"So," asked Piper, leaning against an interior wall of the TARDIS, "where did we end up this time?"
"If she actually sent us where I intended this time," said the Doctor, "we're in Manchester, England during the height of the Industrial Revolution." Piper opened up the TARDIS door, and was greeted by a green and hilly landscape. Snaking through the countryside was a roaring and muddy river, and on its banks was a large building with a waterwheel attached.
"Wow," Piper said, "I'm impressed. We actually landed where we planned to land."
"I'm just as shocked as you," said the Doctor, "more than nine hundred years of time and space and I've only ended up where I planned to go thrice." In the background the TARDIS made a noise that sounded almost agitated.
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor, "but it's true."
"Were you talking to your ship?" Piper asked.
"Of course," the Doctor replied, "the TARDIS has a lot to say if you bother to listen to her." Piper didn't have a response.
"Oh and Piper," the Doctor replied with a devilish smirk.
"Yes," Piper asked cautiously, not liking wherever this was going.
"I know what they wore during this time period," she said, grinning. Piper paled in dread.
Piper adjusted the white apron she wore on top of her dingy cerulean dress. She pulled her final lock of hair into her loose French braid and put the ponytail holder around the bottom.
"I look like Alice from Wonderland," she grumbled, looking in the mirror.
"No," the Doctor said, "you look more like Dorothy."
"That girl from Kansas in the Wizard of Oz?" asked Piper. She could see the image in her head. The girl had girl brown pigtails, a white blouse, and a blue plaid dress.
"I don't see it," Piper replied, "maybe the braid would make me look like Katniss Everdeen, but Dorothy?"
The Doctor rolled her eyes and then said, "Come on, Katniss from Wonderland."
"Katniss from Wonderland? District 12 is far from a Wonderland," Piper joked. The Doctor sent her a glare.
"I'm done now," she said, "I swear." The Doctor sent her a look that clearly said, you'd better be, as they walked out of the TARDIS.
Piper took her first step out of the TARDIS into what seemed to be an English spring evening. Or maybe it was summer; Piper didn't really know the temperature range in England. She just knew that the air felt pleasant and fresh and the slight breeze felt nice and cool against her face. There were clouds high in the sky, and the sun was setting. The sky was painted various shades of pinks and purples and blues. Piper wondered vaguely how soft the grass would feel on her bare feet if they weren't covered in her black converses. In the distance, Piper saw a girl curled up into a little ball. She was sitting against a tree, her curly brown hair cascading down over her knees. Piper grabbed the doctor's hand and dragged her towards the girl.
Piper put her hand gently on the shoulder of the girl, who looked somewhere ten to twelve, and asked softly, "Are you alright?"
She turned her head, and deep green eyes bored into Piper's soul. They were red and slightly puffy. She'd obviously been crying.
"Who are you," she asked.
"My name's Piper," she replied, "but that's not important. Are you alright?"
"I-I'm alright," she said, "but my sister isn't. She's gone missing, just like the others." And shivers went down Piper's spine, just like the others.
"Looks like we've found our mystery of the day," the Doctor muttered. It was Piper's turn to glare.
"What is she wearing?" the girl asked. Clearly, the Doctor had brought attention to herself.
"I'm sorry, Piper said, "My friend's a bit strange. What's your name?"
"Miranda," she replied.
"And what is your sister's," asked Piper.
Miranda's green eyes flooded with happy memories and a terrible sadness, "Katie, her name's Katie."
"Where was she when she went missing?" asked Piper, not liking invading the girl's privacy in her time of grieving but needing as much information as she could get.
"She'd gone to work at the mill," said Miranda, a regretful look on her face, "I never should have let her take that job. People are disappearing left and right. Five days ago she disappeared, just the latest in a string of 'em." Near the end of the sentence her voice cracked, and Piper engulfed her in a hug.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, "I'm so sorry." The girl looked confused by the hug, unsure how to react to the platonic intimacy from a stranger, but she buried her head into Piper's shoulder. She obviously needed all the comfort she could find.
"We're going to find out what's going on," Piper said finally breaking their embrace, "and we're going to stop it."
"How," Miranda asked.
"We'll figure it out," Piper assured her and then she grabbed her Doctor by the hand.
"How are we going to do this," Piper gritted out in a whisper.
"Improvise," the Doctor replied, shrugging. If looks could kill, the Doctor would have regenerated a good dozen times before Piper ceased her glare.
