Chapter 1: Prologue
This was it. The day they’d been dreading for years. Alarms sounded, Klaxon horns shrieking loudly. Tension sat heavy in the air. Her heart pounded in her chest, but also sat high in her throat as she dashed back and forth across her room. Her fingers touched on many of her possessions, but she only took those that she most needed. She didn’t have time to linger on anything. She grabbed the things she simply couldn’t live without and shoved them in her rucksack as she hurried to the next item. Did she need—no, no, she could leave it. She had to leave it.
She reached out to him instead, tugging on their bond gently. She met a whirlwind of emotion, emotions he often claimed he was above. Anger was prominent—anger at the Council, anger at himself, at all of them for—for—grief clung to the edges of that anger. He knew what was about to happen. What had to happen. Had this been (years, decades, longer than she cared to admit, long enough that she was afraid) just months ago, when she’d started on with them, she would have broken at the feel of it. He was in agony already and they hadn’t even—they still weren’t—oh, they still had to—she slammed the thought shut along with her jewelry drawer. She wasn’t some kid anymore. She had had to go through . . . not worse than this, but horrible things. She needed to be strong for both of them. She would be.
“We’ve landed.” A voice cut through her frenzy as her hands landed on an electronic photo album from their trip to Barcelona all those years ago. “We don’t have any more time.” She tossed the album into her rucksack, took a quick look around the room for anything else that was essential, and then she stared over at the figure in the door. Tall and statuesque, she leaned against the frame with a casual air that belied the panic they’d all fallen into less than twenty minutes ago. Her dark eyes were like flint, her mouth a firm line that pressed back against the vitriol she was always on the verge of spilling. “I told him that an ape would only bring us trouble.” It came as a snarl, bitter as poison. She snorted. Tumultuous moods had never touched her much, but even less so now.
“You live for trouble.” She quipped. She tied the top of her bag shut and slung it over her shoulder. Heart pounding in her chest, she sprinted past her visitor and down the hall. “You’d be dead bored without it.” She called.
The answer—barbed and fiery with barely contained rage—followed after her down the hall.
“I’d kill you if I thought it would hurt more than remembering!” She ignored the threat. It meant nothing now.
Two of them were in the console room when she came dashing in. They didn’t spare a moment for her. Their hands flew over buttons and keys. They flipped switches and pulled levers in a practiced dance.
“Hey!” The shout was frantic. It made her racing heart stutter. She skidded to a stop on her way to the door. This—this was—she would never . . . She took a breath, swallowed hard. She was never going to see them again. “Hey,” her dear, dear friend glanced over at her, “we’re holding them off, but you need to go.” Their eyes locked (the last time, her mind whispered, you’ll never see them again). She bit her lip. She would never see them again. “Go,” She urged before turning back to her console.
She gripped the straps of her bag. No one else was in the room. Just the three of them. The others had dispersed already—destroying evidence before the Council seized their ship. No big send off. No hugs or teary goodbyes. This was it. She felt him in their bond, felt the agony he was in. She’d thought he would at least be here. To say something before she left. Maybe it just hurt too much. She pushed all her love toward him as she let herself look around the room for just a moment. Take it all in. She steeled herself, gripped the straps of her bag tight, and stepped off the ship.
Outside, London was experiencing one of its rare sunny days. The corner of Hyde park they’d landed in was quiet. The ship’s chameleon circuit had it looking like a fenced off skip bin.
“I guess this is it.” His voice made her jump. He was standing just a few feet off, hands in his pockets. His sleeves were rolled up like they always were. Someone walking by wouldn’t notice the tension in his shoulders, the way his eyes flicked about nervously, the subtle tick in his jaw, but they’d been together for ages. She could pick up on his tells if she were blind. His fists clenched in his pockets, but he offered her a weak smile. “We had a good run, though, didn’t we?” Her throat closed. She couldn’t just leave him. The others . . . They’d never quite gotten along the way the two of them had. Too much difference. Too much self-importance and straight up bigotry to get past. Only a couple of them had ever tried past the minimal effort with her.
“Yeah,” she finally said when she found her voice again, “we did.” She shakily reached up to push away the tears that were starting to inch down her cheeks. “The best run.” He reached out to take her hand. She ignored the offer and closed the distance to tug him into a tight embrace. Hot tears raced down her cheeks.
“I love you.” He growled into her hair. His arms came up to wrap around her. He squeezed like he was trying to absorb her into him. “Don’t you ever forget that.” He poured it into their bond, heaping his love into her mind like he would never do it again. He wouldn’t, she knew. She opened herself to the emotion and gave back as much as she was getting.
