The familiar but oddly gentle wheezing noise made itself known just as Amy and Rory had arrived at their house and were closing the front door. Without hesitation, the front door was again swung open, and Rory adeptly stepped out of Amy’s way as she barreled outside to greet the Doctor. Rory himself hadn’t yet crossed the threshold when Amy returned inside, perplexed at not finding the blue box. Amy was soon again in motion, stomping through the first floor towards the back yard. As she slid open the door, Amy immediately began scolding the Doctor.
“Nine hundred years of time travel, and you still can’t manage to land the TARDIS properly? If you’ve destroyed yet another shed, so help me….” Here, she trailed off as the only creature in the backyard was a neighbor’s cat that had wandered over in search of a treat or some petting. She automatically crouched down to scratch behind the cat’s ears, much to the animal’s delight. Sighing, she closed the door and returned to the living room. Drumming her fingers on her chin, she began to quiz her husband, “You did hear something, right? It’s not wishful thinking or….”
“PTSD?” Rory finished not-so-helpfully. Having been rewarded with a withering glare from Amy, he continued, “No, it was definitely TARDIS-y. I just can’t imagine that if he didn’t land in the street….”
“LIKE WE’VE ASKED HIM TO AFTER THE FIFTH SHED?” growled Amy.
“Like we’ve asked him to,” Rory agreed placidly. “And if it isn’t in the back yard, there just aren’t that many places where he can park her. Where could he possibly have landed this time?”
Realization and panic hit both of them simultaneously. This time, Rory led the search for the Doctor as they both ran upstairs. Having mumbled a quick plea to the universe that the Doctor hadn’t crushed anything too irreplaceable, and willfully ignoring Amy’s retrieval of a cricket bat from the hall closet, Rory slowly opened the door and peered through squinted eyes, as if not seeing the damage meant that it wouldn’t exist. He breathed a sigh of relief at the absence of smoldering ruins and allowed himself to open his eyes fully to survey the room. The TARDIS was rather neatly parked between the bed and the closet, with the Doctor himself avidly inspecting some new Petrichor-related photographs and prints on Amy’s bedside table. A second person, however, was lounging on the bed. While she had seemingly been engrossed in a thick tome, she was also the first to notice Amy and Rory’s entrance.
“Mother! Father!” River Song jumped up to greet her parents. “You’re looking wonderful. And happy! No wonder-the house is definitely an upgrade from the old flat.”
So, it was her first time here. Not that that really clarified anything. “Oh, we’ve been here for a couple of years. What are you up to these days?” Rory asked as casually as he could manage.
“Well, the latest news is that I’ve finally cornered my committee to set a date for my final oral examinations for my degree. In one month, I’ll finally be Doctor River Song.” She beamed proudly. “Of course, I have no idea what the format will be so I’ve been studying anything that could be remotely related to my research, including that steaming pile on the bed. Honestly, the lack of intellectual rigor that passes for serious academic writing when dealing with time travel phenomena. ‘Timey-wimey’ as an explanation for non-linear time streams”-here, she actually snorted and she reached down and shut the book-“What bull…what’s going on?”
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory looked concernedly at one another once River had mentioned her oral examinations, knowing what would be in store for her on that fateful day. Amy was the first to recover. “Spoilers!” she teased in a gentle sing-song voice. “But I can’t say that I’m not shocked to see you here. Especially since you landed with the brakes on-please tell me the the Doctor is not corrupting your driving skills!”
Confronted with these indictments of his driving, the Doctor could remain silent no longer. “Amelia Pond, I will have you know that my TARDIS landing skills are second-to-none!” The laughter that greeted this completely baseless assertion inflamed his wounded pride further. River cut off any further protestations with a barking laugh.
“Oh no, no, no no. No. The TARDIS did want to be landed indoors tonight and, since we weren’t certain where you’d be, I thought that common courtesy actually dictated the use of the brakes so that we didn’t completely surprise you and cause a heart attack or interrupt a, shall we say, delicate moment.” She paused thoughtfully and then smirked. “Although from my review of future TARDIS logs, there are least two separate days where the TARDIS will be completely unable to land within 5 km of you two, and I can’t possibly imagine the reason for that.”
