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“And then Captain America swoops in, throws his mighty shield, and beats the living daylights out of the Skrulls!” nine-year-old Kamala Khan cries out, clutching the jungle gym with one arm and swinging her legs out over a worried Bruno’s face.
“You’re going to break your arm if you keep doing that,” Bruno says, glancing furtively between Kamala and the recess monitor standing at the gateway to the school’s playground.
“Nah, I’ll be fine.” Kamala scrambles up another couple of rungs and perches on the domed bars at the top of the gym. Everyone knows the best view in the playground is up there, even better than from the top of the slide. It’s easier to pretend she’s a superhero up there too, surveying the land that she’s destined to protect.
All right, a small patch of Jersey City, but it’s the thought that counts.
The street in front of the school and the attached playground is a pretty boring one, pitted asphalt and patched road surface that gives way to the row of houses and stores across the way. The buildings are broken up by the occasional lot filled with scrubby grass that pokes its way up from the cracked concrete foundations of whatever used to be there before. One lot’s got any number of cars in various states of repair from the nearest fix-it shop, while another one has a lot more of the scrub grass and a worn out looking...blue telephone booth slapped down in the middle of it?
‘Now that’s weird,’ Kamala thinks, leaning a little further out to try and get a bit of a better look.
Then, the door to the blue telephone booth opens, and Kamala watches as someone - a dark-haired teenage girl dressed in skinny pants and a stripey top, even though she’s not entirely sure she’s actually a teenager from this distance - comes out of the box, closes it behind her, and proceeds to make her way onto the sidewalk and begins walking down the street.
“Double weird,” she breathes out, following the path of the teenage girl as she saunters away and turns a corner.
“Kamala, line up now please!” the recess monitor calls out. It startles Kamala badly enough that she almost falls off the jungle gym, but it still makes her scramble down and join the rest of her class to head back inside. The last thing she needs is Ammi getting another note from her teachers…
It’s a nice enough day when Kamala gets home from school, one of those autumn days where the air has that crisp edge to it but the sun’s still nice and warm and keeps you from freezing, so she decides to do her homework on the back steps of the house to try and keep that niceness around just a little bit longer. Besides, anything that helps homework go faster so she can get to the more important things in life is always good.
Her attention’s wandered away from her math homework and she’s busy staring around the small backyard, when she spots it at the base of that big tree that goes all the way up outside her window. And, to be frank, she’s not entirely sure what it is. It’s small and furry, kind of like Mrs. Fazzolari’s Yorkie, but the color of the fur’s an odd yellowish color, sickly looking with a bit of a green tinge to it. The jaw of the thing is broad for its small shape, and it’s got evil enough looking teeth that Kamala thinks it could bite her leg off all too easily. And speaking of legs, the thing has eight of them. Like a spider, in dog form.
“Nice doggie,” Kamala says, getting to her feet slowly so as not to disturb the furry creature circling the base of the tree. The creature looks up the trunk and growls, a weird, rumbling sort of a noise that’s got an undercurrent of an alarm bell somewhere in the tone of it. She hopes that Aamir is keeping an eye on her like Ammi had ordered him to, because maybe he could distract the thing long enough for her to get inside and away from it.
But when Kamala tries to step backwards onto the next step closer to the door, her sneaker catches a rough patch on the steps and the resulting scraping noise grabs the creature’s attention, its fuzzy head whipping around to look at her. It growls again, teeth bared in an uncomfortable grimace.
“Aw, dog, no,” Kamala says, freezing in place. The creature takes a couple of steps towards her, scuttling over the grass and letting loose more of that odd growling sound.
“There you are, you little rat!” a new voice says, right before a sheer, net-like fabric drops down over the creature. The creature growls again, sharp white teeth showing through the net but somehow managing not to tear it. Almost too quickly for Kamala to follow it, the net is quickly scooped up and bundled around the creature, securing it in a neat little package.
Kamala looks up, and finds the teenager she’d spotted during recess earlier standing in front of her, a wiggling bundle of creature in her arms. “It’s you!” she blurts out. Now that she’s closer up to the girl, however, she can see that her clothes are a bit out of date. In good condition, they’re not worn or tattered, but they look like they’re from decades past. Which just adds to the air of overall strangeness around her.
“Excuse me?” the teenager asks Kamala. “Have we met before? It’s certainly possible.”
“I saw you at school today. You walked out of a blue box.”