“I love you.” She choked out.
“Theta!” A voice came from inside the ship. “We need to go now. Sixty seconds until they lock on our coordinates.”
She pulled back enough to press a harsh kiss to his mouth. Then, she wrenched herself away. Their bond ached and burned. They would still feel each other, no matter what happened. Maybe, someday, he could come back and find her again. They could leave the universe behind and find a place for just the two of them, safe from the Council and the rest of his kind. She forced herself to take a step backward. Her vision blurred. She had to do this. She had to be strong.
“I’m starting the dematerialization.” Another voice warned from inside the ship. “Get in now, or we’re leaving you.”
He stumbled toward the door, then cast one last look back at her.
“Be safe, love.” He said before he stepped inside and slammed the door shut.
The TARDIS faded from existence, leaving Rose Tyler standing by herself on the park path. She waited until the faint outline of the ship disappeared from view. Their bond stretched until it threatened to break. She could still feel him, but it was as if at a distance, farther than they’d been in years. Birds sang in the trees, but the area was otherwise silent. For a moment, she stood, staring blankly at the place where her whole life had been not moments before. Then, with an agonized sob, she fell to her knees and cried.
Rose Tyler, sixteen-year-old London native, wasn’t having what one would normally call a good day. Not one bit, thanks very much. She’d woken up earlier than usual to avoid being marked tardy by her teachers again, only to have the usual fight with her mum about her lack of job make her leave the flat late. She’d missed the bus to school and had had to make do with the public bus, which had dropped her off a good five blocks from campus. It had been raining cats and dogs all morning, of course, so Rose had been thoroughly soaked by the time she showed up to school, late to boot. Froze through to her bones, she’d gotten a detention slip and a reprimand from her teacher for being both late and wasting time by having to go to the locker room to change into her spare uniform. Brilliant. Just abso-bloody-lutely brilliant. Things had only gone downhill from there.
History, a test she’d forgotten to study for. Maths, Rose got a test back that she’d thought she’d done well on, but had apparently flunked. During lunch, Rose was called into the office only to find out that the tagging she’d gotten pulled into doing last week with some of her mates had been figured out.
“We’ve already called your mother, Miss Tyler.” Headmaster Perkins said, hands folded on his desk and looking for all the world like he was handing out death sentences to his students. “The police are willing to drop charges, seeing as it’s your first offense, in exchange for your fulfilling a week’s worth of community service days.”
He wouldn’t listen that it hadn’t been Rose’s idea in the first place or that she hadn’t known what her friends had been doing. She’d just been lookout after all. But, it turned out that her friends had all decided to hang her out to dry. They’d gotten off scot-free while heaping all the blame on Rose. Right bunch of mates they were. She got three weeks’ detention on top of her community service, which was to be served at the nearby public library, starting that afternoon. Headmaster Perkins also didn’t care that Rose was supposed to be having an interview at a chippy shop after school.
“Miss Tyler, I frankly don’t care what excuses you have. You will report to the head librarian immediately after detention, am I understood?”
Rose sighed and looked down at her knees, rather than at Headmaster Perkins.
“Yes, sir.” She mumbled, heart sinking.
Detention was dead boring, as usual. It was made worse by the row Rose had with her friends before school let out.
“How could you?” She’d nearly screamed at them, on the verge of tears.
“C’mon, Rose, it was just a laugh.” They had laughed with each other. Only Mickey had taken her side. Even Shireen had said she should have known better than to get mixed up in all that.
The row itself didn’t last much longer than that, but it left Rose’s chest burning with anger as she sat quietly in detention and tried not to focus on the ticking clock over the door.
She’d thought that at least the library might offer some respite (after all, how much could they possibly have for her to do at a library), but even that hope was dashed as the head librarian promptly showed Rose to a dusty area in the back on her arrival.
“These old microfiche files need to be reorganized.” She patted a box that sent up a puff of dust upon impact. “The machine is over there,” she gestured to a large machine that, if Rose wasn’t seeing things, had cobwebs starting to form in its corners, “and we’ll want things organized by publisher, then by date. You know, January, then February, then March, then—”
“Yeah I’m familiar.” Rose tried to sound as nice as possible about it, but she clearly didn’t pull it off because the librarian gave her a look like she’d just said something really rude.
“Well, I suppose they do teach something in those kinds of schools.” The box got another dusty pat before she turned to leave Rose to her devices. “And if you nick anything, I won’t be signing off that you even got here.”
