Characters: Donna Noble, Adelaide Brooke
Spoilers? For Waters of Mars -- and a sort of blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention of an End of Time spoiler.
Summary: Donna Noble meets an unusually ambitious little girl.
Excerpt: “I’m going to be an astronaut.” She says it so confidently that Donna would be jealous, if it weren’t so ridiculous to be jealous of a ten-year-old.
In the fall of 2008, Donna takes a temping job at a library.
It’s not much, really; scan in, scan out, the sort of work Donna figures will be done by a computer in five years’ time. One of her first customers is a young girl with pale blonde hair, big blue eyes and an armful of books about outer space. A cute kid, Donna thinks, though there’s something strange about her that Donna can’t pinpoint.
It’s the name on the library card that catches her attention.
“Adelaide Brooke,” she reads out loud, and laughs. “Your parents do that on purpose?”
Adelaide only stares at her blankly. “Do what?”
Donna scans the barcode of the first book and raises her eyebrows. “Name you after her.”
A tiny crinkle appears in Adelaide’s forehead as she furrows her brows together. “After who?”
“Adelaide Brooke,” Donna repeats, and if she’s a bit impatient, well, she hasn’t exactly been having a great couple of months. The girl still looks confused, and Donna shakes her head as she scans the rest of the books. “You really don’t know who that is?” Kids, Donna thinks. “She’s famous, she’s…”
It dies on the tip of her tongue and Donna trails off, her mouth open an embarrassing second too long. It feels like hitting the wall in the dark to try and find the light switch. She had it, she thinks, she just had it. It’s there, she’s sure of it, buried somewhere in her brain and just slipping through the cracks of her memory, and if only she could--
“I forget,” she says eventually.
Adelaide looks at her like she’s mental and crams the books into her book bag. Donna watches the girl go, then sets about finding some Aspirin to quell the headache she’s developed.
She sees Adelaide at the library again two weeks later, trading in one stack of space books for another.
“I Googled it,” Donna tells her, searching for the barcode on a big book on Saturn. “Your name, I mean. Nothing came up. I was sure…” She shrugs. “Must’ve been imagining it. Sorry.”
“Oh,” is all the girl says. And then, “It’s all right.”
There’s something sad about her, Donna thinks, a despair percolating just beneath the surface. It’s an eerie thing in someone so young.
Donna wonders if that’s why just looking at the girl makes her feel out of sorts.
“Why always space?” Donna finally asks the next time Adelaide drops an armful of books onto the counter.
“I’m going to be an astronaut.” She says it so confidently that Donna would be jealous, if it weren’t so ridiculous to be jealous of a ten-year-old.
“An astronaut?” Donna’s grin fades as she watches Adelaide gather her things. “Better work hard. Don’t wind up like me, temping in a library and living with your mum. Life so boring you’ll forget half of it.”
Adelaide looks at her curiously, and Donna flushes scarlet. Was she honestly whinging at a ten-year-old?
“Sorry,” Donna says abruptly, shaking her head and smiling again. “You have a good night, Adelaide.”
“Yeah. You too…” The girl’s keen blue eyes seek out the nametag that most of the time, Donna forgets she’s wearing. “…Donna.”
“They do tours in space now,” Adelaide tells her one evening. “If you’re rich enough, I mean.”
“Yeah?” Donna asks, even as she wonders who the hell in their right mind would pay a fortune to get stuck in a small confined space and eat freeze-dried food. “That what you wanna do?”
Adelaide frowns as she considers it, and then shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to tour, I want to do something.”
Donna grins. “Good for you.” It’s a bit depressing, meeting a little kid with more ambition than Donna can remember having in her entire life, but it’s a bit impressive, too. “Your parents must be proud.”
The mirth disappears from Adelaide’s face in a split second. She gathers the books clumsily into her arms and leaves the library without another word.
“Just got this in,” Donna says, grinning as she holds up a hefty book about the solar system. “Brand new. Thought you might like it.”
She sets the book down on the table where Adelaide’s seated, doodling away on a piece of paper, surrounded by a mountain of books – about aliens, this time. Adelaide sits up straight in her chair to peek at Donna’s offering, and her mouth breaks into a smile, the first real one Donna thinks she’s seen.
“Thank you!” Adelaide chirps, reaching for the book and hauling it towards her with both hands, shoving her drawing aside.
“Aliens?” Donna grins. “You’d get on with my Gramps. Stargazes every night.” She can’t help an eye-roll. “Not that he’s ever seen anything.” She looks down at Adelaide’s drawing. She reckons it’s supposed to be a robot. It looks more like a pepper pot.
