THE LONG COUNT
Amy Pond was getting tired; she’d had to wake up early for today’s photo shoot. It was barely ten in the morning but she already felt like she had been awake for an entire day. They were resetting the lighting so she had taken the opportunity for a quick rest in the office that had been temporarily converted into her dressing room. She sat down in a desk chair, put her headphones on, cranked up the volume on her mp3 player, laid back and closed her eyes.
She wasn’t sure what tipped her off that something had changed; maybe it had been some subtle change in air pressure or temperature, or maybe it was just a sixth sense for trouble; in any case, Amy cautiously opened her eyes. Gone were the bland off-white walls and fluorescent lights of the office-slash-dressing room; instead Amy found herself, still lounging in the desk chair, in the familiar surroundings of the TARDIS control room. She sat up slowly and her head sank forward with a mix of frustration and inevitability. She took off the headphones, got out of the chair, and turned to face the oddly-dressed man with the wild hair careening around the raised platform of the central console.
“Doctor,” said the annoyed and bewildered Amy. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I was bored,” exclaimed the Doctor. “Thought I’d pop by for a visit. See my friends, the Ponds. Where’s Rory? And what are you wearing?”
“He’s at work. We’re both at work. You materialized in my dressing room. See?”
Amy twirled around, showing off the sandals, wraparound skirt, criss-crossed top and feathered headdress she was adorned with.
“It’s a promotional shoot, for a museum exhibit about the Mayan Apocalypse,” she explained after seeing the Doctor’s puzzled look.
“For the what?”
“You know; the end of the Mayan calendar. World’s supposed to end in December 2012, on the winter solstice,” explained Amy in a tone that clearly indicated she did not believe a word of what she had just said.
The Doctor jumped to the TARDIS controls and began flicking switches and turning knobs seemingly at random, all the while dismissing the whole end-of-the-world concept as rubbish. As the TARDIS continued in flight, Amy asked where they were going... and was not surprised at the answer.
“December the Twenty-Second, Two-Thousand and Twelve. Put an end to this apocalypse nonsense. I’ve seen the end of the world and it doesn’t happen in 2012.” declared the Doctor. “There, we’ve landed. Nearly Christmas, mind you. Don’t go sneaking a peek at your presents, Pond!”
Amy trod over to the TARDIS doors, flung them open and took a look outside. She paused for a long while, taking in what she was seeing, before turning somberly to the Doctor and summoning him over. Cautiously, put off by Amy’s sudden change in mood, the Doctor edged towards the doors. When he did look out, it was not the sight he had anticipated.
Stretched out before him was London, but not London as he expected. The sky was black and fires raged everywhere. Across the entire skyline not a single building remained standing. The glass towers of the financial district lay shattered and broken; the London Eye Ferris Wheel had toppled into the Thames; Big Ben and Parliament were aflame; and above it all, in the center of the devastated city, loomed the unmistakable cone of a newly-born volcano spewing ash and fire into the London sky.
“Doctor,” said a despairing Amy “the Mayans were right.”
Part One: The Investigation
In a flash the Doctor had closed the TARDIS doors and raced up the ramp to the console. Moments later she was in flight again, tearing through the Time Vortex.
“Where to now, Doctor?” asked Amy as she tried to forget the scene of devastation they had just left behind.
“Back to where I found you,” replied the Time Lord. A glance showed a flash of disappointment on Amy’s face at the prospect of so short an adventure, leading the Doctor to clarify. “Not that. You said you were on a photo shoot at a museum; a museum with an exhibit on the Mayan Apocalypse. And I. Need. Information.”
Emerging from the TARDIS into the middle of the museum exhibit Amy brushed off a confused makeup artist, who swore she had just left Amy in her dressing room a second ago, by saying she was on a break. The Doctor began analyzing the displays and taking to himself, and Amy only half-listened to him as she did her own surveying of the various exhibits, catching odd bits of the Doctor’s mutterings:
“Dresden Codex? The Mayans weren’t German...”
“And that one’s not Mayan, that’s Aztec. Rude people, the Aztecs. Except for this one lady...”
