Chapter 1: An Echo Across the Stars
the wind and the ice and the snow will carry your names forever.
He woke to pain and darkness, but the fact he was awake was startling in itself. Survival hadn't been something he'd expected to do; for once, Bialar Crais had no contingency plan.
Talyn's awareness was a small knot of fear in the back of his mind. He had no idea where they were, or in what sort of state. His own injuries were relativity superficial considering what they'd done. Considering he was supposed to died. In light of that fact, a few cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder seemed a small price to pay.
Bialar dealt with the shoulder in short term and then leant back against the bulkhead until Command stopped spinning around him. Once the nausea passed, he hauled himself slowly to his feet and limped over to a console. His hands closed around the levers that would power Talyn back up. He hesitated, aware of how the damage might effect him, but knowing there was little choice. Bracing himself, he threw the switches up.
The surge of bleedback he expected did not occur. Instead, something tickled at his mind. It wasn't Talyn; it was separate… external somehow. Frowning, Bialar turned to the communications console and opened the long-range sensors. He didn't really expect them to work, not with the amount of damage Talyn had taken, so the music that flooded Command took him completely by surprise.
He froze, but his shock turned quickly to a wonder. There were words, but the translator microbes failed to convert them. Yet hearing the meaning wasn't necessary, some deeper part of him knew what it was and he felt his spirits rise on the hope intrinsic in the song.
There was a pull to the song, like distant gravity, and it tugged at him. Talyn had already shifted position, angling his trajectory towards the source much as he had done with the Siren Sun. That lure had been deadly and was enough to remind Bialar that some caution was necessary. He chewed at his thumb and considered his options.
While he had survived, he doubted he could go back to his former life even if he wanted to. No, that was all behind him; literally in smoking ruins. There was nothing and no one to hold him here.
And as easily as that, the decision was made. Activating the rest of Talyn's systems, Bialar ordered the DRDs to ascertain the damage to the ship and start repairs. He then aligned communications with the long-range scanners and took a vector. The source of the song was very distant and he knew he would have to realign the ship on occasion. But for now he had a destination.
"Follow the course, Talyn," he murmured.
The radio alarm burst into song. Donna Noble reached out and slapped it off. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, trying to recall the dream. But already it was sliding away from her, leaving just a hollow lost in her stomach.
Nothing new there, then, she thought bitterly to herself and got out of bed. The dreams were, according to her doctor, memories of the last year reintegrating. That didn't particularly explain why she still couldn't remember anything, or why she'd forgotten things in the first place.
Normality had returned since that morning when she'd woken up with a year of her life missing from her mind. Well, a sort of normality. She'd gotten a job, a permanent one, and she'd started going out with her mates again. But that didn't stop her mother treating her like she was made out of glass. It didn't stop her from catching the sad glances that her grandfather sometimes sent in her direction.
And the weirdest thing was that Wilf had stopped going up the hill. The telescope had been packed away and aliens were no longer mentioned. While the rest of the world had woken to the fact that Earth Was Not Alone, a conspiracy of silence seemed to have fallen over the Noble household. A silence that made Donna very uneasy.
She sighed and dressed in jeans and sweatshirt, pushing her feet into worn trainers before she trotted downstairs. There was a note on the kitchen table from her mother - she'd taken the car and gone shopping. The usual Saturday routine, then, she thought and put the kettle on.
"Granddad?" she called out.
When she got no answer, she assumed he was still in bed and got one cup from the cupboard. She made herself a cup of tea and then sat down at the table. Opened the newspaper and began to read the gossip column.
Normal as a person could get.
Donna picked up her tea and sipped at it, trying to ignore the hollow pit in her stomach. She didn't want normal; she wanted something more than that. For the past couple of months she had tried, tried so hard, but she wasn't right. There was a nagging sensation that she'd forgotten something important, that she was missing more than just memories.
She just didn't know what it was.
Bialar had lost track of time. Talyn's systems were thoroughly frelled and the amount of time that it had taken to fix them, even with the help of the DRDs, had run into arns. Several times he'd crashed into bed, utterly exhausted, while Talyn flew on.
They followed the song.
He still didn't understand the words, or the power they had over him, but the beauty of them was without question. They resonated deep inside his being, even when he was in near comatose slumber, and through every system on Talyn. In fact, the systems seemed to have attuned themselves to the rhythm.
Once, Bialar had been a soldier, an officer. As that man, there would haven been no way he would have done something so foolish as track and follow an unknown signal. He would have suspected a trap at worst, simply ignored it at best. However that man had died, in a way; expired on the Command Carrier as it burnt, and he was something new. The concept was both terrifying and freeing.
It was after three, or maybe four, solar days that Talyn woke him with a shriek.
The stars are disappearing!
"What?" Still half asleep, Bialar pulled himself out of bed and fumbled in the darkness for his clothes. "What do you mean?"
The answer was a sudden visual of space that made his head spin with vertigo. Blackness surrounded him and stars stretched out to infinity. But one by one they vanished, winking out of existence. The song in his head faltered, then came reverberating back, this time in a minor key, discordant and jarring. His vision cleared and he was back in his room.
There was only one thing he believed capable of erasing stars.
"Talyn, long-range scans on maximum," he ordered as he dressed quickly. "See if you can detect any unusual gravity fluctuations."
I don't detect anything. They're just… vanishing.
"Stars don't just vanish."
Bialar headed to Command. Once there, he checked over the consoles but as it was Talyn had said - nothing out of the ordinary, if he ignored the minor fact that stars were disappearing from the sensors. It had to be a glitch. Nothing else made sense. But the neural transponder still worked and he could feel every system; he knew they were running at optimum. Well, as optimum as they could get given the recent Starburst.
There is something at the outer limits of my sensors, Talyn reported suddenly. Closing rapidly.
Bialar got a sense of several objects headed in their direction. As they got closer and Talyn could scan further, he knew that the things were nothing experienced by Peacekeepers before, that there were over a hundred of them, and that they were no bigger than his own hand. The latter was of little import; he was far more concerned about the possible threat to Talyn and himself.
"Are they armed?"
Not that I can detect.
"Hmm." Bialar eyed the console and the progress of the unknown objects. "What's their intention?"
It was a rhetorical question, but Talyn answered it anyway.
I'm not sure, but they aren't slowing. I don't think they pose a threat to us.
"Let's be prepared in case, shall we? Bring us around."
The deck shifted beneath his feet as Talyn banked. With the ship facing towards the oncoming objects, Bialar could see them - a cloud of darkness that blotted out stars as it billowed closer. And closer. Then they streamed past, the cloud parting and enveloping Talyn.
Bialar moved to the viewscreen and stared. The objects were vaguely insectoid, with blue-green bodies about as big as his palm and tiny, iridescent wings. And they didn't even seem to notice the spaceship that they passed.
"Talyn," he said in a lowered voice. "Power down. Slowly."
The lights in Command dimmed.
Microts passed. In the silent darkness, Bialar watched the creatures as they whizzed past the viewscreen. He breathed slow, trying to make himself invisible, trying not to attract unwanted attention. Though it seemed they were unimportant in the greater scheme of whatever the creatures wanted. Bialar was perfectly happy about that.
They've passed, Talyn noted.
Bialar watched the cloud shrink against the stars and nodded.
"It would be interesting…" He paused and looked from the cloud to the stars. A frown creased his forehead and turned back to a console. "The vector they are on - it's the same as ours. I wonder… I wonder if they're following the same thing we are."
Maybe. Talyn sounded surprised. Bialar could sense the ship calibrating. It would seem so, but the source… is still unknown.
"I am aware of that."
I want to know.
Bialar smiled and reached up, placing his hand on the structure overhead.
"How badly?" he asked lightly. "Enough that you could manage a Starburst?"
It was a risk and he felt Talyn shudder, but then a sense of determination washed through the neural link. Electric surged along Bialar's nerves and he experienced his own moment of doubt, but then Command was flooded with bright light and the hybrid lurched.
Space warped around them.
China chattered. Donna frowned at the cup trembling against its saucer, then felt a rumble. An earthquake? In Chiswick? It didn't seem possible. She snatched up the cup, but the shaking was so violent that tea sloshed over the rim. Shaking her hand automatically, the cup slipped from her scalded fingers and shattered on the floor.
And then the window exploded.
Donna jumped with a startled cry. With the window broken, she could hear the shouts and screams of her neighbours. She scrambled to her feet, knocking her chair over in her haste to reach the front door.
Outside, people crowded their doorways, staring upwards and speaking in loud, panicked voices. Wondering what all the fuss was about, Donna glanced up at the grey, cloudy sky. A dark cloud swooped and reeled. Starlings? she thought, remembering a nature programme her grandfather had watched once. But then the cloud dived and she saw that oh, no they were not birds.