Rose was right. There were cobwebs on the mircofiche machine. There were also cobwebs on most of the boxes. Rose didn’t know how they’d gotten in this state in the first place. She always supposed that libraries were dusty places, but this? This was taking things a bit far, wasn’t it?
Rose was in the process of sorting through the first box when there came a knock at the—well, it wasn’t a door. It was just an entryway, well, a corner really that hid this area from the rest of the library. It was a corner that a boy was now leaning around.
He was long and lanky and had dark hair falling into pale eyes. He was dressed in a uniform, but his shirt was untucked and unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up. He had a black Beatles t-shirt on under his shirt and a leather wristband on his right arm. Well, Rose, thought to herself, wasn’t he a bit of class?
“Yeah?” Rose prompted when he didn’t say anything.
“Sorry, I’m doing a study on primitive concepts of time, do you have any material on the matter?” Whatever effect his casual looks might have, it was ruined by his posh accent. Blimey, Rose had never heard someone talk like that outside the telly.
“You what?” The microfiche files went loose in Rose’s hands. He was doing a study about what? He smirked and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
“I’m doing a study on primitive concepts of time. I understand that your kind have some such views, so I’m interested in any materials you can provide me with for study.” He fully rounded the corner and came closer to Rose. She brought the files up to her chest. She’d never . . . Well, that was a lie. She’d been this close with blokes before, but never strangers. It made her heart race. “Or perhaps you can assist me? What are your concepts of time?” Rose’s cheeks warmed, but then his words registered and connected to what he’d said earlier.
“Oi, you calling me primitive?” She was two seconds away from smacking him. Instead, Rose took a step back, putting some space between them. The boy smirked again.
“Well, this planet is only at the beginning of its nuclear age and hasn’t even tapped the potential of the fourth dimension. You still believe in linear time, do you not?” Rose blinked hard.
“Look, whatever it is you’re having on, I’m not interested.” She turned back to the microfiche machine. “Anyway, I don’t work here. I’m just a—a volunteer. So, you can shove off and go find a librarian.” She loaded the next strip of microfiche (which she’d only figured out after flagging down a library assistant) and looked into the machine to figure out what printing it was.
“Right, sorry, miss.”
Rose got out of the library when it closed. It was already getting dark at that point. While the rain hadn’t stopped, it had weakened to a light drizzle. Rose thanked the Lord for small mercies as she stepped outside into the evening air.
Jackie was going to kill her, was all Rose could think. She’d had the whole day too, to build up steam. Rose would be lucky to ever see her mates again in her life and there was no way she wouldn’t be grounded for at least a month for her latest stunt. She kicked at the ground as she walked toward the closest bus stop, along the hedges lining a park’s boundary. With the sun dipping behind the surrounding buildings, the park was cast into dark shadow. It set Rose’s teeth on edge and had her fingering the pepper spray in her pocket. It would be just her luck, after this horrible day, that she got jumped for her money on the way home.
It was only because she was trying not to get mugged that Rose noticed it in the first place: a rustle in the hedges as she went past. Rose’s steps faltered to a stop as the rustling increased.
“Hello?” Her hand tightened around her pepper spray, but her feet had turned to lead and her palms were sweaty. “Is someone there?” She tried peering into the bushes, but it had gotten too dark to make out any shape that might be hiding in the leaves. The rustling came again. “I’m warning you; I haven’t got anything on me. Just books.” The bush shook in earnest this time. Rose’s heart rocketed into her throat. God, she was going to die, wasn’t she? “Stop mucking about!” She nearly screamed. “Just leave me alone, yeah?”
The rustling stopped and, then, there came a low noise from the bushes. It sounded like a mix between a meow and a chirp. In the light from the street lamp overhead, Rose thought she could make out two pinpricks of green light, reflecting off the backs of a cat’s eyes. She instantly relaxed.
“Cor, you scared me,” she huffed as she crouched down to the cat’s level. “What’re you doing in there, puss? C’mere.” Jackie had always been on Rose for how friendly she was with strays, but Rose had never seen harm in being nice to a lonely animal in need of some company. She shuffled closer to the bush, arm extended. “Pss, pss, pss, come here, kitty. I won’t hurt you.” It made the same meowing chirp as before and the eyes disappeared for a moment. When they reappeared, there were four and they were much closer than before. “What the—?”
The head that poked out of the bushes didn’t belong to a cat, that’s for sure. If Rose had to guess, she would have pegged it as a small, furry lizard. It was about the side of a small cat. Its snout was long and pointed with scales at the end where its dappled brown fur gave way. It had four large black eyes that watched Rose curiously as she scrambled away from it.
