“I know you,” said Sarah Jane. “You’re Gwen Cooper. You work for Torchwood. Do you remember… I visited, with my son and his friends. Jack showed us round…”
“Yes, I remember,” Gwen nodded. “We don’t usually do tours. But Jack said you were ‘one of the few’. He wouldn’t explain what he meant.”
“He meant that we’ve both known The Doctor. Me, and Jack and Donna…” You’re with him now. Or you’re supposed to be.”
“Yes,” Donna answered. “But why are we here? It can’t be because of The Doctor. Because Gwen doesn’t know him. So what’s it all about?”
“What do you remember? What were you doing before…”
“I was heading back to the TARDIS,” Donna replied. “It was parked on Chiswick High Road overnight. I’d been staying over with my mum. I went to see her and granddad, to make sure they’re ok. And then…I don’t know. I think somebody grabbed me. I can’t remember anything. I mean… it’s broad daylight, middle of Chiswick, and I’m kidnapped. And nobody did anything. Typical!”
“I was on my way to work,” Gwen said. “In Cardiff. I remember popping into a shop for milk. Because Ianto sent a text to ask me to pick some up. After that… nothing. But there were loads of people around. People going to work and shopping. Even in Cardiff, people don’t just vanish. Well, actually, they do, of course, because of the rift. But that’s different.”
“I was just walking back from the shops,” Sarah Jane added. “I went for milk, too. And the morning paper. I told Luke I’d be half an hour. And yes, there were lots of people about. I don’t know how it could have happened.”
“Cardiff and London are miles apart,” Gwen pointed out. “So where are we all now? And how long did it take to get here? How long were we unconscious. What time is it now?”
Good questions. Sarah Jane automatically looked at her wrist. To her dismay, her watch was missing. She patted her coat pocket. So was her sonic screwdriver.
Donna and Gwen’s watches were both gone, too. So were their mobile phones.
“We’re not in space are we?” Sarah Jane wondered. She looked around carefully. The room had rusted metal walls and the door was a solid, airtight bulkhead. Airtight? Watertight? If not in space, maybe a ship, submarine? But there were no engine sounds or vibrations.
And still they didn’t know WHY.
“The Doctor will know I’m missing,” Donna said. “He’ll be looking for me.”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane agreed. “He will. We’ll be all right.”
Sarah Jane and Donna both took comfort in the knowledge that The Doctor would not let either of them down. Gwen knew about The Doctor only by reputation. But somehow it cheered her, too.
“All the same,” Sarah Jane added. “Are we going to just sit here and wait for him like a bunch of girly heroines who need rescuing?”
There were rubber insulated wires running from the TARDIS to Mr Smith, and from Mr Smith back into the TARDIS, where Luke, Maria and Clyde stood beside The Doctor, watching an LCD screen.
“Mr Smith’s power cells are damaged,” The Doctor explained. “But the TARDIS computer is bypassing them. I should be able to reboot him, now.” He pulled a switch on the console and the screen burst into life.
“This is very cheesy,” Clyde said in an almost apologetic tone as Mr Smith’s logging on routine began, with all the fanfare of music and flash screens.
“Yes, it is, rather,” The Doctor observed. “Luke, you’re a clever lad. I’m sure you could write a sub-routine to bypass all of this.”
“I did,” he replied. “But Mr Smith by-passed the by-pass.”
“He’s part TARDIS,” The Doctor noted. “But now I know why I never upgraded to an interactive console.”
“Good afternoon, Doctor,” said Mr Smith, apparently unaware of, or ignoring, the criticism levelled at him. “It is good to interact with you.”
“Of course it is,” The Doctor answered. “But we don’t have time for chit-chat. Sarah Jane is in danger. So is my friend, Donna. I need to know what happened before you were attacked by the android.”
“The counterfeit Sarah Jane Smith attempted to use me to access a classified U.N.I.T. file,” Mr Smith replied. “I could not comply as it was an illegal operation. My morality protocols were conflicted.”
“A computer with a moral conscience!” The Doctor smiled wryly. “You’re very nearly a greater computer than my TARDIS. It’s a good job there’s only one of you, or you’d be running the planet by now. Possibly for the better, mind you. But never mind that, I’m the one who said we haven’t got time for chit chat. And Luke is giving me very stern looks here. He wants to know what happened to his mum. And rightly so. I need to find Donna. And I think the answer lies with the file the android wanted you to access. What was it?”
“U.N.I.T. file ZX15021/CI,” Mr Smith responded.
“ZX15021/CI?” The Doctor was puzzled. “What’s that?”
“I do not know,” Mr Smith answered. “It is a Class 1 file. It requires a Code 1 Amber security password.”
“Of course it does,” The Doctor answered. “Mr Smith, bring up that file and open the encrypted password interface.”
Mr Smith did so. The Doctor typed very fast. Nobody could have guessed the password by following his fingers on the keyboard. On screen, a twenty digit password appeared as asterisks.
“You have top level access?” Clyde asked. “At U.N.I.T… the Unified Intelligence Taskforce?”