“Thirteenth b’ak’tun? That’s what everyone’s worked up over? That’s like thinking the world is going to end every time any dating system rolls over an arbitrary time division. Imagine panicking at the end of every millennium.”
“Doctor?” interrupted Amy. “What’s this?”
She was pointing at a display containing what appeared to be a section of a carved stone tablet, or perhaps part of a temple wall that had been removed. The ancient stone had a mix of writing and carved illustrations.
“What? Oh, they’re Mayan glyphs. Give it a minute Amy, you know the TARDIS translation matrix takes longer with writing than with speech,” replied the Doctor as he continued searching for clues.
Amy beckoned the Doctor over to the exhibit she was examining. “Not the writing, Doctor, the pictures underneath them. Take a look at that one on the bottom, doesn’t it look like...”
“... a Dalek,” finished the Doctor. “Why is there a picture of a Dalek on an ancient Mayan tablet?”
The Doctor grabbed a hapless museum employee who happened to be walking by and inquired rather strongly as to the origins of the artifact before them.
“One of our prized pieces,” answered the confused man, slipping into the more scholarly tone he used when dealing with museum visitors. “From the Mesoamerican Classic Period, early seventh century.”
“Could you be a little more precise?” asked the Doctor.
Part Two: Sacrifice
Back aboard the TARDIS the Doctor worked feverishly at the controls; frequently glancing at, and occasionally smacking, the display screen.
“Early seventh century isn’t exactly pinpoint accurate, Doctor. How do you know when to go?” asked Amy, still dizzy from the rapid return to the TARDIS.
“Because there are Daleks in ancient Mesoamerica. And if there are Daleks in ancient Mesoamerica then they must have used a Time Corridor. And if the Daleks used a Time Corridor then they would have left a trail in the Vortex. And if they left a trail in the Vortex...”
“...you can follow it,” concluded Amy.
“Exactly, Amy. Now go put some trousers on; we can’t have you prancing around dressed like that. People will notice.”
“Says the man in the suspenders and bowtie.”
“No, they’re not.”
By the time Amy had come back from the wardrobe the TARDIS had materialized at their destination. They had landed in some thick grass, near the edge of some trees. The sun shone brightly in a nearly cloudless blue sky and within sight there rose a series of Mayan step pyramids connected by stone avenues, an ancient city still in its prime that echoed with the sounds of its inhabitants. The Doctor marched towards the city with Amy close behind, aiming for what sounded like the largest concentration of people.
“Oh look, they’re playing football!” gleefully exclaimed the Doctor.
He and Amy had crested a small hill and found themselves looking down at an elongated field flanked by stone steps, on which were seated several dozen Maya. The people were watching what appeared to be, to the Doctor’s delight, two teams playing a game that at least superficially resembled football. When some of the crowd spotted the two strangers there was frantic shouting amongst them, followed by silence as the game stopped and all eyes turned towards Amy and the Doctor.
“Hello. I’m the Doctor. Take me to your leader.”
Before Amy could question the Doctor’s actions, as she often did, several members of the audience as well some players from the field crowded around the pair. Amidst shouts the two of them were manhandled through the streets to one of the larger pyramids, with both Amy’s and the Doctor’s protestations seeming to fall on deaf ears.
Once they reached the foot of the step pyramid, a temple of some kind by the look, the crowd melted away as the people stepped back. Descending the central stairway of the temple was an ornately-garbed Mayan man, a High Priest by the Doctor’s reckoning.
“Strangers,” spoke the Priest, “your coming has been foretold.”
“That’s good,” said the Doctor, smiling.
“Our peoples’ woes are at an end,” continued the Priest. “Your sacrifice will appease Ixzaluoh and return prosperity to our fields.”
The Doctor’s smile faded. “That’s bad.”
Before they could react, the Doctor and Amy were grabbed by several large, ceremoniously-dressed men and dragged up the steps of the pyramid.
“You’re making a mistake!” protested the Doctor to no avail. “Gods and I do not get along!”
By the time they had been brought to the top of the pyramid an opening had appeared, and Amy and the Doctor were thrown in. As they tumbled down a stone ramp the trapdoor they had come through closed behind them, plunging the two into a brief darkness that ended when they spilled out an opening at the bottom of the ramp.
