The Impossible Situation
“That’s . . . that’s impossible,” the Doctor muttered words he never expected would consciously pass his lips.
He felt River sidle up next to him, her towel-clad body brushing against his, her wet hair smelling of lavender. “Now that statement is only fact in fiction,” she said, peering over his shoulder to the section of the console he was working at. “You taught me that.” He quickly shifted his body around, chest to chest, to block her line of sight. She grinned and teased, “And when have we ever kept secrets, my darling?”
He touched the tip of her nose, “We’re built on them.”
“Quick sand,” she whispered, passing him by. She flipped a few switches on the console before turning away from the controls. Swim time was over and his intentions towards River Song were stated as clear as they could be to Rory without risking a retaliatory punch in the nose for too much honesty. He could not be perfectly sure but there had possibly been a shotgun poolside engagement, sans shotgun of course.
River padded, barefooted, from the control room through to a doorway that led to the wing of the TARDIS that housed her room. Amelia had run past them just minutes before and Rory was packing away the colorful community of floatation toys the TARDIS was home to. It may not have children’s clothes but it never lacked in toys. The Doctor considered for a moment if that was altogether healthy . . .
River reentered the console room dried, dressed and ready less than half a minute later.
The Doctor turned to her in acknowledgement and then thought better of it as he spun around completely agape. “How did you—” he began, looking over across to her and then absently around as if he’d missed something quite significant. For a moment he wondered just how deep in thought he had been to actually lose time. It was a terrifying thought and one he did not want to give residence to for too long in his mind. “Did you just leave or am I getting far too old?”
“I thought you saw. I sped up the time stream in my room,” she said as casually as if she’d just taken out the trash. She bounced up to the deck while he continued to openly stare at her.
He looked around again and then moved in close to her. “You can do that?”
“You never have?” She asked, shocked.
“Well, of course to your point of view I have and possibly many times but no, you don’t have to look so surprised, I haven’t,” he said in a single mumble.
She smirked. “Being a child of the TARDIS has its perks.” Moving in close to him she said very quietly, “I’ll show you. It’s easy. You could be in there for hours and no one would know . . .”
His mind went immediately to places it needed ID to enter and the grin forming on his face was nearly—
“Did you get anything yet?” Rory asked, walking in from the doorway leading through to the pool. He was wearing a terrycloth robe in dark blue and a towel was being worked through his wet hair. River and the Doctor took immediate steps away from one another and busied themselves on the console.
“Unfortunately,” the Doctor began and completely to himself. “No,” he said to Rory. “Not yet.”
Nodding, his frustration clear, Rory turned up towards his and Amy’s room when he realized—
“We can’t share a room.” It was said mostly as a loud thought and it stopped him in his steps. “She’s eight,” he said, looking over to River and the Doctor. “This entire situation is quite illegal. I’m married to an eight year old. This is the TARDIS, not Utah.”
The Doctor and River glanced to one another, neither knowing exactly what to say.
“Well,” the Doctor began, “Oh, well, I knew a man once, Time Lord, he had a wife and children and grandchildren and so on. Had a bit of an accident and regenerated into an infant. Completely skewed his family dynamics for a while, as you can imagine.”
River giggled to herself as if in on an inside joke and the Doctor spun to her, half-petrified. She laughed, “Oh, I’m kidding.”
“But, you wouldn’t tell me anyway, would you?”
Lightly she responded by saying, “Not at all.”
Rory waved his hands to regain their attention. “Hello? Was this man’s wife a Time Lord—”
“Lady,” both the Doctor and River said, correcting him.
“Time Lady as well? Because if she was, she could just wait for him. If we don’t fix this I’ll be Hugh Hefner.” They both looked at the robe he was presently wearing and said nothing. Nothing at all.
Almost to himself the Doctor said, “I don’t know when Amy became a menagerie—”
“Take my room,” River offered. She turned to the console and flicked a few switches. “I’ll bake you another if we don’t get through tonight.”
Holding out his hand to his daughter, Rory said, “Thank you, River.” He went to go change.
The Doctor looked to her and frowned, “You don’t have to bake another; we have plenty of spare rooms.”
“I know. I slowed down the time stream in mine just now.” She turned to him, a brow arched and her eyes smoldering. “We’ll be alone for a while.”
The Doctor gulped and awkwardly looked around the control room considering how uncomfortable each surface now seemed to him when River shook her head.
