Rani was enjoying her apprenticeship at Metropolitan Magazine. She was learning a lot about journalism. She was really enjoying being a part of a grown up world at last. Even though she was the youngest member of the editorial team, and the one who fetched most of the coffee and did all the mundane jobs, she really was learning a lot. She was really grateful to Sarah Jane for pulling a favour with the editor and getting her into real, on the job training alongside her journalism course at Ealing Sixth Form College.
Clyde was fed up. The only difference between school and Ealing Sixth Form college was no school uniform. Otherwise it was just the same. He was still treated like a kid. Rules everywhere, just the same.
And he was bored, bored, bored with art history class. He thought he would have enjoyed that course, but even the module about Da Vinci was as dry as old paper the way it was taught by Mr Fogerty.
When he was bored, Clyde got fidgety. When he was fidgety he wanted to make mischief, tell a joke, play a prank.
But there was nobody in Art History Level 1 he could count on as an ally. Everyone else was so serious, so into this stuff, so desperate to get the grades and get into university. It was like being in a class full of Luke clones, except that Luke was always up for one of his pranks.
At last the interminable tutorial was over. He was one of the first out through the door and into the corridor with his bag of books and art materials slung across his back. He headed straight for the cafeteria. That was ONE thing that was better at college. The food. The only snag was he had to pay for it. No free school dinners here, and his hardship grant because he was from a one parent family was running low now he had bought all the stuff he needed for the practical lessons.
He got a sausage roll and a cup of coffee and sat to eat it in a relatively quiet corner. He pulled out his sketch book and set to work as he always did when he had any moment of peace. He lost himself in an intricate drawing of the dark haired girl dressed in a neatly pressed white blouse who had just opened up a tin foil wrapped package that contained two slices of toast and jam. He wasn’t the only one on a budget around here. He hoped she didn’t get the jam on the nice blouse.
Sarah Jane Smith was worried. Mr Smith had been picking up signals in the solar system since last night and nobody was taking any notice of her – not even U.N.I.T.
“Captain Magambo,” she said as the same woman came back to the phone after a long ten minutes on hold. “Please listen to me. I really do need to speak to somebody in higher authority than you. This is very important. You know I wouldn’t be calling U.N.I.T. if it wasn’t.”
“I’m sorry but….”
“If you don’t start taking me seriously,” Sarah Jane added. “I’ll call Captain Harkness at Torchwood.”
That was very much a last resort. Jack Harkness was too much trouble most of the time, but at least he wouldn’t put her on hold.
“Miss Smith,” Captain Magambo added patiently. “I know who you are. I’ve read all the files… the early files. But you must understand, today is not a good day for civilian matters. We have a situation....”
“You mean the alien space ship that will be landing on Earth in less than an hour?” Sarah Jane asked.
There was a soft click in her ear. Sarah Jane knew that Captain Erisa Magambo had just pressed a button on the phone that secured the line. When she spoke again it was with a brisker tone as if addressing an equal.
“Miss Smith, please stay where you are. I’m sending a car for you. Don’t talk to anyone else in the meantime.”
“My son is on a web-cam conference with me,” Sarah Jane replied. “I was talking to him while I was on hold with you.”
“End the call. Don’t tell him anything,” the Captain told her. The phone went dead. The call was ended. But it seemed to have had the desired effect.
“Luke,” she said, turning back to the webcam. “I’ve got to go. But they’re taking me seriously now. I hope it’s not Daleks. I really don’t think I want to fight them today. The problem you have at Oxford… I’m pretty sure the head ‘witch’ in that ‘coven’ is a Banaxion She-Devil. And the plot almost certainly involves harvesting the life force of children. Be careful. Take a large box of salt and surround her with it. They can’t stand the stuff. She’ll shrivel into nothing trying to get as far away as possible from it.”
“Ok, mum. Good luck with the alien invasion. And… Happy Halloween.”