The pair picked themselves up from the floor and took in their surroundings. They were in a fairly large chamber, one sparsely lit by small beams of sunlight coming through tiny shafts cut into the roof and walls.
“Why did they have to do that?” asked Amy as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. “And who is Ix-ah-whatever-he-said?”
“Ixzaluoh, a water goddess. They’re probably suffering some kind of drought,” explained the Doctor as he began to survey the chamber. “They probably think that sacrificing us will end it by appeasing the patron of the seas and lakes...”
The Doctor paused as he suddenly realized he and Amy were not alone in the chamber.
“...and rivers...” he concluded as from the darkness there came a familiar voice.
Part Three: The Great Escape
At the sound of the voice Amy turned. “River?”
“Hello, Amy,” answered River Song, emerging from the shadows at the far end of the chamber. “What brings you here?”
“Never mind what brings us here,” said the Doctor rather tersely. “What are you doing here, River?”
“I’m a professor of archaeology, Sweetie; I’m doing field research,” replied River.
“An archaeologist examines ruins of long dead civilizations,” scolded the Doctor. “An archaeologist does not use a stolen Vortex Manipulator to visit those long dead civilizations.”
“More to the point,” interjected Amy, “how did you get trapped down here?”
“And why haven’t you just Vortex Manipulated your way out?” added the Doctor.
“Well, when I arrived I applied a little hallucinogenic lipstick to the High Priest to smooth things over, but it worked too well. He believed I was a river goddess and had me locked up in this temple,” River explained. “And as for the Vortex Manipulator, it got damaged when they threw me down here and I haven’t been able to repair it.”
“Well then,” said the Doctor as he began prowling about the chamber, “we’ll need to find some other way out of here.”
“Oh, I can get us out of here,” said River. “I’ve always had a way out of the temple. But with the Vortex Manipulator damaged I just didn’t have anywhere to go once I did get out. But now that you’re here we can pop out, get back to the TARDIS, and you can drive me home.”
“No. We aren’t leaving just yet,” said the Doctor.
“Why not?” asked River.
“Daleks,” replied Amy.
“Daleks?! There are Daleks here? I haven’t seen any indication of that,” exclaimed a surprised River.
The Doctor had stopped his exploration of the chamber and was growing frustrated. “You’ve been stuck in a Mayan pyramid since you got here!” he said. “Now you said you had a way out?”
Digging into her pockets River pulled out an object that looked like pistol of some kind, almost small enough to fit in the palm of her hand – a sonic blaster. Recognizing the item the Doctor immediately inquired where River had gotten her hands on it. She replied that she’d found it while exploring the TARDIS one day, that it had fallen behind a shelf.
The sonic blaster in hand, River pointed the weapon towards the nearest wall and pulled the trigger. An oddly square-shaped, blue-hued beam emerged from the blaster and a neatly-sized hole leading to the outside formed through the wall. The trio shuffled through the hole and back into the sunlight. The elation at their escape faded quickly though, as the three were spotted almost immediately by one of the temple guards, who immediately raised the alarm.
“Come along, Ponds!” shouted the Doctor, taking both Amy and River by the hand and running.
The three raced through the streets and between buildings with the temple guards in pursuit. They soon emerged from the city proper into the grassy fields on the outskirts, but with no time to get their bearings they could only hope they were running in the general direction of the TARDIS.
So focused were the three on their pursuers that they almost didn’t notice what was ahead of them until a timely “Look out!” from River brought the trio to an abrupt stop. They found themselves teetering on the edge of a precipice, a sheer drop that went down dozens, perhaps hundreds, of feet.
“Who puts a giant hole in the middle of a field?!” cried Amy.
“It’s a cenote,” explained the Doctor. “The groundwater erodes the limestone causing the ground to collapse into a pit. The Maya use it to access the underground aquifers... and occasionally for human sacrifice.”
Ignoring Amy’s look of panicked astonishment, River pointed out that their pursuers were closing in fast. “What do we do, Doctor?” she asked.
