Series 7 Episode 4 A Fracture in Time Part Two Written by Ryder Smith and Peter Darwin
Sarah Jane, Zoe, Beth, and Dan, were encircled.
The Cybermen watched them, blank faces boring deep inside them. A leader came forth, denoted by its black handle-bars, and held out its metallic arm, calculations running through its head at super-speed – the refinement of the human brain, into nothing more than a computer.
“You have been identified as Sarah Jane Smith,” it spoke in a gravelly, computerised voice, devoid of any humanity.
“Why so much attention?” Sarah Jane addressed them all, trying to sound fearless. She wasn’t, of course.
“You have been identified as Sarah Jane Smith,” the leader repeated.
Sarah Jane realised why she was faced with so much attention – but the leader clarified.
“Your reputation is known to the Cybermen.”
Zoe, Beth, and Dan looked up to Sarah Jane, a slight look of awe, and wariness in their eyes, as they watched her so bravely facing down the Cybermen. There was, however, something of nervousness and trepidation in her voice. Sarah Jane did not seem as sure of herself as she usually was, as if she didn’t quite know what she stood for.
“You are a danger to the conversion scheme,” the Cyber-Leader held out its arm, the gun mounted to the metal plating looking especially ominous. “You will face maximum deletion.”
“Wait! Stop, all of you!” Sarah Jane reached into her pocket and whipped out her phone. “I wouldn’t be so quick to hurt my friends!”
One of the Cybermen beside the leader spoke. “Scanners detect this is a mere telephonic device.”
“Oi, sunshine! There is nothing ‘mere’ about me!”
“And it’s not Siri,” Zoe interjected, as the Cybermen stepped back just a few metres…
“Sentinel is a good friend of mine,” Sarah Jane displayed Sentinel’s kaleidoscopic interface to the Cybermen, as if she were waving a red rag to a bull. “And he’s also rather good with things like… oh, I don’t know… hive minds.”
“Oi!Cyber-monkeys!” Sentinel said. “Time for some Cyber-bullying.”
“DELETE!” cried all the Cybermen in the room, their metallic cries reverberating against the claustrophobic metal walls. Sarah Jane was just hoping that this would work – after all, it would be a terrible way to go, and she would hate to have let down her friends.
In fact, Sarah Jane even closed her eyes, as she saw all of the Cybermen ready the guns upon their arms.
When they fired, she opened her eyes.
Because – and this was the rather clever part of their escape plan (or at least, their escape from death), Sentinel had just pulsed a signal through the Cyberiad to disable all Cyber-weaponry.
“Weapons systems disengaged,” the Cybermen glanced around with a strange emotionless befuddlement, as they witnessed this impossible technology. Yes, the Cybermen knew of Sarah Jane Smith – but they did not know she had such… devices.
“So, Cybermen,” Sarah Jane smiled at them smugly. “I suggest you leave my friends, and myself, alone. Got it?” There was a moment of silence, and Sarah Jane almost hoped that she had gotten away with it. Of course, nothing was ever so simple with the Cybermen.
“Sarah Jane Smith and the young humans will be taken prisoner,” the Cyber-Leader decreed. It extended a robotic fist and a trail of Cybermites swarmed out. “Refusal to comply will result in disintegration.”
“What, by your weapons?” Dan jeered. “Cos they’re a wee bit rubbish at the moment.”
“Negative,” intoned the Cyber-Leader. “Disintegration by the fissure identified as the fracture in time.”
A cold wave of fear washed over the group. From the little experience they had with the robots, there was no doubt that they were telling the truth. Sarah Jane chewed on her bottom lip plaintively as they were rounded up and shepherded into the fracture. Stalemate.
The journey through the fracture was indescribable. Sarah Jane felt as if her body was being transported through eons, her body aging and de-aging in the span of a millisecond. Life and death and time flashed before her eyes, some of them snapshots of her own. The Doctor, her friends, her family, and her enemies, spliced together without a discernible pattern; for every Luke, there was Wormwood. For every Sky, there was the Trickster. She felt as if there was a veil around her, lifting her up into the air with tendrils, a silky embrace.
Zoe saw something similar. Her family, her mother, Jade, but she also saw new things, events to come. She tried to focus, but they were blurry and indistinct, lost to her in the flicker of time. The crimson woman. The blue eyes. Alfie. Her mum. The stone hand. Stuff that didn’t make sense to her.
For Dan, his feet moved yet remained grounded. Life and time flashed by his eyes in a flash. He also saw new things. There was Felix, a swing, a pier, lush green pastures, and then the sudden harsh sound of a gunshot that left his ears ringing and his body shivering from the tonal whiplash. The embrace of time enveloped him, but it could do nothing to stop the coldness that clung to his skin.
Beth’s experience was less pleasant. Time passed by in trickles, and an inky blackness hung persistently in her periphery. When had life become so warped for her? She honed in on her personal timestream, and she saw time pass by her in an instant, like all the others, but none of them held the answers she desperately desired. Then, before she could react, a car whizzed by and a bright red bus rammed straight into her before she even had the chance to scream.
Then they were all standing in a large console room. Gun-metal grey, cold and clinical, like the Cybermen themselves. Advanced monitors and projectors hung in the air without the need for wires; pods stood in neat rows across the room at equidistant points, and Cybermats and Cybermites scuttled around the walls and floors, stopping every so often to gnash their teeth or beep excitedly at their new prisoners. In the heart of it all was a huge towering machine, black with shades of blue and grey, and fortified by flicks of sizzling electricity that lashed out across the room every minute. Data streamed through the monitors around it in a numerical format, factual and logical. Lights flickered on and off above their heads sporadically, as if the power was failing to sustain the area.
The gang stood still as their brains digested the experience. They had seen all of time, and yet no time had passed at all. In the time measured by their beating hearts, it had been over before it could truly begin.
The Cybermen marched into the room in neat rows and surrounded them, their metallic bodies shining, almost blindingly, from the jump through time and space. The Cyber-Leader stood before them, his face blank and emotionless as always.
“It’s an impressive piece of technology, I’ll give you that,” Sarah Jane, still recovering from the jump, conceded a little breathlessly, referring the machine behind the leader. “Powerful enough to tear a hole in the fabric of time.”
“Negative,” the Cyber-Leader responded.
Sarah Jane stared at him in bewilderment. “’Negative?” she repeated.
“The fracture in time allowed us entry into the planet designated Earth. It is not of our design. Its origins are unknown.”
Sarah Jane shivered at the thought. If the fracture wasn’t the Cybermen’s doing, that meant that there was someone out there interfering with the course of time, or that tears and cracks were showing naturally. She did not like either of the scenarios. “Do you use that to regulate it?” she asked, eyeing the machine again. “Surely you’re the reason that Earth hasn’t been destroyed yet?”
“Correct. We direct ninety-nine percent of our power to preserve the planet.”
“Explains the dying lights,” Dan murmured off-handedly.
“But why? Why would you go to such an extent and forgo your power for a planet you believe to be primitive?”
“Earth is a stronghold for the Cybermen.”
“Correct. The populace and resources are valuable assets for the Cybermen.”
“The populace? For conversion, no doubt.”
“That is correct,” the Cyber-Leader responded coldly. “The minerals will be expunged. The population will be upgraded.”
“And that’s why you harvested the organs of James Cooper? And the people that went missing? You’re despicable.”
“Negative. Your words are irrelevant, you are now prisoners of the Cybermen,” the Cyber-Leader decreed.
Prisoners – well, at least it was better than death, and all of them were thankful for that.
It was only as the Cybermen came and grabbed the teenagers, that they realised the four of them really being separated.
“Sarah Jane?!” they all looked up at her, as if they were looking for her to say something.
“All of you, stay strong, you’re alive. Trust me – I will find you all. I will find you.”
And then she turned to the Cybermen.
“Because if you harm them, I will use Sentinel to send a deactivation signal to all Cyber-units through the Cyberiad.”
Of course, a deactivation signal wasn’t possible – but the Cybermen didn’t understand bluffing, and she knew that as cold logicians, they weren’t going to take any chances. Sarah Jane’s next sentence, however, was perfectly honest.
“And believe me – you harm just one hair on their heads, and I will make sure you are nothing more than rust by the end of today.”
And with that, Sarah Jane allowed herself to be carried away by the Cyber-Leader.
The Cybermen led the trio down a dull grey corridor overrun by crawling legions of Cybermites. They were placed inside individual prison cells, a hollow cube with an electric blue laser barrier that prevented escape. The rooms were as bare as the corridor. They were metallic, smooth, grey cubes lacking in any facilities or decor. Above them was a blinking blue LED light — a Cybermite spy set to monitor their every movement. Beyond that, a Cyberman stood behind each barrier, like a final defence if the trio even attempted to escape. They stood like vigils, their blank emotionless faces boring into ones filled with ideals and aspirations without contempt, a trait they expected every alien that they fought to retain. Beth was leaning against the far wall of her cell, her eyes tracing imaginary patterns over the spotless grey tiles. Her prison guard watched her, and she knew that behind the emotionless exterior, a brain was chuntering away, trying to figure her out, like everybody else tried to.