“Same to you,” she said. Then as the thought of an alien invasion gripped her stomach and she thought of the cheery and casual way Luke had talked about it she gripped the edge of the computer screen tightly. “Luke, I love you. Remember that. In case…. Just… remember I love you.”
“I love you too, mum,” he promised her before he was gone. She switched off the laptop and unplugged it from the electrical power to bring with her. The data she had to show to U.N.I.T. was all downloaded from Mr Smith.
She looked around the attic as she waited for her military escort, hoping it was some kind of discreet vehicle, not a tank or something that would set Gita Chandra gossiping with the rest of the street.
But if something that powerful was heading for Earth, maybe gossip wouldn’t matter any more. Maybe nothing would.
Maybe this was the last day this planet had left.
The only trouble with being an apprentice was that she didn’t get any of the really interesting stories to herself. She had spent most of the morning with Angela Petton, who was her ‘on-the-job-mentor’. She brought her to a fashion show at Earls Court arena. She would have loved to have had chance to write the story herself, but she wasn’t considered experienced enough, yet. She just sat quietly and took shorthand notes while Angela interviewed a brilliant new English designer whose winter collection was impressing all the critics.
Rani wanted a big story of her own, one as exciting as Sarah Jane had written in her time. Her name was legendary at Metropolitan. Rani wanted to emulate her. She wanted to unmask criminal organisations or unscrupulous politicians. She wanted to interview fashion designers and pop stars herself, not just sit in the corner and watch Angela do it.
And she knew she could. But she was only just seventeen. She was still learning to be a journalist. They thought she didn’t know how to do it, yet.
Just as she was deciding whether to go to a café for lunch or save her money and eat a sandwich in the staff room the fax machine near her desk bleeped. She looked at the message that had come through and her heart thumped. She glanced around the office. Angela had gone out to do a ‘lunch interview’ with Cameron Macintosh about his latest musical hit. She hadn’t asked Rani to come with her. Nobody had given her any assignments for the afternoon.
She grabbed the fax and walked out of the office. She hailed a taxi. Her lunch money would cover the fare, and if this was for real, the story would be worth it.
Clyde was on his way to a class he DID enjoy when he got the phone call from Luke.
“Mum’s been picked up by U.N.I.T. They’re going to rendezvous with an alien space ship. It’s landing in London.”
“How do you know?” Clyde asked, though that was obviously going to be a stupid question.
“K9 has a remote link to Mr Smith. HE calculated the ship’s landing zone from its trajectory. It’s coming down in Northala Fields.”
“And your mum’s gone there?”
“I’m on it,” he said.
“On it?” Luke asked.
“You think I’m going to leave Sarah Jane on her own at a time like this? I’m on my way.”
He was already running along the corridor, ignoring the complaints of his fellow students as he pinballed off them and the outrage of a tutor he cannoned into before he reached the outer door and raced for the bike shed. Minutes later he was pedalling up New Broadway, ignoring any red lights that didn’t involve a left turn or actual pedestrians in his path.
Clyde’s route by bicycle avoided major roads, especially the A40. The taxi Rani was in had tried to use that dual carriageway. On an average day when aliens weren’t landing in the Ealing-Northolt area, that would be a quick way to get exactly where she wanted to go. The A40 passed the top of Northala Fields.
But today the police had blocked both lanes just beyond the Ealing Golf Club. A traffic jam slowly filtered off onto the B-roads of Greenford. By turning through a lot of near identical residential streets the taxi driver managed to get her as far as the lower end of Kensington road before another police cordon signalled the end of her journey by car. She paid the fare and walked up towards the cordon. There was a crowd gathered, speculating on what was going on. Some people thought it had something to do with unexploded bombs. Others talked about chemical spills on the dual carriageway. Somebody even went as far as suggesting a radioactive incident.
