Sarah Jane Smith: Weather Warfare Special By Kate Coleman (Twitter @KateCol17)
Foreword: Although this story didn’t make it into theSarah Jane Smith Roving Reporter anthology, I am still proud of the work, and I’m delighted and grateful to have it posted here. I’d also like to express appreciation for Richard Peevers who gave me invaluable editorial advice, from which I’ve learned a great deal. He’s a great guy, check him out! https://richardpeevers.com/
Note: This story is set in the autumn of 2015, concurrently with the events ofThe Zygon Invasion/Inversion.
Sarah Jane Smith directed a bright smile at the computer screen. “General McMahon. It’s good of you to talk with me,” she said, smothering a smile. Sarah Jane had a hard job taking military men with moustaches like the general’s seriously these days, so she made a concerted effort to focus on his blue eyes, ignoring the tufty brush covering his top lip. It had taken three called-in favours and an all-nighter on the line to secure this Skype call with the high-ranking US general in Alaska, so it definitely wouldn’t do to get distracted now. It was 3 a.m., UK time, and Sarah Jane, smartly dressed despite the late hour, flipped open her reporter’s notebook and picked up her pen.
“General, what can you tell me about HAARP?”
The general responded with a beaming smile. “The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP,” he said, “is a radio science facility studying the ionosphere, allowing scientists to better understand weather processes.”
“A lot of your tech has been developed here in the UK—”
“I can’t discuss business procurement processes.”
“I see.” Sarah Jane changed tack. “The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season has been the third consecutive below-averageseason. Only a handful of deaths attributed to tropical storms in the region this year. That’s quite impressive.”
“Impressive? We can hardly claim credit.”
“Hmm.” Sarah Jane leaned in, keeping her tone light. “I’m curious. Why is this project under militarycontrol and not, say, run by a university research department?”
The brush of fur on McMahon’s top lip quivered. “There are national security implications.”
“I see. What do you say to claims that the US military manipulates the weather? Produces targeted droughts, floods, and earthquakes capable of destabilising entire regions? In effect, developing weather warfare.”
The general leaned back. “I’d say that was the view of a conspiracy nut. You just said yourself there have been fewer storms this year.” His eyes flashed steel. “Are you a conspiracy nut, Ms Smith?”
Sarah Jane didn’t falter. “World-renowned scientists have described HAARP as,” Sarah Jane glanced at her notes, “‘a super-powerful radio wave technology capable of modifying the climate’.” Sarah Jane glanced at the computer screen. The general’s eyes narrowed. Good, if he was feeling uncomfortable, then she was probably onto something. She pressed on. “What about the tornado that hit the small Cambridgeshire town of Chatteris last week?”
The general shrugged. “There are thirty plus tornadoes a year across the UK, Ms Smith.”
“True, but this one came out of nowhere. No warnings from the Met Office. No collision of hot and cold air fronts. A man died when a tree hit his car. Damage runs into millions of pounds.”
The general’s face remained impassive. “Loss of life is a great tragedy, but nothing to do with HAARP.”
“QualTech, Cambridge company manufacturing the high-frequency radio technology used at HAARP, were conducting tests in the region last week.” Sarah Jane leaned closer to the screen. “Are you telling me that’s a coincidence?”
“Ms Smith.” The general’s tone turned icy. “You’re playing a dangerous game. I don’t care how well connected you are. Cease and desist enquiries into HAARP immediately.” With a thin smile, he cut the line.
Sarah Jane Jane Smith, investigative journalist, rocked back in her chair, jaw clenched. Military secrets, unusual weather phenomenon across the world, and a connection to a science and technology firm in Cambridge? Cease and desist? Not likely. She was just getting started. The lively forum at www.unexplained-east-anglia.com, for example, had some interesting speculations about QualTech. No one had connected the storm back to HAARP as far as Sarah Jane could tell. That was good, as that was her angle and she wanted to keep it that way. One man claimed to have seen a UFO buzzing low over the Fens the night of the storm, but he also admitted he was on his way home from The Honest John after a few pints, so his credibility was questionable to say the least. Most of the reports were the usual kind of bunkum, but then something caught Sarah Jane’s eye.
FallenStar: It’s all very well going on about weird weather and UFO’s and #rap but what about explosions that ‘never happened’?
Sarah Jane typed a reply to the post.
Roving Reporter: What do you mean ‘explosions that never happened’?
FallenStar: Explosion at a QualTech lab in Cambridge mysteriously never makes the news. What are they up to?
Roving Reporter: What do you think they are up to?
There was a long pause before Fallenstar posted again.
FallenStar: Can’t talk here.
RovingReporter: You can email me with a way to contact you more securely. We can meet if need be. email@example.com.
FallenStar didn’t answer for a long time. Yawning, Sarah Jane was close to logging off when a message came direct to her inbox with the subject line I have a story for you.
Sarah Jane sat bolt upright and typed a quick reply. No chance of sleep now.
As soon as the morning rush eased off, Sarah Jane drove the sixty miles to Cambridge, amazed at the sheer number of bicycles on the roads in the busy town center.
Minutes later, she knocked on the door of a small terrace house. No answer. She took a step backwards. The curtains remained shut, although it was approaching noon. Sarah Jane knocked again, louder this time. Eventually the door opened a crack and a woman peered out.
“Norah Shine? Sarah Jane Jane Smith.”
Norah was a black woman who looked to be in her thirties, and unless Sarah Jane was very much mistaken, Norah was suffering from the hangover from hell. She squinted at Sarah Jane through reddened eyes.
“You said you had something to tell me?” Sarah Jane prompted.
“Well, I say a lot of things, apparently.” Norah pulled her pale flannel dressing gown more tightly around herself, rubbing the side of her head like it hurt. “Yeah, right. Sorry. I do remember.” She stepped back to let Sarah Jane in. “Uh. Come through.”
Norah led the way along a narrow hallway into a kitchen and then stopped. Raking her fingers through her hair, she said, “Sorry. I’m a mess. Can’t shift this headache. Look, why don’t you make a coffee while I try to reclaim my humanity?” Norah waved a hand in the direction of the kettle.
Sarah Jane’s heart sank a little. Perhaps this was a wild goose chase. So many leads were, but it was still disappointing when a promising story turned out to be a dead end. She did need a coffee, so while Norah disappeared upstairs, Sarah Jane flicked on the kettle and searched out a jar of Nescafe.
The small kitchen’s surfaces were cluttered with brown envelopes and an empty wine bottle. A table at the back of the room was piled high with laundry. Not wanting to sit in front of Norah’s uniform and underwear, Sarah Jane opted to roam the room instead. On the wall, three women in nurses’ uniforms smiled brightly, one of them Norah. Confusing. In her email, Norah had told Sarah Jane she was a cleaner at QualTech.
While the shower upstairs began to buzz, Sarah Jane got her phone out and checked her messages. There was a text from Sky, who was staying over at Luke’s for the weekend.
Sky: Hi Mum, can u pick me up after dinner Sunday night?
Sarah Jane: Yes, that’s fine. 7 pm.
Sky: Can you get a new lamp for Luke? Accidentally blew up his old one :(
Sarah Jane: Not again! It’s okay, I’ll pick something up. You guys having fun?
Sarah Jane sighed. Conversations via emojis were a staple. Nothing back from UNIT, and she hadn’t even considered contacting Torchwood. Sarah Jane didn’t much like asking for anything these days. Both agencies had a tendency to go in all guns blazing and then try to tell her what she could and couldn’t print. Despite that, she’d built up a decent relationship with Kate Stewart over the years. Kate, though, was off grid at the moment, something big kicking off on the other side of the world. Well, that suited Sarah Jane just fine. Kate had got her that conversation with General McMahon which confirmed her suspicions. Sarah Jane could handle the rest.
The shower stopped, and Norah soon came downstairs wearing jeans and a blue sweater. She flicked the kettle on again. “Sorry about that. Can we start over?”
“Of course.” Sarah Jane nodded at the picture on the wall. “Are you a nurse?”
Norah shook her head. “Not any more. It was relentless, you know, the pressure. Always short staffed, patients stuck in A & E because there were no beds. Ambulances queueing outside. Thought maybe I’d be happier doing something else.” She sighed, glancing at the pile of brown envelopes on the counter. “If somewhat poorer.”
Sarah Jane took in the debris in the kitchen and the cleaner’s smocks and Norah’s weary eyes. “How’s that working out?” she asked gently.
Norah stared at the photo in silence for a few seconds. “Anyway.”She turned to Sarah Jane, business like. “I work for CCS now, who have cleaning contracts at the science park. Here’s the thing. Sometimes they ask us to do what they call ‘extra duties’. They pay more and say it’s all confidential because they’re scared of industrial espionage, but…” Norah pressed her lips tight together. “Three days ago, I got asked to clean up after—well I don’t know what exactly. That’s why I was on the message boards yesterday. An explosion that big and no reports in the newspapers? And I thought… well it seemed to me…” Norah paused, leaning forward, as if she was afraid someone would overhear. “A lot of stuff had already been taken away, but I think that place had been… a holding cell of some kind.”
That caught Sarah Jane’s attention. “Why did you think that?”
