Monday, May 6, 1689
If anyone had noticed the tall red box standing near the quayside, no one had seen fit to remark upon it - and this in spite of the fact that it was completely out of place in its setting, being a tall red box in a place where boxes tended to be neither tall nor red. In spite of its unusual appearance, it seemed somehow to be completely ordinary, doing nothing, attracting no attention.
Even when the three people came pelting down the quay as fast as they could run, flung the doors open, and plunged inside, nobody around seemed to notice. The furious mob of pistol- and sword-waving young men who had been in hot pursuit of the trio ran straight past the tall red box, entirely failing to take note of it or consider that their quarry might have taken refuge within it.
A few moments later, with a flashing of the lamp on its roof and a strange grinding wheeze, the TARDIS Phoenix faded away and disappeared, leaving no trace that it had ever been there beyond a square impression in the dust - an impression that was wiped away moments later by a stray swirl of seaside breeze.
In the Phoenix's Console Room, the three travelers leaned against various of the room's coralesque structures, panting.
"I'll give you this, Julie," said Jack Harkness with a slightly haggard grin, "you've definitely got a way with people."
The tall, auburn-haired young woman to whom he was speaking shrugged expressively. "All I said was that the Baron was an indifferently educated halfwit. Which he is."
"I don't think that's what he took offense at, actually," Jack told her. "I suspect it was probably the 'inbred, impotent catamite' part."
"I admit part of that was speculation," Julie conceded.
Jack laughed. "Good to know," he said. Then he turned to the timeship's pilot. Rose Tyler still stood leaning forward against the Phoenix's control console, one hand braced amid the improvised-looking helm controls, shoulders hunched under her black leather jacket. "Hey," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You OK?"
Rose turned her head to look at him, a puzzled expression on her face. "I think so," she said, and then, "Just got a - stitch in my side. Can't seem - to catch - my breath."
Then, as Jack stared at her in horror, a trickle of blood ran from the corner of her mouth. She moved her other hand, which she'd had pressed against her side inside her open jacket, and then blinked in consternation to find it streaked with crimson. Looking down at herself, she registered the stain spreading slowly under her white T-shirt.
"... Oh," she said, then stumbled away from the console, nearly falling. Jack caught her and half-walked, half-dragged her across to the brown leather settee that stood at the base of one of the coral support columns.
"How'd that happen?" Rose wondered, sounding somewhere between confused and indignant, as she hiked up her shirt to regard the wound.
"One of the Baron's men must have hit you on our way out the window," said Jack, his usual flippancy erased by urgency as he dug around under the console for the first aid kit. "Just hang on."
"How did I not notice getting shot?" Rose demanded, sounding more annoyed than anything else.
Jack returned to her side, propping the kit open on the settee next to her, then set to work with the medical scanner. "Come on, come on," he mumbled.
Julie crouched next to the settee and took Rose's hand in both of hers. "I'm so sorry," she said, bowing her head over their hands. "This is all my fault."
"Hey, hey, relax," said Rose, patting their hands with her bloody free one; then, muttering, "oh, sorry," she removed it.
"Relax? How can I relax?" Julie demanded. "I could have restrained myself, for once in my life. I could have not needled the Baron to the point of violence. But I did it anyway, because I thought it would be fun, and now look what has happened!"
"It's just a flesh wound," said Rose, but as she said it, Jack looked up from the scanner, his face grave, and shook his head.
"If you've got a canister of nanogenes kicking around someplace, now's the time," he said with a weak attempt at a smile. Julie all but collapsed, her forehead on their still-linked hands, weeping bitterly.
"OK, then, not just a flesh wound," said Rose, her voice a bit fainter. "On to plan C... " she murmured, closing her eyes.
Jack set the scanner aside and took her free hand. "Rose," he said urgently. "There must be someplace we can go to get help. Give me some coordinates and I'll see what I can do."
