Series 7 Episode 3 A Fracture in Time Part One Written by Ryder Smith
It was late in the evening, and the building was mostly shrouded in shadow. Two security guards walked along a corridor, torches in hand, obviously patrolling the site. It was a large complex, everything set around the large, futuristic building. The sprawling London cityscape could be seen a little distance away, but this area seemed largely cut off from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Another set of guards could be seen in the grounds, checking along the fence for any disturbances. Future Technologies was highly protective of its work, keeping things under lock and key, and that inspired industrial espionage. All its competitors wanted to know its secrets, and most would stop at nothing to acquire them. Just that year, there had been two undercover workers, four attempted break-ins, and twelve hacks.
The two guards inside the complex had moved into the new block, which was still undergoing construction. Most of the structural works had been completed, but the company was still securing funding for the equipment required, so it was just an empty shell.
“Quiet night tonight, eh Jonesy?” Asked the older of the two, his hair glistening silver.
“Yeah, it is rather,” the other replied. He looked younger, probably still in his thirties. “I don’t get why we have to patrol this building though, there’s nothing here.”
“Can’t be too careful, I suppose,” he noted.
“I guess,” Jonesy replied. “After that last break in.”
They continued along the corridor, venturing further into the new building. A strange, metallic scraping noise caught their attention. It was coming from one of the side rooms, which still had the plastic sheeting protecting it from the elements.
“What was that?” the older one whispered.
“Probably just the wind,” Jonesy whispered back, feeling strangely nervous. “Still, best check it out.”
He walked towards the room, being sure to make as little noise as possible. In case there was an intruder. His colleague followed him hesitantly. There was a faint blue glow emanating from further within. By now, he was firmly inside the room. And that was when it happened.
The door slammed shut.
And blood curdling screams echoed out. The last sounds they ever made.
“Woo!” Zoe cried out as her feet left the ground and she was propelled into the air, a rush of exhilaration coursing through her veins and a joyous cry erupting from her throat. Her hands were securely wrapped around the rope swing, and her friends were cheering her on. She managed to swing up to the higher branches of the large oak tree before gravity kicked in and brought her back to solid ground. Her feet scraped against the overgrown grass and she let go of the rope. Miraculously, she managed to remain upright after a slight stumble.
Her friends awarded her stunt with a round of applause. Zoe grinned and bowed for her audience.
“Cool,” Alfie, who was clapping the loudest, whistled in awe. “Where’d you learn that?”
“Self-defence and a blue belt in Judo have their uses,” Zoe replied, and grabbed the rope as soon as it was in her grasp.
Alfie tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Ain’t it supposed to be a black belt?”
“There are tiers.”
“What, you compete to see who’s the best crier?” Alfie scoffed.
Zoe rolled her eyes. “No, moron. Tiers ‒ as in levels. There’s multiple levels. Blue’s two ranks below black belt.”
“How come you ain’t at black, then?”
“I never finished. Stuff happened,” Zoe shrugged glumly. “It always does. Anyway,” she cleared her throat and held out the rope. “Who’s next?”
“Me!” Dan and Alfie yelled simultaneously, and looked at each other in confusion.
“I’ve never had a go before!” Alfie complained.
“Yeah, but I’m older,” Dan retorted.
“Which means you should let me, cos I’m younger.”
“Nah, you’re alright. Besides, this is our rule ‒ oldest to youngest.”
Alfie screwed up his nose. “Bit naff.”
“Beth!” Zoe interrupted, turning to look at their third friend, who was lounging on a tree stump. “These losers can’t decide, so do you wanna have a go?”
Beth waved her hand dismissively, still sprawled on the stump. “It’s too early.”
“It’s eleven!” Zoe replied indignantly.
“Mhm. I should be getting out of bed now.”
Zoe shared an eye-roll with Dan. “Get a grip, lady, it’s not that big a deal.” She sighed when Beth responded by resting her head on the tree trunk with a lazy smile. “Fine! I’ll just have another go.”
“Er, no you’re not,” Dan said, and dragged her away from the swing. “You’ve had enough fun.”
“Well, are you gonna decide who’s going first then?”
“Neither of us,” Alfie announced suddenly. Zoe, Beth and Dan all looked at him with varying expressions of confusion. “We’ll both do it at the same time.”
“Aww, look at you thinking outside the box,” Zoe teased. Alfie lazily punched her shoulder, but grinned all the same.
“Sure,” Dan shrugged in response. “Don’t see why not.”
“There, sorted,” Alfie proclaimed happily. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Just don’t jump me.”
Dan snorted at the thought. “You wish.” He took the rope from Zoe’s hand and held it at arm’s length so Alfie could hold it as well. They both securely planted a foot each on the small swing.
“Count of three,” Alfie instructed, using his free foot to shuffle backwards, casting a mischievous glance in Zoe’s general direction, who was watching them with crossed arms. Dan noticed the glint in his eye and nodded. “One,” he shuffled backwards a little more.
“Two,” Dan added as Alfie’s foot landed in a pile of amber-coloured leaves.
“Three!” Alfie kicked the leaves with the heel of his foot, and they flew straight into Zoe’s face.
“Oi!” she cried out angrily. Dan and Alfie laughed loudly as they pushed forward to build up momentum, and propelled themselves into the air with a whoop. They managed to make it to a branch higher than Zoe had managed before the rope supporting the swing snapped at the added weight.
Dan managed a small yelp before he crashed into a heap on the ground. He gasped, and rolled to the side so he was resting on his left hip. The wind had been knocked out of him, and his back and right arm ached from the collision. His jacket was covered in mud and he was immensely grateful that he decided to forgo shorts in favour of jeans, even if they were caked in mud.
He groaned softly, rested the palm of his hands in front of him, and tried to heave himself upwards, but his arms faltered and he lurched forward. Before he landed face-first on the floor, a pair of hands grabbed him by the arms and steadied him.
“Thanks, Zoe,” Dan mumbled, still disoriented from the fall. He brought a hand to his head and winced when he felt a bruise forming.
“Er, for what?” Zoe called out, and Dan looked up to see that she was on the other side of the clearing, supporting Alfie while Beth inspected his head.
“Wha…?” Dan frowned, wheeled around, and yelped when he saw Felix grinning sheepishly at him. “Er,” he managed before his brain suddenly melted and all coherent thought flew out the window. The same warm, fuzzy tingle from their first meeting resurfaced at full thought, leaving Dan slightly breathless. He was overreacting, of course he was. It was just Felix.
Felix, the object of his thoughts, smiled at his awkwardness. “You okay?”
Dan was worried if he opened his mouth, he would trip over his own words and respond with a garbled, incomprehensible mess of words, so he simply nodded. What was wrong with him? He couldn’t tear his eyes from Felix’s warm gaze.
“Felix!” Zoe’s eyes lit up with surprise. She attempted to move towards them but Alfie, still lazily melted against her side, pulled her back. She glared at him in annoyance, but he only smiled cheerily back. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the new arrival. “What are you doing here?”
He looked at them and raised a hand in greeting. “Yo, guys. Just checking out the village. Figuring everything out, you know? I kinda got lost.”
“Why, never stepped foot in a forest before? Were you a posh city boy?”
Felix laughed at the thought. “Nah, used to live in the countryside back in Ecuador, but this is a different forest to the one back there.”
