The Cylinder was hollow, with stairs spiraling down along the inner walls from the apex to the base. Shaky catwalks extended from a myriad of landings on the stairs to meet the spinning contraption in the center. Lights flashed. Steam belched from portholes. Thousands upon millions upon dozens of moving parts squeaked and shrieked as they went through the same actions they'd performed since time immemorial. A pair of trainers pounded on the metal catwalk, trenchcoat billowing out behind their owner as he approached one of the displays. "Oh, you beauty!" he said through clenched teeth. He slapped the monitor, raked a finger through his hair so that it stuck up even higher than normal, and his slender fingers began typing in a command.
A lanky man in a bowtie skittered past the first man. His jacket was gone, tossed over some railing or another and leaving him in suspenders. "Pardon you!"
"Excuse me!" the first man said.
The man in the bowtie reached out to the extent of his reach, grabbed a ladder rung, and propelled himself up. He moved like a spider, stretching out one leg onto an outcropping and hanging on for dear life as his hand disappeared into the guts of the machine. He pulled out a thing that obviously wasn't very important and tossed it over his shoulder. "Look out below!"
An athletic man in a leather jacket, his hair brown cropped short, ducked out of the way just before the errant piece brained him. "Oy! A little warning next time."
"Don't know why you're telling me!" Bowtie said. "Just try to remember when it's your turn!"
The man in the leather jacket stepped around the man in the trenchcoat and together they began trying to access the brains of the machine. The suspendered man in the bowtie leapt down, took a moment to regain his bearings, and found a third console which he could command. The sound of furious typing almost overwhelmed the whirring and clanking and wheezing of the machine.
Trenchcoat slapped the side of his monitor. "Blasted thing! I'm picked up interference from the--"
"Time vortex!" Bowtie twisted and looked up three levels to where the TARDIS was parked. It was standing against the wall between the TARDIS and the TARDIS. Bowtie directed his shouting to the TARDIS instead of the TARDIS or the TARDIS. "Idris! Are you listening?"
Leather Coat said, "Idris?"
Trenchcoat said, "I'm sure we'll find out eventually."
"Idris, if you're there, take a fiver!"
Trenchcoat looked up, shocked to see that the TARDIS was beginning to launch by itself. "How the hell did you do that?"
"Ghost in the machine." Bowtie laughed as an explosion of sparks threatened to overtake all three men. The sleeve of Trenchcoat's trenchcoat began fuming and he beat at the smoking spot until it went out. "Care-ful!" Bowtie snapped. "If you die here, then there will be two of me!"
"God forbid," Leather Coat and Trenchcoat said together.
The TARDIS vanished, and the three Doctors focused on taming the machine.
River finished lacing up her leather boot and draped the purple gown over it. As she straightened, she plucked at the material so it fell more casually over her curves. She adjusted the straps, rolled her shoulders, and extended her hand to the lock. Just before she let herself out of the cell, she heard that familiar wheeze and hiss. It was like music coming from the walls, steadily growing louder and louder until she spun on her heel to watch its arrival. "Well. Can't fault a Time Lord's timing. Hello, darling!" She threw open the door and stepped inside.
The main room was vacant, utterly abandoned. She moved slowly, reluctant to disturb the stillness as she searched for the Doctor. Being in the control room without him was like being in Rio without a cocktail. It simply was not right.
"Autopilot?" she guessed.
A woman suddenly popped up behind the console, eyes wide and lips pursed in surprise. She was dressed in the tattered remains of a Victorian ball gown, her dark hair falling around her face in twisty tendrils. She blinked when she saw River and smiled a smile that showed a vast majority of her teeth. "River Song!"
"Idris!" River embraced the human embodiment of the TARDIS. "My God! I thought it was ages before you began traveling with the Doctor."
"It is. It will be." She looked up as if she could see the galaxy through the ceiling. Maybe she could. "There's a cylinder. Large, dangerous, monumental. Spinning and spinning and making things unnatural. Making time... odd." She tilted her head to the other side as she spoke the final word. Then she smiled again. "Three TARDISes in one place. One is me, one is a phone box, and they only need one for traveling. Having three was..." She waved her fingers. "Confusing."