“You are sick.”
And just like that, the blissful equilibrium of silence was shattered.
“Actually, I’m Beth,” she told the Cyberman. “But nice to meet you.”
The Cyberman responded to her sarcasm blankly, staring at her from across the cell.
“Diagnosis – bipolar II disorder, pronounced by-po-lar too –”
“Really?” Beth interrupted the Cyberman’s diatribe before it could go any further. “I had no idea.”
If the future of technology was for them to all become Cybermen, then she was clearly going to have to stop using sarcasm and humour as a front for all questions that she didn’t want to answer.
The Cyberman stared at her, as if it was waiting to say something.
It did say something.“Clarify – are you unaware of the medical condition or the pronunciation of the linguistic –”
“I’m aware of everything, okay?” Beth declared, putting the Cyberman out of its confused misery. An appreciative silence followed.
“Potential treatments include –”
“I don’t need to know the treatments,” Beth snapped. She just wanted the Cyberman to shut up – this was something she’d resigned herself to, she did not need the Cyberman to keep going on about it.
“I’ve already come to terms with my stupid head, alright?”
She was lying, obviously – this was something confusing, something that was going to elude her for a while, and something it would take a long time to come to terms with. She had resigned herself to a state of not-understanding, resigned herself that she was going to endure something in her head that she didn’t really… get.
However, the Cyberman did not need to know that.
“Correction,” the Cyberman stated. “The adjective ‘stupid’ is not required. Bipolar II is a recognised health condition.”
“Crazy thought, mate, but I’m aware of that. I don’t dose myself up on loads of medication for a laugh.”
The Cyberman looked at her, and as Beth stared into its cold and empty eyes, she felt it scanning her… calculating whatever was going on in her head. Could the Cyberman tell? Through a string of billions of numbers, could it somehow piece them together to work out how she felt?
“You are experiencing high levels of the emotion known as anger,” the Cyberman responded. Perhaps it could scan her brainwaves or whatever, interpret some neurone impulses – but in the end, that’s all anybody else could do. Nobody else would ever know what was going on inside her head… apart from her, and she would rather everybody else stop going on about it as if they did.
“Explain this emotion,” the Cyberman stated.
“Welcome to my world.”
“Not knowing what’s going on inside my head apart from the fact it’s rubbish. It’s fun, you should try it.”
“Think of what it’s like being you, because that’s what it’s like,” Beth declared, the words sort of… falling out of her mouth in a way she hadn’t expected, as if this was something she were desperate to get off her chest, but hadn’t been able to find a way of properly channelling it.
The Cyberman stared at her, as if it were waiting for her to continue. When she eventually did continue, Beth realised that it was not often she would divulge information in such a way – in a way that wasn’t meant to be funny.
“I look at you,” she said. “And I realise I am nothing more than you. It hurts because everyone paints the Cybermen as evil and then there’s me, and I’m relating to you. Half the time I am just… not feeling anything.”
It was something she’d been philosophising about… a lot. She’d been through a rough month. Rough month. Made it sound like nothing at all. If only there was a way to summarise the constant weight attached to her and dragging her down.
And that wasn’t just a cliché that stemmed from the common conception that good things are up high and bad things lie beneath… it was true. In brief moments of euphoria, Beth truly felt as if she were flying. Or, in the case of the past few weeks, the opposite – she felt as if there was something heavy on top of her, forcing her down, the sum of her stupid depressed thoughts shoving her as low as possible.
It was that heaviness that just left her feeling… cold. People often mistook depression as feeling sad, but in truth, it was something more than that. It was feeling constantly low, constantly being dragged down. Emotion didn’t come into it. In fact, sadness was a relief, it was a reassurance you weren’t completely numb all the time. And happiness – well, that was a miracle.
As Beth breathed, those breaths felt slower, and rawer, her whole self completely captivated in a few moments of understanding. It wouldn’t last long. Before long she’d be back to just… trying to keep her head above water, trying as hard as possible not to drown. Recently, not-drowning had been easier said than done. The world had been creeping up around her, as if she’d taken her eyes off it, just for a few seconds, and now it was above her shoulders, and she had to try as hard as possible not to let it take her.
All Beth wanted was a relief from it all – she wanted it to stop so she didn’t have to keep treading water, so she didn’t have to keep battling against it.
“What makes it worse is that… I look at you, and I see a way of getting out of it. Cybermen remove sickness, right? Well, if you can get rid of my bipolar, I’m with you, 100%.”
But she knew, deep down, that she still wouldn’t be better. She wouldn’t be her. But oh, the relief that would come. She wanted that more than anything else in the world.
All she had was the hope that there might be a day when the bipolar stopped. But some days, she was hit with the realisation that this might not even be the worst of it. That it might stick around for the rest of her life.
Dan withered under the Cyberman’s gaze, scuffing his toe against the metal ground awkwardly. He had been in the prison cell for quite a while now, and silence had begun to stagnate around the room.
“So,” he squeaked, and instantly wished he had kept his mouth shut. The robot turned to face him, its metal chest plate bathing his face in a blue glow. It merely stared at him, as if it was waiting for him to continue, unprompted. He coughed, and continued. “You do this often?”
“Explain,” the Cyberman demanded.
“Keeping hostages,” Dan clarified. “Is that a usual… what are you again?”
“We are the Cybermen.”
“Right…” he trailed off, and decided to get to the question that had plagued his thoughts ever since he had laid eyes on the aliens. “So, who exactly are the Cybermen?”
“We are humanity mark two,” the Cyberman responded.
Dan’s eyes widened in alarm. “Us? Is that what you meant when you said upgrade? You were gonna convert us?”
“That is correct.”
Dan winced at its bluntness. “How does that work?” He paused. “Does it hurt?”
“Cybermen have no concept of pain.”
“Okay… explain it to me in human terms, then. Does it hurt?”
The Cyberman paused, as if it was considering his question. Finally, it said, “Yes.”
He felt his stomach lurch as an unpleasant thought surfaced. “… Are you in pain?”
There was another pause. Dan stared at the metal machine intently, wondering if he could get through to it and help it regain its humanity.
“You have… sympathy for the Cybermen,” the Cyberman noted slowly, as if it was unfamiliar with the term.
Dan considered the statement. “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Sympathy is irrelevant.”
“Nah, I don’t think it is.”
“Sympathy results in failure,” the Cyberman said aggressively, and Dan was slightly taken aback. “Emotions are irrelevant. Cybermen remove emotion. We are the superior race.”
Dan drew out a long breath, processing its statement. “Er, well, I guess you have a point. Kind of.”
“Well, sometimes emotions are a bit rubbish. They’re a burden.”
“You are... distracted,” the Cyberman diagnosed.
“Yeah, I am.”
Dan was surprised by how easily the words left his lips. “Well, sometimes, I love having them, and others…” he sighed. “Other times, I wish I was like you. Emotionless. Ever since I was forced to come out to my parents, my brother spread the news around the village to… spite me, I guess. Dunno why. But now everybody knows, and I get looks at school, and I’m harassed all the time. They mostly just call me names but sometimes, when Zoe and Beth aren’t around, they beat me up.”
“Scans indicate you are not damaged,” the Cyberman interrupted.
“Yeah, they never beat me up hard enough to leave loads of bruises, cos they know I won’t have any proof then. There’s this one guy who’s the ringleader of it all: Nathan Drake. I hate it. I hate him and I... I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”
“Explain,” the Cyberman repeated, and Dan blinked in confusion.
“Oh,” he breathed when he realised why it was confused. “I’m bi. Bisexual? It’s —”
“Bisexual: pronounced by-sexual: when one is attracted to both men and women.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “You’re like a dictionary. Should pit you against Zoe, see who wins.”
“Jokes are irrelevant,” it responded callously. “Emotions and sexuality are irrelevant. They weaken a species. Cybermen remove sex, creed, orientation. You are weak, timid, defenceless. The Cybermen are the superior race.”
“You guys are robots,” Dan countered.
“We are efficient,” it retorted with an air of finality, and turned away, leaving Dan to wallow in his cell and come to terms with the harsh reality that his emotions and experiences were irrelevant in the grand scheme of things for the Cyberiad. There was no sympathy with them, only cold, cruel logic.
The Cyberman stared at Zoe, and Zoe stared back. But while the metal robot was silent and emotionless, Zoe was unforgivingly and relentlessly angry.
“Gonna keep staring at me like that?” she demanded, and crossed her arms. The robot said nothing, irritating her further. “Well?”
“You... are... imaginative,” it said at last, forming each letter with robotic precision.
Zoe faltered. “Huh?”
“Your imagination is... powerful,” the Cyberman continued, and all Zoe could do was stare and uncross her arms. The Cyberman was praising her?
