Written for:storm_and_wolf Nine/Rose ficathon
Summary: Singers in this hard but beautiful land often told Helen they knew as many songs as there are stars in the sky. Tonight, with the aid of two impossible strangers, she would help one singer reclaim the stars.
Edit: dr_whuh As ever, he is the man. Thanks, my darling.
Author's Notes: Here, again with abject apologies for its lateness to mkejenkins , is the second and last chapter of my second round 2 ficathon story.
Disclaimer: Doctor Who and its characters are owned by the BBC and their various creators. I earn nothing, and intend no infringements. I simply love them all.
It surged back and forth across the space that held it, as if it were a wave searching for a shore. It was blush, and then blue, then a pearlescent cream that shaded to snow and darker to smoke and garnet before lightening to blush again. Sometimes she saw dark eyes and sometimes she saw slender fingers, but mostly she could see only that restless oceanic movement. How could she have thought this creature evil, or anything but beautiful?
She certainly didn’t think it was unintelligent, not after she saw the way those occasional eyes looked toward the three of them watching it from another room, or the way the intermittent fingers reached out in obvious supplication.
“You’re safe behind this glass, but you don’t have one chance in a hundred of getting through to the echtoid unless you get closer physically,” the Doctor warned. “If you do that, I can’t guarantee the psychic broadcast won’t be as uncomfortable for you as it was before.” He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and gaze focused on her. “It calmed down considerably once it was in there, partly because I think it realized this is advanced technology, with operators that might help it, and partly because the TARDIS is working hard to soothe it.
“But She can’t do everything,” he said, somewhat opaquely.
Helen smoothed her skirt unconsciously and suddenly wondered if she should just ask for help with the car, and get back to Dartmouth without making herself look any more foolish than perhaps she already did. Then she wondered, her mouth abruptly gone dry, whether she’d be allowed to leave; what if the Doctor decided she might let some snippet of information about him or the TARDIS out? Would that be against those shadowy protocols?
Of course, he and Rose could simply have left her on the road, captured the echtoid, and have gone on their way, she reminded herself. That didn’t sound as if they planned any foul play, or even slightly dirty pool.
She didn’t respond to his comments for a moment, busying herself with the equipment. It was clean and dry, for which she gave silent thanks. When she was satisfied, she plugged it into an outlet she was certain hadn’t been in the wall when she and Rose had wheeled her equipment in 15 minutes earlier. Finally she addressed Rose and the Doctor.
“The last thing I remember before I lost consciousness on the road was hearing music. When I awakened in your surgery, I heard more music. And as we spoke in the library, I heard it again.
“I don’t quite know how to explain it, but ... well, let me start over,” she interrupted herself, annoyed that she couldn’t bring her thoughts in line well enough to make her point. “This poor thing wants to talk to us, I believe. Do you, Doctor?”
“Want to talk to it?”
“No, do you believe it wants to?”
“And we want to do the same. All that we lack is a common tongue.”
“Go on, then.”
“I collect music. Stories, too, but mostly music; songs from the fisher folk and country people of Nova Scotia. In fact, before you ran across me, I was returning home from Petpeswick, where I’d spent the day recording tales and tunes. One of them is a song I’ve never heard before. It’s sung by a very lovely woman, Mrs. Dennis Greenough.
“Ann didn’t know where the song came from, but it’s the story of someone who has had to leave his home and go to sea. I believe it may have been written about a marine going off because he was drafted to fight in one of the American wars. The chorus asks “when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed, will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?”
Rose had been standing very close to the window, one hand poised near the glass, as if she wanted to reach out to the echtoid. She turned to Helen. “Oh, that sounds so sad.”
“It is. It’s very beautiful, but it is, I think, about someone who believes he will be lost on the sea.” Helen found herself slipping into lecture mode. “It’s a song of loneliness.”
“Oh, I think I get it!” Rose exclaimed with a brilliant grin. “Your song! Loneliness and being lost – that’s the common thing between us and it, yeah?”
Helen grinned back at her. She really was an intelligent little thing, wasn’t she? “Yes, I think so.”
“So if we play the song to it, it’ll maybe guess that we know the problem?”
“What I’m also hoping is that it will try to communicate orally, once it hears this and realizes that we are presenting it deliberately – you did say they issue actual sounds from time to time, Doctor, did you not? If it does so in response to the song, we can listen to the sounds it makes, and try to determine a way to incorporate them into a message of our own.”
The Doctor hadn’t said anything thus far, but that also meant he hadn’t made any objections, Helen reasoned. She looked at him. “What do you think, Doctor?”