Rory’s eyes flickered between his daughter, his wife, the Doctor, and the TARDIS while trying to work out the meaning of River’s comments. Amy seemed to have caught the meaning of River’s words pretty quickly, and her serene smile indicated that there must be some sort of happy reason. He then looked to the Doctor, who was now seemingly engrossed by a tissue box on the nightstand and pulling them out one by one. Of course, the TARDIS wasn’t providing any hints. Once he looked back towards River, he finally understood. And with this understanding came so many conflicting feelings. First, as so often happened with Rory, embarrassment, here, because certain intimate matters were being discussed in front of his daughter. Then happiness, brought about by thoughts of a still-growing family. Happiness was fleeting and quickly replaced by worry that River might take any happiness to mean that she was somehow not enough for Amy and Rory. Finally, and how so often was the case, Rory was overcome by melancholy at Melody’s irretrievably lost infancy and childhood.
From River’s face, he knew that she had between watching him this entire time, had followed his thought process, and that her frown meant that her light-hearted comment was meant to tease and comfort her parents rather than bring up unhappy memories that no one-not even the Doctor-could do anything about. Not a single damned thing. Rory opened his mouth to begin to apologize to his daughter for dampening the happiness of the occasion when he was cut off by the Doctor.
“Yes, yes, yes, congratulations are apparently due all around.” The Doctor peered into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handful of confetti, which seemed to surprise even him. “Big, big, big days ahead for all the Ponds. Hurrah! However, I would still very much like to know why you summoned me, River, and you said that you would let me know as soon as we picked up your parents.” He then turned to Amy and Rory. “You don’t happen to have any idea, do you? No, no, of course you don’t. You so rarely do. Not your fault, of course-how could you know? You’re just humans. But still, one would think that you would at least try occasionally. River, they don’t know anything either. Can you please let us know what is going on?”
River finally broke her gaze and turned to the Doctor, shaking her head as if to clear it. “Of course. Shall we move into the TARDIS? Or the kitchen? Actually, the kitchen might be best. I could do with something to eat. You’d think that there’d be some improvement in British food in the fifty-first century, but I swear that it’s gotten worse.”
Twenty minutes later, they were seated around the kitchen table, and three pairs of eyes were looking expectantly at River for answers. She sighed. She really hadn’t been hungry at all, but she also hadn’t wanted to delve into the reasons for this mission. Somehow, despite everything, she never seemed to have even a fraction of all the time that she wanted. Or needed. Just for once, she wanted to enjoy being in the company of her parents and the Doctor without their being in some life-threatening situation. Especially now that she wasn’t going to be the person actually threatening their lives. She opened her satchel, removed a blue notebook from it, and turned to a page towards the beginning of the book. At least she had had these precious minutes of Rory putting the kettle on and Amy and the Doctor carefully evaluating the biscuit selection before making the inevitable selection of jammie dodgers.
“About two weeks ago, I was at my carrel in the university stacks doing some research for my latest book project. At some point that afternoon, I realized that I had seen a perfect book in someone else’s carrel and decided to wander over to take a look at it. I hadn’t been gone for more than two minutes, but when I got back, I found this on my research notes.” While speaking, she had flipped to the inside back cover and pulled out a rather crumpled slip of paper. She ineffectually tried to smooth it out further before she slide the paper over to the the other side of the table. She knew that the scribblings would mean nothing to Amy and Rory, but she rather wondered if they would mean anything to the Doctor. His narrowed eyes indicated that they did, and when he snapped up his head to look at River, she was absolutely sure that he understood. Of course he did. She wished that she herself didn’t. “I had no idea what this meant, but I knew that I needed to find out. After a few days of investigating, I realized that the writings were a time, a place, a date.” She flipped over the piece of paper to reveal this information, carefully printed in her own hand. Still no change in expression on the faces of her three companions-these new numbers were as seemingly meaningless to Amy and Rory as the original symbolic writings had been, and they didn’t provide any new information to the Doctor. Another breath as she picked up her pencil.
“This, this is the year,”-she pointed to the first cluster of numbers-“and these,” she pointed to the next cluster of numbers-“are the map coordinates, which indicate that we need to go to….”
“The western United States,” interrupted Amy and Rory simultaneously. They looked not to River but, oddly, to the Doctor for confirmation. River frowned again. She didn’t think that her parents had taken any further geography classes after primary school, and that was, even for them-still so young-a long time ago. What odd trivia for them to have retained after all these years.
The Doctor seemed to be deliberately ignoring River while he answered Amy and Rory. “Yes. No. Kind of. Actually, no, not really at all. But you’re right in that it is located in what remains of North America. And pretty much what remains of the earth’s habitable land. There are a few isolated small land masses, but pretty much everything else is gone.” Amy and Rory audibly gasped at that news. Amy’s first adventure with the Doctor meant that they knew that terrible things were in store for Earth, but they somehow sensed that this was a different kind of destruction.
