Author’s note: None of these characters are mine, except for Jade, and none of the concepts at all. I mean no copyright infringement and no disrespect towards either universe–I love them both and read Anne McCaffrey’s fanfic “rules” very carefully before posting this, so I believe I’m all right. If I’m mistaken though, all Ms. McCaffrey’s estate has to do is ask and the story will come down immediately. Thanks so much to her for broadening the parameters regarding fanfic based on her work, so people like me could indulge these little fantasies!
“There you are! A picnic on the beach, as requested.”
Shifting the hamper from one arm to the other, Martha stepped further out of the TARDIS and studied her surroundings. They were near the edge of a sharp, desolate cliff. Below them, the waves of an unknown ocean reared and swept in towards a beach of dark, wet sand. There were storm clouds on the horizon, but nearer the sunlight still gleamed on the water, and the only sound was the crash of the waves. “It’s a bit rocky,” she observed.
The Doctor scoffed. “Nonsense. It’s beautiful!”
He was right, of course, though she wouldn’t admit it aloud. Quiet and barren as this place might be, there was a certain stark beauty to it as well. Grinning that mad, knowing grin of his, the Doctor scampered away, over to where a steep, narrow path ran down the face of the cliff to the sand. “Come on, then!” he called gaily over his shoulder.
Martha followed a bit more carefully, partly because he’d failed to warn her to change into more practical shoes, and partly due to the picnic hamper. It was difficult to give all her attention, though, to the ground beneath her feet when there was so much to see all around her. In particular, she couldn’t help but notice an odd pattern of nearly-microscopic scoring on all the rock, shallow cuts in a myriad of criss-crossing patterns unlike anything she’d ever seen before, even on a dozen alien worlds. She was half tempted to pocket one, take it back to Earth and present it to a geologist, just to see what they’d make of it. But no, that wouldn’t do. Even if she thought the Doctor would approve of her souvenir hunting, she was practical enough to know that she wouldn’t like to answer the questions such a find would inevitably raise in the scientific community.
The sand too was different, although it took Martha a moment after reaching it to realize why–it too, like the scoured cliffs now above them, was barren. On holiday at Brighton or Llandudno, there’d always been bits of shell, bits of seaweed and–sadly–bits of garbage, washed up by the waves. This was powdered rock, and only powdered rock, as if there were no other living thing about except for them.
She voiced that thought, and the Doctor paused, turning back to her with a very different smile. “Oh no, there’s life here. Different, hardier life to what you’re used to, but life nonetheless. Even human life, though not at this exact spot. Would you like to see a bit of it?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to protest that the tea would get cold and the ginger beer warm, but the light in his eyes–so different from the manic gleam usually found there–drew her in as inexorably as when he’d parked the TARDIS outside her brother’s birthday party and offered her eternity in an hour. “Yeah. Yeah, I would.”
Offering her his hand, the Doctor pulled her unresisting down the beach, his head cocked a bit as though listening for something, searching for something.
They both heard that something at the same moment–a musical, animal, alien cry that pierced her to the bone with its sheer beauty. The Doctor’s smile trebled in size, his eyes darting about for the source of that haunting call. “There!” he cried finally in delight, pointing back up toward the cliff.
Martha’s eyes followed and her breath caught. At first, the figure perched on the rock seemed like a golden statue. Then it spread delicate, gleaming wings and cried out again.
“Oh my God. Is that–?”
The Doctor grinned, drinking in her awe as though it were nourishment. “Is it what?”
“A…” Her mind having gone inexplicably blank, she struggled to find the word. “…a dragon?”
He shrugged modestly, eyes still dancing. “Near enough. The first human colonists called them ‘dragonets,’ though that name’s been lost over the centuries. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“She?” Martha asked, tearing her eyes away from the magnificent creature to look at him. “It’s female?”
He nodded. “The golden ones always are.”
“Are they…are they friendly?”
For the first time, the excitement faded from his eyes as he grimaced regretfully. “The wild ones tend to be a bit shy of humans. Sorry.”