“We jump,” was the reply. And before either River or Amy could react the Doctor had grabbed hold of both of them and leapt over the edge.
Part Four: Out of the Frying Pan
A minute later Amy, River and the Doctor were pulling themselves from the pool water of that had broken their fall into the cenote; and within seconds of that the latter two were already arguing.
“What good did that do? Now we’re soaking wet and we’re stuck a hundred feet underground!” shouted River.
“Well, they aren’t following us, now are they?” retorted the Doctor. “Can you use the sonic blaster to make another exit?”
“No, the walls are too thick,” was the reply. “Can you repair the Vortex Manipulator?”
“No, it’s too wet now” the Doctor answered back.
And so went the exchange, back and forth questions and answers and counter-questions and suggestions and denials. Amy’s efforts to interject proved fruitless until she finally lost patience and gave a shrill whistle. River and the Doctor paused in their conversation and both turned to look at the frustrated Amy.
“Tunnel,” she said, pointing to the small but navigable opening she had found in one corner of the cavern they were in.
Lighting the path with his Sonic Screwdriver, a slightly chastised Doctor led the way as the three made their way through the gap and into the tunnel beyond. Like the cenote, it had been eroded from the limestone and had smooth, glistening walls. It was hard to tell for sure, but the tunnel seemed to be sloping gradually downward. Nonetheless it was the only option for the three time travelers so they pressed on.
River took advantage of the trek to ask more about why Amy and the Doctor had come. While the Doctor ignored River’s question, occupied by other thoughts, Amy told her about seeing a devastated London and discovering the Dalek depiction in the museum that had led them to travel back to the time of the ancient Maya.
“But what are the Daleks doing here in this time and place?” puzzled River.
“I think we may be about to find out,” said the Doctor.
The three had emerged from the tunnel into a larger cavern, this one illuminated by artificial lighting, and facing them were two Dalek sentries.
“INTRUDERS! HALT OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!” exclaimed the Daleks in their menacing mechanized voices. “IDENTIFY!”
“Hello. I’m the Doctor. And this is Amelia Pond and Professor River Song,” answered the Doctor with a touch of mischief in his voice.
“SEARCHING DATABASE. NAMES NOT FOUND. DOCTOR... WHO?” bellowed the Daleks.
“You know,” said the Doctor aside to Amy and River, “I don’t mind the anonymity, but I occasionally miss the way they used to get all fidgety and panicky at the mention of my name.”
“Get over it, Sweetie,” responded River.
“YOU ARE OUR PRISONERS! YOU WILL BE INTERROGATED!” interjected one of the Dalek sentries as it began to move forward, prodding the Doctor, Amy and River to march ahead of it.
As the Dalek forced them to move further into the network of caves and tunnels, and deeper and deeper underground, the three became aware of a low rumbling sound that grew gradually louder as they advanced. Eventually they emerged into a gigantic open area and all around they could see Daleks moving about, as well as scattered pockets of what looked like Mayan men and women wearing odd looking metallic headbands and collars. The Mayans were moving rocks and other debris that were being thrown off by what was unmistakably a giant drilling machine, slowly boring its way straight down into the rock.
The Doctor appeared to be almost enjoying himself, while River’s mood was more enigmatic and difficult to discern, both of which frustrated Amy. The Dalek continued to drive them forward and eventually the three were pushed into a side cavern, the rear part of which had been turned into a prison cell complete with barred door. With two other Daleks joining it, the sentry pressed Amy, River and the Doctor into the cell and locked them in. When the Daleks left the prisoners alone for a moment, Amy let loose the questions she’d accumulated during their forced march.
“Doctor, what are the Daleks doing? And what happened to those people? Why are they helping the Daleks?” she asked.
The Doctor turned towards her, and Amy saw that his demeanor had changed; he was wearing what she often referred to as his “serious face”. Amy braced for what she knew would not be good news.
“Those people, those poor people,” began the Doctor. “I’m sorry, Amy, but they’re all dead; probably sacrifices thrown into the cenote. The Daleks dragged the bodies out and reanimated them as slave labor. The headbands and collars are remote controls. As for what the Daleks are up to, let’s ask him.”