It also looks oddly familiar.
“What’s this? Is it from a television show or something?” she asks. The dull headache that’s been brewing for some time now reaches a sharp spike, and Donna reaches up to massage her temple.
Adelaide gives Donna that stare that always makes her feel daft. “No. It’s a D—”
“Donna!” calls her supervisor, looking irritated as she emerges from between the shelves. “Marie’s got to take her lunch, she needs you up front.”
The pounding in Donna’s head makes it difficult to think, and she closes her eyes and shakes her head to try and clear it. “I’m going!” she calls back, perhaps more curtly than she ought to. She pulls a face, and Adelaide laughs.
One night towards the end of November, Donna has a terrible nightmare.
By the time she wakes up, she can’t remember much of it, but her head’s pounding, her sheets are damp with sweat and her heart’s beating out a drum line in her chest. She gulps in air and stares up at her dark ceiling, trying to remember what it is that’s got her terrified. She should put it from her mind and go back to sleep, she thinks, but these days she feels like she’s fighting a losing battle with her memory and Donna intends to go down swinging.
There was… fire, she remembers, and water, and something horrible happening that she couldn’t stop. It’s just a dream, but she finds it hard to shake off the lingering feelings of guilt and powerlessness.
Donna rolls onto her side and pulls her blankets tight around her, blinking away infuriating, inexplicable tears. There’s an empty feeling in her stomach, like she’s let someone down.
When she sees Adelaide at work the next day, she feels nauseous, though for the life of her she can’t think why.
The day of Donna’s last shift, Adelaide doesn’t come into the library.
It would be pretty pathetic to be disappointed, Donna thinks.
She is anyway.
The last time Donna meets Adelaide Brooke, she’s standing in a bookstore.
It’s ridiculously busy, because it’s the holiday season and because there’s a signing going on over in Fiction for some book Donna didn’t bother to catch the name of. She’s feeling grumpy and impatient as she waits in the queue, just about ready to yell at the next person who shoves past her to get to the magazine rack she’s standing beside. Everywhere she goes they’re playing Christmas carols, and Donna thinks if she has to listen to one more god-awful rendition of Last Christmas, she won’t be held accountable for her actions.
Donna Noble hates Christmas. She always has, really, but this year in particular she wants to dig a hole and hibernate for the next month and a half. There’s something about this Christmas
She only notices Adelaide through the sea of people because of her fair hair. She seems to spot Donna at the exact second Donna spots her, and they wave at about the same time.
“Hi Donna,” Adelaide says after she’s maneuvered through the crowd. “I don’t see you at the library anymore.”
Donna smiles ruefully. “I was only temping. Like I said, so boring you’ll forget half of it.” She shrugs. “What about you? Still gonna be an astronaut?”
“I will.” It’s a defensive sort of reply, like Donna’s somehow challenged her. Then Adelaide seems to soften; her head tilts to one side and her eyes narrow slightly, like she’s trying to piece Donna together. “If you’re so bored, why don’t you do something different?”
Donna nearly laughs -- getting life advice from someone who hasn’t hit puberty seems like a record low. Instead she shakes her head. “It’s not that easy.”
For a moment Donna stands there, unsure what to say. A part of her wishes she was Adelaide’s age again, old enough to have dreams but young enough to think they’ll come true. There was a weird clarity in it, Donna recalls, a strange liberty in being able to want something with no consideration for the obstacles that go along with it. When you’re a kid, Donna thinks, it seems impossible that you’ll grow up to be so unremarkable that you forget large chunks of your own life.
Your father dying.
A woman calls Adelaide’s name from the front of the store, and Adelaide looks over her shoulder before she turns back to Donna. “That’s my aunt,” she explains. “I gotta go.” She sends Donna a weak smile. “Happy Christmas.”
“Yeah,” Donna says, jolting out of her pity-party reverie. “You too. Happy Christmas.”
Adelaide turns to leave, and Donna sighs. Adelaide means it when she says she’s going to be an astronaut; it’s the universe that’s likely to change its mind. She wonders how many kids like Adelaide grow up to be people like her.
Donna frowns. No, she thinks resolutely. Absolutely not.
“Adelaide!” she calls after her, and when Adelaide turns, Donna grins at her. “You’re gonna be a fantastic astronaut. I’ll keep an eye out for you in the news. Adelaide Brooke! First woman on Mars!”
Donna winks, and Adelaide beams at her as she follows her aunt out of the store. First woman on Mars, Donna thinks, and snorts. Sounds about right. After all, she supposes, some people had to lead memorable lives.