Honey, I need your help.
That’s all the note on the psychic paper said, that and some coordinates. Since the coordinates were for a standard Earthside archaeological dig where he knew she had been, the Doctor wasn’t all that concerned really. They’d played this game before. A couple of times there had been actual Bad Things that happened as a result of these notes, but usually it was more a game of catch-me-if-you-can-my-love, and led to other enthusiastic games - games of chase and/or lovemaking under skies alien to them both.
They had met Jim the Fish on one of these adventures, and gone for a picnic at Asgard on another - lovely people, the Asgardians, bit greyish, short and thin by human standards, with large and expressive dark eyes. The Doctor didn’t know why humans found them so terrifying, more so than many alien species really, bit odd that - they’d met friends old and new, defeated a few old enemies, really these games were lovely.
But when the Doctor got to the time and place indicated by the coordinates, River Song wasn’t there. He popped back into the TARDIS; perhaps he had mis-entered them, he thought, because he tended to be a wee bit less exact when it wasn’t the collecting-her-from-deep-space sort of life-and-death situation. He had entered them correctly. Hmm, he thought, bit odd, that. He checked on friends in other places and times - although no sense in letting them know he was looking for River, no need to worry any of them - with her parents in the 21st century, with Jack Harkness ditto, and with Evie Jones in the 52nd.
No sign of River.
This is very not good, the Doctor thought, and dashed to check the chest where he kept the two crystal balls. Carrionites were still there, imprisoned in their ball, good, and so was the Celestial Toymaker. His hearts started beating again - yes, yes, they hadn’t really stopped, but that’s how it had felt - and he sighed with relief that River wasn’t trapped in one of the Toymaker's games. But it did give him an idea; what if she - or her abductor if she’d been abducted - had left clues to her whereabouts...?
So he went back to the dig.
These children - archaeology students from Luna University, and had his companions often been that young? - hadn’t seen Professor Song (ah, he thought, post-Byzantium for her then? Oh no, what if...) and his voice shook as he questioned the young men and women. No, she hadn’t been in touch with the Lux Family as far as they knew, and wasn’t it exciting that she’d made professor last week? He looked like a professor himself, was he an archaeologist too or...? Oh, more like a practical anthropologist, well, Professor Song had gone into the ruins on her own, about an hour ago; he could probably find her down there. And then they all nudged each other and whispered as he walked toward the ruins, because Professor Song was usually all work and no play...
The Doctor walked into the ruins, looking for any sign of River Song. He sniffed, caught a whiff of the spicy-sweet scent of her hair, and put his tongue to a standing stone. She’d been here; he could taste that scent, and the aura of Time that hung about her, and he closed his eyes to better focus on scent and taste. There was a... a dry smell, a dusty smell, like that of a lizard or a bird. Not quite Silurian, he decided, but definitely reptilian. He opened his eyes.
And that’s when he saw the... was it a scale? Or a feather? It was so tiny - about the size of a human child’s fingernail - he could hardly tell which, and looking closer, he decided it had elements of both. He picked it up and balanced it on the tip of his finger to bring it close to his eyes, and as it approached his face he noticed another scent, one that made his hearts sink.
Human-plus blood, in fact. River Song’s blood. The smell was very faint even to him - less than a single drop - and he tried to use that fact to mitigate the fear.
It didn’t work. He was afraid for her, terribly afraid that she was hurt, perhaps dying, and if he had just come right away when she had called he might have... no... that was rubbish, unproductive rubbish. Think, Time Lord, how can you help her? He didn’t realise he was rubbing the tiny scale-feather between his thumb and forefinger until he felt the pinch of its sharp base cutting into his skin, and then he let go of it with a curse. It wafted to the ground and he watched it, bemused that something so tiny could... could... oh, it’s so lovely, he thought abstractedly, the way the light reflects from the scale... feather... thing... so wibbly-wobbly...
The Doctor slumped to the ground against the standing stone, the iridescence in his mind tasting of River’s hair and smelling of her blood. And then everything went black.
Professor Eva Jones looked up at the knock on her office door, and when her mentor - now the Dean of Luna University - walked in without waiting for her to answer, she stood in surprise. Siggy never did that, the dear man, and the expression on his face was rather alarmed. She hurried around her desk to take his arm and lead him to a sofa. He was over 100 years old, and although that was only late middle age for most humans of their time, he had been unwell since the quake of 5130. So she was solicitous with him and settled him onto the sofa with a cup of sweet hot tea before she spoke. “What is it, Professor?”
“Your friend Doctor Song,” he said haltingly, “The one who earned her pardon from Stormcage, finished her PhD, made Professor last week?” Evie nodded. “She’s gone missing. Just disappeared from her first dig as a Professor. I’m sorry to have to break it to you abruptly like this, Evie, but... well...” He put a shaking hand out to her shocked and pale face. “You know her better than anyone...” He trailed off and Evie nodded.
“Yes, I do,” she said slowly, “and I know that after all that - Stormcage and the rest of it - she would never have just left... she must have been taken somewhere...”