Amidst this desperate chatter, including frequent recourse to River’s very own studies as evidence that such a terrible thing could never happen, River thought that her parents were taking the news quite well. Much better than her own weeping at the thought of so much human history and civilization eradicated, and humans surviving only in one of the most despicable regimes that she had ever had the misfortune to study. Earth, come to that. As her parents mentioned, it was true that they’d be traveling a timeline different from her own: her speciality was Earth archaeology, after all, and such terrible destruction would have severely hampered her research, to say the least. But the fact that it was happening somewhere or somewhen never failed to provoke nausea in River. All the jokes about cockroaches being the ones to survive the end of the world turned out to be depressingly true. Her fingers now gripped the pencil tightly, and it was only the splintering wood that silenced her parents. River herself looked surprised to find her hand clutching the broken item. The Doctor again began speaking, this time, his voice was much gentler, as if intending to soothe everyone’s agitation.
“Time is always in flux. Fixed points are the exception and not the rule.” He jabbed at the piece of paper with one of his long fingers. “This”-the Doctor did not hide his disgust-“This only happens in one of the darkest timelines, but it is a timeline, and I need to know why we need to go there.”
River looked helplessly at the Doctor. “I don’t know.”
“Are you lying to me?” A simple question, but the challenge in the Doctor’s voice was unmistakeable.
“No,” River answered firmly. She looked boldly at the Doctor. “I swear I have no idea.” To her surprise, the Doctor elected not to challenge River further.
“Fine. We need to go there and we’re walking into an incredibly dangerous situation blindly. As we do. But, River, I need you to explain to your parents what exactly we will find there.” The Doctor stood, walked over to River, and whispered, “Rory needs to know.”
So that was to be the price that he would exact in return for trusting her.
River closed her eyes before reaching into her satchel to pull out a map, which she then unfolded before Amy and Rory. “This is where the coordinates take us.” She looked up before speaking the next words, avoiding her father, although she could see him from the corner of her eye. “To a country called Panem.” Even in the very periphery of her sight, she could not fail to see that Rory’s eyebrows shot up so high that they were hidden in his fringe.
This was not going to go well at all if a single word already provoked a reaction.
She continued to describe the centralized authoritarian regime of the Capitol, the enforced famines in the subjugated states (“which are now called Districts”), and the extreme decadence and frivolity of the Capitol and its citizens. She preferred to look at Amy, who openly wore her revulsion, than Rory, who was now staring blankly at a point somewhere above River’s left shoulder. The Doctor was keenly watching the couple as they processed this information. It was clear to both River and the Doctor that Amy hadn’t yet noticed Rory’s dazed reaction to these tales. It was only when River began describing the signature outrage of this regime, the selection of child gladiators to fight to the death in a brutal arena, which caused Rory to black out and fall out of his chair, that Amy looked over to her right side.
“RORY!” she exclaimed as she ran over to the floor and lifted him up to a sitting position. She turned to the other two occupants of the room only as long as was necessary to ask what had happened before she turned back to care for her husband.
“Amy, you know what happened,” the Doctor murmured. “The memories became too much for him.”
“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Amy repeated as she cradled Rory. “Come back to me. Come back. Don’t leave. You can’t leave. Come back.”
In a rare moment of discretion, the Doctor drew River to the other side of the room to give Amy and Rory some space. River turned angrily to the Doctor. “How could you let me hurt my father like that? I knew that it would be hard for him-how could he not recognize some of this stuff from all those years guarding Amy-but I didn’t know that it would be like that! How dare you toy with him-with us-like that! We are not your playthings!” She looked over to the floor: Rory had still not revived, and Amy’s pleas were now muffled as she whispered urgently into the top of Rory’s head.
“If you knew that this would have happened, would you have told Amy and Rory everything?” the Doctor asked.
“What kind of monster do you take me for? Ask if I’d deliberately hurt Rory?” River spat out these last words.
“It would have been crueler to ask him to go into that world without knowing what it was that he faced. There are some types of knowledge that you can’t withhold, no matter how painful. Always remember that. Now, River, are you going to stop lying to me and tell me why we need to go there? Tell me why you’re not only willing to have Rory suffer the pain of remembering his time as a Roman, but also willing to risk the lives of both of your parents? Because no one’s survival is guaranteed.”
