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Far from Home

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With Victoria's first visit to a foreign planet, she hadn't exactly had time for sightseeing, or even contemplating the fact that she was somewhere other than Earth. She had been too overwhelmed by, well, all the mortal danger around. And other things.

However, a few days into her stay aboard the TARDIS, they landed on what the Doctor said was "a recent human colony planet in the 42nd century, and judging by the smell and the noise this must be a marketplace". (Jamie had elbowed him and said "even I could have told ye that part.") This time Victoria wanted to take in her surroundings properly, feel what it was like. She stepped out of the blue box with at least three quarters anticipation and at most one quarter trepidation or anxiety. On travels with the Doctor and Jamie, that one quarter was simply a sign you had a healthy sense of self preservation, she reasoned.

She noticed the first unusual thing right as she took her first steps. "There's something weird about the ground," she said, looking at her feet in puzzlement. "It's… heavy."

"Ah, this is a slightly bigger and heavier planet than your Earth, so the gravity is higher as well." The Doctor rubbed his hands together in delight. "See if you can spot any other differences!"

She wrinkled her nose. "The air smells funny."

"That's probably just the beasties," Jamie said, pointing at some donkeys pulling carts, then let out a startled sound that could only be called a squeak. "Eh, what's that?" Jamie's mouth was left hanging open as he stared at the stout creature lumbering past them, resembling nothing as much as a shaggy, russet hippopotamus, maybe crossed with a cow.

"Oh, that's just some local cattle," the Doctor said, as though there was nothing unusual. "Genetically engineered from one Earth animal or another, I believe. They are well suited to this climate and gravity."

Jamie looked at the animal with a deeply skeptical demeanor. It went its unconcerned way.

Victoria, meanwhile, looked at the sky. "Doctor, why is the sun red?" She asked, frowning. "I mean, it's still high up on the sky, so it's not sunset yet."

"Ah, I was hoping you'd notice that," the Doctor said, smiling gleefully. "You see, this planet is orbiting a red dwarf!"

"A dwarf?" Jamie sounded incredulous, and Victoria frowned in puzzlement as well. "How can it orbit a dwarf?"

"A red dwarf star, Jamie," the Doctor said, sighing. "It's a type of star smaller and cooler than your Sun, which is why the light is red rather than yellow."

"Och, ye could've explained that right away," Jamie said, scowling, and Victoria had to silently agree. But she didn't wish for the day to descend into bickering, so she simply looked back at the sky, and said, after a moment's contemplation:
"It doesn't look much smaller than our sun."

"That's because this planet is much closer to its sun. Otherwise it wouldn't be warm enough to live on," the Doctor said. "That does increase the likelihood of solar flares, of course, but ah, they haven't been a problem in the past, oh, thousand years or so, I should think. Although of course the local years are rather short. Twenty of your days, I believe." The Doctor cleared his throat. "Why don't we take a look at the market? They're bound to have something delicious to eat." With that, he bounced off. Victoria and Jamie looked at each other, shrugged, then followed.

 

Some time later, Victoria was nibbling on something wrapped around something, a food unhelpfully called a "wrap". It did taste all right, all though the flavours were quite aggressive. The Doctor had said "the English in your time had a habit of boiling all taste out of any ingredients they dared to use that had any to begin with; that's what ruined the reputation of your country's cooking for years. Think of this as an opportunity to grow out of that."

At which point Jamie had leaned down to her and said: "Just be careful when he introduces you to something he calls chill-ee."

This food wasn't supposed to have chili, the Doctor had assured her. But Victoria couldn't quite get over the fact that the vegetables were mostly black. The Doctor said it was because the sun was red and somehow that meant the plants needed to be black to get enough energy. She couldn't quite understand how that happened. Jamie hadn't been too concerned by that, but then, he was Scottish. He must be used to stranger food.

Though it wasn't the only thing Jamie was better used to than Victoria was, she reflected. Running around with the Doctor on strange planets, often pursuing or being pursued by strange creatures from nightmares, seemed to be the normal order of the day for Jamie. Even though he was from so far back that he shouldn't even know there were other planets. So probably, despite strange cattle and red sun, this was a fine day for him, as nothing had been chasing them yet.

But Victoria was feeling quite overwhelmed. She followed the Doctor and Jamie around, trying to take it all in and enjoy herself. The people they spoke to were kind, and she liked learning about their lives in this strange place. But soon the sounds, smells and unreal-seeming colours began simply sliding through her consciousness without her being able to make any sense of what was around her. She tried to ignore it, remind herself that few girls got to experience anything like this, but she couldn't help the sense of it all being too much, too quickly.

"Please, can I go rest someplace?" she asked the Doctor at last.

Jamie immediately put an arm on her shoulders. It didn't seem quite proper, but she was just thankful for his kindness. "Are ye all right?" He sounded worried.

"I'm fine, I'm just tired, there's a lot to take in, and the walking is harder than I'm used to. I'd like to sit still for a while."

"Aye, Doctor, she needs a place to rest."

The Doctor's gaze was darting around the marketplace. Then he grinned. "I know just the thing! Come, let's visit the town gardens."