“Thanks, I guess.”
“But your imagination is clouded by an extreme emotional reaction known as anger.”
And there it was.
Zoe re-crossed her arms.
“No,” she said stubbornly.
“Explain,” the Cyberman persisted.
“I don't need to explain myself to you,” Zoe hissed, and jerked her head to the side to avoid eye contact. The Cyberman’s eyes were emotionless, and it unnerved her a little.
There was a pause, and then, “Scans indicate that you are unsure.”
She chewed the inside of her lip, and turned back to face her captor. “It's always scans with you lot, isn't it? All numbers and numerics, which sucks. Where's the imagination?”
“You don't just need Maths to do an analysis. There's something deeper in the written media that could never be understood with Pythagoras.”
“Literature is an irrelevant processor. Logic dictates all actions,” the Cyberman intoned firmly.
Zoe drew out a long breath. “Well, yeah, but there wouldn't be numbers and logic without imagination, would there?”
The Cyberman returned to its blank staring. Maybe it didn't have an answer, or maybe it didn't care enough to enlighten her.
“Do you have Cyber-pensioners?” Zoe asked spontaneously, trying to get rid of the stagnant silence.
“You are angry,” the Cyberman replied, and Zoe rolled her eyes.
“Oh, here we go.”
“Explain what?” she finally snapped irritably. “Explain that my mum’s been gone for so long that I'm starting to forget what she sounded like? Explain that my brother, who’s been with me all my life, is now gone doing his own thing and I miss him? Explain that my uncle and aunt have split and they've always been right next door and together and now that's changing because he leaves for America tomorrow? Or that my dad got his new girlfriend knocked up with a baby that I don't want any connection to? And don't just say I can ignore the fact that she's my sister, because I can't. Or how about the fact that I'm stuck in a prison cell with a metal machine watching over me screeching ‘explain’ like a granny on bingo night?”
The Cyberman lapsed back into silence, and Zoe breathed heavily, slowly regretting her rant. She could practically hear the cogs in its robotic head whirring.
“Your anger is irrelevant,” it finally decided. “Cybermen remove anger.”
Zoe slumped back against the wall of her cell, emotionally drained. “Good for you.”
“Your imagination is powerful. The Cybermen require imagination..."
"Thought you didn't do imagination," she grumbled.
"... For the Cyber-Planner.”
Zoe tensed at the implication, and carefully studied the monotonous figure on the edge of her vision.
“You stay away from me if you know what's good for you,” she warned feebly. The Cyberman advanced on her, the warnings either unheard or dismissed. Cybermites crawled in after the robot, and scuttled excitedly towards her.
And that was when the alarm sounded.
Sarah Jane looked up, to see the Cyber-Leader watching her. It said nothing, and Sarah Jane knew that it was simply… evaluating her, working out what made her tick. After all – not long ago, she had walked in there with a piece of technology capable of hacking the Cyberiad, one of the most advanced hive-minds in all the universe.
And deep inside those data banks, their half-equivalent of memories, Sarah Jane knew that the Cybermen would find her. Memories were strange, and Sarah Jane knew that the Cybermen didn’t truly grasp what memories truly meant. The logic of a pure logician was simply that – logic. The Cyber-memories of Sarah Jane Smith would recount for nothing more than the part she had played in the history of the Cybermen – they would leave sketchy gaps, for after all, memories were only half-formed when they lacked the people, the emotion, the humanity behind it.
Memories were powerful in their fullest form, and the Cybermen lacked that. Sarah Jane knew that there, she had the advantage. As she sat there, she was spurred on by the sheer, emotional weight behind her memories. When she thought of her young friends, Sarah Jane Smith knew the lengths that she would go to, just to keep them safe. The memories of Melody haunted her. The memories of Sky as well.
And even more powerful than memory, came imagination. Not just what had happened, but would could happen. Potential, in its purest and most refined form – an infinite number of possibilities. Hopes and dreams were something incredible.
“You will explain your device.”
The Cyber-Leader spoke plainly and simply. Sarah Jane was not going to be so quick to respond.
“I know that if I tell you anything about Sentinel, you’ll patch it in your next update.”
“You have knowledge of the Cybermen.” The Cyber-Leader phrased it as a statement, searching deep inside those memory-banks, perhaps recovering some Cyber encounters with Sarah Jane Smith. Memories… in fact, it had been memory and imagination that got them out of the Cybermen’s trap...
“Oh, so much.”
“Then your strategy is poor.”
“I’m not a conventional leader.” Sarah Jane didn’t plan everything she did with military precision. Instead, she aimed for a more… whimsical, adventurous approach.
“You would put your friends in danger?” the Cyber-Leader questioned, perhaps after a hint of hesitation. Maybe something had delayed those circuits... that misunderstanding of humanity slowing those processors down.
The Cyber-Leader perhaps wasn’t far wrong. Maybe it was Sarah Jane’s approach that put her friends in danger. But who knew? Sarah Jane had no idea whether she was doing anything right at all. Was she even the motherly figure she’d prided herself on being, when she couldn’t even protect her own children?
“I have commanded Cyber-legions,” the leader declared. “The 11th. The 12th. The 13th. Do you believe you can stop the Cybermen in our mission to upgrade the universe?”
Sarah Jane hesitated.
“I believe I can stop anything.”
Silly optimism, perhaps, for a woman who was so uncertain of what she was doing, for a woman who once saw herself as a leader, as a mother, but who had become lost. Who even was ‘Sarah Jane Smith’ anymore? What did she lead? It hurt, not knowing. She had been so sure, and then, she’d let everyone down.
Sarah Jane continued.
“I always have my friends with me. And I believe we can do anything.”
That’s what Sarah Jane had always tried to do as a leader. To inspire her young friends to be the very best they could be, and to do amazing things – even those things that seemed impossible. Was there truly such a thing as silly optimism? Wasn’t there just hope? Maybe she hadn’t always got it right, but Sarah Jane had always tried to lead her friends with hope in their hearts.
The dark days had come, however. The hope had wavered, and now she felt herself trying to cling onto it, even when it was slipping away, just as Melody had, just as Sky had. When there was no hope to be had, and hope was what you held closest to you, what were you then? Were you anything?
“You cannot challenge the Cybermen.”
Sarah Jane had to be careful, to make sure she didn’t make any reckless threats that could get her friends killed. With every word she spoke, however, she felt herself growing further and further from what was going on in her head. Standing up to the Cybermen, when she had no idea whether any of them could make it out alive. The memories were haunting her, powerful enough to drag her down.
“I believe we can. I am a leader, of hope. And the four of us… we’re back, and we’re stronger than ever. We imagine, we love, we hope. So many things that the Cybermen won’t ever be able to manage. We can defeat the Cybermen because we believe we can, and that is something the Cybermen won’t ever be able to manage. Just as I believe in my friends, and in my children. They mean so much to me, more than your circuits will ever be able to compute. Because that’s what you can’t quite manage…”
And this time she spoke the truth, for Sarah Jane believed her hope was unleashed in a way it had never been before. A hopeless hope was even deadlier, with nothing to lose, nothing to inhibit it. Since she’d lost Melody, she had doubted herself, so much – and she had nothing in that empty space. All she could fill it with, there and then, was a ferocious, desperate hope, a hope to ignite flames, that would reignite Sarah Jane, and would help her to win. A hoping, dreaming, imagining… for something better. That infinity of possibilities.
Into that empty space, Sarah Jane would pour her humanity.
And with that, maybe she would be alright.
“You demonstrate strength,” the Cyber-Leader stated, after considering her words. “Cybermen need strength.”
Sarah Jane stepped backwards, realising what it meant.
“You will become like us. You will be upgraded.”
It clunked towards her, arm outstretched. Two other Cybermen joined it. Sarah Jane moved back further, and found herself against the wall. There was nowhere for her to go.
The lights flickered, turning red. An alarm rang out. The three Cybermen turned to the view screens, ignoring their potential convert. Several others streamed into the room.
“Intruders detected, level 6,” one stated.
“Level 4,” another said.
“Seal all levels,” the Cyber-Leader commanded. “Activate Cybermites in all quadrants.”
It turned back to Sarah Jane, but she was gone.
The door sealed itself behind Sarah Jane, as she darted into the corridor. “Take a right at the end,” Sentinel said, re-appearing on her phone.
“What about the Cybermites?”
“Oh, easy to disable really. A lot of flaws in the operating system.”
“Okay, well, that’s one problem solved.” She turned down the next corridor. It was quite grimy, not at all like the sleek-looking Cybermen. Clearly things hadn’t been going too well for them here, wherever here was. “How long can you keep the Cybermen out the way?”
“It’s easy enough to keep the doors sealed. Just needed to trick them into activating the lockdown.”
“What about Zoe, Dan and Beth? Have you found them?”
“Yes, they’re down in the lower levels. I can direct you to them.”