She felt a keen stab of disappointment, but nodded nonetheless. “Right. Well, I’ve seen her. That’ll just have to be enough, won’t it?”
The Doctor regarded her almost proudly. “Maybe after we can head inland a bit, if you like, and I can introduce you to one or two of their larger cousins.”
“Depends,” she shot back playfully. “How much larger?”
“Fifteen metres, give or take?” He shrugged. “It varies by colour, age.” At her look of alarm, he smirked. “I shouldn’t worry–the big ones are all quite tame. You might say they were designed that way.”
She tried to picture that, and found the image conjured up at once breathtaking and terrifying. “All the same, I think I’ll pass–for now.”
He shrugged again and the two of them began to unpack the hamper, picnic blanket first.
“How many colours do they come in?” Martha asked as they took out the sandwiches.
“Five, mainly, although within those colours there are quite a variety of hues,” the Doctor replied, picking up a sandwich and munching it as he stared at the dark cloud on the horizon, his brows drawing together in a thoughtful frown. The rest of his answer was delivered almost absently: “You’ve seen the gold–there’s bronze, brown, blue and green as well. Oh, and once an albino, though that won’t happen for centuries yet.”
Martha followed the line of his eyes to the approaching storm, a frown forming on her own face. Maybe it was just an illusion, but the clouds seemed much nearer than they had when they’d arrived only minutes ago. Did storm systems travel so quickly on this world, then?
There was something unnerving about that cloud bank, but the Doctor didn’t seem awfully concerned, so best follow his example.
“You said there were humans,” she prompted.
The Doctor swallowed and nodded, only too happy to have a new subject to natter on about. “I did. Humans colonised this world nearly a millenium past. The closest thing to sentient life at the time were those fire lizards up there.” He gestured in the direction of where they’d seen the little golden dragonet. “The dragons were created. Kitti Ping–brilliant woman, met her once back on Earth before she joined up with the colony–has the unique distinction of having genetically engineered a species that wound up smarter than its creators.” He grinned at that.
Martha rolled her eyes, ignoring the implied insult to her own species, before latching on to something of interest. “Hold on a tic–the people who live here…they genetically engineered *dragons*? From those?”
“Well, their ancestors did,” he corrected hastily, seeing where her thoughts were going. “What with the struggle to survive, most of the technology the original colonists had has been lost.”
“And you couldn’t have taken me back a thousand years?” she teased.
“‘Course not,” the Doctor agreed, lifting his chin almost smugly. His eyes still danced, though. “Couldn’t very well send you home with thousands of years of advanced genetics in that head of yours, could I? Might change the whole course of human history, maybe even prevent this colony from ever being founded.”
Martha shrugged lightly. “No matter. I mean to go into practice anyway, not research.”
An awkward silence descended between them, and Martha found herself wondering idly when the subject of her eventual, inevitable departure had become uncomfortable. She still remembered those first few trips, when the Doctor had been adamant that each one would be her last, until they got back in the TARDIS and discovered he wasn’t quite ready to let her go.
She would leave, of course, sometime. She had a life to go back to, a life she loved as much as she loved this adventure, as much as she loved *him*, even if it wasn’t always easy. A family she loved, even if they were all a bit mad. No, she’d known the first time she set foot in the TARDIS that it wouldn’t be forever. But sitting here on the sand, listening to the ocean and the occasional call of the fire lizard behind them, that eventuality seemed a long way off.
Martha almost opened her mouth to tell him so, but noticed that he was staring off at the horizon again, a deeper frown this time furrowing his handsome features. Curious, she looked once more out towards the ocean…and nearly swallowed her heart.
This time there could be no doubt–the cloud was much, much closer, and there was something falling from it. Something that looked suspiciously unlike rain.
The Doctor was on his feet in an instant, his voice low and urgent. “Back to the TARDIS. Quickly.”
She started to collect the food but he stopped her. “Forget the hamper. We need to get to shelter, now!”
