IX. Farewell in Eros
- see previous chapter – Author’s Note:
Here’s the latest chapter, sorry for the delayed update. As usual constructive criticism is welcomed as well as your votes and recs if you think this story deserves it. Thanks!
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = IX. Farewell in Eros
AWKWARD SILENCE. THAT WAS WHAT stood between the Doctor and Astra over the next two days. The only time that they spoke to each other was during their recon meetings; and that only lasted a good ten minutes or less.
River thought it was cute at first, but after two days she was ready to wring both their necks.
“This is ridiculous, Doctor,” River hissed when it was just the two of them in the TARDIS. Astra went out on a ‘date’ with a glamoured Erosian – their first real lead since returning back to Eros almost five days ago – to find out where the Stygos are hiding.
River and the Doctor were monitoring Astra’s every movement inside the TARDIS. Since it was night Astra switched to wearing eyeglasses with ungraded lenses, however it still functions the same as her sunglasses. Also it doubled as a surveillance camera for the TARDIS so whatever was showing on the screen was actually happening in real-time wherever Astra was.
“What is ridiculous?” the Doctor asked his eyes not straying away from the monitor. Although he and Astra barely talked since the incident a few days ago that hasn’t stopped the Doctor from keeping an eye on her. In fact ever since that incident something inside him kicked in to overprotective drive, more so than usual.
“You and Astra.”
“What about us?” he frowned. “We’re doing fine, aren’t we?” He turned to his curly haired blond companion with a frown.
River crossed her arms over her chest, rested the side of her hip against the console and cocked an eyebrow at the Doctor.
“You two never talked about the snog you shared a couple of days ago,” she pointed out.
“Yeah we did,” the Doctor answered without skipping a beat.
“Oh really?” River didn’t believe him.
The Doctor took his eyes off the monitor long enough to meet River’s gaze, “Yeah,” he nodded then returned his gaze back on the monitor in front of him.
River was starting to lose her patience with the insufferable Time Lord.
“Doctor…” she hissed.
“Whaaat?” the Doctor singsonged.
“You are skirting around the problem.”
“I am not,” he denied. “And why are you nagging me about this anyway? I already told you, Astra and I discussed what happened and it won’t happen again.”
River was poised to say something back, but their argument was put on hold when Astra interrupted them via her comm-link.
“Sorry to break your little tête-à-tête, but I think I’ve just been made,” Astra hissed to the link.
“What?” River and the Doctor said together and both looked at the monitor.
The scene changed from the busy boulevard where Astra met her ‘date’ for the evening to somewhere dark and less populated. The streetlights were pretty bad and instead of the tall and bright buildings of Eros’ Main Boulevard, this part she was being taken to looked more like the slums.
“Hang tight. I’ll get a lock on your coordinates and get you out,” River promised before the Doctor could reassure Astra.
“Lock on her coordinates?” the Doctor echoed. “In case you’ve forgotten, the TARDIS makes quite a racket when it appears and disappears,” he reminded the stubborn blonde time traveler.
“I know,” River answered. She was fiddling with her time vortex manipulator strapped to her wrist trying to get a fix on Astra’s exact location. “Now shush while I try and get a fixed lock on her location.” She tuned out the Doctor after that. She used the comm-link to get a fix on Astra’s location.
“You are not taking me—whoa!” the Doctor yelped when River’s hand clamped on his wrist and zapped the two of them out of the TARDIS and on to where Astra was taken by her supposed ‘date’ for the evening.
River let go of the Doctor once they materialized outside a five-storey high brownstone building. He didn’t look happy about her choice of transportation for them, but she didn’t want to waste any time getting them to Astra’s location on foot.
Once they regained their bearings River and the Doctor scanned the area. They looked at the brownstone building and noted some windows on certain floors were smashed or partially hanging by its hinges. The first four floors were dark, but there was a light on the topmost floor and the windows on said floor weren’t smashed.
“I say Astra’s on the very top floor,” River pointed upwards.