Nobody had noticed the fact that the police were only maintaining the outer cordon. Beyond them, the army was in charge. Rani recognised the red U.N.I.T. caps even from a distance of several hundred yards. They were busy at the moment putting people from the houses within the cordon into trucks for evacuation – fuelling the unexploded bomb/chemical spill/nuclear accident theories.
“Rani!” She turned to see Clyde screech to a halt on his bicycle. “Come on, I can get us closer.”
“I’m not getting on that with you,” she responded. “In case you hadn’t noticed I’m wearing a skirt.”
But there really wasn’t any other option. She hitched her skirt up in as ladylike and dignified way as possible and sat on the saddle while Clyde straddled the crossbar and pedalled hard to regain the momentum lost by stopping to pick up a passenger. Rani squealed as he left the road altogether and they bombed through Ealing golf club’s fairway.
“This has got to be illegal,” Rani pointed out. “They don’t even allow people to WALK on golf courses unless they’re members.”
“They don’t allow them to land helicopters, either,” Clyde pointed out. He stopped the bicycle and they both watched cautiously, wondering if they were about to be arrested under some Defence of the Realm regulation and whisked away for interrogation.
Then Clyde recognised the man who jumped out of the helicopter. He yelled and waved frantically at him. Somehow he managed to make himself noticed above the sound of the helicopter taking off again. Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood grinned and waved back at them.
“Should have known you’d be here,” Clyde said when they ran up to him. “We need to get near the action, too. Can you pull some strings?”
“Count on it,” the Captain replied. His eye fell on Rani, who straightened her crumpled skirt hurriedly. “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met. Captain Jack Harkness… pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Oi, cut it out,” Clyde said with the ‘stop looking at my girl’ tone in his voice.
“Just being polite,” Harkness responded.
“Yeah, never mine polite. Let’s concentrate on alien space ships.”
Northala Fields was a community park that got a fresh lease of life in the wake of the demolition of the old Wenbley Stadium in 2003. The rubble was used to build four cone-shaped artificial hills as a focal point of the redevelopment. On any ordinary day they looked like some kind of extra-terrestrial landscape or something to do with ancient druidic rituals.
Today, there was an alien space ship parked on top of the highest of the four hills.
The space ship was also cone shaped, exactly the same dimensions as the hill, and it was parked exactly on the peak so that it looked like the hill was wearing a big hat that cast a wide shadow over it. It was a metallic green colour that almost matched the grass and reflected the dull grey sky of late October.
“Clyde, Rani!” Sarah Jane’s voice distracted them from staring at the peculiar sight. She hurried towards them, followed by two U.N.I.T. officers. “How did you get here, and… why is HE with you?”
“Good morning, Miss Smith,” Jack Harkness replied, ignoring the scathing tone of her voice. “We were monitoring the same activity in the solar system that your Mr Smith picked up. Obviously a bone fide space ship landing on good old planet Earth is of major interest to Torchwood. Of course, U.N.I.T. is here. And I notice some bods from MI5 over there. A couple of their counterparts from America seem to have turned up, too. The amateur UFO spotters are all gathering on the other side of the A40, despite all efforts to keep them away. That just about covers every party who might be interested in this except….”
“I’m surprised he hasn’t turned up, too,” Sarah Jane admitted. “I suppose he must be busy.”
“Shame,” Jack Harkness replied.
“Why is it here?” Rani asked. She had a tape recorder in her pocket. She switched it on but kept it concealed. She had a feeling the people who flanked Sarah Jane, a woman and a man in military uniforms, might not take kindly to the idea of her recording anything said just now. “Is it the only one? Or have other cities been visited by aliens?”
“We don’t yet know if it IS aliens,” said Captain Erisa Magambo cautiously. “Miss Smith, do I take it these young people are with you?”
“They’re with me at the moment,” Jack Harkness said, meeting the female officer’s gaze with a dashing smile and a twinkle in his eye. “Torchwood, Beyond the government, above the law….”