Startled into compliance, Martha abandoned their lunch and stood. Seizing her hand, the Doctor pulled her quickly back towards the cliffs. Above them, the fire lizard called out again, this time in fear.
She glanced heavenward, startled to see the miniature dragon swooping towards, not away from, the ominous dark cloud. She paused over a spot in the sand not far from where they’d been, beating her wings in place and letting out another shrill cry.
“Doctor!” Martha shouted, digging her heels into the sand. Feeling her resist his pull, the Doctor looked back at her, irritation plain on his face. Stubbornly standing her ground, though, she pointed towards the dragonet. “Something’s wrong.”
His eyes followed her finger, rapidly taking in the sight and putting the pieces together. “A nest,” he finally concluded in a grim tone. “She’s probably got a clutch of eggs buried in that sand. But why out in the open like that? A queen lizard should know better, unless…”
Making a decision, the Doctor lunged back towards their abandoned picnic. Picking up the half-empty hamper, he dumped the remainder of the contents on the sand, explaining all the while: “She’s young. Possibly this is the first Fall in her lifetime. Of course, instinct should still tell her better, but every species has its own brand of hubris.”
He handed her the empty hamper. “Fire lizards are low-level telepaths. I’ll see if I can communicate our good intentions to her, you get as many of the eggs as you can into that basket.”
Martha nodded briskly, pleased that he hadn’t decided to ignore the little queen’s plight in the interest of their own safety. Not that she’d truly expected him to–one thing she and the Doctor shared was a great reverence for life in all its myriad forms. “Of course.”
Fortunately, the eggs were small, so once the Doctor got the mother calmed down, it was fairly easy for Martha to fit all of them into the picnic hamper. As the clutch was rather large, though, it still took a bit of time to arrange them all so none were likely to break against one another–time she could see in the Doctor’s face that they really didn’t have. Once the job was done and the queen lizard arranged nervously on his shoulders, the Doctor’s eyes darted back to the cliff. “We probably haven’t time now to make it back to the TARDIS. Not by the path we came down, anyway.”
Martha nodded. “And I can’t climb with these. You said shelter–is there somewhere nearer? Like a cave or something?”
He started off down the beach, letting out a shout after only a moment. “Here, then!” He bobbed out of sight, reappearing an instant later, waving his hands. “This ought to be enough of an overhang.”
Martha jogged over to join him, careful not to jostle the eggs overmuch. There was a slight hollow in the cliff face that he’d ducked into–not quite deep enough to be called a cave, but more than enough room for two people, a fire lizard and a hamper of eggs to take shelter from whatever was coming at them. “This ought to do,” he declared unnecessarily. “Now just hope the eggs don’t choose this moment to hatch. New hatchlings are notoriously ravenous–it’s not out of the realm of possibility they’d wander out into Threadfall in search of foo–wait, where are you going?” His voice rose in alarm on the last bit.
Martha had set the hamper down, but the instant he mentioned the possibility of losing a hatchling for want of food, she’d darted out of their shelter back towards the abandoned picnic. The sky was rapidly darkening and she could now see with certainty that the silver strands falling from the approaching front were not water, but it was still far enough off that she felt certain she could grab at least a few sandwiches. Shoving as much as she could onto the blanket, she grabbed it by the corners and headed back, the Fall not quite on her heels but still far closer than she’d judged it to be.
When she reached their hiding place again, the Doctor made no secret of his anger. “So you choose now to start acting on impulse? Never, NEVER do that again! I’ve seen Threadscore–you haven’t. And trust me, it’s nothing you want to feel, either.”
She could have responded with bravado, but chose not to. Instead, still out of breath, she just nodded and collapsed to the ground. “I thought I had more time. You’re right–it was a bit stupid of me.”
The front had almost reached them now–already it had reached what food she hadn’t managed to save. Martha shuddered as some of the thin, silver “threads” reached an apple and the fruit was instantly covered in a swarming mass of them, a mass that writhed and convulsed until it and everything else organic still on the sand was utterly consumed.
“What *is* it?” she asked, horrified.