The Doctor followed River’s finger and zeroed in on the location she was referring to. He reached for his trusty sonic screwdriver tucked away in his left inside coat pocket and pulled it out.
“We need a plan,” he thought out loud.
“Ya think?” Astra hissed.
The Doctor made a face at the lack of faith in his companion’s tone.
“I’m formulating a plan now,” he told both his companions.
River made a face at him. Clearly she was on Astra’s side on not believing him that he was formulating a plan on how to save Astra and reprimand the Stygos posing as Erosians and causing countless happy couples misery.
“I am,” he insisted and without bothering to tell them what he was thinking about he walked ahead of River and entered the building where Astra was being held captive. He missed seeing River roll her eyes at him and the face as well as strangulating gesture she made when he walked past.
“We’re on our way,” River informed Astra as she followed the Doctor.
“But what’s the plan?” Astra demanded. She wasn’t hissing anymore.
“Making it up as I go along,” answered the Doctor. “Now you be a good girl and make yourself comfortable while River and I figure out a way to save you.”
River’s eyes widen when she heard she was supposed to be thinking of a way to rescue Astra from her captors. Astra wasn’t randomly picked like the other couples. She was specifically picked and asked on a date right away. If River knew the Stygos’ M.O., they’d court their prey first until they were putty in their hands then end their blissful existence.
“As if I have a choice,” Astra grumbled.
“That’s a good girl,” teased the Doctor.
“Must you be so damn patronizing and condescending, Doctor?” she snapped.
“I am not,” he denied. “I just want you to feel comfortable and not to worry.”
“If I have my stuff with me I wouldn’t be worrying. Heck, I wouldn’t even need you to rescue me while you figure out a way to do so,” Astra boasted.
“You confiscated her weapons?” River slapped his shoulder hard as a reprimand.
“Ow!” the Doctor jumped and rubbed the spot River slapped. “If she is to continue traveling with me I do not want a hostile companion.”
“My kit is not a gun, Doctor. I thought you only oppose carrying and using guns?” Astra interjected.
“I oppose any and all kinds of weaponry,” he corrected.
“Ah, so instead of opting for a laser screwdriver you stuck with your sonic,” Astra mocked. “Really, Doctor, sometimes you will have to use some sort of weapon to oust your opponent,” she pointed out.
“I agree with her,” River seconded.
The Doctor scowled at River for taking Astra’s side of the argument yet again.
“You seem to be getting a bit too chatty, Astra. How come you’re no longer hissing?” the Doctor decided to change the subject and concentrate on rescuing Astra.
“That’s because I am left all by my lonesome self at the moment. My date ditched me as soon as we got here. By the way I was presented to the leader of their brethren at least that was what I was told after I was practically shoved in front of this hideously looking beast like that one we saw killing those people.”
“And you’re still alive?” River couldn’t help from sounding surprised.
“Yeah. Couldn’t believe it either. I thought I was a goner, but their leader took one good and long look at me then snapped his bony-clawy fingers. I was taken away and locked up in one of the rooms with a window, but its ceiling height so I can’t use it to escape,” she explained.
“Do you have any idea where on the upper floor you’re at?” asked the Doctor.
“Sorry, I’m all turned around. Can’t tell north from south at the moment.”
The Doctor and River exchanged looks. They will have to split up in order to find the room Astra was sent to.
“She’ll most likely be guarded,” the Doctor surmised.
“I’m armed,” River assured him. She pulled out her gun from the holster hidden under her jacket. “I’ll go this way and you head that way,” she pointed left for her direction and pointed the other way indicating where she wanted the Doctor to go. “We are all connected by the link so we can keep tabs on each other that way,” she reminded him.
“I have a couple of guards standing outside the door,” Astra informed them.
“How’d you know that?” the Doctor asked.
“I peeked through the keyhole,” she answered.
“Oh. Smart girl,” the Doctor grinned.
“I am not some hapless damsel in distress, Doctor. You know that I can hold my own when crisis arise,” she told him indignantly.