“Erm... Sentinel?” She’d come to a locked door. “Any chance you could open the door?”
“Ah, right. Used to you just zapping them.”
The door slid open, the rust slowing it slightly. It snapped shut behind her. This section of corridor was even worse for wear. Clearly they weren’t doing too well in this time period. And the fracture offered them the perfect way out. A whole world, fresh for conversion. Sarah Jane shuddered at the thought.
“Take the stairs to your left,” Sentinel told her. “That’ll take you down to them. Oh, and the doors will accept your palm-print now, managed to tweak the coding.”
“How much longer can you contain the Cybermen?”
“If I focus all efforts on that, about ten minutes. Maybe less.”
“Do what you can. Good luck Sentinel.” With that, his kaleidoscopic colours vanished from Sarah Jane’s phone. She tucked it back in her pocket, and set off down the stairs.
Sarah Jane stuck to the shadows as best as she could, slipping around silently under the cover of the blaring alarms. Sentinel maintained his promises of sealing doors behind her, and had saved her from several scrapes with Cybermen marching towards the centre of the ship. The metal walls were rusty and corroded, and too smooth to grip properly for support. The dim overhead lights had reverted back to white fluorescent lighting and pulsed every few minutes, providing her with a brief opportunity to make note of her surroundings. Creeping down a set of steps, Sarah Jane rounded the corner and came face-to-face with a door. She opened it, and found herself on the lowest floor. It had the exact hallway design as the floors above, which made it easier for her to navigate the passages.
Rows of prison cells lined the walls, and she carefully peeked into each one, mindful of any potential Cybermats lurking in the shadows. Sentinel had long since disappeared to work on deactivating them, which meant that she was alone if anything jumped out to attack her.
She reached a cell, and peered inside carefully, mindful of the electric blue laser grid. Relief flooded over her when Beth looked up at her in confusion.
“Oh, Beth, you’re alright.” She took a step back and held up her sonic lipstick. “Stand back.”
Beth complied, and as soon as Sarah Jane was satisfied she wouldn’t be harmed by any stray sparks, deactivated the laser grids. As soon as they died down, the rusty door swung open, and Beth jumped out.
“Thanks. I hate that place,” she glowered at the prison, before turning back to the journalist. “What happened? My Cyberman prison guard ran as soon as the alarm started blaring.”
“That’s Sentinel buying us some time, which we haven’t got enough of,” Sarah Jane explained. She gripped Beth by her upper arm and dragged her along urgently. “Come on. The sooner we get Dan and Zoe, the sooner we can leave.”
The duo weaved their way through the dark passageways, delving further and further into the lower tiers of the ship, until they came across another prison cell containing a helpless looking Dan.
“You guys are alright!” he sighed in relief.
Sarah Jane zapped the door open. “Did they hurt you?”
Dan shook his head. “Nah, I’m fine.”
“Good. Come on, we have to find Zoe.”
The lights flickered out completely, plunging the trio into darkness as they pressed further into the belly of the ship. Dan and Beth flicked on their phone lights, and Sarah Jane used the crimson glow of the sonic lipstick to guide the way. Their search led them to a lone prison cell at the end of the corridor, and when Sarah Jane pushed the door open, they found Zoe kneeling on the floor, poking a Cybermite with the toe of her foot.
Zoe looked up at them, and grinned in relief. “Finally!”
“What happened here?” Beth asked, running an eye along the swarm of Cybermites lying dead on the floor.
“Dunno. They just started coming towards me and then sort of… died when the alarm sounded.”
Sarah Jane scanned them with the sonic lipstick thoughtfully. “They’ve been deactivated, by Sentinel, no doubt.” She helped Zoe to her feet. “Are you hurt?”
“Good. Come on, you three. We have to get off this ship.”
“Not that I’m not glad that we’re leaving or anything, but what about the Cybermen?” Dan piped up. Sarah Jane looked on ahead to hide her expression, but was unable to mask her grave tone. “We’re going to blow them up.”
“We’re what?!” Beth exclaimed once they reached the fracture room. The lights were still in relative working condition, so the trio turned off their phones. Sarah Jane sped ahead, and they struggled to keep up with her. The door slid shut behind them, leaving them trapped in the room. It wasn’t a bad plan, per se. Beth knew that they couldn’t defeat the Cybermen with brute force ‒ there were too many of them ‒ but she was a little hesitant regardless. “With what? The sonic?”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane responded brusquely.
“How are you going to set it without getting caught in the explosion?” Dan asked worriedly.
“I haven’t thought of that yet.”
“Right. Not that this isn’t a cool plan or anything, but why not just use Sentinel?” Zoe supplied. “I mean, we have him, it’d be a waste not to use him.”
“The fracture’s already disrupting him.” Sarah Jane held up her phone in demonstration. The AI’s trademark kaleidoscopic colours stuttered and blinked rapidly. “I have to do this alone.”
“Okay, but what exactly are you going to detonate?” Beth continued.
“That looks like a big enough target.” Sarah Jane pointed at the machine in the centre of the room. “Just got to overload it.”
“I guess that could work.”
“It has to. We don’t have much time before the Cybermen regroup here. That door won’t hold them for long.” She prepared the lipstick. “Get to the other side of the room, quickly.”
The youngsters begrudgingly did as they were told, standing next to the fracture. They could have simply jumped through, but they were curious to see how Sarah Jane’s plan would unfold, and wanted to stay in case she needed them. Sarah Jane circled the giant machine until she was stood with her back to her friends. She took a few steps backwards, and fired her lipstick at the device. To her horror, there wasn’t an overload or a series of sparking monitors. The machine still stood in the centre of the room.
“Deadlock, of course,” she murmured. Of course the Cybermen had thought of that. They wouldn’t have been as efficient if they hadn’t thought of all logical outcomes. Her last minute plan had failed.
“Sarah Jane?” Dan called out. She turned to her three friends, who were looking at her expectantly.
No, they hadn’t failed just yet. Sarah Jane just needed to think of another plan, and quickly. She paced the fracture room. Think, think, think.
From where she was standing, defeating the Cybermen seemed impossible. Humanity at the pinnacle of cybernetic evolution, ready to convert the entire planet. The Cybermen had infinite resources, they had infinite power, they had the most advanced hive-mind in all the universe, where they could stream all of their thoughts in order to create the perfect strategy.
But there was something the Cybermen didn’thave infinite amounts of. In fact, they had none of it. Sarah Jane had been giving herself the wrong instruction – ‘thinking’ wasn’t what was needed. Instead, they needed to feel. In fact, her own words echoed. We can defeat the Cybermen because we believe we can. What if they were more literal than she’d ever intended?
Sarah Jane turned to her gang, a smile on her face. She realised that perhaps they were in with a chance…
“We have what the Cybermen don’t.”
“What?” Dan questioned, channelling the thoughts of all three of the teenagers, who were admittedly, quite confused. After all, infinite power, resources, etc. They were well-aware of it, and the seeming impossibility of defeating an enemy who believed they were doing what was in the best interest of everyone.
“Zoe Smith,” Sarah Jane turned to her.
Zoe’s jaw almost dropped. “You what?”
“Zoe Smith, a writer, with an infinite imagination!” Sarah Jane said, while Zoe gave her an ‘okay, thanks, whatever’, look.
Sarah Jane, Zoe, Beth, and Dan, had what the Cybermen didn’t. They had memories. Humanity. Hope.
And Zoe Smith could be the ultimate vessel for that. The power behind imagination, all of those infinite possibilities – so much better than a logic calculated on the cold, hard facts of what had gone before. Imagination – logic, but with emotion at the very heart of it. After all, nobody dreamed realistically, did they? They dreamed of distant, far-flung hopes that their hearts were set upon. Emotion, right at the heart of imagination.
When Sarah Jane had realised this, she knew what they had to do. Zoe Smith had a beautiful imagination, and if they could harness that, with all its incredible power, they could do it.
They could defeat the Cybermen.
“Zoe,” Sarah Jane explained. “You have suchan incredible imagination, and I believe we can harness that by linking it into the Cybermen’s hive-mind. Pulse that imagination through, and defeat the Cybermen – cold, heartless logicians, with no concept of imagination at all.”
Zoe gave Sarah Jane a bemused look, and a “what.” Wannabe writer she was, frequent employer of her imagination, definitely. Taker-downer of a whole army of Cybermen? Nope. Not usually one to shy away from a challenge, the thought of herself being directly linked to the Cybermen was a little bit terrifying. “That's crazy! It'll melt my brain or something, I dunno."
“The machines are damaged. You heard them, they're barely running. This will work."
“Zoe!” Sarah Jane put her hands on Zoe’s shoulders. "You cando this, I know you can. You’ve just got to have faith in yourself.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Zoe muttered, not just a mere hint of sarcasm in her voice. “But why me?”
