The front door swung open as Sarah Jane reached it, her sonic lipstick held in front of her like a weapon. Then she gave a relieved laugh.
“K9!” she cried as the robot dog manoeuvred himself over the door sill. As soon as he was clear she shut the door behind him, noting several charcoaled shapes in the porch and one sliding down the outside of the glass roof.
“You fought your way in!” she exclaimed. “Oh, K9! You clever, brave dog!”
“Clever, affirmative,” he replied. “But brave is not necessary.”
“Oh, I think it is,” Sarah Jane answered him. Then she heard Clyde yelling and ran to the stairs. She could hear wood splintering and the triumphant cackles of the alien beings and Clyde’s footsteps as he ran up the stairs armed with a hatstand from the hallway held like a jousting lance. Sarah Jane didn’t hesitate. She grabbed K9 and started up the stairs with him. Running was out of the question. He was heavy and awkward, but she reached the landing in time to see Clyde attacking the aliens with the hatstand, pushing them away from the splintered door to Mr Lumsden’s bedroom.
“Step out of the way, Clyde,” she said. She was still holding K9, and she simply pointed his nose towards the aliens. His laser fired a wide beam that enveloped first one, then the other of the two creatures and reduced them to a charcoaled mess on the floor. Clyde stepped over them and knocked on the door, calling to Maria and Luke to let them in.
“Good heavens, what is THAT?” asked Mr Lumsden, sitting up in the bed to watch K9 trundling across the floor.
“This is K9,” Sarah Jane answered. “He’s the… the cavalry. He came to help us.”
“There are still fifty three of the unidentified aliens on the roof of the house,” K9 told them. “I killed those I detected climbing up the walls, but I do not have enough vertical elevation in my neck to reach those already on the roof. They are attempting to break in.”
“Can they?” Maria asked.
“Yes, I suppose so,” Martha answered. “The roof would be the weak spot. Tiles, roofing felt, joists. Easy enough.”
“Not this roof,” Mr Lumsden assured her. There’s a layer of steel under the felt. Same with the walls. Steel layer.
“Good grief!” Martha exclaimed. “Mr Lumsden, surely there must be a better way to live than inside a tin can.”
“Not until I’m free of those things and I can give the other aliens back the secret they hid in my head. Or until I die in my sleep and the secret dies with me.”
“So what do we do?” Clyde asked. “Sit here while they peel the roof off?”
“I have a suggestion,” K9 said. But nobody heard him. He repeated himself twice before Sarah Jane turned to him.
“What’s your idea, K9?” she asked him.
“I detected an anti-transmat array on the roof. If the polarity of the power source was reversed it would turn the array into a localised microwave transmitter.”
“Microwave? As in microwave oven?” Clyde asked. “Do you mean…”
“The aliens on the roof,” Martha continued. “They would be…”
“Microwaved!” Luke finished.
“Ugghh!” Maria commented. “Horrible thought. They’ll cook from the inside and then explode.”
“They won’t get up again in a hurry,” Sarah Jane pointed out. “It IS horrible. But they’re the enemy and we have no choice.”
“How much power would it need, though?” Clyde asked. “We’re on emergency batteries…”
Luke and K9 both came up with an answer at the same time. The same answer. Only K9’s was rounded to six decimal places and Luke’s rounded to four.
“That would drain the batteries,” Mr Lumsden said.
“We’d be in the dark again,” Maria added, though she knew that was stating the obvious.
“Then,” Martha decided. “Really, I think it’s time we got out of here. Mr. Lumsden, it’s time for you to go out of your front door.”
He looked at her thoughtfully.
“You DO look a lot like my wife.”
“Do you think SHE would want you to be here like this?” Martha asked him gently. “This house isn’t safe any more. You need to get out of it.”
“Where will I go?” he asked.
Sarah’s house,” Maria answered. “We’ll all be safe there.”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane agreed. “We’ll go there. Clyde, Luke, you take K9 to the cellar and do what he tells you to do. Here, take my sonic lipstick. It might be useful. Mr. Lumsden, get dressed for outdoors.”
Martha helped him dress, being careful of his broken ankle and bruised ribs. Maria and Sarah Jane packed a bag with all of the things he couldn’t bear to leave. Most especially he wanted the picture of his wife from the altar. Maria fetched it for him, blowing out the candles before she closed the door. Martha helped him to put on an overcoat he hadn’t worn for fifteen years and then he took the picture and held it close.
It wasn’t that he was afraid to leave the house in the medical way, like an agoraphobic. It was fear of the aliens, not the outside world that kept him hidden. Even so, the thought of stepping outside the door clearly worried him as they descended the stairs slowly and headed for the front hallway.