“Let’s hear this song,” he said, an oddly brooding expression on his face. He looked – heavens, she thought, he actually looks apprehensive – as if he wasn’t certain he wanted to hear it.
“Alright,” she said, hoping she hadn’t committed some sort of faux pas by taking the lead so enthusiastically. “You’ll have to come in close. The sound is a bit tinny.”
It took a moment for the player to warm up, but the hiss of the cylinder soon resolved into Ann Greenough’s sweet, plain voice. The sun was setting in the west, she sang, the birds were singing on every tree. All nature seemed inclined for rest ....
“... but still there was no rest for me.”
Helen jerked in surprise at the whispered words, and looked at the Doctor. So did Rose. He paid no attention, but said no more, either. His blue eyes were shadowed as he dipped his head closer to the cylinder.
The two women glanced at each other; Rose shook her head slightly, but she looked worried.
Ann sang on, grieving to leave parents, comrades and a bonny loved one. The tune rose and fell in the room as she recounted brothers at rest, while she was left to be tossed on the deeps.
The drums they do beat, Ann Greenough sang; the wars do alarm and a captain calls. So farewell, farewell to Nova Scotia’s charms, for it’s early in the morning, and I’m far, far away.
The song ended, replaced with machine sibilance.
And then with something else.
Around them –
– above them –
– below them –
“ ... the voice ...” Helen gasped in recognition. She heard a soft exclamation from Rose, and something that might have been a low cry from the Doctor.
It was Ann Greenough’s song, but it was more. It was the sea, and the wind over it, and the women who mourned because of it; it was a dark night with no stars, and the remembrance of an ocean of them, and the yearning for more. It was the memory of family, and separation from them, it was the sound of tears and the song of birds and the rush of years. It was a song of ships, and of one ship, and from that ship.
In the room beyond the glass, the waves stilled. Blush and blue, smoke and pearl, coalesced into a form, almost human and very lovely. It floated toward the glass, put out one graceful hand. Rose raised her own to the glass again. The echtoid reached ... and reached through the wall to touch her. Rose shivered, but held steady even as her eyes grew large and her hand trembled.
Then it looked at Helen, and without a moment’s thought, she took the two small steps needed to bring them in contact. Like Rose, she held up a hand.
*** broken wing * home lost * foolish * found now * calm rest * no fear * take me * thank you * home * thank you ***
That was how Helen pieced it together later, but words were only a facet, one petal of the blossom, one breath of the wind. They didn’t encompass the name of the being who touched palms with her, with Rose. The name could be understood only briefly, and in passing, and wasn’t a name as humans understood them.
Nor could the words, at least as she tried to decipher them in years to come, give more than a hint of what star shone on the home the being so longed for. Spoken, they were as mapless as footprints made in fog.
Ultimately, the reality of what she experienced with this being who was not from here could be imagined, but only as sketches in moving air. She had to be, and was, satisfied with what she carried away in her heart.
She looked into the figure’s eyes, and saw tides no human would ever experience in person, but she was not overwhelmed by their undertow. She understood that she had reached a strange and alien soul, and had given it comfort simply by letting it know it was not alone.
And that was enough.
But not for it, not yet.
“The Doctor,” she finally thought to say, still palm to palm with the echtoid. “He can help.”
*** but mourns ***
She pulled away from those fathomless eyes in time to see Rose drop her hand and reach for the man on the floor.
The Doctor sat on his heels, back straight, hands resting on his knees. Helen thought of pictures she had seen of Japanese warriors, still and composed.
Tears, though, they had never been part of those pictures.
“Shhhh ... it’s OK ...”
Rose dropped to her own knees beside him. The girl checked her movement toward him, as if she was afraid touching him would break him; the sound of her voice was still as enveloping as any embrace. “Listen to me, Doctor, would you, please? I heard it. I saw it ... no, listen. It ... it told me, I .... I ... Listen. Listen to me – it’s not you. It’s not the War. It’s just a song.”
Helen wanted to look away, but Rose turned to her, then to the echtoid, a fierce protective glare warring with panic. “I don’t know why this – he didn’t touch the – he didn’t touch it!”
“Didn’t have to.”
He sounded almost natural, but the terse brevity gave him away. He took a moment to scrub at his face with a motion that forbade comment on the tears, then stood up. Helen noticed that the first thing for which he reached was Rose’s hand.
“You apes, your empathic capabilities aren’t strong. My senses were trained for full broadband psychic reception. I let it get too close to me when it was still agitated. My mistake, my fault,” he said.
