11. I TOOK THIS IN MARFA, TX.“I wouldn’t have thought so, when you told me about Amelia, but they just fell madly in love didn’t they?” River says, as the story comes to a close. The Doctor nods.
"They really did.” His face is starting to fall again and River changes the subject quickly.
“Okay so you’ve told me lots about them being in love – I want an adventure now. A story about your travels around the universe.” She nudges him. “Give me one with more of you in it.” He laughs.
“How about the time we went to Texas?”
“Texas sounds good. Tell me about Texas.” “So, Amy,” the Doctor says one morning at breakfast, “Where do you want to go today?”Amy thinks, absently sucking a dribble of jam from her thumb."Can we go to America?” She asks finally.
“America?” The Doctor mulls over it for a moment, surprised. “The whole of time and space on offer and you just want to go to America?” Amy shrugs.
“Well, I’ve never been. And neither has Rory.” Rory looks up from his toast.
“What?” Amy pats him only slightly condescendingly on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it,” she soothes, “We’re going to America, that’s all.” Rory considers this.
“Alright. Sounds good to me. I’ve never been.”
Amy shoots a secret smile at the Doctor.
“No.” She says, and manages to keep the humour from her voice.
“Of course, America’s a very big place.” The Doctor says as he fiddles with the console. “I’ve told the TARDIS to take us wherever and whenever she feels like; it’s more fun that way!”
They land with the usual grinding of gears and he throws the door wide for them and sniffs deeply.
“Ah, Texas, lovely! In…1993. That’s boring. The whole history of Texas and she takes us to 1993. Though I’m sure it was a very interesting year, lots of good things happened in 1993. I met a talking gerbil in 1993 once, but that was on Terrvil of course. Still, here we are Amy. America!”
He stands back and Amy steps cautiously out of the TARDIS. They’ve landed on a street-corner next to a large blue sign which reads, when Amy tilts her head back, ‘Marfa High School’.
“Marfa?” She says, confused. “I’ve never heard of Marfa, are you sure we’re in America, Doctor?” The Doctor looks a little put out of her doubting his piloting abilities.
“Yes, of course I’m sure. This is Marfa, Texas, 1993, whether you’ve heard of it or not. After all,” he went on, stepping out to join her on the pavement, followed by a slightly more trepidatious Rory, “You wouldn’t expect many Americans to have heard of Leadworth but it’s still in England. Then again, probably not many English people have heard of Leadworth either, seeing as it’s so very, very dull and boring.”
Amy sighs, slipping her arm through Rory’s.
“Yes Doctor, you hate Leadworth, blah blah blah, can we please go and explore now?”
They’re barely fifty yards down the road when they bump into a slightly frazzled-looking young man, clutching what looks like a huge black suitcase and looking around in confusion.
“Hello!” the Doctor greets him cheerily, sketching a little wave and beaming. “You look upset – can we help?”
Surprised, the man looks them up and down and obviously decides that although they might be crazy, they’re probably not dangerous. He smiles awkwardly and shifts the suitcase to shake the Doctor’s hand.
“Oh, hi there.” To Amy’s surprise he doesn’t speak with the southern twang she was expecting. She’s never been very good at placing accents but she thinks he sounds more like someone you might expect to bump into in New York. Not that she’s ever been to New York to actually have an opinion.
“I’d love some help but, no offence sir, ma’am,” he gives a little nod of the head in Amy’s direction and she feels Rory fidget, annoyed at being ignored. “The help I’m looking for is the local kind. And, well, you don’t exactly look like locals. Are you British?”
“No, not exactly. That is to say, my friends are British and I am, ah, I am…not.” He smiles the crooked, reassuring smile that they all know so well. “But I think we might be able to help anyway. My name’s the Doctor and this is Amy and Rory. What seems to be the problem?”
“Well…okay. My name’s Tom, Tom Russell. And I’m here to see the Marfa lights.”
He pauses, as though expecting some sort of response.
“The…Marfa lights?” Rory asks, sounding sceptical.
“See I did tell you I needed local help. But even so…you’re tourists right? And you came to Marfa, Texas and you don’t know what the Marfa lights are? What in the hell are you doing here then?”
The Doctor shrugs.
“You know, just passing through. We travel around and never quite know where we’re going to end up – more fun that way! So tell us Tom, what are these Marfa lights?”