“I found parts of halogen lights, something I thought was a scalpel handle, and fragments of face masks. The supervisor took all those away. And the patterns on the floor. The more I thought about it, the more they looked like an operating theatre that’s being refurbished.”
“Did you go to the police?”
Norah poured hot water into her coffee cup. “I did. They were very polite at first, said they would look into it. Next thing I know I get a call threatening me for wasting police time.” Norah poured milk into her coffee. Then she looked directly at Sarah Jane. “I know what I saw. I read your stuff in the Metro. If anyone can get to the bottom of it, it’s you.”
“All right,” Sarah Jane said, touched by this stranger’s faith in her. “I’ll need names, addresses. Everything you’ve got.”
Norah spent a few minutes scribbling on a scrap of paper. As they returned to the door Norah picked up a blackened, charred block from a small table in the hallway. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She held the block between her thumb and forefinger. It looked a lot like coal. “This thing has been freaking me out.”
Sarah Jane squinted at it. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. Found it just before I left the lab, after the supervisor had gone.” Norah dropped it into Sarah Jane’s open palm. “Hold it to your ear.”
The surface was warm to the touch. The rock hummed gently, smooth vibrations tingling up Sarah Jane’s arm and into her chest. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant—although Norah’s face was creased into an expression of distaste—but it did feel distinctly odd. Unearthly, in fact. Sarah Jane sniffed the rock, and then scraped the surface with her fingernail. The charring chipped loose, revealing a tantalising glimpse of a dark, smooth surface beneath. Sarah Jane cradled the rock in her palm, as if it was something precious, a connection to another part of her life.
“I can get this analysed, if you don’t mind me taking it?” She tried to keep her voice casual, and not reveal the excitement fluttering in her chest. Where did the crystal come from? What was going on at QualTech? And how was that all connected to that strange storm in Suffolk?
And of course, the big question: what did it all have to do with HAARP?
Norah waved a hand. “Sure. Take it. The humming intrigued me at first, but now I think it’s giving me a headache.”
Sarah Jane stowed the blackened rock in her bag.
Norah opened the front door. “You’ll let me know what you find out? I don’t think I could stand it if someone’s being hurt, and I hadn’t done anything.”
“Of course.” Sarah Jane squeezed Norah’s hand, her sympathy for the woman growing. “You did the right thing bringing this to me.”
Sarah Jane had driven right through the residential area of Cambridge, dodging the ever-present cyclists, and found the QualTech facility in the science park north of town. Munching on a sandwich from a petrol station, files on her lap, she watched the car park, studying the visitors going to and from the company’s glass-fronted building. The trees inside the wire compound clung to the last of their leaves, a riot of reds and golds swaying in the breeze.
After a flurry of activity around lunch time, the site traffic diminished. There would be an exodus of employees at 5 p.m., Sarah Jane supposed, but if she stayed here much longer someone was bound to notice. She’d just turned her engine over when two black SUVs rolled into the QualTech car park. Instead of stopping near the front, they continued around the back and out of sight. Sarah Jane pulled out of her parking spot and followed the road around, deeper into the science park alongside the high wire fence surrounding the compound. The road forced Sarah Jane further away from the building, so she pulled up again and got out her binoculars. Pilfered from UNIT, they allowed her to zoom right into the back of the vehicles parked beside two large warehouse doors.
Two women and a man in civilian clothes were loading boxes under the gaze of a tall man in a military uniform, American, like General McMahon’s if Sarah Jane was not mistaken. She snapped photographs of the faces and licence plates on her phone and then zoomed in on the largest box to read the writing on the side.
“HAARP Prototype. Prototype what, though?” Sarah Jane turned the black stone Norah had given her over in her hand. “And what are you?” She shook her head, trying to suppress a yawn. The sleepless night was catching up with her. She should get back home. After a few hours’ sleep she could start piecing this together.
By the time Sarah Jane got back to Bannerman Road, a headache pulsed behind her eyes. She hauled herself up the stairs to the attic.
“Mr Smith, without bursting into life like a carnival attraction, could you help me with something?” Mr Smith, the heart of the supercomputer housed in Sarah Jane’s attic, was actually a Xylok, a member of a long lived crystalline race who had crashed to Earth in the distant past. An expert at hacking and analysing with a flair for the dramatic, Mr Smith was a constant in Sarah Jane’s life. The Doctor left, Luke, Clyde and Rani were away studying, and Sky was just getting the hang of teenage life, but the reassuring Mr Smith was always there, patient and ready to help. “I’m sorry, Sarah Jane Jane, I thought you liked the fanfare.” The large screen and many-buttoned orange interface slid silently out from the wall. “I do, Mr Smith. But right now, I have a headache.” The swirling patterns of vivid pink and blues pulsed on the screen to the rhythm of Mr Smith’s smooth voice. “Not surprising when you haven’t slept. What can I do for you?” “Could you analyse this? Norah Shine found it in the basement of the QualTech building.” Sarah Jane pulled out a tray from the base of Mr Smith’s interface panel and placed the rock on it. The tray slid slowly back, disappearing inside Mr Smith’s housing. After a few seconds of silence, Mr Smith said, “Interesting. It will take three hours, thirty-six minutes and seven seconds to scan its atomic structure and cross reference it with my databank. But I can confirm it is non-terrestrial in origin.” “Is it now?” Sarah Jane rubbed her eyes, tiredness overtaking her excitement. “I took some photos today at QualTech. Can you find out who those people are and what they were up to?” She balanced her phone on Mr Smith’s console so he could work his magic on the photos. “May I suggest you get some sleep, Sarah Jane Jane?”
Mr Smith was right. She needed a shower, a cup of tea, and an early night. Then, with more information about the rock, maybe she’d start piecing this mystery together.
The next morning, Sarah Jane woke late from a jumble of dreams. Her head pounded like she’d finished off a whole bottle of merlot. With a coffee in her hand, she headed to the attic. She winced as Mr Smith burst into life with full fanfare.
He was eager to share what he’d discovered. “This is part of a xren crystal, likely fractured in an explosion of some magnitude.”
“What does it do?”
“Often they are used in integrated power and control systems for small spacecraft.”
“Oh. Was the other part destroyed?”
“Unlikely. A nuclear explosion of between ten and twenty megatons would be required to destroy a xren crystal.”
Sarah Jane picked up the crystal. “Hmm. I doubt even QualTech could have covered that up.” It gave off a low hum, as if it were a living thing.
“Agreed,” said Mr Smith. “Additionally, these crystals usually exist in matched pairs. The binary-crystal needs to achieve coherence. The fragments wantto re-integrate.”
“Usually via a telepathic link with the craft’s pilot. A sustained burst of neuropathic energy would do it.”
“This other one. Can you detect it?”
Sarah Jane’s mind raced. Where did QualTech get the crystal from? “How about the people in the photographs? Any information on them?”
Mr Smith flashed up an image of the tall, dark haired man in a military uniform from yesterday. “Colonel David Andrews. He’s the Army Attaché to the US Embassy to London, here on a diplomatic passport. He was previously stationed at the HAARP facility in Alaska.”
Despite her sore head, Sarah Jane sat upright, sniffing an exposé. This story got better and better.
Three hours later, Sarah Jane knocked on Norah Shine’s door again. The curtains were open now and a vase of fresh flowers sat on the window ledge. Perhaps Norah was feeling better. Sarah Jane hoped so. Plenty of people step away from a career they love and regret it. It seemed to Sarah Jane that Norah’s brain was itching to be stretched again. She didn’t seem the sort of woman who was comfortable turning a blind eye and walking away. A young white woman, with a baby squawking against her shoulder, opened the door. “Yeah?” “Oh. I’ve come to see Norah Shine.” Sarah Jane craned her neck to look past the woman. The woman stared back blankly. “Who?” Sarah Jane frowned and stepped back from the door. This was Norah’s address. 19 Highview Terrace. The chipped red paint of the front door hadn’t changed. “I came here yesterday and spoke to Norah.” “No, you didn’t,” the woman snapped. “And you’ve woken Jasmine. It’ll take ages to get her back off to sleep now.” Sarah Jane blinked rapidly. The table from the hall was still there. For a moment, she thought of pushing past and calling out for Norah. Then a scruffy-haired toddler appeared in the hall, holding a biscuit in his pudgy little hand. Sarah Jane backed away. “What’s your name?” the woman called. “Sorry I bothered you.” Sarah Jane retreated down the short garden path, with no intention of giving up her name. The woman stepped over her threshold, staring hard at Sarah Jane and her car. Why hadn’t she parked out of sight around the corner? She must be losing her touch. Cursing, Sarah Jane leapt into the little green car and flung it into gear. If she made a fast enough get away perhaps the woman wouldn’t catch her registration number. Glancing in her mirror as she tore down the road, Sarah Jane’s heart sank. The woman, without the baby, stood in the middle of the street, talking animatedly on a telephone. A few minutes later, Sarah Jane pulled into a layby. She slapped her hands against the steering wheel in frustration. She should have known something like this might happen. Why hadn’t she warned Norah to be careful? “Mr Smith, can you check last night’s CCTV for those SUV’s I uploaded? Anywhere between Highview Terrace and QualTech, or the routes out of Cambridge?” “Certainly, Sarah Jane Jane.” After a pause, Mr Smith flashed several images to her phone. “There are no cameras on Highview Terrace. The closest surveillance spots are the junction between the Academy and Milton Road. At 2 a.m. this morning, these two vehicles passed those traffic lights travelling south, and again twenty-three minutes later.” Sarah Jane examined the pictures. The rear windows were tinted and could easily conceal a person in the back seats. However, the driver was unmistakably Colonel Andrews. “Where did they go?” “The last available image shows them leaving Milton Road and approaching the science park.” Sarah Jane clicked her tongue. That was it! They had to have taken Norah there. What else would they be doing that time of night? Sarah Jane considered her options. Norah had suspected these people were dirty and it looked like she was right. Sarah Jane cursed her carelessness. She should have known better than to communicate on those forums and by email. The weight of Norah’s disappearance was on her shoulders. The police had been no use and UNIT were busy with goodness knows what. No, Sarah Jane had got Norah into this mess and she would get her out of it. “Mr Smith,” Sarah Jane said, “I think QualTech needs cleaning up.”
