Maria and Clyde were puzzled to find the front door of Sarah Jane’s house wide open. They stepped inside and closed the door before they walked up the stairs carefully. The house was too quiet. It felt wrong.
“Luke?” Clyde called out. “Sarah Jane… K9? Mr Smith?”
“Shush,” Maria told him. “If there’s a burglar or an alien invader…”
They reached the attic door. That was open, too. Which was very strange. They stepped inside and saw the devastation. Mr Smith’s broken screen, as well as his wildly flashing lights and distressing computerised noises were the first thing they were aware of, but as they rounded the old sofa they saw K9 in his side, his power cells almost dead, and Luke lying across the strange mechanical figure that was wearing Sarah Jane’s clothes.
Maybe a year ago, Maria might have screamed. Now, she controlled that urge and became immediately practical. She pulled out her sonic screwdriver and switched it to tissue repair mode as Clyde turned Luke into the recovery position which Sarah Jane had actually taught them all one evening in the attic. She applied the soothing mode to the ugly bruise across Luke’s head and was relieved to see the swelling go down and the cuts mend themselves. He slowly came round, looking first at his friends, then turning and whimpering slightly as he saw the thing that had been pretending to be Sarah Jane.
“Where is she?” he asked. “Where’s my mum?”
“I don’t know,” Maria answered. “We’ve only just got here and found you like this. We don’t know what happened.”
“That thing…” Luke said. “It’s got mum’s clothes on. The same outfit she was wearing when she went out this morning.”
“It’s a copy of her,” Maria told him. “A robot copy.”
“Is it… dead?” Clyde asked. “Or deactivated… whatever….”
“It seems to be.” Maria used her sonic screwdriver to scan the robot. All of its systems seemed to be inactive except for one signal that was coming from it, like a radio transmission. She reached inside the sinister head and grabbed what looked like a slot in memory chip. She pulled it out of the socket and the sonic screwdriver showed that the signal had stopped.
“It is now,” she confirmed. Then she turned and looked at K9. He looked dead, too. Or very nearly. Clyde set him on his wheels again, but he could not move and there was only a faint glow in his eyelights.
Luke went to look at Mr Smith. He was very badly damaged. He knew a lot about computers. He knew a lot about many things. But he didn’t know how to start repairing Mr Smith.
“Maria…” Clyde called out urgently. “There’s… I think…”
“There’s somebody coming up the stairs,” Luke said.
“Someone, or some thing?” Maria asked. “What if it’s another one of those things?”
The two boys grabbed the closest things to hand that would do as weapons – a rounders bat and a large, heavy paperweight that Sarah Jane acquired sometime during the school holidays. Maria held her sonic screwdriver in a defensive way, although she knew it was still in scanner mode and wouldn’t harm anyone.
The footsteps came closer. They saw the door knob turn. They got their ‘weapons’ ready as the door pushed inwards. A hand slid inside, at the end of an arm encased in pinstripe suiting. It was holding a more robust version of Maria’s sonic screwdriver.
“Doctor!” Maria cried out. As the slim figure of a man they all knew well by now stepped into the room she lowered her sonic screwdriver and moved forward as if to hug him.
“No!” Clyde stepped in front of her, wielding the rounders bat. “No, keep your sonic screwdriver on him. How do we know he isn’t another one of those things. Why would he just walk into the house?”
Maria raised her sonic screwdriver again. The Doctor raised his. It looked as if they were a pair of duelling wizards from Harry Potter. Luke wasn’t certain, but he raised the paperweight in a menacing fashion. The Doctor looked at it and gave a half smile.
“Don’t break my head with that. Sarah Jane would be really upset. She really likes that paperweight. Also it would be very ironic.”
“Just stay where you are,” Luke answered. “I’m not sure…”
“Master…Doc…tor…” K9’s voice, weak and at half volume, was heard. “Ma..ster..do..c..to…r’s foo…t…st..st..eps… re…res…res…res…res…res… on… ate… ate… ate…ate… cor… cor… rec… rec… tly.”
“What?” Maria was puzzled. “What did he say?”
“I think he said…” Luke replied. “That it sounds like The Doctor. He thinks he’s all right.” He lowered the paperweight. Clyde and Maria took a moment more to decide that they trusted K9’s judgement. Then Clyde put down the rounders bat and Maria ran to hug him after all. She still had her sonic screwdriver in her hand. So did he.
“You know, that’s in scanner mode,” he told her.
“So is yours,” she replied. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here. Sarah Jane is gone. There’s this THING here. K9 is broken and so is Mr Smith. And… you’re the one person who can make all this right.”
