Sarah Jane watched the very nice man from the AA fix her car, and then went back into the café that was conveniently next to the parking space. She sat with the three youngsters and looked at them curiously.
“Have a cup of tea m… I mean… Sarah Jane,” said the pale faced boy who the others called Luke. Sarah Jane noted that he put exactly the right amount of milk and sugar into the cup, just as she liked it. It was as if he knew her well. They all seemed to.
But the story they were telling her was preposterous.
“You all seem like nice young people,” she said. “So I don’t know why you would be involved in some plan to trick me into… I don’t know. What would be the point of it? Writing a joke news story about time travel? Is that it?”
“No, Sarah Jane,” Maria told her. “We wouldn’t do that. We really ARE from the future. Look. These are our security passes from the Travers Institute. Digital photos taken only a few hours ago… in our time anyway… and printed onto the pass, instantly laminated… They can’t do that in this time.”
“Digital photograph… I don’t even know….”
“Never mind, it’s way too much to go into,” Maria said. “Just look at the dates on the passes. The day we were there. It’s in 2008.”
And look at these,” Clyde added. “My mobile phone. And this…”
Sarah Jane picked up the strange object and examined it closely. It did seem to be a phone of some sort. But it was smaller than the microphone on her reel to reel tape recorder. And the other thing, just as small – the boy had called it an MP3 player. It contained eight hours of music, he said. It was the size and shape of a felt tip marker pen. Eight hours of music recorded onto something that small? The tape reels each contained fifteen minutes of material.
“But you’re all…” She looked at them. “You’re all healthy and…. Is the world… Earth… I mean, there hasn’t been a nuclear war or…”
“No nukes,” Clyde told her. “The grown ups managed to avoid that. Skin of their teeth a couple of times. But so far, we’re still there.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” she said. “I mean, really. The way people talk these days… I never expected us to make it. But you three… you’re really from the twenty-first century?”
“Yes,” they chorused.
“Are you…” She looked at Maria thoughtfully. “You’re not my daughter, are you? I mean… Sorry, it’s silly of me. It’s not as if I even have a boyfriend. But I thought I would get married eventually. Have children. It’s what a woman is meant to do, even one with career ambitions. A husband and children are always part of the plan…. And you…”
“No,” Maria admitted. “I'm not your daughter.” Sarah Jane looked disappointed. “I’d be really proud if I was. You’re… fantastic. You’re more of a mum to me than my real mum. And I think you’re wonderful….”
“Oh.” Sarah Jane looked faintly embarrassed. Being complimented for being wonderful and fantastic for something she hadn’t even done yet was hard to take.
“M…Sarah Jane…” Luke spoke up. Sarah Jane looked at him. He seemed upset about something. She wondered why, then realised that, if their story was true, all three of them were a long way from home. Perhaps he had realised he wouldn’t see his mum and dad again without somebody’s help.
“I’ll try to help you,” she said, putting her hand over his. “Your mum must be missing you as much as you’re missing her.”
Luke blinked back a stray tear and managed to smile.
“Thank you, Sarah Jane,” he said.
“But I honestly don’t know WHAT I can do to help. What is it that you think you have to do?”
“Give this to Liz… I mean, Professor Elizabeth Shaw,” Maria said, pulling the things out of the satchel that had made it so heavy. There was something about the size of a laptop computer, but without any obvious way to open it, and what looked like a metal envelope, the size of an A4 piece of paper. It was sealed with a sort of lock, but no obvious way of unlocking it.
There was a logo on both objects. A ‘T’ made up of lots of little hexagons.
“I think that must be for Travers Institute,” Maria added. “Although that didn’t look like their logo…”
“It’s not,” Sarah Jane answered her. “I’ve researched the Travers Institute. It was founded by Professor Edward Travers, the eminent scientist and explorer. It’s the leading centre for scientific research, and the fact that a woman, Professor Elizabeth Shaw, is the director of it makes it even more extraordinary. A woman in charge of an advanced scientific research facility. That’s why I'm here. To interview her. I’m doing a series of articles about women who succeed in male dominated professions. I am hoping to get Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher to talk to me next week. But Elizabeth Shaw was a real coup.” She checked her watch. “My appointment is in fifteen minutes. We’d better go.”
She said ‘we’. Clyde, Luke and Maria followed her out of the café. She looked at her car and shook her head. It was only a two seater, of course. They wouldn’t fit.
“We’ll have to walk,” she said as she picked up her tape machine from the passenger seat. “It isn’t far.”
“Isn’t it?” the youngsters were surprised and a little annoyed with themselves when they found that the department they wanted was no more than about a hundred yards from where they had given up the search and eaten their picnic. Though even if they had known, they would never have been let in. There was a severe looking security guard just inside the door.
Sarah Jane looked at the guard and sighed.
“This is no use,” she said. “They won’t let you lot in. Appointment only. I’ve got to show all sorts of identification at the reception.”
“You’ll think of something,” Luke assured her. “You’re an investigative journalist. You do stuff like this, covert infiltration, all the time.”
“No, I’m not. I’ve not an investigative journalist. I’m a woman journalist. Even this is avant-garde. I should be doing the fashion pages. Investigative! That’s for men. And I’ve never infiltrated anything in my life.”
