The planet's twin suns had long ago set, replaced by a small cluster of bright stars punctuating the inky sky. Zoe had barely paid it any mind, however. Instead, she sat hunched over a small desk tucked in a corner of the room, furiously scribbling on paper some calculations.
Truth be told, she'd wrapped up the calculations hours ago. She was now scribbling strategies to deliver this information to the lead scientist in order to assist with fixing an important piece of their equipment. She was sure it could help protect their people, not to mention ensure there was a fair fight.
The Doctor had landed them on a planet where two humanoid factions were in the midst of a multi-generational war, one which had alternated between 'cold' and 'hot.' At the moment, things had escalated into the 'hot' side. The territory in which they'd landed belonged to the Olmash, a peaceful civilization who preferred to resolve conflicts through talks and negotiations. The other side – the Kharmon – had traditionally been looked upon as more 'primitive', but due to trading medical and scientific knowledge (it was supposed) had advanced quite rapidly and were now employing biological warfare.
Shortly after having landed, the TARDIS crew went through the usual routine of convincing the Olmash they were friendly. Their hosts seemed to trust them rather easily, especially once the Doctor had spoken to them. They had taken them to their government base and were hoping they could help with an unfortunate dilemma, one which put them at a disadvantage in this war. Janus, the lead scientist, had mentioned an important piece of equipment that was now broken. The Doctor had, of course, been enthusiastic about helping them.
Janus had taken them to the high-security laboratory or observatory – Zoe noted it seemed to have characteristics of both – and had begun to show them the equipment when an alarm suddenly came over the public address system. Parbek, the leader of the Olmash, announced that the Kharmon had unleashed a bioweapon on the population about five miles away from the center of the city where the base was located. Their scientists had obtained samples and found the weapon to be a dangerous virus, one they'd never seen before that was capable of causing great suffering and death.
Parbek went on to assure those on the government base that no one there had presented symptoms, that they should go about their business but should not leave the base for any reason. Anyone attempting to do so would be arrested and put into confinement.
Once the address had ended, the lead scientist resumed his explanation of the damage the equipment had suffered and how it was hindering his people from protecting themselves. Once she'd digested the information and examined the equipment itself, Zoe's mind had instantly begun reeling away, coming up with ideas on how to fix it. She'd barely paid much attention to anything the Doctor or Jamie had said in the several hours that followed. All she could think about was the intriguing problem presented to her.
That is, until it was suddenly announced that someone on the government base had begun exhibiting symptoms of the illness caused by this bioweapon. The person was in strict quarantine and was being monitored by medical personnel.
Shortly thereafter, another inhabitant of the base began showing symptoms. Parbek demanded everyone to self-isolate in their individual apartments and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe were given their own, unoccupied, multi-room dwelling off the main compound, as secluded as possible. Before allowing them entrance, a group of scientists tested the dwelling's atmosphere and found to contain no signs of the virus. Zoe was extremely annoyed at them for not realizing the obvious beforehand: the dwelling was located as far from the epicenter of the disease as possible, not to mention from the area on the base where the two cases appeared.
The Doctor obviously tried to make the best of this inconvenience, going on about how 'cute' the dwelling was, that it resembled a small house with all the conveniences they needed. There were three separate bedrooms, a small kitchen and bath, a living room, and even a little below-ground level that served as a cellar. Jamie seemed satisfied merely that it had a bed for him and what appeared to be food stocked in the kitchen cupboards.
Zoe's mind, however, was still preoccupied with thoughts of this scientific problem, how she could resolve it to help their new hosts and, most importantly, how to get this information to them. Several times she had brought it up to the Doctor, but each time he'd insisted they were not allowed to leave the dwelling. She'd asked when they could leave and he'd merely shrugged, saying he supposed when they got the “all clear” from the leader.
Finally, trying hard to maintain her composure, she'd asked when that might be. His answer, although quite expected, didn't leave her any less frustrated. She grumbled and angrily stormed out of the room, more likely than not leaving a couple of confused friends in her wake.
Nearly two days later, she found herself sitting at the desk in the corner of the living room – her bedroom didn't afford her such luxury, only a bed, a small cupboard and a chest of drawers – hunched over as she stared blearily at the paper in front of her, trying to come up with some way of contacting the leader with her specifications.
Her gaze absentmindedly flew to the radio across the room and she offered it a glare. Three times a day an announcement would come over the communication system, informing the public of the updated situation. Zoe realized it was important, but the constant updating of the number of infected citizens with the severity of their symptoms she found unhelpful. She also couldn't ignore the seed of worry that germinated in the pit of her stomach. She had contracted something as a young child called Kalarian Flu. She had later learned she'd developed a high fever and had nearly died if not for a specific soup her mother had concocted from local flowers and herbs that had powerful antiviral properties. It was now that she felt herself really missing her parents, almost yearning for them.