“You couldn’t have known it would come through the wall,” Helen ventured, fighting the deep offense she felt at being called an ape. What on earth had he meant by that?
“She’s right, Doctor. How could you? It’d kept to itself before,” Rose agreed. “I didn’t even know it could come through solid stuff.”
The echtoid moved closer to the three of them, and Helen saw its newly-acquired lips move, with a sussurant voice: “Forgive. No harm planned, makes sorrow to give sorrow.”
It was speaking! Helen’s excitement, her awe that the echtoid could pare its true communication down to bare and inadequate words, warred with the roiling confusion the Doctor’s unexplainable grief caused her.
“Nothin’ to forgive,” he told the thing. Then he wheeled and took Rose in his arms, hugged her, and this time Helen did drop her eyes. The looks on his and Rose’s faces were not meant to be seen by other people.
Only when he spoke again did she look up. The change she saw in demeanor was breathtaking.
“Now,” he said, stepping back and away from the young English girl with a completely unexpected grin lighting up his countenance. “I think I know how to get you home. Good listener, me. And the TARDIS helped.”
“Find wings. Weave renew?”
“For you.” Then he glanced at Rose again, and said, “Always good to find your home.”
“Relief. Thanks. Relief, relief, thanks for time servant, relief, thanks.”
It dissolved with those words, into a wave and whirling column of pastel motion, its happiness so intense Helen felt her body ache with it. She laughed in shared delight, and didn’t mind feeling the tears start to her eyes. Rose joined her in both laughter and tears.
They composed themselves when they saw the Doctor step out of the room, then followed him down the hall to the arching cathedral dimness of the console room. The echtoid followed, its drifting progress providing them with a silently unending hymn of joy.
Helen tried to follow that up with something intelligent, or at the very least polite. It proved impossible.
Her mind was still – what was the phrase Rose had used? Her mind was blown ... somehow that odd saying seemed particularly appropriate. Seeing the echtoid’s vehicle, and seeing how it actually merged with the thing once the Doctor had performed whatever technical magic was needed to turn the blackened metal into a gleaming ovoid again ... yes, her mind was blown.
“It was beautiful, wasn’t it?” Rose said, and Helen blessed her for taking up the conversational initiative.
“Yes. Oh, yes, it was very, very beautiful,” she agreed. “I hope it finds its way home.”
“It will,” the Doctor said. His hands were in his pockets and he looking inordinately satisfied with himself. “It took a little time to understand the ship’s AI, but once you get the hang of thinkin’ a bit like an echtoid, you can podge about and fool the system into fixin’ itself.
“If I’m half as good as I think I am – and I’m brilliant – I’ve done better than that. Since the AI also gave me the last of the information I needed to figure out which species of echtoid this individual’s a member of, I convinced the ship to carry it back to its home planet in half the time it normally would.”
“How long will that take?” Rose asked.
“Not long at all. Under 100 years, I’m pretty sure.”
The two women gawped at him. He shrugged. “A lot of echtoid species are long lived. This one is very, very long lived. Almost as long as a Time Lord.”
Helen looked at him keenly, but didn’t ask what the phrase meant. She’d listened to so many unusual words, or words used in unusual ways ... their language was one of the strongest proofs that these two people were not from her time. She wondered, though. Which war had hurt him so badly? Another question she would not ask.
Unable, once again, to think of anything to say, she looked at the sky. She could see the stars tonight.
They were standing in the road, beside her car. It, too, was fixed, although the only futuristic help she’d received was some sort of jack mechanism that lifted her car straight up and out of the muck and allowed the enthusiastic Doctor to get grease all over himself as he replaced the axle. He’d been rather smug about finding a replacement in one of the apparently endless nooks of the TARDIS.
Helen stifled a very sharp pang of regret at not being able to explore the strange, half-alive creature in which Rose and the Doctor traveled, or being able to convince it to sing to her again.
For it had been the ship which sang. And Helen was convinced that the music within the heart of the echtoid called to the music inside the TARDIS. She and Ann Greenough’s song had merely provided a bridge.
She had asked the Doctor if it might agree to do sing for her. He was almost curt when he said, “She does what She does, and I have very little say in it. Don’t think She’s goin’ to sing again for a while.”
Changing his mind, or that of the ship – how amazing, that a ship should have its own mind! – was out of the question, unfortunately, if only because she didn’t have time in which to try.
It was Sunday night, as far as Helen could tell, which meant she had to get back to Dartmouth quickly. Her family might well be back at Evergreen, and it would be difficult as it was to convince them that she’d simply stayed the night with the Greenoughs. It was a good thing her Petpeswick friends had no telephone.