Piper really wished that she had brought a flashlight, because breaking into a textile mill with only a sonic screwdriver and her cellphone light probably wasn't her brightest idea. Hell, the light from her cellphone was brighter than this idea. She held her cellphone to the lock as the doctor did whatever sonic-y thing she had to in order to make the door open.
"I hope that no demons jump out of these dark corners," Piper muttered, "this seems like a shitty horror flick." Then a thought crossed her mind.
"Oh god, what if we're the first five minutes of Supernatural," she said aloud. The Doctor gave her a puzzled look.
"I think we can handle it," the Doctor said with a look of pride, "as long as there are no spiders, I'm fairly good." Piper filed arachnophobia away into the never-ending list of the Doctor's curiosities.
Piper put her phone into the pocket of her apron, and looked around the sonic screwdriver lit room. It had an eerie blue glow due to the lighting, but that wasn't the only creepy part. Piper supposed that a field of sunflowers filled with teddy bears could potentially be creepy after dark, but a textile mill, lit only by a ghastly blue light was the scariest horror movie like sight Piper had ever encountered.
Various large spinning wheels sat in columns from one wall to the other. The thread protruded from the wall and stretched to the ceiling like an elegant spider's web. It was various different shades, white to black and all the shades of gray in between, and every shade of the rainbow. In the daylight it might have looked beautiful, but now the pieces of fabric looked more like the abandoned tapestries of some long forgotten empire. Large spools of deserted thread sat at the ends of the spinning stations.
Piper brushed her hand against the doctor's to assure herself that she was in fact still there. It is noteworthy that yes, the Doctor was in fact still there. They reached the end of the wall saw a large door. Above it was a sign that said in bold, white letters, DO NOT ENTER.
"I suppose we've found our spot," the doctor said, "are you ready?" Piper almost allowed herself to say no in a small and cowardly voice. She scolded herself, she'd faced aliens who turned beings to stone, corrupt governments, a life-sucking phoenix and her own mother! She couldn't cower at the thought of entering a dark room.
Instead in a voice a bold voice, she said, "I'm ready to go."
The doctor stepped through the forbidden door, closely followed by Piper.
The room was strangely empty, and Piper wondered if perhaps there wasn't anything of interest in it, until the doctor whispered, "Look up." Above them were catacombs of cobwebs. They was almost beautiful in a terrifying way. Protruding from the ceiling were human stalactites, like caterpillars only half cocooned. Their bare heads stuck out from the bottom. The women's long hair fell below, making them look similar to the troll dolls that Piper had once played with. She let out a high pitched squeak of fear when she saw the ringmaster of this terrible circus. An elephantine spider lurked in the shadows, and it was preparing to pounce on them. Piper's breaths came short and shallow, and she felt something slide into her hand. She looked down, and between her tanned fingers sat the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. She looked to the Doctor who put a finger to her lips and mouth hide.
"Well, hello," the doctor said, taking a step towards the gigantic, humanoid spider. Piper slunk to the nearest corner.
"What," the thing said, in a voice too silky and gorgeous to belong to a terrifying monster, "a human that knows the language of the arachnids?"
"I am not a human," the Doctor said, taking another step towards the woman-spider and her sharp fangs and long, wild gray hair, "I am a Time Lord."
"I thought Time Lords extinct," the thing replied.
"I could say the same for arachnids," the Doctor replied, toying gently with her belt loop.
"What are you doing on earth?" asked the spider-woman.
"I could ask the same of you," she said.
"If you are going to continue to answer my questions with questions," the thing replied in her silky smooth voice, "I am going to hang you from the ceiling and the Time Lords will truly be extinct." Piper's breath hitched in her throat. Piper wasn't sure if the thing was joking, she wasn't even sure if she could pull off her threat, but it still rattled her.
"But then you'd never hear my offer," said the Doctor playfully. Piper wanted to strangle her. How was she managing that tone when she was terrified? Piper knew that she was afraid of spiders; how was she even coping? Piper wanted to reach out and shake her out of this.
"And what would that be?" she asked, "What could the last of the Time Lords offer poor little Arachne, last of the arachnids."
"I could take you to a planet to rebuild your race," she said, "a nice new one, without life. You could start from scratch. But only if you promise to release those humans."
"Though it's an appealing offer," Arachne drawled, "I think that I'll have to pass. You see, a Time Lord could host my babies for years, for eternity. I'm not passing that up." She opened her mouth wide and spewed silk at the Doctor, coating her. Piper almost let out a cry, but bit her lip and kept it in. All these people needed her. The Doctor needed her.