“Well, of course. Back in the 1960s, I more or less caused U.N.I.T. to be formed, to combat alien invasions if I couldn’t be around. Torchwood was sort of down to me, too. But in different circumstances… rather less satisfactory circumstances…”
“Torchwood was founded by Queen Victoria to combat YOU,” Maria told him. “I read the charter. Jack said they revised it when they found out you weren’t the enemy.”
“You met Jack?” The Doctor was surprised. “I hope he behaved himself.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Maria answered. “I like him. He’s ok.”
The Doctor smiled wryly and seemed about to say something else. But Mr Smith distracted him. The file was open on the screen. It was a very long mathematical formula. The Doctor looked at the first four lines and then closed the file.
“Mr Smith, access the U.N.I.T. central server. Seal that file with a double deadlock encryption. Authorisation code… Theta Sigma, 45.887.12.9.Omicron Delta Pi.” He looked around at the youngsters. “You lot, forget that code. You never heard it. Especially you, Luke. I know what you’re like for remembering figures. Not that it matters. That code seals it. A different one opens it, but just in case…”
“File sealed,” Mr Smith reported. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Doctor?”
“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “Get me Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness.”
Mr Smith did so immediately. The head of that organisation in Cardiff smiled widely as he looked at The Doctor over the video link.
“Hey!” he said. “Good to see you, Doc.”
“Jack,” The Doctor greeted him in a friendly way. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“None that I can see,” he answered. “You’ve got your hands behind your back. You didn’t call me to play games, though, surely. Hang on. Those kids…”
“I’m babysitting,” The Doctor said. “Mr Smith… do you have enough?”
“Confirmed. Voice pattern is exact match. This is the genuine Captain Jack Harkness.”
“There was a doubt?” Jack looked hurt.
“Yes, there was. Jack, if it’s not you, then you need to check the rest of your team. One of them may not be who he or she seems. Do you know how to spot an android facsimile?”
Before Jack could answer somebody came into his office. He looked up and then stepped forward quickly, out of view of the camera. He came back into view fighting an android with the face panel off that had obviously been posing as a dark haired woman. The Doctor and his young friends watched anxiously as the fight continued, sometimes on screen, sometimes just the sound effects. Then, to their relief, Jack stepped back into view, calmly straightening his collar and refastening a button of his shirt that had been pulled in the melee.
“Well, I think that answers your question,” he said to The Doctor. “But I seem to be missing a team member. What’s going on, Doc?”
“It’s an attempt to get the Methuselah Formula,” The Doctor answered.
Jack looked stunned. “No. Who would even know about…”
“I don’t know. But they do know where to look. In addition to your colleague, my Donna and Sarah Jane were both replaced by androids. Three women are now missing.”
“Gwen…” Jack whispered the name of his team member. “Wait… three of them…” His brow furrowed as he thought it through. “The Methuselah Formula… You, U.N.I.T., Torchwood. Why did they take Sarah Jane? She’s not connected. She’s a smart lady, but it would be too dangerous for her to be involved. So why….”
“They used an android copy of her to get to U.N.I.T., through Mr Smith.”
“Bit of a round about way of doing it, though?” Jack pointed out. “The obvious person to use would be Martha.”
“Martha Jones?” Clyde piped up. “But she’s in China. She’s been there for two months on a special U.N.I.T. project.”
“We all had lunch with her on the day before she left,” Luke explained. “She was telling mum all about it. But anyway, that means Martha must be safe?”
“Yes, The Doctor agreed. “She must be.”
He and Jack both looked relieved.
“Small mercies,” Jack said. “But what now? Where do we start looking for them? And who did it?”
“I’ve got some theories,” The Doctor answered. “But I think we need to combine forces. I’ll meet you in the usual place in five minutes.” He closed the communication and began unfastening the wires that connected the TARDIS to Mr Smith.
“I’ve downloaded most of his database to the TARDIS, now,” The Doctor said. “He’s ‘portable.’ Luke, go fetch K9 in and shut the TARDIS door. We need to make a pitstop in Cardiff. Then we’re going to find your mum.”
“The Doctor will come,” Donna insisted. “But I’m not going to give him the satisfaction. We have to try something to get out of here.”
“I agree,” Gwen added. “But what? This room is locked tight. And we don’t even have a nail file between us.”
“They’ll feed us at some point, surely?” Sarah Jane pointed out. “We can overpower the guards…”
“Depends what the guards are,” Donna pointed out. “Could be Sontarans or…”
“Sontarans are easy,” Sarah Jane said. “Vent in the back of the neck. I hope it’s not Daleks. Or Cybermen.”
Gwen was an experienced Torchwood agent. She had seen things most people wouldn’t believe. But listening to Donna and Sarah Jane talking about things she had only read of in the more dramatic of the Torchwood archive files made her feel like an amateur.
She was about to say something to end their catalogue of dangers when she heard a sound. The bulkhead door was opening.
“Quick,” she said. “Get ready.”
But the guards didn’t come inside and there was no chance to overpower them. Instead, they put another prisoner into the room and slammed it shut.
All three women sighed in dismay as they saw the fourth woman in the dim light.
“Martha!” they chorused with sinking hearts.
To Be Continued...