“No,” Zoe gasped sarcastically. “Really?”
“I know, it’s probably too much for your brain to handle,” Felix smirked. Zoe laughed, briefly and sarcastically.
“Saw your game against Chris last week,” said Alfie, raising his head from Zoe’s shoulder. “Was sick.”
“Cheers, mate,” Felix responded, and turned his attention to the quiet Dan. “Saw your little stunt too. What was about?”
“Alfie trying to be a smart-ass,” Beth said scathingly as she finished her inspection on his head. “But he’s fine. No damage done.”
“Cheers, doc,” Alfie grumbled.
Zoe patted his hair mockingly. “Never try to think outside the box again.”
Meanwhile, Beth moved over to check Dan over as well. Zoe and Alfie joined them, and Felix sat down on a log with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He watched Dan curiously. Dan stared back, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Alfie smacked Zoe’s shoulder, hushed her when she opened her mouth to shout at him, and surreptitiously motioned towards the pair. Zoe followed his gaze, and slowly looked back-and-forth between Dan and Felix, until her eyes lit up with comprehension. She looked back at Alfie, a mixture of surprise and excitement evident in her wide eyes and grin.
“You think…?” she whispered conspiratorially.
“Yeah, fam,” he whispered back.
“You’ll be alright too,” Beth announced, standing up and brushing dirt off her trousers.
“Thanks,” Dan smiled up at her, grabbing hold of Zoe’s offered hand and heaving himself off the ground with her help. “When d’you learn first aid?”
“Ages ago, but mam made us re-learn the other week,” Beth scowled. “Not like she needed to.”
“Probably meant well,” Dan supplied feebly.
“Never mind that!” Zoe interjected and crossed her arms. “Good job, Batman and Robin, you broke the swing,” she said sarcastically. “You gonna fix that?”
“Do it yourself,” Alfie grumbled.
“No worries,” Felix spoke up. Everybody turned to look at him. “I could get the guys to fix it.”
“Great idea!” Dan agreed a little too quickly. He coughed awkwardly when the group looked at him strangely. “What? It is.”
“Sure,” Zoe shrugged at Felix. “If you think you can handle it.”
Felix patted his chest proudly. “This man can handle it.”
“‘This man’ is still a kid.” Zoe made air quotations to highlight her point.
“Ouch. You always like this?”
Before Felix could respond, his phone started to ring loudly in his pocket. He looked down at it with a thoughtful frown. “There’s internet in a forest?”
“Yeah, electrical power lines run all over the place,” said Beth.
“Seriously?” Alfie frowned. “Mad.”
“You’re telling me.” Felix fished his phone out of his pocket and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Hang on. Gotta get home.”
“Everything okay?” asked Dan nervously.
Felix grinned charmingly. “No worries, everything’s fine. Just,” he gestured towards his phone. “Something’s come up. Err…” he looked around the forest in confusion. “Anybody know the way out?”
Zoe scoffed. “Nice one, genius. C’mon, we’ll lead the way.”
“You sure? Don’t wanna get in the way.”
“Nah, I’ve gotta bounce anyway,” Alfie said glumly. “Gotta help out at the shop.”
Zoe slung an arm around his shoulders. “He’s gonna wear a pinny.”
“And look damn good in it,”
“Or so he thinks,” she retorted, and patted his shoulder. “Let’s get outta here.”
Alfie picked up his skateboard, and the group of five turned and trudged up the hill that would lead them back to Rosemary Lane. Dan and Felix were up ahead, idly making awkward small talk. Beth was about to join them, when Zoe pulled her back.
“Quiet!” Zoe shushed her, before sharing a gleeful look with Alfie. “We’ve got something to tell you.”
Beth looked at Zoe, then Alfie, then back at Zoe, suddenly very apprehensive at the mere thought of the duo’s latest concoction. “What is it?”
“Them two are fruity,” Alfie responded bluntly. Zoe punched him in the gut and he recoiled.
“Could you be any more of an idiot?” Zoe growled.
“Could you be any more of an idiot?” he mimicked. Zoe moved to punch him again but Alfie raised a placating hand and retreated slightly.
Beth sighed at their antics. “What are you on about?”
“They’ve got the hots for each other,” Zoe, rather hypocritically, said bluntly.
“What?” She turned to look at Dan and Felix. “There’s nothing going on between them…”
She paused and looked at them, until she was practically scrutinising their every movement. She noticed the way they gravitated towards each other before awkwardly shuffling apart again, and the small, bashful smiles they directed at each other when the other wasn’t looking, and suddenly, Beth Petite was filled with the deepest, utmost clarification.
“Oh.” She turned back to a smug Zoe. “They’ve got the hots for each other.” She processed her own words and melted slightly. “Aww, that’s so cute!”
“I know!” Zoe grinned. “So weird seeing Dan with a crush.”
“I’ll tell you what else is weird,” Alfie muttered before Zoe punched him again. “Ow!”
“Do you ever shut up?” Beth asked him seriously.
“Dunno,” he grinned playfully at her. “Do you ever dye your hair red?”
Zoe stared at him incredulously. “He’s lost it. Actually, properly lost it.”
“Do you think they’ve realised?” Beth inquired.
“Nah, Gita’s too busy radicalising Bloomin’ Lovely to notice his state.”
“Not him!” Beth rolled her eyes. “Dan and Felix! Should we tell them we know?”
“Nah. It’s more fun this way.”
“What’s more fun?” Dan asked as the trio caught up with him. They had reached the crossroads that would lead them their separate ways.
Zoe smiled innocently. “Nothing.”
Sarah Jane was sat at her computer, gazing at the screen. She was going through old news reports, rifling through anything related to Noah and his business partner. Quite what she’d hoped to find, she didn’t know, but there was no harm in being thorough. Leave no stone unturned, that’s what her aunt had always said.
“Sarah Jane,” it was the unmistakable voice of Sentinel.
“Hmm, what is it?” Sarah Jane inquired, continuing to read.
“There’s a news report I think you’ll be interested in,” he replied. “It’s live now.”
“Put it up on the screen then,” she told him, still reading.
“...we still have no word from the company officials themselves, though we are expecting them to issue a statement within the next few hours. Looking at the bigger picture, of course, these disappearances follow an unexpected spike of missing people in the local area. But, as of yet, there is no word if there is any link between the cases. We’ll bring you more on this story as it develops. For now, back to the studio.”
“Maia Roberts there, reporting from outside Future Technologies in London.”
At that, Sarah Jane looked up from her computer. “Sentinel, can you get me the directions to Future Technologies? I think I ought to pay them a visit.”
“Of course, Sarah Jane.”
Making sure to lock her computer, she practically leapt from her chair, grabbed the sonic, and darted downstairs. Picking up her keys and handbag from the hall table as she entered the kitchen, she shot through the garage door and almost collided with Zoe, Beth and Dan.
“Where you off to?” Zoe asked immediately, almost demanding to know.
“Hang on, what are you doing in my garage?” Sarah Jane asked indignantly.
“Sentinel let us in 'cos you weren't answering the door,” Zoe replied pointedly. “Well?”
“Just to get an interview. And, before you ask, no, it’s not anything alien.”
“With anyone interesting?” Beth asked.
“I’ll explain everything,” she promised. “When I get back.”
Without another word, she hopped into her car. Then, with a quick zap of her sonic, the garage door opened, and she sped off up the road.