The teenager’s eyes widen a bit, dark and shining in the sunlight. “Oh, right,” she says. “I’m Susan. And you are?”
“Kamala. What is that ?” she says, pointing a finger at the bundle still wriggling and growling in Susan’s arms.
“This?” Susan replies, glancing down at the creature before looking back at Kamala and giving her a smile. “Would you believe me if I said it was a dog?”
The look Kamala gives her is full of suspicion and knowing disbelief - a look every Jersey girl has mastered at an early age, and she knows how to use it well. “No.”
Susan nods. “Fair enough.” She pats the top of the bundle far more gently than it deserves, given the growling noises. “This is a Clymella, a sort of wild...well, dog is actually a fairly comparable name for it, so a wild dog from a planet called Xandar. And this naughty little beast escaped from its habitat there, so I’m taking it back home.”
Kamala’s eyes go wide, and now she does take the risk to get even closer to the Clymella. “That thing’s an alien?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
She looks up at Susan, feeling suddenly even more curious and a bit out of her depth. “Does that mean you’re an alien too?” Kamala blurts out.
“Well, I suppose from your point of view I am an alien,” Susan says with a bit of a head tilt, staring off into the distance with a misty, vaguely lost look on her face.
‘There’s an alien in my backyard,’ Kamala thinks, because after that little bit of news she can’t quite get her tongue to work properly. ‘Two aliens, actually. And one of them is really nice, and she’s - I think she’s a she - isn’t hurting me. Why does she look human?’ The thoughts whirl through her head one after another, because what do you say to an alien who’s hopped the fence into your backyard to get a runaway dog-alien?
And who knows, maybe Susan’s lying. Just because she’s only nine years old doesn’t mean she’s automatically stupid or will believe everything she’s told. Even though the dog-alien is really convincingly not like any Earthly dog she’s ever seen.
“So what planet are you from?” Kamala asks, crossing her skinny arms over her chest and giving Susan a pointed look.
“It’s far, far away from here,” Susan says, rather cheerfully. “A bit outside of time also, if that makes sense to you.”
“But what’s its name?” Kamala insists. “If you live there then it’s got to have a name.”
“Oh, it’s called Gallifrey. And I don’t live there any more. My grandfather and I ran away to see the universe, which is far more exciting than boring old home.”
Kamala glances back at her own house, the little box that contains her parents and her brother and is pretty much the only place she’s known in her entire life. Yeah, it can be kind of boring sometimes...a lot of times, she thinks, especially when she’s got to spend her Saturdays cleaning her room. “Traveling around’s got to be a lot more interesting than staying home and doing homework,” she agrees.
“You can learn far more by experience anyway,” Susan says with a grin and a wink.
From somewhere over the fence, a voice calls out, sounding a bit creaky and with an accent like the ones Kamala hears on those channel 13 TV shows her parents watched occasionally. “Susan, my dear, where have you gone?”
Susan’s head whips around, staring in the direction of the noise. “That’s Grandfather,” she says, sighing. “And that means I really ought to be going.”
“I get it,” Kamala nods, stretching up on her toes to try and see over the fence and get a glimpse of this mysterious alien grandfather. “Does your grandfather look like a human too, like you do?”
“Who says we look human? Maybe you look like us instead. Time Lords and Gallifreyans are older than humanity by far,” Susan says with a casual, knowing tilt of her head.
“Now I know you’re just making things up,” Kamala replies with a smile of her own, even though the larger part of her is entirely convinced that Susan isn’t fully human and that in a world with Avengers, nasty alien invasions, X-Men, and the friendly neighborhood Spiderman, well, she seems a lot more well adjusted than the rest of them. “Can you tell me something else alien before you go?”
Susan glances over the fence once more, then back down at Kamala. “Rest is for the weary, and sleep is for the dead.” She then raises up a hand, one finger pointed in Kamala’s direction like it’s ordering her to follow instructions precisely. “And always be sure to do six impossible things before breakfast!” She takes a couple of steps backwards, towards the gate, and gives Kamala another smile and a tiny wave. “It was lovely to meet you!” she says, just before darting around the gate and into the street.
Kamala runs after her, trying to see where Susan’s gone once she clears the fence, but the couple of seconds that have passed are more than enough time for Susan to have vanished into nowhere, disappeared into the noise of passing cars and the general clamor of city life. Once the cars have passed, all Kamala can hear is the strangest sort of noise, almost like a whooshing, mechanical wheezing noise that pulses in and out before fading off entirely.
