“The Data Core!” the Doctor announced, looking up at the glowing energy globe. “4,000 living minds trapped inside it.”
“Yeah, well they won’t be living much longer. We’re running out of time.” They moved along, the Doctor coming to a stop at an access terminal.
“Help me,” a voice called from somewhere beyond the room. “Please, help me.”
River looked around. “Was that a child?”
“The computer’s in sleep mode.” The Doctor pushed a bunch of keys. “I can’t wake it up. I’m trying.”
“Doctor, these readings!” River said, studying another terminal.
“I know, you’d think it was… dreaming.”
“It is dreaming,” Mr. Lux said, flatly. “Dreaming of a normal life, and a lovely dad, and of every book ever written.”
Anita shook her head. “Computers don’t dream.”
“No, but little girls do.” He pulled a lever and a door to the next room opened. A node turned its head to face them. It was a little girl’s face, pleading for help.
“Please help me. Please help me.”
“Oh, Rassilon,” Lilith breathed. “It’s her, the little girl from the computer.”
“She’s not the computer. In a way, she is the computer,” Mr. Lux explained. “The main command node. This is CAL.”
The Doctor spun to face him. “CAL is a child! A child hooked up to the mainframe? Why didn’t you tell me this? I needed to know this!”
“Because she’s family!” Mr. Lux shouted. “CAL… Charlotte Abigail Lux. My grandfather’s youngest daughter. She was dying, so he build her a library and put her living mind inside, with a moon to watch over her, and all of human history to pass the time. Any era to live in, any book to read. She loved books more than anything. He gave her them all. He asked only that she be left in peace. A secret, not a freak show.”
“So you weren’t protecting a patent,” the Doctor realized, “you were protecting her.”
“This is only half a life, of course. But it’s forever.”
“And then the shadows came.”
“Shadows,” the node whimpered. “I have to… I have to save. Have to save…”
“And she saved them. She saved everyone in the Library, folded them into her dreams and kept them safe.”
“Then why didn’t she tell us?” Anita asked.
“Because she’s forgotten,” Lilith answered. “The girl’s got over 4,000 minds chattering away inside her head. It would be excruciating.”
River looked at the Doctor. “So what do we do?”
“Easy!” he declared. “We beam all the people out of the data core. The computer will reset and stop the countdown. Difficult. Charlotte doesn't have enough memory space left to make the transfer. Easy! I'll hook myself up to the computer. She can borrow my memory space.”
“Difficult! It'll freaking kill you!” Lilith said, angrily.
“Yeah, it's easy to criticize.”
“It'll burn out both your hearts,” River added, “and don't think you'll regenerate.”
“I'll try my hardest not to die,” the Doctor promised. “Honestly, it's my main thing.”
“Dad!” Lilith yelled at the same time River shouted, “Doctor!”
“I'm right, this works. Shut up. Now listen.” He pointed at River. “You, Lilith, and Luxy boy, back up to the main library. Prime any data cells you can find for maximum download, and before you say anything else, Professor, can I just mention in passing as you're here, shut up.”
River glared at him. “Oh! I hate you sometimes.”
“Mister Lux, with us. Anita, if he dies, I'll kill him!”
“Not if I get my hands on him first,” Lilith growled. They went back to the interface room. “Listen, dimwit, you go back up. Remember to stay out of the shadows.”
Mr. Lux protested. “But he said all three of us!”
River rolled her eyes. “Because we were ever going to listen. Go, Mr. Lux!” He scampered away and she turned to Lilith. “You know what that father of yours is going to do, right?”
“Sadly,” Lilith sighed.
“And you know that there’s only one way to prevent that.”
The young Time Lady’s eyes widened when she realized what River was implying. “No. No! Absolutely not!”
“Lilith, it’s the only way.”
“No. This is the worst idea you’ve had since we were kids. I promised I wouldn’t let you do extraordinarily stupid things.”
River cocked an eyebrow. “As I recall, you were terrible at keeping that promise.”
Lilith grimaced. “Okay, maybe we did some mildly stupid stuff when we were younger.”
“You didn’t even try to stop me when I stole that bus.”
“That’s not the point! The point is this is dangerous. It’s deadly.”
“So is traveling with the Doctor,” River pointed out. “You of all people should know that. You’ve died.”
“I regenerated,” Lilith corrected. “Something that you won’t do.”
“Lilith, there are thousands of lives counting on us.”