“The Cybermen will never be able to stand up against you, there is no amount of logic in the universe that can ever compete – and do you know why? Because you are Zoe Smith. You have that imagination in bucket-loads – with your mind, you can create so many people, so many universes – there is an infinite potential when you imagine. And I believe in you.”
“And I know,” Sarah Jane continued. “That we can bring hope! Because that’s what we stand for – hope. And I believe that you, today, are that hope.”
Zoe smiled grimly. "Alright, I guess."
Sarah Jane smiled. A million, billion stories, thriving inside the head of one girl. Some had been told. Some hadn’t been told yet.
But now, their potential was about to be unleashed.
“This is a stupid idea,” Zoe decided. She was being connected to the machine maintaining the fracture with a pair of Cybermen ear phones they had found lying by the console. “Wanna know why?”
“Not really,” Dan admitted. He hooked up the headphones to the machine, and winced when a shower of sparks erupted and singed the back of his hand. He was staring to wish that he brought the goggles the Doctor had given him.
“Well, tough. Let’s start with the obvious: you’re connecting me to a machine that’s currently keeping that gigantic rift thing from tearing apart our planet.”
“Sounds normal enough,” Beth grunted as she pushed an energy pylon towards them. According to Sarah Jane, they would need to divert the excess energy into the computer systems and destroy them, just in case their plan failed.
“No, it doesn’t,” she hissed. “It’s their hive-mind! That’s like, millions of Cybermen rooting around in my head with their weird bingo night grandma voices.”
“Look, you’ll be fine. The way Sarah Jane explained it, you’re just kind of bombarding them with your imagination.” She managed to sandwich the pylon between the machine and the computer terminals, and moved to help Dan wire their friend up to the machine. “C’mon, save the world again. You’ve done it loads of times.”
Zoe relaxed against the machine’s surface. “Okay, fine. I got this.”
“They’re coming,” Sarah Jane announced. She moved away from the sealed door as soon as she heard the Cybermen’s stomping, and joined her friends. She looked at Zoe hesitantly. “Are you okay?”
“As okay as I’ll ever be.”
“The only way to pulse your imagination through is if you confuse their memory banks first. Make them think that Earth is already part of their stronghold.”
“How do I do that?”
“Think about it. All the machines and rules workers abide by. Regulations like that,” she placed a comforting hand on Zoe’s shoulder when she noticed the overwhelmed expression etched on her face. “You’ve got this.”
“Okay, yeah,” Zoe nodded. She didn’t have anymore time to question what she was about to do. “Do it.”
Sarah Jane gave Zoe another reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, pulled Dan and Beth back to a safe distance, and activated the machine with the sonic lipstick. It whirred loudly, like an ancient computer booting up for the first time in years, and the earphones shone a bright blue. The white lights flickered wildly, shifting colours every five seconds, from blue, to red, to white, to red again. The cycle continued, and the portal — the fracture — grew in size, the purple mixing with the white until there was nothing but a transparent tunnel left behind.
“What’s happening?” Beth asked nervously.
“I’m not sure,” Sarah Jane replied. “I think the machine is absorbing the fracture’s energy.”
“Is that a good idea?” Dan inquired. “I mean, that thing could blow up Earth.”
A harsh white light encapsulated the grey machine, forcing Sarah Jane, Beth and Dan to cover their eyes before anybody could answer the boy. When they looked back up, Zoe’s head was tilted to the side, her eyes closed, as if she was asleep.
For a minute, Dan couldn’t find his voice. “Is… is she…?”
“No!” Sarah Jane sighed in relief. “Look!”
On the multiple monitors and view screens around the room were live feeds of Zoe sitting in a sterile room.
“She’s integrated into the hive-mind now,” Sarah Jane explained. “And I think that she can hear us.”
As if to confirm this, Zoe nodded and opened her mouth, but no words came out. She furrowed her brow and waved jauntily instead, still retaining her flippancy even in the face of temporarily leaving her corporeal form. Dan and Beth laughed slightly at the absurdity of the situation, but the sound of a metal fist against the door sent them crashing back to reality.
“Right.” Sarah Jane strode briskly to the row of terminals. “Zoe, I need you to concentrate on what I told you. Confuse their memory banks.”
Zoe nodded, and closed her eyes. Sarah Jane watched her intently, waiting for something to happen, while Beth and Dan kept an eye on the doors.
“I don’t think it’ll hold for much longer,” Dan gulped once he noticed the dents.
“Nothing’s happening,” Sarah Jane realised. “Zoe?”
Beth moved to the computer terminal worriedly. “Girl, now’s not the time to be taking a nap. You have to do something!”
“Yeah, when have you ever run out of ideas?” Dan jeered. The dents in the door multiplied, and a bright grey fist punched through the centre, startling them. The fist was replaced by a foot, tearing the hinges off the door and sending it toppling onto the ground with a thud. The Cybermen marched into the fracture room in multiple rows, sprearheaded by the Cyber-leader, guns pointed directly at their heads. “Come on, Zoe!”
By some stroke of luck, the footage of Zoe was replaced by images of automatic sliding doors and conveyor belts. A strong gust of energy was expelled by the fracture as it increased in size again, ruffling the gang’s hair and clothes. The Cybermen turned to the view screens, their attention captured by the images. Somewhere in their connected memory, a fourteen year old girl was yelling at them. But it wasn’t enough — they needed to confuse them more for any lasting damage.
“Come on, you two,” Sarah Jane ushered the two teenagers forward. “Give her ideas to keep her going.”
They looked at each other like two deer caught in the headlights, before Beth impulsively spluttered, “Rockets!”
“Satellites!” Dan added.
The monitors changed to accommodate the multiple suggestions. Satellites, probes and rockets populated the screens, along with video feeds of technology that had not been suggested by either of them: iPhones, the military, spaceships, everything that defined the world that they lived in. The Cybermen stared at the screens blankly, as if they were captivated by its reverence, but Sarah Jane was not satisfied.
“One final push, Zoe,” Sarah Jane encouraged. “I need you to imagine something for me. You might not remember this, but there was an invasion. July 2007, the Cybermen invaded as ghosts. They took people out of their homes and converted them. There was chaos everywhere.”
As the words left Sarah Jane’s lips, the central monitor’s feed flickered for a second, before it was replaced by footage of someone on a hill, looking at metal machines that vaguely resembled the Cybermen surrounded them, but they were less sleek and more old-fashioned. It was Zoe. She was remembering the encounter. The Cybermen all turned to the monitor, their internal machinery trying to make sense of the new information.
“My… functions… are… are…” the Cyberleader droned.
“It’s working,” Sarah Jane breathed. “Now’s your chance, Zoe. Hit them with all you got!”
A shrill buzzing reverberated off the ship’s walls. The Cybermen wailed loudly and clasped their hands over their handlebars. Millions of thoughts raced around their heads — thoughts that they weren’t programmed for. They were being fed every story that Zoe could remember reading, every story she had ever thought of, every disconnected tangle of words she'd impulsively typed out but never carried anywhere. It was overwhelming them.
Their circuitry overheated before they had a chance to upgrade to new designs and combat the assault to their memory banks, and the ship started to suffer because of it. Alarms blared loudly, and the lights flickered a crimson red once again. Terminals crackled with untapped electricity, which was siphoned into the computer systems, causing them to spark wildly. The machine started to whir, smoke billowing from the top, and Zoe awoke with a gasp.
Her eyes flew to her friends. “What… what just happened?”
“You did it!” Dan cheered. Sarah Jane pushed him behind her and zapped the earphones with the lipstick. The blue light died down and fell uselessly to the side. Beth moved over and helped Zoe clamber to her feet.
“I did? Huh…” she put a hand to her head, trying to recall the events. “That was so surreal.”
“Get back!” Sarah Jane ordered quickly. The howling Cybermen doubled over in agony, their processors melted from the strain, and several exploded, discarded bits of metal and flesh rushing past their faces.
“Well, looks like we did it,” Dan managed weakly.
“The three of you, out now,” Sarah Jane commanded, jerking a thumb at the fracture.
“What, into that?” Beth eyed the swirling vortex worriedly. “That looks like a death trap!”
“It’s that or an exploding spaceship.” She gently pushed them. “Go!”
Dan hurried over and slung Zoe’s right arm around his shoulders, supporting her as they edged towards the fracture and, after a moment of collective hesitation, jumped in. The portal swallowed them all, leaving behind no trace of their presence.
As Sarah Jane left the Fracture chamber, she saw the Cyber-Leader, kneeling on the floor, huddled over in the corner of the room. Before she could leave, Sarah Jane knew that she had some unfinished business with it, and so she strode over. Its cybernetic head clicked up – even in death, the Cybermen would be emotionless. For them, death was just the moment life ceased. The moment they had pledged to protect themselves from, no matter what the brutal cost.
There was a sickening irony to the Cybermen, that Sarah Jane noticed as the Cyber-Leader’s circuits were burning themselves up. The Cybermen had originally sought to remove emotion because an emotional impulse dictated so to them. And what had they become because of it?