“Oh Doctor, are you in for a treat! The Marfa lights, well, they’re basically just that – lights. But the weird thing is that nobody knows what’s causing them. There’ve been sightings for, oh, centuries. Reports of these glowing balls of light on the horizon, only seen at night time. And nobody can get over there to take a closer look because they’re in the desert and, well, you’d have to be crazy to try and get across that desert in the dark. So nobody knows what they are.”
The Doctor’s eyes are gleaming.
“What do you think are Tom?”
“What do I think?” He grins. “You’re hoping I’m gonna say ‘aliens’ aren’t you? Sorry Doc, much as I’d love to think that’s what it is, I doubt it. There’s got to be a rational explanation. Car headlights, maybe, there’s a road nearby. Or secret government testing. Special glowing plants we haven’t discovered yet, even. But not aliens. That’d be ridiculous.” The Doctor glances at Amy and Rory, giving them a sideways smile.
“Oh yes. Totally ridiculous. Not possible at all.” Amy stifles a giggle. “So, is that why you’re here? To investigate?”
Tom nods importantly.
“Yup. I’ve brought my equipment and tonight I’m going to the viewing platform. I’m going to find the explanation. Hey,” he says suddenly, “Why don’t you come along too? See the famous Marfa lights while you just pass through?”
“You know Tom, that sounds like an excellent idea. I’ll just go and move my car.”
“So what do you think Doctor? Is it alien?” The Doctor shrugs at Rory’s question.
“I don’t know, but I suspect we’ll find out. Who cares about deadly dangerous deserts when you can hop over in the TARDIS?” He grins.
It’s early evening and they’ve made their way to the viewing platform, ready to be amazed. After giving them instructions Tom told them he had to go and find his local and ask something about the local by-laws to do with flares and loud noises, so they’re on their own at the moment.
“I hope it’s aliens.” Amy says decidedly. “It’s more exciting that way.”
“Yeah but not when it’s on Earth,” Rory points out, “It’s alright when we’re on some far off planet but when it’s on Earth it’s, I dunno, too close to home.” Amy laughs and pokes him with the toe of her cowboy boot.
“You’re such a girl Rory. Tom said the lights have been seen for hundreds of years, which means if it’s aliens they obviously aren’t doing anyone any harm.”
“Well, not that we know of.” The Doctor puts in. “After all, they could be biding their time or trying to trick all the humans or something. You can never tell.” Rory sighs sadly.
“You really didn’t need to say that Doctor.”
Tom turns up half an hour later, still clutching his suitcase and apologising profusely for being late.
“I’m sorry, I found the sheriff and he was a real helpful guy but that man could talk a brick wall to death.”
“That’s quite alright, we managed to get here fine on our own.”
Tom bends down and with a click opens his suitcase. Rory bends over his shoulder, trying to peer inside, but Tom holds up a hand.
“Look I don’t want to be rude but some of this equipment is pretty valuable. And any data I collect, you understand, it’s top secret. I’m sure you’re all honest people and you really are tourists but it pays to be careful.”
The Doctor lays a hand on Rory’s shoulder, steering him away from the suitcase.
“Of course, we understand completely. We’ll go right over there and leave you to work down here.” Tom nods his head.
“’ppreciate it. Hope you enjoy the show.”
They cross to the other end of the platform and settle down on the floor. This side isn’t sheltered so well from the wind and Amy shivers.
“Brr, these lights had better show up soon. I didn’t dress for spaceship-watching.” The Doctor glances down at her short skirt and bare legs.
“No, well, if you get too cold the TARDIS is just at the back of the building. Plenty of ponchos, if you want them.” Amy laughs and leans against Rory.
“I think we’re okay Doctor.” He says, putting an arm over her shoulders.
Twenty minutes later it’s finally getting properly dark. Every so often they glance down the platform to see Tom fiddling with long poles and what look like radar dishes. The Doctor chuckles softly.
“What’s he expecting to find with that, that’s useless!” He says. “And he’s got that backwards.”
“Doctor, don’t be mean.” Amy says sleepily. “He’s a scientist, they’re all useless.”
“Hey!” Rory pokes her in the ribs.
“What? You’re a nurse.”