The Doctor didn’t think she couldn’t handle herself. He still remembered how she took down those Pizes back in Phizix. She didn’t even think twice about what she was doing and just aimed and shot their pursuers.
“Alright. River and I are splitting up,” he informed her then exchanged one quick look with his other companion. “Good luck,” he told her then took off to the direction River told him to go.
ASTRA DIDN’T LIKE FEELING HELPLESS, but that was what she was at the moment. How the heck did River manage to get away carrying her gun with her even while on the TARDIS and yet she was told by the Doctor to remove all sorts of weaponry on her person?
“Found me yet?” she asked no one in particular. The Doctor and River had been quiet for at least five minutes now since they told her they were splitting up in search of her.
“I am looking at your glamoured guards right now,” it was River who answered. “What about you, Doctor? Found Astra’s missing date and the rest of his pack?”
“Not quite,” replied the Doctor. “Can you take down the guards?” he asked.
“Not without making a lot of noise,” River answered.
“You know how to engage in hand-to-hand combat, River?” Astra asked thinking up a plan on how she and River can overpower her two guards.
“As long as your guards keep their glamoured forms I can engage in hand-to-hand,” she answered.
“Okay. Just give me a couple of minutes.”
“What are you going to do?” questioned River.
“Just wait for me to tell you when to attack,” Astra told the other woman. She positioned herself with the door in front of her. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the two guards she saw standing on the other side of the closed door. Her body glowed a glittery bright light for a few seconds as she focused on the guards as well as the locked door. She heard a faint click a few seconds later indicating that she succeeded unlocking the door. A few more seconds and the bright glow she was emanating disappeared.
“Okay, you ready, River?” she asked the other woman.
“I am, but I still am not sure what you’re up to.”
“Don’t worry, they’re stuck in their glamoured forms now no matter how hard they try to unglamour themselves,” she reassured the worried time traveler. “I managed to unlock the door so I’ll cause some distraction so they won’t see you attacking.”
“Okay,” River agreed.
Astra nodded and took a deep breath. She reached for the doorknob and slowly turned it to make sure that it was indeed unlocked. When it turned on her touch she didn’t waste time opening the door.
Everything happened in a blur. Astra whipped the door open causing the two Stygos to turn and investigate. As soon as they turned they received a roundhouse kick from Astra. They barely had time to recover from the blow when River attacked them from behind.
River and Astra took a Stygos each, engaging both aliens in a hand-to-hand combat. The Stygos were trying to revert back to their original forms, but received a shock when their glamour wouldn’t disappear.
“What did you do?” River asked when she and Astra ended up standing with their backs against each other.
“Nothing too serious,” Astra shrugged. “I just fiddled with their glamour manipulator, leaving them stuck in their current forms,” she explained.
“How?” River gave her companion a quick look, disbelief crossing her face as she looked at Astra’s smiling face.
“Magic,” was Astra’s nonchalant reply before bracing herself for the Stygo’s attack. Both Stygos were disarmed the moment they started battling against them, and both Astra and River made sure neither one reached their guns to alert the others buy firing at them.
THE DOCTOR HEARD THE SCUFFLE before he saw the pair of winged male bodies flew past him. He was thankful he was still an agile fellow even though he was already over 900-years-old and ducked out of the way just in time as the bodies flew past him. Once he was assured that no more unexpected flying objects – or aliens – would hinder his pursuit, he approached the direction the bodies flew from and poked his head. He found River and Astra standing outside the room he assumed was Astra’s prison for a short time. Both women were panting hard, hands braced against their thighs and they were both bent forward as they catch their breaths. They were still on full alert since they resumed a fighting stance when he approached.
“Oh, it’s just you,” Astra quickly dropped her defenses when she recognized the Doctor. She didn’t look the least bit scared by his unexpected appearance.
The Doctor felt a bit perturbed that Astra didn’t find his presence threatening. He knew he shouldn’t feel dejected, but it still grated him that she barely thinks him capable of inflicting any harm on her person.