“That remains to be seen,” Captain Magambo responded icily before making a decision. “Very well, come on. The command centre is over here.”
It was hard to say whether the presence of two teenagers or the director of Torchwood was annoying the U.N.I.T. Captain the most, but she turned her back on them all and strode across the playing field to a long black trailer set up beside the lake that was established along with the strange hills. Inside was a fully functioning military command post. Soldiers were busy at computer monitors. A huge screen on the wall was showing a live image of the space ship on the hill. Smaller screens by the side were showing infra red, x-ray and various other sorts of scans of the same image. They seemed to be very good at showing the density of the material that the hill was made from but the space ship just showed up as black voids on every single one of the scans. Nothing penetrated it.
Jack Harkness looked at it and then examined the small screen on the wide leather wristlet on his arm. Sarah Jane consulted her watch that contained very similar technology but in even smaller detail. Jack’s wristlet produced a hologram image of the ship. Sarah Jane’s did, too. They looked at each other and nodded.
“It’s made of Plazzanium,” they both said at once.
“It’s what?” Rani asked the question, touching the record button on her mini-recorder again.
“Plazzanium is a very strong metal, impervious to all sorts of radiation,” Sarah Jane continued. “It can withstand close proximity to a sun or the super-freezing cold of a deep space particle storm, and needless to say, it can’t be damaged by any explosive device you could possibly think of using in the middle of London. So if anyone has any ideas about trying to blow it up, think again. That goes for Torchwood and all the super-tech stuff you’ve got squirrelled away, Captain.”
“The thought had not even begun to contemplate crossing my mind,” Jack Harkness answered.
“Then your face is lying,” Sarah Jane replied.
“That’s all very well,” Captain Magambo said. “But if this thing is so indestructible, what ARE we supposed to do about it? And what about the occupants? Are they hostile? Why are they here? What do they want?”
Well, that was the problem. Sarah Jane and the Captain had both heard of Plazzanium, but what they did know was that it was a common material used in the interstellar space craft hulls of at least fifty different space fleets of the galaxy, possibly more. Half of those could be described as hostile.
“It’s not Daleks,” Jack Harkness confirmed.
“No,” Sarah Jane added. “Their ships are made from Dalekanium and they’re a different shape, anyway. So are Sontarans. Zygon ships are organic. They look like big, overripe watermelons. Not Cybermen or….”
“It’s not Drahveens or Rogi, either,” Jack Harkness added. “Not Exxilons or Badrac. Definitely nothing from Raxacoricofallipatorius, or Klom. You can rule out Sycorax and Dominators, too.”
“Well,” Captain Magambo said in response to the long list the two most experienced space travellers in her presence managed to come up with between them. “If we’ve established what it ISN’T, perhaps you could tell me what you think it IS.”
“No idea,” Sarah Jane admitted. Jack was equally at a loss.
“It came from outside the solar system at light speed,” Sarah Jane managed to tell her. “So it could have come from anywhere, maybe even beyond the galaxy.”
“Can we at least rule out the possibility that it’s armed?” Captain Magambo asked. “In your estimable opinion.”
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Jack answered. “There are no obvious gun turrets or torpedo tubes. But that doesn’t mean anything….”
“I don’t think it is,” Rani said out of the blue. “It just doesn’t look like it would be. It looks strange… because it is. It’s from outer space, so it has to be strange. But not everything that comes from out there is dangerous.”
“Yeah, but a lot of stuff is,” Clyde reminded her. He looked at the experts around him, Captain Magambo of U.N.I.T., Jack Harkness of Torchwood, Sarah Jane Smith who had taught him as well as Luke and Maria, then Rani in her turn, that the universe had just as many hostile aliens as non-hostile ones. If he reckoned it up he and the gang had probably met more hostile ones than the other sort because they were usually trying to invade Earth for one reason or another. The nice aliens didn’t do that.