“You ARE an investigative journalist,” Clyde told her. “Or you’re about to become one, really soon. Never mind what the men think. Isn’t that what all those women you want to interview would say? Even Thatcher. And you’re GOOD at infiltration.”
Sarah Jane looked at him. She didn’t know what to say. Except that, when he said that, she knew he was right. What WAS she doing interviewing women who had broken down the male only doors if she was going to let them slam in her own face? And as for this institution….
She walked a little way past the main entrance, studying the building carefully.
“Look at that,” she said. “The side alley there. Looks like a fire escape to me. And if I’m not mistaken, that’s a toilet facility on the first floor.”
“Now we’re talking!” Clyde said with a laugh. “Go, Sarah Jane!”
It was laughably easy. Sarah Jane presented herself at the reception and her credentials were checked. A security guard escorted her up the stairs, but at the first floor she pleaded the necessity of visiting the toilet before her meeting with Professor Shaw. The guard waited by the stairs as she went into the ladies. She went to the window and opened it wide. The three youngsters were already on the iron walkway, waiting for her.
Maria climbed in first. The boys came after her, looking a little embarrassed at being in the ladies toilet.
“Well, I don’t know why you’re worried, Luke,” Maria said. “We first MET Sarah Jane in one at the Bubbleshock factory when we were hiding from the family of the Bane.”
Sarah Jane looked at Maria and Luke and tried to see if that sentence made any sense.
“What on Earth is the Bane?”
“Well it wasn’t…” Maria began. “The Bane wasn’t from Earth. It was an alien and…”
She stopped. The look on Sarah Jane’s face when she mentioned aliens just stunned her into silence.
This was Sarah Jane before she had travelled in time or met an alien. Of all the problems of being in 1973, before mobiles, when telephones were red, and pounds were made of paper, that was the most difficult thing to come to terms with of all.
And yet, when they remembered the stories she had told them, about how she met The Doctor and travelled with him, all of it was just around the corner for her. Sarah Jane’s life was going to change beyond her wildest dreams in a few months, maybe even weeks.
It’s a long story,” Maria admitted. “And it doesn’t really matter now. We’ve got more important things to worry about. Like…”
She gave a yelp. Something in the satchel just buzzed loudly and emitted a small electric shock – not enough to hurt, but enough so that she felt it even through the leather. She opened the satchel and reached for the metal envelope gingerly, using her cardigan sleeve to insulate her hand. It had stopped giving out electric shocks, but she was surprised to see that it had unlocked itself. She opened it out like a notelet and they all stared in surprise when a hologram, about five inches tall, appeared on it. Sarah Jane didn’t get the Princess Leia joke from Clyde. Luke didn’t either, for different reasons. Maria told them both to shush as the figure of a man spoke.
“This is a message from Captain Jack Harkness to Captain Jack Harkness. If it isn’t in my hands at this time, 2pm exactly on April 21st, 1973, then whoever is listening, pray that you’re within running distance of room 310 in the old Travers Institute. Get this to me or Elizabeth Shaw before six minutes past two. Stop them from turning on the machine. That’s imperative. Go, now. Run.”
Maria snapped the envelope shut and began to run. Sarah Jane and the two boys took only a few seconds longer to run after her. They were in time to see the security guard who was waiting for Sarah Jane grab hold of her.
“Wow there, missy,” he said. “I don’t think you’re meant to be here. This is a secure facility. Now how did you get up as far as….”
The guard yelled as Maria kicked him hard in the left shin. She ran past him and continued up the stairs. He had straightened up enough to put a restraining hand out to Sarah Jane and the boys as they ran after her. Sarah Jane barely paused as she kicked him in the other shin.
“Nice one, Sarah Jane!” Clyde congratulated her.
“Nice one?” she gasped as they reached the second floor stairwell. “I’ve just assaulted a security guard, aided and abetted unauthorised access into the building…”
“Yeah, it’s what you’re good at,” Clyde told her.
“What’s my job in the future again? Journalist or cat burglar?”
The guard had recovered enough to come after them, and one of his colleagues was at the top of the stairwell, barring the way to room 310. Maria again kicked hard and got past him, but he managed to restrain Sarah Jane and Clyde, while the first guard grappled Luke.
“Keep going, Maria,” Sarah Jane called out. “Don’t wait for us.”
Maria didn’t wait. She crashed through the double doors of room 310, screaming loudly.
“Jack Harkness? Liz Shaw? Which one of you is Jack Harkness or Liz Shaw? Stop… Stop what you’re doing. Don’t turn on the machine. You mustn’t….”
A third guard crashed through the door behind her and grabbed her by the shoulder, but she pulled away from him, still shouting for either of the two people she knew by name.
A man in a military blue shirt with braces and a belt holding up his trousers straightened up. The man from the hologram, Maria realised. He had been bending over a large machine that looked a lot like the ‘transmat’ she had seen in 2008 except that it used 1973 technology like reel to reel tape storage and there was a noisy printout for data instead of a VDU. He had been about to press a large button on the machine. Near to him was a young woman who had to be Liz Shaw. She was standing on a platform between two pointed metal objects.
“Don’t do it,” Maria said. “Jack Harkness, you have to listen to me….”
“I’m Jack Harkness,” the man said. “And you’ve got about ten seconds to explain why I shouldn’t turn on the machine…”
To Be Continued...