The black swarm swept down the street, causing the watching neighbours to scream and dash back inside. The force of the swarm's passing buffeted at Donna and shook cars, making alarms go off and join the cacophony of noise. As they passed, she saw the blue-green glitter of their bodies as they passed on a blur of wings.
"What the-?" She stared after the things in horrified disbelief. "They're bugs."
A door slamming behind her made Donna hurry back inside. Her grandfather bustled down the hallway and she felt a wave of relief.
"Granddad, are you alright?" she asked as she hugged him.
"Of course, sweetheart," he laughed. "Why ever wouldn't I be?"
"There are bugs outside! Flying bugs! Didn't you see them?"
To Donna's surprise the look her grandfather gave the open door was oddly frightened, then he grabbed her hands and drew her further inside.
"Is there? Well, I'm sure it's nothing. Come in and we'll turn on the news, yeah?"
"Granddad, what's the matter with you? It's got to be something. I mean, they looked like them things off The Mummy. What if they eat people? Mum's out there!"
Donna broke away from Wilf and started for the door, only for him to grab her arm.
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart," he insisted. "Come on, come inside and I'll ring your mum. Everything will be alright. You'll see."
"No!" She shook off his hand and stepped outside. Glancing down the street, she saw the bugs had disappeared. "Look, they've gone for now. I'm going to go find mum before they come back."
She jogged down the path, ignoring her grandfather's pleas for her to come back, to go back inside, and went out onto the street. Most of their neighbours were still indoors, but some had come back to their doors and they watched her run past, their expression shocked.
And though her heart raced and her mouth was dry, and a part of her wondered what on Earth she was doing, there was another part that felt a thrill of excitement.
She lengthened her stride and ran.
Chapter 2: The Danger of Memory
Starburst brought Talyn to a system of nine planets. The source of the song seemed to emanate from the third from the yellow sun; a blue-green planet that seemed terribly familiar to Bialar as they closed in further.
"It had to be," he sighed and rubbed at his forehead.
My sensors detect the creatures we encountered earlier. They're in the upper atmosphere but descending rapidly.
"Then we are probably at the correct destination." Bialar threw a switch and powered the engines down to minimum. "I believe if we maintain a position near the moon that we shall remain undetected. Crichton did say his planet was not technologically advanced. I will take the transport pod down and investigate further."
Bialar, Talyn warned. The activity of the creatures has increased. I think… I think there is some risk to the population.
"In that case, I should go down now," Bialar said and pulled his pulse pistol from its holster. The cartridge was a little low but…
I'm not certain that will be effective against them, Talyn advised. Their numbers are considerable. But I have a plan.
Bialar raised his eyebrows. "You have a plan?"
My scans have deduced how the creatures operate. They are not unlike a Leviathan in that they are biomechanical in nature, only a much simpler creation. A burst of electromagnetism should disable them.
"Should?" Bialar repeated, not liking the odds of that.
I'm fairly confident.
"I have no such weapon though."
It's not difficult to make, Talyn said. I have one of the DRDs recalibrating a hand-held scanner now. It should take no more than a tenth of an arn to complete.
Bialar had to smile. He patted the overhead structure.
"Well done, Talyn. Have the DRD board the transport pod. It can finish the adjustments as I fly down. I'd rather not waste any time."
Turning on his heel, Bialar headed to his quarters. He dragged on his longcoat and tidied his hair, before going to the hanger bay. A DRD waited inside the rear of the transport pod, its little arms busy adapting the scanner. Leaving it to its work, he sat down in the pilot's seat and powered up the engines, exiting the safety of the hanger and heading down to the planet.
Earth was all blue ocean and multi-coloured land. The variety in terrain surprised Bialar; most planets in Peacekeeper territory consisted of one or two types, but this one? There was ice at the poles and deserts and great areas of dense forest. It was, he decided, quite beautiful. In its own way.
The creatures he was following were headed to a small land mass adjacent to a larger one. Using the transponder, he accessed Talyn's systems and scanned the island. Like the other lands, it was made up of a series of cities that didn't particular seem to relate to one another, and it had a low level of technology. The temperature was borderline with what he found comfortable and it was raining.
Bialar wished he still had his hat.
Running was something one could only do so much of. After quarter of a mile, Donna got a stitch and slowed to a walk, panting hard between gritted teeth, a right hand fisted into the area above her hip in an attempt to ease the pain. She dug her other hand into a pocket and pulled out her mobile phone. Holding down 1, she auto-dialled her mother's number.
"Donna," Sylvia greeted.
"Mum? Mum, where are you?" There was a garbled reply, but there was too much background noise for Donna to make it out. "Mum, I can't hear you."
"We're in the Bradford Arms. Lucy's on the karaoke. Oh God, you should hear her!"
"I can hear her." Donna winced at an off-note and then held the phone away from her ear as her mother's cackling nearly deafened her. "Mum, look, just… stay there, okay?"
"What is it, Donna? What's wrong? Is it Dad?"
"What? No, he's okay. It's nothing… nothing to worry about. Just stay there, though yeah? Stay inside."
"Donna, you're not making any sense."
She sighed. Over the phone she heard someone call her mother's name and raucous cheering. "You take your turn at the karaoke," she told her mother. "I'll be there in five minutes anyway."
There was no sign of the Mummy Bugs returning. Donna shoved her mobile back into its pocket and walked. Then it started raining. She swore under her breath, having not even grabbed a coat, never mind her umbrella. She considered running again, but her side still ached and she didn't honestly fancy more exercise. Grumbling to herself, she stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans and walked on, shoulders hunched.
The rain grew steadily harder. Donna was soon soaked through and shivered as it was cold. She lengthened her stride and focused on the warmth of the Bradford Arms and the nice boozy hot chocolate the staff did.
She looked up as thunder rumbled. The sky was a dull steel grey, the clouds heavy with rain. Thunder rumbled again, but there was no lightning. Perhaps it was higher in the clouds. A third rumble shook the windows of the nearby houses and Donna tensed, half-expecting another shower of glass.
Another rumble sounded, this time longer and more like the roar of an engine. She'd not heard any car like that though. She looked round suspiciously and then, despite her side, made a mad dash for the pub and relative safety.
In the parking area of a disused block of flats, a strange craft descended, the low rumble of its engines echoing off the breezeblock structures. It landed with a dull clang amongst a swirl of wet newspaper sheets and empty crisp packets.
A moment later, the hatch slid up and Bialar stepped out onto the surface of the one planet he'd always hoped he'd never have cause to visit.
But Earth was where the song had led him, so he supposed he'd just have to find out why. He could live with that; after all, it wasn't like he was going to stay.
"What do you mean by bugs?" Sylvia crossed her arms and looked at her daughter. "What kind of bugs?"
"They were so big," Donna motioned with her hands. "And they looked a bit like the ones off The Mummy."
"She means scarabs," Lucy said and took a swig of her G&T. Donna gave her a glare.
"It doesn't matter what they're called," she said. "It matters what they want."
"What's that then?" demanded Lucy.
"I don't know, do I? Could be anything. But what is anyone doing about them? It's not on the news, there's no police or anything."
"So what? They're bugs. What harm can they do?"
Sylvia was about to defend her daughter when there was the loud crack of splintering wood and the doors to the Bradford Arms shattered inwards. She stared in disbelief at the swarm of bugs that boiled through the opening.
Chairs scraped loudly on the floor as people scrambled to their feet, screaming and shouting. Lucy took one look and bolted for the loos. Sylvia turned to Donna, a horrible twisting sensation in her stomach. She wasn't supposed to see things like this; they could spark other... memories. Memories that Sylvia did not want her daughter to remember, because they were dangerous.
Donna was staring at the chaotic crowd, a thoughtful frown on her face. Then she stood up.
Sylvia watched her in some concern. "Donna?"
But her daughter ignored the call and walked over to one wall of the pub. She paused, glanced over her shoulder, then shrugged and broke the glass of the fire alarm box. The siren wailed over the panic and the buzz of the bugs as they circled the room, drowning it in noise and then water as the sprinklers kicked in.
"Come on!" Donna yelled. "Everyone get out."
For a moment, Sylvia could do nothing but sit and watch as Donna took control, ushering the panic-stricken pub goers to the exit. Then the bugs dived towards her daughter and Sylvia scrambled to her feet, pushing through the crowd to reach Donna's side.
A woman screamed as the stream buzzed down and past. The flyby ignited a further panic and the crowd became crushing as everyone tried to get out all at once. Sylvia grabbed Donna's hand, but the pushing and shoving forced them apart again. And all the while the bugs were regrouping. Sylvia heard them coming. She shoved a woman out of her way.
