased by giant sapient canaries on that weird planet that smelled like strawberry jam?” It's just that I don't want to worry the Doctor with every single minute purchase I make. That's all.
And that TARDIS has been so good about it, the wonderful old girl. I found a room out of the way near the laundry room that has tons of shelves and drawers. I'm pretty certain the Doctor never goes back there, so whenever he is out of the way I go stash my things back there. It makes sense to put them where he's not going to look. Some of them are presents for him, in fact. Well, they could be.
The Doctor is working on something under the console and humming to himself when I come in. Damn. He hears the door close behind me and looks up.
“Becky! Wonderful!” He pushes those heinous goggle off of his face and rises up to meet me. “Now where are we off to?”
Drat. He wants to leave, and my serving dish is still outside. My mind scrambles for an excuse for both me to leave to TARDIS and him to leave the console room. I don't find a decent one.
“Do you really want to leave right away?” I say, leaning back up against the door. “I mean, there is probably so much culture on this planet that we haven't soaked up. What if we never get the chance again, Doctor?”
“I would think,” the Doctor says, “That you would want to leave rather hastily after only narrowly escaping being pecked to death by recently hatched, absurdly large canaries. In fact, you seemed rather ready to leave until we came back through the market.”
“I needed a walk. Fresh air.”
“On the planet where the air is thick with the smell of fruit spread.”
“If you don't have a desire to really get to know these people,” I say, taking a hold of the doorknob, “Then don't come. But I want to know truly get to know them as a people. They are not all giant, carnivorous songbirds. Why, I am sure that some of these people-”
“Becky,” he says, his voice low and steady. “I know about the room.”
Double drat. I turn around to face him.
“Room?” Perhaps if I sound aloof and naïve enough, he'll assume the room belongs to someone else, a past companion with a penchant for secret shopping. I can't be the first one to stuff a TARDIS room full of interstellar merchandise, can I? I mean, how could anyone resist? So many planets, so many interesting new shops.
“Now I understand wanting to collect little trinkets here and there. The universe is an interesting place. To the degree you have, though, Becky. It is out of control.” He turns back to the console and I know I am not getting my bag. My hand falls from the doorknob. “What are you even going to do with all of those things! Where do hand-carved bracelets and high-heeled boots compare with traveling through time and space?”
Unfair. They are at least equally important!
“I'm taking you,” my Doctor says. "Away. To a place with no shops, no vendors, no purchasing of any kind!” He throws up a switch and the TARDIS begins making that wonderful noise that says we are off. “Because when I brought you out here, I didn't bring you to explore little shops, lovely as they are. I want you to see the wonders of the universe, Becky.” The ship starts to shake and I grab on, quietly mourning my dish. “I want you to appreciate things simply for their beauty of being, not as items you can collect.”
I lean back against the railing, a little sulky. This doesn't tame my curiosity when the TARDIS lands, though, and I slowly follow the Doctor as he heads to the doors. He seems excited and trips over himself a bit. I can't help but smile.
“I present to you,” he says, swinging open the door, “Insar Forr.”
I suck a breath deep into my mouth. The entire world sparkles like a winter wonderland turned up to eleven. Giant icicles hang off white trees like leaves. Everything is frozen, even a waterfall, still as a carved statue. The Doctor smiles and looks back at me, pointing to the massive lake just past the trees.
“If we hike down,” he says, “We'll find an entrance to a series of ice tunnels that actually lead through the bottom of the lake. Only the outer layer of the lake is frozen, along with the tunnels, and you can actually see the creatures of the lake moving within it, like a natural aquarium.” He's moving, now, down through the snow, and I'm attempting to follow him. I should have changed my shoes before leaving the TARDIS. My leather boots with kitten heels aren't exactly made for treks through the snow on alien planets.
“I'm pretty sure we've landed at least a few thousand years before the humanoid inhabitants of Insar Forr appeared. Good thing; they're a bit of a violent race with a penchant for human sacrifice...”
I look up as we pass under a magnificent tree, leaning over with the weight of all of the icicles that sparkle above us. I want to reach up and pluck one like a flower, watch it melt in my hand. “Those are gorgeous,” I say. “They look like diamonds.”
The Doctor doesn't even stop moving. “They are diamonds.” I stumble as he continues down into some brush, not looking back at me. “They then strip it completely to the bone. You definitely do not want to get caught up in one of their wedding ceremonies, Rebecca...”
Now, I do want to see this beautiful, natural aquarium wonder. That's what this is all about, right? The unique sights of distant worlds? But these diamonds, they're natural wonders, too. Now my hand is really aching to pluck one. I reach up and my fingers brush the bottom of one, just barely.
You know what would actually be even nicer? If these natural wonders had price tags. Just for curiosity's sake, that is.