The restaurant on Darillium was busy, as it was on most of their visits since they started coming here over the last ten years. They were seated at their usual table with a stunning view of the Singing Towers and the air was filled with the melodies created by the wind as it passed through the region’s caves. The Doctor split the dregs of wine between his and River’s glasses. “We’re going to need another bottle,” he said placing the empty vessel upside down within its accompanying ice bucket. The Doctor raised a hand to get the waiter’s attention, but brought it back down, when River reached out and placed a hand over his.
“It’s alright, Sweetie. I need to freshen up. I’ll stop by the bar on my way back and bring back a fresh one with me.” The Doctor smiled as he stared into the eyes of his beloved and nodded in agreement. River rose gracefully and left her husband at their table.
As she crossed the crowded dining area, River noticed a person in an environmental suit enter and immediately make their way to the bar. It was unusual to see someone dressed in such a bulky and uncomfortable outfit among all of the formal gowns and tuxedos. River decided she wanted to have a closer look.
River hurried after the pressure-suited individual to the bar and stood back as she watched them converse with the bartender. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she watched with practiced disinterest as the figure removed a credit chip from their pocket and handed it to the barman, who stepped away, only to return momentarily with a small object in his hand. A few more words passed between before the individual with the hazard gear took the object and slipped it into a breast pocket. With their business concluded, the new arrival turned to leave. If River wanted to discover more about the individual in the bulky garment, she had to do something to get its attention.
Putting her best foot forward, River looked over her shoulder and hurried headlong into the stranger, nearly knocking both of them off their feet. She grabbed at the figure with one hand while picking their pocket with the other. With the small object palmed, she slipped it into her purse as she said, “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t watching wh—“. The words died on her lips when she looked up at its face and found none.
Rather than a head placed firmly on its shoulders, River stared at a sealed bowl filled with water with a tiny goldfish sloshing around inside. “Watch it,” it said in an even synthetic voice devoid of emotion, as the tiny carp struggled to right itself in the turbulent water of its tank.
With her initial surprise fading, River smiled and said, “Now, you’re a sight to behold.”
“I’ve never seen a walking, talking goldfish before.” River replied studying it with great interest. “Is your ensemble robotically, mechanically, or telepathically controlled? I suppose it doesn’t matter nearly as much as the being inside it.”
Though its voice was cold and mechanical, she sensed some annoyance when it said, “Thank you, but I should be going.” It turned to leave.
River should have let it go, but there was something about the tiny fish in the large bulky environmental suit that sparked her curiosity. She pushed forward and placed a hand on its arm. The goldfish within the bowl swam around to look at River as she said, “Please, come join my husband and I. We’d like to get to know you better.” She gestured toward their table in the dining room but saw that it was empty.
“Is everything alright here, River?” It was the voice of her husband and it sounded tense.
“Everything is just fine, Sweetie,” she replied, turning to the Doctor. “I was just inviting our new friend here to join us.” Shifting her attention back to the unusual stranger, she pressed on. “You will join us, won’t you?”
“Uh … I … Very well. Maybe for a moment.”
“Excellent,” River said leading it by the arm. “I’m River. River Song and this is my husband, The Doctor.”
“Nice to meet you Doctor and River Song,” it stated mechanically. “I’m Jim. Jim the Fish.”
“Can you grab a bottle of something for us?” River asked her husband from over her shoulder as she escorted their new friend to the table.
“Anything in particular?” The Doctor called back to her.
“You know what I like.”
The Doctor nodded and approached the counter to get something with a little more kick than the wine they had been sipping.
A short time later, they had gathered back at their table and we’re enjoying the view, each other’s company, and the beverage the Doctor had returned with – everyone except Jim. Jim kept checking his watch.
“Is there someplace you have to be?” The Doctor asked.
“I have to get back to work,” Jim replied.
“What do you?” River asked pouring herself another glass.
“I’m building a dam,” Jim simply said.
“A dam?” the Doctor prompted him to continue.
River and the Doctor stared at their guest expectantly hoping that he would continue. He had not. River laid a hand on Jim’s arm and urged him to share his story. “What are you going to do with a dam?”
Jim swam around his bowl, studying around the restaurant’s dining area. Finally, he said, “It’s for my mate.”
“You’re married,” River said with a smile.
“Yes,” the cold synthetic voice stated flatly. “You see, ever since she heard about them,” The pressure suit raised an arm towards the Singing Towers. “She’s wanted to see them for herself, but she has a …” the voice trailed off as Jim swam around the bowl nervously and the body shifted uncomfortably in its seat. “She has a condition that prevents her from traveling too far from home.”
“What kind of condition?” the Doctor asked.
“She has a severe allergic reaction to chemically treated and filtered water. She can only survive for any extended period of time in anything other than mineral-rich, naturally occurring water. And, as you may or may not know, most streams, rivers, and lakes on industrialized worlds have some level of chemical pollution that would kill my wife within a few hours. Even water that has been filtered or purified still retains at the very least a chemical residue that her sensitive scales would react to.”