“What the hell?” She yelped as it clambered toward her on uneasy, clawed feet. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie. Its feet were more like hands. As it approached, it reached for her with one foot, tapping her shoe, then her leg as it clambered up toward her lap. Rose squealed, but it only made its weird meow noise again. Its fur was covered in slime that left wet trails in its wake. Rose lashed out at it suddenly. She swung her bag round and caught the little thing ‘round its middle, sending it flying back into the hedges. It yelped painfully, but Rose was already scrambling to her feet. “No!” She yelled as it came out of the bushes toward her again, meowing pitifully. “I’m dreaming. That’s the only excuse. I fell asleep at the library.” Rose closed her eyes and pinched herself hard, but when she opened her eyes, the thing was still there at her feet. Now it was yowling sadly as it tried to grab at her leg with its clawed fingers. Rose gave it a gentler than normal kick to get it off. “No,” she hissed at it. “I don’t know what you are, but I’m leaving. Go back wherever you came from.” It seemed to understand at least partly what she was saying. Its eyes grew wide and it chirped again. If Rose didn’t know any better, she’d say the thing was truly sad she was trying to send it away. “You’ll get my bag again, if you don’t shove off.” She gave it another nudge with her foot, then turned and started sprinting for the bus stop.
Jackie was, of course, livid about the tagging. Like Headmaster Perkins, she didn’t care one bit that Rose hadn’t actually done anything except act as a lookout. As far as she was concerned, her daughter was now a hardened criminal, one funny sneeze away from an ASBO. It took Jackie nearly an hour to lose steam, at which point she banished Rose to her room for the remainder of the night.
Rose cried herself through her homework and fell into a fitful sleep long after she should have been asleep.
The next day was a Saturday. Normally, Rose would be out with her friends from the estate, mucking about and having fun, but Jackie had grounded Rose for two months and forbidden her from leaving the flat for anything aside from school and work, if she ever found a job.
Rose had tossed her room into a complete mess out of sheer boredom before noon when the front door squeaked open and she heard someone step on the creaky floorboard directly in front of the door. Rose sat up straight in her bed.
Jackie had left less than fifteen minutes ago, off to the pub with one of her girlfriends for lunch. There was no way she was back by now. Oh, for the love of—They were getting robbed! Rose looked desperately around her room as she heard footsteps down the hall. She had no phone in here and there was absolutely no way she’d be able to get to the phone in the front room without being seen. Tears welled in her eyes as whoever it was opened Jackie’s room and started rummaging around. They weren’t even trying to be quiet.
Rose quietly slid off her bed and crawled underneath it. Oh, god, they were going to kill her if they found her. She stifled a sob as the intruder slammed Jackie’s door shut. Rose carefully turned her head to face the door, dreading the moment when her bedroom door opened, when she saw something that nearly made her scream.
It was the thing from last night. Its fur was now dry and it was curled up in an old hoodie that Rose had stuffed under her bed ages ago. It stared at her with wide eyes, seemingly as surprised as she was. Rose clapped a hand to her mouth to keep from yelling as it chirped happily at her. The footsteps outside her room stopped.
“I know you’re in here.” It was a girl. She sounded like she was Rose’s age. Dark jeans fell over leather boots, which clomped on the carpet as she made her way into Rose’s room. She spoke with a real posh accent as she wandered around the room. “Come on,” there came a beeping noise and the girl’s feet stopped right next to Rose’s bed. “There you are.” The girl dropped to her knees and, suddenly, her face appeared in the space between Rose’s mattress and the floor. Her dark eyes landed first on the lizard thing, a triumphant expression on her face. Then she noticed Rose. “You,” she reached out and grabbed the lizard with one hand. Once she’d dragged it kicking and yowling out from under the bed, she came back down for Rose.
“No!” Rose screamed as she was dragged out by her wrist.
“What have you done?” The girl couldn’t have been older than Rose, if they weren’t the same age. Her face contorted in rage. “Did it imprint on you?” Her grip turned bruising and she shook Rose hard. “Did it?” The girl hissed. Her eyes were absolutely wild. Rose’s tongue was thick in her mouth. She couldn’t have answered, even if she had any idea what the hell this girl was talking about. The girl snarled and slammed Rose into her dresser. She reached up to grab Rose around the throat with her other hand. Rose kicked at her, but the girl ignored her thrashing. “You ruined it.”
“Ushas, that’s enough.” It was the boy from yesterday. He came out of nowhere, pulling the girl off Rose with a shout. “Take it and get out, I’ll handle this.” He pushed the girl to the far side of the room, sending her crashing into the door. She fell to the floor with a cough.