“Are we gonna stand around all afternoon? Or are we going inside?” Zoe nudged their elbows, gesturing toward the door.
“Last one to get to the Playstation has to make lunch,” Beth declared as she shot past them.
Zoe and Dan rushed after her, and were practically neck and neck, until they reached the narrow door to the lounge. Naturally, Zoe wanted to beat him, she was incredibly competitive after all, so she shoved passed him. She high fived Beth, as Dan collapsed into a chair, a sullen look on his face.
“What? I beat you fair and square,” Zoe noted smugly.
“I swear, you’ve got superhuman speed. A loudmouth version of roadrunner.”
“Yeah, well this ‘loudmouth roadrunner’ is starving.”
“Ugh, fine,” Dan pulled himself up from the chair and left the room.
“Rock, paper, scissors to decide who get’s to play first?” Beth suggested, recalling the fiasco last time.
Silently, they shook one of their fists three times, counting down, before revealing their choice. Beth had gone with scissors. But Zoe went with rock.
“Yas, two wins in the space of minutes,” she cheered, a little louder than she’d intended. But then, that wasn’t a new thing.
“It’s just rock, paper, scissors,” Beth pointed out, smirking at the outburst. “Besides, if it was best of three, I’d have so won.”
"Whatever," Zoe and Dan shared a look and scoffed simultaneously.
Sarah Jane pulled up outside the gleaming mass of metal and glass that was the central facility of Future Technologies. It looked like a spacecraft, which was probably the point – a signifier of the company's advanced work and dedication to the future. That’s what their brochure described them as, and was basically a fancy way of saying nothing. But then, they were very close guarded, and kept things firmly under wraps.
She grabbed her handbag from the seat next to her, and got out of the car, locking it behind her. Then she purposefully walked into the building. Inside, it was like a plaza, with neat flowerbeds and a little water feature, except with carpet tiles. There was a reception area off to the side, so she went straight to the desk.
“Hello, welcome to Future Technologies,” the female receptionist said, sounding like she’d recited the same line countless times. “Are you here for an appointment?”
“Not as such, no,” Sarah Jane admitted. “I did try and get one when this place opened, but never got anywhere. They probably didn’t want a journalist poking around.”
“Sarah Jane Smith.”
“Miss Smith, I’m not entirely sure what I can do for you. We do have a press conference in a few weeks, might be best to come back then.”
“I’m not interested in the latest product, or any of that business stuff. I was hoping to get something, you know, about the disappearances.”
“I don’t think you’ll get anything. They’re not planning on doing press interviews, just the statement which will go out later today.”
“Is there not anyone who can come down, give me a quick word? I’d hate to write something less than complimentary.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but I’m promising you nothing.”
The receptionist rang through to someone, leaving Sarah Jane to stand around and hope she was in luck. Aside from the receptionist, and the advertisement screen opposite the seating area, there was nobody else to be seen. It seemed strange to have such a large open space, and it to be devoid of people, with none of the hustle and bustle one would expect for a large company. There wasn’t even one measly security guard.
“Miss Smith, I’m afraid your request has been denied,” the receptionist told her. “If you’d like to leave your contact details, then perhaps someone can contact you.”
“Oh, believe me, the number of times I’ve been told that...well, I’ve lost count. It pretty much equates to saying sod off.”
“Well, nothing more I can do I’m afraid.”
“At least you tried,” she replied nonchalantly, walking towards the exit.
One of the lifts beeped, which stopped her in her tracks. A smartly-dressed man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s, judging by his greying hair, strolled out. She recognised him. For a few seconds, she wracked her brain, trying to recall who he was. When she did, she immediately went over to him, and held out her hand.
“James Cooper, isn’t it?” she asked, knowing full well it was him. The man in charge.
“Yes, yes it is,” he replied, slightly taken aback. He hastily shook her hand. “And you are?”
“Sarah Jane Smith. I wondered if I could have a word about the disappearances, something a bit more personal than a statement?”
His face soured slightly. “There’s not much to say, we’re assisting the police, and will continue to do so. That’s it.”
“Yes, but these people were last seen yesterday, and already they’ve been declared missing, doesn’t that strike you as fast?”
“Not really,” he replied curtly, walking towards the door. Sarah Jane followed.
“Then there’s this statement you’re releasing, which seems a bit excessive for two security guards, wouldn’t you say?”
He didn’t respond.
“Is there some kind of cover up?”
“Good day, Miss Smith,” he snapped, exiting the building.
“Well, so much for that then,” she murmured to herself. “13-B-R.”
“Yes, Sarah Jane?”
“Hush, not so loud.”
“This better?” he whispered, in an annoyed tone.
She chose to ignore him. “I think we’re going to need to do a bit of good old fashioned industrial espionage.”
“Is that why you brought the Atraxi hacking device?”
“You can never be too prepared.”
“If you could fit it in your bag, you’d probably bring the kitchen sink.”
“Times like this, I miss Mr Smith. I never got this sort of cheek from him.”
“I’ll have you know that I’m infinitely superior to some Xylok supercomputer.”
“Whatever you say, dear.”
Casually, she walked over to one of the flower beds, being sure to obscure her actions from the CCTV. From her bag, she removed a small tube-like object, and placed it in amongst the flowers. She pressed a button on the top, and then left it in place. Then, out the door she went, with nobody the wiser of her actions.
“Hello? You three still here?” Sarah Jane called out, exiting the garage. She sat her bag down on the table, before heading toward the kettle.
“See, I told you it was just Sarah Jane.” Dan appeared in the hallway, closely followed by Beth and Zoe.
“Whatevs,” Zoe shot back, baseball bat in hand.
“Did you just want to pose with that bat?”
“She totally did,” Beth chuckled.
“Shut it you two,” scowled Zoe.
Thankfully, she put the bat down, before any incident could occur. Sarah Jane couldn’t help but smile at them. They always brightened her day up, and, indeed, they were round at hers most days. After everything that happened with Melody, she was grateful to them.
“So, you get what you were after?” Zoe asked, wanting to know everything.
“Not exactly, no,” Sarah Jane admitted. “They weren’t exactly cooperative, I got no more than the briefest comment.”
“I feel like there’s a but coming.” Beth had noticed a slight change in her tone.
“The place seemed a bit...well, odd. There’s definitely something not right, I just don’t know what yet.”
“Alien?” inquired Dan.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Sarah Jane said. “It could just be some dodgy dealings or industrial sabotage. We’ll know once Sentinel can get into their systems, I planted a hacking device.”
“And, like, if it’s alien, we go do some late night snooping?” Zoe seemed rather excited at the prospect.
“I’ll do some late night snooping, yes.”
“You do know you can’t leave us behind, right?” Beth was firmly against staying behind. Sarah Jane needed them, even if she wouldn’t admit it.
“Yeah, we’re a team,” Dan added.
“A team? Seriously?” exclaimed Zoe, incredulous. “We’re totally a squad.”
“Fine,” Sarah Jane relented, deciding it would be easier to agree with them. They did mean well, after all. “We’ll do some late night snooping – if we need to, that is.”
“How long is the, erm, hack gonna take?” asked Dan.
“A few hours at least. They’ve got a dozen different firewalls,” she replied. “So best make yourself comfortable until then.”