Sarah Jane approached a cluster of cleaners standing in QualTech’s reception area. A few straggling scientists in jeans and faded t-shirts, and office staff in swish skirts and suits passed by. It had been easy enough to pick up a cleaner’s tabard similar to those she’d seen in Norah’s laundry pile. Sarah Jane waited until the last possible minute and then, ignoring the QualTech security guard, approached the young man who seemed to be in charge of the cleaners.
“Mr. Knonieczy?” Sarah Jane said, offering her hand. He was Eastern European, Polish at a guess. “Hi. Mrs Shaheen from personnel sent me. Someone called called in sick.”
“What? They told me they didn’t have someone to send.”
Sarah Jane shrugged. “All I know is they pulled me from BioPharm and sent me here. You better check with her.”
Grumbling, Konieczny pulled out his phone and stalked over to the other side of the reception area.
Sarah Jane gave a small nod and smile. She checked her watch. Perfect timing. About three minutes ago, Mr Smith started calling every line into CCS simultaneously.
A few minutes later, Konieczny was back. “Blasted thing is always engaged.”
Sarah Jane raised an eyebrow.
“I got no time to mess about.” He threw a CCS Temp badge at Sarah Jane. “Gayle will look after you tonight. I get everything checked out later. I hope you’re fast.”
Sarah Jane followed Gayle into the lift. “Me and Norah usually take one end each,” Gayle said, a spring of messy dark curls fighting to escape from under her uniform cap. “Everything you need is on the trolley. Twelve minutes per room. Don’t replace bin liners in waste baskets unless they are really, like, messed up. Konieczny keeps track of how many we use. I’ve got a special on after I’ve done this floor, so don’t be a snail. If you’re not finished I’m taking the trolley anyway.”
“A special? What’s that?”
Gayle just tapped the side of her nose and grinned. They got off at the second floor. Gayle positioned the trolley at the centre of the corridor and grabbed her kit. She paused before putting her earbuds in. “I’m learning Spanish.” She grinned. “Bienvenido a QualTech.”
Sarah Jane lifted her hand at the woman’s disappearing back. So far so good. She doubled back into the elevator and looked for the basement button. That’s where Norah said the explosion had happened. But according to this elevator, the building didn’t have a basement.
Sarah Jane dodged back out of the elevator. Gayle was out of sight, presumably in one of the many rooms off the corridor, so Sarah Jane made a dash for the fire exit and onto a cold stairwell. The concrete steps lead down past two floors but ended in a green door marked ‘No Entry’ that was firmly shut with a security keypad to the side. Sarah Jane searched her pockets and pulled out the sonic lipstick.
She zapped the door. It clicked open seamlessly. Beyond, a corridor, led into complete blackness. Next to the stairwell was an elevator door. Regular users of the lift system would have no idea it came down this far.
The dark corridor stretched ahead, with one door on the left, and a series of doors on the right. She flashed her torch at the single door. Up close, she could see it was blackened and charred. The smell of burning plastic still hung faintly in the air. Sarah Jane moved silently along the corridor, her whole body tensed. What was going on in this basement? Was Norah even still alive? Swallowing hard, Sarah Jane tried to banish her fearful thoughts. That wouldn’t help anyone. Holding her breath, she swung the door open and stepped quickly inside. The room was large—empty but for a few boxes and some big equipment still in its plastic wrapping. Sarah Jane frowned and pulled the wrapping aside. Poor Norah had been right about the medical equipment, for what Sarah Jane saw looked like an examination table with halogen light fittings on an extendable arm. Why on earth would an engineering company need this? Sarah Jane bit her lip. She didn’t have much time before Gayle would notice her gone. Best thing to do was to gather evidence and find Norah. Moving swiftly, Sarah Jane snapped pictures of the room and the equipment on her phone.
Low voices sounded in the corridor. Heart hammering, she pressed herself back between the boxes and the wall. Unable to make out what the voices said, she waited, frozen, not daring even to breath loudly. Within minutes, footsteps passed again. Then silence. Sarah Jane let out a breath. She hurried from the room and continued along the corridor, this time searching the rooms on the opposite side, hoping to find a computer for Mr Smith to hack, but these rooms were mostly storage. Then she found another—locked—with the door’s small window panel boarded up. This one was secured not only with a keypad, but a good old-fashioned padlock, too. Just as if it was holding someone prisoner. Someone like Norah.
Flushed with excitement, Sarah Jane scrambled for the sonic lipstick in her pocket. How long until they came back? While the decoder dealt with the key combination, Sarah Jane released the padlock with the sonic lipstick. With a satisfying click, the door swung open. The small room smelled stale, with a few blankets and a plate of half-eaten sandwiches on the floor. The room was dimly lit. Someone moved in the shadows.
Rustling, but no reply. Sarah Jane took a step forward. Was Norah hurt? How would they get out if Norah couldn’t walk? Heart racing, Sarah Jane flipped on the torch on her phone and searched the shadows.
In the corner, propped against the wall, was the room’s prisoner.
It was notNorah Shine.
The prisoner’s eyes were large and strikingly blue. Its face wide at the cheekbones, narrowing to a sharp chin, with silvery-grey skin. It wore a plain blue smock, perhaps surgical garb, and Sarah Jane judged by the curves beneath that it was female. Sarah Jane felt an almost physical jolt. How long had this poor creature been held here, alone and in the dark? The prisoner had a collar of webbed skin framing her neck and flashes of blue raised ridges on her forehead. Elegant, in a semi-reptilian kind of way. Sarah Jane couldn’t tell if that was natural colouring or ceremonial makeup. She realised that she was staring, but she couldn’t help it. Her heart was pounding with that old thrill. Alien. Not of this world. A poor creature, taken from her place in the universe, mistreated and alone. Sarah Jane Jane Smith would show this visitor that not all humans were heartless. She would stop whatever HAARP were up to and put things right.
Sarah Jane pulled herself up to her full height, her back straight. “I’m here to rescue you.”
The creature narrowed her eyes and folded her long, spindly arms. Her knees poked out from under her smock. “You took your sweet time.”
Sarah Jane blinked rapidly, opening her mouth and then closing it again. “What?” she managed to splutter.
The alien stood up, her pale legs poking out from under the gown like spindly saplings.
“My parents sent you, right?” she said, in what Sarah Jane could only describe as a surly tone, before she stalked out of the room. Sarah Jane brought her hand to her temple, the wind completely knocked from her sails. After a moment gaping at the alien’s back, Sarah Jane pulled her jaw shut and followed her out.
The alien marched down the corridor. “Do you have a surface to ship transporter?” she snapped over her shoulder.
“Shush! We need to be quiet—”
“Backup, with a cloaked craft hovering outside?” she added hopefully.
“Well this is a rubbish rescue,” the girl said, shoving the door to the stairs open.
Sarah Jane scrambled to pull the door shut. “Now listen here!” she said in a low voice. “No one sent me. I just happened to find you in trouble and decided to help. This is Earth, 2015. We don’t have cloaked spaceships laying around the countryside! I don’t have backup. You are not out of danger yet. Far from it.”
The elevator pinged. Sarah Jane cursed. Grabbing the alien by the arm, she dragged her into a room lined with storage lockers and heaved her against the wall. The girl opened her mouth to speak, but at a furious glare from Sarah Jane, closed it again. A cleaning trolley squeaked its way out of the lift. Sarah Jane held her breath. If this room was on the cleaner’s worklist, there would be nowhere to go. The trolley paused outside.
“You’re at least armed, right?” the alien whispered, eyeing Sarah Jane up and down.
“No,” Sarah Jane whispered. “We are not hurting the cleaning staff!”
Once the trolley had passed, Sarah Jane let out a long breath.
The young alien girl stared at Sarah Jane for a long time, her large eyes unblinking. She tucked a lock of long shimmering white hair behind an elfin ear studded with earrings from lobe to pointy tip.
Finally, Sarah Jane spoke. “My name’s Sarah Jane. What’s yours?”
“How old are you, Addy?”
“Three hundred and four cycles.”
“Oh. How long is a cycle?”
Addy wrinkled her face, as if that was a very silly question. “Four krels.”
Sarah Jane scratched her head. “Um, have you finished school yet?”
Addy snorted. “No. Worse luck.”
Sarah Jane couldn’t help a wry smile. Rescuing a stroppy intergalactic teenager. Right up her street.