River noticed the Doctor’s annoyance, but she figured it would be best not to comment on it. She knew it bothered him that Astra was able to easily disregard him the way she did.
“What did you find out?” River asked to end yet another awkward silence that was about to befall them.
The Doctor turned his attention to River and addressed her question. He still hasn’t shaken off Astra’s dismissal, but he knew they were here to figure out the mystery that was the Stygos going on a killing spree on Eros.
“I didn’t see Astra’s date or his cronies anywhere,” he answered. “I checked a couple of rooms on the other side, but the rooms were empty.”
“They’re still here,” Astra said. She had her eyes closed, her head extended back and her arms are out. She looked like she was feeling something out of thin air with her pose.
“I beg to differ,” said the Doctor.
Astra opened her eyes and turned to the Doctor. “They’re cloaked,” she deadpanned.
“Cloaked?” echoed the Doctor.
Astra cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. She walked past the Doctor towards the opposite direction.
River and the Doctor exchanged looks then followed the blonde woman. Astra sensed their presence behind her. She held up her hand to tell them to stop while she tried to focus her energy on finding out which room was cloaked by the Stygos.
“What are you doing?” whispered the Doctor.
“Shh,” Astra pressed her index finger against her lips. “They’re still here but unaware of your presence,” she told him.
“How can you be sure?” River asked.
“I can sense it,” she replied and pried her eyes open. She turned and faced her two companions. “I suggest we head back to the TARDIS and come up with a plan to apprehend these Stygos,” she suggested.
“What for?” frowned the Doctor. “I told you, I have a plan going.”
“Yeah, you did mention that, but right now your plan-on-the-fly wouldn’t work. I met their leader, remember? Somehow he doesn’t strike me as someone easily overpowered or outsmarted.”
“I’m with Astra on this one,” River voiced her opinion. “We need a solid plan if we are to take on these Stygos.”
“But-but…” the Doctor sputtered, looking from one companion to the next then decided to concede. They outnumbered him and in as much as he hated to admit it, Astra was right. His penchant for making up a plan as he goes along wouldn’t work in this case.
Astra was specifically targeted this evening by the Stygos. Somehow that didn’t bode well with him. All the couples the Stygos targeted before were picked at random and according to River a song-and-dance courtship would ensue until their prey were putty in each other’s hands.
THIS IS RIDICULOUS,” hissed the Doctor angrily. He and River were back in the TARDIS after River transported Astra back to the abandoned building she was taken to.
River left Astra back in the room she was locked in. Astra helped River put the two incapacitated guards back to their posts, their memories wiped clean of what just happened and Astra locked up in the room once again.
“It’s the only plan we have,” River hissed back at him. They were monitoring Astra via her glasses still. So far Astra’s date hasn’t come back for her yet, and that was what’s bothering the Doctor. According to Astra the Stygos were still in the building, however they placed themselves in a parallel time to cloak their presence, which was why the Doctor didn’t see them when he searched the place.
“I still don’t like this,” he muttered outloud.
“What’s to like, Doctor? I’m not exactly thrilled to be bait, but here I am as bait,” Astra snarled voicing out her opinion via the comm-link.
“Who volunteered to be bait, hm?” snapped the Doctor.
“Stop it, both of you!” River intervened before things get worse. “I agree this isn’t the best plan as far as plans are concerned, but it’s the only plan we got so let us deal with it and hope that the results in our favour, hm?”
The Doctor glared at River but zipped his trap.
“I think somebody’s outside,” Astra hissed. She focused her gaze on the still closed door and waited. A few seconds later the door opened revealing her supposed date for this evening and his leader.
“You’re one of the rarest of races, Starlyte,” a deep, gravelly male voice was transmitted via the link to River and the Doctor.
“Starlyte?” the Doctor mouthed, his forehead creased to a frown as he continued to listen to the conversation happening across town.
River met his gaze and even she looked as surprised as he was. For someone who seemed to know his mysterious companion so well, River Song was completely at a loss for words by this revelation.