But Donna stood there, staring at the oncoming storm and seemingly incapable of moving as the swarm closed in.
"Donna! Get down!"
There was a sharp cracking sound, like gunfire. The people jamming the door screamed and fell back. Sylvia saw a black-coated man with dark hair and a gun in his hand. He grabbed Donna's arm. A wordless cry tore from Sylvia's throat, her mind immediately imagining the worst.
It didn't get better. The man shouted something in a foreign language that no one seemed to understand. At least, no one moved. Sylvia couldn't take her eyes off the gun in the man's hand. He frowned and shoved it into a holster, then pulled out a small device. He drew Donna back and imposed himself between her and the bugs, raising the device.
There was no sound, no light, but Sylvia felt the hair on her arms prickle with static. The bugs stopped dead and then rained down, their bodies making a clatter as they hit chairs and tables and bounced onto the floor.
Sylvia stared at the carpet of blue-green bodies and then at the man. He bent down and picked one up, his expression cautious. His motion seemed to free up the rest of the pub goers and they surged out the door. She thought that was a good idea and headed for the exit. She grabbed Donna's arm, but her daughter's eyes were locked on the stranger and her expression was dangerously curious.
"Donna, come on."
"But I want to know what those things are… were."
The man glanced up, his dark eyes unfathomable. He said something indecipherable and Sylvia frowned.
"Whatever," she muttered.
It took her a moment to realise that Donna had addressed the man. He shrugged and said something else, something that she didn't understand. But when she looked at Donna…
"Donna?" she said, a creeping sense of fear knotting her stomach. "Do you understand him?"
Her daughter gave her a bewildered look. "Of course I do. Why ever wouldn't I?"
Oh God. Sylvia's fingers went numb and she left go of Donna's arm. She took several steps backwards, the fear mounting as she did so.
"Because…" She took a deep breath. "Because h-he's not… not… speaking English."
Sylvia understood little of how the Doctor's time machine had worked, but one thing she did know; it had gotten in her daughter's head and translated foreign languages. Alien languages. And if Donna understood, then the Time Lord Consciousness was reasserting itself.
Damn that Doctor! Sylvia thought viciously, blinking back tears as she hauled Donna out of the remains of the pub. Damn him for taking Donna away, for exposing her to the dangers of the universe.
And damn him for leaving her to pick up the pieces.
Donna followed her mother to the car, glancing over her shoulder as the car was unlocked it. Her hands shook from the shock of it all, but on a deeper level her curiosity stirred. She wanted to know why those bugs had come after her.
The dark-haired stranger had told her that he didn't know. She had understood him perfectly, when no one else had. That still sent a chill down her spine, but the need to know was overpowering.
Her mother had gotten into the car and was putting on her seatbelt. Donna knew that she should get in, go home, and have a cup of tea. That was the safe thing to do, the normal thing… the only problem was that she was sick of normal. She backed away from the car.
"Donna! Get in the car!"
Turning away, Donna started back to the pub, determined to get some answers.
"Donna! Where are you going?"
She stopped and looked back. "Those things came straight at me, Mum. They were after me. I need to know why."
Her mother looked panicked. "Please, Donna, just get in the car."
Donna shook her head and backed further away.
"I can't. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry. So very sorry."
Her mother looked as if she'd been slapped; horror washing over her face. Guilt spiked through Donna, but there was a momentum to her steps and she couldn't stop now. She pushed through the throng that remained just outside the pub complaining loudly about compensation, and stumbled over the threshold.
Donna swore and shoved her way back outside. She stared through the pouring rain and thought she saw a movement down the road. Ignoring her mother's continued shouts, she walked past the pub to the alleyway that ran between the back and the next row of houses.
The narrow alley was rough tarmac with a drainage gully running down the middle and lit by three streetlamps with dirty round globes. The rain was a fine mist that blotted her view. She wiped droplets from her eyelashes and squinted, just making out the retreating dark figure ahead.
She jogged several steps to catch up and then stopped again when the thought that chasing a stranger down a badly-lit alley might not be the best idea occurred. Her hands fisted in frustration as she walked him walk away from her.
Donna hadn't really expected him to listen, so when he stopped and looked back, she was a little surprised. She blinked, not sure how to follow up on that. He stood under the streetlamp, his rain-drenched face lit by the light, and there was something in that so familiar… She could almost remember, as if it was a word stuck on the tip of her tongue.
"Stop," she said again.
-"You can stop now."-
She could hear the sound of a radio, distant, yet somehow obliterating the patter of rain against the ground.
The voice was close and she looked up - when had her head dropped? - to see the man stood right in front of her. His expression was bewildered, and somewhat concerned. She stared up at him. His eyes were brown.
-Brown eyes over a sad smile. He took her hand. "John Smith."-
"I-I…" She stopped, not sure what it was she'd meant to say. The pain in her head blinded her ability to think. "What?"
"What the frell is that?"
Donna didn't know… anything, really. She could see so much. The rain seemed to slow and she watched the droplets in fascination.
"It's fantastic," she whispered. Then she looked up, met those brown eyes, and she remembered. "Oh God."
"It's killing you," he said and she nodded.
"It's in my head. Everything and…." She took a shuddering breath. His expression was all sympathetic worry. He knew. She knew that he knew. Had to… "Help me. Please, help me."
The world shifted and went dark. Donna fell forwards. But she didn't hit the ground. Strong arms caught and held her and, just before the chaos inside her head grew too loud, she heard three words.
"I will try."
Chapter 3: A Compatibility of Need
"I can't go back. Don't make me go back. Doctor... please. Please, don't make me go back!"
Donna woke with a gasp. The sharp edges of memory knifed into her consciousness and tears welled in her eyes. She blinked them away and swallowed hard. When the ache in her chest had eased somewhat, she took in her surroundings. The room was unfamiliar She lay, breathing hard, in muted darkness. In her clothes on a bed… again.
All those things she and the Doctor had done together; the things he had taken from her mind, had caused her to forget… wonderful, terrifying things that she now recalled. Memories he had said would kill her, that would burn her alive, yet she didn't feel like she was about to combust.
At least, not any more she didn't; she thought back to the alley behind the Bradford Arms and the dark-haired alien. Her last memory was of him catching her and then… then what? She didn't remember, didn't know where she was.
Donna sat up. Though she was still in her clothing the rain-soaked coat had been removed, along with her boots, and a sort of fur blanket was draped over her. She looked around. The room was sparse, with little in it other than the bed and a desk. Her eyes locked on the window, at the stars she could see beyond it.
"Oh my God," she murmured.
She slipped out of the bed and padded over to the window. Looking out, she saw the Earth spinning slowly beneath her. A thrill fizzed through her; she was in space. She touched the wall. What she'd thought of as metal didn't feel like that, it was warm and pulsed with life. She blinked and stroked her hand over the wall.
"His name is Talyn."
The announcement made her jump and she whirled. He was tall, as tall as the Doctor, but certainly not as skinny. The black sleeveless top he wore revealed arms that were well-muscled and he had them folded across his broad chest as he leant against the doorway.
"Right," she said, not entirely sure what to do with that information. "And you are?"
He had a name, an actual name. That would make things easier.
"Donna Noble," she told him. He nodded.
"Yes, I know who you are." He looked her up and down. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," she said. "Which I guess I have you to thank for."
"You asked me to help you," Bialar said. He pushed up from the doorway and looked around. "I did promise to try."
"So you just… what?"
He glanced at her. "How is your neck?"
It did ache, actually. She put a hand to it. Her palm came away bloody. She stared at her hand and then at Bialar.
"What the hell did you do?" she yelled at him. He winced.
"Would you sit down?" he asked and motioned at the bed. His tone indicated that she wasn't going to like what she heard.
"No," she replied flatly. She held out her blood-covered hand. "Tell me."
Bialar sank onto the bed, braced his hands on his knees. Donna went to fold her arms, then saw her palm and thought better of it. She looked at him and tapped a foot. He sighed.
"Talyn… my ship is sentient. He's a living ship, Donna. He can connect to a being through something called a neural transponder. Here…"
He turned away from her then and moved the ponytail to one side. At the back of his neck was an evil looking device that made Donna gasp.
"What is that?"
"My connection to Talyn." He turned back to her. "I used a second, less-intrusive device to connect him to you and… he took certain aspects of the information in your mind."
"Like a download?"
"Yes. It allowed you to regain the memories that were blocked without whatever was killing you from doing so."
"The Time Lord Consciousness," Donna supplied. She glanced at her hand again. "I don't suppose you have something I can clean this off with?"