Something nagged at the back of Sarah Jane’s mind. “Why did you think your parents sent me?”
Addy scowled. “After I crashed I set out a distress signal. I thought…” she looked away for a moment, her eyes almost welling with tears, but then she sniffed. “Doesn’t matter. I can look after myself. We need to go.”
“Okay, Addy, you’re right, we do need to get out of here,” Sarah Jane said firmly, “but I only found you because a friend of mine told me about this place. She’s in trouble and I think she’s here. I’m not leaving until I find her.”
Addy wrinkled her stubby nose. “Pffft.” She leaned back against a row of lockers and looked down at her spindly legs poking out from under the gown. “I need something better to wear.” She started pulling doors open at random, turfing out QualTech employee’s belongings; hats, scarfs, packed lunch boxes, and scattering them on the floor.
“Hush!” Sarah Jane followed her, desperately catching things and preventing locker doors from slamming.
In the next locker, Addy found a pair of tattered jeans and yanked them on. They were way too long, but Sarah Jane rolled up the legs while Addy pulled a makeshift rope belt tight around her narrow waist. In another locker Sarah Jane found a black t-shirt with a picture of a flaming guitar on the front.
Addy held it against her chest. “What is it?”
“A musical instrument. Very popular. They don’t usually catch fire, though, that’s a metaphor.”
“I like it,” Addy declared, wiggling into the t-shirt. Sarah Jane found a purple beanie hat. As soon as Addy had the shirt on Sarah Jane pulled the hat low over her forehead.
“What? No, that sucks.” Addy snatched the hat off again.
Sarah Jane laughed quietly. “It beats everyone noticing you’re ‘not from around here’. Believe me, we don’t want anyone noticing that.” Sarah Jane pulled a scarf about the frill of leather around Addy’s neck. Not a brilliant disguise, but it would have to do. “Keep hold of that hat,” Sarah Jane warned, “you’ll need it when we go out.”
“Stupid hat but no shoes,” Addy complained.
Sarah Jane rummaged around the lockers, but Addy was right. No shoes, boots or anything. In any case, Addy’s feet were so long and narrow she doubted anything they found would fit.
The elevator started up again, signalling the cleaner’s departure.
“Right. Now we find my friend and get out of here,” Sarah Jane said firmly.
Addy snorted. “All right.”
Sarah Jane stared at the girl’s back, for it was impossible to think of her as anything but a surly teenage girl and muttered, “You can thank me later.”
The only other locked room on this level was three rooms down from Addy’s cell. Addy leaned back on the wall beside the door with a bored expression as Sarah Jane tried to open the lock. “Are you done yet?”
“Look, there are several million combinations to open this door—” The door clicked open. This time, the person huddled on the floor scrambled backwards, hands covering her face.
Sarah Jane dashed to her side. “Norah. It’s alright. It’s Sarah Jane.” Norah moved her hands aside and smiled with relief. Then her eyes glazed. She raised a finger, pointing at Addy.
Sarah Jane glanced back at the alien girl wearing jeans twice her size and a flaming guitar t-shirt, clutching a purple hat with long silvery fingers. Putting herself in Norah’s shoes, it must be quite a shock.
“It’s alright. She’s with me,” Sarah Jane said. “Her name’s Addy. Yes, she’s an alien. Wouldn’t quite go so far as calling her friendly, but at least she doesn’t want to kill us.”
“Cheek!” Addy exclaimed. “Can we get out of here now? Those guys were pretty sore when I blew up their lab.”
Norah gaped at Addy, and then pulled Sarah Jane closer, whispering, “How come the alien speaks perfect English?”
Sarah Jane raised her eyebrows. “It’s not as unusual as you might think.”
“Don’t be daft,” Addy said. “I’m not talking your Perfect English. You two are talking Benthrazed.”
Norah’s eyes narrowed. “I’m really not.”
“Never mind that now,” Sarah Jane said. “We have to get out of here. Addy, don’t forget your hat.”
Sarah Jane led them the way she had come. They had to find a quick way out. Gayle will have missed her by now.
“What’s her story?” Norah whispered to Sarah Jane as they headed up the stairway.
“Oi, I don’t know what you humans use yours for, but we use these things,” Addy flapped the bottom of both her ears sarcastically, “for listening.” Norah glanced at Sarah Jane before turning to Addy. “Sorry. Um, where are you from?” she asked Addy politely, her face contorted with uncertainty.
“Belthradez. It’s a small country on Shikanzi Minor. How about you?”
“Um, Bishop Stortford.” Norah kept quiet after that, leading the way up the stairs and out of the basement until they reached a door, where she paused. “The best way out is going to be through the goods-in depot. They won’t expect deliveries this time of night.”
They emerged into a warehouse area, with boxes of components stacked high on metal shelves and forklift trucks parked neatly in white-marked bays.
“Keep to the side,” Sarah Jane hissed at Addy, “and put your hat on.”
Scowling—and Addy’s large cobalt blue eyes scowling were really a sight to behold—Addy pulled the hat over her ears and forehead. They got halfway across the darkened depot before footsteps echoed over the concrete floor behind them.
“Quick, hide!” she hissed at Addy and Norah, signalling the shadowy boxes and crates stacked in the warehouse.
“What are you doing back here?” came an irritated voice.
Sarah Jane spun around with a broad smile to face a security guard, a man in his fifties with a blue shirt barely containing his stout belly. His name tag declared him to be Roy. Waving her hands up and down her cleaner’s uniform, she added, “Sorry. I’m terribly lost. It’s my first night.”
“You shouldn’t be here. I’ll have to escort you back to your supervisor,” Roy droned, making sure Sarah Jane understood by his tone justhow inconvenient that would be for him. Glancing around, Sarah Jane realised with a stab of relief that Norah and Addy had both vanished into the shadows.
At that moment, a crack of gunfire rang out, evidently surprising Roy considerably more than it did Sarah Jane. He flinched but remained rooted to the spot with his mouth slightly open.
Sarah Jane instinctively ducked. “Take cover,” she yelled at Roy. When he didn’t move, she yanked him with her as she dived between two rows of shelves.
“What… what’s going on?” Roy stammered. Clearly, a shootout hadn’t been on his roster for tonight.
“Just stay out of the way,” Sarah Jane said, more concerned with finding Norah and Addy. Crouching as low as she could, Sarah Jane headed towards the warehouse’s large external doors, leaving Roy covering his head with his hands between the shelves.
After a few frantic seconds, Sarah Jane found Norah hiding behind a stack of boxes. “Where’s Addy?” Sarah Jane hissed.
“She was right here…” Norah looked around. “She probably beamed herself up. See that button?” said Norah, “I reckon that releases the big door.”
Splinters exploded into the air as bullets ripped the crates on shelves above their heads. A knot of panic tightened Sarah Jane’s chest. Where was Addy? Sarah Jane grabbed Norah’s arm. “We have to find Addy!”
Before Norah could speak, an engine buzzed from behind. Addy was racing across the warehouse floor in the cab of a forklift truck, her long silver-white hair trailing behind her from under the black hat. She slowed beside them, grinning from ear to elfin ear. “Need a ride?”
Norah stared agog at Addy. “How did you—”
“How do you think I got Mum’s Comet in the first place?” Addy grinned as they jumped on, wagging her fingers at the wires dangling loose on the truck’s control panel. “I got mad skills.”
“Get going!” Sarah Jane yelled.
Addy aimed the forklift directly at the doors.
Norah gripped the dashboard. “Are you crazy? The doors!”
Sarah Jane aimed her sonic lipstick at the red button. Nothing moved. Bullets pinged past, shattering the truck’s windscreen. Heart racing, Sarah Jane tried again, uttering a silent invocation to whatever gods of time and space might be listening. This time, the warehouse doors lifted.
They rushed into the cold night air, Addy whooping as they raced over tarmac and then ploughed onto the grass, her oversized t-shirt flapping in the wind as if the flaming guitar were really alight. “Where is it?” she demanded breathlessly. “You do at least have a vehicle, don’t you?”
“Of course. I have a car…” Sarah Jane pointed at her little Nissan Figaro on the road beyond the wire fence.
“Oh. How quaint,” Addy said dryly, steering the forklift towards the fence. “Hold on!”
Sarah Jane tried desperately to squeeze her backside into the pokey cab, while clinging tightly to the doorframe. The wire fence loomed high, like a net ready to snag a school of fish. A hail of deadly bullets sprayed the vehicle, splintering metal and glass.
Evidently Addy worked out how to move the truck’s forks. The two long metal prongs rose as they sped toward the wire fence—twice the height of the truck—with a roll of vicious razor on top. Addy’s eyes were fixed. Sarah Jane had a brief moment to admire her nerve, and then the truck lurched forward. Wire flew through the air like furious metal snakes. With a series of cracks, posts snapped along the fence line, metal wire twisting and tangling around the forks. Sarah Jane flung her hands to protect her head as wire lashed through the cab. The truck screamed to a halt.
Through the turmoil, Sarah Jane grabbed her car keys and scrambled out through the wire. Security guards spilled from the building, including the hapless Roy. Sarah Jane dived into her car, dimly aware of Norah bundling Addy in the back and then getting into the passenger's seat herself.
“Go!” Norah screamed.