“I am not a Starlyte,” denied Astra.
A chorus of disbelieving chuckles echoed around the room Astra was being kept at.
“You think you can disguise your aura from us, Daughter of the Stars?” taunted the Stygos leather who didn’t bother disguising himself as an Erosian.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Astra continued to deny what the Stygos was accusing her. Her voice remained neutral, which made it impossible for the Doctor to decipher if she was lying or telling the truth.
The Doctor worked on another computer, researching everything he could about the elusive Starlyte race. In all his years of travel through time and space he has heard of such race, but they were so rare everyone categorized the Starlytes as myth.
“What are you doing?” River asked while keeping an eye on the monitor the feed from Astra’s eyeglasses was projecting to.
“Research,” he answered.
River’s forehead creased to a frown. “Doctor, you don’t actually believe what the Stygos are accusing Astra of, are you?”
“I can’t leave anything to chance, River,” the Doctor replied.
Meanwhile Astra was still keeping up the pretence of not being a Starlyte as she continued to engage the Stygos in a battle of wits. Her stubbornness wasn’t endearing her to the Stygos leader.
“Do not waste my patience, Starlyte. Right now you are resonating with your people’s energy signature. If you’d been smart you would’ve kept your presence here on Eros unknown,” taunted the leader. “Instead you stuck your nose where it shouldn’t be, thus drawing attention to yourself.”
“You lot are meddling with happily committed couples’ lives. Erosians are known to be pacifists and devoted to keeping couples in love in a relationship,” Astra answered back. She neither confirmed nor denied the Stygos’ accusation about her. “How dare you blemish the Erosians’ reputation!”
“That’s it, Astra. Keep him occupied,” cheered the Doctor as he continued to find out more about the Starlytes.
“Eros and Styx have been at war for millennia. Styx remained under Eros’ shadows,” the leader replied. “Erosians are not as pure as you think, Starlyte.”
“Yeah, whatever. Why kill those tourists? They have nothing to do with Styx and Eros’ war,” she pointed out.
“True those tourists had nothing to do with the war, but they play an integral part in our plan to eradicate the universe’s belief that Eros was the land of milk and honey.”
“By killing Eros’ tourists?” Astra scoffed.
“Death is only the beginning, Daughter of the Stars. It’s a camouflage to what is really at stake,” answered the leader cryptically.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” River muttered.
“Neither do I,” agreed the Doctor.
“Camouflage to what?” Astra prodded.
The Stygos took his time from answering. He engaged in a staring battle with Astra. He was probably contemplating on what he should tell her next, but it shouldn’t really matter since she’d be dead in the end unless the Doctor and River figured out a way to teleport her out of harm’s way before her impending demise in the hands of a hate-filled Stygos.
“There is one way we can stop this war between Eros and Styx,” began the Stygos leader. He began to pace back and forth in front of Astra, taking his time before continuing on with his explanation. “These damn Erosians don’t know fig about what we, their neighbor and subordinate, have been planning for years ever since they overthrew our leader and made us inferior to them.”
Something cold and tingly shot up and down Astra’s spine. Somehow she doesn’t like his ominous tone and the way his eyes changed to pure glee when he looked at her.
“How?” Astra applauded herself for sounding as cool as ice, but deep inside she was shaking like a damn leaf in fear for her very existence.
She closed her eyes briefly and mentally sent an SOS to the Doctor. She knew the Doctor and River were keeping watch of what was happening in real time, but just in case she doesn’t make it out of this alive she wanted to let the Doctor know.
The Stygos leader as well as the rest of his cronies began to laugh. It started out as a low rumbling sound coming from their gut that slowly burst out like a dormant volcano that echoed around the small room.
That ominous tingly feeling Astra felt intensified when the leader turned his full attention to her. She knew without needing to use a telepathic read on him that he was going to kill her. And unless the Doctor and River had a plan figured out, she will meet her demise right here and right now.
