Maria, Clyde and Luke were sitting quietly in the foyer of the Travers Institute for Scientific Advancement. It was a special research centre at Cambridge University, and all three of them felt out of place. It wasn’t exactly a teenager friendly building. They were looked at positively askance by the receptionist, but all of their names were on the list of guests visiting the institute, so their digital photographs were taken and they were given passes. Now they were waiting for Sarah Jane’s professor friend to meet them.
“My mum is totally blown away that I’m spending the weekend at Cambridge,” Clyde said, trying to fill in the time with conversation. “She thinks I’m going to come back brainy, as if I might sort of ‘absorb’ all the clever stuff going on here.”
“My mum thinks that, too,” Maria answered him. “Only she’s worried about it. She says it doesn’t do to seem too clever. Men don’t go for smart girls.”
“Why?” Luke asked.
“Men are put off by girls who know more than they do,” Maria answered. “They like to be boss.”
“That is very silly,” Luke pointed out.
“Of course it is,” Sarah Jane said. “Maybe some men like that sort of arrangement, but decent ones don’t. I’ve known a lot of very good men who appreciated me for my mind.”
“The Doctor!” Clyde observed. But Sarah Jane refused to be drawn. “What about this friend of yours? Professor Shaw? Does he like smart girls?”
“Hardly. Her first name is Elizabeth.”
“Does SHE have a boyfriend?” Luke asked.
“No,” Sarah Jane admitted. “Liz has never married. But that does not prove Maria’s mother’s point. Liz is a very busy woman who has had a very distinguished career.”
“And she couldn’t get married and do that?”
“A woman, in scientific research, in the 1970s?” Sarah Jane wondered how she could explain to them just how much of an upward struggle women of their generation had to be taken seriously in any profession. Journalism was just as bad. She and Liz had both had to hit their heads against that glass ceiling in order to get anywhere in their chosen careers. That was one thing they had in common.
The other, of course, was that they had spent a few whirlwind years of their lives in company with The Doctor. But Luke had threatened to make faces at them both if they mentioned him more than once in the first three hours of their visit.
“Sarah Jane!” A slim woman in her late fifties, or possibly older, came up to where they were sitting. She was wearing a white lab coat, and her long hair was done up in a very severe bun at the back of her head. But she smiled warmly and greeted them all in a friendly way.
“Did they offer you a cup of tea?” she asked.
“We’ve not been waiting that long,” Sarah Jane answered. “But if you’re offering…”
“Come on up to my office,” she said. “There’s something I want you all to see, anyway.”
Liz’s office was on the top floor of the facility and they passed through three more levels of security before they got there. When they did, there was tea and sandwiches and they enjoyed the view from the office window, looking over the city of Cambridge. The conversation was light at first. Liz and Sarah Jane talked about the people they both knew at U.N.I.T. The Brigadier was mentioned a lot. So far, though, they hadn’t mentioned The Doctor! Luke and Clyde were paying attention because they had bets on whether Liz or Sarah Jane would mention him first.
Maria stood up and looked around at the pictures on the walls. Liz, when she was younger, had been a pretty woman who looked good in a mini-skirt when they were fashionable the first time around. But it seemed obvious that she considered her career in scientific research more important than absolutely anything else. There were a lot of pictures of her with other people in lab coats, standing next to huge pieces of scientific equipment that the microprocessor must have made completely redundant. When Maria said so, Liz laughed and shook her head adamantly.
“An ordinary computer couldn’t do the things we’ve done here,” she said. “We’ve pushed back the boundaries of science in ways you couldn’t begin to imagine.”
“I hope you don’t mean nuclear weapons,” Clyde said. “Or we’re out of here.”
“Certainly not,” Liz answered, just as indignant as he was. “Imagine what The Doctor would say if he thought I was building weapons of mass destruction.”
Clyde held up his hands triumphantly. Luke clapped them and grinned.
“You guessed it would be Liz who said it first,” he said. “But I win the time challenge. Twenty-two minutes, thirty-three seconds before the first mention. That’s inside twenty-five minutes.”
“So what do you do?” Maria asked as Liz and Sarah Jane both looked at the two boys disapprovingly.
“I’ll show you,” she answered. “When you’ve had your tea. It’s really exciting. And The Doctor would be really pleased with what we’re doing.”
“You win again,” Clyde told Luke. “Two minutes, fifteen seconds before they mentioned him again.” The two boys laughed together. Maria gave them a superior look and tried to look as dignified and poised as Liz and Sarah Jane were.
They finished their tea and Liz brought them through another security check to a big room with a ceiling made of opaque glass that let in a lot of natural light without the glare of the sun.
“It’s a solar energy collector, too,” Liz explained. “All of this uses a lot of electricity, but most of it is generated cleanly with just the power of the sun. We’re very environmentally aware here.”