“Not a chance,” she glared up at the boy as he ushered Rose to sit on her bed. “She’s ruined my experiment. I’ll kill her.” She pulled a knife out of her belt and brandished it in Rose’s direction. Rose scrambled backward on her bed, ignoring the pain in her back from where she’d hit the dresser. What the hell was going on?
“No, you won’t. She has no idea what she’s done and is innocent. Leave now.” He said firmly. The girl hissed like a trod on cat, but she clambered to her feet and stalked out of the room. The boy sighed, watching her go. “I have to apologize for Ushas. She’s very academic and can get temperamental when—oof!” Rose cut him off by grabbing her alarm clock and smashing it over his head. It was only then that she realized her grand plan for an escape was ruined by the fact that he was between her and the door.
“What are you, following me?” She shouted as she took the next nearest item (her hairbrush) and brandished it threateningly. “I want to know what’s going on now!” Rose drew back her hairbrush, ready to let it fly.
“Wait, please don’t!” The boy put one hand up as he massaged his head with the other. “I can explain.”
“Explain why you’re following me, you creep!” Rose lashed out with the hairbrush and clocked him upside the head. The boy crumpled to the floor. Rose took her chance and dashed for her bedroom door. Halfway there, however, the pain in her back flared and she faltered long enough for the boy to catch her ‘round the ankle and drag her down to the floor. “Oi, let go!” She kicked at him.
“No,” he grunted as he wrapped his arms around both her legs and held on tight. “Not until you let me explain, all right? You want answers, don’t you? Well, my name is Theta and I’m not of this Earth.” Rose stilled in her thrashing.
“You’re having me on.” She panted. “You’re a right nutter and belong in the bin.” Theta chuckled, but loosened his grip on her legs.
“And, yet, you’re intrigued, no?” He sat up and pushed his hair out of his face. “How else do you explain the thing Ushas was after? What did it look like to you?” Rose shimmied backward until her back hit the door. She pulled her legs up to her chest, realizing that she’d just effectively trapped herself in her room with a madman.
“It’s a suit. Just a lizard in a suit.” Rose said, almost entirely to herself. “What else could it be?”
“How about a dragon?”
Now it was Rose’s turn to laugh. She tossed a sock at Theta, scowling.
“You’re must think I’m stupid to swallow that.”
“Well, you are just an ape.” Theta said matter of fact. Rose’s frown deepened.
“What? I’m not an ape. I’m a person, same as you. Just ‘cause I don’t go to one of those fancy public schools—” Theta cut her off before she could build more steam.
“No, I mean that’s literally what you are, compared to my race.” He straightened up, just a touch as he said it. “I’m a Time Lord. We’re one of the higher races of the known universe. Humans are simply a small blip on the evolutionary radar at this point in time.” Rose blinked owlishly at him. He was a what?
“What’s a . . . Time Lord?” She couldn’t help asking, though all of this was absolutely barmy. It had to be a dream. She’d simply slept in and this was what she got for it: some insane dream about monsters and aliens in her bedroom who looked . . . well, who didn’t look half bad in their mussed uniform.
“It’s exactly what it sounds like.” Theta said, pale eyes locked on hers. “We have time written into our very being and it allows us to affect it, to mold it, and to protect it as well. We can also travel in time, in our ships.”
Rose let out a quiet huff. He looked like he believed every word he was saying. And that lizard thing earlier. No matter what Rose told herself, it didn’t look like some kind of fur suit on a lizard. No, the fur had looked far too real and attached to be fake. Oh, she was losing it!
“Prove it.” Rose’s words caught Theta by surprise. He had been staring straight at her, waiting for a reaction, but this didn’t seem to be what he’d expected. He blinked and looked away for a moment before a grin broke across his face.
“All right.” Theta clambered to his feet and dusted his pants off. “Come on, then.” He held a hand out for Rose to take.
She stared at it for a moment, something unfamiliar curling in her gut. She had a feeling (and she felt mad just admitting it) that she was about to do something to change her life entirely. But wasn’t that what she’d been looking for? Wasn’t yesterday just how things were going to go for the rest of her life? She loved her mum, but the last thing Rose wanted was to end up like her: stuck in the estates, living the same life every day, no change, no adventure, no . . . more. Rose had always wanted an adventure. And here it was, right in front of her. Either this boy was absolutely barmy, or he was the real deal. And there was only one way to find out, especially as he dangled proof right in front of her nose.
Rose reached out and took his hand, earning her a brilliant smile that just about knocked her back off her feet. Yeah, Rose thought to herself as she let Theta lead her out of her flat and down the stairs, this was going to be one hell of an adventure.