"Three?" River pondered that. "So there were three Doctors?"
"I'll have to remember that. Perhaps for my birthday. But what about you, dear? Why are you here?"
Idris shrugged. "Like I said, things were confusing. The time vortex, holding three Doctors and the TARDISes in one point in time and things were becoming strained. So he sent me away. I shall return in five minutes."
River leaned against the console and ran her eyes over the sleek lines of the TARDIS control room. "Well... there's so much a time traveler can do in five minutes, isn't there?" She crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Idris. "Where shall we begin, my dear?"
Helen was asleep, curled on her side in the fetal position. Her eyes were closed, but she didn't sleep. She rarely moved; it had been days since she left the room. Her eyes opened at a sudden gust of wind, and she sat up at the familiar mechanical grind that accompanied the second gust. The police box appeared at the foot of her bed as if a fog were clearing. When it was completely visible, the door swung open and River leaned out with one hand against the side of the box.
"You are not where you're meant to be." She smirked. "We had the devil of a time locking on to you. Do you know there are two of you in this year?"
"Yes." Helen could barely form words. "Where...?"
River swept her arm to indicate the interior of the ship. "You remember the deal, darling. Wherever you wish, whenever you wish."
Helen jumped from a sitting position, diving through the open door of the TARDIS and into River's arms. River caught her, and they spun on the entrance ramp of the time machine. Helen pushed the door shut with her hand as she bowed her head to River's for a passionate greeting. The TARDIS engines ground to life and Helen felt herself being taken out of time and off the slow path as she kissed River.
Ranna sounded the alarm as the first unusual whisper echoed through her chamber. As she rose, the doors opened and her security forces surrounded the ghostly image that was rapidly solidifying in the middle of the room. Ranna stepped around her desk and stared at the object until it was undeniably there without any explanation. The door opened and Helen Magnus stepped out, and the situation became a bit clearer. Ranna held up a hand to stop her guards from opening fire.
Looking past Helen gave Ranna a sense of vertigo. The room behind her was far deeper than it could possibly have been, and she saw two other women standing at some sort of control panel.
Helen smiled. "It's a long story. Care for a short break?"
"You can be back in thirty seconds."
Ranna eyed the guards and turned to look out the window of her office. She took a breath and eyed the sergeant of the garrison. "I'll be back... momentarily."
She didn't listen, and walked into the peculiar blue box. Helen smiled at the guard, waved, and closed the door as she stepped back inside. Seconds later, the box had faded to nothing. A guard stepped forward and swept his hand through the air where it had just stood, then he turned to face the rest of the group in confounded silence.
The planet Planet, the year 50044(b),
"They called their planet... Planet?"
The Doctor, in his Tenth incarnation and still a long way from the cylinder that threatened all life and time, stuck his hands in his pockets and strode confidently down the brick street. "Yeah. A'course they did. Why wouldn't they? No contact with alien races for the first eight millennia of their existence, figured they were the only place in the universe, so why not call it the planet? You only have one house. What do you call it?"
Donna twisted her lips. "I don't call it nothing, it's a house."
"And this is a planet." He clucked his tongue at her and continued forward. Donna followed and found herself distracted by someone selling head scarves. If they ever went back to a planet as windy as that last one, it might be useful to have something to tame her hair. She was examining a sheer purple scarf with gold inlay when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and saw River Song standing just behind her.
"Hello, dear. Fancy a trip to somewhere a little more creative than this dreadful Planet?"
Donna looked in the direction the Doctor had disappeared.
"Oh, don't worry about him. After we finish, I'll come back and distract him until you're safe and sound and waiting for him."
"Wait... you'll distract him while I'm runnin' around with you?"
"Time travel, darling." She winked and took Donna's arm. "Come on. The way he's talked about you, I've wanted to meet you for a long time."
"But... wait. At the library, you said you'd never met me before--"
"Spoilers," River said. "That hasn't happened yet in my timeline."
Donna looked confused. The only reason she would be confused is if River didn't leave the library. River tried not to think about it. "C'mon. The Doctor says you were his most infuriating and wonderful Companion, so I'm desperate to see what tricks you've got up your sleeve. Next time I'll just pretend this never happened."
"You time travelers have to do that a lot, I'll bet."