“Eyes front, soldier. No, we can talk.”
He grinned, devilishly. She laughed. “Focus. I meant about the present situation. You have something but you didn’t tell him. What is it?”
“Oh! Oh, of course. That was exactly . . . what I was thinking. What on earth were you thinking? Bad girl—”
“Right,” he spun around and went to the monitor. “Well, apparently that is an Etgard transport. Ancient race, long thought dead, lovely people. This one has been so modified that I didn’t immediately recognize it.”
“Upgrades?” River asked regarding the modifications. She looked at the specifications and blue prints that he showed her of a standard factory-grade Etgard transport and of the invisible ship above the woman’s house. They differed in significant ways but they were clearly of the same genesis.
“No. Salvage,” he replied. “There’s earth-tech cobbled all over it and see here?” He asked, pointing to a section on the ship.
River looked to the baseline specs and then to the exterior view of the ship. “Is that the radiation shielding? My God it’s—”
“Completely destroyed. Burned as if they traveled right alongside a star.”
“Did you find any signs of life on board?”
“No. Salad. That ship is a floating planter now. Given her age we can safely assume that woman is Etgard and given the condition of her ship I believe she is the only one who survived. This is where we get to the impossibility of the situation.”
“Your repetition of that is starting to worry me.”
He lightly rubbed a knuckle down her arm and quietly said, “Never let anyone do that, least of all me.”
She smiled and leaned a bit against him before turning back to the monitor. “Then let me worry for my mother. What’s the impossible situation?”
“The Etgard were fonts of youth. They never reached advanced age.”
“Eternally young? How?”
“They took childhoods.”
With a frown, River asked, “And these were somehow ‘lovely people?’”
“Oh yes. The entire universe used to flock to Etgardis to have their childhoods taken. It was a beautifully symbiotic society. There were waiting lists.”
“I think then, you’re going to have to define ‘taking childhoods’ because as it is—”
“Ah, yes. Very monster under the bed I suppose.” He thought of it a moment before saying, “Consider age as a building. Time adds another storey to that building year by year. Now, picture someone twenty years old, they would be twenty storeys tall. The Etgard would consume the first ten storeys. Now all that would remain is eleven to twenty but architecturally, eleven through twenty cannot stand unsupported and so they would collapse atop one another creating a new building, ten storeys tall.”
She understood. “They take the childhood and become young while the person they took the childhood from also becomes young.” She considered that. “That’s amazing. How does a race like that die off?”
“How do all great peoples disappear?” He asked, his voice just a bit withdrawn. “There was a war. Not all societies believe eternal youth is something to be given, shared or even allowed to exist.”
River absorbed that. “So, does the impossibility lie in an Etgard being here on earth or that she is so old? Of all people, why would she steal mother’s childhood?”
“That’s what’s impossible. The Etgard don’t steal. They can’t. Physically they cannot just take what isn’t freely given. Don’t ask me how but somehow, last night, your mother wanted to be a child again so badly that she connected to the Etgard and gave her those years, not the other way around. The TARDIS must have boosted the signal.”
“You’re telling me that my mother wanted to be a child again?”
“Perhaps not consciously but so much so that it became consent. Yes.”
River relaxed against the railing and let out a slow exhale. For as long as she’d known her mother, Amy had wanted to run away from her childhood memories. They were of particular pain to her. She’d wanted to be a grown up so badly that in every situation they were in together she was always playing the role of mother without even knowing the truth of it. Of course, there had been a time when they were very young and Amelia yearned for her Blue Box man to come back and take her on adventures. Before their universe was re-written she had just wanted to escape from a life without her parents. Which Amy had made that wish last night?
“I suppose shaking down the old woman to give back the years would be bad form then.”
The Doctor leaned against the railing next to her and folded his arms across his chest. “Very bad form I think. Add that to the fact that I was quite serious when I said the Etgard are honestly delightful people I’m concerned about her.”
“The only time you ever see advanced age in an Etgard is when they chose to die. With so many people on the planet yearning for youth it’s a wonder she reached this age without making up her mind to do so.”
“Are you saying she’s suicidal?”
He dismissed that word with displeasure. “That’s assuming far too much but if anything, a suicidal person does not wait for old age to get them. No. I’d just say she’s tired. She’s tired, ancient and very much alone.” River absently took his hand and gave it a comforting squeeze, her other hand tenderly chafing his forearm. It was as if she’d done it so many times before that she knew exactly what he truly needed in that instant. Beyond all the teasing and all the flirting, it was the most intimate thing that had passed between them since he’d met her and she possibly didn’t realize how many spoilers were carried along with it.