“Enough time to annihilate you two at video games.” Zoe smirked.
“Right then, you three go and play your game. I’ll bring some drinks through in a sec.”
The trio sauntered off back into the lounge. Sarah Jane picked up the kettle, and filled it, before setting it down to boil. She sat down at the table while she waited, and had a quick flick through the gardening magazine Gita had insisted she look at. It was easier to just agree with her. That said, a few things did appeal to her, not that she ever did that much gardening, she never found enough time to. They had a lovely Magnolia, one which she was sure would look good at the end of the garden.
The kettle clicked off, so she got up and poured it into the teapot. While it was brewing, she decided to check for any answer phone messages, not that she expected any.
“You have one new message,” the automated voice stated. “Message received today at 3:15pm. ‘Hi Sarah.’”
It was Gita’s unmistakable voice. Sarah Jane sighed slightly, she’d kind of hoped there had been a breakthrough for her Foxgrove story.
“‘Just ringing you to remind you about my garden party next-’”
Sarah Jane deleted the message. She’d already been “reminded” several times.
Zoe, Beth and Dan were playing one of their video games, some zombie thriller Sarah Jane didn’t know the name of, while she was reading The Angel’s Kiss. She was always fond of detective novels, and this was certainly one of the better ones, it felt like it could have actually happened.
“Sarah Jane.” Sentinel’s kaleidoscopic colours appeared on the screen. The journalist winced when the trio started to protest loudly.
“I was about to smash them,” huffed Zoe.
“Nah,” Beth replied.
“We all know I was gonna win, right?” joked Dan.
“In your dreams,” Zoe teased.
“Yes, Sentinel?” Sarah Jane cut across. “What have you found?”
“Those kids are annoying,” he grumbled.
“Hey, we’re not kids!” Zoe exclaimed.
“Yes, you are. Besides, I’ve only paused it. Anyway, the hack has done it’s job, but there’s nothing new about the disappearances.”
“Well that’s frustrating. You found anything else while looking?”
“Yes, actually. They’ve been having power fluctuations for months.”
“Because of the construction work?”
“No, it only seems to be happening at night.”
“There’s got to be a connection between these power fluctuations and the disappearances. It’s too much of a coincidence.”
“So we gonna go late-night snooping?” Zoe asked, clearly hoping it would be the case.
“Yes, we’re going to have to,” replied Sarah Jane, not really having wanted to be made to make the decision. “Now, I know I can’t ask you to stay behind, but when we’re in there, you have to be really careful. The security levels inside are top of the range, and, if we’re caught, there isn’t much I can do, even with my contacts.”
“Well, I’d say we’d be quiet, but since we have Zoe…” Dan trailed off teasingly.
“I will take this shoe off and smack you across the face with it if you don’t shut up,” Zoe growled.
“We’ll be careful, Sarah Jane,” Beth assured her.
“Good, because we leave tonight,” Sarah Jane said.
The September night air was crisp and chilly by the time they left the house. An indigo twilight illuminated the night air and bathed the village with an infusion of colours. Across the road, Gita Chandra was visible through the window with Alfie, chatting away on a laptop. They were talking to Rani, and Sarah Jane smiled at the awestruck expression on Alfie’s face as they walked across her lawn towards the garage.
She stepped into the driver’s seat of the Mini Cooper, and Dan and Beth crawled into the back. Zoe moved to join them when her phone buzzed in her pocket. She fished it out, and managed to contain her eye roll when she glanced at the caller ID. Jade.
“Gimme a minute,” Zoe said glumly, walked further into the lawn, and accepted the call. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me,” Jade said.
“Oh, hi, Jade,” Zoe pretended to sound enthusiastic. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing much. It’s just that, your dad just mentioned that you were staying over at a mate’s,” Jade responded.
Zoe’s grip on her phone tightened involuntarily. She was staying over. “Yup. Beth’s. Her mum’s out of town and her sister’s at her grandma’s on the other side of the village, so I’m keeping her company.”
“Oh, okay, cool. How is she?”
“Great,” Zoe replied bluntly, willing her to just hang up already. “So I should…”
“Does your dad really like chili?”
“On his pasta. I’m making pasta.”
Good for you, she thought grumpily. “Er, no. He hates chili. Just sprinkle on some black pepper.”
“Black pepper, really?”
“Yeah.” It was a weird combination, pasta and black pepper. She was always telling her father so, but he never listened.
“Probably for the best. I’ve been craving black pepper. That’s weird, ain’t it?”
Zoe bit her lip to refrain from lashing out. Cravings. Pregnancy cravings. A pregnancy Zoe didn’t want her to have, but she’d never dare say it out loud. She wasn’t cruel by nature, but she had a clear picture of her family, and Jada wasn’t on it. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was unexpected, and she wasn’t sure she liked it. “Yeah, I guess.”
“How you holding up?” Jade asked. "With Finn gone and all, and your uncle leaving."
“Fine. I should probably go.”
“Oh, right. Bye -”
Zoe had already hung up.
“Problem?” Sarah Jane inquired from the car. Zoe sighed, regained her composure, and turned back to the vehicle, and her friends, with an easy grin.
“Nope,” she said brightly. “Let’s go.”
Sarah Jane parked the Mini Cooper just outside of the Future Technologies building, and the group clambered out. The street was lit up by lamps, and a few stragglers wandered by, some drunk and some just desperate to get home. FutureTechnologies stood imperiously in the heart of the street, a hulking mass illuminated by external lights to maintain that corporate, clinical gleam. The trio of teenagers stood for a few seconds and just stared, awed by the sight.
“Looks empty,” Dan noted. “They must have left already.”
“At seven?” Zoe said, a hint of suspicion in her tone. “All of them? Something’s up.”
“Well, let’s find out,” he declared, and tried to move towards the entrance when Sarah Jane outstretched her arm and stopped him.
“If we go that way, we run the risk of being detected,” she explained, and gestured towards the alleyway that led to the back of the building. “There must be a side-entrance somewhere.”
Sarah Jane entered the alleyway first, followed by Dan, and then Zoe and Beth.
“A building like this has got to have security cameras and motion sensors and stuff,” Beth said in concern.
“Sentinel’s already working on that,” Sarah Jane replied. She rounded the corner before she abruptly stumbled back again, pushed them behind her, crouched down low, and hissed, “Down!”
Dan reacted first, and dragged the girls down with him. Zoe hissed when her shin scraped the gravel as she fell, and she punched Dan in frustration. He yelped and rubbed his bruised shoulder with a glare.
“That hurt!” he whined.
“So does my leg!” she hissed back.
“I did you a favour!”
“Shut up,” Beth hissed, her accent thickening like it always did when she was angry. “What’s up, Sarah Jane?”
“There’s a security guard patrolling the car park,” Sarah Jane murmured lowly. The group of four simultaneously peered over the edge of the wall to see a security guard stood in the centre of the empty lot with his back to them.
“Is he wearing headphones?” Zoe whispered incredulously. She could’ve sworn she saw a flash of blue light around his ears. “What kind of security guard is he?”
“A pretty brutish one, by the looks of it.” Sarah Jane took note of his bulky physique. They’d never get past him. “Front entrance it is.”
