This story takes place BEFORE "Before the Dawn".
Christmas always brought the tourists to Cologne, and this particular December was no different.
The orange and white underground train pulled up to the platform and the doors opened.
A man in a dark coat and black beanie hat stepped out of the doors and looked to his left and then right as people pushed past him. He rubbed his bristled chin and then made his way purposefully along the platform.
His hand went to his left pocket and he slipped it inside. A few moments later he was holding some kind of clear, plastic bag - the type usually used for drugs.
He waited until the train pulled out of the station and casually wandered next to the edge of the platform. Then, without giving another look, tipped the plastic bag upside down. A small collection of tiny objects fell to the ground below the rails.
The man gave another look around, and then exited up the escalator.
Beneath the rails all was quiet. The small collection of objects were actually seeds. They remained there for a few minutes, unmoving. And then, inexplicably, they began to vibrate. The small seeds sprouted tiny roots. Roots that dug into the concrete underneath the rails.
It had begun.
It had been two days since the strange incident at the underground station…
The snow fell in soft, tiny flakes. Some of it melted into nothing, but most settled adding another layer to the already inch-deep drifts. The little powdered flakes peppered everything. It looked as though someone had put the city inside a snow globe and shaken it.
The Doctor had been in Cologne for two weeks now. It had been a split second decision. After the heartache of what had happened with the Sleights and the Wallis’s at number 17, he had decided that he needed a break. He was missing Alice even more and having to stare at Tylaya wearing her face every day was making things even more difficult.
He had let the TARDIS make a random decision and it had landed him here. Then, handing the engaged couple a collection of money, he had wandered off into the city, telling them that he’d contact them when he was ready to leave. He could only assume that they had booked themselves into a hotel. He hadn’t seem them since.
The Doctor, meanwhile, had booked himself into a room above a lovely Irish pub called the Corkonian, situated in an area called Alter Markt - a cobbled square surrounded by café’s and restaurants and not too far away from the river Rhine.
He smiled as he stared up at the beautiful but imposing twin spires of Cologne’s cathedral, gently gathering snow like two giant, stone darts.
He wrapped his long black coat tighter around himself and wiped the snow off the top of his head. He made a mental note of getting a new hat as soon as possible and he trudged on through the snow with no particular plan of where he was going.
So far he’d visited every corner of the city and even explored the outskirts. It was nice to visit a normal, down to Earth city without the threat of an alien invasion for once.
He wandered through the Christmas market that surrounded the cathedral and tried a glass of mulled wine. He let the warmth flood his body and then checked his watch. He needed to get back to the Corkonian. He had a lunch date with Mary and he didn’t want to be late.
On the west side of the cathedral Maxus and Tylaya sat on a bench, the snow gently falling on them.
Tylaya sighed deeply.
“What?” said Maxus, his arms folded.
“How much longer?”
“Until he contacts us,” said Maxus, glancing at his phone.
“We don’t even have a number for him.”
“What can we do?” said Maxus, shaking his head. “We need to play along with his games.”
“But we haven’t even spotted him? We’ve wandered this city for two weeks. You’d have thought we’d have seen him by now.”
“I reckon he’s got trackers in this phone,” said Maxus, holding the device up, “so he knows exactly where we are and so he can avoid us.”
“Maybe,” said Tylaya, sighing again. “Maybe we should just go back to the ship.”
“He never gave us a key, remember?”
“Oh yeah, we can’t be trusted,” said Tylaya sarcastically. She glanced at Maxus and grinned cheekily. “Let’s get married.” She surprised even herself.
“We are getting married.”
“No. Now,” she said, turning to face him.
“Yeah,” she said, smiling widely.
“I thought you wanted to get married in the Crystal Spire.”
Tylaya thought for a moment. The Spire was a beautiful, glass-built church on the in Western Central City and she had long admired it, ever since she was a little girl and her parents had taken to a wedding there. “I do - or rather I did - but in the end I don’t really care. I just want us to be married.”
He smiled at her. “Maybe. Not today though.”
Her face dropped and she turned away from him. She looked across the road and saw a young couple walking hand in hand. He looked like he had been crying and they clearly were only holding hands for the sake of it. She seemed completely disinterested in him.
“Do you have a problem with me?” said Tylaya.
“What?” said Maxus.
“Do you have a problem with me?” she repeated.
“No, of course not.”
“Then what’s wrong with you? You haven’t even kissed me since…”
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Maxus. “And what you look like doesn’t bother me. You’re still in there somewhere.”