Sarah Jane had been thinking on much the same lines. Yes, she had met nice, friendly people out there in space with The Doctor, and occasionally she made friends with aliens who just happened to be dropping by Earth for benign reasons. But more often than not she found herself stopping something like the Sontarans from doing something evil to her home planet.
Jack Harkness’s experiences of alien visitors to Earth were much the same. For every space tourist or inter-galactic botanist who wanted to know why the grass was green in the Welsh valleys he had fended off at least four slimy things that wanted to suck the life out of the planet and its population.
In her U.N.I.T. career Captain Magambo had only ever met ONE alien that wasn’t trying to invade Earth and he and his strange travelling machine were conspicuously absent from this scene.
On balance, Rani was the only one who clung to the idea that the ship might contain friendly visitors from beyond the solar system. Everyone else was fully expecting something dangerous to emerge any moment.
And all of them politely refrained from pointing out that she was the least experienced of their select group, the newest member of Sarah Jane’s alien-busting gang.
“There’s still nothing you can do about a ship made of Plazzanium,” Sarah Jane reminded the U.N.I.T. Captain. “As long as they’re inside they’re safe from any weapon at your disposal. Not even a nuclear bomb, and there’s no way you can use one of those here.”
“Then what are we supposed to do?” Captain Magambo reasonably asked.
“Wait,” Captain Harkness said. “Until the aliens make a move – either way.”
“Well, if that’s the best advice you have, there’s really no point in any of you being in the Command Centre,” Magambo responded. She waved a hand to summon two junior officers. “These four civilians are under military detention until further orders. I can’t have them wandering out of the secure zone. Take them to….” She sighed. “Take them to the refectory trailer, but under guard. They’re not to move from there without my express orders.”
Sarah Jane Smith complained loudly. So did Clyde and Rani. Jack Harkness repeated his mantra about Torchwood being beyond the government and above the law.
“This area is under military lockdown,” Captain Magambo pointed out. “Neither the civil government or civil law have any jurisdiction here. So don’t get clever with me, Captain Harkness. Go with them and don’t make any trouble. If the time comes when we DO have some use for your experience I’ll let you know.”
There was no further protest to be made. The officers flanked them as they were taken from the Command Centre to the refectory trailer. It was just as big but much quieter. They were told to sit at a table and coffee and sandwiches were distributed. Rani and Clyde had both skipped lunch to get to the landing site. They ate hungrily. Sarah Jane and Jack took a sandwich each just for something to do with their hands other than pressing buttons on their wrist devices. They didn’t want either confiscating if they made it too obvious that they had used the time in the Command Centre to ‘plug in’ to the computer system. They were both following the efforts of the military to make sense of the situation.
“They’re not getting anywhere,” Sarah Jane concluded after reading the data on her watch for several minutes.
“They’re not likely to get anywhere,” Jack agreed. “Then again, we don’t know much, either. We’re a pretty useless lot all around.”
“What if it IS dangerous?” Rani asked. “We’re really THIS unprepared. “U.N.I.T., Torchwood, everyone… there’s nothing any of you… us… can do… about aliens landing in the middle of London and… taking us over?”
“I thought you were favouring the ET style nice guy alien?” Clyde said to her. “We’re the ones thinking Independence Day.”
“Actually, if we’re doing science fiction, I was thinking of Klaatu and his robot,” Jack Harkness said. “The original, not that rubbish with all the American matinee idols with perfect teeth.”
Since Jack Harkness looked and sounded like an American matinee idol with perfect teeth that was a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle.
“Assume us teenagers don’t bother with anything not made in THIS century,” Rani said. “And remind us of the plot of that one.”
“Alien from a powerful society comes to Earth to warn humanity it has to stop being so warlike and threatening or the planet will be destroyed for the safety of the rest of the galaxy.”
“And we’ve surrounded the ship with soldiers, tanks, guns,” Rani reflected ruefully.