The whir of the sonic lipstick buzzed in the air as Sarah Jane unlocked the door and peered inside cautiously, surveying the area for any security guards. Sentinel had already disabled the cameras and alarms to mask their arrival. She just hoped whoever was sitting up in the office wasn’t paying attention to the stuttering footage. When she was satisfied nobody would intrude on them, she ushered her three friends inside.
The reception was quite eerie at night. The glass desk glinted in the silver moonlight, and the red velvety couches obscured by the darkness. Beth brushed her hand over an armrest, to placate her neurotic thoughts and assure herself that they hadn’t disappeared, while Zoe crept over to the desk.
“Bit creepy,” Dan murmured as he shut the door behind them.
Sarah Jane hummed in agreement as she flipped the lid of her watch and scanned the area. “I’m detecting energy readings.”
“What for?” Beth asked.
“Not sure,” Sarah Jane admitted as she spun on the spot. She closed the lid with a sigh of frustration. “I can’t even get a fix on the location.”
“So it could be anywhere in the building?” Dan guessed.
Sarah Jane nodded grimly. “Exactly.”
The trio jumped in surprise when Zoe forcefully opened a drawer, and sent a metal slider clattering loudly onto the floor. A flurry of paper and pens spewed out into an untidy mess. She looked up awkwardly, smiled bashfully, and started rummaging through the spilled contents. The group watched her in bewilderment.
“Zoe…?” Dan called out.
“What are you doing?”
Zoe waved a hand dismissively, rooting through the items with the other. “Stuff. Keep talking, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
They decided to leave her be and return to the matter at hand.
“We’re going to have to split up,” Beth decided.
“No,” Sarah Jane said vehemently. “There’s no need to.”
“But this place is huge,” Dan reasoned. “We can cover more distance this way.”
“A building like this will have locked doors,” Sarah Jane retorted, holding up her sonic lipstick. “We only have one of these.”
Zoe poked her head up. “Yeah, but we also have...these!”
In a rather dramatic display, she revealed a dangling chain of silver keys hanging between her fingertips.
Beth stared at her in astonishment. “Where’d you find those?”
Zoe shrugged noncommittally. “Secretaries are always leaving their keys in drawers in books and stuff.”
“This isn’t a story.”
“Point still stands,” Zoe replied, and whirled to face Sarah Jane. “So, we split up?”
Sarah Jane chewed her lip reluctantly. “Alright, but be careful. And stay in contact.”
“Course.” Zoe patted Dan on the shoulder. “I’ll stick with this loser. Hold his hand when he starts screaming.”
Dan pushed her arm off his shoulder. “Whatever!”
Sarah Jane smiled at the display. “Phones at the ready?”
The duo produced their phones, and Sarah Jane nodded in satisfaction.
“Alright, I’ll get Sentinel to keep an eye on you when he can. We’ll go through each floor. Beth, come with me. We’ll check the top floors. You two, check the bottom levels. We’ll meet in the middle.”
“Gotcha,” Zoe confirmed as she disappeared through a side-door with Dan on her heels. Sarah Jane turned and approached the lift on the other side of the lobby.
“Will they be okay?” Beth asked as they entered a lift cart. “What if they run into a guard?”
“We can’t worry about that right now,” Sarah Jane said grimly. “We have to find out what caused Sentinel’s sensors to spike like that. Whatever this energy reading is, it’s powerful.”
The doors slid shut and the lift started to ascend smoothly.
Sarah Jane turned to her young friend. “Very possibly.”
“Nothing here either,” Dan announced. They had scoured the entire ground floor but didn’t find anything interesting. The offices were all identical ‒ transparent glass doors leading into modest-sized offices with rich oak desks and state-of-the-art computers, along with other menial equipment. Dan tried to log into one to check the specifications when Zoe dared him to, but it was password protected, so they didn’t bother.
Zoe poked her head around another door. “Same. Why’s an energy discharge so hard to find anyway?”
“Dunno. Maybe we’re just not looking properly.”
She mulled on the suggestion. One would expect a year and a bit of experience in their profession, or ‘hobby’ as Sarah Jane insisted on, to enlighten them on how to proceed with their investigations, but there was always something new and deadly to wrap their brains around, and it always felt like they never progressed at all.
“Maybe,” she eventually decided on, because it was easier and saved time. “Let’s go.”
The two traipsed towards a door that led to the stairwell beyond the reception, opposite the lifts. Dan pushed against it, but the door remained still.
“Won’t budge,” he huffed.
Zoe produced the ring of keys from her pocket. “There must be one for the stairwell,” she muttered as she sifted through the different keys, growing increasingly frustrated after every failed attempt. “What idiot even locks a stairwell anyway?”
Dan was about to respond when he heard a squeak. He surveyed the area nervously, but nothing stood out in the dark office corridor. He was about to put it down to paranoia, when he heard it again. Zoe stopped and looked around as well, validating his suspicions.
“Someone needs to call pest control,” she muttered. “Bloody hate rats.”
“And here I thought you were among your people,” he teased.
Zoe grunted, inserted another key into the lock, pulled it, and whipped her around to look gleefully at him when the lock clicked open. “Got it!”
She pushed the door open and flinched when something slithered out, and promptly smacked Dan in the face with the back of her hand in her haste to get away from the door.
“Zoe!” Dan hissed. He rubbed his sore nose and followed her surprised stare quick enough to catch a glimpse of silver disappear behind the reception desk. “What was that?”
“I dunno,” she admitted. “It looked like a rat.”
Dan grinned. “What, you got scared by a rat?”
“Shut up,” she flushed. “It wasn’t completely like a rat. It was like…we have to follow it.”
“What?” He quickly moved to catch up when Zoe strode towards the desk and peered over the edge. “Wait up! What’s the rush?”
“Something’s off,” Zoe replied, leaped over the desk, and held the door open with a raised eyebrow in his direction. “Rats can’t open doors.”
They both shared a look and carefully edged through the door. They were stood at the top landing of a stairwell, the steps dimly lit by lights overhead. Dan squinted, trying to discern any distinct shapes at the bottom of the stairs, but the abyss was obscured by darkness.
The squeaking had resumed, at an even louder volume than before, accompanied by the sound of scuttling feet against concrete slabs.
“Maybe we should call Sarah Jane,” Dan said lowly.
“We can’t lose that thing,” Zoe responded sharply. “It could be responsible for the energy pulse thing.”
“It’s in the basement! Where’s it gonna crawl to in the space of two minutes? Hobbit-Land?”
Zoe produced her phone and selected the flashlight app. Light streamed from her camera and illuminated the dark passage. “Just shut up and follow me.”
Dan begrudgingly complied and, after quickly turning on the flashlight on his own phone, quietly followed Zoe down the dusty steps. They passed another two flight of steps that led nowhere, until they were stood by the basement exit. They explored their surroundings, the phones piercing the thick darkness with a narrow passage of light. The corridor was winding and grungy; unappealing patches of rotting green mould clung to the dull creamy walls, as if the life had been sucked out of them, and the incessant drip of a leaking pipe was the only other sound besides their breathing and footfalls.
Dan spluttered when the smell of wet damp filled his nostrils. “Oh, it stinks,” he complained and covered his nose with the sleeve of his sweater to ward off the smell.
Zoe hummed in agreement. “Like rotten eggs and pickles.” She directed her phone light downward and noted the stacks of brown cardboard boxes littered across the room. She checked behind a pile curiously, but only found a stray pipe. She supposed that it explained the dripping. “Where’d it go?”