Sarah Jane flung the car into reverse and sped backwards, thanking God it was late and there was no traffic. She spun the car around and sped towards the open road.
It was only then she looked at Norah, who was twisted awkwardly into the back seat, her face pulled tight with concern.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah Jane’s stomach lurched, victory turning sour in her mouth. Norah’s hands were covered in a sticky blue substance. Like blood. She was trying to press a scarf flat against Addy’s stomach, but she couldn't reach properly. Addy’s silvery skin seemed drained of colour.
Norah glanced at Sarah Jane, her expression grim. “Better pull over. Fast.”
Sarah Jane’s throat clenched tight and her thoughts raced. Blood. She knew blood when she saw it; red or blue. That much of it only meant one thing. “Has she been shot?”
“I think it was that razor wire. She’s got a laceration running the full width of her… well I’d ordinarily say ‘abdomen’.”
Sarah Jane cursed. Was the first aid kit still in the car? Probably in the boot. Whether its contents would be up to putting an alien back together, she had no idea. Addy groaned while Norah did her best to twist from the front seat to the back and keep pressure on the wound.
Sarah Jane found a cul-de-sac and pulled up beneath a street lamp.
“I need more light,” Norah said.
Sarah Jane flicked on the Nissan’s internal light. Addy’s long fingers were bunched in her blood-soaked t-shirt, holding it up while Norah pressed the makeshift pad onto her belly.
Sarah Jane swallowed hard. “How bad is it?”
“How should I know?” Norah snapped. “What the hell are we going to do?”
“We can’t take her to a hospital. I’ve got a first aid kit in the boot—”
“No, no, no. How am I supposed to know what to do with her?” Addy’s skin was grey, and those wide blue eyes closed. Sarah Jane wasn’t even sure if she was conscious or not. “There must be people,” Norah said. “You know, government people we should tell!”
“There’s no time. We have to deal with this.” Sarah Jane muttered. Already two cars were pulling out of the road that led to QualTech. Sarah Jane slammed her footdown.
“Norah! You’re a nurse. You didn’t stop being one when you stopped working for the NHS, did you?”
“She’s an alien,” Norah said in a hoarse whisper.
Sarah Jane opened a phone line to Mr Smith. “I need to slow these guys down. Mr Smith, can you help?”
“I’m assessing your location.” He paused. “There are automatic train barriers on a level crossing on at the junction of Norward Road and Fleetdyke Street.”
Mr Smith flashed a route to Sarah Jane’s phone. She floored the Nissan, taking the first right and then next left. Soon, they passed the level crossing. In her mirror, she saw the automatic gates go down as she zoomed off down the road. “Thank you, Mr Smith.”
When she was confident they had lost their pursuers, she pulled over and turned to Norah. “Look. When someone comes into A & E, you don’t check the colour of their skin. You just get busy saving their life, right?”
Norah covered her mouth with her hands. She looked down at Addy just as the girl groaned.
“She’s in pain. We have to help her,” Sarah Jane said.
“I know.” Norah’s voice softened. “It’s just when they come into A & E, I usually know where they keep their major organs.”
While Sarah Jane retrieved her kit from the boot, Norah crammed herself between the front seats to examine Addy’s wound more closely.
She took the kit from Sarah Jane and appraised its contents. “You’re well prepared for a reporter.” That was true. Sarah Jane had carried a decent first aid kit for years, since the day she realised Luke, Clyde, and Maria were never going to do as she told them and stay safely out of trouble.
Norah ripped open a sterile pad and replaced the blood-soaked scarf. “I can’t deal with this here. I can’t see well enough, and I can barely move.” For a moment, Sarah Jane thought Norah might turn away. Then she sighed, as if in defeat. “There’s a Travelodge on Newmarket Road. Maybe we can get a room and sneak her in?”
Sarah Jane pulled a dubious face.
“I really can’t deal with this here,” Norah said. “If you want me to help her I need her lying flat and I need decent light.”
Sarah Jane turned the Figaro over. The roads of Cambridge were almost empty, bar the occasional taxi, and ten minutes later Sarah Jane turned into the Travelodge car park. She pulled the car into a spot between a battered Renault Scenic and a black Mercedes, out of sight of the road. Hopefully their pursuers wouldn’t find them here.
In the back, Addy seemed to flit between sleep and wakefulness, occasionally groaning with the movement of the car.
Norah climbed right into the back seat. “I’m going to tape this dressing to hold it in place while we walk. Are you allergic to anything?”
“This planet,” Addy moaned. Grabbing her purse, Sarah Jane turned to Norah. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”
Norah’s face was unreadable. “Please be quick.”
It took less than ten minutes for Sarah Jane to secure a room and return to the car. Addy seemed paler than ever. “How is she?”
Norah shook her head. “She’s lost a lot of blood, but she’s conscious.”
“It hurts,” Addy mumbled unhappily. “Why didn’t my parents come?”
While Sarah Jane had been gone, Norah had slid the first aid kit inside a carrier bag to disguise it, and also had the bright idea of putting her own socks on Addy’s feet, covering up her long and very alien toes.
“I don’t know why they haven’t come yet, honey,” Norah said quietly.
Sarah Jane passed Norah the beanie hat. She pulled it as far down over Addy’s forehead as she could.
“I can’t see,” Addy groaned. Her neck frills had retracted and laid flat against her neck.
“You don’t need to see,” Sarah Jane said. “We’ll guide you. It’s more important no one sees you.”
“It hurts too much to walk,” Addy said hoarsely.
“It’ll get worse if we don’t treat you.” Norah said.
Sarah Jane pulled the driver’s seat forward. Addy flinched as Norah helped her out and she stood trembling in the cold October air. Sarah Jane took off her coat and slipped it around Addy’s shoulders.
“Is this going to work?” Norah whispered to Sarah Jane.
Sarah Jane raised an eyebrow. “Of course. The young woman on reception was so busy checking her phone I had to ring the desk bell three times. She’s about to find out she’s picked up three thousand new Instagram followers, with a little help from Mr Smith. Should keep her occupied for a while.”
After locking the car, Sarah Jane grabbed the first aid kit in one hand and put the other around Addy’s waist. “Right, we go straight through reception, into the lift. Hopefully there won’t be too many guests around this time of night.”
They hurried across the car park, half carrying Addy between them. She was surprisingly light, her frame willowy and delicate. Sarah Jane could hear her breathing was laboured. How much blood had she lost? Blue blood was already seeping through the bandage Norah had strapped to her belly. Even if they patched her up, what then? Sarah Jane forced her attention back to the present. One problem at a time, as Aunt Lavinia used to say.
They crossed the reception area without incident; the woman behind the desk barely glanced up as they whisked Addy through the front door and past the vending machine. After an anxious wait, the lift opened with an electronic chime. As soon as the doors closed, Addy groaned, bending almost double. “Ow, ow, ow!” Spots of blue blood dripped onto the floor.
A few seconds later the doors pinged open again. They were face to face with a family; three children in sun hats and two harried parents. “We’re going on an aeroplane,” the youngest girl piped up from beneath a tangle of blonde curls. Staring at Addy, the mother pulled her daughter closer towards her.
“Sorry, she had one too many,” Norah said, just as Sarah Jane supplied, “Fancy-dress party.”
“Yes. Been drinking,” Sarah Jane said with a bright smile, “at a fancy-dress party. Teenagers!” Sarah Jane pressed past the bewildered family and into the corridor, Addy’s feet barely touching the floor as the two women swooped her along.
“Let’s get her on the bed.” Norah’s voice was stiff with concern as they gently laid Addy down. Sarah Jane took off the hat. Addy’s brow was beading with sweat, her breath coming fast, her eyes wide and staring. Sarah Jane eased her coat from under her body and realised again just how delicate and light Addy was, how thoroughly alien in appearance and yet so… human. Despite Addy’s bravado, she was a child and a frightened one at that.
Norah put her fingers by what seemed to be Addy’s collarbone, next to the now-floppy frill of skin around her neck.
Sarah Jane broke away to make a phone call. “Mr Smith, I need you to monitor CCTV and warn us if those SUVs get anywhere near us.”
Norah glanced up. “There’s a Mr Smith?” Then she shook her head. “I’m quite sure you don’t call your husband Mr Smith, but I’m not even gonna ask.”
“He’s a supercomputer."
“So glad I didn’t ask.” Norah touched Addy’s forehead again. The girl batted her hand away, mumbling irritably. “She’s burning hot. I’ve no idea how bad that is for her. I daren’t give anything for the pain.” When Norah pulled Addy’s t-shirt up, the white bandage was soaked with blue blood. “Best we can do is get her clean, stitch her up, and pray.” While Norah worked, Sarah Jane stroked the girl’s long hand, thoughtfully. Addy wore a number of silvery rings on her fingers. Whoever had been holding her hadn’t taken those. Addy said she blew up the lab, and then they got cross with her, so maybe she wasn’t always a prisoner.
Addy mumbled occasionally. Her words were hard to follow, but Sarah Jane was fairly sure she heard ‘Mum’ at one point. That word jolted Sarah Jane. She would drop everything and cross the world for Luke or Sky. Why hadn’t Addy’s parents come for her when she sent the distress signal?