“We’ve got a problem,” Clyde said as he and Luke hurried to join them, carrying K9. “Actually, two problems. There was feedback and… your sonic lipstick got melted and… and K9’s… what did he call it?”
“His mobility circuit,” Luke supplied. “He can’t move.”
“I am immobilised, mistress,” K9 said mournfully.
“Oh, no,” Sarah Jane groaned. “That takes AGES to fix.”
“I will take a look at him,” Mr Lumsden offered. “He’s basically electronic components. I can probably help.”
“Thank you,” Sarah Jane replied. Then she turned to the boys. “Did you get it done?”
“Yeah,” Clyde assured her. “Alien cooker ready to roast in three minutes.”
“Two minutes and twenty-five seconds,” Luke corrected him.
“Two minutes, fifteen,” K9 added, not to be outdone.
“Tell us when it’s near to zero,” Sarah Jane suggested. “We don’t need a three minutes countdown.”
“We should take the van,” Martha said, wondering why none of them had thought of it before. We don’t want to split into two cars.”
“Can you drive a van?” Sarah Jane asked her.
“Van, ambulance, sand-yacht, moon-buggy, World War Two tank,” she answered. “You know how it is when you hang around The Doctor.”
“I never did much driving when I was with him.” Sarah Jane mused. “He was always the one in control of anything with an engine.”
“It’s the 21st century,” Martha told her. “Feminism. Even The Doctor has to accept it now.”
“Very likely,” Sarah Jane agreed.
“Twenty seconds, Misress,” K9 intoned.
“Fifteen,” Luke added.
“Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, ONE!”
The lights flickered and went out. That was the only sign that anything had happened. For a moment the same thought went through all of their minds.
WHAT if it just drained the batteries and did nothing to the aliens.
“Come on, we have to try,” Martha said, yanking open the door and running to the Citylink van. The other thing she knew how to do, thanks to her time with The Doctor, was how to hotwire an ignition, so she went ahead to get the van started. Clyde and Luke came next and got into the back with K9, then Maria and Sarah Jane helped Mr Lumsden to move as quickly as he could on a broken ankle and with bruised ribs and a concussion.
“Look!” Clyde called as he glanced back. “It’s working.”
They all risked a moment to look back. The roof was glowing with arcing and spitting electricity just like a microwave oven with a metal fork in it. They could hear the aliens screaming as they cooked, the screams cut off by a sort of wet explosive sound as each one succumbed to the microwaves.
“Come on,” Sarah Jane said. “Everyone, into the van.”
“Mum!” Luke called from the back as she and Maria fastened Mr Lumsden into the passenger seat. “The real driver is here. He’s not dead. And all the parcels… they’re all burst open. I think the other aliens hid inside them.”
Martha looked around at the unconscious man who she had missed before because he was hidden in the piles of busted parcels. Sarah Jane and Maria had got in the back and were tending to him. Meanwhile, she had to get the van moving. She rolled it forward in neutral gear and then turned it around on the drive and put her foot down as she passed Sarah Jane’s Figaro and her own Saab and headed for the main road.
“He’s out cold,” Sarah Jane reported. “But I think he’s going to be ok. The alien must have just copied him, not taken over his body. I think Luke’s right, though. The others were hidden in the parcels. They must have set it all up to get into the house.”
“Why?” Maria asked. “Why didn’t they just climb over the wall? They climbed up the house.”
“Because I would know they were coming,” Mr Lumsden told them. “And they couldn’t take the risk that I might kill myself before they reached me. They need me alive, at least until they get what they want out of my head.”
“Would you have killed yourself?” Maria asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “Probably. I’m not sure if I’d have done it to prevent them getting the secret, or just because I didn’t want them to do unspeakable things to me to get it. I think I’m a coward, really. I hid all that time, and then…”
“Nobody thinks that,” Sarah Jane assured him. “You did what you thought best. But now we have to get back to my house. I think Mr Smith might be able to help.”
“I think the OTHER Mr Smith would be more use,” Martha commented. “The Doctor.”
“Yes, but he’s not here,” Sarah Jane answered. “He has other things to do. We have to manage on our own. And we do just fine. Me and Maria and the boys have handled all sorts of stuff without his help, or anyone else. And K9. We don’t need The Doctor.”
“Keep on saying that,” Martha said. “Maybe you’ll even believe it yourself.”
“Tell you what we do need!” Clyde shouted. “The welding gear!”
Maria couldn’t help screaming as she looked where Clyde was looking in the back of the van, among the broken packaging, something was moving.