“Quiet wee thing, isn’t it?”
Zoe laughed. “Haven’t heard you say something Scottish in ages.”
“I know, I’m a rubbish Scot. Anyways, it can’t have run away already,” he voiced confidently as his eyes drifted to an open metal door on the other side of the hallway. He almost didn’t catch it. “Must have got in there.”
“So,” Zoe started, completely disregarding his observation in favour of pushing boxes open. “You seem distracted today.”
“Yup. Something on your mind?” She paused her inspection of the box and looked at him carefully. He was faced away from her, so all she could see was the back of his head. Throwing caution to the wind, she added, “Someone? Your mum, your dad, Chris…?”
“Er, nah, not really,” Dan responded distractedly. Zoe wished that she could see his face. She had known him long enough to know when he wasn’t telling the truth. His voice would quieten, and he would smile a little half-smile before the next mundane event captured his attention. She smirked, and looked down at another stack of boxes, her reasoning behind her search long forgotten.
“I mean, it’s not like I ever think about anyone like him — like that,” he stuttered, and stumbled over a box in his awkward haze to examine the mysterious door. “Like that.”
“Yeah, yeah, I totally get you.”
What a rubbish liar, she thought to herself in amusement, her phone hovering across the walls. She paused and directed her light back to a poster on the wall, a frown marring her expression. The poster design wasn’t particularly extravagant — it was medium sized with a stark black background, but it was the message in red font that caught her attention. She stepped forward for a closer look and read the words aloud.
“The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.”
“What?” Dan’s voice was distant now. Zoe turned briefly to see his silhouette in the entrance of the second room, before she directed her phone back to the poster.
“Just some poster I found,” she replied. “Some people are into their religion, aren’t they?” Her voice was quiet now, her glazed eyes fixed on her arm and her musings focused on a time before. “So into it that they don’t care about who gets hurt in the crossfire.”
“Doesn’t matter if it’s men, women, children. They just hurt families, tear them apart.” She shuddered at the thought.
“Never again. I told Uncle Eric that. Never again.” Her promise to her lost friend. Her lost family. The people who haunted her every single day. “Dunno why I’m telling you this, but ‒”
“Zoe!” Dan yelled, his voice echoing off the hollow walls. “I found it!”
“What?!” Zoe snapped out of her ruminations and whipped her head around quickly enough to see Dan stumble into the room and crash into a pile of boxes. He was flat on his back, pushing something away from him. Something, Zoe noticed, that was squealing like a doll with a dying voice grate.
She moved closer, and stopped dead in her tracks. It was the metal rat she had seen, there was no doubt about it, except it wasn’t a rat at all. Now that she had a clearer look at it, she likened it to a fat metal worm, with empty black eye sockets and a gaping maw filled with gnashing yellow teeth.
“Bloody hell, that’s ugly,” she exclaimed. “It looks like it’s been roboticized.”
“You…don’t…say!” he grunted and rolled to his side. For a creature the size of his hand, it was surprisingly powerful. It snapped at him again but Dan managed to wrestle it away from his face. “We’re gonna have to run!”
“Run where? That thing would catch us in no time!” Zoe protested.
“Well, do something!”
“Why can’t you?!”
“I’m a little busy!” He yelled back, and rolled onto his back when the creature tried to wriggle free of his grasp. “I don’t want to be eaten!”
“Neither do I, so shut up and let me think!” Zoe shouted back, running a hand through her head. This was fine, she worked well under pressure, even though they were never usually about to get eaten by a silver worm thing.
“Dan, I swear, if you keep saying my name, I’ll knock you out before that thing even gets —” she trailed off, a light bulb erupting in her head. She grinned and snapped her fingers. “That’s it!”
She whirled around, dove for the cardboard boxes, pushed them aside and retrieved the metal pipe victoriously. “Gotcha!” She turned back to her friend. “Dan, listen to me. On the count of three, hurl that thing across the room.”
“What?” Dan spluttered. “What are you on about?”
“And then run towards me. Got it?”
“Oh, shut up and do it!” She gripped the pipe in both hands, lined her feet between her shoulders, and bent her knees. “Three!”
Dan struggled to keep the creature firmly gripped in his hands. Bolts of blue electricity shot out of its mouth and singed the ground next to him. “Oh, great.”
“Two! Get ready to close the door!”
Dan faltered slightly. “What?”
“One! Now, do it!”
At her command, Dan sat upright and hurled the creature across the room with all the strength that he could muster. Without wasting time, he stumbled to his feet and sprinted to Zoe’s side. The creature crashed into the wall, slid down, and started to slither towards them at an accelerated pace.
Zoe wielded the pipe as if it was a baseball bat. Adrenaline pumped through her veins and terrible alternatives of what would happen if she failed filled her head with whispers.
She told the thoughts to shut up.
The creature snarled excitedly and launched itself in the air. Zoe swung the pipe in an arc and connected with its underbelly, applying enough force to send it careering through the air and into the other room with a thud. “She scores!” she cheered in elation as Dan rushed over and slammed the metal door shut.
He startled when the metal worm rammed straight into the door, but relaxed when he realised that it wouldn’t be able to break free. He hooted in relief as the adrenaline died down. His feet must have been sore, it felt like the ground was vibrating. He ignored it, and turned to Zoe with a grin.
“Was that not awesome or what?” she grinned, bounding up to him for a high-five. Dan moved to meet her halfway, but faltered when something caught his attention, the smile disappearing off his face.
“What?” Zoe asked when she reached him. She followed his frozen expression, and almost tripped over her own feet.
Staring directly at them was the cause of the tremors ‒ a sleek metallic humanoid, like a cyborg. Its round metal face consisted of an empty rectangular mouth piece and deep black emotionless eye sockets that bore into their shocked expressions. The chest unit in the centre of its body bathed their faces in a bright, ethereal blue glow. It pointed an outstretched hand at them, the fist closed, and a metallic pulsar gun protruded from the top of its arm.
Zoe looked down at her pipe, and then at the cyborg, suddenly feeling very inadequate.
“It’s not here.”
Sarah Jane looked down at Beth, who was growing frustrated by their lack of progress in their investigation. She could understand it, her need to feel important, in her own respects. The talk that they had last year after that whole ordeal with Kaagh still stuck to her mind. Underneath all her wit and bravado, Beth Petite was a broken girl waiting to be pieced back together again. All three of them were broken, in a way, and she was determined to help them.
She placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We don’t know that for sure yet. Maybe Zoe and Dan have found the energy discharge.”
The lift door chimed open for the sixth time, and they stepped out. Their search on the upper floors had been fruitless and without event, but they hoped that the duo’s search had been more useful. The tenth floor, the middle, was identical to the rest. Sarah Jane strode over to the water cooler and flicked her scanner open to pass the time. Beth tapped her foot anxiously, checking her phone every now and again.
“Where are they?” she eventually asked between her nervous pacing. “They should be here by now.”
“I don’t know,” Sarah Jane replied. “I’m running a scan for them. Although…”
Beth didn’t like the grave expression on Sarah Jane’s face. “What is it?”
“My scans are registering a life form,” Sarah Jane hesitated when her scanner beeped again. “No, multiple life forms. One’s definitely human.”
“And the other?”
Sarah Jane led them further down the corridor. “I don’t know.”