He looked across to her taking in her profile, her eyes staring ahead in concentration, not witnessing all the emotions roiling through him in that short space of time. He calmed himself and pushed them back. There was a lifetime ahead still. A full lifetime ahead.
“I can’t imagine how she felt waking up this morning, sixteen years younger,” River mumbled.
The Doctor cleared his throat and nodded. “No wonder she was cross.”
“Well, that’s a simple solution then, isn’t it? Assuming we’re not assuming too much that is? If she doesn’t want the years she can give them back, can’t she?”
“An Etgard can’t just foist age on a person who doesn’t want it.”
“Then we need to settle that point with mother—”
“What point?” Amelia asked from a catwalk as she stood on her hands.
“What are you—” the Doctor began to say.
“We used to compete,” Amelia said with a laugh in her voice. Triumphantly she added, “I always won.”
River looked scandalized. “She used to cheat,” she said defensively. Pointedly she added, “She kicks.”
“Amy, you used to kick your daughter?”
Amelia immediately rolled up and onto her feet, her eyes wide in shock. She wavered a little as the blood settled from her brain. “Oye. Don’t say it like that! You’ll get me arrested.”
They both looked to her from the deck, her red hair flying about her head and her face a puce color. She was adorably tiny.
“Mother, I somehow don’t believe anyone would arrest you for child abuse.”
Amelia was in a new t-shirt and new shorts. Her previously red socks were now pink. Without announcement, she did a cartwheel.
“Eight,” River announced.
“What? That was at least a nine!” Amelia protested.
“Straighten your back next time and it will be,” River said with a shrug.
“Ladies,” the Doctor interrupted. “As fascinating as this is, we should probably . . .”
“Right,” River said. She looked back to Amelia. “Yes or no, did you want this to happen?”
“That’s rather direct,” the Doctor said.
“She’s my mother.”
“And my best friend.”
“So . . .?” River inquired in a tone that pretty much said, stay out of it.
“Never mind then.”
“Did I want to be a kid again?” Amelia asked, jogging to the console. “How literally are we asking? I mean, doesn’t everybody sort of want that?”
“Sort of want, yes,” the Doctor repeated in agreement. “But they recognize the consequences of that desire, Amy.” In saying that, he suddenly understood that the consequences of that desire, for Amelia Pond in particular, outweighed her current reality. Wasn’t this the age when everything was possible for her? Before he met her and changed her life, as he saw it, for the worse? Every bad memory of her past was real and every good memory of her past she’d invented after she wove the universe back together. Amelia Pond never had a real, genuinely happy childhood.
“You’re both going on like this is my fault,” she said. “I didn’t ask for this. I woke up and it happened. It just happened.” She looked between them and suddenly realized what they were asking. “Oh,” she said, very quietly. “Things like this don’t just happen, do they?”
The Doctor shook his head. “No, Amy, I’m sorry, they don’t.”
“So, what? I just wish really hard and click my heels three times and suddenly I’m Amy again?”
“You have to want it and we also have to visit a very old woman to set this right.”
Amelia sank down to the steps and exhaled. “I was having so much fun too,” she said, leaning her head against the posts.
“Oh,” the Doctor said, coming around to her and sitting next to her on the steps. “You can have fun on the TARDIS being Amy.”
It was the look she gave him that cored out a piece of both his hearts. It was a sideways knowing look that was shadowed in a smile but hid her true feelings. Her life thus far on the TARDIS was severely lacking in fun. Death, danger and kidnapping, yes, but fun?
“This is how I always pictured it would be,” she said, moving in close to him, her head on his shoulder. “All the stories I made up. I didn’t even know you but it was like this. Just like this. Giant candy and a pool in the library. I sometimes wrote in Rory and Mels and we’d have adventures,” she moved her hand across before them like a plane. “And I didn’t have to worry about them all the time. I didn’t have to worry about Rory getting hurt or Mels getting in trouble because you’d be there and you’d do all of that and I’d just be me.”
“And then you got here and it was nothing like that,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“No,” she smiled. “Now I worry about you too.”
“It’s okay. I can do this.”
River slowly shook her head and understood the core of the impossible situation. “No, mother, you can’t.”