“wE…… wILl……… survive…..,” its voice droned on, reverting from its monotone growl to a broken autotune, as the technology roasted itself away, reducing the Cybermen to their most basic of instincts. “WE… WilL.. SURviVE…”
“I think you’ll find that without imagination, without hope… you won’t live long,” Sarah Jane knelt down in front of it, watching the black pools of its eye sockets melt under the heat of its steadily melting brain, its cold logic proving its undoing.
“YOu… weRE….A… leaDER…”
“I am a leader. Of freedom. Of individuality. Of hope.”
And that was something she knew the Cybermen would never be able to achieve. The Cybermen couldn’t dream… and so they would never understand the true lengths of humanity. They would never understand how a teenager, with a whole universe of tales in her head, had been able to destroy them.
Sarah Jane turned away from the Cyber-Leader, and left the Fracture room.
The return journey through the fracture was as intense as the first one. Life flashed by Sarah Jane’s eyes and she was forced to endure the rapid aging and de-aging once again, but there was something different. Something had shifted in her timeline, and she tilted her head slowly, yet quickly. A dark shadow hovered all around, and a wilted hand reached out for her. There was a bright crimson flash of light, and then she was stood with her friends on the ninth floor of Future Technologies, as if no time had passed at all.
Sarah Jane stumbled, gripping onto Dan for support. They watched helplessly as the fracture continued to increase in size and grow more volatile by the second.
“What do we do?” Beth asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“I don’t know,” Sarah Jane sighed. “We’ve destroyed the machine. There’s nothing we can do.”
“But there’s always something we can do,” Zoe protested weakly.
“There is, until the day there isn’t.” Sarah Jane rested her head on Dan’s shoulder, her hair brushing Zoe’s hand, hoping to shield them from the bright vortex. The beating of their hearts quickened, as if they were subconsciously aware that this was the end. “Maybe today is that day.”
“Maybe not,” Beth said hopefully. “Look!”
They looked up and, to their surprise, the portal shrunk. It was no longer a towering behemoth ‒ it merely reached their height ‒ and the stale grey-walls were gone, leaving behind the core purple light, bathing their faces with an ethereal glow. It was quite beautiful, they all admitted that as they stared in wonder. There was the sound of suction, as if the fracture was absorbing the air around them. It convulsed inwards and then disappeared completely, leaving behind the four glass walls that supported it as an afterthought.
The four simply stared, and tried to wrap their heads around the peculiarity of the situation.
Zoe spoke first. “Er...it’s gone?”
“It appears so,” Sarah Jane responded, scanning over the walls with the sonic lipstick. It was quite a bizarre situation. “Yes, it’s completely sealed shut.”
Beth scrutinised the glass suspiciously. “But how? One minute it was ready to tear apart the world, and the next…”
“I don’t know,” Sarah Jane admitted, but she couldn’t help but admit that there was something innately familiar about the portal. She just couldn’t place her finger on it. “Maybe we’ll never know,” she mused.
“I don’t think I would mind,” Dan admitted. “If I never knew, I mean.”
“No,” Sarah Jane agreed. “I don’t think I would either.”
“What about the Cybermen?” Zoe asked. “Did I do the trick?”
“Yes, I expect so.” Sarah Jane turned and smiled at her. “You flooded their hive-mind with your imagination. It destroyed them irreparably. They’ll die up there.” She pointed up at the ceiling to further her point. “I’ll get Sentinel to demagnetise their ship, send them drifting. All we can do at this point.”
“So, that’s it?” Beth questioned. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.” Sarah Jane surveyed the room one last time. There had been death today; death that she wasn’t able to prevent. And then there was that shadow. She didn't know why, but it had felt like... death.
She suppressed a shudder, and looked at her three friends. Still alive, still breathing. She supposed that was the best she could ask for.
“Come on, you three. Let’s go home.”
“Well, it sounds like you’ve had quite the runaround.”
“I trust you’ll clear it up?” Sarah Jane asked as she drove into the village. It was a sleepy Sunday, and only a few people were outside, giving them a chance to slip in without too much fuss. Zoe and Dan listened to the conversation intently, trying to visualise the person on the other end, while Beth distantly stared out the window, contemplative after recent events. “We may have stopped the Cybermen but there’s still an entire company to salvage. People have lost their jobs.”
“Of course, leave it to me,” the person over the phone replied beneficently.
“Thank you, Kate.”
“It’s quite a story. I’m sure journalists will be lapping up the opportunity,” Kate said teasingly.
“Already working on it,” Sarah Jane replied coolly. “I’ve got Sentinel detailing a plan as we speak.”
“Very efficient.”Kate paused, and then nonchalantly remarked, “Sentinel sounds very useful. I don’t suppose…?”
“No,” Sarah Jane interjected firmly. “I’ve already said, Kate. Sentinel is his own person, despite appearances. If he wanted to help UNIT, he would have.”
“I understand,”Kate responded, and as if she sensed the hesitation that emanated off the gang, she added, “Really, I do. My adaptation of UNIT has not been without its battles. There is still the military half to contend with. They have their uses, but I can see why Sentinel is hesitant to approach us.”
“So, you’ll stop asking?”
“Yes,” Kate said truthfully. Sarah Jane relaxed, and drove into the junction leading to Diamond Way.
“Marvellous. I’ll talk to you soon. Give my love to Gordon and Fern.”
“I will. Until then.”
The moment they entered the driveway of 53 Diamond Way, the group were bombarded by Alfie, who stumbled blindly into the front of the Mini Cooper. He gasped when the wind was knocked out of him, his eyes wide as he stared at the gang like a deer caught in the headlights, while they simply stared back, confused and speechless.
“What an idiot,” Zoe declared exasperatedly. “Actual dopey moron.”
She dragged Alfie up the path as soon as they all exited the car, ready to give him an earful that would make the Cybermen quiver in their metal boots. Beth ran up to join them, and Sarah Jane and Dan moved to join, but stopped when they noticed another figure stood on their drive ‒ a boy, who smiled awkwardly when he realised they were gawping at him.
“Felix,” Dan said, his wide eyes doing nothing to hide his confusion. “Er, hi.”
“Hey, Dan,” he greeted with a wave, before turning to Sarah Jane. “Hi, Sarah Jane.”
“Hello, Felix,” Sarah Jane smiled warmly. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
Dan looked between the two in surprise. They already had some sort of relationship that was unknown to him.
“Bet you didn’t think you’d see me fly into your car, either,” Alfie muttered as he approached them, followed by Zoe and Beth, who were glaring intensely at him. “Sorry.”
“I’m just glad you’re not hurt,” Sarah Jane assured him. “But I have to ask ‒ what were you doing?”
“That was my fault,” Felix sheepishly scratched the back of his head, and held up his basketball. “Alfie found me here when I was looking for you and said he’d play basketball with me after he showed me some of his moves on his skateboard. It went... wrong.”
“Understatement of the year,” Zoe muttered snidely. Alfie glared at her, and she glared back.
“Hang on,” Beth interjected. “What were you doing here anyway?”
“I asked him to come here.”
The group turned to the source of the voice, and watched with a mixture of surprise and confusion as a woman walked up the path with a tray of coffee. She was a pretty woman of Native American descent, with long flowing dark brown hair that cut off just below her shoulders. Her fringe was parted to the left side of her face, and there was the faintest glimpse of a scar hidden below it.
She turned to Sarah Jane. “Hello, Sarah Jane.”
“Marisol!” Sarah Jane’s grin broadened and she hugged the other woman with a laugh. “Oh, it’s good to see you.” Zoe, Beth, Dan and Alfie all shared a confused look, and turned to Felix, who withered under their questioning stares.
“Everyone, meet Marisol,” Sarah Jane introduced, fully aware that they were eager to learn about her friend’s identity. “An old friend of mine.”
The woman smiled and waved at the group of youngsters. “Hello everyone, nice to meet you. I trust you’ve met my son?”
The four teenagers directed their stares at Felix again, and then back at the woman, mentally kicking themselves for not seeing the connection sooner.
“Hi,” Dan said, a little awkwardly. “Nice to meet you.”
Zoe, Beth and Alfie murmured similar greetings.
“That’s why I bailed on you lot earlier,” Felix explained, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets. “Had to pick up my mum.”
Marisol slung an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close to her. “Isn’t he just adorable?” she said teasingly.
“Yeah.” The word tumbled out of Dan’s lips before he could think about him, and he hurriedly added, “I suppose.”
Marisol raised an arched brow at him in amusement, and Dan looked down at his trainers, embarrassed. Zoe and Beth shared a knowing look, their earlier observations fully cemented. Luckily for their friend, Felix hadn’t seemed to notice his comment, and was too busy trying to extricate himself from his mother. For a woman who was shorter than him, she had an enviable vice grip.
