Authors: Gary Russell
A madman with a box
Sarah Jane was staring at the misty sky, just as Clyde had moments before. It was an alien sky, seen from an alien world. With two moons. And constellations above of kinds she had never imagined before.
Then she bent down and scooped up a handful of the dusty ground, letting the particles trickle through her fingers. All around were the remnants of things that might have once been crashed spaceships. Or rockets. Or something. They were old, rusted and pitted, so whatever disaster had befallen them had happened a long time ago.
She glanced over at Jo, who was still staring upwards, her face reflecting the same thrills that Sarah Jane was feeling.
Jo realised she was being stared at and looked back at Sarah Jane, a massive grin on her face.
It was infectious and Sarah Jane smiled too, before letting it break into a small whoop of joy.
‘An alien world,’ she said.
‘A different planet,’ agreed Jo.
‘Two moons!’ they said together.
‘I never thought I’d do this again,’ Sarah Jane called over to the Doctor. ‘Thank you!’
The Doctor was crouched down by the missile-like device, which was flashing blue in rapid increments.
‘Welcome to the Wasteland of the Crimson Heart. Glad you like it,’ he said, while trying to prise a panel off the device. ‘Can I borrow you and your lipstick please?’
Sarah Jane was at his side in an instant, sonic aiming at an area he was indicating with his finger.
‘Zap there, please.’
Sarah Jane looked at this new Doctor, who carried himself so confidently one minute, and at another, resembled a new-born Bambi, all arms and legs flapping madly in the wind, wide eyes staring around, trying to take everything in. And yet, behind those same eyes, burned the passion and experience of the same old Doctor she’d known in a variety of bodies over the last thirty or so years.
‘Did it hurt?’
The Doctor looked at Sarah Jane, frowning. ‘Did what hurt?’
‘Regeneration. That last body of yours…was he okay, in the end?’
‘It always hurts. And there, please.’
‘So, how’d you end up here?’ Sarah Jane gesticulated around them. ‘This world?’
The Doctor stopped working and stood up. ‘The Shansheeth lured me. Mighty old battlefield, just begging to be explored. Sounds interesting, so I headed here after dropping Amy and Rory off.’
‘Amy and Rory?’
‘Who I’m travelling with. They got married, so I dropped them off at a honeymoon planet…which isn’t what you think. It’s not a planet
a honeymoon, it’s a planet
a honeymoon – it married an asteroid! But then they nicked the TARDIS. The Shansheeth, not Amy and Rory. Fortunately, once stranded on this planet, I managed to find bits and bobs and build this space-swapping-doo-dah.’
Jo, who had sat down on a boulder a little way back, looked over with a sad frown on her face. ‘So, you’ve got a married couple in the TARDIS?’
‘Mr and Mrs Pond!’
And Jo sighed. ‘I only left you cos I got married.’
The Doctor looked down at his feet and closed his eyes for a second, then guided Sarah Jane’s hand holding the sonic lipstick back towards the device. ‘And another zap there.’
But Sarah Jane didn’t zap. She was looking at poor Jo.
‘Did you think I was stupid?’ Jo asked quietly.
The Doctor turned to look at her, then walked over. ‘Why d’you say that?’
Jo shrugged. ‘Well, I suppose I was a bit blonde. A bit dumb. Still am, I suppose.’
The Doctor waved his hands around, as if trying to work out what to say to that. He settled on a quite heartfelt, ‘What in the world makes you think that? Ever? Ever??’
She looked up at him, as if trying to see the face of the Doctor she knew behind the current one. ‘Cliff and I, we’d been travelling along the Amazon for months after we’d married. And we got to this village in Cristalino, the only place with a phone for a thousand miles and I phoned you. I thought I had to say hello. And they said you’d gone, left UNIT one day and never came back. So I waited. Because you said you’d see me again – you did, I asked and you said yes. You promised. So I thought one day I’ll hear that noise again. One day! Deep in the jungle, that funny wheezing and groaning noise and there was gonna be a big blue box standing in the rainforest, because he wouldn’t just leave. Not forever. And not me.’
Jo took a big breath, and Sarah Jane’s heart broke a little, because Jo was doing her very best not to get more upset, not to cry in front of this fantastic, amazing man, who had contributed so much to their lives.
Jo looked the Doctor right in the eye. ‘I waited all my life.’
For a long time, the Doctor didn’t move, not even a blink. Then he suddenly clapped his hands together, the sound echoing across the deserted alien world.
‘Oh, Jo, you are an idiot!’
‘Well,’ Jo shrugged, ‘there you are then.’
And the Doctor was on his knees in front of her. This much older woman whose early twenties had been shaped and directed so much by the Doctor, and who had lived so much afterwards.
Just like Sarah Jane, who knew exactly what the Doctor was going to say next. Because she had asked herself those same questions some years ago, before meeting up with him again. And although she’d never had it spelled out to her, she had realised. The Doctor never forgot anyone, never abandoned anyone.