But, of course, she was light years away from them. Sitting cooped up in this glorified jail with her two traveling companions, neither of which seemed all that bothered by it.
Sitting here, all locked up, when she could be making a difference.
Out of frustration she pounded on the desk. Her hand throbbed some, but she didn't care. She'd do it again if she didn't risk waking her friends. In defeat she folded her arms across the desk and rested her head on top as she sobbed softly.
A nearby noise suddenly made her jump out of her chair, sending the paper crashing to the floor. Swearing silently as she bent to pick it up, her vision then caught a faint light across the room. Squinting for a moment in the low light, she was able to make out Jamie with the fridge door open, rummaging inside.
“What are you doing?” she hissed at him.
Jamie himself jumped, nearly dropping the glass in his hand. He glared at her. “What do ye mean, what am I doin'?” he retorted defensively. “I couldnae sleep an' decided tae get a glass of milk.” He regarded the glass in confusion, his nose wrinkling a bit. “Or whatever they call this stuff that tastes like milk.” He gave a sheepish shrug before returning his accusatory gaze to her. “May I no' ask ye the same thing?”
Zoe heaved a sigh in frustration, perhaps a bit theatrically, as she held up the paper with all her deductions and strategies. “For your information, I'm trying to find a way to relay my calculations and schematics for fixing the bioshield to Janus. I've gone over them hundreds of times and they check out. If I could just get this information to him, their shield will go up and not only will they be able to protect the population from the bioweapon, but they'd be able to deflect it right back to the Kharmon. They'd surrender in a heartbeat and ...”
“Oh, aye, ye've told us hundreds of times,” Jamie interrupted wearily, rolling his eyes. He stared at her for a moment, after which his expression softened into one of concern. “Zoe, go tae bed, will ye?”
“I can't,” she insisted. “He's got to get this information before there are more casualties.”
“An' how are ye gannae get it to him? There's only one communication channel on this thing.” Jamie picked up the radio they were given and switched it on. A steady pulse emanated from it, revealing the communication line to be busy. Jamie gazed at her pointedly before replacing it on the counter next to the fridge.
“Don't bother, I've been trying to get it to work for four hours now. I can't see why they don't have another channel, a backup one in case emergencies arise.” She huffed. For a group that was relatively advanced in technology, their common sense seemed to be lacking at times. Clutching the paper in her hand, her mind began reeling again and she rose from the chair, swiftly making her way further into the room. “I've got to reach Janus' quarters,” she said, eyes steely with determination.
Her trek was impeded by two strong hands grabbing her by the shoulders. “Ye're no' going anywhere, Zoe,” Jamie scolded her as he spun her around to look at him. “We're no' allowed tae leave this place.” He spread his arms out, gesturing all around their temporary home.
“Yes, thank you for reminding me of that,” she shot back bitingly. “And when will this 'curfew' or whatever they call it be lifted?”
Jamie's expression turned blank. “Er ... Well ...”
“You haven't got any idea, have you? Neither has the Doctor. None of us have. We could be stuck here for days, hearing about further spread of this virus and the increased death and destruction it will cause.” She paused in her ranting to take a breath, gesturing to the paper that was her ticket out of this mess. “And here I sit with this important information that can't be shared, all because they either can't open up any further communication channels or they simply don't care to because they don't trust us. If only you'd let me go ...” Her words were swept away by the sob she tried so hard to stifle.
Jamie merely stood, gazing at her with a mix of frustration and sadness. He approached her tentatively and then gathered her into a loose hug.
She allowed him to hold her, her sobs muffled by his shoulder. The shoulder that belonged to the strong-willed, often pigheaded Scotsman who was only looking out for her best interests. She felt her tension slightly ebb as he smoothed down her hair.
“Ye know I can't let ye go, Zoe,” he told her softly. “It's too dangerous. Mebbe our risk of catching this thing is low, but it's better tae be safe.”
Feeling lost, she gazed up at him. “But I can help save them,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Aye, but at what price?” Jamie persisted. “It's no' a sure thing that ye'll make it there an' back unharmed. What if someone else on the base happens tae be ill, someone who ye need tae speak to?”
Zoe felt a blush rise in her cheeks as she admitted to herself it was a possibility. Uttering a little sigh, she looked away from Jamie.
“Ye're too important tae us, Zoe. Me an' the Doctor … we cannae lose ye.”
She quickly looked back up at him, nearly shocked to hear this. The serious, almost worried, expression on Jamie's face made it seem as if his intentions were sincere.
“You're serious?” she still asked.