There was nothing for it, then.
“I think I had best be getting home,” she said. “I don’t suppose I shall see the two of you ever again.”
The Doctor started to speak, then looked as if he had changed his mind about what to say. “You’re probably right. But I’ve learned it’s stupid to say ‘never.’”
“I know one thing,” Rose said. “I’m so glad I met you. I’d like to come back here, sometime, when we’re not rescuin’ aliens. What I heard in the song – what the TARDIS sang, what the echtoid let me see – it’s beautiful here, isn’t it?”
“My dear, it is the most beautiful place on Earth,” Helen said in a rush of affection for the girl, before adding, embarrassed, “of course, that’s my own very biased opinion.”
“You do your bit to get that across to the world, you know,” the Doctor said. He smiled at her, and she was glad to see he didn’t seem to hold a grudge against her for her song having upset him.
“In fact, Helen Creighton, one of the reasons I know you is because you do somethin’ I can’t,” he said, a friendly intensity in his eyes. “I rattle about from day to year to century, and history? Just flies by me. An’ for reasons that really aren’t all that interestin’, I can’t tell people about what I see when I’m travelin’. It’s background noise for me, and less than that for the people I meet.
“You, though ... you find history for people to experience. You find the real history. The songs and the stories that come from all those human hearts out there. That’s more than any hidebound would-be Gibbons can claim.
“And that song – ” For a moment, his throat worked as he swallowed back some emotion. “That’s goin’ to be one of the things people will remember you for. It will be part of your story, about your heart, an’ I can tell you the story will go on a lot longer than you might think.
“You humans – ”
“You an’ me, yeah,” Rose said quickly. “I’m from London.”
Helen laughed out loud at the absurdity of everything she’d just heard, indeed, at everything she’d experienced in these past absurd and remarkable hours. She had wondered about the Doctor, but she hadn’t been sure until now. So a strange alien time traveler knew her work, and had just told her that it was good, that it would outlast her. She shook her head, knowing it was completely mad, and knowing she would treasure it nonetheless.
“Well Doctor, I shall remember the two of you for as long as I live. Thank you for everything.”
Rose grinned and shoved her hair back behind her ears. The Doctor nodded, one traveler in time to another. They turned and walked back to the TARDIS, hand in hand.
Helen watched as it disappeared. Tonight, it sounded less like the howl of the unknown than the beat of a heart.
When it was incontrovertibly gone, and the fields and roads as dark and silent as before her adventure began, she heaved a sigh, climbed back into the car, and headed home.
It wasn’t until she walked in the front door of Evergreen that she looked at her feet and burst into laughter that she couldn’t really explain to her worried family.
She was still wearing Rose’s slippers.
Author's Notes: Biographies about Helen Creighton can be found here, here and here, as well as here, and at Wikipedia. I’ve employed the writer’s prerogative to incorporate her ambulance driving career and time in Mexico in the story. She lived most of her life, however, in the small Nova Scotian city of Dartmouth, which twins the province’s capital Halifax and lies just across the Halifax basin. From the family home, “Evergreen” she set out to collect first songs, then stories. She was largely self-taught, and gladly benefitted from the help of partners such as British music teacher Doreen Senior, who is credited along with Creighton with organization of much of her material.
Ann Greenough, wife of a fisherman from the Nova Scotian port village of Petpeswick, was the first singer from whom Creighton heard what is now known variously as “The Nova Scotia Song” or “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” She did first hear it in 1933. Creighton eventually collected two or three more versions from across the province, and synthesized them into the version which she published and eventually made famous. In good folkloric fashion, the words are still mutable in the mouths of modern singers. One of my personal favorites is this, sung by a young Nova Scotian girl named Aselin Debison; despite her youth, and the fact that she only sings the first and last verses, her voice and presentation is the closest to what I imagine Helen first heard Ann Greenough sing. There are other versions, from this complete version of the song by another Nova Scotian singer, to metal-tinged punk rave-ups, and you can find many of them on YouTube.
Creighton also collected ghost stories and tales of the supernatural; her book “Bluenose Ghosts” contains stories that frightened the daylights out of me as a child – and still do. She was a staunch believer in the supernatural, and actually did say that she sometimes received directives to go one way or another. (‘Bluenoser’ is a traditional nickname for Nova Scotians.)
Finally, the woman I grew up calling “Aunt Helen” had a gorgeous smile, a hearty laugh, a natural dignity and a deep kindness. Wherever she is now – perhaps traveling the stars in a way very different than our favorite Doctor and companion – I send her my respect and love.