Even though Jersey City has branded Ms. Marvel a scab, a sell-out, and any other descriptive term for a traitor, the fact remains that New Jersey is a perpetual magnet for a good chunk of the strange stuff happening in the Northern Hemisphere, and therefore is always in need of a hero.
‘So what if they don’t like me right now,’ Kamala thinks, standing on the edge of one of the smaller apartment buildings on the street and surveying the damage below her. ‘Doesn’t mean that I still don’t have a job to do. And it’s totally not my fault that Hydra thought Jersey City was a good target for their stupid gentrification plan.’
The damage is pretty nasty, though to be fair, she’s seen worse since. The parked cars are taking the brunt of the damage, glass shards littering the concrete as the rampaging robot bounced like a pinball between the vehicles. The sunlight glints off the robot’s burnished yellow-gold metal skin, halfway blinding Kamala even from a distance away. It’s at least a story tall, large enough to do damage just by walking down the street, let alone careening from side to side like it is with no regard for anything in its path.
Despite the color scheme, Kamala’s fairly certain this robot didn’t come from Tony Stark’s collection.
Kamala cringes mightily as the robot bounces off of another car and smashes right through the display window of a bakery, toppling over into the store’s interior in a shower of glass and metallic bakery trays. A few seconds later the robot emerges through the now empty window frame, half covered in a rainbow of assorted cake frostings and bits of pastry.
“Well, doesn’t that just take the cake.”
Her head whips around so fast at the new voice that she can hear her neck crack. “Who are you?” she blurts out, before shutting up to take stock of the man that’s currently standing next to her. He’s a middle-aged white man, a bit taller than her and kind of gangly, with high-waisted plaid trousers, a loose suit jacket, and slightly scruffy dark hair cut in a style that reminds her of those old videos of the Beatles. His face is a bit craggy with a hooked nose, putting her in mind of a rather grumpy hawk or an eagle, but ultimately it’s a kind face.
“Someone who can hopefully help you out with your robot problem,” the man says, pointing down at the frosting-spattered robot that’s just bounced off of another car and into a lamppost.
She gives the man a look that’s loaded down with skepticism, because if there’s anything that being Ms. Marvel has taught her, it’s not to take anything at face value. “In the past, people showing up out of the blue to help me has either been really good or really bad,” Kamala says, making sure he can see the stern lines of her face even through the mask, “so what are your credentials?”
“It’s a fair question,” the man nods, lips pursed into a slight grimace. “I’m the Doctor, I’m an alien and a time traveler, and I travel around time and space looking for adventure and helping people.”
It’s an unexpected answer, but she’s encountered stranger as Ms. Marvel. And the blunt and forthright statement actually makes her feel a bit better, because most of the people trying to cover something up have a tendency to go on and on with an unending stream of babble.
And if she feels like she’s in any danger, well, she’s got more than one trick up her sleeve to help get herself out of the situation. “Well, you’re not the first alien I’ve met, at least. What’s your plan?”
“First things first, have you seen a recorder anywhere? I seem to have misplaced mine.”
‘Why do all of these plans always end up with me getting chased?’ Kamala thinks as she stretches out her legs, lengthening the bones and making her stride that much longer to keep her in front of the robot. Who knew the robot could move that fast when sufficiently motivated, and in such a straight line also?
But then again, that’s the gist of the plan the Doctor came up with - Ms. Marvel uses herself as bait to get the robot chasing her, then runs for the Doctor’s ship and get out of the way while the Doctor subdues and shuts the robot down. It’s an easy, simple plan, with the Doctor doing most of the heavy lifting in the disposal stage. He’d tried to explain the science to her, but Kamala’s eyes started to glaze over before she actually got the gist of it.
She turns the corner into a side street between a couple of smallish warehouses, where the Doctor had told her he’d stashed his ship. “Look for the police box,” he’d said, and sure enough there’s a dark, square shape a ways down the street that stands out and seems a bit out of place, even in New Jersey, home of the weird. The robot’s footsteps echo behind her, bouncing off of the warehouse walls.
Halfway to the police box Kamala stumbles, nearly stuttering to a halt. She’s seen that color on the police box, before, she suddenly realizes. She’s seen this exact ship before, now that she thinks about it - all those years ago, from that encounter with the alien in the backyard who called herself the very earthly name of Susan. The blue box that she’d first seen Susan walk out of while she was at school that day looked almost exactly like the one that’s standing in front of her now.