“Yes and I use science.” Amy just shakes her head and then-
“Look! Over there!” The Doctor’s jumped to his feet, pointing out across the desert. They follow the line of his finger and gasp. Far across the sand, bobbing in the distance, are four little glowing lights.
Silently the three of them watch the lights dance across the horizon. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they wink out.
“Wow.” Rory says softly.
“Wow is the word.” The Doctor agrees. “How about we leave Mr Russell to his business and take a closer look?”
In their time in the TARDIS, Amy and Rory have learnt many things. They’ve discovered how to make breakfast when the Doctor is trying to land the TARDIS without getting tea all over the floor. They’ve learnt the names of countless aliens and found out more about temporal physics than they ever cared to know. But one thing they’ve never yet had to learn is disappointment.
“Yeah.” Rory’s tone is heavy and Amy elbows him.
“You said you hoped there was a rational explanation.” He pushes her off, rubbing his arm.
“Yes, but just because I don’t want there to be aliens doesn’t mean I can’t be interested in what they’d be like.”
The Doctor sighs.
“That’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you find aliens, beautiful, miraculous, wonderful aliens doing things that don’t make any sense to you at all. And sometimes you find secret airfields for new, exciting technology. And sometimes…sometimes you find out that the magical glowing lights are headlights.”
They watch quietly as another car rounds the corner, headlights bobbing over the bumpy road before it turns vanishes behind a mountain.
“How come nobody worked out it was the road before?” Rory asks. “I mean, it’s sort of…obvious when you think where the road is.”
“It looks obvious now we know but don’t forget Rory, most people don’t have a TARDIS to get between the viewing platform and the road fast enough to compare the two. It was always likely it was the road, but nobody could tell.”
“Poor Tom.” Amy says suddenly. “He’s going to be so disappointed.”
“Disappointed? But he thought it had to be something rational and boring like this.” Rory gestures the road.
“Yeah, but he also said he hoped it was something more exciting. He wanted it to be aliens as much as we did.” She sighs. “And now he’s going to test them and find out they’re all headlights.”
All of a sudden the Doctor jumps up with a crow of laughter.
“That’s it! Oh Amy Pond, you’re a genius!”
“I am?” She asks, bewildered. He grabs her, kissing her forehead.
“Yes you are you’re a genius! Tom doesn’t have to find out they’re all headlights at all!”
“But Doctor, he’s got a machine…” Rory protests.
“Yes, yes he does Rory. He’s got a machine to test for headlights and aeroplane lights and all sorts of light that would happen on Earth normally. But what are the chances he has a test for a sonic screwdriver light?” He whips it out, grinning. “All I have to do is drive the TARDIS along waving this out of the door and it’ll confuse all of his machines and he can go away thinking it was an alien. Which I suppose is exactly what it’ll be.”
Hanging the Doctor out of the TARDIS door to wave the sonic screwdriver around turns out to be slightly trickier than perhaps anticipated. But eventually Rory works out which button to press to keep them moving sideways and Amy is reassured thatif the Doctor starts falling out it really won’t be that big a drop.
“I’ve survived worse Amy. I once jumped out of a fast-moving spaceship through a glass roof and landed on the floor and was perfectly fine. Well, mostly.”
And after that, it goes swimmingly.
They land back at the viewing point and are just returning to their places when Tom comes running up to them, flushed and excited.
“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!” He’s yelling. “Come and see, look, I was recording what the lights read as ‘headlight and headlight and more headlights but then…” he takes a deep, shaky breath, hardly containing his delight. “Unidentified. All it kept giving me was that it wasn’t of Earth origin. I don’t believe it, it actually is extraterrestrial!”
“My goodness, that’s completely unexpected, I don’t think any of us would have thought that would happen in a million years, it’s just so unlikely, please tell me all about it.” The Doctor slings an arm over Tom’s shoulder and wanders off with him towards the mess of wires and machinery, turning back briefly to wink at them. Amy glances over at Rory, who’s still looking across the desert at the road.
“You alright?” She slips her hand into his and he turns to smile at her.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just…weird. All these big mysteries that so many people spend years trying to solve and we just hop over there in the TARDIS and hey, mystery solved.”
There’s nothing Amy can say to that, so she settles for resting her head on his shoulder, watching the lights glow on the horizon.Part Twelve - Love Doesn't Always Feel Like This