“Yeah, but aliens don’t have to land in Ealing to find out what we’re like, these days,” Clyde pointed out. “They could just watch Sky News. War in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, murders all over the place, North Korea building nukes. If that’s what they’re here for, why are they making us wait? Just blow us out of the sky and be done with it.”
“No thanks,” Sarah Jane replied. “I’ve not given up hope for the Human race, yet.”
“Me neither,” Rani admitted. “But will the aliens realise we’re worth another chance?”
“That might not be why they’re here,” Jack reminded them.
“Besides, as warlike races go, we’re not the worst by a long shot,” Sarah Jane added. “If we’re under scrutiny then Sontar, the Sycorax home planet, Skaro, a whole lot of places ought to be given a final warning before they worry about humans.”
“What other reasons might aliens have for coming here?” Clyde asked. “If they’re invading… then one ship, parked in Ealing… we’re sure there aren’t loads of them, in all the cities of the world?”
Everyone checked their mobile phones and were not entirely surprised to find they had been restricted. Of course, U.N.I.T. were capable of blocking signals. Just to prove it wasn’t a coincidence, they could still receive text messages and web content, but they couldn’t receive or make calls. Jack Harkness read his incoming messages and laughed softly.
“My people report that the ‘Northala Fields incident’ is being officially dismissed as a major Halloween prank. The fact that the ship looks a bit like a giant ‘witches hat’ to anyone whose imagination isn’t very broad seems to be working so far.”
“Until the aliens come out and start eating our faces, anyway,” Clyde suggested. “Then they’ll have to admit it was real.”
“Wouldn’t bet on it,” Jack responded. “People still think the alien ship that crashed into Big Ben was a remote control model and that 10 Downing Street was destroyed by a gas leak two days later in a separate and unconnected incident.”
None of them had been there, but they ALL knew the truth about that one. Of course the prank story would hold, even if the aliens emerged and had a Halloween feast of freshly roasted Human flesh later.
“Anyway, there IS only the one ship,” Sarah Jane confirmed. “And it came here. It’s not hovering over the Palace of Westminster or the White House, or The Hague, or even the Welsh National Assembly, and we all know how often THAT happens, Captain Harkness, with your famous Rift as a beacon for them. It’s in a park in Ealing. It made a beeline for this location. So….”
“Maybe there’s a special reason why it came here,” Rani surmised. “There’s something about Northala Fields that attracted it.”
Jack smiled at her in a way that earned him a possessive glare from Clyde.
“Good point, honey,” he said.
“It was exactly the point I was getting to,” Sarah Jane added. “And if you spent a little less time looking inappropriately at Rani you might have thought of it, too. What do we know about this park?”
“It was opened in 2008 after a five million pounds investment and four years of work,” Rani said, reading the Wikipedia page on her Blackberry. “The four hills, built from the rubble of the old Wembley stadium and the White City Shopping Centre development were designed to cut out noise, light and actual exhaust pollution from the busy A40.”
“Good excuse, worthy of Torchwood,” Jack said. “But am I the only one who thinks it looks like an alien space ship landing site from space?”
“I do abstract art classes,” Clyde pointed out. “I’ve seen weirder stuff than that.”
Risking the wrath of their military guards, Jack produced a three dimensional hologram version of the Google Earth view Rani had on her little screen. The four hills with their distinctive winding paths made from the crushed concrete of Wembley’s twin towers really did look unEarthly from that view – the view the alien space ship would have had.
“Well, I’m not sure what an alien space ship landing site ought to look like,” Rani admitted. “But it could be, I suppose. Are you suggesting that the park was DESIGNED for this to happen?”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane said. “That’s EXACTLY what we’re suggesting.”
“It was designed by an architect and structural engineer called Ken Pettifer,” Rani added, still looking at the Wikipedia entry.
Nobody said anything, but Jack and Sarah Jane both tapped quickly on their wrist devices. A few minutes later a rather disgruntled Captain Magambo turned up in the refectory.