‘Don’t you see?’ he said, taking Jo’s small hands in his large ones. ‘How could I ever find you? You’ve spent the last thirty-five years living in huts, and climbing trees, and tearing down barricades. You’ve done everything from flying kites on Kilimanjaro to sailing down the Yangtze in a tea chest! Not even the TARDIS could pin you down!’
‘But I –’ Jo started, then paused, before her eyes widened further. ‘Hang on, I did sail down the Yangtze in a tea chest! How do you know that?’
‘And that family,’ the Doctor laughed. ‘All seven kids and twelve grandchildren, thirteenth on the way. He’s dyslexic by the way, but that’ll be fine – great swimmer.’
‘Do you mean, all this time, you’ve been watching me?’
The Doctor shook his head slowly, released Jo’s hands and stood up, taking in both his old friends. ‘No. Because you’re right, I don’t look back. I can’t. But the last time I was…dying, I did look in on all of you. Every single one. And I was so proud.’
And a tear trickled down Jo’s cheek, but it was a tear of happiness, and she was smiling her biggest, hugest smile.
And Sarah Jane was smiling too. Because she had actually seen the Doctor that last time, before his tenth body transmuted into this, his eleventh. She had seen him in Bannerman Road, seconds after saving Luke from being hit by a car.
And she had known, then, that he was saying goodbye, even though he hadn’t said a word. It had just been a look. An understanding that time and space could never break.
‘Anyway,’ she said. ‘We’ve got that lot back at home, with the Shansheeth on their tails!’
The Doctor spun round, arms flailing as he started to think. ‘Yes, yes, yes. And Jo, I need you. In that bag of yours – I can smell blackcurrant. Is it buchu oil?’
‘Hand picked in Mozambique,’ she said, pulling a small bottle out of her bag and holding it towards him.
‘Perfect. These circuits need conductivity…’ and he was back at the strange device, taking the bottle from Jo at the same time and unscrewing it, trickling a small amount on to some circuits, the ones Sarah Jane had been about to zap with the sonic lipstick earlier.
She zapped it and the whole device suddenly lit up properly, and the beeping noise cut out, replaced by a steady, healthy hum.
He grinned at his two former companions. ‘What a team,’ he yelled. ‘We are brilliant!’ He punched a couple of buttons. ‘There, that should work.’ He stood back proudly. ‘Intergalactic molecular streaming, with just a hint of blackcurrant current.’ He laughed. ‘Blackcurrant current? Did you like that? No? No. Right, won’t say that again.’
‘But what’ll happen to Clyde?’ Sarah Jane asked.
‘Ah, fixed that! All I needed was you two. Oil and sonic. You could be a TV detective team. Oil and Sonic Investigations! Ha!’
They just gave him a look.
‘Okay, maybe not that either. Anyway, we can get back, and Clyde will stay where he is. Now, hold tight.’
And he gripped a hand of each of them. Tight. And squeezed. And grinned a marvellous grin that reminded them both of how much they loved, trusted and adored this madman with a box.
And all three of them vanished in a blue flash.
In the Funeral Chamber Azure was giving orders to his fellow Shansheeth. ‘Dispense with the coffin, prepare this room for the coalescence.’
Amaranth and Aureolin gave the vast lead coffin a shove and it ended up by the drapes at the back that separated the main Chamber from their private, hidden area.
Azure then drew the drapes aside, revealing the Doctor’s TARDIS.
Colonel Karim walked into the Chamber and smiled. ‘I always love seeing that in my possession.’
Azure gave her a look. ‘It is a possession of the Claw Shansheeth.’
Karim was about to give a reply, then decided not to. After all, once the plan was in motion, getting the TARDIS away from the Shansheeth was going to be easy. Stupid vultures – they had no idea what she could do.
‘Behold,’ Amaranth announced, ‘the Memory Weave is ready.’
He had moved an upright medical stretcher next to the Cradle. There were retractable straps and arm and leg clamps on it. And close to the top was a small dome that could fit over a human head, with a spaghetti of different coloured wires running from that into a small portable computer console about the size of a chest of drawers. This contained a screen and a series of switches and dials.
Aureolin had an identical set-up on the other side of the room.
Karim opened a small square cut into the floor, which revealed a power supply with flexible cabling and linked first Amaranth’s and then Aureolin’s to the main UNIT power grid. That done, she glanced at her watch.
‘We have about an hour before the base fills up with personnel again,’ she snapped. ‘You said we’d be finished by now.’
Azure flexed his wings angrily. ‘And you said we’d have the memories by now.’
Karim closed her eyes and imagined a huge oven, like her one at home but massive, and inside it, three large birds slowly roasting. She forced a smile on to her face. ‘Hopefully the Doctor will bring them back soon, we can get the key to the TARDIS and be done.’