“A mycorrizoid spore,” the Doctor answered in that same grim tone. “The only thing that lives on this world’s wandering sister planet. Every few centuries, the two worlds drift close at perihelion, and the spore crosses over, devouring everything in its path except stone, metal, water and fire.”
Panic seized her as she glanced at the Doctor. “Then the TARDIS–”
“–should be fine,” he offered reassuringly. “Even if she didn’t have a protective force field, she’s withstood far worse.”
“But it’s made of wood,” Martha protested, still remembering that first, surreal moment when she’d touched the ship for the first time. “Isn’t it?”
The Doctor shook his head. “That’s the chameleon circuit. If it were working properly, when we’d landed here and stepped outside, we would’ve turned around and seen another rock outcropping. The TARDIS’ outside shape means nothing–it’s what she’s got inside that counts.”
“Bit like a person, eh?” she asked, smiling a little.
He smiled back. “A bit like.”
The little queen settled on the edge of the hamper with a worried chirp, and Martha stretched out a cautious hand to touch her. When the creature didn’t flinch away, she started gently stroking it. “It’s all right, see?” she found herself reassuring the tiny beauty. “We’ve got them all. Your babies are safe.”
The scientist in her was quietly marveling at the texture of the animal–not scaly, but smooth and hairless and warm rather than cold-blooded. Not a reptile, then, for all that dragons in Earth mythology were usually described as so. The dragonet’s eyes were like jewels–but jewels that changed from one brilliant colour to another as they whirled and sparkled–and faceted like an insect’s. She’d never seen anything like it, not on any of the worlds they’d visited.
The queen seemed to be calming. As Martha stroked her, she folded her wings and began to make a soft, musical humming noise deep in her throat that was almost like a melodic purr.
Or she’d have thought it was a purr if not for the Doctor’s reaction. His eyes widened. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no!” He ran one hand through his hair, glanced out at the Threadfall–now right on top of them–then turned back to his two companions, human and fire lizard. “When I mentioned the possibility of hatching, that was not a suggestion!”
“What?!” The hum became a harmony, and Martha let out a little shriek of surprise as their tiny shelter was suddenly bursting with fire lizards in a rainbow of colours. “Where did they come from?”
“Did I mention they can teleport?” the Doctor shouted dryly over the steadily increasing hum.
“No, you forgot that bit,” Martha shouted back. She looked around in a mix of wonder and horror, noticing that each adult fire lizard had some sort of small, dead animal in its mouth. “And the bit about them bringing their own food to the party. Generally I like to know when I’m risking my life for nothing.”
“You didn’t give me a chance!” he defended himself with an injured look. The humming rose in pitch and intensity yet again and the Doctor’s boyish grin returned. “Of course, there are far worse ways to ride out Threadfall than to witness a hatching. Just think, Martha–likely no other human from your time will ever see this.”
She grinned back at him, unable to resist the infectious excitement in his eyes and voice.
Just then, the first eggs began to rock. Not long after, the first one cracked and Martha watched in awe as a tiny bronze dragonet, not even as big as her hand, let out a creel of hunger and was immediately fed by one of the hovering adults. Another shell cracked, then another, and their small shelter became more and more crowded with a jeweled spectrum of hatchlings as the Fall continued to rage around them.
Martha found herself counting them, her heart in her mouth with each new egg that broke–she began to think she might cry if even one of them didn’t hatch. So when one particularly tiny green dragonet stumbled from the shards of her egg and none of the adults noticed, Martha did. She saw the hatchling creel in hunger, unnoticed by the glistening fair who were too absorbed with the newborns they were already trying to feed; she saw desperation make the tiny peridot creature turn away from shelter and towards the deadly rain falling outside. And there was no chance in hell she was going to let that happen.