“You lot are here to assist the military, not to issue me with summonses,” she pointed out.
“You need to question a man called Ken Pettifer,” Sarah Jane told her. “He has some of the answers to your questions.”
“Yes, really,” Jack Harkness said firmly. “You’ve got us incommunicado here or I’d get my people to do it. He’s your man, get onto it.”
Captain Magambo nodded and turned away. They didn’t know if she was going to do as they said or not. And they didn’t know if things just got better or worse, or if it would make any difference at all.
“So this Pettifer must be an alien,” Clyde said. “The advance guard. He had the hills built as a ground signal to his chums in their ship.”
That sounded plausible enough. And it was an uncomfortable idea. How easily had all the authorities been fooled into allowing such a thing to happen? How easily had an alien got around the protections provided by U.N.I.T., Torchwood and all of their equivalent organisations around the world and set up something so sinister in plain sight of them all?
“If we’re really that stupid, we deserve to be invaded,” Sarah Jane admitted with a deep sigh.
And that seemed to be the consensus among them as they sat in the refectory, supplied with coffee but with nothing else in the way of information for the duration of the afternoon. If Mr Pettifer had been brought in by U.N.I.T. and questioned about his activities nobody was telling them about it.
It started to get dark by half past four. Rani started to worry.
“I’ll be fired from work. I’ll be grounded at home!” she said. “Either way I’m doomed. And it’s not as if I’ve got anything out of it. We’re stuck in a van with no windows. We’re not even allowed to see what’s happening. It could be the end of the world and we won’t even know about it until it’s too late.”
“If it’s the end of the world, then at least you won’t be fired or grounded,” Clyde told her. That wasn’t much comfort.
Then they all became aware of activity around them. The soldiers who were on rest breaks all jammed their berets on, grabbed their guns and rushed out of the refectory. Even the two who were meant to be guarding them hurried off, as well as the private who was serving out the tea and coffee. Clyde and Rani looked at each other. Sarah Jane and Jack Harkness did the same. Then without a word they all stood and followed the soldiers.
It was Halloween night, of course. High in the dull night sky there were fireworks going off already. But they paled into insignificance in contrast to the alien space ship. It wasn’t metallic green any more. It was glowing gold-yellow with curious and unreadable symbols all around it. Sitting on the top of the hill as it was, it had to be visible for miles around.
“It’s all lit up,” Rani said. “How long….”
“Just now,” said Captain Magambo approaching them with a tall but skinny civilian in a grey suit beside her. “This is Mr Ken Pettifer, by the way. He has an explanation for all this.”
“It’s not an invasion,” he said. “It’s… the opposite in fact.”
“What’s the opposite of an invasion?” Clyde asked.
The soldiers weren’t guarding the space ship any more. They were forming a phalanx around the footpath from the Kensington Road entrance to the park. They were guarding a group of people who made their way along the path. There were about fifty of them in all, tall, skinny people rather like Mr Pettifer. They were all dressed in grey and they held up over their heads something that looked, at first glance, like very expensive pumpkin lanterns glowing orange in the dark. Sarah Jane and Rani both glanced away at the same time and noticed that Mr Pettifer was also carrying a lantern.
Except it wasn’t a lantern. It was a head – a second head, with features just like his normal head, but glowing orange. The head was attached to his shoulder by something like a glowing orange swan’s neck, long and elegant. As strange as it was, there was something a little fantastic about it, too.
Rani lowered her eyes, thinking it might be rude to stare at somebody’s second head.
“You must have used some kind of perception filter to hide that,” Sarah Jane said to Mr Pettifer. “Or it would have been a give away.”