Bialar rose and went to the wall, pressing a button she'd failed to notice. A door slid open to reveal an approximation of a bathroom. She slid past him and rinsed the hand under the tap, then dried her hands.
"I would like to know more about the thing that was killing you," he said then. "Given there was considerable risk to what I did."
She looked at him and allowed a small smile to curve her lips.
"Would you sit down?"
Sat back on his bed, Bialar watched Donna sit next to him. Her reaction to the extreme but very necessary measure it had taken to save her life had been as explosive as he'd feared. However she seemed to have come to terms with it. She glanced at him. There was no reticence in her eyes, no hint of terror. She accepted him with an aplomb that he'd never experienced before and he found it rather refreshing.
She threaded her fingers together and focused on her hands. Talyn's joining with her had allowed him to see into her mind. It had been a brief glimpse, but enough to know this was not going to be easy for her. He held himself very still.
"You're… you're not the first alien I've met." Her voice was soft, low. "Two years ago, I was getting married and… and I was transported. I found myself in this strange place with arching supports and a central column and a man... well, he looked like a man, but he wasn't. His name was - is - the Doctor. He is a Time Lord, from a planet called Gallifrey, in the system of Kasterborous." She looked up then. "Do you… do you know where that is?"
"I have heard of it," he replied quietly. "There are… myths about such a place."
Donna gave him a weak smile. "It's gone now; the Doctor was the only survivor of a war. He had this ship. Not like this one, not like Talyn, but it travelled in time and space, and I travelled with him."
Her voice went husky. Bialar saw her eyes glisten in the microt before she turned her head away. He reached out, uncertain as whether she would accept a gesture of support but unable to watch her cry alone. He rested a hand on her shoulder. She gave a deep sigh.
"He showed me so much," she whispered. "So many worlds, past and future. I saw so many wonderful things, but terrible ones as well. I witnessed the birth of a new civilisation and the death of another. It was incredible, and I thought that it was going to last forever."
"What happened?" he asked softly.
"Something called a metacrisis. I absorbed some of his DNA and I… changed. I became a human Time Lord but… that shouldn't have been possible." She looked at him then. "It was killing me, but that was okay cos I was with him. Then he said that he was sorry and he… he took everything away from me."
She struggled visibly with her grief. Bialar tightened his hand on her shoulder. She gave a muted sob and then, much to his surprise, threw herself at him. Her arms went around his neck and she cried. He sat there, frozen and eyes wide, and tried to decide what he ought to do. He opted for patting her back rather awkwardly.
After some time, her sobs reduced to sniffles. She pulled back, her expression aghast. She wiped her face and smoothed her hair back.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"I don't mind," he said, finding even as he said the words that it was true. "I had some indication that the subject was… something of a sore point." She gave him a curious glance, so he expanded; "Connecting you to Talyn meant we were… connected, of sorts. Not in the same way, but I did get images, emotions."
Donna stared at him for a microt, and then shrugged.
"The TARDIS was slightly psychic. It got in my head and translated alien languages. That's how I can understand you." She frowned. "How do you understand me?"
"Translator microbes injected when I… when I was younger."
"Oh." She seemed lost for words. She looked at him. "So what are you, then?"
It was a question he'd known would come eventually. He still hadn't decided how to answer it though.
"Nothing anymore," he told her. "But I was a Peacekeeper."
"Is that like an army or something?"
How could he tell her? He looked away. "Something like that."
"Ah," Donna said. "You know, when I first met the Doctor there was this alien from a really old race. I mean, really old; they'd existed before my planet did and they'd hidden themselves in the core. This alien, she wanted to free the offspring, but if she'd done that, the babies would have eaten everyone on Earth. So the Doctor stopped her. He killed them. All of them."
Bialar met her eyes. "I see."
"Do you?" she asked. "I mean, you don't have to tell me, not if you don't feel comfortable, but don't think you're going to shock me."
He harrumphed. She poked his leg with a finger.
"If we're going to spend any amount of time together-"
"We are?" he interrupted. "Why?"
A hurt look crossed Donna's face, then she slumped.
"Oh," she said in a small voice. "I thought… well, you'd saved my life, so I thought that… but obviously not. Anyway, my mother will be worried so…" She stopped and gave him a plaintive look. "This isn't fair."
He was confused. "I'm sorry, what did you want?"
"Let me come with you." She sat round and took his hands. Her eyes pleaded with him. "Please, Bialar. I can't go back to a normal life, not again."
"But…" He hadn't expected to pick up a passenger, especially not a human one. "I… I'm rather used to being alone. I expected that you would wish to return home."
"Well I don't," she huffed and folded her arms.
He opened his mouth. Closed it again. He looked at her and wondered what he did now. Refusing her was the obvious answer, but he remembered the flicker of memories that had raided his mind whilst she'd been joined to Talyn. Though that had been only for mere macrons, it had been enough to know she would never be happy left on Earth. It shouldn't matter. For some reason, it did.
"Before you decide, I shall tell you something of myself," he told her. She unwound her arms and watched him, waiting. He heaved a sigh. "The Peacekeepers are the military force in the sector of space that I come from. I was a captain and… I did a lot of things of which I am no longer proud. I killed someone and that forced me out in order to survive. I then stole this ship. There is more but this you should know: my own people believe that I am dead. If they discover otherwise, then this ship and all within it would be in danger."
Donna's eyes were wide but she nodded slowly, clearly not discouraged by what he'd said.
He lifted his eyebrows at her.
"It's not like I've never been in danger before. It was a regular occurrence." She gave him a sudden grin. "It was all about the running."
Bialar shook his head. "Talyn can only travel through space, Donna. If you came with me…"
"I'm not thick, Bialar," she said tartly. "I had figured out there'd be no going back."
"And you are still… willing?"
It was obvious she would not be swayed. All that remained was for him to decide whether he wanted someone else.
"And you need me," she added.
He arched an eyebrow at her. "I need you?"
"Yes, you do. You've been on your own for too long."
Loneliness was something he had spent most of his life trying to ignore; just another weak emotion that left one vulnerable. He looked at her, at the way she returned that look with no semblance of fear, and he thought that she might actually be right.
"If I offered…" He trailed off, uncertain of the etiquette.
Donna's lips twitched. "I need to check one thing." She reached out and placed her hand flat against the left side of his chest, then shifted it to the right. "Okay, so not that alien then."
He was bewildered by this action. "Whatever were you checking?"
"Whether you have one heart or two," she told him cheerfully. "The Doctor had two. You have one, so you're not that different from me."
"I believe our species are very similar," he said. "Compatible."
She jerked her hand off his chest, her cheeks colouring.
"Not that compatible, Spaceman!"
The nickname startled him but then the humour of her reaction made him chuckle. She glared at him, but after a microt her composure crack and she smiled slightly.
"So?" she asked.
"If you will not listen to reason and stay on Earth, then it is pointless arguing with you about the matter," he said.
"Is that a 'yes'?"
She sat forward, hope blooming on her face. There was no way he could refuse that. He sighed, wondering at which point he would regret this decision, fairly sure that he would, eventually.
"Alright," he said and was immediately engulfed in a tight hug.
"Thank you!" she squealed, nearly deafening him. "Oh, thank you."
Bialar rolled his eyes and returned Donna's hug awkwardly, trying to ignore the silent laughter that echoed in the back of his mind. At least Talyn was accepting the change to their circumstances.
"In that case, would you care for a tour of your new home?" he asked her.
Donna pulled back, her eyes shining.
"Oh yes please."
Chapter 4: Lessons of Present and Past
The TARDIS had been bigger on the inside. Talyn wasn't, but Donna found him just as incredible. She wandered the passageway after Bialar, awed at the size and complexity of the ship. One thing she discovered early on in the tour was that the outer corridors had rectangular windows. She liked that.
Bialar's voice pulled her attention from the sight of the sun breaking past the Earth. She glanced over and saw he was stood by an open door. An eerie blue light washed out into the passageway. Intrigued, she crossed to the doorway and peered in.
The room was blue and cave-like, the walls crystalline in appearance. Donna stared; it was so different from the rest of the ship! She hovered on the threshold and looked at Bialar.
"Is it safe?"
"Just now, yes."
She wandered in, her gaze sweeping up the walls. There was an opening in the ceiling, leading up into the ship. Eyes on that, she bumped in to something. She jerked back. Three spikes jutted from the floor, glittering with internal lights.
"What is this place?" she asked.
"Leviathans are capable of a manoeuvre known as Starburst. That requires a build-up of energy and this is where that is created."
Donna stared around the room again.
"Of course, that does mean this chamber is rather dangerous when Talyn is in flight."
She gave him a withering look.
"You don't say."
He glanced at her and she held his gaze. He shrugged a shoulder.