Sarah Jane, who had also noticed the tension, turned back to Marisol with a twinkle in her eyes. “Is this a social call, then?”
“Of course!” Marisol chirped happily, letting Felix go to hold up the coffee tray. “I haven’t seen you in months, and I have news!”
“Oh?” Sarah Jane looked down at the tray. “Does that require coffee?”
“I could have just made some tea.”
Marisol waved her hand dismissively. “It’s always tea with you, sweetie. Coffee is where it’s at. Especially after the night you’ve had.”
That caught Zoe’s attention, and she stared at Marisol, suddenly having a million questions she wanted to ask. The implication was clear, and everybody had noticed it.
“Why? What happened last night?” Alfie asked.
“Oh, I was planning for a story,” Sarah Jane replied easily. “Background checks, research... it took longer than anticipated.”
“Oh, right.” Alfie didn’t look especially convinced, but he accepted the answer.
“Oh!” Sarah Jane gasped belatedly. “Come in, you must be freezing!”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything,” Marisol grinned.
Sarah Jane chuckled as she opened the door and allowed her entry. She turned to the five teenagers. “You guys coming?”
“Nah, I gotta go home,” Dan replied. “Need sleep after all that.”
“Same,” Beth agreed.
“I’ll walk with you guys,” Felix said quickly. He flushed at Beth and Dan’s questioning stares. “I mean, the basketball court is in Rose Gardens, so…”
“Sure,” Dan smiled. “Why not?”
Beth turned to Zoe and Alfie. “What about you guys?”
“I would, midget,” Alfie said teasingly. “But I gotta keep Smith here company.”
Beth curled her nose in distaste. "Midget?"
"Yeah," he shrugged. "You're Petite, ain't ya?"
Zoe rolled her eyes, and diverted the conversation to avoid a bloodbath. “He’s gonna help me around for the day.”
“It was her or Gita,” Alfie shrugged.
“Whatever,” Zoe turned back to the door. “See you later, Sarah Jane.”
“Bye.” Sarah Jane watched as the group dispersed, all going their separate ways. As she closed the door, she caught the beginning of a conversation Dan had struck up with his new friend.
“So, Felix, where's your mum from?"
“But you lived in Ecuador?”
“My mum’s from Nicaragua, but my dad’s from Ecuador. We just lived with my dad in his house...”
“Ah, this house,” Marisol sighed contently. “I just love it.” She looked over at the bouquet of roses in the centre of the table and breathed it in. “So beautiful. Where are they from again?”
“The Sky Bouquet in Gardenia,” Sarah Jane replied, rummaging through the drawers for a packet of biscuits. She succeeded in finding a packet of Bourbons and poured them onto a plate, carrying them over to the table.
“Ah, of course.” Marisol helped herself to a Bourbon. “I forget alien life is not limited to alien jellyfish.”
Sarah Jane laughed at the memory. “You distracted it with a sandcastle.”
"Yes!" she cackled. “Well, you’re the one who stopped it in the end.”
“We stopped it,” Sarah Jane amended. “It wouldn’t have worked without you.”
“I suppose,” Marisol hummed, thinking about the distant memory. “Gosh, how long ago was that?”
“About seven years.”
“Seven years,” she repeated, her eyes a little watery. “I was a different person back then.”
“A fledgeling journalist finding her feet with little to no English background, scouring the beaches of Barbados for a story,” Sarah Jane noted. “Look at you now.”
“Mm.” She was staring at her sapphire necklace curiously. "That's lovely," she said, and fiddled with it. "Where did you get it?"
"It was a gift from a friend."
"You look happy," Marisol noted, a little distantly.
"I am." Sarah Jane tapped her coffee mug in thought. “Has he tried to come looking for you?”
“Diego? No... no. He hasn’t tried. I’m relieved. If he did…”
“You have a restraining order on him,” Sarah Jane said soothingly. “And Sentinel’s keeping a monitor on him at all times. You’ll know if he enters the UK.”
Marisol nodded. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem. You deserve happiness, too.” Sarah Jane leaned back. “You said you had news for me?”
“Ah, yes! Do you remember when I said I was looking into buying a house closer to you when I got the money?”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane confirmed. “Have you found one?”
“Yes! It’s right here, in the village!” she replied excitedly. Her smile dulled slightly when she noticed Sarah Jane was unfazed by the news. “But you already knew that.”
The senior journalist smiled. “Sentinel informed me about the deposit you put into 15 Cottage Row,” she revealed. “I’ve known for months.”
“Ooh, you’re sneaky,” Marisol commended. “We moved into the house at the start of the month, but I stayed back in London to get money together until I found a job.”
“And you’ve found one?”
“Yes,” Marisol grinned smugly. “You’re looking at Noah the politician’s newest secondary secretary.”
Sarah Jane almost choked on her coffee. “I’m sorry?”
“You heard right! Apparently, he was looking for someone foreign - company diversification or something. I applied, and I got it!”
Sarah Jane processed the news, sipping coffee at regular intervals. “Wow... that’s... wow.”
“Yeah,” Marisol leaned in. “And you told me you’ve been trying to break into his inner circle for years to get a story, right?”
“But why? Why have you been trying for years now?”
Sarah Jane considered the question. It was fair, and if she was being honest, she didn’t actually have a concrete answer. She pursed her lips and said, “I have a gut feeling. The original Foxgrove village was destroyed a while ago to make way for a train station, but then in a few years time, this village is suddenly on the map. Fully developed, rapidly expanded, in the space of a few years. I think that’s a little strange. And there’s the placement as well. Why next to a nature reserve of all places?”
“You think something shady could be going on,” Marisol realised.
“Yes, I do.”
“I want to help.”
Sarah Jane looked at her in surprise. Marisol’s expression was determined, and she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“I don’t want credit for the story or anything like that, but if something is going down, I want to stop it. I don’t want Felix to be affected by it. Not after what he’s been through.”
“Are you sure? This could very well be dangerous.”
“I know the stories,” Marisol assured her. “The Hecate Cult, Planet 3, Orbus Postramo... I’ll be careful, but I'm certain that I want to do this.”
“Okay,” Sarah Jane nodded and looked out the window. The sky was cloudy, and the air outside was chilly. She hoped that wasn’t an omen of the things to come. “Welcome aboard.”
“A flat?” Zoe repeated, biting into a chip. She winced, and stared down at the uneaten piece in her hand with a look of disgust.
“Yeah,” Alfie replied, scarfing down three simultaneously. “Looking into it.”
“I mean, she’s at uni, isn’t she? Can she afford it?”
Alfie wrestled another chip from the cone. “Clyde’s gonna pay half the money, ain’t he? Gita and Haresh are putting in money, too. So’s Clyde’s mum and that batty boy’s gonna live with them.”
Zoe looked up and punched his shoulder.
“Ow!” he whined, and rubbed his shoulder. “The hell?”
“Luke,” she pronounced patronisingly. “His name’s Luke.”
“Fine,” Alfie said lazily. “Luuuke.”
Zoe rolled her eyes, picked up another chip and tossed it at him. “These chips are disgusting,” she informed him matter-of-factly. “You have no taste.”
“My taste’s sick, bruv,” Alfie retorted through a mouthful. They were both sat on a rock on Suncrest Hill, a hillside overlooking the entire village. It was late, and the sun was beginning to retreat to its slumber, leaving behind a burnt orange sky decorated with fluffy white clouds. Zoe marvelled at it. Sunsets were her favourite time of the day, it always reminded her of when her mother would bring her up to the exact hill she was sat in now and let her run freely with her brother.
Behind her was a great oak tree. Her finger absentmindedly traced the words engraved into it: Calypso was here. Dove wings were crudely sketched above the name. Foxgrove had been renowned for its dove population back when they had expanded a couple of years back, but as Zoe mulled on it, she realised that she hadn’t seen a single one in years.
The wings weren’t exactly an artistic masterpiece. They were lopsided and one wing was bigger than the other, but they had been the work of two stubborn five-year-olds who refused to coordinate and weren’t exactly skillful in the art profession. Their mother had adored their handiwork nonetheless, and Zoe liked to think that she had been sincere in her claim. Alfie, on the other hand, was sincere in his claim that it was dire and she should have been ashamed of herself.
He was nudging her now, curiously. “Tell me, then.”
“Tell you what?”
“Why are we up here?” he leaned in conspiratorially. “Sneaking up some fags?”
Zoe shoved him roughly, appalled by the insinuation. “No, you idiot! I don’t smoke!”
“Alright, I was just saying —”
“Just cos you probably do it twenty-four-seven doesn’t mean the rest of the world does it, you know, you stupid —”
“Yeah!” he crossed his arms defensively. “Jeez. I mean, I’m thinking about it —”
“Well, there we go —”
“But I haven’t!” Alfie continued with an annoyed look. He studied her for several seconds, and the look of annoyance intensified. “You don’t think I can do it.”