Sarah Jane could hardly remember a time when she didn’t exist in the strange world where aliens were real and people travel through space and time on a whim. All things considered, Norah was handling it rather well. The former nurse was certainly skilful with the needle, carefully sewing individual stitches and separating them off to avoid infection spreading. As Sarah Jane watched, a pale white light gathered around Addy’s chest, gently flowing over her stomach, and making the tips of Norah’s fingers glow.
“What’s that?” Sarah Jane gasped.
“What?” Norah didn’t look up. The light faded as quickly as it came.
“You both sort of glowed.”
“Did we?” Norah continued stitching. “Add that to the list of weird stuff happening today then.”
Sarah Jane shook her head. Perhaps she imagined it. It hadbeen one hell of a day.
With the stitching done and Addy resting, Norah threw the surgical gloves in the pedal bin in the bathroom and set about scrubbing her hands. “Well that was a first,” she said to Sarah Jane.
“That was impressive. A crash course in exobiology.”
Norah shook her head. “There it is again. She’s an alien. From space. Who speaks English. Yet none of this fazes you.” Norah raised a finger. “Wait. Are you from outer space too?”
Sarah Jane laughed wistfully. “No. Croydon. But I used to travel a bit.”
Sarah Jane turned her head away slightly, felt that deep pang in her heart whenever that question came up. “There are adventures beyond imagining to be had right here,” she said quietly. “You can’t always go back.”
“Would you, if you could?”
How could Sarah Jane answer that question? Pressing her lips tight together, she looked at Addy, now resting peacefully on the bed. “Why don’t you go back to nursing? You seem pretty good at it. Or do you love being a cleaner now?”
“I do think about it. I miss the team, you know. But I made such a grand gesture of leaving, I can’t go back. They bought me a posh vase and everything. Besides, it was a treadmill. You get one fixed up and the next one rolls in. You hardly make a dent in the great well of human suffering.”
Sarah Jane sighed softly. “I asked my friend once, the one I travelled with, how he kept on saving the universe when the universe just kept mucking things up again. He told me a story. A young girl was on a beach covered in seastars the tide had washed in. It would be hours until the waters returned, and the seastars were dying. The little girl was picking them up and throwing them back into the water one by one. An old man came along, and he said, laughing, ‘Why bother? There’s thousands on this beach. You could stand here all day and barely make a difference.’ The young girl looked up at him as she tossed another back into the clear blue waters. She said, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”
Norah smiled, and closed her eyes, leaning on the white sink basin. Then she put her head on one side, squinting at Sarah Jane. “This friend of yours. Saving the universe. Delusions of grandeur, much?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” Sarah Jane raised her eyebrows. “He was a most uncommon man.”
The two women turned at the sound of Addy’s voice. She was struggling to sit up on the bed. “Ugh. Where are we?”
Norah was at her side in a flash. “Hold it. I just spent forty minutes stitching you back together. Don’t want you ripping those open again.”
Addy peeked under her shirt and grimaced. “Stitching?”
“Yes, well, I’m sure your doctors use super-laser rays from their fingertips to fuse your epidermal layers back together, but here on Earth we have to make do with a needle and thread,” Norah said. Then she added dryly, “You can thank me later.” Sarah Jane took a perch on the side of the bed. “How do you feel?”
Sarah Jane touched Addy’s cheek. Her temperature was lower and her eyes more alert. “We need to have a proper chat. What were you doing here? On Earth.” Addy pulled her teeth tight over her lips. “Nothin’.” Then she looked at her toes. “What are those on my feet?”
Sarah Jane crossed her arms, intimately familiar with the teen tactic of changing the subject. “Addy, you need to be honest with us.”
Addy rubbed her nose. “I was just doing a bit of L-five skimming. You know, fly low over a level five world and upload the footage to the galactic hub.”
Sarah Jane sighed. Teenagers really were the same the galaxy over. “How did you get mixed up with QualTech?”
“Those guys were doing some kind of weird atmospheric stuff. It messed with my systems.”
“Have they got your ship?” The idea of an alien ship in the wrong hands filled Sarah Jane with dread. She’d haveto tell UNIT if that was the case.
“No. After I put down, I hid it. The cloak’s still operating. They badgered me to tell them where it was the whole time I was with them, but they didn’t find it.” Addy couldn’t look Sarah Jane in the eye. “I know I shouldn’t have...I just thought…”
Addy’s tone became defensive. “I didn’t know what they were planning to do! I thought we could help each other out.” Her voice turned sullen. “Turns out they were just interested in helping themselves…”
Sarah Jane felt the lump of alien crystal in her pocket. “What did you give them?”
“One of my xren crystals,” Addy said, her voice low and moody. “It was cracked. My parents didn’t bother answering my signal, so I figured I could reform the crystal matrix if I had the right equipment. I thought they were scientists and they wanted to help. We did some cool experiments and stuff. But then I found out what they’d been up to with their Ionic Transducer. With my xren crystal they could do much worse.” Addy folded her arms over her chest, wincing with pain. “I’m not a completeloser. I blew up their lab. They went from ‘what can I get you, my dear?’ to ‘how about we see what makes you tick’.” Addy said the last words in a comically sinister voice, but then she looked from Sarah Jane to Norah, her big blue eyes seeming lost; like a kid who found herself suddenly alone and out of her depth.
Sarah Jane took the crystal from her pocket. The charing was flaking off. “Is this part of your xren crystal?”
“Yes! Where did you get it?”
“From the lab, after the explosion,” Norah said. “It gives me a headache.”
“That will be the psychic interface. The system’s trying to repair itself.”
Sarah Jane was pacing, her brain trying to put together the bigger picture as she walked. QualTech made the Ionic Transducer for HAARP. How much damage could they inflict on the world if they got their hands-on alien technology? “They still have part of your crystal?”
Addy nodded again. “While I was locked up they were gloating over rebuilding the prototype with the fragment. I hate to think what they’d do if they get hold of the other one.”
“The other one?” So Mr Smith had been right about the crystals coming in pairs.
At that moment, Sarah Jane’s phone blared the special fanfare she reserved just for his calls.
“Sarah Jane Jane, the vehicles you asked me to monitor just entered Newmarket Road. They’ll reach your location in minutes.”
Sarah Jane jumped to her feet. “We have to go!”
Norah groaned. “Where?”
“We’ll work that out on the road.” Pulling the curtains back a crack, she surveyed the car park. “They’re not here yet. Come on!” Sarah Jane looped her handbag over her shoulder while Norah helped Addy to her feet.
“Wait!” Sarah Jane grabbed the beanie hat and shoved it on Addy’s head. “Now we’re ready.” Sarah Jane rushed down the back stairs, trying to keep an eye on Addy who seemed unsteady on her feet. Holding her phone under her chin as they ran, she asked Mr Smith, “Do you see them?”
“I’m afraid they’ve left CCTV range.”
Sarah Jane dived into her car and turned it over while Norah, fumbling with the seat, let Addy in the back.
Sarah Jane thrust her phone into its holder. “Mr Smith, can you get that barrier up?”
Mr Smith’s voice came over the Figaro’s radio speaker. “Certainly Sarah Jane Jane.”
“He can do that?” Norah said, with a tone of disbelief. Then she pointed ahead. “Uh oh.” A tall man in a military blazer stood in front of the exit barrier. She recognised him from the photos. Colonel Andrews.
Sarah Jane revved her engine. “We’re leaving.” As she rolled the Figaro forwards, two more running figures appeared in her mirror.
“He’s not moving,” Norah said in a low voice. “He expects you to stop.”
Sarah Jane eyed Andrews, standing so boldly in the path of her little car, as if he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which she wouldn’tstop.
“I’ve been to the far reaches of the galaxy. I’ve travelled through time and space and faced down dinosaurs and giant robots and spiders bigger than he is. I’ve fought off more invasions than he’s had hot dinners.” She was dimly aware of Norah staring at her, mouth dropped open, but Sarah Jane fixed her eyes ahead. “I didn’t get where I am today by stopping.” She hit the accelerator hard, aiming directly at Andrews.
His eyes locked with hers, legs apart, feet rooted to the spot. Sarah Jane’s teeth clenched. She gripped the wheel tight as the car thundered towards him. Andrews eyes widened, and his expression, in the moment Sarah Jane had to appreciate it, was one of indignant shock. Seconds before her bumper would have smacked into his legs, he threw himself clear.
“Yes!” Addy declared from the back seat, while Norah blew out her breath.
With a satisfied smile, foot hard to the floor, Sarah Jane glanced in her mirror. No Andrews. Good. “Mr Smith, keep monitoring.”
“Where are we going?” Norah asked. “And why are they not following us?”
“I don’t know. Just be grateful we’ve lost them,” Sarah Jane said. The she turned to Addy. “Can you remember anything at all about where you landed?”
“There were quite a few trees,” she said hopefully.
“Hmm, trees in the Cambridgeshire countryside. Doesn’t give us much to go on.”
“It was dark,” she huffed. “And all the signs were in a weird language!” Addy folded her arms.
“That’s a fair point,” Norah said. Then she added to Sarah Jane. “I still don’t get how we even understand each other.”