"Perhaps that information was unnecessary," he allowed. "But I would rather you had that information instead of having to clear your charred remains from the chamber."
"Okay, point taken," she said hastily, suppressing a shudder as she exited the room quickly. She wound her hands around his arm and eyed the chamber warily. "Maybe you should show me somewhere a little safer."
Bialar smiled slightly and waved his hand over the door control, shutting the chamber off. As he led her up the corridor, she glanced over her shoulder and made a mental note of which door that was; she didn't want to wander in there by mistake.
"Command," he announced then.
She turned back. This room was the usual red and black. There were control backs down each side and several windows at the far end.
"Ooh," Donna said and extracted her hands from Bialar's arm. She wandered to the nearest console and touched it lightly. "Oh, now this is a spaceship!"
"Please don't touch," he replied and took hold of her wrist. "Talyn is a very sensitive craft."
"Uh huh, him and his captain," she retorted and pulled her hand free. "I wasn't pressing anything, Bialar."
He elbowed her aside. She huffed, but his fingers were already working over the console. She watched him, rather fascinated by his delicate touch and the fact he actually seemed to know what he was doing. She edged closer, glanced at the intent expression on his face, and got a rather wicked idea.
"What's that do?" she asked, tapping a light with one fingernail.
"Donna," he said in a warning tone.
"How 'bout that one?"
"Will you stop that!" She chuckled and he glowered at her. "It is not funny."
"You only think that because you've no sense of humour. You're very… austere, Bialar."
"Yes, well, some of us were raised in austere circumstances. If you find that I am not easily amused, you might consider that there is a reason."
His tone was cold, but there was an undercurrent of something else. She moved around the console so that she could see his face. His eyes were on the console, his expression closed off, yet despite that she caught a slight hint of vulnerability. She felt a spike of guilt at teasing him and reached out, laying her hand over his.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know. I was just trying to lighten the mood."
He gazed at her for a moment and then sighed.
"I know. And I probably over-reacted. I am… not good with people, Donna. Not on a personal level, anyway. I… don't know how."
That took her aback. "What do you mean?"
Bialar sighed again and looked away. "Not now."
She watched him go to a different console, effectively shutting her out. She frowned, recognising in him something she'd see in the Doctor - here was a man who had seen too much, had taken more hurt than a being ought to. Her heart ached for him.
"When?" she asked and saw him freeze. "At what point will you trust me enough?"
"It is not a matter of trust," he replied. His voice was cool, clipped. She arched an eyebrow.
"Oh, really? Then what is it a matter of, then?"
He glanced at her, then back at the console.
"It's a matter of me not wanting to talk about it right now. You do not need to know, you only want to."
"Yes!" she exclaimed, feeling a sudden irritation at him. "Because it might help me understand you better! Look, we're either together in this or…"
He looked up sharply. "Or what, Donna? I don't respond well to threats."
"It wasn't- Oh, forget it. Forget I asked."
She turned away and stalked to the window, looked down at the planet. Talyn's orbit kept them over the northern hemisphere and she could make out the United Kingdom. She placed her hand on the glass and sighed softly, wondering if this was such a good idea after all.
"Are you hungry?"
"I said, are you hungry? I just thought that maybe… maybe you'd like something to eat."
Donna frowned, bewildered by the change in their conversation and that in him. She faced him, trying to figure out what was going on. Maybe this was his attempt at holding out an olive branch. She decided to take it as such.
"Yes, actually I am." She tilted her head. "You can cook?"
He looked mildly affronted.
"Yes, actually I can." He offered her a smile and the crook of his arm. "Come with me. I think you will be pleasantly surprised."
She let go of her irritation and crossed Command to take his arm.
"Alright," she said. "This I want to see. Lead on."
After weekens of travel, Talyn was somewhat sort of supplies. Bialar managed to find a couple of eggs and some unspoiled sliced meat. It was not quite enough to fully show off the extent of his culinary skills, but he hoped it would be enough to satisfy Donna's hunger. He glanced at her.
She was sat at the table, her hands wrapped around a mug and her eyes on the stars visible through the viewport. Her expression seemed a little sad, and he wondered if she were regretting her decision to come with him.
Whether he had made her regret it.
He hoped not; for all his antagonism towards her, he did like her. He just wasn't sure if she should be going with him or not. She would, after all, be leaving all that she knew behind her. Having done that himself…
She turned then and caught him watching her. A smile broke over her face. He could not help but smile in response. Then a sharp pop from behind made him remember their breakfast and he turned back to it quickly. He managed to catch the meat before it singed and flipped it out on to the waiting plates. Adding the eggs and some bread, he carried them to the table and placed one in front of Donna.
"There you are."
"Ooh thanks." He expected some hesitation, but she dabbed up yolk from her eggs with the bread and bit in. "Hmm, not bad," she said around a mouthful.
"Evidence that I can cook a passable meal at least," he said. "Even if I am somewhat lacking in… other departments."
She smiled and took another bite. Swallowing it, she took a drink and put her cup down. "I never said you were lacking, just... reticient."
"I believe one is as bad as the other," he replied. "And in either respect, you were right, but I did warn you that I was not good with people."
"You did, I suppose. I just didn't realise you really meant it."
"Now I know you're as bad with people as you said you were." She delivered this with a bright smile that more or less countered her words. Then she reached out and patted his hand. "I'm sure you'll get over that."
"Thank you, I think." He shifted his hand and closed his thumb over her fingers. His reward was an even brighter smile and she squeezed his hand. He nodded at her plate. "How's your food?"
Donna pulled her hand back and picked up her fork again. "It's good," she said. "You know, it's weird; I was never really one for exotic stuff, really. I mean, Chinese and Indian, sure, but that's not proper foreign food is it?"
He had no idea. "Apparently not."
"I remember the first time I had alien food, I mean, proper alien food. I was half-afraid it'd kill me, but then I thought, what was the point in going out there, all that way, and not trying everything? Wasn't one, was there?"
"And how was it?"
She looked at him for a moment, and then a grin broke her face.
Bialar had been chewing but at this declaration almost choked on his mouthful. It caught in his throat, resulting in him coughing and laughing at the same time. Donna chuckled and then pushed his cup into his hands. He swallowed some of his drink down and found he could breathe easier.
"Sorry," she said, though she didn't seem overly apologetic.
"At least I rate higher than that," he said, still wheezing somewhat. He took another sip of his drink. "Seeing as you are eating what I put in front of you, I surmise that experience did not stop you trying?"
"Nah." She dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. "Just cos I hated one thing didn't mean I wouldn't like the next, did it? Trying the cuisine is half the adventure."
He smiled at her, not particularly surprised by that. "What about the other half?"
"Usually taken up with running."
"Ah, yes. That I have done."
"You ran away from the… Peacekeepers, did you call them?"
"Yes." He picked up his cup and swirled the liquid. "It is not a… pleasant regime, Donna. They believe in eradicating any emotion that makes one weak. Compassion, regard, love; there is no room in the ranks for such things."
She looked shocked.
"You have never… loved?" Her tone was incredulous, but she immediately seemed to regret the question and shook her head. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."
"It's okay," he said softly. "I do not mind the question. I… have. Unlike most, I was not born on a Carrier - that's their ships - but on a world such as yours. I had a family; a father and mother and… and a younger brother. We were taken when we were very young."
Donna put a hand to her mouth, her eyes wide with horror.
"You were kidnapped?"
"It wasn't called that, but for all intents and purposes, yes I was."
Her eyes glimmered and she put her hand over his. "That's awful," she said in a husky voice. "I'm so sorry."
Seeing her so moved shifted something within him. He swallowed against a rise of old grief that surprised him and, for several microts, could do nothing other than struggle to maintain a calm demeanour. Donna's grip tightened.
"It's okay," he said, a necessary lie. "It was a long time ago."
"It doesn't look like it's okay," she retorted. "In fact, it looks anything but. So they took you away from your parents and… and made you a soldier?"
Her voice shook and when he looked up he saw she had a rather ill expression on her face.
"They did. Not that I was ever…" He paused and smiled slightly. "I was never really a good advertisement for the process. A little too… stubborn and rebellious for their liking."
"Oh, that's a shame," she said with mock sincerity. They shared a smile and he squeezed her fingers.
"Unfortunately, one cannot live in such an atmosphere without it… effecting one. Eventually, I became more what they wanted and I… I was rather good at it. I rose through the ranks, was promoted to captain and under that capacity I did a lot of things that I should not have."
"Was there a choice?"
"Someone once told me that there is always a choice," Bialar told her. "I chose to do certain things even though I knew they were not right, but it was not just myself that I was protecting; I was also protecting Tauvo."
"Your brother," she guessed and he nodded.