River sighed wearily. "You've know idea. Countless first meetings, and I still can't bring myself to say anything coherent to John Lennon. It's gotten so bad he's started recognizing me at concerts."
She ushered Donna into the TARDIS and kicked the door closed.
The Eleventh version of the man reached into the guts of the machine. He grasped and pulled with all of his might until the object came loose. He hooked his arm around another support beam to keep from falling from the force of his pull and eyed his prize. The machinery slowed. "Aha! This is--" A deafening alarm began to sound. "--not supposed to be removed." He shoved it back inside and tried to get it back into place before his ears started bleeding.
His two previous incarnations covered their ears and winced at each other. The Tenth said, "This might take a while!"
The Ninth shouted, "WHAT?!"
"I said...! Oh, forget it, you'll figure it out when you're me anyway." He kept one hand over his ears and began typing rapidly. "How much time have we got?"
Nine checked the display. "Eighteen minutes, or seventy-three hours, or we ran out of time three seconds ago."
All three versions grunted, "Sometimes I hate time travel."
Everywhen, Time Vortex,
River stood in front of the TARDIS doors and eyed the women standing around the perimeter of the circular command console. Helen had ditched her monastic robes in favor for a Victorian-type gown (whose presence in the Doctor's wardrobe threatened to overtake River's considerations every minute) and was locked in a discussion with Ranna. Donna was examining the TARDIS' layout, which had changed drastically since her time traveling with the Doctor. Idris was deftly operating her own controls. When River asked what she was doing, she simply said, "Dancing with myself," and River let it go.
"Ladies..." She clapped her hands. "Eyes on me, please."
Conversations ceased and the four women turned to her. She put her hands on the hips of her tights, wearing a white double-breasted blazer that she thought made her look rather royal. "For the time being, we are in control of the TARDIS, at the whims of the lovely Idris."
Idris smiled at the mention of her name and curtsied.
"Unlike the Doctor, with the help of my lovely pilot, I can guarantee to return you all to your lives within minutes of you leaving it." She eyed Helen. "Unless we've made other arrangements, of course. We can spend as long as we want in this magnificent blue box without sacrificing our 'real' lives. Now, we have one more stop to make before we head off on whatever grand adventure strikes our fancy. We're all strong women... strong British women." She eyed Ranna and shrugged. "For the most part. We're all brilliant, and we're all madams of our own destinies. Time is our sea, and this ship is our armada. I say Rule, Britannia, what say you?"
Helen chuckled and dipped her chin, and the other ladies seemed to agree. Idris straightened her back and rolled her shoulders. "I shall be proud to be your Britain, ladies."
River clapped her hands together. "Wonderful. So, anyone have a suggestion on where we should start?"
Before anyone could respond, the door opened behind her and two women stepped inside. One was a chambermaid bearing a sword equal in height to herself, and the other was beautiful despite the green scales of her skin. She wore a leather waistcoat and a high-collared white blouse, also bearing a sword as she eyed the interior of the TARDIS.
"Madame Vastra... Jenny. I'm glad you're able to join us."
"Where's the Doctor?" Vastra asked.
"Indisposed." River held out her hand. "Dr. River Song. Charmed, I'm sure."
Vastra lowered her weapon. "The River Song...? Well." She kissed River's knuckles. "It is a pleasure to finally meet the... legend." She caught Jenny's look and released River's hand. "Oh, come now, darling. She is a celebrity." She put an arm around Jenny's shoulders and guided her up onto the platform.
River followed them and took a position next to Idris. "Ladies, introduce yourselves around. We've got quite a little trip ahead of us. There's plenty of time for us all to get to know one another."
The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh versions of the same man stood at the three, six and nine positions of the clock formed by the central tower. Ten braced himself with one hand, the other poised over his keyboard. "Ready?"
Nine nodded. "Count it."
Eleven said, "Three... two... one... Geronimo!"
All three men pressed a button.
All three men were shocked hard enough to toss them eight feet straight backward. Ten pushed himself up, shook out the kinks and cracked his neck before he looked at his companions. Nine wasn't him, he wasn't Eleven, and Eleven wasn't some new bloke. Ten stretched his back as he stood, and it popped like bubble wrap.