“You do speak surprisingly good Benthrazed,” Addy piped up. “The guys who picked me up were using a translator programme. It was really slooooow.” Addy pulled her hat from her head and flung it on the seat beside her. “Could be an idiopathic effect of my ship’s crystalline AI system. You know, using the xren crystal harmonics to compensate for the language barrier by inserting biometric--”
“Whoa!” Norah said. She raised her finger at Addy but didn’t quite know what to do with it next. In the end, she shot Sarah Jane a pleading look. “Did you understand any of that?”
Sarah Jane smiled thinly. “I think she’s saying her ship is helping us talk to one another. I’ve known it to happen before.” She had to admit the idea made even her a little uneasy. She’d had a headache on and off since she first picked the crystal up. “Addy, will your ship fly?”
“Not unless I re-integrate the two parts of the broken xren crystal, using the telepathic harmonics to heal the crystalline structure.”
“Ah, good plan?” Norah said, bemused.
Addy rolled her eyes upwards. “Rubbish plan. We don’t even have the other part. Andrews put it in the prototype. But I could try boosting my distress signal. Maybe I can get someone to bring me a spare crystal and get off this rock. We need to find my ship.”
Norah didn’t look too happy about this development. She pulled her lips tight together. “Great.”
Sarah Jane shot Norah an encouraging smile. The poor woman was taking this remarkably well, all things considered.
Sarah Jane hit the speed dial for Mr Smith. “Mr Smith, can you pinpoint the epicentre of the atmospheric disturbance in Chatteris two weeks ago?” After a moment, Mr Smith’s voice sounded over the speakers. “The information held by the University of Cambridge Digital Technology Group indicates that the tornado lasted twenty-six minutes and covered an area of three square miles. I’ve downloaded coordinates to the navigation programme in your phone.” "Thank you, Mr Smith." Sarah Jane glanced back at Addy. “Ten days ago. Does that sound right?”
Addy nodded, her eyes losing their defiance. She pulled her fingers through her silvery hair. “Ten days. I’ve been missing ten days,” she said quietly. “If they didn’t send anyone… They must be real mad at me.”
A pang hit Sarah Jane’s chest. “I’m sure your parents are doing their best to find you.”
Addy sniffed again. “Andrews won’t just let me go. He really wants the other crystal.”
“Why?” Norah asked. “What’s it all for, anyway?”
“HAARP,” Sarah Jane said. “It’s a secret US military project. They’ve been using high-frequency charged particles to manipulate global weather. I’ve been investigating them for weeks.”
“A xren crystal,” Mr Smith added, “would increase the power of their prototype beyond anything a level five civilisation is capable of handling.”
Addy pulled a face. “You lot aren’t off trainer wheels yet.”
“Oi!” Norah protested.
Sarah Jane clicked her tongue. In many ways she agreed with Addy. Scientific advancement should be earned, not stolen. Besides, projects like HAARP in military hands made her uneasy. She’d talk to Kate Stewart about it when she got the chance.
The road out of the city joined the motorway, and soon Sarah Jane was speeding through dark countryside. It was past 2 a.m.; Addy dozed on the back seat and even Norah seemed too tired to talk.
There were times Sarah Jane still missed the Doctor, even now, but at times like this, she felt he’d given her a precious gift. Helped her become what Earth really needed: someone to stay home and keep watch. The Doctor couldn't be everywhere and he certainly couldn’t save everyone. But wherever he went he left people a little wiser, a little braver. So they could defend themselves.
Sarah Jane glanced back at the alien girl asleep on the backseat of her tiny car, her mouth slightly open, silver-grey skin shining in the light of the crescent moon, hat half pulled down over her distinctive blue forehead ridges. This task fell to Sarah Jane Jane Smith now. She would get Addy and her powerful crystals safely off this planet, no matter who or what tried to stop her.
It was still dark when Sarah Jane parked the Figaro beside a five-bar metal gate. There had been no street lighting at all for the past fifteen minutes as they zipped along winding country lanes. Both Addy and Norah were still dozing, and for a brief moment Sarah Jane considered letting them sleep and waiting for dawn to creep over the horizon. But Andrews wouldn’t wait. Nor could Sarah Jane.
“Addy, Norah. Wake up. We can’t drive any closer.”
Sarah Jane had already jumped from the car and was grabbing a torch from her boot, taking lungfuls of cold country air. “Come on. Addy, we need to find your ship.”
Norah pulled the front seat forward to let Addy out.
“Do you recognise anything?” Sarah Jane asked.
Addy got out carefully, her stitched-up wounds clearly still sore. “Um. Not sure.” Her voice sounded faint.
Norah pressed the back of her hand to Addy’s forehead. The girl didn’t grumble or bat the hand away. “You’re hot again. How do you feel?” Even in the dark, Norah’s face signalled concern.
Addy didn’t answer. Norah drew a sharp breath. On instinct both woman grabbed Addy’s arms, just in time to catch her as her knees buckled.
“Got you,” Norah muttered.
In the light of Sarah Jane’s torch, Addy’s eyes flickered.
Heat flashed through Sarah Jane’s body. For a moment Sarah Jane saw herself, standing in the dark. With a feeling of surreal disjointedness, she brought her own hand up to her face and saw long silver-grey fingers. She turned the alien hands over in fascination. Her chest tingled, but she wasn’t afraid, exactly. This wasn’t possession; she knew what that felt like. No, this was something ethereal, connecting her and Addy. Her head pulsed lightly, but she pushed the physical discomfort aside to focus on the feelings flooding into her. Fear, pain, loneliness, all mixed with a huge embarrassment at messing things up and capped off with the bravado of a teenager. But among it all, one thing shone brightly. Addy wanted to go home.
Beside her, Norah gasped, her mouth gaping open in shock, as if she too saw through alien eyes.
The world flashed white. She was Sarah Jane Jane Smith again, standing in a chilly field in the dead of night.
Addy coughed violently, doubling over. “Ugh!”
“What the hell was that?” Norah spluttered, staring at her hands. “That… that wasn’t normal.”
Sarah Jane took a breath to calm herself. She laid her hand on Addy’s back. “Are you alright?”
Addy shook her head. “Uh, yeah. Just. Woozy.”
Sarah Jane turned to Norah, still staring at her hands. “Norah?”
“I think I just had a close encounter of an alien kind. I’m a long way from okay,” she muttered. Then she looked up. “I tell you one thing, though.” She put her arm around Addy’s slender shoulders. “QualTech ain’t getting their hands on our girl.”
Addy looked at Norah in surprise but said nothing.
With a grateful rush, Sarah Jane passed the torch to Norah and pulled out her phone. They could do this if they stuck together. A tiny red dot at the edge of the screen flashed on and off. Addy’s ship was close. Bless Mr Smith.
Heart racing, Sarah Jane rattled the iron gate open. “This way, come on.” Underfoot, the ground was loose mud and stubble. Three weeks before, the field must have been full of corn. To the east, a narrow strip of sky brightened the horizon, but the trees ahead were still shrouded in blackness. Half an acre of open stubble lay between them and Addy’s ship. They stumbled forward through the cold darkness, keeping Addy tucked between them.
They were halfway across the field when Sarah Jane heard the rumble of an engine. Two headlights bounced into view. One of the SUVs from Cambridge roared across the field.
“Run!” Sarah Jane urged Norah and Addy. If they could just make it to the trees, then maybe there was a chance to get to Addy’s ship.
Spitting mud and corn husks into the air, the SUV spun to a stop front of them. Sarah Jane yelped, pulled Norah and Addy sharp left, and tried to run around. All the time, the car revved behind them. Her chest heaved, and Addy’s feet floundered. They all stumbled.
“Keep going!” Norah yelled, as they tried desperately to keep upright and keep moving.
Again the SUV screeched to a halt just ahead, this time with its boot facing them. In seconds, Andrews had jumped out and opened the hatch. He swung a large wide-barrelled gun on a squat tripod around and up, to point at the sky.
“That’s it!” Addy screamed. “The Ionic Transducer!” For the first time since they’d met, she sounded properly scared, gripping Sarah Jane’s hand with her long fingers, trembling in the cold.
The machine whirred, sending a pulse of red beams into the sky. Black clouds raced with dizzying speed, blotting out the moon’s pale glow. The wind, more bitter with every breath, lashed Sarah Jane’s hair about her face. Stinging rain belted down at forty-five degrees, obscuring the flashing dot on the phone screen. Sarah Jane tried to guide Addy and Norah past the big black car and stay focused on the trees, but even keeping their feet in the driving wind was a battle.
“Stop!” Andrews yelled. Clouds roiled through the bruised sky, chasing away the dawn’s attempt to crack the horizon. It seemed to Sarah Jane the whole world might descend into darkness. Is this what HAARP’s machine did? Unleash terror from the skies? Turn the Earth against its own population at the push of a button?
Andrews aimed the machine at them. “At this range,” he bellowed, “I don’t need the weather to kill you. These high-frequency waves melt skin and bone.”
With a sick lurch, Sarah Jane pulled Norah and Addy to a halt. They were so close! Addy’s ship lay just meters away in the woods. Sarah Jane thumbed the phone off and shoved it in her pocket.
“Sarah Jane Jane Smith!” Andrews bellowed. “I got no beef with you. All I want is the alien and the rest of that crystal. Hand them over and you and your friend go free.”
Heart pounding with the storm, Sarah Jane glanced at Norah. Her hair was wind-wild, raging like a goddess, full of power and fury. She shook her head.