“Not the time!” she tells herself, putting on an extra burst of speed because the robot’s come uncomfortably close and is rattling the ground with every step.
When she’s thirty feet away from the police box the doors swing open, and the Doctor’s standing there with a device in his hands, shiny and silver and whirring away merrily. He nods at her, and she keeps on at a dead sprint heading straight for him. “Now, Ms. Marvel!” the Doctor yells out when she’s close enough.
Kamala drops to the ground and shrinks herself just enough so that she can pull off a near-perfect baseball slide right through the Doctor’s legs, skidding past him and straight through the doors of the police box. She doesn’t come to a stop until she crashes right into some sort of a table right in the center of the room.
Actually, it’s more like a control panel, Kamala realizes when she rolls to a sitting position and gets her first real look at the inside of the ship. And from this view, there’s no mistaking its alienness.
“Bigger on the inside,” she mutters to herself, as she gets to her feet. The room she’s in is large, like there’s no way possible it should fit inside that little box, but it did and she’s right inside of it now. There’s something kind of retro cool about the place, looking a bit 1960s with white walls and blinking lights while being entirely futuristic at the same time.
There’s a loud crashing clatter from right outside the doors of the police box, followed by a tinny, wobbly sort of a sound, and then a cackle from the Doctor. “And that takes care of that!” the Doctor says, walking back into the ship with what looks like a golden, foot high action figure clutched in one of his hands. The shrinking device gets sat down by the door, but the robot action figure gets placed down on the top of the console instead. “Thank you very much for your help, Ms. Marvel. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I’ve seen this place before,” Kamala suddenly says, staring around the room with wide eyes. “The outside of it.”
“Oh, really? It’s entirely possible,” the Doctor says, flipping a few switches on the console. “I’ve done a lot of traveling to a lot of places with a lot of faces.” He frowns, eyes flicking upwards towards the column like structure emerging from the center of the console. “You didn’t encounter a dandy in a velvet frock coat, did you?”
“No,” Kamala says with a shake of her head. “A teenage girl. She said her name was Susan?”
It’s kind of fascinating to see how the Doctor’s face goes soft and warm at the sound of the name, Kamala thinks, though there’s an edge of melancholy to the look.
“Ahh, yes, Susan. My dear granddaughter,” he says. “She makes friends wherever she goes.”
Now things are making even more sense, and Kamala smiles and nods again. “She mentioned she was traveling with her grandfather, too. Is she here? I’d love to catch up with her.”
The Doctor shakes his head, like he’s trying to shed the melancholy and bring everything back to positive again. “No, she’s found herself a handsome freedom fighter and decided to settle down with him instead.” He pushes a dark lever up, and Kamala hears that whooshing, wheezing noise that she’s only heard one other time in her life start up again. “But any friend of Susan’s is welcome here. Now, I do have to return this robot to its rightful home, which is clear across the galaxy. You’re welcome to come along, if you’d like. Companions always make the TARDIS a brighter place.”
Kamala’s eyes go wide, practically popping out of her head at the offer. Space travel, aliens, seeing other parts of the galaxy? Yes, yes, YES!
Only, Ms. Marvel’s got responsibilities here, even if Jersey City’s about ready to drop her right in the Hudson at the moment. And what would her family say if she disappeared to jaunt across the galaxy just for fun? It just wouldn’t work. “I would love to,” she says, with a mournful sigh. “But there are people here who would miss me.”
The Doctor gives her another look, full of arched eyebrows under heavy, dark fringe. “I did mention I was a time traveler, did I not? The TARDIS here is capable of traveling back and forth in time. When it’s time to come home I can have you back mere minutes after we’ve departed.”
Kamala freezes in place at that, her higher thought processes coming to a screaming halt and being replaced by a noise that consists mostly of ‘squee!’. “Can you get me back before my parents notice I’m gone?”
The Doctor just grins at her and pushes another button on the console as the noise of dematerialization starts up around them.
“And those, Kamala, are Macra, and it would be in our best interests right about now to get back to the TARDIS as quickly as possible.”
“You got it, Doctor. Time to embiggen!” Kamala says as her whole body begins to grow, until she’s large enough to cover yards of the grounds of the alien planet with one single stride. With one extra-large hand she scoops up the Doctor and places him on her shoulder, right before turning tail and running for the TARDIS.
Still, Kamala grins widely, teeth big enough to scare any passersby, because this is truly an adventure, and she wouldn’t trade it for the entire universe.