She looked round, clearly seeing the lack of said brother. Her eyes returned to his face and he saw the silent question in them.
"He died," he supplied, feeling the ache once again. "Three cycles ago."
"Cycles?" she questioned softly.
"I'm sorry. I think a cycle is a little longer than one of your years. I'm not entirely sure on that, though."
Donna toyed with her cup. "So… what happened?"
"He was flying a smaller ship, a Prowler. There was a shuttle, a craft that appeared out of a wormhole." Bialar paused, then took a deep breath. "A ship from Earth."
She looked up, clearly startled.
He nodded. "Yes. I've met one of your kind before."
Chapter 5: Leavetaking
"His name was John Crichton."
That innocuous statement had been followed by a story that left Donna wordless, though she supposed that it went some way to explaining Bialar's prickly nature. She sat with her hands around her mug, the warm sides barely registering through the numbness of shock and awe and heartache. His words echoed through her head.
"We weren't meant to survive, didn't expect to. It didn't matter."
Soft words that almost belayed the edge of coldness his tone had held. He hid it well - the hurt, the anger, the grief - but she saw it anyway. She'd spent too much time with the Doctor and she knew when "alright" meant anything but. And Bialar Crais was a long, long way from being alright. More than before, she realised that he needed someone and that firmed her resolve.
Donna stared into her mug, thought of her Mum and Granddad. A lump formed in her throat and she lifted her hands, gulped at the hot liquid. It burnt a path down to her stomach but did nothing to settle its churning. She lifted her gaze again.
Bialar had risen during his story and was stood by the window. He was all of five yards away. It felt more like five miles. She looked at his face; the moulded, blank expression, the slight, defiant lift to his chin, and her heart went out to him.
Setting the mug down on the table, she pushed her chair back and stood up. Crossed the distance and reached out, curled a hand around his arm. He didn't react, just stood and stared out as the Earth spun slowly beneath them.
After a moment, she spoke. "You know, it is okay to be… not okay."
He snorted softly. "I am okay."
"Bollocks," she snapped. "You aren't and I wouldn't expect you to be either. Come off it, Bialar. No one would be after all of that."
"Perhaps not." He shrugged a shoulder. "But what would tears change? Nothing, Donna. So pardon me if I settle for just trying to survive."
She opened her mouth to retort, but then caught the expression on his face and thought better of it. Realising that he wasn't ready to hear what she had to say, she gave up with a muted sigh and looked out of the window again.
"Can you get me back down there?" she asked. "There are one or two things that I need." She remembered packing the car, ready in case she met the Doctor in that year she had spent looking for him, and closed her eyes.
"What's the matter?" Bialar asked.
"Nothing." Two could play at that game. "I'm fine."
"Which is why your fingers are digging into my arm."
She glanced down and saw that her knuckles were white. "Sorry." She relaxed her grip.
"Primitive as your planet's tracking systems are, it'll be harder to evade them a second time but not impossible."
Donna absorbed that information with a nod. "Can we go now?" She thought about the idea. "Do you have something alcoholic on this ship?"
Bialar turned, his eyebrows lifting. "Why?"
"Just answer the bloody question."
"I do, yes, but I don't-"
"I'll need it later." She took a deep breath and tore her eyes from the world outside the window. "Let's go; I want to get this over with sooner rather than later."
"Alright," he said evenly. He headed to the door and she followed him, trying to ignore the sinking sensation in her stomach.
As they walked down the corridor, she debated the wisdom of what she was doing. Was she being selfish? What would her leaving do to her mother and grandfather? How would they explain her disappearance? Her steps slowed and she stared at her feet, chewing on her bottom lip. When she looked up, her gaze settled on Bialar's back.
"Just... promise me one thing; find someone."
A sad smile touched her lips as she remembered her words to the Doctor. He had needed someone, just as Bialar did. And he had found her. She straightened and hurried after him, catching up just as he reached the hanger bay. He paused and glanced at her.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked, not clarifying if he meant her going down to the planet or with him. Either way, she was sure.
"Yes," she said. She hoped it sounded more firm than she thought it did. Bialar nodded and took her elbow, leading her across the floor to the half-cylinder shaped craft that sat there. She frowned at it. "Well, that's ugly."
"It's created for a purpose," he replied and pressed a button on the side. A hatch slid upwards. "Specifically transporting people and goods. It doesn't need to be aesthetically pleasing."
"I suppose not."
She went in and looked around. The ship had two definite sections; the rear, which she guessed was where the people or goods were kept during flight, and the cockpit - or whatever he called it. Bialar took the left seat. She slid into the one on the right and watched his hands move over the controls. She looked for seatbelts and found none, which was a little concerning. Not that she thought he'd crash, but…
"Talyn, open the hanger door," he ordered and the wall in front of her moved, opened to reveal the blackness of space. Her stomach dropped into her toes as the ship lifted up and she grabbed the curved console. Bialar looked at her. "Are you okay?"
She'd done this before; it was no different to opening the door of the TARDIS. Come on Donna, get a grip, she thought furiously and swallowed hard.
"Yes," she said. It came out as a squeak. The whole ship tilted on its axis and it dived, sending her stomach into her throat. "Shit!"
Bialar chuckled. She tore her eyes off the rapidly-approaching planet and glared at him. Drawing in a shuddering breath, she loosened her grip on the console and whacked him on the arm.
"That was not funny!"
"I thought that you were used to travelling in space," he returned, his tone slightly smug.
"You complete…" Her angry retort died as her gaze went back to the window. Gliding in orbit above the Earth was a red-black spaceship with all the beauty and grace that the transport pod was missing. "Oh my God," she whispered and shifted forward in her seat, her nervousness forgotten. "Is that Talyn?"
"It certainly is." There was considerable pride in his voice. "What do you think?"
What did she think? "The TARDIS is a blue box," she said. "Okay, it's bigger and prettier on the inside, but…" She turned back to Bialar. "He's beautiful."
He smiled at that; a proper smile rather than the usual snarky smirk, one that lit his entire face and made him look suddenly much younger. The difference startled her and she blinked.
"I am glad that you like him."
Donna got the distinct impression he hadn't meant to say that, rather that he'd been aiming at something sarcastic but lost it along the way. She smiled back at him.
"So, Flyboy, we gonna land or what?"
The smile remained but his eyebrows lifted and a definite look of mischief crossed his face. "Are you questioning my ability?"
"And what if I were?"
His eyes narrowed and his hands shifted on the control. The world flipped upside down, making her grab the console again, though the sheer momentum of the manoeuvre held her in the seat.
Like a bloody rollercoaster, she thought. Just without the tracks. Well, that just meant there was nothing for them to come off. It wasn't likely that they'd hit anything either, though they might just crash… A squeal escaped her as he put the pod into another dive, but it was more surprise than fright; the way he handled the controls assured her that he knew exactly what he was doing. She threw him a look and giggled.
"Pillock," she said. "Utter twonk."
"Does that mean that you're impressed?" He smirked at her.
"Very. Now stop pratting about before you attract attention and we get nuked down or something." She smoothed her trousers, surreptitiously drying the sweat on her palms and licked her lips. Glancing over, she saw him watching her, a knowing expression on his face. "Don't even think it, mate. Just land this bloody thing."
Having been born and raised on a planet, Bialar was familiar to the concept of houses, even though Donna's didn't resemble any he'd ever seen. He followed her up the stairs in muted darkness; she'd refused to turn on the lights in case they woke her family. Thinking of that, he again wondered why she was so willing to leave the comfort and security of her home. He'd seen into her mind. Briefly to be sure, but he'd glimpsed enough fragmented memories to have persuaded him to stay put. Perhaps he was missing something.
Donna opened a door and ushered him in. She closed it behind him and flicked a switch. He blinked as a sudden light flooded the room. She was already across the room and opening more doors. He saw clothes hanging on a rail before something hit him in the face.
"Put that on the bed would you?" she asked, absorbed in picking out clothes.
"That" turned out to be a large bag. He put it on the bed and worked the zipper round to open it. Donna dumped an armful of clothes in. "Thanks."
"Anything else I can do to help?" he asked her.
"Keep half an ear out for my mother," she replied, unhooking a heavy coat from a hanger. "I'd rather get out of the house without a lecture, thank you very much."
"As you wish."
He leaned up against the door and watched her select a few more garments. Her expression was distant as she folded them and placed them in the bag. She looked… troubled.
"You can still change your mind," he said quietly. "I would not think any less of you."
She paused, eyes on the bag, and made a visible effort to control herself. After a moment she spoke, her voice low and barely audible.
"I can't," she murmured. "I can't stay here, Bialar. Not now I remember that year and… everything. I wouldn't be able to settle. There's just… not enough for me here."