Sarah Jane nodded. They would not give Addy up.
Addy’s blue eyes were red-rimmed. In the storm, her silvery-grey skin pearled the rain like tiny mirrors. “It’s all connected. All connected,” she muttered.
“What is?” Sarah Jane battled to hold Addy in the tearing wind.
The girl threw her long arms up, suddenly energised. “I can feel it! Norah!”
Suddenly, Norah laughed too, howling into the night sky, linking hands with Addy.
“What are you talking about?” Sarah Jane stood stock still, staring, bewildered.
Norah grabbed Sarah Jane’s hand. “She’s right. I can feel the connection. Sarah Jane. You must feel it!”
Sarah Jane looked at her friends, her heart thundering in her chest. A pale glow surrounded Norah and Addy, just like back in the hotel room and by the gate a few minutes ago. When Sarah Jane looked down, her trembling hands shimmered in the darkness.
Thunder cracked above them, lightning breaking the sky.
“Hand the crystal over!” Andrews hollered. “I’m pointing this thing right at you! What the hell do you three little ladies think you’re gonna do?”
A hurricane of anger swept through Sarah Jane. Little ladies? How dare he!
With her free hand, Sarah Jane took the xren crystal from her pocket. As the last of the charring fell away, it swirled with magnificent blues, greens, and pinks; the aurora borealis trapped in stone.
With a flash, Sarah Jane understood. “It’s all connected. The broken crystal and the other one in Addy’s ship. That’s how we understand each other. The crystal harmonics are connecting us all. We’re an extension of the AI system!”
Suddenly, Sarah Jane saw those connections. Dynamic energy lines crossing space and time, from the Belthrazed homeworld in a distant galaxy to this lonely planet. She saw a memory of two Belthrazed parents sitting on a balcony looking out over a shining city, their eyes as blue as Addy’s.
“What do we do?” Norah screamed.
Sarah Jane remembered what Mr Smith had said. The crystal wanted to re-integrate. It needed coherence. More power. What was the most powerful thing she knew?”
“Addy, think about what you want. What you want more than anything.”
Addy muttered a single word. “Home.”
Two red rays cracked into the ionosphere, painting the sky with arcs of red lightning, like rivers of blood on a celestial map. The machine’s black barrel and tripod glowed red hot. White sparks exploded from the focusing array at the back of the machine, and Sarah Jane saw the same colours burning bright in the heart of the machine as were in her hand. The two parts of the crystal called to one another, pulsing in time.
Andrews stumbled back from the Ionic Transducer, across the muddy field in the storm he’d created.
The crystal was alive in Sarah Jane’s palm. Over the raging storm she could barely hear its humming, but she felt it; in her chest, power raging through her, vibrating faster and faster until her whole arm was trembling.
Andrews tried to run. Seconds later an explosion blossomed from the Transducer. Sarah Jane felt the boom deep in her chest. Andrews was blasted down the field and hit the ground with a shower of mud.
Sarah Jane tried to pull Addy away, to shelter the delicate girl with her back, but she yanked herself free, standing proud, as if she was drawing power from the crystal, her arm outstretched towards the glowing wreckage.
Sarah Jane’s hand was empty. Where was the crystal? She fell to her knees in the howling wind, scrabbling in the muddy ground. Nothing.
When she looked up, Addy’s whole body glowed. The crystal sat in her palm. From the machine, the other half of the crystal rose into the air, hovering for a moment like a miniature bird of prey. It zipped forwards, a flash of colour through the storm and stopped abruptly over Addy’s hand. Gently, like an impossible honey bee landing on an orchid in the middle of a raging storm, the fragment came to rest on Addy’s palm. The winds howled. Angry flashes of lighting cleaved the sky. Rain hammered. The two fragments shone star-bright for a moment on Addy’s palm and then fused.
Addy was running, calling, leaping and laughing through the chaos of the storm. “Sarah Jane, Norah, come on!”
Against the raging storm, Sarah Jane dragged herself to her feet and grabbed Norah’s arm. Together, they ploughed through the winds, into the forest after Addy. For a sickening moment, Sarah Jane thought they had lost her in the darkness, but she was tossing branches aside, the driving rain revealing the shape of a small spacecraft. Addy cranked a side door open. All the time the trees rocked wildly, creaking and groaning in the terrible winds.
“Quick, get in!” Addy yelled. Sarah Jane and Norah threw themselves inside. Addy sat herself in the pilot’s seat. Her long fingers flew over alien controls, and the doors clanged closed shutting out the rain and most of the storm’s deafening noise. Sarah Jane stood just behind her, looking out of the viewing screen at the darkness. A mighty oak twisted in the gale. A branch suddenly slammed into the screen, torn from one of the nearby trees already weakened by last week’s winds.
The towering oak swayed violently. “Addy,” Sarah Jane warned. “That tree!” It was big enough to crush metal and tear the ship apart.
Addy uttered a curse and scurried to the back of the ship. “The shields. I have to get the defence shields powered up!”
Addy frantically opened up a panel at the back of the craft and thrust the crystal inside. There was a high-pitched whine. Sarah Jane and Norah both winced and covered their ears.
The oak toppled towards them.
Addy flung herself at the controls. “Come on!” She slammed a series of buttons, her fingers a blur, as the tree crashed towards them. Sarah Jane’s hands flew to her face and she instinctively ducked, as if that might save her from the crushing weight. A shower of sparks exploded around them. A shimmering field appeared around the outside of the ship, just as the tree crashed against the cockpit. Sparks showered in the darkness as the trunk cleaved in two where wood met the ship’s powerful force field.
At the same time, inside, the control panels activated, lights illuminating the dials and screens showing readings Sarah Jane could only guess at.
Addy sat in the pilot’s seat, grinning. “Right. That’s sorted.” She rubbed her hands together. “Just get the climate management system working and warm us up… and perhaps some music. Would you like to hear some Belthrazed tunes?” Addy looked up at Sarah Jane and Norah, her eyes bright and shining. Then she bit her lips, suddenly seeming unsure what to say. She sniffed, and looked away, almost shyly. “Thank you,” she said at last. “Thank you both. For bringing me back.”
Sarah Jane laughed with relief. She threw her arms around Addy’s neck, not caring one bit that she had a face full of leathery neck ruffle.
Norah paused for a moment and then wrapped her own arms around Addy and Sarah Jane and started laughing too. “What a night! Makes an evening in A & E look quiet.”
A pinging sound came from the console. “What’s that?” Sarah Jane asked.
Addy looked up. “Uh? My message! The distress signal.” She examined some readings on one of the data screens. “It was caught in the buffer. It only just now went.” Addy’s jaw hung slack, and she brought her long fingers to her mouth.
Within a few seconds an alien voice came over the speakers. Sarah Jane knew the voice of a desperate parent when she heard one. Addy’s face flushed. She spoke into the radio in a garbled rush, her eyes welling with tears. Sarah Jane couldn’t follow it all, and before long, she and Norah stepped away to give Addy a little privacy. They both got the gist of the conversation, though: “Mum, Dad. I’m sorry. I’m coming home.”
As dawn cracked over the horizon, Sarah Jane and Norah stood in the centre of the field. The SUV was on its side, burned out. Tire tracks led from the field, so Sarah Jane assumed someone had collected Andrews. No doubt his diplomatic immunity would shelter him from this mess.
“What are you going to do?” Norah asked.
“Write my story. Talk to UNIT. The HAARP project doesn’t belong in the hands of men like Andrews. I’m going to argue it belongs in a research department. Full transparency and accountability. I know someone who will think the same.” Sarah Jane smiled at Norah. “How about you? Still want to work for Cambridge Cleaning Services?”
At that moment, Addy poked her head out of the ship, a bizarre sight, as the ship remained cloaked. Norah laughed. “To be honest, I just want a good night’s sleep.”
Addy climbed down onto the grass. “I’m leaving now.” She looked shyly at Norah and Sarah Jane. “Thank you,” Addy said. “Both of you. I’ll never forget what you did for me.”
Sarah Jane laughed and pulled her into a hug, and after a moment Norah joined too.
“Now, you go straight home,” Sarah Jane said. “You’ve got some explaining to do.”
A few minutes later, Sarah Jane and Norah watched a shimmer in the air ascend as Addy took off. The ship whooshed away, leaving Sarah Jane and Norah quite breathless, hair flapping. For a moment, Sarah Jane thought Addy had done what she’d asked, and gone, but then the ship appeared, silver wings flat, buzzing low across the fens, scattering a herd of cows. An early morning dog walker stopped in his tracks, staring upwards. His Dalmatian howled.
The ship vanished.
The man held his cap to his head. “Did you see that?” he yelled.
“See what?” Sarah Jane and Norah said in unison, grinning.
FallenStar: How are you? Any news? Roving Reporter: My story’s out next week. Interestingly enough, HAARP’s already been transferred from military control to the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute. FallenStar: Oh? You and your connections! Roving Reporter: Let’s just say a friend of mine believes ‘science leads the way’. FallenStar: You are a work of art :) Got to go now. Have an early shift in the morning. Roving Reporter. Oh? Cleaning?
FallenStar: Nah. Turns out sometimes you can go back. I have some seastars to save.