Grabbing a sandwich in one hand, Martha caught the tiny fire lizard with the other and shoved the sandwich at her. The hatchling pounced on it, and suddenly Martha could *feel* her ravenous hunger, so much so that it was very nearly overwhelming. Grabbing another sandwich and another with shaking hands, she fed them to the creature, who wolfed each one down nearly as fast as she could fumble for another. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the hunger faded into a feeling of lazy, satiated contentment. Martha rocked back on her heels, exhausted from the intensity of emotion the little creature had shared with her. Only then did she finally dare to glance over at the Doctor.
Considering she’d just saved the dragonet’s life, Martha would’ve thought to see pride or at the very least approval in his eyes, but it wasn’t there. He was angry.
Before she could ask why, the mother fire lizard gave a rallying cry and leaped into the air, vanishing a moment later along with all of her friends and most of her offspring. All but one. The little green blinked contented eyes at Martha and promptly curled up in her lap, dropping off to sleep.
“Oh no, what are you doing?” she chided it softly. “Your mum and your brothers and sisters have all gone–go after them, you silly thing!”
“Too late,” the Doctor stated, his voice flat. “Fire lizards impress for life on the first creature that feeds them. You are her family now, Martha Jones. The only one she’ll have once we leave this planet.”
Martha’s heart sank as she realized that was the reason for the Doctor’s anger. “Oh.” It also explained why the fire lizard’s emotions were still as real and immediate to her as her own, even though it–she–was sleeping. “I didn’t know. I just…I saw her start to leave and I panicked. I couldn’t bear to see her killed by those…things out there.” She pointed towards the still-falling Thread.
The Doctor’s expression softened a little. “I know.” A heartbeat passed, two for the Doctor. “And I suppose it could be worse–at least it’s not a vortisaur this time.”
A vortisaur? She decided not to ask. Instead, Martha looked down at the companion-for-life she’d just acquired and her heart softened, a little guilty thrill going through her that she’d earned the affection of something so amazing, even if only by sating her rapacious appetite. “I’ll take good care of her,” she vowed. “I won’t let anyone hurt her–even if that means leaving her behind in the TARDIS most of the time.”
“And when you go home?” he asked quietly.
“I’ll think of something,” she shot back defiantly. “But if I’m all she’s got, I’m not going to leave her.”
The Doctor nodded, something like approval finally coming into his eyes. “Just one question, then.”
He nodded towards the sleeping fire lizard in her lap. “What’s her name?”
Martha glanced down again, a warm smile suffusing her entire face. “Jade. Her name is Jade.”
Several months (TARDIS time) one week (Earth time) and one year-that-wasn’t later
It was rather like watching a hummingbird try to befriend a hawk, Martha thought nervously as she watched Jade dart back and forth about the pterodactyl’s head, chittering musically all the while. “You’re sure she won’t just decide to snap her up in one bite?” she asked dubiously.
Jack grinned. “Myfanwy? Nah. Jade’s barely big enough to make a snack, let alone a full meal. She’ll leave her alone unless Ianto forgets to feed her.”
“Thanks, that’s very reassuring,” Martha shot back, sending him a glare that appeared to have no effect.
The Captain chuckled and gave her shoulder a reassuring pat. “It would be if you knew Ianto. Don’t worry–she’ll be fine here.”
Martha sighed. “Moreso than she’d be if anyone else got their hands on her, at least.” She looked up at him. “Thank you, Jack. I promised when she hatched that I’d never let anyone hurt her–if I hadn’t had a place to hide her here on Earth, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
He gave her a sharp, penetrating look. “Would you have stayed with the Doctor?”
Martha shook her head firmly. “No. Not after everything that happened. I love him, but…no.”
He gave her a sympathetic smile and pulled her into a hug. “Good for you.”
Attracted most likely by her sudden melancholy, there was an inquiring chirp as Jade settled into her customary place on Martha’s shoulder. Her eyes whirled accusingly at Jack, and he had no doubt that she could and would happily give him an unwanted facelift if he did anything to hurt or upset her human.
Jack laughed. “If you ask me, the only hard part is going to be convincing her to stay without you.”
Martha smiled affectionately, stroking the fire lizard’s head with one hand. “You’ll just have to offer me a job, then, won’t you?”