"Oooh-yah." He opened his mouth wide and popped his ears as he stumbled forward. "Right! Plan Q."
"At least the shocks are getting better," Eleven said as he scrambled back to his feet.
61 AD, Londinium,
Helen pushed open the door of the TARDIS and held out her hand to River. River took the offered help and let Helen haul her inside just as a pair of arrows whistled past. They buried themselves in the far wall of the room, where Vastra climbed to remove them. River was dressed in a tattered cloak and a large golden necklace, both of which she removed as she leaned against the door. She looked at Helen, saw she was smiling, and couldn't resist returning the grin.
"You know what this means, don't you?"
"Yes. I'm Boudica."
"I've been a fan for ages," Helen said.
They walked together up the ramp where Idris, Vastra, Jenny and Donna were scrolling through the possibilities on a small screen. Donna had taken control, proclaiming the directory to be like Wikipedia only without all the vandalism. She looked up at Helen and River's return. "Ranna says she wants to see the Beatles. Can you imagine, she ain't never heard the Beatles!"
Helen nudged River. "You can try meeting Mr. Lennon again. I could introduce you. He's really quite a lovely young man."
"I think I've had quite enough excitement for a while. You ladies can hold the ship for the moment; I think I'm going to take a nap." She glanced at Helen, who nodded. River put her arm around Helen's waist and pulled her close. "Try to stay away from fixed points in time, and don't kill anyone important."
As Helen and River walked out of the main room together, Donna voted they attend the Beatles' rooftop concert in 1969 and Idris suggested they started at the first concert with Ringo Starr in Port Sunlight and then going straight to the goodbye concert. The debate faded behind them as River led Helen down the dark corridor of the TARDIS. Once they were out of earshot, River tugged on Helen's arm and forced her to turn until they were facing each other.
"There were two of you in 1899, and you should still have been blonde at that point. What happened?"
"Something cataclysmic." She tucked a strand of River's hair behind her ear, then let her fingers trail down the line of her jaw. "I wanted to call you so many times, but I didn't know what it would do to the timeline. I was so very careful."
River nodded. "You were sent back in time, taking the slow path. How long?"
"I was preparing to wait one hundred and twelve more years."
"A prison sentence," River whispered. She brushed her lips across Helen's. "When we're finished having fun, I'll take you home. I'll take you back where you're supposed to be."
"Thank you, River."
They kissed softly, but it quickly grew more passionate. Helen found the ties of River's blouse and loosened them, causing the material to fall loose around her shoulders. Helen pushed the collar down onto River's upper arms. River lifted her chin and leaned back so Helen could kiss down her throat to her cleavage. She growled, lips curling in a ferocious growl as she ran her fingernails up and down Helen's back.
"I'm sure there's a bedroom around here somewhere..."
"But then we wouldn't get caught." She spoke against River's chest and then dragged her tongue up to the point of River's chin.
River shuddered. "Well, if you put it that way." She kissed Helen again, moving her hand around to undo the top button of Helen's blouse. She plucked it free and slid her hand down to the next. Helen untucked her shirt and started on the lowest button, meeting River's hand in the middle. Their fingers laced together, and they used their free hands to pull the material from Helen's body. River moved Helen closer to the wall, and Helen moaned as she was pressed against the smooth surface.
"So," River half-gasped as she ran her hands over Helen's chest. "Which of them are you hoping catches us?"
"Well, it would be rude if I didn't say Ranna, considering the fact she's been watching since I undid your blouse..." Helen turned her head and Ranna stepped out of hiding. Helen smiled and beckoned her forward.
Ranna moved closer, hands behind her back. "I... wasn't sure..."
"Shh, darling. I would have said you, too." River cupped the back of Ranna's head and pulled her forward for a kiss.
Helen watched, cheeks turning red as she undid the buckle of River's belt. Her skirts fell, and River casually stepped out of the material without breaking away from Ranna. Helen cupped and River's full breasts and bowed to kiss them, pinching the nipples between thumb and forefinger. River squirmed and made noises of approval against the assault of Ranna's tongue.