“Point me at it,” K9 told him. “Luke, Clyde, turn me around and point me at the alien.”
“Not in here,” Sarah Jane said. “It’s an enclosed space.”
“Point me at the alien,” K9 insisted. Clyde and Luke grabbed him and turned him as the alien stood up against the back door, hissing angrily at them all. K9 aimed his laser at the creature and engulfed it.
“Push it out,” Sarah Jane yelled. “We can’t have it in here with all this paper and stuff. It’ll set us all alight.”
Maria reached for the back door handle and pushed it open. The alien fell out onto the road. As she reached to close the door again Maria saw it crushed under the wheels of the bus that was right behind them.
“Urrgghh,” was her best description of that.
“I hope that’s the last of them,” Sarah Jane said.
It seemed to be. The journey to Bannerman Road was uneventful from there on. Martha turned the van into the driveway of Sarah Jane’s house and got as close to the front door as possible. She helped Mr Lumsden out of the van and then got back into the driver’s seat.
“I’m going to take the van and leave it on the dual carriageway. The police will spot it and the driver will get help. They’ll think he was hijacked. They won’t connect it with Mr Lumsden or us.”
“Good idea,” Sarah Jane said as she and Maria again helped Mr Lumsden to walk into the house. She told Luke and Clyde to put K9 into the dumb waiter rather than having to lug him all the way to the attic.
“Do I travel by dumb waiter, too?” Mr Lumsden asked. “I’m not sure I could make it to the attic.”
“You travel by broomstick,” Sarah Jane answered, grabbing her souvenir from the adventure at Rosetta Lupo’s warehouse. She activated the anti-gravity and it hovered a little above knee height. “Just sit down, carefully. It will take your weight.”
Mr Lumsden was dubious but he tried it. Sarah Jane and Maria helped steady him as the broom rose up the stairs.
“I’d like to know how this works,” he said. “Must be some fabulous micro-circuitry in this thing.”
“There is,” Sarah Jane answered. “I wouldn’t have got it working again without K9’s help.”
“He’s fascinating, too,” Mr Lumsden added. “And a real hero, too. You must be very fond of him.”
“Oh, I am,” she said. “K9 – A girl’s best friend.”
They reached the top of the stairs and Mr Lumsden stepped down from the broomstick and took Sarah Jane’s arm as she guided him into the big attic room that she guarded almost as securely as Mr Lumsden guarded his own house.
“Mr Smith, I need you,” Sarah Jane said as she came into the room, and at once the wall unfolded to reveal the fantastic computer that she had named after the pseudonym used by her best friend in the universe when Doctor wouldn’t suffice.
“Yes, Sarah,” he replied.
“My goodness!” Mr Lumsden exclaimed. He was a man who had made his fortune by electronic technology. Mr Smith, like K9, was fascinating to him. “My goodness.”
“This is Mr Smith,” Sarah told him. “My OTHER best friend. And I think he might be able to help you. Mr Smith, can you scan Mr Lumsden’s head?”
“Yes, I can,” he replied. “Mr Lumsden, would you please sit in front of my screen.”
Mr Lumsden had spent fifteen years of his life trying to avoid being scanned by aliens and Mr Smith did not look like he was of Earth manufacture. He glanced at Sarah Jane. She seemed to think it was all right. He trusted her. Why not trust her computer?
He sat in the chair in front of the screen.
“The process will take approximately twenty minutes,” Mr Smith said. “I suggest you make some tea, Sarah Jane. Mr Lumsden will feel a little disorientated and may welcome a well-sugared beverage while I complete the scan.”
“The Doctor may have discovered Women’s Lib, but I’m not sure about you,” Sarah Jane responded. But she made tea. There really wasn’t anything else she could do. Maria and Luke helped her. Clyde sat on the sofa with K9 by his feet. He petted his ears fondly. As the kettle boiled they heard Martha running up the stairs and offered her a cup, too. She reported that the Citylink van had been spotted by a police patrol car almost as soon as she had hopped over the fence into the field beside the dual carriageway and she had heard the sound of an ambulance arriving to take care of the driver.
“Sarah Jane,” Mr Smith called after a little more than twenty minutes. “I have identified an organic data-file embedded in Mr. Lumsden’s brain. I believe I can open the file.”
“Will it…” Mr Lumsden began to ask. “Will it hurt?” He looked for a place to put his empty tea cup down. He couldn’t put it on any part of Mr Smith. Sarah Jane took the cup as she and Martha and the others came to look at what Mr Smith had found.
“It will not be painful in any way. But you will feel a little light-headed once I erase the original file.”