Amy turned and saw that the Daleks had returned. She couldn’t be sure if it was the same ones as before, they all looked alike. All except one that is; one of the Daleks that had entered the prison area was jet black, as opposed to the more dark gold color of the others. This Dalek approached the cell door.
“THE PRISONERS WILL EXPLAIN WHAT THEY WERE DOING IN THE TUNNEL!” it droned. “EXPLAIN! EXPLAIN!” echoed the other Daleks.
The Doctor stepped up to the cell bars and faced the ebon Dalek eyeball to eyestalk. “Tourists,” he answered. “Never going to use that travel agent again, either; the accommodations were terrible. But you, you Daleks, what are you up to? What are you drilling for?”
“WE WILL ASK THE QUESTIONS!” declared the lead Dalek.
“I mean, there’s nothing down there that would be of interest. Not to the Daleks, not worth this much effort,” said the Doctor anyway.
“INCORRECT! THERE IS A METEOR CORE CONSISTING OF HYPER-DENSE DALEKANIUM 1,500 KILOMETERS BELOW THE SURFACE!” the Dalek said.
“Dalekanium?” said the now intrigued Doctor. “No wonder you’re so interested.”
“THE PRISONERS WILL BE SENT FOR CONVERSION!” said the dark Dalek to the others as it turned and left the room.
Amy and River started to worry, knowing that the Daleks intended to turn them into robotic slaves like the Mayans they had seen outside, but the Doctor seemed to be unconcerned. He had begun talking aloud to no one in particular as he reasoned things out.
“If the Daleks are putting this much effort into excavating that meteor it must be sizable, and that deep it must have hit a while ago, and the Dalekanium core has been sinking into the Earth’s mantle ever since. Of course, the Chicxulub crater! The Dalek’s are drilling for the core of the meteor that struck the Earth 65 million years ago.”
“What?” said Amy. “You mean the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs?”
“Yes. No. Well, mostly. There were extenuating circumstances. Never mind that,” the Doctor distractedly replied.
River looked at him. “But Doctor, if the Daleks go that deep into the mantle it will start to cause seismic disturbances; earthquakes and eruptions and such. And if they abruptly remove a large, dense mass like this core then those effects will be multiplied across the globe. How long do you think we have before they reach the meteor?”
The Doctor looked at his watch. “About 1,400 years at their current drill speed.”
Part Five: Into the Fire
Amy immediately realized what the Doctor meant.
“That’s what does it, isn’t it. The Daleks will reach the meteor in December 2012 and that will cause the Mayan Apocalypse. We have to do something, Doctor!” she cried.
“Yes we do, Amelia,” answered the Doctor. “We have to help the Daleks.”
“What?!” exclaimed River and Amy at the same time. “Are you out of your mind?” added River.
The Doctor was on his feet now, jumping giddily. “Why not? Clean slate, a chance to build a new relationship!”
“He’s lost it,” said Amy. “Maybe he hit his head when we jumped in that pit.”
At that point the jet-black leader Dalek had returned with several others, obviously intent on carrying out the threat to convert the prisoners; but the Doctor had other plans.
“No need for that,” he said. “I can help you.”
“WE DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP!” replied the lead Dalek.
“Yes, you do,” countered the Doctor. “Scan me. Two hearts. I’m non-terrestrial. I’m also very smart. Your drilling is going slowly. It’s going to take you centuries to reach that meteor core. I can help speed things up a bit.”
“SCANS CONFIRM THE PRISONER IS NOT HUMAN!” said one of the other Daleks. The lead Dalek seemed to consider the Doctor’s proposal.
“Come on,” added the Doctor. “What do you have to lose? If I’m lying you can exterminate me!”
“THE NON-TERRESTRIAL PRISONER WILL ACCOMPANY ME! THE FEMALE PRISONERS WILL REMAIN HERE!” the lead Dalek exclaimed.
The cell door opened and the Doctor stepped out. He pirouetted quickly, flashing a smile at Amy and River as the door closed on them. Soon the two were left alone again.
“We’ve got to do something, River” said Amy. “Can you use your sonic blaster to get us out?”