“That’s awful,” River said. She finished her drink before filling her glass again. “Is there anything that can be done?”
“Yes,” Jim’s environmental suit answered, as the tiny fish maneuvered within the bowl for a better view of River. “You see, I used my entire life’s saving to buy a tract of land that contained within it a small valley not far from a naturally-occurring spring. I intended to build a dam and flood the valley, turning it into a lake for my wife and any other sentient piscine species that wanted to comfortably visit the Singing Towers.”
“Sounds like you wanted to build a sort of resort,” the Doctor clarified, draining the bottle into his glass. Setting it down, he motioned for a nearby waiter to bring them another.
“Yes. That’s exactly what it was going to be,” Jim replied, swimming around his bowl once more, this time to get a better view of the Doctor. “But, I did not anticipate how costly the real estate transaction would be. I ended up with very little left over on which to build the dam, let alone the other facilities the resort would require.”
“That’s awful,” River replied as the waiter took away the ice bucket with its upturned bottle and replaced it with a fresh one. “So, the property is just sitting there unused?”
“Of course not,” Jim replied mechanically. “Since I cannot hire anyone to build the dam for me, I have taken it upon myself to fulfill my wife’s wish.” His suit’s hand patted the pocket where he had put the object he had received from the bartender. The motion became more frantic as Jim checked other pockets, searching frantically for the object. “Where is it?” the mechanical voice said coldly, betraying his actions.
River glanced at her husband, certain that he knew what had happened.
She nodded, reached into her purse, fumbled past her sonic screwdriver, and pulled out the small device Jim was searching for frantically. “Looking for this?”
“You’ve found it. I thought I had lost –“ His voice broke off as he considered what this could mean.
River set the device on the table between them as she attempted to explain. “I saw your … transaction with the bartender. I thought it was curious, considering … So, I took it from you when we bumped into each other.”
“You did what?” Jim rose from his seat and snatched the device from the table, clearly intending to leave.
“Please, Jim,” River said rising from the table as well. “I’m sorry. I took it before I got to know you and I am now ashamed that I did.”
The Doctor got to his feet as well and said, “Don’t go, Jim. I know how you must feel, but she can’t help herself.”
River glared at the Doctor and slapped his shoulder. “Stop, you. You’re not helping.” Her voice took on a sorrowful tone as she addressed Jim once more, “If it’s any consolation, we know what you’re going through. We have spent many years apart and have finally reunited with one another, right here, right now.”
“It’s true,” the Doctor confirmed. “Please have a seat and we’ll tell you our story … well, as best as it can be told.”
The fish in the bowl swam back and forth between them and the exit, before finally settling on them. “I would like that,” Jim finally said, returning to his seat.
“What is it?” the Doctor asked.
Jim placed the device back on the table and activated it. A holographic goldfish with long flowing fins appeared in the space above their table. Despite her graceful motions, she remained in the same place above them. “It’s a message from my wife,” he said with his cold synthetic voice box that did nothing to convey the mixture of pain and joy that he felt. “She is the reason why I work so hard. Once I am done, we will finally be together.”
“She’s quite lovely,” River admitted with a smile.
“Thank you,” Jim replied. “So, what’s your story?”
River and the Doctor exchanged glances, before she finally said, “We’re going to need more to drink.”
The Doctor raised his hand and said, “Waiter? We’re going to need another bottle.”
The Doctor and River spent the next several hours telling their new friend, Jim the Fish, about themselves and the lives they lived crossing each other’s paths throughout space and time. They didn’t leave anything out, except for the few things that they dared not share even with each other. When they were finished, Jim just sat there unsure what to make of their story. It was more than a little hard to believe, but the manner it was told and the conviction each of them portrayed as they told their portion of it gave them some credence. Finally, Jim said, “I do not know about all of that, but I can plainly see that the two of you love each other deeply and I can appreciate that.”
“It’s all true, Jim.”
“All of it.”
The restaurant was closing down for the night, but the activity in the bar was picking up. Music filled the air. It was Karaoke night. Finally, River stood up, and said, “Have you ever sung Karaoke, Jim?”
“No,” he replied.
“Good,” she said taking his hand. “Come on, Sweetie.”
Mike Medeiros is a great storyteller. He writes audio stories for himself and his friends. He writes for ‘Gates of Sto’vo’kor,’ ‘Blood of the Neirrh,’ ‘Star Trek: Starfinder’, ‘The Klingons of Long Island, Reality’s Edge,’ and ‘Zygerus.’ He is the co-owner of Busy Little Beaver Productions and co-host on the G & T Show, a podcast dedicated to characters, story, and ‘Star Trek.’
(Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoyed this installment of Short Story Sunday! If you are an author and would like to be featured in our column, contact us with a sample of your work to Janice@ScienceFiction.com.)