“I’m not lying,” she hissed in reply. “I don’t know.” She emphasized each of these words as she looked brazenly at the Doctor. She lowered her voice as she continued, “But why don’t you tell me why me that original note was in your writing?”
She did not expect the look of utter bafflement on the Doctor’s face. “That is not my handwriting,” he sniffed. He grabbed some notepaper and a pen from the counter and replicated the original symbols from memory. “How can you compare that childish scrawl to this?” He held out the two notes for inspection.
He smiled with great satisfaction as River compared the two notes. Now it was her turn to be confused: they were distinct, sure, but she couldn’t understand what made the original childish. “But the note matches up with the records of the twelfth….” She froze, realizing her mistake.
“Spoilers,” the Doctor cautioned, but his curiosity about the first note apparently was now piqued, and he took a close look at the note for the first time.
How she hated that word. “Spoilers indeed,” she said as she snatched both papers from the Doctor to deny him the opportunity to enjoy the newly-realized and underappreciated elegance of the first note.
“I hate to ask again, but why don’t you tell me why you’re here.” The Doctor’s voice was still calm, but now there was a dangerous element to it.
“What do you want me to say? A note mysteriously appeared-in your handwriting-with a mission. I don’t know any more than that!”
“No one forced you to do anything.”
River rolled her eyes at the absurd remark. “You ask for help, and I’m supposed to say no?” She was surprised when the Doctor reached out to grab her hand.
“You can always say no. Don’t ever blindly follow my, or any one else’s, requests if you don’t think that you should.” he whispered urgently. “Trust in yourself. Now, tell me, why are you here?”
This was a rather more serious conversation that even these dire circumstances warranted. River was about to deny any further knowledge again when a voice answered for her.
“Oh, River, isn’t it obvious?” Rory said as he and Amy walked over to her. At River’s shaking of her head and blank look, he continued, “The reason why we have to go, why we all have to go, is because none of us can stand aside and do nothing when we know that children are being turned into weapons.”
The three family members were still sniffling slightly as the Doctor ushered them upstairs to the TARDIS to begin their journey. The TARDIS clearly wanted River to pilot her to their next destination, much to the Doctor’s extreme disgruntlement. Amy and Rory were simply pleased that they might actually get to start this adventure with a minimum of bruising. As Rory had to spend much of their trip assuring Amy that he was fine, that he would be fine, and that even if he weren’t, they needed to do this, minimal distractions were welcome.
“And we’ve landed.” River announced. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory rushed out the doors to take in their surroundings.
“How odd,” remarked the Doctor, crouching down and running some dirt through his fingers. “The coordinates were for the Capitol and this is most certainly not the Capitol.” He tasted a pinch of the soil in hands. “Definitely not the Capitol-the mineral balance is off. Hah. Even Ms.-soon-to-be Dr. Superior TARDIS driver can’t guide her.” The Doctor leaped up and turned around in order to grin smugly at River but was instead met with the TARDIS doors slamming in his face and noisily disappearing.
He spun around in outrage, pointing a finger at Amy and Rory. “Your daughter has just taken my baby for a joyride!”
They shrugged their shoulders. “She does that sometimes,” Rory admitted.
“And she didn’t even have the decency to take off the brakes!” Amy and Rory were more agog at the hypocrisy than at River’s theft of the TARDIS. The Doctor ignored them and whipped out the sonic. “Give me your phone, Pond-I need to call your daughter.” Amy nudged Rory in the ribs, and he sighed as he reached into his pocket for his phone.
“What do you need to do that for? I’m right here, and I’ve been waiting for ages for you.” Three heads turned around to see that, indeed, River was waiting for them. And without any sign of having had a TARDIS.
River hugged each of them in turn as if it had been a very, very long time since she had seen any of them. She began speaking very fast.
“I’ve been waiting here at least three hours. Fortunately, I brought my research notes with me. Never hurts to be prepared in case my committee actually starts returning my messages about setting up a defense date. I swear that it’ll be a miracle if I even manage to talk to two of the five members within the next six months. I can’t tell if it is because they want to keep me around or if they’re scared that I’ll somehow embarrass them during my orals.”
“So you’re not defending next month?” asked Rory.
River laughed mirthlessly. “I’m not kidding when I say that the best case scenario is defending within six months. A year is just as likely.” She paused as the three others exchanged looks. Again, with the secrets. “I’m really starting to think that I’m getting a little too old for this school thing.” She smiled in a very self-deprecating way, which had the effect of breaking the tension. A little.