They stopped when they reached what appeared to be a business conference room. Digital monitors hung around a large oval table dotted with velvet chairs; an interactive whiteboard beside two large windows overlooked the street below; and at the heart of it all, was a rigid James Cooper.
Sarah Jane gasped in realisation and flipped the lid of her watch shut. ”Future Technologies’ CEO.”
“He doesn’t look well,” Beth whispered, eyeing his dishevelled suit and the drool pooling at the bottom of his lip. His expression was hollow, as if someone had sucked the life out of him, and his face was as pale as a sheet. “You alright, mate?”
“Stay back, Beth,” Sarah Jane warned. “I don’t think Mr Cooper is quite himself, are you?” she smiled challengingly when he twitched. “I gather it was you who sent all the staff home? I’d like to say it was under duress, but it can’t have been.”
“Why not?” Beth asked.
Sarah Jane didn’t tear her eyes away from the CEO. “Because James Cooper is dead.”
As if a flip had been switched, James Cooper started coughing profusely, until he was red in the face. His spit was flying sporadically in the general direction of the girls, and his voice became laboured and wheezy. Sarah Jane pulled Beth back towards the door, her hand on her sonic lipstick. The CEO looked up suddenly, his emotionless eyes a cold contrast to his furious gagging and retching, and they watched in horror as a metal insect crawled out of his mouth, followed by dozens more. They were all sleek and metallic, their singular eye socket a blinking blue LED light. Their antennae were pointed directly at them. They flooded out of the man’s mouth and ears in droves, scuttling towards them on tiny legs.
The Cyborg advanced with its gun trained on them. Zoe and Dan had no doubt that it would kill them in an instant if they tried to run. They stood there, their backs pressed against the wall, with enemies on both sides. There was nowhere left to run.
“You will identify,” it commanded in a deep, guttural voice. The voice was hollow and without inflectionless, and it sent a shiver down Zoe’s spine. She associated identities to voices, and yet she couldn’t grasp anything unique in this one. Even Sentinel, an AI, had his own unique traits and word choice. The only thing this robot had going was that it sounded like a discount Siri.
“Room service?” Dan tried flippantly. Zoe suppressed the urge to roll her eyes.
“You will identify,” it repeated, and pointed the gun closer at them.“Failure to comply will result in maximum deletion.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“Well done, Sherlock, how’d you figure that out?” Zoe hissed under her breath, her eyes frantically scanning the area for an escape route. She knew it was hopeless, they were cornered and her pipe wouldn’t even make a scratch, but it was better than standing around screaming as she was shot. “Well, it was nice knowing you.”
“Likewise,” Dan squeaked.
“Oi! Hold your horses!” a voice cried, startling the teenagers. The robot paused and tilted its head slightly, as if it was confused by the statement that seemed to appear from thin air. Of course, it wasn’t actually thin air. It was Sentinel, who was inhabiting Dan’s phone.
The boy whipped it out of his pocket and stared down at it with a mixture of confusion and relief. “Sentinel!”
“There won’t be any collateral damage today,” the AI declared.
“The telephonic device will identify,” their robotic attacker ordered.
“Me? I’m just your worst nightmare, Cyberman!” Sentinel retorted haughtily. “Get ready to run.”
Before anybody could question the statement, a dislodged pipe flew across the room and whacked the Cyberman in the head. It recovered quickly, but was immediately sprayed by a torrent of white vaporous mist. It thrashed about in slight confusion as the sides of his body was blanketed by a thin sheet of mist.
“Liquid nitrogen! Diluted to my own flawless recipe. Harmless to you humans, but it should slow him down a bit. Now, the two of you, get out of here. Get to the ninth floor!”
Not one to be told twice, Zoe immediately grabbed Dan by the scruff of his sweater and dragged him along as they dashed past. “Later, Iron Man!”
The horde of robotic insects scuttled towards them in a synchronised movement. Beth cursed when her back hit the door. “Sarah Jane, what are they?”
“At a guess? Bad news. Stand back, Beth, and don’t let them touch you.” She zapped the oncoming swarm with her sonic lipstick, and swung it in an arc to catch those that tried to crawl up the walls. Beth did as she was instructed and stayed by the door, ready to open it at a moment’s notice. She noticed the reaction that the swarm had when they were struck by the sonic. Their lights blinked rapidly, like a dying battery, until they stuttered out completely and they collapsed on the ground like an afterthought.
A few seconds later, the ground was littered with a pool of glistening silver bodies, and Sarah Jane pocketed the sonic lipstick. She stared down at the bugs with a troubled expression. “Oh, we’re in trouble.”
Beth pushed herself away from the door and stood by her side. “Why? What are they?”
Sarah Jane crouched down and prodded one of the insects with her finger. “An upgraded version of a Cybermat, at a guess.” A shiver ran down her spine at the thought. The creatures had already been dangerous at it was, she dreaded to think what a horde of upgraded miniatures were capable of.
“But, what’s a Cybermat?”
“Creations of the Cybermen.”
“Right,” Beth rolled her eyes. As if that explained anything. “And the Cybermen are…?”
“A brutal race, birthed by society’s need to survive death, disease and illness,” Sarah Jane explained sombrely. “Perfectly uniform. Anybody who objects is deemed a threat and…deleted.”
Beth paled at the thought, but not for the reasons that might have been going through the journalist’s head. A perfectly uniform race free of illness, which had to include bipolarity. She shuddered the envious thoughts from her head, and directed her attention to the crumpled body of James Cooper. She edged closer and loomed over him. From his unmoving expression and still chest, there was no doubt in her mind that he was dead. “Rubbish luck, eh, mate?” she asked, followed by a shaky laugh. She was struggling to keep calm. He had died horribly, in a gruesome manner that she hadn’t quite seen before.
Sarah Jane gently moved her aside and tenderly shut the man’s eyes as a sign of respect. One last reprieve before his eternal slumber. “I should have seen it,” she murmured. “The moment I’d seen him, I knew there wasn’t something quite right about him, but I was too focused on the missing people to investigate further.”
“Do you think the same thing that happened to him happened to them?” Beth asked nervously. “What exactly happened, anyway?”
“My scans indicate the Cybermites harvested James Cooper’s organs,” Sentinel, who had taken residence in the interactive whiteboard, explained. “Heart, liver, kidneys, the whole shebang. Not the best way to go.”
“You’re telling me.”
“Cybermites?” Sarah Jane questioned. “Yup. It’s a name registered in the database. The Dunce-tastic duo ran into a Cybermat, by the way. You know, worm-like thing that poisoned you that one time.”
“It what?!” Beth gawked in surprise. Sarah Jane shrugged off her reaction.
“Also a Cyberman,” Sentinel continued, unperturbed. “And yeah, they’re fine, so don’t ask. I swooped in like a majestic hero and all that.”
“Good.” Sarah Jane breathed a sigh of relief. “Where are they now?”
“On their way to the ninth floor. That’s why I’m here. Sarah Jane, I’ve located the fracture.”
Sarah Jane rose from her crouch. “Ninth floor, you said?”
“I see.” Anxiety bubbled away in the pit of her stomach. The current situation wasn’t looking good at all, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Her main priority was the fracture. “We’ll see you there, Sentinel,” she said, and, after making a note to send for someone to discover James’ body, she turned and walked out of the room with Beth in tow.