Helen kissed her way down River's body. There had been a time when all women had curves like River's, and Helen missed those days with a passion. Her hands skated over River's hips to her rear, which she kneaded and squeezed as she pressed her face against River's pubic hair. It was so odd... River wouldn't be born for centuries, and yet her presence satisfied something deep and nostalgic in Helen's soul. Being with her was like returning home.
Helen nuzzled River's sex with lips and tongue as River began undressing Ranna. She ran one hand up the inside of River's thigh, her other hand unfastening Ranna's trousers and letting them fall. She used lips and tongue on River, stopping only to wet her fingers so she could use them on Ranna. River's fingers joined hers, intertwining as they began to thrust in concert.
"Guess the real party's back here, then?"
Helen recognized Donna's voice, and she smiled but didn't stop. Ranna stroked her hair, and River put her free hand around Ranna's hip to draw her closer. Donna appeared to River's left where she could get a front-row seat to what was happening. Helen looked up, met Donna's eye, and winked as she brushed the flat of her tongue against River's clit. River hissed, groaned, and began rocking her hips against Helen's mouth.
"Oh! Definitely sexy..." Idris sounded intrigued as she joined Donna. She bit her lip and stared at the threesome, eyes darting from Helen to Ranna to River and back again. Finally, she looked at Donna and flattened a hand against the bodice of her dress. "This is a bit problematic."
"Nah," Donna said. "I've been 'round the block a few times. Best if you just go with it." She hooked her fingers in the lace front of Idris' dress and pulled her forward. They kissed, which Idris seemed to find acceptable judging from the sounds she soon began making. She put her arms around Donna and pressed her against the wall as their kissing intensified.
River broke her kiss with Ranna and looked down to meet Helen's gaze. Ranna kissed River's neck and cupped her breast, and Helen winked up at her. River groaned. "We should have waited... we could have done this while Sappho recited lyrical poetry on the Isle of Lesbos..."
"Next time," Helen said, and slipped two fingers into River. She leaned back, licking her lips as she began to thrust into Ranna and River with the same rhythm. She watched as Idris ravished Donna, tearing away her clothes with a startling speed and leaving the poor temp from Chiswick trembling and gasping against the wall.
River was the first to come, and she moaned Helen's name until it was at least thirteen syllables long. She gasped, groaned, and then threw her head forward until her hair covered her face. Helen kissed her way back up River's body, pausing to suck and kiss her nipples before she captured River's lips. She turned her head and kissed Ranna, then watched as Ranna and River kissed. Ranna gripped Helen's forearm with one hand, River's with the other, and thrust against the joined hands thrusting between her legs.
"She likes that, does she?" River whispered.
"Oh, yes," Helen said. She kissed Ranna's cheek as Ranna kissed River, and Ranna sagged against them both as she came. Helen held up both of her lovers until they could stand on their own. River stooped to gather her cloak and wrapped it around her nudity, and they all watched as Donna used her hand to guide Idris to a shattering, noisy orgasm. The front of Idris' gown was lowered to reveal her breasts, nipples so dark they were almost purple were standing at firm attention. She had both hands in her hair, her eyes wide and locked on the ceiling.
"And here I thought I'd done that before!" She shivered. "Apparently... I... have not."
Donna kissed her, and Idris hunched her shoulders to pull her gown back up. She touched her hair and muttered under her breath when she realized it was mussed, but Helen helped her get it sorted again. "Thank you," she whispered, and Helen nodded. The five women filled the hall, which now smelled of sex and sweat. River looked Helen up and down.
"You didn't come. And neither did you, Donna."
"It's a long trip," Helen said, and pulled Donna close to her and they kissed.
River cleared her throat as she watched their kiss grow more passionate. She gestured back to the main room, guiding Ranna and Idris away to give Helen and Donna their privacy. She turned around at the end of the hall and stopped when she saw what was happening on the main console. "Oh, my... Helen? Dear? Sorry to interrupt, but you'll want to see this."
Helen broke the kiss and took Donna's hand, joining the other ladies at the entrance to the main room. The lighting had faded, pulsing between red, violet and yellow like the light of a nearby fireplace. Every woman present could smell the pheromones in the air.