“You, Daughter of the Stars, is the key we’ve been waiting for. Your power alone is enough to fuel the vortex we’ve been working on for nearly a century, but with not enough power to give it the necessary push we need we can’t open it,” the leader explained and began advancing towards Astra.
“Doctor,” River hissed, worry and urgency lacing her tone.
“I’m listening. I’m listening,” the Doctor answered, his fingers flying on the keyboard.
“He’s going to kill her, Doctor,” River kept her eyes glued on the monitor.
“Astra, keep him talking. Stall him as long as you can,” the Doctor ordered.
“Easy for you to say,” Astra hissed then to the Stygos advancing towards her she said, “I told you I am not a Starlyte.”
“Yes, so you keep on insisting, but in truth you are a Starlyte and you are the key to opening up our vortex and swallow up this planet and all its inhabitants.”
“There are tourists on this planet too,” Astra pointed out.
“Ah, well, collateral damage, that’s all,” was the leader’s nonchalant response.
“Can’t you let bygones be bygones?”
“Enough!” the Stygos leader slashed his arm in the air. “We’ve waited for a source of pure energy for years, Starlyte, and now that you’ve come to us we will wait no longer,” he announced. The leader aimed his hands at Astra then a bolt of white light shot out from his palms aimed at her.
Astra braced herself for the inevitable. She sent another message to the Doctor, this time she didn’t use his psychic paper to relay her message. She knew River was watching and would see the words flash on the screen.
“Doctor, look at the screen,” River jumped when she saw the words that appeared.
“What is it?” the Doctor moved away from the other screen he was working on to look at what has got River so rattled.
“Look,” River turned the monitor so he could see it. “Astra sent that message.”
The Doctor took a closer look, putting on his specs for a clearer read. There written across the screen was a telepathic message Astra sent: LEAVE NOW, DOCTOR! LEAVE!
“She’s telling us to go,” River said, her voice breaking as she realized what that message meant.
“No,” the Doctor hissed.
“Not without her,” he snarled.
“But we can’t save her,” River pointed out. “It’s moot at this point to save her. The Stygos cornered her and we know what they are planning to do.”
“I can’t leave her, River!” the Doctor yelled, his temper flaring while he tried not to throw something – anything – while anger boiled inside him.
“You have to, Doctor,” it was Astra’s voice whispered through their comm-link. “I can see the vortex opening now,” she said.
River and the Doctor watched from the monitor that indeed the vortex the Stygos was talking about was being opened right in the very room they were in. Astra was being held in place by the leader and being floated towards the widening black hole.
“We have to leave,” River announced.
“No!” the Doctor yelled.
“If we don’t leave we get swallowed up in the vortex along with this planet,” River pointed out. “Astra stalled for us long enough to save our hides, and by God I will not let her sacrifice be for naught.” River began pushing and turning some knobs on the console without waiting for the Doctor’s say so.
“I said no, River,” the Doctor grabbed River’s wrists, stopping her from flipping another switch or turning another knob. “We are not leaving this planet without Astra,” he insisted.
“You have to. Please, Doctor, save yourself and River. I’ll stall them a while longer so you can get the TARDIS off this planet,” Astra pleaded.
The Doctor let go of River’s wrists and went back to look at the monitor connected to the eyeglasses Astra was wearing. The view has changed. She was now looking closer at the vortex.
“It’s alright, Doctor. I wasn’t even supposed to be accompanying you. I am your unwanted companion, remember?” she chuckled. “Goodbye, Doctor,” she whispered then the scene on the monitor snowed a bit before turning black.
“Noooo!” the Doctor screamed.
“What happened?” River skidded to a halt beside him, her eyes widened when she saw the blank monitor. “What did you do?”
“She severed the connection.” He looked and sounded defeated. Disbelief covered his face as he stared at the blank monitor.
River was torn between comforting the Doctor and flying the TARDIS.
“I’m sorry, Doctor,” River whispered, placing her hands on his shoulders for comfort. She waited two heartbeats then left the Doctor’s side and flew the TARDIS off Eros.