“Naturally,” Maria commented. Then her eye fell on a big cage at one end of the room. It contained three chimpanzees. One was wide awake and playing on a rope swing. Another was curled up asleep in a hollow log carved out like a boat. The other was studiously working its way through a bowl of fruit and watching the visitors intently as they crowded around the cage. “You use these animals in your experiments?”
“Not anything to do with vivisection,” Liz assured her. “But sometimes we need test subjects. These have all taken part in the process and they’re perfectly fine. They don’t even know anything happened to them.”
“It’s still not right,” Maria insisted. “They should be free... in the wilds of Africa…”
“These three would be dead in the wilds of Africa,” Liz told her. “They were part of a family group that was decimated by poachers. They’re safe here. Do you want to see what we do?”
“Not if you use them to show us,” Maria answered. The boys backed her up. Sarah Jane agreed. She remembered well enough the time when she and The Doctor and Harry came across Styre the Sontaran using people for experiments, regarding them as inferior species to use as he pleased. These chimps had as little say in their destiny as those men had.
“Look,” Liz said. “If you feel that strongly about it, I’ll go through it myself. I’ve done it three or four times already, anyway.” She called to one of her colleagues and then stepped onto a hexagonal platform big enough for four or five people to stand together. There were two long, tapering metal tubes pointed at the platform.
Liz nodded to her colleague and he pressed a button on the computer that operated the machine. The tapering tubes emitted a white light that surrounded her for a few seconds.
Then she vanished.
Everyone exclaimed, Sarah Jane loudest of all. They turned around and saw Liz standing by the chimpanzee cage. She returned to them, smiling broadly.
“You’ve developed a transmat,” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “Matter transmission. Liz, fantastic. You’re right. The Doctor would be thrilled.”
Clyde and Luke forgot to time that reference. They were too busy being over-awed by the transmat.
“Course, it’s not the first time we’ve seen one of those,” Clyde said. “We met this alien once, Kudlak, that transported us to his own ship. But this is cool for humans to have.”
Liz looked at Clyde thoughtfully, but decided not to ask about anything called Kudlak for now.
“Imagine if we no longer need lorries and freight trains and huge ships to transport goods. How much fuel would be saved, how cleaner the air would be, how quieter it would be. And then natural disasters, earthquakes and floods – food and medicines, supplies, could be got to the scene in minutes, not hours or days. The possibilities are endless. We could change this planet for the better.”
Liz’s enthusiasm was clearly unbounded.
“Still doesn’t excuse using those poor chimps,” Maria told her.
“What does it feel like?” Luke asked. “Does it hurt?”
“Not at all,” Liz answered. “It’s really quite pleasant. It’s like… when you go over the first drop on a big roller coaster. That pull in your stomach. That’s what it’s like.”
Luke didn’t know. He’d never been on a roller coaster. Clyde talked about some complicated skateboard move that had the same effect. Maria was wondering how the chimps felt about it, since they had never been on a roller coaster, either.
“Would you like to try?” Liz suggested.
“Oh, no,” Sarah Jane began. “I don’t think…”
“Yes,” all three of the youngsters said at once.
“No thanks,” Sarah Jane insisted. “Remind me to tell you about Nerva beacon and its wonky transmat sometime. And if you end up on your backs with your legs in the air looking silly don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Can one of you take this?” Liz said. She held up a leather satchel which Maria found surprisingly heavy when she took it from her. “It’s part of the experiment,” Liz added, though she didn’t explain how or why it was part of it.
“Ok,” Maria said and stood on the platform with the two boys. Liz went to the controls and typed in some sort of co-ordinate. Sarah Jane looked at it over her shoulder, but it was meaningless to her.
Liz pressed the button. Clyde, Maria and Luke all disappeared.
Sarah Jane looked about to see where they were going to re-appear. When they didn’t, she turned to Liz.
“What’s happened? Where are they?”
“It’s alright,” Liz answered. “They’re perfectly safe. I can assure you.”
“But where ARE they?” Sarah Jane demanded. Liz’s apparent calm was starting to worry her.
“Not where,” she said. “When.”
Maria, Clyde and Luke looked around. They weren’t in the lab any more. They weren’t sure where they were. It seemed to be a piece of spare land near the university with grass growing on it.
“I think we got transmatted a lot further than we expected,” Maria said. “I’d better call Sarah Jane…” She reached into her pocket for her mobile phone. She was surprised to see the ‘out of range’ message. Luke and Clyde found their own phones. They were the same. They looked around. They were clearly in Cambridge. They recognised the same buildings they could see from Liz’s office window. How could their mobiles be out of range?
“Where is the institute?” Luke asked. “By my reckoning it should be here. Right where we’re standing. The Institute is GONE.”
To Be Continued...