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It was a cold night in her seventeenth year when her life changed. Then again, it was always cold in deep space. But it seemed as if on this day, all of the warmth of the stars the Starship passed gave off no heat at all. The Starship sailed past the burning suns of many systems, ignorant to the beauty of it all. In awe, River looked out at the majesty of the universe. Soon she would have to go below deck to start her chores. Soon she would have to look out upon the gaunt faces of the other Stolen Children of Earth and try to find majesty in the universe again, instead of severe hatred. Regardless, in that moment, she was alone with the stars of millions of species on a severely cold night in deep space.
She was five years old when she was taken from her home on Earth. She was nearly asleep when a Class Five Industrial Starship landed in the streets. The lights blinded her, turning her vision into nothing but white. She cried for help, but no one came. Then, her life seemed to stop, resuming only with her realization that she was trapped on the Starship with thousands of other children—the Stolen Children of Earth.
The Stolen Children of Earth were made to work on the Starship, doing menial tasks that insured the Starship would continue flying through space, bringing chaos to every world it destroyed. This work was too difficult for many of the children to complete. If they did not do a satisfactory job, they were beaten to near death and forced to finish their tasks. River learned to work like a machine, filling her mind with blankness until she was told to stop. There were rebels and there were the feckless, but they all eventually succumbed to the fearsome Pirates that ruled the Starship.
The Stolen Children called them the Pirates—the evil men and women that ran the Starship. Maybe it was because it made their suffering seem like some fairy tale that would result in a happy ending. The Pirates always lost in the storybooks; the Pirates would be defeated by a hapless hero. The only problem was the Stolen Children were still looking for their hero.
They had nearly found one in a boy called Simon. Simon had been snatched a significantly older age than the other children. While most of them were snatched at the age of five or six, he was thirteen when he was taken from his posh private school. He was extremely well-read. He knew words like “oxymoron” and “juxtapose”. His age and sophisticated vocabulary put him leagues ahead of the other children. Simon, however, was not a leader. Simon, like the rest of the Stolen Children, was too scared to lead a rebellion against the Pirates. Within a month of his arrival on the Starship, Simon was demoted from his leadership status. Back to being one of the faceless, back to being no one special.
River, now seventeen, was considered one of the older slaves. The older Children always seemed to be placed into the uncomfortable role of leader. River remained amongst the younger Children, trying to offer words of comfort. No words would be able to bring the Children home. No words would save them from their bleak fate. No words could convince River Song that she was good enough to offer words at all.
So, she stole away for some alone time on the observation deck of the Starship. Maybe words couldn’t console her restless spirit, but the brilliant lights of the stars were a calm ocean at night. She imagined sailing amongst these stars, unbound by the Pirates and their Starship. She imagined meeting the inhabitants of the planets they hastily passed. They would have interesting stories—stories of sadness and sorrow, stories of happiness and jubilation. River would listen to their stories, collect them like stamps, and tell them to those willing to listen. But what she wanted more than anything, more than traveling and collected stories, was freedom. There was a longing in her bones for a large life. Not one that could be contained by the Pirates or their Starship or the Stars themselves. She wanted to be unfettered, unbound, and untied.
As she looked out upon the stars, tears of longing formed in her blue eyes. She rarely cried, but now was as good a time as ever. Her hot breath fogged the helmet of her spacesuit. River Song was a broken woman, so lonely and so tired.
The traveler came from nowhere. He appeared silently, like an imaginary friend or a guardian angel. His hair was disheveled, his clothing slightly rumpled. Had he not been a complete surprise, she would have called him lovely.
“I knew we would meet like this.” The Traveler smiled half-heartedly. “You told me we’d meet on a spaceship.”
She could get angry. She could scream and yell until one of the Pirates came with their weapons to deal with him. River, however, was intrigued by the man. Listening to him was like looking at the stars.
“You know me?” River Song inquired.
He nodded. “In the future, you could say I know you very well.”
“I don’t know you at all. Are you one of the Stolen Children?” If the man was from the future, maybe he knew if the Pirates had been stopped by the hapless hero of the Starship. Maybe he knew the hero. Maybe he was the hero.
“I was not stolen by anyone, I ran away.” He smiled. His smile was both discomforting and comforting. The man, the traveler, was a man of mystery. He was a mystery that seemed highly unsolvable.
She sighed. “I want to run away. I’ve been oppressed for all of my life by the Pirates.” She turned from the man and back to the stars. Her mind wandered once more about the stars—the dwarfs and the giants, the old and the new. “We need someone to help us, the Stolen Ones.”
The man stood by her side. “I’ve been there.” He pointed to a blue planet in the distance. “That’s where I usually meet all of the people I’ve traveled with—Earth. She jumped and squinted at the planet. She could barely make out the green continents on the surface. It was! It was Earth!
“My dear River Song.” His hand found itself in hers. “You think that you are not clever enough, not strong enough to save these people. I’m here to tell you that you are.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “You think that the Pirates are the only thing holding you back and you’re wrong. You’ve handcuffed yourself, River.”
“I can’t lead a full-scale rebellion. We’ll be killed.” River retorted.
It was his turn to sigh. “Oh River. River, River, River.” He laughed a proper belly laugh. “One day, you’re going to remind you about this conversation and laugh. Don’t look at me like that; you will! I’ve seen the evilest of villains come after you and run away, afraid for their lives. You don’t think you can save these people—but I know for a fact you can. You just have to trust me.” He shifted his hands to her shoulders. He kissed her pale forehead before pulling her into a hug.
“I don’t even know your name.” She said.
“The Doctor, just the Doctor,” He replied. He relinquished her from his grasp. “You can do it. You have to believe that you can first.”
She thought of the stars and the places she would visit. She thought of her traveler taking her to these places. Her mind reeled. How would she plan a rebellion against the Pirates? Ideas formulated in her head faster than light. She started to run off to set these plans in motion.
The Doctor, her Doctor, did not follow her. “Doctor! Doctor!” She called.
He shook his head. “This is where I say goodbye. You’ll see me again, River.”
Her eyes were welling up again. “But when, Doctor? When shall I see you again?”
He looked as if he had planned his response well in advance. He put his finger to his lips and said playfully, “Spoilers.”
“Goodbye, River Song.”
She ran across the observation deck, making her way to the door that would take her below deck. There she would mobilize the Stolen Children. They would win the war.
She took one last look at the traveler—her traveler. His gaze was set on her and it wasn’t unwelcome. He blinked several times before he turned to walk away. Had River been younger and much more naïve, she would have taken his quick goodbye for something akin to teenage awkwardness. But as she made her way to her own destiny, to save the Stolen Children of Earth, she knew it was his final goodbye.