“But,” said Maxus, shaking his head, “it’s just gonna take a bit of getting used to.”
“I’m still me,” said Tylaya, looking at him with Alice’s sad eyes.
He looked at her and smiled. “I know, Ty,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
The Doctor wandered into the Corkonian and undid his coat, hanging it up on a peg near the door. It looked like a traditional Irish pub, but was larger than most he had been in. Along the right side was a bar that occupied the entire wall and all around seats and tables were dotted here and there.
The Doctor smiled when he saw Mary. She was a blonde woman in her early 40’s, her hair tied into a ponytail. She was attractive and had piercing blue eyes.
“A pint of mineral water for me,” said the Doctor, leaning his cane against the bar and sitting on the barstool.
“Doctor,” said Mary in an American accent, breaking into a wide grin.
“How’s it going, Mary?” said the Doctor.
“All the better for seeing you, my love,” she said with a cheeky smile.
“Now, now,” said the Doctor, putting some cash onto the bar, “you know I’m married to my job.”
“Yeah, and so am I,” said Mary with a wink.
The Doctor smiled as Mary poured him a mineral water and he took a sip, letting the bubbles pop gently in his mouth. “You haven’t forgotten our date?”
“Of course not,” said Mary. “It’s my dinner break remember. Just let me tidy up around the back here.”
Twenty minutes later they were sat at a table in the corner. The Doctor was tucking into spaghetti bolognaise whilst Mary had steak and chips.
He had first met Mary the day he arrived in Cologne. He had been wandering around the area when he had found himself in the Corkonian. He had mentioned he was looking for a room and Mary had let out a room above the pub for a very reasonable price.
That evening they had chatted about their lives. Mary had moved from Cincinnati four years ago and had opened the Corkonian with her father. He had passed away the previous year, but Mary had carried on running the pub and made a big success out of it.
The Doctor hadn’t said too much. He’d kept quite quiet about most of his life, but he had suspected that Mary had liked the air of mystery he brought with him.
“You meeting up with your friends yet?” said Mary, taking a sip of orange juice.
“They’re not friends,” said the Doctor. “Just-”
“Just associates,” said Mary with a smile. She’d heard it before. “Why don’t you just take them home?”
“I can’t,” said the Doctor. “Not whilst they have what I want back.”
The Doctor tapped his nose with his finger. “I’ll let you know one day.”
“Tease,” said Mary.
Back towards the cathedral Maxus and Tylaya were looking at the stalls and keeping themselves warm. Tylaya had grabbed a bag of candy floss and was munching away at it.
“That stuff will make your teeth rot,” said Maxus.
“So what?” said Tylaya glumly.
“Look,” said Maxus, stepping in front of her and putting his hands on her shoulders, “I’m sorry for what I said.”
“It’s alright,” said Tylaya. “I understand.”
But Maxus’s sentence was cut short as the ground started to gently vibrate. All around people stopped what they were doing, everybody glancing around them to see if they could see the source of the vibration.
On one of the stalls a collection of small wine glasses rattled and then fell to the floor with a smash.
“What is that?” said Tylaya.
“An earthquake?” suggested Maxus. He got to his knees and pressed his ear against the pavement. “It’s coming from underneath us.”
The vibrations were getting stronger and stronger. More and more of the stalls began to lose any objects placed on them.
Now the whole ground was shaking violently.
“We’ve got to take cover!” shouted Tylaya as people began screaming, running in all directions for shelter.
Tylaya looked up as a few chunks of loose masonry came crashing down from up towards the cathedral’s spires, narrowly missing people.
Maxus grabbed Tylaya’s hand and was about to turn and run when suddenly he was knocked off his feet, taking Tylaya backwards with him. It had felt as though a section of paving stone had come up from under him.
He was aware of something screeching and scraping at the bottom of his feet, and as he lay back, gazing up into the snow, he could see the twin spires of the cathedral towering above him.
But the mini-earthquake had stopped.
Maxus came to his senses, checked on Tylaya, who had bruised her cheek, and then scrambled to his feet…
…and almost fell back over. Standing right in front of him was a large, oak tree. That hadn’t been there before, Maxus thought to himself. It was sticking up right through the broken paving slabs and towered about fifteen feet tall.
By now crowds were gathering to look at the strange tree as it creaked and groaned, collecting snow on it’s leaves.
Leaves! thought Maxus. It has leaves. In the winter!
“What the hell - ?” said Tylaya, joining Maxus by his side.