“How did you get here?” It was now Amy’s turn to interrogate her daughter.
River held up her left wrist-somehow, no one had noticed the vortex manipulator in all of the excitement. “I came as soon as I got the message from you three.” Again, she appraised each of them thoughtfully. “So I’ve been here about a week getting everything ready. Or as ready as things could be.” She suddenly became somber. “With all of my studies, I think that I know how something will be like from reading about it, but the reality never quite matches the theory. How could things become this bad?”
No one had an answer.
“Well, no point in dwelling when there’s still so much to do. Where’s the TARDIS? How’s the old girl doing?” She whipped around but found nothing.
“Your guess is as good as ours,” shrugged the Doctor. “We got here, and she ran off for some reason. You know how she is. She’ll turn up soon enough, she always does.” Rory and Amy nodded their heads in earnest agreement.
“That makes no sense at all. You’d be panicking if she just upped and left like that.” River glared at the Doctor, and all three hung their heads in shame. “But it’s clear that you have no intention of telling me what really happened to the TARDIS, and we really need to get going so we’ll just have to cut through this later. After Amy and Rory have been reaped.”
River had begun walking determinedly down the path to the cottage, but, suspicious of the lack of footfalls behind her, she paused and spun around. As suspected, Amy, Rory, and the Doctor hadn’t moved an inch and were gawping at River. While this might be comic under different circumstances, there really was no time to waste at all.
“Don’t look at me. This wasn’t my plan.” She crossed her arms and looked at the three other time-travelers. “I really will explain everything, but you have to follow me. Now.” She spun on her heel again and resumed her brisk march.
“I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” Rory muttered as he, Amy, and the Doctor trotted to catch up with River. The walk wasn’t a long one: after five or ten minutes, River had stopped in front of a comfortable-looking cottage, unlocked the door, and ushered everyone in.
“I thought that the districts were desperately poor?” wondered Amy as she took in her surroundings.
“They are,” answered River. “But right now we’re in the Victor’s Village section of the district so everything is more luxurious than what the average citizen has. She handled a garment bag to Amy and to Rory and pushed the two of them towards a door. “Now, you two, change. And hurry.”
In a few minutes, Amy and Rory returned. Instead of their earlier outfits of trousers and jumpers, they were now somewhat more formally dressed, with Amy in a dress and Rory in a button-down shirt and trousers. In their absence, River had arrayed various make-up and product on the kitchen table. They sat at the table and, River began bringing them up to speed while trying to do something about their ragged appearances.
River had arrived in Panem a few days ago, spending all of her time in the Capitol until this morning when she had arrived in District 6, which is where they were now, following the instructions in their note precisely.
“What note?” interrupted Rory. “We haven’t written any note!” He was quickly silenced by a trio of stern expressions, and he sulkily re-submitted to having his massive amounts of hair product introduced into his hair.
“I’m assuming that you are all familiar with the basic format of the Games?” River paused for agreement before she continued. “This year, the format is somewhat different, which works to our advantage as well as our disadvantage. As you probably don’t know, last year, in the 74th Games, there was a rather unusual situation in which two victors were crowned,”-no, Amy and Rory most certainly did not know that-“and it had not been the Capitol’s intention to reward the impudence of a boy and a girl who professed to be so in love that they would rather die in a suicide pact than kill each other.”
It was now the Doctor’s turn to interrupt. “Profess?”
River sighed. “Apparently, some very highly placed officials doubt the sincerity of the girl’s feelings, choosing to believe that it was all part of some rebel movement instead of two teenagers acting on their hormones.” She paused, giving Rory’s scalp a brief respite from the merciless massaging of mousse (mousse!) into his hair. “They may not be completely wrong, though. At least as to the extent of the girl’s feelings, though I think that she does care deeply for the boy.”
River shook her head at this aside. She really needed to focus and not be distracted by the story of these two youngsters who reminded her so much of her parents at that age. “No matter, you can see all this for yourself during the train ride to the Capitol-we’ll have plenty of time to watch the packaged version of the Games, and I can fill you in on what really went on. In any case, the two simply had the bad luck to have their story be the spark that lit a fire that was already smoldering. Of course, the Capitol in its infinite wisdom, chose the most brute force way to dispose of these two by announcing that the tributes for this year’s Hunger Games would be reaped entirely from past Victors. In theory, this would allow the government to very neatly dispose of these two inadvertent troublemakers. From what I can tell, it certainly never occurred to them what a very, very bad idea it would be to gather nearly all of the people who had been cunning enough to emerge victorious from their Arenas and give them a reason to hate the Capitol even more.”