“No, the cell door has a deadlock seal; and the rock in these walls is too much to punch through. Amy, we just have to trust that the Doctor has a plan, and that he won’t get us or himself killed in the process” answered River.
“What are the odds of that?” asked Amy, but River didn’t respond.
It was less than half an hour later when the Daleks returned with the Doctor. He seemed to be no worse for wear when they put him back in the cell.
“What happened?” asked Amy. “What did you do?”
“Got a good look at that drill is what I did,” replied the Doctor. “Gave it a good overhaul, too. Boosted the speed right up.”
“Doctor,” said River “won’t that just mean that the end of the world will happen a lot sooner?”
The Doctor smiled his knowing smile. “Not exactly. It’s the drought, you see.”
“What are you talking about?” asked an increasingly puzzled Amy.
“River, still have your sonic blaster handy?” said the Doctor, initially ignoring Amy’s question before getting back on the topic. “The drought; the Dalek’s are causing it. They’re siphoning the water from the underground aquifers to clear a path for the drill.”
“Yes, I have the blaster, Doctor, but as I was telling Amy the walls are too thick,” interrupted River.
“We don’t need to use it on the walls,” continued the Doctor. “Don’t you see? The water! The Daleks had to put it somewhere. They’ve taken all the siphoned water and stored it in a massive artificial reservoir.”
“And?” inquired Amy.
“And I didn’t just spruce up the speed on that drill; I also buggered the steering,” explained the Doctor. “River, we came down here through a network of caves and tunnels, one of which is right above us. The walls might be too thick for the blaster to penetrate, but the ceiling isn’t; and it’s about to get very wet down here.”
As if on cue there was a sound like thunder echoing through the caves, followed shortly by a loud rushing noise.
“River, hurry!” shouted the Doctor.
River swiftly raised the sonic blaster over her head and with a quick shot an opening appeared in the ceiling. The Doctor boosted Amy up through the hole and then did the same for River. At that moment the water began to pour into the prison chamber and within seconds it was up to the Doctor’s waist. After pausing just long enough to panic the Doctor a little, Amy and River reached down and pulled him up through the hole.
Looking down into their cell they could see the water was rising quickly. Not only would it come up through the hole that River had made, but the Dalek’s entire cave network would soon be flooded. With the Doctor leading the way he, Amy and River raced through the tunnels with a wall of water closing in. A glance through a side tunnel into the main cavern confirmed that the Doctor’s plan had worked – the sped-up drill had gone awry and punched a hole into the reservoir the Daleks had made. A deluge of water had toppled the drill and swept the Daleks and their reanimated slaves away.
Still, the water continued to rise quickly and the trio could not remain long. Desperately they searched for a way out. In the nick of time, and after a few harrowing wrong turns, they emerged onto the surface as the groundwater surged into the cenote behind them. With the Daleks drowned and the drill destroyed, and the groundwater restored to end the drought, everything was back to normal. Amy, River and the Doctor beat a hasty retreat to the TARDIS before their Mayan “hosts” discovered them again.
Dressed in her outfit from the photo shoot again, Amy exited the TARDIS into the museum mere minutes after she and the Doctor had left the last time.
“Rory’s going to be mad he missed this one,” she called back. “But it worked, right Doctor? The drilling was stopped so no more apocalypse?”
“Don’t worry, Amy,” answered the Doctor as the doors closed. “I’ll make a quick stop in December on the way to drop off River and make sure everything’s fine.”
Amy watched as the TARDIS vanished from sight and began wondering how she would explain this one to her husband. Meanwhile, relatively speaking, after confirming that the world had indeed not ended in 2012 the Doctor proceeded to steer the TARDIS towards the 52nd century.
“Are you sure you won’t repair the Vortex Manipulator for me, Doctor?” asked River, pouting ever so slightly.
“No, you’ll just get into more trouble with it. And no more using time travel to cheat on your research, Professor Song,” scolded the Doctor in reply as the TARDIS materialized at her destination.
River turned to exit the TARDIS, pausing just long enough at the doors to say: “All right, Sweetie, if you insist. I can always get another one if I need to. And next time I have to do some research, I’ll just go to the Library.”