The Doctor closed his eyes and Amy just looked up with a knot in her brow. “What?”
“No one wants that. No one desires to have that much anxiety and responsibility.”
Looking back to River and then to Amy, the Doctor said, “I ran away from that kind of thing a very long time ago.”
“Are you saying I’m stuck?” Amelia asked, actual fear passing over her features for the first time since this escapade began. “I can’t be stuck.”
“You have to want to grow up but the conditions you have—” River began to say.
“Are prohibitive,” the Doctor said.
“So,” Amy said, thinking through what they were telling her. “I need to fancy something that makes me want to be grown up more than my wanting to be a kid? Is that right?”
A door opened and Rory walked in, fiddling with his watch. “That can’t be right. Doctor, I think my watch—”
He glanced across to see the Doctor, Amelia and River all looking up to him. Something had changed in Amelia’s face and they’d both recognized it immediately. Amelia turned to them and she nodded. “Okay.”
“You’re sure now?” The Doctor asked.
“Get us to the old lady, Raggedy Doctor,” she smiled, leaping from the stairs and heading over to Rory.
“What’s going on?” Rory asked as Amelia took his hand and looked up into his eyes like a child with her first crush. He found it quite disturbing.
“We’ve solved the impossible situation,” the Doctor said, quickly shrugging on his coat. “We are about to get your wife back.”
Rory frowned, “What? Solved in the whole minute I was gone?”
River and the Doctor exchanged glances and reaching over very slightly, River corrected the time stream in her room.
“Um, yes,” the Doctor said. “I’m quite good like that. Come along, off we go.” He held open the front doors leading to Surrey when a booming explosion rocked the ground beneath them. A wailing alarm began to go off and multiple car alarms followed close behind.
“What was that?” Rory demanded, rushing to the doors. He and the Doctor looked out to the neighborhood and saw, just in the distance, explosions appearing in thin air over the street where the woman lived. “Blue sparks . . . blue sparks,” Rory muttered, trying to recall what blue sparks meant from the notes in the library. “The engines are inversing?”
“What’s that mean?” Amelia asked having squeezed between them, her little red head poking through to see.
“River,” the Doctor called. She was next to him, her curls just above Amelia. “You were right.”
“Dear Lord,” River muttered, instantly recognizing the blue sparks and what they meant. “She is suicidal.”
“She’s inversing the magnetism. She’s going to bring that ship down on her and everyone in its path,” the Doctor said.
“Shut the doors!” River demanded, racing up to the console. The Doctor pulled Amelia and Rory back and slammed the doors. River pulled down a few switches and turned a handful of knobs and the TARDIS began to quickly phase.
“We have to be right at the center point,” the Doctor commanded, running up alongside her.
“Yes, my darling I know. Pull the forward—”
“Yes, my dear, I know,” he absently said, yanking on a free spring.
“What are you two doing?” Rory asked as he held Amelia up in his arms.
“Reversing the inversion!” They said at the same time.
Rory ran through all the new engineering in his mind and understood that statement as, “You’re going to use the TARDIS to keep that ship afloat?”
“Long enough to evacuate,” River said.
“One!” The Doctor called out.
“Two!” River responded.
“Three!” They said, flipping switches at the same time as the TARDIS landed at the epicenter of the Etgard ship just as it was about to crash into dozens of houses. They were in the woman’s front lawn. Magnetic waves jolted from the roof of the phone box and hit the larger ship in its center mass. The invisibility cloaking shorted and the area was thrown into darkness as the Etgard ship was made suddenly apparent to everyone now looking outside their windows to the commotion. A hovering spaceship that was sending out sparks and explosions was enough of an evacuation cry as there ever was. People began screaming.
“Rory, go and collect her please,” the Doctor asked but it was most definitely a command.
“The old woman? Me?” Rory asked, shock clear on his face.
“We can’t release these switches,” the Doctor explained. “I suspect seeing as she’s bringing down the ship, she won’t evacuate so yes, unless you want your wife to remain a child for the near future, please go and collect the old woman.”
He nodded. “Right,” he said, placing Amelia down but when he turned to go, she clung onto him.
“I’m going with you,” she said.
“No, you’re staying here. It’s not safe—”
“Rory Williams, I may look like a child but don’t you dare treat me like one!”
“Amy—” Without waiting for him to put his foot down with her, Amelia Pond ran out of the TARDIS. “Amy!” Rory shouted, racing behind her and out into the darkness.