Rose opened one eye and gave him a sardonic look, then emitted a chuckle that turned into a cough. "We know what you can do when I let you drive, 'Captain' Harkness," she said wryly. "It involves glaciers."
In spite of her grief, Julie had to laugh at that, though it transmuted instantly into a stifled sob. Rose sighed and settled back on the couch, looking for all the world like she was just tired and trying to get comfortable.
"Rose," said Jack sharply. "C'mon, stay with me. Have we got a, a distress beacon or something? Can't we call the Doctor? Or Griffin, or Romana, or somebody?"
Rose gave another sigh, opened her eyes, and told him as sternly as someone in such a weakened state could tell someone, "Will you please stop wittering? I have to concentrate. I'll be back in a minute."
So saying, she closed her eyes once more, sinking fully back onto the cushions. After a few seconds her brow furrowed as if in puzzlement; without opening her eyes, she mumbled,
"... that's funny... "
And then, with a long exhalation, she went absolutely still.
Jack blinked tears from his eyes and stared at her in horror. "Oh no," he whispered. "No, no, no."
With a sharp intake of breath that made her startled friends jump back, Rose suddenly sat bolt upright. Her eyes snapped open, an eerie glow flickering behind them.
"Oh yes," she said, in a vaguely uncanny impression of the way the Doctor often said it, and then she seemed to explode in a roaring storm of otherworldly orange light that poured from the sleeves of her jacket and the collar of her shirt. The Console Room's lights flickered, the gravity fluctuated, several of the overhead hoses disconnected with writhing sprays of steam, and sparks burst from a number of places on the console. Relays chunked and clattered somewhere beneath the deckplates as automatic failsafe systems sprang into action. Above the sudden cacophony, Rose's voice soared in a high, sustained wail that might've been anguish, or ecstasy, or both.
Then, as abruptly as it began, it was over, and Rose sprawled back on the settee in the sudden dim quiet, blinking wide-eyed at the ceiling, her chest heaving as if she'd just surfaced from slightly too long underwater.
"Whaaaa!" she cried, sitting up and looking at her hands. Shaking her head, she got unsteadily to her feet and looked around at the shambles she'd made of the Console Room. "Woo! Now that's what I call a bloody ride! A-plus plus plus would buy again!" She raised her hands and pushed them through her hair, then dropped them to her sides and shook herself like a wet dog. "Somebody kiss me."
Julie straightened up from the defensive crouch she'd assumed when Rose had... whatever she'd just done. She hesitated, but only for a moment, since truth be told, she'd wanted to do exactly that since she'd first met this gorgeous mad Englishwoman.
So she did.
"Hmm," said Rose with a judicious expression once Julie had released her. "Not bad! Never kissed a girl before. On the other hand, I never died before either. It's a day for firsts! I - whoa, 'ang on." With a sudden thoughtful frown, she felt at her upper chest, first one side, then the other. "That's new," she mused. "Take some getting used to. They're not even in sync. Kind of a bossa nova thing going on there. I wonder if that's bad?" Shrugging, she turned to Jack, who stood staring at her with bafflement all over his face. "What?" she asked.
He looked at her for a few more seconds, then said, "... You didn't change."
Rose went to the console and looked at her dim reflection in the surface of the blank master monitor, then turned back to Jack. "'Course I didn't. Why would I want to?" she asked, then grinned. "Look at me."
"What just happened?" Julie wondered.
"Sorry, right, no briefing," said Rose. "Bit distracted. You know, the whole fatal gunshot wound thing. What were we doing?"
Before either of her companions could answer, the Phoenix lurched as if she had struck something. More sparks, more smoke, and from somewhere far away, the low and ominous tolling of a bell.
"Oh!" said Rose brightly, clearly thrilled with the discovery, as she commenced grappling with the sparking console. "Crashing! Brilliant!"
Julie and Jack looked at each other, then lunged for handholds.
"The Only Thing" - a New Frontier(?) mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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