“Erase it? You mean I won’t be…” Mr Lumsden gave a deep sigh. “That would be wonderful. I would be free.”
On Mr Smith’s screen a schematic showed Mr Lumsden’s brain. The ‘organic data-file’ showed as a small green splodge about the size of a pea.
“As small as that?” Clyde asked.
“The Human brain is a fantastic computer,” Luke pointed out. “It can store a great deal of information in a very small space. That is why I can do calculations so quickly. The ones who made me stored so much information in the parts of my brain that humans usually don’t use to their full capacity.”
“You know,” Maria told him. “That’s a myth about humans not using all of their brain capacity.” Then she turned, as they all did, and stared at the screen as a stream of data scrolled down it. Machine code, the language of computers. Most humans could not understand it without a programme to interpret it. Luke stepped closer, his eyes flickering, his face reflecting the screen’s glow as he read it.
“There was a war,” he said. “Between two planets, two people. The Cereans of Cere X and the Hek-Te of Hek IX. On Mr Smith’s other screen pictures of the Cereans and the Hek-Te appeared. Mr Lumsden recognised the Cereans as the aliens he had met that fateful night fifteen years ago. The Hek-Te were the ones who had attacked them tonight.
“The Cereans knew there was a chance they could lose the war,” he continued. “So they evacuated all of the civilians, families, children, all the non-combatants, to an uninhabited planet in another system. A beautiful paradise where they would be safe. So the Hek-Te could not find them, they hid the planet behind a… a sort of cloak of invisibility. They could not be traced on a star chart. No ship could navigate to it. The key was trusted to a small group of brave Cereans who fled the system so that the Hek-Te could not get them. Their space war fleet, and the government who stayed behind, prepared for a last battle with the Hek-Te. An all out war in space for control of the two planets.”
“The ones who fled… they must be the ones who crashed,” Sarah Jane guessed. “They gave Mr Lumsden the ‘key’. It’s in his head?”
“Not any more,” Mr Lumsden said, touching his temples. “It is gone. I can FEEL the relief. As if I had been living with a headache for fifteen years that is suddenly gone.
“I have the key. It is an encrypted code.”
“So we can give it to the good guys, the Cereans?” Maria asked.
“No,” Mr Smith said. “I do not know if there ARE any Cereans left. I have no information about how the war progressed. But I know a man who DOES.”
“Oh, no!” Sarah Jane groaned. “No. After all we said before about not needing HIM! No. It’s not fair. There must be another way.”
“We DO need him, though,” Martha added. “We’d better give him a call.”
Sarah Jane sighed. She reached for her phone and put it in the docking port on Mr Smith’s left panel. He dialled the number which was considerably longer than the usual mobile phone number as it had to reach….
…the oldest and biggest mobile phone in the universe. Sarah Jane and Martha stood close together, facing the screen as it resolved into a view of the TARDIS interior.
“Wow,” Maria said as The Doctor looked back at them and smiled warmly. “Is that him? If he comes here, hide him from my mum. She’ll be dropping Ivan for him.”
“Never in a million years,” Sarah Jane and Martha both answered. They weren’t sure if The Doctor had heard Maria’s remark or not. He didn’t bat an eyelid, anyway.
“Double trouble,” he said with a grin spreading across his face. “Sarah Jane AND Martha. What can I do for you both?”
The grin faded as Sarah Jane asked him if he knew anything about the war between the Cereans and the Hek-Te.
“That,” he said slowly. “Was what they call a pyrrhic victory for the Cereans. They won, only because when the dust settled they still had the mothership with their government aboard and half a dozen intact battleships. The Hek-Te had one small cruiser that beat a retreat away from them.”
“They won? The good guys?” Clyde asked.
“Both planets were rendered uninhabitable by the terrible weapons used by both sides,” The Doctor said. “Billions of people dead. If that is a definition of winning….”
“But they didn’t all die.” Maria was jumping up and down in excitement and between them all they managed to tell The Doctor the story of the ‘key’ and the lost planet.
“I thought THAT was just a myth. The Cerean mothership has been roaming the Cassiopeia sector for years, apparently looking for something. But nobody knew what. I never expected the answer to be… YOU have the key?”
“Mr Smith has it,” Sarah Jane told him. “Mr Lumsden protected it for all these years, but Mr Smith has it now.”
“Send it to me,” The Doctor said. “I can find the Cerean mothership and give it to them.”
“Then they can get their families back?” It was Mr Lumsden who said that. “They’ll be all right?”
“If I can get the key to them, yes.”