Jamie regarded her with wide-eyed incredulity. “Of course I am,” he told her softly. He must have noticed her leftover shock as the corner of his mouth twitched upward and he barely stifled a chuckle. “I suppose it's the last thing ye'd expect tae hear from me, but I mean it. How many times have yer smarts got us out of some real trouble?” He pointed to his head as if to emphasize his point.
She felt the heat rising even more in her cheeks and she shrugged, embarrassed. “It's not just me. The Doctor himself is quite intelligent and deserves a lot of credit. He's nearly as smart as I am.”
She caught Jamie rolling his eyes and the brief look of annoyance on his face. “I'm no' gonna argue with ye aboot that again, but … Och,” he grumbled, sounding as if he lost his train of logic. “I mean, the Doctor is verra smart, smarter than I could ever hope tae be, but he's made plenty of mistakes. Ye know he has. Ye've helped us out more times than I can remember."
Zoe sighed, gazing at her hands. “I suppose I have.” It made her stomach churn to realize she was having doubts. Returning her gaze to Jamie, she found him regarding her almost fondly and the troubling thoughts began to fade.
“Don't count yourself out, Jamie,” she heard herself tell him. “You may not be able to match either of us as far as intelligence goes, but you're very practical.” She lowered her head slightly in shame. “Something I could only hope to strive for.”
After several moments she felt him approach her more closely, his hand resting on her shoulder.
“We'll get through this, Zoe,” he told her. “Mebbe we'll only be stuck here for another day or two. Mebbe it'll be much longer than that. But we'll be all right as long as we stay here an' don't put ourselves in danger.”
His words felt so reassuring, but a small worry still plagued her. “Many more people could get infected or die in that time,” she blurted.
Jamie shrugged. “Janus will probably come up with something himself.”
Zoe scoffed quietly. “You really think so? The lack of a separate communication channel doesn't exactly fill me with optimism.”
“Well, mebbe he'll decide tae open one up, an' then ye can tell him all aboot yer plans tae help them.” His tone carried some annoyance; perhaps Zoe was being too negative for his liking. She liked to call it 'realistic', but quite possibly she was carrying it too far.
Jamie sighed. “Look, Zoe, get some sleep, will ye?” he said, sounding quite tired himself. “It's no good for ye to be like this.”
After regarding him for a long moment, she finally nodded, conceding he was right.
Sipping some tea and gazing out the window at the bright light from the twin suns that welcomed in a new day, Zoe sighed. The tea, made with herbs that seemed quite similar to chamomile and passion flower, had a nice, smooth taste and some calming properties. It also helped that she'd finally managed to get a bit of sleep last night.
As she savored another sip, her thoughts turned to what had transpired later that night. Unwilling to argue with Jamie any longer and conceding she desperately needed sleep, she'd allowed him to escort her to her bedroom. Lying down on the bed, she made herself comfortable, trying to position herself as best as possible to allow sleep to finally arrive. Perhaps some deep breathing exercises would help clear her mind and slow her heart rate …
Opening her eyes, she turned to find Jamie about to leave the room.
He turned back, eyeing her curiously. “Yes?”
“Thank you,” she told him.
A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth and he gave a tiny shrug. “It was nothin',” he said dismissively.
His action made her grin and she closed her eyes once more, attempting to clear her mind to usher in sleep. But, no, her brain was still much too active.
Jamie had turned and had begun the trek back down the corridor.
“There's only one thing I need,” she called after him tentatively.
Jamie was back in the doorway, eyebrows raised in curiosity.
“Could you sit a little while and talk to me? I can't fall asleep just yet. My brain is still too active.” Zoe could feel her cheeks burning and she nearly felt ashamed to be asking such a request of him.
Jamie sighed tiredly. “Aye,” he finally told her with a nod before walking away. A minute later he was back, carrying a wooden chair into the room and setting it down at the side of her bed.
“Thank you,” Zoe told him gratefully.
Jamie nodded as he sat down and then gazed at her, looking a bit lost. “What d'ye want tae talk aboot?”
Zoe shook her head. “I don't know. Anything to take my mind off all this.” Jamie briefly appeared annoyed, but seemed to have thought better of it and eyed her contritely. She really did hate to ask so much of him; poor boy looked exhausted and like he could drop off any moment. Her eyes suddenly widened as an idea popped into her head. “Have you ever experienced anything like this? I mean, any sort of … plague?”
Some recognition appeared in Jamie's eyes as he quickly nodded. “Aye. No' long before Culloden, there was a plague spreadin' through the Highlands. It made a lot of people verra ill, 'specially the older ones. It took many lives. An' back then we didnae have the medicines or ways tae communicate that we have now.”
Zoe nodded. “Were you scared?”
