Laura enjoys the stillness of Colonial One at night (as if there was anything dictating time of day besides their own stubborn refusal to let the idea of hours and minutes and dawn and dusk fade away). There is a quiet hum, only the sound of the ship’s engine, the gentle whirring the only sign that she isn’t in her own bed, back on Caprica, back before everything.
As her eyes begin to drift close, her hands pillowing her head, a new noise penetrates the familiar, welcome quiet of her ship. She isn’t sure what it is, only that it sounds like her car from her school days, when she couldn’t quite make it start in the mornings. She sits up, pulling her robe close around her as an old blue phonebox materialized into view, the light on the top flashing furiously, the air around it being whipped into a frenzy. Laura pulls her hair back, away from her face, noting with bitterness the strands that come away in her hand.
The door to the phonebox opens, and a tall, lanky man steps out, looking decidedly frazzled. He starts when he sees her, almost disappearing back into the blue box, then slowly emerges again. “Didn’t mean to scare you,” he says in an accent similar to Gaius Baltar’s, yet different enough that she can’t place it.
She smiles the small, tight smile of an unsuspecting hostess - a politician’s facade. She learned long ago that she can’t trust anyone. “Who are you?” Her voice is icy, the displeased schoolteacher trying to extract the right answer from a particularly trying student. She thinks it would surprise many how often her past as a teacher play into her life as president.
“Me? I’m the Doctor.” He steps fully out of his contraption and begins to look around with childlike curiosity. “Where are we?” She supposes it is only fair that he is allowed to ask questions as well, but she still feels that he owes her more of an explanation than the one he offered.
“Doctor of what?” He’s poking at her desk, holding the papers up to the light, fingering the edges, noting the lack of corners with his index finger. He turns back toward her.
“Of nothing. Everything. I’m just the Doctor.” He puts his hands in his pockets and leans against her desk now. She can see he’s pushed the lamp out of place and she’ll have to re-order her pens in the morning. She almost laughs at herself for thinking of these trivial things when faced with a complete stranger before her. “Where are we?” he asks again, calmly, as though he’s in no rush whatsoever, as if he has all the time in the world. “And who are you?”
“Specifically? We’re aboard Colonial One. As for the exact and current location, I can’t be sure. And even if I were, I don’t believe I’d tell you.” They’ve been compromised too many times, lost too many lives. She thinks of the list of names in her desk, wonders if anyone will add her name to a list when she’s gone. “And I’m Laura Roslin. President of the Twelve Colonies.” Whatever that title means now. As though the distinctions of Tauron and Caprica and Sagittaron mean anything anymore.
“And what are you? Human? Alien? Something else entirely new and different?” She can’t tell which prospect he’s more excited by, but she’s had her own humanity called into question too many times to let it slide.
“Human,” she answers hotly, thinking of the green light so long ago, telling everyone that she was safe, that she was who she claimed to be. If that even means anything anymore. “I’m the leader of the last forty thousand humans in existence.” The admission of the state of humanity seems to startle the Doctor, though he recovers quickly, pretending he’s found a very interesting speck of dust on his sleeve. She feels a fire run through her, a protectiveness of her fleet, a mother lion standing in front of her cubs. “And what are you?” There was a time not so long ago that the question would sound ridiculous to her, but now she doesn’t know who is human and who is something else entirely.
“Gallifreyan,” he answers casually, looking down at the floor, scuffing his feet against the now-worn carpet of Colonial One. After a moment’s silence, he meets her gaze. Her mouth is open, she knows, but she doesn’t know how to respond. She doesn’t know if he’s insane or if he is, in fact, from another place she’s never even dreamt of.
“Where is that?” Her curiosity gets the better of her. She always wants to know everything she can. She wonders if this Gallifrey could be a home to her people. Anywhere would be better than this nothingness that surrounds them now.
“It’s nowhere, now. Well, it could be somewhere , I suppose. Or somewhen. But I can’t go there. It would be too dangerous. So it’s safest to say that it’s nowhere, and leave it at that. It’s gone.” Though the words come out in rapid fire, Laura can see the sadness in his face. She wishes she could somehow convey that she understands what it means for something to be gone in an infinite and endless and permanent way. Her mother, her home, her planet, her health. Gone. But she just closes her mouth and watches him in silence, not sure of where to go from here.