Azure stared at her – was that contempt she could see in his eyes? ‘Soon the Memory Weave will be active. Deliver the women to our wings, and not even the Doctor will be able to stop the crusade of the Shansheeth.’
Karim had heard it all before and it was starting to get repetitive. The same promises and pronouncements over the last few months.
She turned back to the door but before leaving, pointed to the connected-up Memory Weaves. ‘Don’t overheat those things with power. When UNIT first got their hands on them, we left one of them plugged in for too long. That’s why we only have two now.’
And she marched out, slamming the Chamber doors behind her.
Stupid Shansheeth. If she’d known when she was first contacted by them just how frustrating they could be, she’d never have agreed to all this.
Actually, that was a lie, she reminded herself. Because she wanted the TARDIS as much as they did – if not for the same reasons. The Shansheeth wanted its secrets, its time-travelling capabilities for their own, frankly insipid reasons. Noble in some respects, perhaps, but wasteful. So that didn’t interest her. In return for her help in getting it, the Shansheeth had promised to take her out there, into space and time. All these years working her way up through UNIT, doing demeaning jobs, being posted to stupid backward countries, protecting idiot dignitaries when all the stuff UNIT had gathered over the years was theirs to use! But no, stupid rules and regulations forbade the use of alien artefacts and stuff.
How ridiculous was that? She had known when she was ten that Tia Karim was destined for a better life and UNIT had promised it. But it had let her down with its placid, reactive rather than proactive, attitudes. How was the human race supposed to grow in strength and power if it didn’t use the gifts and trophies it found? Stupid politicians with their small-minded perspectives. But out there, out in space amongst those aliens, she could show them how powerful one person could be. And with the TARDIS at her command, once the Shansheeth were out of the picture…the universe was hers for the taking.
The Colonel took a small device from her pocket. On it glowed an illuminated map of the whole base. A red dot showed where she was standing, and a small cluster of dots nearby were the Shansheeth. Which meant that other small cluster, working their way through the ventilation ducts, must be those stupid kids.
She tapped a button on the device and a line went across one of the ducts.
Tap. Another line.
‘Time to box you lot in,’ she muttered.
Clyde, Rani, Santiago and the Groske were staring in horror at the metal panel that had just slammed across the ducting in front of them, cutting off the route ahead.
‘That’s not good,’ Clyde said.
‘Trapped,’ the Groske said.
‘Great,’ said Clyde. ‘Back the way we came?’
At which point another panel crashed down, cutting off that way too. Clyde looked at the Groske. ‘So what exactly was your plan?’
‘No plan. Shansheeth scary. Groske hide. Humans hide, too.’
Clyde sighed. ‘No plan. Oh, great.’
Rani shrugged. ‘Hiding made sense actually,’ she said. ‘We need to keep you safe because whatever the Doctor’s doing, he needs you safe for that body switcheroo thing.’
Clyde waved around. ‘Yeah, but in here, if he arrives, splat – there’s not a great deal of space now.’
Santiago laughed quietly. ‘I can’t believe you do this all the time. Aliens and chases and stuff.’
‘You can talk, mate,’ said Clyde. ‘Going off to Paraguay and Mount Everest.’
‘You just went to another planet!’
Clyde laughed too. ‘Yeah, there is that.’
‘We’ve been to parallel worlds. Nightmare dimensions. Limbo. And if we’re lucky, home for tea. We see all this stuff and then Mum’s like, “What did you do today?” and I’m like, “Not much. Went to the library.” ’
‘ “Played footie with Steve, Finney and the guys.” ’ Clyde smiled.
‘ “Stayed behind at drama club.” They always like that one!’ said Rani.
‘And of course what we can’t say is, “Oh, and Mum, I fought off a platoon of Judoon from the moon in my spare time,” cos our parents’d freak.’
Santiago nodded slowly, then said, without a smile, ‘Haven’t seen my mum for six months.’
Rani frowned. ’How come?’
‘She’s in Japan, organising a rally. I mean, that’s brilliant, it’s really important.’
‘Course it is, yeah,’ encouraged Clyde.
‘But before that, she was in Africa finding shell-flower plants. And Dad’s with the Gay Fathers Organisation, hiking across Antarctica, so we haven’t been together since about…April.’
‘When are you going to see them next?’
Santiago shrugged. ‘I know they’re going to be at some anti-nuclear rally in Norway in a few weeks but Gran needs to get back to Granddad soon, and I’ve got a cousin on the way in Dubai. Still, at least that’ll be warm.’
‘Talking of warm…’ Clyde rested his hands on the ventilation ducting floor. ‘Is it me, or…?’
The Groske jumped and immediately banged his head on the low ceiling. ‘Hot too,’ he pointed up. ‘Hot, hot, hot!’
Rani grabbed Clyde. ‘They’re trying to boil us!’