"But your family…"
"Do you think less of me for leaving them?" She looked up then, meeting his gaze. Though he could tell her mind was made up, it was obvious that she still regretted the decision.
"It has nothing to do with me," he dismissed the question.
Donna stood up straight. "It does. Your opinion matters to me."
"Just answer me this; do you think I'm being selfish?"
That made him snort. He had been selfish. He had manipulated and lied and cheated. "I am hardly the person to ask about that."
"Well, it's not like I can ask anyone else," she pointed out. He sighed, accepting the truth of that statement.
"Sometimes it is necessary to be selfish," he said. "I think this is one of those times."
"This-" She waved at the bag. "-is hardly necessary."
Bialar smiled slightly at her. "It is if I need you."
Her eyes widened and she gaped at him, then realisation flooded her face, quickly followed by relief. "Oh! Oh that. Yes."
"Whatever did you think I meant?" he asked innocently. Her eyes narrowed and she threw a pillow at his head. It missed by a fair margin, but he suspected that she'd not really intended to hit him. When he straightened and looked at her, he noticed that some of the tension had left her. "I thought we were supposed to be keeping quiet."
"Well stop bloody winding me up then," she retorted and went back to packing. He smirked but kept his mouth closed. After a few microns, she zipped the bag up and looked at him. "Ready as I'm ever going to be."
He moved from the door as she came over and took the bag. She gave him an odd look, then shrugged and turned off the light. They slipped downstairs soundlessly, but just as they reached the door, he heard the soft click of a door opening.
Donna froze and sent him a panicked look.
"Donna?" a man's voice called out. "Donna, is that you?"
She stood there, eyes wide and pained. "Oh God, no."
"What?" he hissed at her. The light above them bloomed on. Bialar turned to see an old man on the stairs.
"Donna!" he exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"Granddad," Donna said, her voice breaking. "What are you doing up?"
The man leant on the rail as he came down the last few stairs. Bialar found himself fixed with a wary, suspicious glare, which then shifted to Donna. "Sweetheart, what's going on? Your mum said you'd disappeared last night. That you'd gone after…" The glare returned. "After some bloke."
"It's okay," she assured, interposing herself between him and the other man. "I'm okay. I'm just… going away for a while."
"With him? Who is he? Hang on, he said something about… changing."
"No," Donna said, her voice sharp. "It's not like that. He left me, Granddad. I remember that now."
Bialar realised they were talking about the man Donna had travelled with, but wasn't sure how he fitted in to the conversation. He put a hand on her arm. She shook her head but didn't look back. He lifted his eyes back to her grandfather, who was watching her with clear grief on his face.
"I'm sorry, Donna," he said. "I wanted to tell you, but he said that… that it would kill you. I don't understand how you can remember. Was he lying?"
"No," she said, then shifted minutely backwards. Bialar moved the strap of the bag on his shoulder to free his other hand, then placed it on the small of her back. He felt more than heard her soft sigh, and the muscles under his palm rippled with tension. "It doesn't matter how, but I remember and I'm okay."
Her grandfather came over and caught her in a hug. Bialar watched, tempted to drop the bag and leave; after all she would be safer here. But not better, he thought then. It was her decision and he would abide by it.
"Hey you." Her grandfather's tart voice brought him out of his reverie. "Whoever you are, you take good care of my granddaughter, right?"
Bialar knew the man would not understand him, so settled for nodding seriously. He looked a silent question at Donna.
"Give me a minute, would you?"
"I'll be outside," he said softly. Her expression went wary. "Waiting," he added and she relaxed somewhat. As he headed out, he heard her grandfather asking; "You understand him?" Her response was lost to the sound of the door closing.
Bialar wandered down the path, dropped the bag and leant his hands on the little gate. The night was cool - a blessed relief after the stuffy warmth of the house - and it carried the faint smell of rain. He glanced up at the sky. Clouds obscured his view of the stars. He looked around again. The thoroughfare was covered in some material that he didn't recognise, but the wheeled boxes were clearly some sort of transport. Primitive and not very effective, he was sure.
Yet there was something about being… perhaps just on a planet rather than Earth specifically, that he found familiar enough to be comfortable. Then again, since no one here knew who he was or what he had been, maybe it was Earth. Not that he would stay… no, he wanted to be out there again. Rather suddenly, he understood exactly what was motivating Donna to accompany him. It made him adjust a couple of assumptions he'd made, and he'd thought that he had gotten over doing such things.
There was a soft noise behind him. He pushed himself up as the door opened and light pooled out. Donna emerged, her face pale and tear-streaked. She cast him a rather desperate look and he hastened back to the house as she closed the door. She rested her forehead against it. He didn't know what else to do, so took her hand. Her fingers tightened on his.
"Bialar," she said miserably.
"I know." He squeezed her fingers. "I know."
"God, I'm a selfish cow. This is going to hurt them so much."
"You'll hurt if you stay."
She turned then and stepped closer, buried her face against his chest. Her body trembled and he had no doubt that she was crying. He had learnt a little about offering comfort so still holding her hand, he put his other arm around her. After a moment, she took a deep, shuddering breath in and lifted her head.
"Yeah, you're right," she said. "I would."
"Time to be selfish?" he suggested. She nodded. He offered her a small smile and released her. Picking up the bag, he swung it over his shoulder and then opened the gate, ushering her through and she walked out onto the street.
He fell in beside her as they went back to where he'd left the transport pod. Glancing at her face and seeing the sad expression there, he found her hand again, linking his fingers with hers. Oddly enough, she didn't complain. She just looked at him and, after a microt, her lips curved into a smile.
Chapter 6: The Whole Universe
Visiting Donna's home - or more precisely being in her room - had made Bialar realise that if she was going to accompany him, then she would need quarters. He thought about it as he flew the transport pod back to Talyn, after several attempts to engage her into conversation had failed.
He threw a sidewise glance at her: she had her feet on the edge of the seat, her chin on her knees as she stared out of the viewscreen. She had stopped crying, but grief was still very evident on her face. He sighed inwardly, knowing there was nothing that he could do for her this time.
He landed the transport pod and powered down the engine. Standing, he held a hand out to Donna. Nudged her arm. She jolted and blinked rapidly, as if coming awake, then looked up at him. He gave her an encouraging smile.
"Come on," he said softly. "I have something to show you."
Curiosity flickered over her face and she unwound herself. She stood up and let out a sigh. Bialar looked at her for a microt, then settled a hand on the small of her back, gently propelling her into motion. He snagged her bag on the way off the transport pod, activated the hatch and pushed her across the hanger and into the main passageway that ran through Talyn.
Donna tossed him a curious glance. "Where are we going?"
"Surprise," he replied and gave her a small smirk. "You'll see."
She arched an eyebrow and then shook her head. "Whatever."
He linked his arm with hers and escorted her to the end of the passageway, where his own quarters were also situated. The ones he'd chosen for Donna were opposite, a little smaller than his but slightly more palatial than the bunks where… Bialar stopped that thought dead, preferring to stay in the present.
"Seeing your bedroom reminded me that if you are to stay on Talyn, then you need a place to… well, stay. Sleep." He untangled his arm and waved a hand over the control. The door slid open and he ushered Donna inside. "The control can be calibrated to respond to you and you alone," he continued. "Meaning that only you can open it. Well, unless there is an emergency. But anyway, this room is yours."
Donna stepped away from him, her head turning slowly as she took the room in. "It's a bit… basic," she said, then looked at him with a guilty expression. "Sorry, I mean thank you. I'd not even thought about where I was going to stay. This is… this is okay."
"It's bare," he interpreted.
"No, I realise that it is. I did see your room, Donna. But you have a free hand here. I want you to feel… at home, I suppose. Welcome."
She stared at him for a moment, then her eyes went soft and a smile curved her lips.
"Thank you," she said, her voice husky with gratitude. "That means a lot."
Bialar smiled and swung her bag from off his shoulder. He dropped it on the bed. "I have some sheets and blankets in storage. Plain but serviceable."
"I'm sure they'll be fine," she said and came over. She fiddled with the zip pull on her bag for a microt, then looked up at him. "Are you sure… that you want me to come?"
"Yes," he said. He put a hand on her shoulder. "I also think you're doing the right thing."
Her eyes widened. "How did you know that was what I was going to say?"
"I saw the doubt in your eyes. I would imagine that you will have second thoughts fairly frequently."
"It's nothing personal."
"I realise that. But sometimes it is not easy to pursue something, even when you want it. There are always costs, Donna, and paying them is often painful." He thought of everything that he'd left behind him and sighed. "The result is supposedly worthwhile."