When he looks her in the eye, she sense the responsibility he feels. That he shoulders the blame for the absence of Gallifrey. She thinks of the Olympic Carrier and of the lost souls aboard the ship who didn’t deserve the fate they received. They are the sum of the things they carry with them, of the lives they’ve touched and lost. She feels a strange, strong kinship with this man she’s only just met.
“When are we?” the Doctor asks after a few moments have ticked by. Laura is taken aback by the question, never having heard it phrased in such a way. She pauses, unsure of how to form an answer.
“The Cylon holocaust was three years ago,” she says, finally. “And before that. Well, right now, there is no before. There is only what has come after.” She does her best to forget the times before. It does no good to dwell on the things she will never get back. She is oriented forwards now, towards whatever will come.
“And what has come after?” The Doctor’s voice is quiet, like he understands that something terrible happened, like he knows what it means to do terrible things and to live with the results.
“This,” she says, gesturing, trying to encompass it all. The lost lives, the emptiness of outer space, the horror of New Caprica, the surrendered election, the broken families, the fallen gods, the false prophets, the displacement of humanity. “Everything.”
The Doctor is looking down at his hands, and she thinks, perhaps, he knows what she means, despite it all. When he meets her gaze, he looks sad, so awfully, permanently sad, and Laura sucks in her breath, steeling herself not to cry, though the tears well unbidden to her eyes.
“And where are you going?” He is standing now, moving back towards his blue box. Laura feels as though they’ve been talking for hours, and she has forgotten all about his strange entrance into her life, it almost startles her to see the phonebox sitting there.
“Earth,” she answers, though what that means anymore, she isn’t sure. She no longer knows if it’s fact or fiction, hope or fate or a nightmare disguised in a dream. It is their point of origin and their true north.
His face brightens at this. “Earth,” he repeats. “That’s where you’re going?” He is excited now, she can feel it; he is almost bouncing on the spot, such a change from the somber tone just moments before.
“That is our goal. We’re just. I don’t know if we’ll get there. If I’ll get there.” She thinks of the cancer, devouring her, the diloxin, weakening her. She thinks of her presidency, the weight of humanity on her frail shoulders, and she worries that she will one day sink under the burden of it all. She can feel the Doctor’s eyes on her. “I’m dying,” she says, without any emotion or feeling, a flat statement of fact that cannot be changed or removed. “Do you have a cure for that, Doctor?” The dark, bitter humor surprises her as much as it surprises him, and she wants to apologize for who she is now, a woman whose words can eat away at others like the cancer growing inside her. But she has long since stopped apologizing for what she is. She is the president of humanity, the one who is responsible, and she must take the bitter with the sweet.
She wants to tell him of her dreams, of the rides in the ferry across the waters of the unknown, of how she is not ready to cross those rivers, how she feels, with every fiber of her being, that she has to set foot on the solid ground of Earth, whatever that is. She, who is so tired and worn, beaten and broken, she who has carried humanity this far, and plans to carry them the rest of the way, though they may hate her for it. She has to see Earth, has to make sure that this, that everything was worth it. The list of names in her desk drawer can’t be in vain, and she can’t be forgotten, dismissed as the woman who failed. She has to see Earth, has to see the future she has ensured for her people.
He’s stopped bouncing, but she thinks she can still feel the nervous, excited energy surrounding him. “I can take you there,” he says quietly, a whispered fervency. And she can feel the thrill at her spine, because she believes him. She believes him more than she believes the pilot who came back from the dead with news of green fields and blue skies. Because he appeared in her life in a blue box, and she think he might be the one to show her the world she has waited so long to see.
“How long will it take?” She does not have very long at all. She is already living on borrowed time, and she doesn’t know how much more she’ll be allowed. She thinks she can be selfish, that she can take these moments, while the rest of humanity sleeps. If she can see their future, then she can focus on their present.
“Not very long at all.” He is smiling the broadest smile, his hand outstretched to hers, and she can’t think of a time when she’s been impulsive, impetuous, except one. She thinks of that last cigarette, of that promise to go all the way to the end. And she thinks that perhaps this is what the end meant, that this is it. She looks into the Doctor’s eyes and grasps his hand tightly as he pulls her into the phonebox, and towards the unknown, towards Earth.