As Zoe and Dan dashed through the double doors, they arrived in a gigantic, empty chamber.
Empty, except for the gigantic pulsating orb of energy buzzing in the air in front of them, which they saw Sarah Jane and Beth looking up at.
“What the hell is that?” Zoe exclaimed, readying her makeshift bat in defence.
“A giant electricity bill,” Beth mused, before she gazed into the heart of the strange energy, and became captivated by its strangeness.
“Whatever it is, it’s quite beautiful,” Sarah Jane observed.
Yes, the strange hall had a peculiar atmosphere, partly down to the paradoxical nature of it feeling very claustrophobic, but also as if the whole universe were ahead of them. It was like a gigantic metal box, enclosing Sarah Jane, Zoe, Beth, and Dan within its four, windowless, steel walls. From where they stood, there was no sign of the outside world at all – in fact, the four of them could die here, and perhaps nobody would know.
But at the same time, the strange portal ahead of them, hovering in the middle of the air, had some… odd quality to it. For whenever they were looking at it, they felt time flickering before their very eyes – everything that had ever happened or ever would happen, captured in one, fuzzy, pulsating ball of energy. The inside of it shone a vivid, bright blue, sparking and sparkling and swirling. Once you saw past that intense light, there was a slate-grey, mysterious core to it. It bathed the four of them in an ethereal, purple light, and it made a quiet humming sound that travelled straight through them, making all four heartbeats quicken, as they suddenly became aware of the essence of life running through them.
What they were standing in front of was pure time, running in front of them. All four of them knew it, without Sarah Jane needing to reaffirm their feelings.
But she did – for they were all correct. Through that unearthly power, all of time awaited them.
“It’s not a portal per se,” Sarah Jane crept to a safe distance – if her suspicions were correct, this essence of pure time was volatile, and could snatch any of them if they got too close – of course, it could also be used to get to Earth, and it did not take a genius to work out that it had been this the Cybermen had travelled through.
For once, the three teenagers were speechless. Time itself… all their lives, even the bits of them they hadn’t lived yet.
“It’s a fissure,” Sarah Jane gazed into it, squinting through the dazzling light streaming through it. “A… fracture. A fracture in time.”
“And that’s where the Cybermen came from?” Zoe asked, turning away from the light so she could focus. After all – this seemed like the sort of thing the Cybermen would rather like to keep safe, meaning chances were, a million alarms had already been triggered.
“Looks like it,” Dan observed the crackling light, bolts of lightning jetting out of it and striking the steel walls.
“I think so,” Sarah Jane glanced at her phone, where she noticed Sentinel’s kaleidoscopic interface glitching. “And it seems like Sentinel doesn’t like it.”
“Oi!” Sentinel complained. “I can cope!”
“Ah. Sorry, Sentinel,” Sarah Jane apologised to her phone.
“Don’t take my existence for granted! I keep being side-lined!”
“Won’t happen again, Sentinel,” Sarah Jane said. Now, to the crux of the matter – she needed to know about the fracture. “Information on the fracture?”
“Imagine someone threw a rock at one of your human flimsy panes of glass, and it cracked.”
Dan sighed. “He still hasn’t forgiven us that time we kicked ball through the window and it knocked him off the counter.”
“It slowly cracks, with many different branches of the cracks extending over the glass. That’s what’s happened to time – it’s been fractured, for the purpose of getting from one place to another. Except an infinite number of fractures have arisen as a consequence, stretching all over the universe. So, er – good luck.”
“Thank you, Sentinel,” she slipped her phone back into her pocket. “So… of course, I’m only guessing but… I think the Cybermen have fractured time from wherever they’re from, aiming to get to Earth. And knowing the Cybermen, they shan’t take too long before trying to convert the entire population.”
“In other news,” Zoe stated, as she began to contemplate the entirety of humanity being transformed into emotionless cyborgs. “Sentinel is being a moody loser today.”
“I really hope we don’t end up like him when they kill us all,” Dan said, the thought of him being reduced to a stroppy kaleidoscope filling him with contempt.
“Not really death,” Beth muttered.
“We need to close it,” Sarah Jane grabbed her sonic lipstick. “Isolate the Cybermen here, before they can send for any reinforcements.”
She gave it a quick scan over, which merely made the fissure a bit more capricious, whizzing and bursting with electricity and light constantly, a visual representation of the constant cycle of time, just as the fissure itself was an almighty portal to time.
“What’s up, Sarah Jane?” Zoe noticed the grim look etched upon Sarah Jane’s face, as she slipped her sonic lipstick away in her pocket. Zoe readied her pipe, just in case.
“I… I don’t think we can shut it,” Sarah Jane admitted. The fracture in time was huge – and it was growing, and, it was almost like a monster, engulfing everything it could. It was too huge for Sarah Jane to control with the sonic lipstick, with Sentinel, with anything. The fracture in time was dangerous, and it was sprawling, and there was no way she could tame the fracture and shut it.
A world-eating time-fracture and an army of emotionless cyborgs ready to convert a whole planet. Sarah Jane’s day was gradually getting worse and worse.
“We can’t do it,” she turned to leave, leaving the three teenagers in disbelief.
“What do you mean?!” Zoe exclaimed. “We always do it!”
“Not this time. This isn’t our fight,” Sarah Jane felt guilty, but she had no choice. If she tackled this on her own, she would be putting Zoe, Beth, and Dan in immense danger, and that was something she never wanted to risk again. Not after Melody. No – nothing could ever happen to any of them, she wouldn’t let it.
And Sarah Jane Smith knew all about the Cybermen. She knew how brutal they were, and yet, how the true quality of their brutality lay behind the fact they thought themselves kind. There was nothing aggressive to the Cybermen – they believed they were doing something good to the universe.
That made them deadlier than anything.
Zoe, Beth, and Dan caught sight of the grim look upon Sarah Jane’s face – and they grasped the severity of the situation, and so reluctantly, they turned to follow Sarah Jane.
“We’ll call UNIT,” Sarah Jane decided. They would be able to deal with this – or at least, she hoped so. Because if not, the Cybermen were going to convert the entire planet – and there would be very little that she could do to stop it.
But as Sarah Jane opened the double doors, stood behind them was a Cyberman.
“Oh my god,” she stumbled back, her teenage friends backing away behind her. The Cyberman followed her, and suddenly, she realised it wasn’t just a Cyberman.
Following it came a whole line of Cybermen, striding in uniformly after it. The two doors at the side of the metal room burst open, and lines of Cybermen marched in from them as well, joining with their fellow Cybermen and encircling Sarah Jane, Zoe, Beth, and Dan, just in front of the fracture in time.
There were so many of them, spilling into the room, their blank faces boring deep into theirs. It was an emotionless onslaught, and the four of them were trapped in the centre of it.
Like this, they would be unstoppable. The pinnacle of Cyber-evolution, descending upon planet Earth. Sarah Jane had faced down the Cybermen before, but nothing ever like this. The teenagers looked around them at their capturers, and Zoe lowered her pipe. For once, it was useless – there was no way they could stand up to all of them.
They were faced with the future of humanity – and it was coming faster than any of them would’ve liked.
“Sarah Jane,” Zoe asked. “What do we do?”
Sarah Jane shrugged helplessly. Evolution was always going to happen, it was always going to lead them to this point.