“Nah, I don’t,” Zoe confirmed, pushing him lightly. “I think you’re too weak to resist.”
“Alright then.” Alfie clambered onto the top of the rock and splayed out his hands dramatically. “I won’t smoke or drink. Ever.”
“Is that a promise?”
“If you want,” he shrugged noncommittally.
Zoe grinned widely. “Sounds more like a bet.”
Alfie looked down at her strangely. “Er, no it don’t.”
“Let’s make it a bet instead,” she smiled innocently and tilted her head slightly to the side so that it was resting on her left shoulder. “I feel like making some easy money.”
“Ooh,” He cackled at her. “Bring it, Smoky Smith. I’ll prove you wrong.”
“Mm, we’ll see.”
He jumped off the taller rock and sat back down next to her, bumping her shoulder playfully. She grinned and bumped his shoulder in return.
“Come on then,” he leaned closer. “Tell me.”
The smile faded from her face, and she fixed her gaze on the village sleeping in the sunset. A breeze fluttered by and ruffled her hair. While Beth’s had shortened hers, Zoe had allowed it to grow. It was shoulder-length now, and she was starting to experiment more with ponytails, braids and wavy hair. It made her feel more mature in a way that makeup didn’t quite cover, a way to make her feel more grown up than she was — even though she was desperate to be.
“I just… miss them. My mum and Finn.” She retrieved the golden necklace from around her neck and thumbed it absentmindedly. “I thought I was getting over it. But…” she sighed.
“But then your brother left,” Alfie realised. He was surprisingly solemn, to Zoe’s surprise. She turned to look at him. He was leaning against the rock, his left leg was flat against the rock while his chin rested on his right, and he was fiddling with the dog tags around his neck — a rusty grey, worn out piece of accessory he carried everywhere. “Can’t say I relate.”
“You don’t know what happened to them,” she reminded him. “Maybe they left for a reason.”
Alfie sniffed contemptuously. “Nah. They’re legit ghosts. No-one knows who or where they are. I’ve got no parents.”
“Still, Gita and Haresh aren’t that bad, are they?”
“Yeah, they’re alright,” Alfie replied nonchalantly, but Zoe could hear the adoration that he desperately tried to mask in his tone. One day, he would let go of his ‘cool kid’ reputation, if only for a little while. “They’ve not booted me out yet, so…”
“Foster kid of three months,” she noted. “You must be doing something right,”
“Yeah…” Alfie trailed off, his gaze captivated by something in the horizon. A frown marred his expression, and he tilted his head in puzzlement. “Who’s that?”
Zoe followed his gaze, and scanned the horizon until she noticed what had captured his attention. It was a girl around their age, in the distance, picking flowers from the orchard. She was too far away for them to pick out any significant details, but Zoe managed to catch a glimpse of her brown hair shining in the sunlight. She looked up at them and they stared, mesmerised. Then, a second later, she turned and walked away.
“No idea,” Zoe belatedly informed her friend. “Never seen her before.”
“Huh. Maybe she wandered off the path,” Alfie nudged her teasingly, and she rolled her eyes. That joke was the exact lie he had told her her when they had first met the day he moved in with the Chandras three months ago, just so he had an excuse to talk to her and probe for any details about his new home.
“Ah, I thought I’d find you here.”
They both looked to their right. Eric Smith was slowly walking up the path towards them, with a knowing smile on his face.
“Uh oh, cop Uncle,” Alfie whistled. “Gotta bounce. See you later.”
“Coward,” Zoe snickered.
“Whatever,” Alfie muttered. “I have to help out at the shop,” he said loudly, for Eric’s benefit. “Been bunking off enough. She’ll have me head. So I’ll leave you two to have your family time.”
Eric simply nodded, and Alfie took that opportunity to jump off the rock and stride down the path. He stopped, and used his right leg to pivot back around to face the duo. “Yo, Zo,” he called out, “We cool?”
Zoe smiled fondly at him. He sounded hesitant, as if he wasn’t quite sure if they were friends yet. She nodded. “Yeah, Alfie. We’re cool.”
“Cool,” he grinned and spun back around. “Catch you later.”
And with that, he swaggered down the path.
“What a try-hard,” Eric said as soon as Alfie was out of earshot. Zoe burst out laughing at the abrupt declaration, and he chuckled as well. “I don’t know what you see in him.”
She looked up at him innocently, her brow furrowed in confusion. “Don’t know what you mean.”
“Sure, and that’s why the two of you were up here, by yourselves,” he spoke as if it was scandalous gossip. Zoe rolled her eyes, and punched his shoulder.
“Ow, watch it,” he laughed. “That hurts.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have taught me how to fight, then,” she said smugly
“Ooh, I walked right into that one,” he relented.
Zoe shook her head with a laugh. “So, why’d you come looking for me?”
“I wanted to say goodbye before I leave tomorrow.” He looked down at her imposingly. “But you weren’t at home.”
“Yeah, there was an incident with the Cybermen. They’re sort of like, roboticised men. We stopped them, though.”
“When was this?”
“Er, we were fighting them for about two days,” she calculated. “Yesterday and today!” she hastened to add when Eric’s eyes widened in alarm. “At night. It’s all sorted, don’t get your riot squad on our backs.”
“… I see.” He tried to hide it, but she could see the disappointment in his eyes. “You should have called the police or something.”
“Because they would have been slaughtered!” Zoe snapped in annoyance. “Look, you wanted to know why I do all this, right?”
“Yeah. I still do.”
“Well, it involves the police. Kind of.” She sighed, wondering how she could explain her life choices, and why she had to explain herself in the first place. “Look, I know it’s dangerous. How could I not? But I don’t do this for the thrill. I might have done, once, but not anymore. I do what I do to protect you, and Bloom, and Aunt Valencia and my dad and Finn and all the rest. The minute you guys learn about my life, you’re on the immediate hit list. I don’t want that. You guys are my family, and I want to protect you like I protect the people who can’t protect themselves.”
He leaned back against the rock, resting his palms flat against the rock and tilting his head to look up at the sky, deep in thought. She didn't know if he accepted her decision or not. Maybe she never would.
“You didn’t come home after that.”
She could have easily responded with something that deflected the hidden question in his tone and diverted the conversation in another direction, but she found that she couldn’t muster the energy. “Nope.”
“Why?” He finally asked.
Zoe shrugged. “Dunno. I guess I wanted to let dad have his alone time with Jade. And I needed to come up here to think.” She stared at the open field ahead of her. There was a light breeze now, and the grass and her hair swayed back and forth slightly. “How long has she been gone now?”
Eric ponded on the question for a second. “Three years this December.”
A small proud smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “You remember.”
“Of course I remember. Me and your dad, Zoe, we’ll never forget her. I loved Cal like she was my own sister. She made it easier when your aunt Emilia moved away to London to start her own family, and none of us ever thought that she’d die in that freak meteor shower the way she did. It was horrible, but just like you’ve started wearing that necklace a lot more to cope, we’ve found our own methods of coping.”
Zoe’s hand clasped around the item around her neck, and she nodded. Of course she knew that, but she was prone to conflicted thoughts every now and again, and sometimes required the validation. Besides, it means she didn’t have to reveal the whole truth to her uncle, whom she loved dearly, but didn’t feel like burdening with her issues. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry. It’s just that sometimes it’s like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back.”
It was true. While the encounter in the Dream Machine had aided her in coming to terms with her own sense of loss, it hadn’t been able to alleviate the ridiculous thought that her dad had just stopped caring about their loss. She looked at his happiness sometimes, and selfishly wished that he would revert back to his unhappy self.
“It’s okay,” he said gently. He could tell that she wasn’t telling him the whole truth — there was always a little guilt buried in her expression — but he knew better than to pry. “Tell you what.” Eric plucked a dandelion by his feet and twirled it in his hands. He looked at her expectantly. “One more time?”
A smile broke out across Zoe’s face, and she plucked another dandelion. “Fine. One more time.”
The pair blew on the dandelion bracts, and watched as the bracts floated away in the glistening orange sky, like tiny specks of clouds. Zoe watched them, finding herself being transported to another time. It had been a tradition between herself, her mum and Finn, every time they travelled up to the hill at the start of the school year, they would get a dandelion each, blow on them and watch the bracts fly away freely.
She nudged her silent uncle. “You know we listened to Fireflies for the first time up here.”
Eric furrowed his brow. “Owl City song?”
“Yup. She loved it. So did I.”
She would have to return to her life after this moment. Back to her dad, her absent brother, Jade and everything that came with her, her friends, her games, her grades... her life. But, for this moment, in the moment between sun and moon, light and darkness, she was happy. Something that the Cybermen would never understand, and she had managed to stop them with it. She was truly happy, and she was going to make the most of this moment. Zoe tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, wrapped her hands around her knees, smiled, and whispered into the sunset air, “I’m weird cos I hate goodbyes… I got misty eyes as they said farewell…”