“Well, she’s a professor in my school, and she was on one of my field trips when she disappeared. I won’t have it!” He brought his fist down hard on the arm of the sofa, and Evie hastened to calm him, stroking his hand until it relaxed, and then kissing him gently on the lips.
“I’ll go look, Professor Siggy... she and I have mutual friends who may be able to help.”
“That young Time Agent, Boe or Jack or whatever he’s calling himself this week,” he said in a cranky voice. “He’s a good boy, but so quick to judge! Still, he may be useful - those Time Agents are good in a pinch.”
“I’ll take care of it, Professor,” she said, and kissed him gently, then left the room to go to her suite. She wasn’t particularly worried; it was entirely possible that the Doctor’d shown up and spirited River away after all. And in her suite she kept the lovely gift the Doctor and River (and Sexy Thing) had given her - well, it must be about eight years ago by her personal time line. A gift of psychic paper she could use to call the Doctor. Or River. Or Jack. But when she got to her rooms, the paper was unnecessary, because in her sitting room stood a blue box. Evie squealed and dashed up to it, wrenched open the door, and stepped inside, prepared to hear River’s cheery voice, or at least the Doctor’s.
But there was nobody there except the TARDIS herself, and she... well she didn’t speak in words did she? Not even in images, more like... concepts, yes. And the concepts she shared with Evie were not good ones.
(my child my thief gone, can’t hear their song, another orange girl, blue-and-brown-boy, pretty one and orange girl, find my child my thief)
Oh dear, thought Evie, they’re both missing? “Can you show me, Sexy? Can you take me to Jack and the others?” She knew that Jack was ‘blue-and-brown-boy’ but she had no idea who the ‘pretty one’ and ‘orange girl’ were, except that she herself was ‘another orange girl’.
Cardiff, Wales, in the 21st century. Evie shook her head; there was something so magical about time travel. Oh yes, it was eleventh-dimensional physics, yes, but all the same, magic. She’d better go find Jack; she’d only been here - now - once before and she could get in trouble on her own. She shuddered to think what a 21st century constable would think of the normal sexual behaviours of the 52nd for instance. She’d read of this century and the one immediately preceding it, and the human race had been lucky to survive them. So yes, better go find Jack.
Evie poked her head out of Sexy’s door and found that she was right outside the block of flats where Jack lived. She should’ve known, and she sent a mental apology to the TARDIS before heading out. She entered the building, smiled at the old lady sitting primly in a chair in the lobby, and started toward the lift, when the old lady hailed her. “Hello, dear, aren’t you Jack’s friend, the one who was here last month? Such a nice boy, for all he’s American, and I do hope you’re here to take him off for a holiday... he’s seemed a little tired since you left last time, just needs a good girl to keep up his interest in life, that’s all...” She trailed off, smiling toothlessly at Evie. It had only been a month for Jack, had it? But she’d seen him since the incident with the Harrowkind, and... oh. Right, of course, he hadn’t mentioned it because of that word they all used... ‘spoilers’. Evie smiled at the old lady again and assured her she’d sort Jack out, drag him off for a proper holiday if she had to, and the old woman beamed at her.
Upstairs, Evie knocked on Jack’s door, and heard him grumbling to himself as he came to open it. But when he opened it the grumbling faded and his blue eyes lit up, and he more or less just pounced on her, sweeping her up and kissing her ardently. When she pulled back for air he grinned at her. “What a lovely surprise, my beautiful Evie,” he said in that low and intimate voice that sent shivers up her spine, and he slammed the door shut with one foot and carried her to the bed. But she pushed away from him and he stopped, his expression one of concern. “Are you alright?”
“I am, Jack,” Evie said, “but River and the Doctor are both missing.” He swore, and she didn’t understand the language as she usually did, which hammered the point home; the Doctor was either too far away or unconscious - or both - for the TARDIS’ telepathic translator circuits to work for them. Jack swore some more, in yet another language she didn’t know, and then he switched to English.
“If they’re missing, how did you get here, I mean now? How did you know they’re missing, how--” he broke off as she put a soft hand on his arm.
“River made professor, and went missing from a field trip, an archaeological dig. I found out because Professor Siggy, who is now Dean of Luna University, asked me if I knew where she’d gone. I went to get the psychic paper - I thought I could try to contact her - and the TARDIS was in my sitting room. She said that they’re missing, she can’t... can’t ‘hear their song’, and that she needed me and you, and two other people - ‘the pretty one’ and ‘orange girl’ - to find them. Do you have any idea who they are?” He shook his head, and got up, began to pace around the room.
“No, I don’t,” he said shortly, “but maybe between us, we can get more detail from the Old Girl without burning our brains out.” And he held a hand out to her. “Shall we?”
“You don’t need to pack anything?”
“Just what I’ve already got, sweet Evie,” he said, flashing her a somewhat fierce smile, “because for rescue missions, Sexy’ll have what I need.”