She stopped flicking the zip pull and moved towards him, her arms going round him in an embrace. It didn't surprise him, though he was still not quite comfortable with such familiarity; there had been no room for tactility in a regime that despised connections. Accepting Donna's hugs was, in a small way, a defiance against everything he'd been. Plus it was… pleasant to be so accepted by someone. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that had happened in his life to date, though he did recognise that perhaps he was partly to blame.
"I think it will be worthwhile," she murmured in his ear. "I think… I think we're going to be magnificent."
He blinked and then laughed. "Magnificent, is it?"
Donna pulled back, a wide smile on her face. "We have the whole universe, Bialar," she said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "All those planets and suns and moons. All the different cultures to experience. Don't you think that's magnificent?" She slid her hands to his chest, her eyes never leaving his. "To breathe alien air, to see weird coloured skies and oceans, to feel the sands worlds between your toes… there's nothing else like it. It is magnificent and it's wonderful."
A thrill slid down Bialar's spine, much like the sensation he'd felt when he and Talyn had chosen to follow the song. Excitement. He felt the pull of her words just as Talyn felt the pull of gravity.
"And that is what you want," he said hoarsely.
What she had described held a lure was too strong to resist. "You have a point." His eyes went to her bag. She could unpack later; there was something he wanted her to see, to experience, first. "Come with me," he told her.
Earth was visible through the wide window in Command. Donna quickly looked away, studying the consoles so that she didn't have to look at the planet she'd once called home. Not any more. She swallowed and blinked back tears.
"Talyn, move us out of orbit," Bialar ordered. "Set speed at hetch three."
The deck beneath her feet tilted and the stars shifted. She caught sight of the moon from the corner of her eye and looked up, watched it as Talyn sailed past. One small step… She smiled slightly.
"Here," he said then and took her arm. She gave him a curious glance as he positioned her forward of the centre mark. "You want to experience new things? I can give you something new."
Her pulse jumped. "What?"
"You'll see." He stood right behind her and put one arm around her, over her stomach. She tensed, wondering what the hell he was doing. "Brace yourself," he murmured, his breath tickling her ear.
Donna gulped, more nervous at his behaviour than whatever he was going to… show her. "Um," she said. "What exactly for?"
"You remember that blue room, the Starburst Chamber?" he asked. She did, so she nodded. "Well that is how Talyn covers large distances in a short space of time. We just need to be far enough away from Earth that the charge doesn't attract attention. Not that anyone could do anything by that time, but I'd prefer it if our presence went by unnoticed."
"There was a pub-full of people that undoubtedly noticed you, Bialar," she returned snidely. "You made a memorable entrance."
"I didn't mean it as a compliment."
"No? Oh well."
"So how long will it take?"
"Not much longer. Be patient."
She rolled her eyes but held her tongue. It wasn't really lacking patience so much as being very aware of him. Her back was warm from where his chest pressed against her, and she could smell leather and spice and something she couldn't place because it was nothing she'd encountered before. Alien. She shuddered.
"It won't hurt," Bialar assured, clearly mistaking her nervousness.
"I'm not scared," she said, lying through her teeth. His chuckle reverberated through her body and raised goosebumps along her arms.
"Are we far enough out?"
"According to Talyn, yes."
Bialar chuckled again. "Are you ready, Donna?"
She honestly had no idea, because she hadn't a clue to what he was about to do. If it was anything like the stunts he pulled in that transporter thingy, then probably not.
"All those planets," he said. "All those stars and suns and moons." His voice was low, his tone rich and darkly seductive. "We have the universe, remember?"
Her mouth had gone dry. Bloody hell. "Yes."
"It's quicker this way."
"Are you sure?"
No. "I said okay, Spaceman. Come on, I know you're dying to show off, so get on with it already."
"Now there's the Donna I know," Bialar laughed. "Talyn… Starburst."
It began as a low hum.
Static prickled up her arms as the noise grew steadily louder. Vibrations shuddered the floor beneath her feet, rather like the aftershocks of an earthquake. The hairs at the back of her neck stood up as the charge built. Outside the window, Talyn's hull was covered in lines of glowing red light.
A blinding flash brought tears to her eyes. Talyn lurched and then shot forwards at such a speed that her breath whooshed out of her lungs. She grabbed at the arm anchoring her in place as the view from the window blurred.
How long it lasted, she'd no idea. It seemed to go on and on, but when Talyn slowed and the blur cleared to stars, she thought it was over rather soon. She tried to catch her breath, to calm her thundering pulse. Sweat slid down her back. It had been like nothing she'd ever experienced; not even the TARDIS being caught in a paradox, that violent flight to Messaline, compared to Starburst.
She extracted herself from Bialar's arm. Regretted that momentarily when her shaking legs almost folded up on her. She caught herself on one of the consoles and then turned to stare at him.
"What the hell was that?"
He laughed. "Starburst."
"Well, duh! I know what it's called. But what is it?"
"It is a superluminal form of space travel that a Leviathan uses to cover vast distances," he said. "Talyn can create a rift in the space-time continuum and then ride the seams between dimensions." He tilted his head. "But more importantly, did you enjoy it?"
"No!" It burst from her before she really thought about it. He blinked, looking slightly disappointed and a little hurt. She sighed. "Well… I don't know. It rather took me by surprise. I guess. At least I didn't end up on my bum." She looked at the window, at the stars outside. "Where are we?"
"One moment." Bialar went over to the navigational console and looked at it. "Several hundred thousand metras from Earth," he said. She just stared at him, so he expanded. "Far beyond your galaxy."
She continued to stare at him for a moment, then turned and went to the window. One thing the TARDIS had lacked was windows, though she had opened the doors on occasion. But not actually when they'd been travelling through space. It was awesome. And just a little bit scary.
"Oh." It came out as a squeak.
"Are you alright?"
Nothing beyond the window was familiar. "I don't know."
Footsteps sounded as he crossed the floor. She turned her head and looked at him as he stopped beside her. He gave her a smile and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezed slightly.
"Three cycles ago I left the Peacekeepers behind. I did it because I wanted to survive, but I'd no real idea what I was getting into. Being on Moya was… nerve-wracking, not simply because I was amongst those who had a genuine reason to dislike me, but also because I had no control over my fate." He smiled wryly. "I don't like not having control."
Donna let out a snort. "You? Really? I never would have guessed."
"What I mean to say," he said, "is that I understand if you are feeling that events have rather escaped your control."
"I chose to come," she replied and shrugged, the nonchalance forced.
"You did, but that doesn't mean that you can't feel… overwhelmed."
"I'm fine." She looked out at the stars. "Do you know where we are?"
"Not really. I know where Earth is and approximately where Peacekeeper-held space is in relation to our current position, but I don't know anything about this region." He grinned. "New planets."
"God, well I asked for an adventure, didn't I? We could get into a fair amount of trouble."
"Yes, I know."
"I mean real, proper trouble, with shooting and everything."
"Yes, I know."
Donna looked at him. He seemed utterly unconcerned, even cheerful about the fact.
"I'm not going to let you shoot people," she told him and folded her arms. "I won't let you be that person anymore, Bialar."
"I know that too," he replied, his voice soft. "I was rather counting on that."
That rather took her aback. She blinked and tilted her head at him. "Oh?"
"I learnt that going through the universe in such a manner only won me one reputation; a killer to be avoided. I wanted to leave violence behind me and I tried, though it was not always possible." He lifted his chin and a determined look settled on his face. "I will not venture onto a new world unarmed, but I will not use my weapon unless it is absolutely necessary. Do you agree?"
"Well, I'd prefer it if you didn't, but I suppose I can live with it. It's sometimes hard to put down a weapon, especially when faced with the unknown."
"You have experienced this?"
"I wasn't armed, but yes. I have seen a war fought for no other reason than those fighting it didn't know how to stop." She looked at him. "It wasn't pleasant."
"No, I would imagine not," he said. "Nonetheless, I'm not going… experience new cultures unprepared."
"By which you mean armed."
She looked at him. Though she'd not known him long, she knew there was no arguing with that expression. At that moment she realised how different he was. Not to her, because that went without saying, but to... He was alien. Just not the alien she had gotten used to. It was time she stopped comparing them.
Bialar arched an eyebrow, clearly having not expected that response. Then he smiled and pressed a button. In the air between them appeared a hologram of stars.
"Pick one," he said.
Entranced, Donna walked towards the hologram, into it, and turned slowly. The stars surrounded her; a million semi-transparent, glowing points of light. She debated, then closed her eyes and straightened one arm, waved it in a loose circle and stopped.
"There," she said, and opened her eyes. "Wherever that is."
"Talyn, set co-ordinates," Bialar said. He grinned when she looked at him. "I believe we have a lot of running to do."