“Then it was WORTH it,” he said. “All the years. All the waiting, the fear that one day the wrong ones would find me… It wasn’t for nothing”
“No, it wasn’t,” The Doctor told him. “You killed a bunch of the Hek-Te?”
“About sixty altogether,” Sarah Jane answered. “K9 could give you a full head count but he’s napping at the moment.”
“That sounds like the lot of them, the ones that got away. But to be on the safe side, I’ll give Mr Smith a frequency. If he broadcasts it, any more of them within a twenty mile radius will have their central nervous systems fried. It will also make every dog bark like mad and cats fur stand on end, but I can’t help that.”
Mr Smith transmitted the key to him. The Doctor transmitted the Hek-Te killing frequency to Mr Smith. A few minutes later, the sound of dogs barking all over the neighbourhood could be heard.
“It’s nearly Christmas, you know,” Sarah Jane told The Doctor. “Do you suppose… We’d love to see you. Maria’s MUM would be delighted.” Maria coughed meaningfully.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’m not very good at keeping appointments. You know me. Busy life, most of it not in the same order as anyone else.”
“I know,” Sarah Jane answered. “Well, whenever you’re passing by.”
“Same here,” Martha told him. “Good luck, Doctor.”
Then he was gone. The dogs outside gradually stopped barking. Sarah Jane and Maria made more tea and Mr Lumsden examined K9’s insides while he thought about the future now he didn’t have to hide any more. Martha sat thoughtfully, thinking about The Doctor, wondering if there would ever come a time when contact with him didn’t turn her mind upside down. Luke and Clyde sorted through the box of Christmas decorations that they STILL had to put up.
Epilogue – One Week Later
It was the day before Christmas Eve, a week since the battle with the Hek-Te. In that week a transformation had come upon Mr Lumsden’s house. Workmen had replaced the steel gate with a beautiful wrought iron one. The barbed wire and glass were taken down from the wall. The ugly steel shutters and the glass porch were taken away. The front door was now a fine wooden one with a fanlight over it. The roof was mended and the strange collection of arrays and aerials taken down. It looked like a lovely Victorian town house again.
And Mr Lumsden invited his friends who had helped him to live a normal life to a party. The first one in that house for a very long time. Martha and Sarah Jane, Maria, Luke and Clyde, and K9, back on his wheels again, all arrived together and he welcomed them warmly, limping a little and walking with a stick because he was still recovering from his wounds, but quite well.
“I’ve a surprise for you all,” he said as he brought them into the dining room. There was a long mahogany table set with shining silverware, best china for their meal, and gold wrapped gifts at each plate.
But nobody looked at the table. They looked at the 1950s police public call box that stood at the other end of the dining room next to a big Christmas tree. Sarah Jane and Martha stammered incoherently and K9 whirred towards it as the door opened and The Doctor stepped out.
“You CAME!” Sarah Jane cried and ran to hug him, and found she had to share the hug with Martha. “Oh, you came for Christmas, after all.”
“I had to,” he said as he hugged both of them equally. “The Cerean government sent me to see Mr. Lumsden. To give him their medal of honour for services to Cerea X.”
Mr Lumsden proudly showed them the medal in a display case placed over the dining room fireplace.
“You got the key to them?”
“I did. And they were sad to find that their planet was gone, and a lot of their soldiers had died in the last battle. But they were happy, too. They’re going to make the best of their future on their new planet.”
“A new start for them, and for me,” Mr Lumsden said happily.
“And I brought presents,” The Doctor added. He turned to a table full of wrapped boxes beside the Christmas tree. “Everyone else can have theirs later. But Sarah Jane… I understand your sonic lipstick got totalled in the fight with the Hek-Te?”
“Yes, it did.”
“This is for you.” He gave her a gold wrapped box. She opened it quickly and gasped with pleasure as she saw an actual sonic screwdriver, a brand new one, nestling in shaped foam. There was a manual with it. The bright cover read “Sonic Screwdriver Mark XIV. Another Villengard Factory Product. 10,000 useful settings.
“10,223,” The Doctor replied. “I’ve added an appendix that I’ve compiled over the years. But never mind that now. I smell roast turkey. And are those Christmas crackers on the table? I haven’t pulled a cracker with you since… Ohh, remember the Brigadier’s Christmas Eve ball in… what was it, 1973?”
Sarah Jane laughed joyfully. She remembered well enough. That was the first Christmas she had spent knowing that the universe was so much bigger and more fantastic than she had ever known before and that she could take nothing in her life for granted.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, because she couldn’t think of ANYTHING else to say.
“Merry Christmas, Sarah Jane,” The Doctor replied to her. “And Merry Christmas EVERYBODY.”