Jamie shrugged. “Aye, a bit. But I had my family. We looked after each other an' kept each other company.” As he met Zoe's gaze, she found a small, reassuring smile on his face. “An' then after a while the plague disappeared, jus' as I'm sure this one will.”
Zoe felt a small wave of emotion upon finding so much affection and trust in his face. Realizing how lucky she was to have his friendship, she finally felt her stress begin to lift and her lips briefly twitched into a smile. “Could you tell me more about your life back then and your family?” she suddenly asked.
Jamie nodded and had begun to recount to her his Highland life. She now wished she could remember some of what he'd told her, but it was obvious she'd finally started drifting off to sleep about that time. She had no idea what time it was roughly, but she did feel refreshed when she finally woke in the morning.
Back in the present, Zoe had taken another sip of tea when her thoughts were rudely interrupted by a quick series of footsteps.
“Oh, I know she will enjoy this!”
That was the Doctor's voice. It was supplemented by a low grumble, which could only come from Jamie. She lifted her gaze to find the Doctor entering the room, carrying several interesting devices and a smile on his face a mile wide. Jamie trailed behind him, nearly dragging his feet.
“Zoe! Look at what we've found!” the Doctor greeted her excitedly.
Zoe turned to Jamie who rolled his eyes as soon as the Doctor's back was turned and then grinned, giving Zoe a slight wink.
“These are so much like the brainteaser games I remember so fondly on my own planet as a child,” the Doctor enthused. He pointed to a rather clunky, wooden one made of two separate levels. If Zoe didn't know better, it resembled a double-decker chessboard. Studying the contraption and marveling at its craftsmanship, she could barely hear the Doctor's voice in the background explaining the gameplay. Hopefully he wouldn't mind if she asked him to repeat it.
“So, what do you say? Play a game or two with me?” He was grinning so hugely in anticipation, it was hard to say no.
At first she thought she was merely indulging the Doctor, but near the end of the first round she found herself enjoying it. It was a rather clever game and, admittedly, a good way to pass the time. They'd both won a game each, and the Doctor then cajoled Jamie into playing against him.
Watching the Doctor eagerly set up the pieces on the game board, she soon found herself zoning out and her gaze settling upon the desk in the corner of the room. Her abandoned notes immediately caught her eye and she regarded them glumly, feeling the disappointment she was sure she'd conquered earlier threatening to return.
“An' I say that I'm beatin' you!”
The loud exclamation forced her out of her doldrums and her gaze refocused on her two friends. They seemed to be arguing over whose score was the highest.
“No, Jamie. The quadruple jump landed me a total of forty points,” the Doctor returned. His voice was rather calm but had an impatient edge to it.
“Did ye forget that I had two quadruple jumps an' a triple jump right before yer last turn?” Jamie continued incredulously. “An' yer score was still much lower than mine??”
Zoe nodded thoughtfully, considering the argument in full as the Doctor began to object. She had to admit Jamie was making some good points. It wouldn't surprise her if the Doctor was trying to find some technicality that would void Jamie's moves and points, leaving him with a lower score. The little man certainly was acting like a petulant child as it was. Upon that last thought, she found herself unable to resist a grin.
They had noticed if the expressions on their faces were anything to go by – Jamie's one of curiosity while the Doctor nearly looked offended.
“What are you grinning about, you-you, little know-it-all brat?!” he sputtered.
She regarded him incredulously for a brief moment before a laugh bubbled up from her stomach. “I'm grinning at you, Doctor! You're acting like a 'brat' yourself!”
Jamie's expression was wide-eyed as he nodded insistently. “Aye! See?!” He then turned back to the Doctor, offering him a glare. “Tell him I'm right, Zoe. Well, go on, then.”
Zoe chuckled inwardly before proceeding to explain as innocently as possible how Jamie was indeed winning. “I'm sorry, Doctor, but you overlooked the rule regarding cumulative jumps and how they count for extra points.” She then grinned evilly, knowing the Doctor wouldn't appreciate this but saying it nonetheless. “It's quite simple, really.”
She bit her lip to avoid laughing any further as the Doctor appeared as if he'd have smoke coming out of his ears at any minute.
Jamie certainly didn't help. “Ye're right, Zoe,” he exclaimed as he laughed and pointed at the Doctor. “He is actin' like a 'brat.' Mebbe he shoulda read the rules a little more closely, eh?”
She almost expected the Doctor to explode but he merely huffed like a petulant child, refusing to look at either of them. Jamie continued to laugh and she'd soon joined him. Perhaps this isolation business wouldn't be so bad after all. She would hopefully get a chance soon to contact Janus. But until she did, all she could do is make the best of the situation. Actually, she found herself nearly grateful for this light moment of distraction.
And she then realized that Jamie was right. No matter how long it would take, they would get through this. Because they have each other.