“We all came to Earth forty years ago,” Mr Pettifer said. “Refugees from a dying world with a cold sun that gave no light or heat. The new colony planet didn’t yet have enough food resources to sustain us all, so we were dispersed among suitable habitable worlds where we could mingle with the indigenous population and survive until our day of departure when we could journey to our new home. Yes, this park was designed as a beacon to bring in the ship. We knew there was no way to do that quietly. Our departure was going to be noticeable. But… perhaps that was for the best. It allows us… to thank the people of planet Earth… for being our hosts for these years… allowing us to live in peace among you.”
“Allowed isn’t exactly the word….” Captain Magambo said. “We didn’t know about you.”
“Would we have let them live in peace if we had known?” Sarah Jane asked. “U.N.I.T. forty years ago were a trigger happy lot. They’d have just seen a bunch of aliens and done something stupid. Torchwood would have been no better,” she added as Jack Harkness opened his mouth to speak. “Mr Pettifer… or whatever your real name is where you come from… it was nice to meet you. Have a nice trip to your new planet.”
“I agree,” Rani said. “And by the way, this is a really nice park. I’ve not come here very often before, but I might in future. It is a nice monument to your people.”
“Yeah,” Clyde added. “Really cool.”
“Good journey,” Jack Harkness told him.
“Yes, indeed,” Captain Magambo agreed.
Mr Pettifer bowed his heads – both of them – and then turned to join the line of people with extra lantern heads who were walking up the hill, following the winding path of crushed concrete and gravel from the demolition of Wembley stadium. Strung out along the path they were a strange glowing, bobbing, moving line that was fascinating to watch. When the first of the line reached the top of the hill, underneath the ship itself, a hatch opened beneath. One by one they all disappeared inside. The glowing line got shorter and shorter until the last of them was aboard. The hatch closed. Rani felt Clyde’s hand grasp hers as the golden space ship span around, slowly at first, then faster as it began to lift off into the air. It hovered for a very short time then gained even more speed as it rose into the night sky, disappearing among the explosions of Halloween fireworks.
“Wow!” Clyde murmured.
“That’s beyond ‘wow’,” Rani answered him. “Way beyond. It’s….”
“They’ve gone, it’s over,” Sarah Jane said with just a note of regret. “I think we should prevail upon U.N.I.T. to take us home before your parents really do get worried, Rani. Clyde, I suppose you’re coming, too?”
“I’d like to see what Mr Smith made of all this,” he answered. “Maybe he worked out who they are.”
“I’m kind of curious about that, too,” Jack Harkness said.
He wasn’t hinting at anything. He had his own resources, after all. But something of the camaraderie they had all shared when they were ‘prisoners’ in the refectory still remained. They were the only ones outside of U.N.I.T. who really knew what had happened here. They should stick together.
“If you promise to behave yourself,” Sarah Jane said. “You can come back to my house for supper. But I mean it. Behave yourself. And keep any guns you might have out of my sight.”
“Sure thing,” he said with a smile worthy of a toothpaste advert.
By the time Rani got home she found that U.N.I.T. had cleared a cover story for her that placated her parents. She wasn’t grounded and she was allowed to stay to supper at Sarah Jane’s house. She spent the evening writing up her peculiar afternoon into what she thought was the best piece of journalism she had yet produced. Sarah Jane and Jack both read it afterwards.
“Sorry,” Sarah Jane told her. “Even if you give this to your editor it will never be published.”
“No chance,” Jack added. “Even if the MOD didn’t come down on it, my lot would have to.”
“I thought as much,” she admitted with a regretful sigh. “But I wanted to write it anyway.”
“I did the same back in the 70s,” Sarah Jane said. “Every adventure I had with The Doctor would have been an award winning story, but I could never get them published.”
Jack grinned that toothpaste advert grin again at mention of The Doctor. He was everyone’s favourite subject, of course. Sarah Jane smiled and realised she had one more avid listener to her reminiscences about those days. She brought supper up to the attic on a tray and everyone settled down to hear about the sinister and witch-like Sisterhood of Karn as the Halloween fireworks continued to light up the sky over Ealing.