“Stay back!” came the familiar voice of the Doctor as he came skidding around the corner in his familiar long, black coat.
“Typical,” said Maxus. “He turns up as soon as there’s disaster on the horizon.”
The Doctor was joined by a woman in her early forties with dark-blonde hair and blue eyes. She smiled at the two.
“Who-?” said Tylaya.
“Mary, this is Quinn Maxus and Tylaya Keller. You two, this is Mary. She’s a friend.” The Doctor flitted away and pulled out his sonic screwdriver, leaning on his stick for support and waving the thing in front of the tree.
“Nice to meet you,” said Mary, smiling politely.
“Likewise,” said Tylaya.
They could hear police sirens in the background.
“What did you see?” said the Doctor.
“Nothing. The ground started vibrating and suddenly Ty and me were knocked off our feet.”
“So you saw nothing?”
“No. I just said, didn’t I?”
“Hmmm,” said the Doctor. “It’s come from underground.”
“Obviously,” said Tylaya, her arms folded.
Two police cars stopped at the foot of the steps leading up to the area around the cathedral and a collection of green suited policemen came running up the steps, slipping in the slush and sludge.
“Step back, please,” they said.
The Doctor, surprisingly, did as he was told as the police ushered the crowds backwards and out of the way of the strange tree.
“We were in the Corkonian when the earthquake started,” said Mary.
“We were right next to it, love,” said Maxus.
“What’s beneath here?” said the Doctor.
“The underground station,” said Mary. “Why?”
“I think we should take a look.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Mary, “they’ll be cordoning off that as well,” she said as the police began to roll out the tape.
“Then we better get down there now,” said the Doctor, suddenly finding a burst of energy and running over towards the steps.
Two minutes later they were descending into the underground station that stretched from the main railway station and underneath the cathedral plaza.
Already people were running up the escalators and escaping whatever had appeared down near the platforms.
“Are you sure this is safe?” said Mary, trying to keep up with the Doctor.
“Nothing is safe, Mary,” said the Doctor.
“I know that,” she said, giving him a quick smile, “but do you always run straight into danger?”
“Course I do,” said the Doctor, getting to the bottom of the steps and taking a breather.
“Taken any tablets?” said Mary, her hand on his upper back.
“No,” said the Doctor. “No point in them now.”
They turned the corner and were confront with a bizarre site. There was a train parked in the station, totally empty - the passengers must have fled - and pushing up straight through the floor of the train and through the ceiling of the train was the tree trunk of what had sprouted up above. It rose high up into the concrete beams.
“It’s lucky nobody was hurt,” said Mary.
“Look,” said Tylaya, pointing towards the gap underneath the train.
More branches and twigs were beginning to feel their way from underneath the train like fingers trying to find their way out.
“What the hell is happening?” said Tyalya.
The Doctor hurried over to the base of the train. He touched one of the twigs and it wrapped around his finger, like a baby grasping from it’s mother’s finger. The Doctor felt it squeezing into him and pulled back quickly.
Inside the train more trees and branches were breaking through the floor and rising up through the inside of the train and towards the surface.
“And you face this stuff everyday?” said Mary, crouching down beside the Doctor.
“Not exactly the same stuff everyday,” said the Doctor, running his screwdriver along one of the smaller branches. It lashed out and wrapped itself around the device.
“No, give me it back!” said the Doctor, desperately trying to pull the device away from the grip of the branch.
The branch resisted and tightened it’s grip around the screwdriver until it crushed it, causing it to splutter and spark.
“Jesus,” said Maxus, rolling his eyes.
“We need to see how far back into the tunnel these things go,” said the Doctor.
“You’re not serious?” said Tylaya.
“Incredibly serious,” said the Doctor.
He made his way along the platform and peered into the darkness of the tunnel beyond the train.
“You know you could get arrested for this?” said Mary.
“We could get arrested,” grinned the Doctor. He held out his hand. “You’re coming with me.”
The Doctor stumbled back on his words. “If you want, that is?”
“Only to keep you safe,” said Mary, taking his hand.
The Doctor pointed at Maxus and Tylaya. “You two stay here. If you see anybody coming down those steps, give us a shout.”
“Yes, sir,” said Maxus glumly.
The Doctor helped Mary down off the platform and hand in hand they both walked into the darkness. Meanwhile, the trees continued to grow and push their way through the wrecked train.
Next time: The mystery deepens with the arrival of a strange, white van. Coming Sunday 14th September 2014.