Jenny was sitting on the console, naked from the waist down with her blouse undone to reveal her corset. Vastra was between her legs and, judging from the sounds Jenny was making, doing an excellent job. Jenny's eyes were open but unfocused, and she was clutching blindly at the controls as she lifted her hips to meet Vastra's tongue. When she realized they were being watched, she gasped and tried to gather her wits.
"Ma'am... ma'am!" She ran her tongue over her lips and clutched the two halves of her shirt together as Vastra twisted to face their audience with a devious smile. "We... um..."
"This may be my fault," Idris said. She cleared her throat and smoothed her hand over the front of her gown. "I may have... while Ms. Noble was..." She tilted her head and smiled coyly. "Things may have gotten sexy."
River turned to Helen and Donna, nodding them into the control room. "If you two want to finish playing catch-up, now would be the time. It's not like the Beatles are going anywhere."
Helen took Donna's hand, guiding her forward to join Jenny and Vastra on the platform-turned-stage. "I suppose that's the beauty of a time machine," Helen said as her dress was unbuttoned and tugged down. "A quiet afternoon of lovemaking could last... hours. Days."
"The mind boggles," River said. She sat on one of the benches that ringed the platform, guiding Ranna and Idris down with her so they could enjoy the show playing out in front of them.
Gravity had given up. The oxygen was escaping from a webbing of cracks in the outer hull. The inner drum of the Cylinder spun slowly, with the Ninth incarnation of the Doctor drifting higher than the Tenth and Eleventh. All three were unconscious, in danger of asphyxiation, and the remaining TARDISes were also adrift like jetsam but so far there had been no unfortunate collisions.
On the bright side, the plan had worked perfectly.
8560, Kataa Floko,
A row of beach chairs stood along the sand like sentries holding back the tide. Helen Magnus was seated in the center, flanked on all sides by empty seats. She was nude except for a wide-brimmed hat, an iced drink in her hand. The glass was sweating, and she tilted it to let one drop plummet to land on her thigh. It traced a wet, cold path down her skin to the seat, and she closed her eyes. Behind her, the TARDIS returned. She heard the hinges squeak open, the door closed, and she heard River sigh as she dropped into the seat beside her.
After a moment, Helen opened her eyes. River still wore the robe she'd put on for the last trip, but it was transparent enough for Helen to see she was naked underneath.
"Everyone back home?"
"Within seconds or minutes of their departure. Only ones left are you and I. Well, and Idris, of course."
River put her feet up and crossed her ankles. "We can take you back to 2011 whenever you're ready."
Helen nodded and considered. After a moment, she took a sip of her drink. "We should let the TARDIS air out for a bit before we give it back."
"Say an hour?" Helen said.
Helen nodded and settled back against her seat. Two hours on a tropical beach... much easier to take than one hundred and twelve years of solitude. She reached out her hand, took River's, and enjoyed the feel of waves lapping against her toes.
"Other than a slight case of death - temporary death, at that, hardly worth mentioning - I'd say that went splendidly." The Eleventh Doctor paused at the door of his TARDIS. He ran his fingers over the wood, rubbed his thumb against his fingers, and made a confused noise at the back of his throat. The other versions of him had reunited with their TARDISes and gone off into the time vortex. He was alone again, naturally, and it was up to him to destroy the Cylinder on his way out.
He jogged into the TARDIS and stopped on a dime. Something was amiss.
He sniffed and turned in a slow circle. Something...
...happened in here.
He sniffed again. He bent at the waist to look under the console and then stood up straight again. He moved cautiously, as if stalking an intruder or a mouse, and tapped a screen.
"Odd. Hm. Idris? What happened here?"
There was no response. Not that he really expected one, since the human form of Idris was gone in this timeline and wouldn't remanifest for another... well, he wasn't sure how long. Still, he had the feeling she knew and was just refusing to tell him. "Maddening. Just like a woman."
The console sparked and he jerked away from it.
"Sorry. No offense." He typed in a command, pushed down a lever, spun a knob, flicked that particular switch from one side to the other, and fired two finger guns at the whole works before he kicked the underside. The TARDIS heaved, and he grabbed hold for dear life as the floor tilted underneath him.
As the TARDIS vanished into the ether, the Cylinder began to implode, and the Doctor could have sworn he could hear Idris laughing as they slipped into the time vortex.