The gardens, too, were black, which was disconcerting. There was a small enclosure of green plants, which a sign said were imported from Earth as a remembrance of their shared past. It seemed strange to think about living in a future where her times were a distant past, and her plants of her planet were only a memorial corner of a public garden. But the plants did have exotic flowers in many colours, and most of them smelled quite nice. And there were the most peculiar and beautiful animals flying all over, something like bats with butterfly wings. She had such a lovely time watching them that she forgot about her exhaustion. The head gardener came to talk to her and answered her questions about the animals, and showed her a secluded spot by a pond where she could sit and be at ease. Victoria stayed.

 

The small red sun had sunk below the horizon, sooner than Victoria had expected the night to fall, and suddenly, there were stars. Victoria stood outside the gardens and looked up at the sky until her neck hurt, dazzled by the multitudes of the stars.

The Doctor stood by her side. "Looking for familiar sights?"

"Yes," she said. She continued peering up, feeling confused. "I don't recognize the constellations. Nothing seems to be in its usual place."

"That's because we're quite far away, my dear. Many of the constellations look different this far from your Earth and Sun. Just like your village looks different if you look at it from the East rather than the South."

She swallowed. "I see." Somehow the explanation didn't comfort her.

The Doctor crouched slightly so that their heads were level. He pointed at a particularly bright star. "See that great blue star there? It's Orion's Rigel. While Orion's Nebula is…" His finger moved to point at a different part of the sky. "Right there. And look, above you are the Pleiades."

She looked up at them, now recognizing the Seven Sisters in the sky, although they, too, looked different than she was used to.

The Doctor took her by the shoulders and gently turned her to face another way, the pointed at the sky. "Look over there, above those three tall trees. Do you see three stars that form a triangle?"

She did, although none of them were bright or special-looking.

"Well, the star on the right — that's your Sun," the Doctor said. "Somewhere by that spot of light, so small that you can't see it because the Sun is so much brighter, is your planet. Your Earth."

Victoria looked at the small, dim, unremarkable star and at the dark void around it, in which no planets were visible. She shuddered. Her voice, when it came, wasn't steady at all. "It looks very small. And very far."

"Yes," the Doctor said excitedly. "Just think about it! Oh, I'm feeling rather peckish again. Let's go see if they've got any more of those apple tarts. Well, they're not exactly apples, but…" He was off, trailing more words, though Victoria wasn't listening anymore. She didn't follow. Instead she stood there, still staring at a dim, distant star, trying to imagine a tiny object orbiting it — a whole world, yet so far it could not be seen.

She heard soft footsteps behind her, then Jamie's voice: "Hey, Victoria."

"Hello, Jamie," she said, unsure what else to say. He came to stand by her and put a hand on her shoulder, it's warmth and pressure comforting her.

"Did he show ye the Sun, too? Our Sun?" Jamie asked.

"Yes." Her voice felt tight. She said, her voice spilling out as her eyes went blurry, "It's so very small and far. And you can't even see the Earth." She choked on the last words, furiously blinking back tears.

"Nor Scotland," he said, with a mirthless snort. "The Highlands were all the life I knew before the war, and… from here, ye'd never know they existed."

He put his arm around her and drew her in. It would have been unseemly, in her past life, but that felt literally worlds away. Now she huddled against his side, grateful for the solid comfort of his presence.

"It's so strange," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Aye." He was quiet for a while. "Look, the Doctor's not… He doesn't understand what it's like, for such as lived in one place all our lives. I think he just doesn't notice. He doesn't mean anything by it. I s'pose… he's too busy running from one place to another to notice."

"I can believe that," she said, unable to help smiling.

"I've tried to ask him where his planet is, if he could show it to me some time," Jamie continued. "I'd like to know where he comes from. But he always changes the subject. Won't say a thing about it. I suppose he goes on making himself home anywhere he goes 'cause he has no home anymore. Except for the TARDIS."

"That sounds lonely," Victoria said, feeling a little sorry for the Doctor, for the first time. At least she knew where her roots were, and wasn't afraid to remember that place or speak of it. Not even though thinking about her father still hurt like knives inside her.

"Aye," Jamie said. "Good thing he's got me to take care of him, eh? But listen, lassie, I know it can feel terribly queer out here, and the Earth is so far away. But the Doctor gets us back there every now and then, so don't worry. When ye get used to all this, it's a lot of fun, too."

"I suppose," Victoria said. She contemplated. "It is so very beautiful, seeing another sky. And all those flowers! It's just strange as well."

"Aye, it sure is, but ye've still been mighty brave about it." Jamie smiled fondly at her and squeezed her shoulder. She returned the smile, which made his smile yet brighter. "Now what d'ye say, should we go and look for those apple pies or whatever they are? I heard some people say there's gonna be music and dancing soon. Will be fun to hear what sort of music they've got here."

He held out his hand to her. Victoria cast one last look at that small yellow star, then inhaled deeply, and took Jamie's hand. She wasn't going to feel any better staring at the void and contemplating distances in space. But even if this wasn't Earth, there were people here, and they did things like dance and make food and herd animals. And she wasn't alone here. She had friends. In the end, that was the most important thing, wasn't it?

So she returned with Jamie towards the marketplace, to the light and warmth, to the sounds of people and smells of food and promises of song and dance.