She kept her eyes locked on the spider, who had knocked the Doctor out. Arachne then shot a string of silk to the ceiling, hoisted herself up, and hung the Doctor like an ornament on a Christmas tree. Piper felt the wall, and suddenly realized that they were coated in spider silk as well. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.
You can do this, Piper, she told herself, the Doctor needs you. She grabbed on to the spider's silk coating the walls around her and willed herself not to be disgusted. She willed herself to ignore it. The silk held firm, and she suddenly remembered something that she'd learned once, that spider's silk was stronger than steel. Piper hoped so, for everyone's sake. She made herself a firm handhold and started to climb.
She reached the fairly low ceiling after two minutes of climbing. She grabbed onto the cloudy sky of cobwebs that coated the ceiling. Then, Piper started doing a monkey bars like motion to cross the sea of spider's webs and suspended humans to get to her Doctor. She saw blonde hair cascading from a cocooned body and a Yankees cap stuck on a thick ponytail of hair. She took out the sonic screwdriver, while holding tightly to the ceiling with her right hand. She wrapped her legs around the Doctor's lower body, and started cut the top of her cage. After a minute of holding down the button and hoping that somehow the sonic would cut the various strings of silk, Piper felt the final strand break.
She grabbed the ceiling tightly with both hands, and she held the Doctor in her ankles, praying to whatever deity might exist that she wouldn't drop her. Their adversary, however, chose that precise moment to realize something was wrong. Piper saw the eight-legged creature stalking towards them with a murderous glint in her eight black eyes.
"Shit," she muttered, and she drew the sonic screwdriver. She could feel the strength in both her right hand starting to fail. Piper could feel the muscles in her legs starting to give as well. Arachne was within feet of them when Piper aimed at her torso and shot a bolt of sonic. It hit her straight on the red marking on her abdomen. The creature let out a wail of pain, and her body convulsed. She fell from the ceiling onto her head, and her brains spattered on the floor. Piper laughed in relief, then she felt the Doctor's body slip from the grasp of her feet. The doctor landed in the spider's remains with a plopping noise.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god," she thought desperately.
"Doctor," she called, "oh god, Doctor."
"I'm alright," her voice came, "I'm awake. What did I miss? spiders silk!?" Piper laughed in relief and humor. She had saved her Doctor and now she was so comically confused.
Piper swung to the wall, and then climbed down. She used the sonic screwdriver to release the doctor from her full body cage. They sat beside each other, far away from the remains of Arachne.
The Doctor looked to the ceiling and asked, "Do you suppose they're alright?"
Piper remembered Miranda's words, "Five days ago she disappeared, just the latest in a string of 'em."
"No," Piper said in terror, "th-they're all dead." She looked to the ceiling of the mill, a graveyard of spider's silk.
"They all died," she said, "all of them, and we couldn't save them."
"But you prevented it from happening again," the Doctor said, "You saved me." This time it was Piper that needed comfort. She desperately hugged the doctor. She dug her head into the doctor's plaid clad shoulder and she inhaled her scent, vanilla and metal and something that was distinctly her. At the moment, she also smelled of Piper's salty tears.
"You can't always save everyone," the doctor said, rubbing her hand over Piper's back, "I'd know."
"Does it ever stop hurting," she choked out. The Doctor paused a moment, the truth and the lie fighting for dominance. Piper could see her struggle. Would she tell her the comforting lie or the painful truth?
"No," she said, and Piper knew that the painful truth had won out. She just touched her fingers to the Doctor's curly blonde hair. Piper crashed her lips onto her Doctor's own. They tasted sweet, a bit like vanilla, and they moved in sync, all the romantic tension from their various adventures reaching a boiling point. She could feel the Doctor's tongue lightly lapping at her bottom lip. And they kissed and kissed, pressing their bodies together on the hard, dirt ground. It was beautiful and terrible and every single feeling in the entire universe and Piper wondered what it might have been like in a less emotional situation. Then she remembered that she was probably what one might consider "emotionally compromised" right now. She broke the kiss.
"I'm sorry," she said, her face turning red, "heat of the moment, you know." And the Doctor just nodded and sent her a sad smile. They sat for a moment in understanding silence. Piper's tears had ceased, but she could still feel them, clawing at the back of her mind, begging to be set free. Tears at her own helplessness, her own powerlessness, tears for these poor lives that had been wasted, tears for their families, and tears for Miranda and Katie. She grasped the Doctor's hand firmly, and they walked slowly back to the TARDIS, through the blackness of the English night. The stars were their only companion, watching and sharing in Piper's sorrow.