“So the victors are part of the rebellion?” asked the Doctor, although the tone of his voice made it seem as if he already knew the answer.
“Some are. Actually, a decent number are,” replied River. “Although I’m not completely sure as to what has already happened or will happen. And I’m still not sure why we need to be here. Because this doesn’t happen in my timeline, I really could only find the barest of mentions of Panem in our history books. Basically I could only uncover anything that would have bled through as a myth or legend or cautionary tale. But, from what I could find, the rebellion did succeed, although at great cost.”
The Doctor touched his fingertips together. “Clearly there is someone or something out there that doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed. But why? This timeline is, at best, a quaternary timeline. Who could possibly want to interfere?”
“Does it matter?” asked Amy fiercely. “We can’t let down these people-these children-and let the rebellion fail!”
“Of course not,” agreed the Doctor. He turned to River, “But how did you manage to learn of underground rebel plots in what, five days?”
“One, District Six has one of the stronger rebel movements, and, even in the original timeline, the District Six tributes, their mentor, and even their Capitol stylist-that’s me now, by the way-were trusted with some knowledge of the plot. Two, their futuristic technology happens to be very primitive by my standards, and it was absurdly easy to hack into their databases to do whatever I needed. Three, never underestimate the power of hallucinogenic lip….” She trailed off at the stern looks from both her parents, and even she quelled under their severity. “Perfume,” she corrected herself. Amy arched an eyebrow, which was really too much. “Yes, perfume. And, before you even ask, of course it wouldn’t work on you lot because pheromones wouldn’t be effective on biological relations or Time Lords who are completely out of touch with human emotions.”
This last bit was said in a rather high-pitched voice, which River hoped would serve as a further distraction from the lipstick as they would try to unpack the emotions behind that. She continued with her story.
“So, this year’s games. It’s going to be a challenge to sneak in phony competitors because the Victors are all known to the Capitol. As I said, I’ve been able to play with the Capitol’s records as needed, so that helped. It also helped that there are only three living victors from this District, none of whom have caught the Capitol’s fancy, mostly because each has a terrible painkiller addiction. The government doesn’t see them as a threat so they’ve been able to survive under relatively benign neglect despite their victor status. I’ve also changed the records to list Amelia Pond, Rory Williams, and John Smith as the sole surviving victors of District Six, so we don’t even need to worry about using pseudonyms.”
“Wait, you think that Amy and I can pass as drug addicts?” Rory asked incredulously.
“Well, yes. From what I can tell, the over-large eyes and slightly sallow complexions are typical of morphling addicts.” A dark look crossed River’s face. “The accents are rather more difficult to excuse away, but people talk so weirdly here, even for Americans, that I think that you’ll manage. Besides, the official story, which you’ll tell to great effect in your pre-Games interviews-will be you both have been trying to kick morphling for a long time and the announcement of the Quarter Quell was the final motivator.”
“So the Doctor is to be the third victor who doesn’t get reaped?” continued Rory.
“Yes. So he’ll be the designated mentor for you and Amy. Amy, as the lone female victor, you’ll be selected by default. Rory, there shouldn’t be any problem because the District Six Capitol escort has proven wonderfully susceptible to my…perfume, and the Reaping Ball for the males will include slips of psychic paper. Your name should be read as a matter of course. If something does go wrong, however, you must volunteer.”
“I would never let Amy go into that arena without me!” hissed Rory. “You don’t have to worry about that. But what happened to the real victors? Surely we’re not leaving them on their own?”
It took awhile for River to answer. “Medically induced comas. They’re in the basement where no one will look for them or see them. It was the kindest way that I could think of removing them from the Reaping, but not forcing them to be conscious for the withdrawal effects. They’re fine-I’ve got their vitals wired to my communicator.” She held out the device to the Doctor for inspection. “I’m not sure what else to do. It would be a foolishness to take them to the Capitol, but I don’t know if they’re safe here….”
“They’re far safer here than with us,” the Doctor answered briskly. He looked at his faceless watch. “I think that it’s time to go.”
Rory and Amy stood up together, clutching each other’s hands, and Amy spoke for the both of them.
“Let the Games begin.”