“Well, I will try,” he said as he extricated himself from her hug and bent to examine the android. “K9 did his stuff. Good dog. He fried its central processor.”
“You don’t seem too surprised to see that thing,” Clyde pointed out.
“No, it’s the second one I’ve had to deal with today,” The Doctor answered. “I’ve got a bucket of bolts in my TARDIS that was pretending to be my friend Donna. It was very convincing until it came too close to the console and then it started stuttering like a bad rap record. I noticed that it still sent out a signal even after I deactivated it. I cancelled it, but the TARDIS picked up another signal. And when I found out that it was here, naturally I was worried. Funny thing was the signal cancelled itself a few moments ago.”
“That was me.” Maria held up the memory chip.
“What about K9 and Mr Smith?” Luke asked. The Doctor looked at them both and shook his head sadly.
“It made a mess, didn’t it.”
“You can fix them, can’t you?”
“Let me see what I can do,” he replied. He strode over to K9 and sat cross-legged on the floor. He used his sonic screwdriver to get into the side panel and began pulling out wires and reconnecting them. Clyde and Luke sat near him, watching him at work. Maria went to put the kettle on. She thought The Doctor might like a drink.
“Doctor,” Luke said after a quiet few minutes. “Mum… Do you think she’s… is she… Something or somebody must have taken her, and sent that copy. Is she dead?”
The Doctor looked at him steadily for a few seconds.
“I don’t know for sure,” he admitted. “But my guess is your mum and Donna were snatched to keep them out of the way while the androids were put in place. I’m sure they’re still alive.”
“You don’t know for certain?”
“Best I can do, sorry. But just as soon as I have K9 and Mr Smith operational we’ll start putting things together. I promise.” He smiled faintly as he looked around at the computer. “Mr Smith! Did she ever tell you why she called it that?”
“I don’t know,” Luke answered. “Because it’s her name.”
“Well, it could be that, of course,” The Doctor admitted. “But John Smith is the name I use sometimes, when people aren’t satisfied with ‘Doctor.’ I wonder if she was thinking of that.”
“Mr Smith is really pedantic and annoying,” Maria commented as she handed out cups of tea. The Doctor balanced his on K9’s back as he continued fixing him. “And very smug, considering he’s just a computer.”
“Well, there you go. I’ve been called that and worse in my time,” The Doctor answered. “She was obviously thinking of all the times I’ve been pedantic, annoying and smug.”
Maria and Clyde laughed. Luke didn’t. He knew The Doctor was chatting aimlessly to them all to try to take their minds off their unhappiness, but it wasn’t working with him.
“Why do the people who sent these androids want my mum?” he asked. “What is this about?”
“I’m afraid…” The Doctor sighed and again chose to tell the truth to the boy. “Since they took Donna, too, it rather looks as if they want to get to me, somehow. I think… since the android took down K9 and Mr Smith, that they know something. That’s why I need to get them up and running first. After that… not a moment will be wasted, I promise you.”
Something clicked audibly inside K9 and The Doctor withdrew his hand and slipped his side panel back on. The eyelights glowed and his head raised itself slowly.
“Re…re…re..re…re…” he stammered. The Doctor made a fist with his hand and thumped K9 on the side. “Re-booting,” he said. His eyelights went out and then flashed on again. “Systems restored. All primary functions normal. Thank you, Master-Doctor for your assistance. Urgent. Sarah Jane is in danger. Restore Mr Smith at once. He has vital information.”
“At once may not be possible,” The Doctor answered him. “It’ll take a while. I’ll need my TARDIS, too. Give me two ticks.”
“Explain ‘two ticks’?” K9 requested. But The Doctor was already running downstairs. The others said nothing in answer to his repeated request. They were listening to The Doctor’s receding footsteps and then the sound of a relatively dimensional engine dematerialising in the hall. Moments later the reverse sound was heard as the TARDIS materialised next to Mr Smith and The Doctor stepped out.
Sarah Jane woke with a groan. Her head hurt badly. Somebody was calling her name.
“Donna?” Sarah Jane slowly focussed on the red-haired woman in her late thirties who gave her two aspirin and a foil packet of orange juice.
“My last one. You have it.”
“Thank you,” she answered as she struggled to a sitting position on the hard floor and swallowed the tablets with the juice.
There was another woman, dark haired, much younger, also sitting in the very small room with what seemed to be metallic walls. Old metal, going rusty. Not anything shiny and sophisticated like a space ship.
Sarah Jane looked closer at her and finally placed her. They had met once, in Cardiff.
“Gwen Cooper… you work for Torchwood….”
To Be Continued...