Lilith stomped her foot. “And I can’t let you make that sacrifice.”
“Look at the timelines. If we do anything else, he dies. It’s your job to protect the Doctor when your mother and I can’t. So protect him.”
Sighing, Lilith conceded. “Fine. Let’s do this before I change my mind.”
They returned to the Doctor in time to see Anita’s spacesuit collapse. The Doctor returned to working at the computer while River knelt next to the suit. “Oh, Anita,” she whispered.
“I'm sorry. She's been dead a while now,” the Doctor said. “I told you to go!”
“Lux can manage without us, but you can't.” River punched the Doctor, knocking him out.
Lilith shook her head. “Was that necessary?”
“Well, it’s not like he was going to let me do this willingly.”
A little later, everything was set up. River sat in a wired up chair, fiddling with the wires. The Doctor was on the ground, handcuffed to a pillar. Lilith sat next to him, rocking back and forth, tears streaming down her face.
“Autodestruct in two minutes.”
The Doctor groaned as he regained consciousness. “Oh, no, no, no, no, come on, what are you doing? That’s my job!”
“Oh, and I’m not allowed to have a career, I suppose?” River joked.
“Why am I handcuffed?” the Doctor demanded. “Why do you even have handcuffs?”
She smiled at him. “Spoilers!”
“This is not a joke, stop this now. This is going to kill you! I’d have a chance, you don’t have any.”
“You wouldn’t have a chance, and neither do I. I’m timing it for the end of the countdown, there’ll be a blip in the command flow. That way it should improve our chances of a clean download.”
“River! Please! No!”
“Funny thing is, this means you’ve always known how I was going to die. All the time we’ve been together, you knew I was coming here,” River said. “That last time I saw you, my you, the future you, you and Lilith’s mum turned up on my doorstep. You had a new haircut and suit. You two took me to Darilium to see the singing towers. The towers sang, and you cried.”
“Autodestruct in one minute.”
“You wouldn’t tell me why,” River continued, “but I suppose you knew it was time. My time. Time to come to the Library. You even gave me a screwdriver. I thought Lilith had convinced you, that should’ve been a clue.” She sighed. “There’s nothing you can do.”
“You can let me do this!” the Doctor insisted.
River shook her head. “If you die here, it’ll mean I’ve never met you.”
“Time can be rewritten.”
“Not those times. Not one line. Don’t you dare.” She turned to Lilith, who had started to sob. “It’s okay. It’s okay; it’s not over for you. You’ve got our past. You’ve got all of those memories. You and me; Mels and Lil. You remember us run!” She shed a tear, but remained determined.
“I swear to you, Melody Pond, I’ll find a way to save you,” Lilith promised through her tears.
“Autodestruct in ten…”
“Oh, Lily. Lilith Smith, I know,” River said.
“…nine, eight, seven…”
“Tell me the game’s not over. Tell me there’s still more trouble,” Lilith begged. “Tell me I’ll see you again.”
“That would be giving you a spoiler.” She smiled tenderly at her through tears.
“…three, two, one.”
River plugged together two cables and a blinding flash caused Lilith’s vision to go white. When the light died, River was gone.
Lilith used the sonic to unlock the handcuffs and the Doctor pulled her into a hug. She sobbed into his chest. “She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone.”
They were waiting in the shop while Donna looked for the man who she had been married to in the virtual reality. She trudged over. “Any luck?”
Donna shook her head. “There wasn't even anyone called Lee in the library that day. I suppose he could have had a different name out here, but, let's be honest, he wasn't real, was he?” Neither Lilith nor the Doctor answered. “I made up the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, and hardly able to speak a word. What's that say about me?”
“Everything.” Lilith elbowed the Doctor hard in the side. “Sorry, did I say everything? I meant to say nothing. I was aiming for nothing. I accidentally said everything.”
“What about you two?” Donna asked. “Are you all right?”
“We’re always all right,” the Doctor said.
She looked at him, solemnly. “Is ‘all right special’ Time Lord code for ‘really not all right at all?’”
“Because I'm all right, too.”
They went back to the balcony by the TARDIS and the Doctor put River’s diary on the railing. Lilith walked quietly back to the TARDIS and opened the doors with a snap of her fingers. She retreated into the depths of the ship, remembering what her Aunt River had once told her.
When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can't run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark, if he ever, for one moment, accepts it.
Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call.
And everybody lives.
Some days, everybody lives.
But that doesn’t mean that everybody wins.